The Water Nymph That Pluto Loved

Some of you may know that I have a secret obsession.

My secret obsession is fragrance.

Maybe my sense of smell has been heightened because my family is in the essential oil business. So, even though I don’t always wear perfume, I have actually dreamed about losing myself in a perfume shop.

I love the smell of newborn baby’s breath, and Easter lilies, and spikenard, and frankincense, and woodsmoke on a rainy day… But if my soul had a smell it would smell like the soles of my tennis shoes—which means it would smell like mint.

We drank mint tea and played in mint, waist-deep, when we were little. Its fragrance has infused my whole life. 

The ancient Romans personified it as “Menthe,” the water nymph loved by Pluto, god of the underworld. Pluto’s queen became jealous and trampled fair Menthe, turning her into a humble plant. But Pluto decreed that the more mint was bruised the sweeter it would smell (and the stained soles of my tennis shoes attest to that).

Mint is a popular herb in the Middle East, where it’s used in salads, roasts, and many other dishes. I was delighted to find bulging sacks of fresh spearmint at an outdoor market in Jerusalem. I crushed some of the leaves between my hands and the aroma immediately took me back to the green fields of home.

It smelled like my mom’s laundry room during harvest time and reminded me of how safe I felt as a child–knowing that my dad, grandpa, and uncles were working outside our house while I slept. Daddy would come in late at night, and I could smell him long before I heard his footsteps in the hallway. No matter how quiet he tried to be, the concentrated odor of mint–mingled with dust and sweat–always gave him away.

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