Jackie’s female Airedale smells.
Yes, Lizzie sniffs the ground and air around her throughout the hours, but no, I’m referring to the odor that wafts off her within a day or two of a cleansing bath. The dog simply stinks.
We opened a two week old container of blue cheese—who can tell when it goes bad?—and I said to Alex, “Whoa, that smells like Lizzie dog!” I was back in Montana being attacked by morning-dog Lizzie while Gus-the-Ewok-Airedale groaned and rolled over in his bed.
Smells evoke feelings and memories. Isn’t that something?
In the same way that our favorite songs from our teen years can zap us back to that dance with that boy/girl friend, smells can instantaneously transport us. Anytime I hear any song from Billy Joel’s The Stranger, I am back at York College of Pennsylvania singing every lyric and wishing for a romantic dinner at an Italian Restaurant.
We were walking through Bloomfield, Pittsburgh’s own Little Italy, last weekend and I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, “What’s that smell? It’s nudging at a memory.” But we couldn’t identify anything nearby that matched the aroma. I always want to call elusive foliage Honeysuckle or Bougainvillea, because I like saying both those words, but I couldn’t match the memory to the flowers on hand.
Speaking of blooms, mention Wisteria to me and I know exactly which folder in my cast of hundreds to find the picture of the Wisteria draping elegantly over a wall as Jackie and I hiked into Corniglia in the Cinque Terre. Years later, hiking there again, I looked for and spotted that very same wrought iron gate and dangling flowers.
Pulling a clothing storage box out of the closet, I flipped the lid open. Immediately, I’m assaulted with a Dad-fragrance. There is a pillow kept there that he laid his head on while in his power chair, battling ALS. It’s not that Dad-whiff of lingering cigarettes that somehow never bothered me, it’s more ethereal than that—a smell that told me I was home.Smells evoke feelings and #memories. Isn’t that something? Click To Tweet
Oak leaves dried to a crisp crunchiness in a hot autumn sun will always take me back to our childhood and raking them in the front yard. They had fallen from a massive tree that took six cousins, arms linked, to embrace in a hug. Random autumns since I’ve been back in Pennsylvania, I press colorful Maple leaves and send them to a friend in Montana who grew up in Minnesota so the colors and any residue smell can transport her home. To Jackie, I gather acorns—they must have their “hats” attached—and cracking one open reminds her of riding over them with her bicycle and the scent of the nut meat.
Jackie and two of our cousins contributed these scent memories:
Walking down an unpaved Montana road on a hot summer day, Jackie catches an aroma akin to raspberries. It elicits the thought of Mom’s sewing machine—was it the Singer oil from her 1950s model?
A cousin opens a door to a long-closed room and inside is a stack of books, dust-laden covers somewhat obscured. Instant regression to her Grandma’s attic and playing there as a child.
“Percolating coffee, bacon and eggs frying reminds me of the Griffith grandparents’ kitchen. It doesn’t matter that I don’t remember eating those foods and sure didn’t drink the coffee as a child. I remember being there, in the warmth of that room, and feeling content.”
Another Grandma, “…used powder makeup that came in a round cardboard container with flowers on it. It had a puff pad that laid on top of the loose powder and whenever I smell it (and Beechnut gum … she LOVED beechnut gum) I think of her. I have a container of the powder on hand so I can lift the lid, smell it and think of her.”
Lilacs summon smiles for many people.
As children, Jackie and I couldn’t wait to cut lilacs from Grandma’s bushes and put them in a vase in Mom’s kitchen. Soon the fragrance would overwhelm the house. For cousin, her grandmother had a light purple bush large enough that a mischievous child could hide in the middle of it and being surrounded by the smell of lilacs was heaven. Her grandma stored the clothesline poles in there. With any luck, drying sheets could get wrapped around the poles and that night when you crawled into bed, the light perfume of lilacs was with you.
Teaberry Gum—have you ever had it? For a long time we couldn’t find it in Montana. Mom used to send it to us. Opening the box, that first inhalation of it and we zoomed straight back to childhood, to the local gas station, to picking out one candy to take home.
Old Spice cologne. I know that young men wear it, but for us it is the defining scent of our father. I smell it now and there I am, sitting on the side of the bath tub, watching my dad shave. The ritual, the preciseness, the light splash of Old Spice at the end.
There is an abundance of information on scent-memory correlation. I read about the science of it before starting this article. But really, I don’t need to know the how or the why of odors sending us back in time. I am simply thankful, counting my blessings that I have these memories embedded in my brain. I vow to pay closer attention and when an odor wafts my way and strikes a cord, I’m going to stop, breath it in, and relive every detail of the moment and memory it takes me to.