For nine years, Tink had been begging me to take him to a NASCAR race. I had always shrugged him off, saying, “It’s not the same place as when I worked there.”
Professionally, I grew up in the NASCAR garage. I was a young, round-faced girl freshly out of college when a sports reporting stint at USA Today in Washington, D.C., led me to a job with a sports marketing firm in Indianapolis. This then landed me full-time, smack dab on the stock car racing circuit. I was one of the first females to have a garage pass — my dear friend, Stevie Waltrip, was first. I always wore high heels and usually a skirt or dress. So you can imagine that I stuck out in a garage of greasy, slow-talking country boys. They all became family to me because, back in those days, the sport was a tight-knit family. We rejoiced with each other’s triumphs and mourned together when tragedy visited.
But Tink wore me out with begging. Finally, when we found ourselves working on a television project that I thought would be strengthened if Tink saw the world from which I had sprung up, I agreed. He was childishly elated.
“Now, look,” I said. “Don’t get your hopes up. I used to be a darling of the circuit, but most of the people I knew from those years are either retired, dead, or in prison.”
I didn’t expect it to mean much to me because I knew it had changed a great deal. I dreaded seeing what was at one time is no longer still. Yet, I would see a few friends there, including my close friend and lifelong mentor, Richard Childress, who is a multi-team owner as well as the founder of a successful North Carolina vineyard. In the garage, I settled into a director’s chair angled between Childress’ two haulers. Tink beamed ear to ear as he watched, imagining the adventurous life I had experienced among those noisy cars. It was admittedly a glorious era in my life.
Suddenly, my senses were flooded with sounds, sights, and, especially, smells. I took a deep, lingering breath of the gasoline-scented air that was mixed with grease, oil, and the burning rubber of Goodyear tires. Joy swept through me. I had come home.
We’re blessed that the Rondarosa includes pastures,] streams, trees, creeks that were part of my childhood, and those red dirt places where I ran barefooted and plotted my dreams. When the massive honeysuckle vines blossom in early June, my lungs are filled with the fragrant perfume of my childhood. It smells like memories.
It surprised me to learn that the garage smells are as beautiful to me as the magnolia blossoms, roses, and pine trees of the Rondarosa. These are the scents of carefully honed nests that nurtured my future, the places from which I spread my wings and flew. Both smell like home to me.
The first time that Tink saw the Golden Isles, he smelled home, too. He grew up in the small coastal town of Darien, Connecticut, a place that is decorated with Revolutionary houses, crumbling stone walls, and massive oak trees. It is hedged in by bluish-gray sea waters and marshes of grasses, rushes, and reeds.
As the sun was dipping toward its nightly sleep when we crossed the Torres causeway, the enormous orange fireball cast a magical glow against the marsh as the grass shimmered with light and giggled with movement. He blinked, taken aback by something. In a second, I learned that it was a memory.
“This looks exactly like where I grew up,” he said. He let down the window and inhaled deeply. For minute or so, he basked in the glow, the smell, the feel of that certain wind that is only produced when it mixes with a wetland. “It smells like carefree innocence and endless adventure,” he sighed. “The wonder of God’s nature.”
That was the moment he felt in love with a Southern place, a place remarkably similar to a piece of his heart. Later, we visited his hometown of Darien, and I saw what he meant. The Tokeneke Beach Club, where Tink spent practically every day of his childhood summers, sits as a buffer between the sea and the marsh. The moment I saw it, I was struck by the similarity to spots on Jekyll, St. Simons, and Sea Island.
As Tink drove into the Tokeneke Beach Club, I let down the window and inhaled Tink’s truth. Georgia’s islands smell just like his childhood home.