Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Scent of A...

I went in to the house from the deck the other weekend and the smell of the spaghetti sauce I had been cooking and the laundry I had been washing hit me. I had a second to think how homey it all smelled when I was transported approximately 18 years into the past. Suddenly I was in my mother's kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. The memory was so strong I heard the voices of friends I hadn't spoken to in ages; the pale green walls of my own kitchen morphed into the forest green of the apartment in Toronto all those years ago and the ceramic tiles beneath my feet became linoleum. The emotional stew that bubbled during my entire teenage life accompanied the other sensory memories as well, but this post isn't about those.

The relationship between scent and memory is fascinating. So fascinating, in fact, I went hunting for a scientific explanation. About 10 minutes into my research (which was about 7 1/2 minutes longer than I remained interested), I was easily led astray by thoughts of scents that evoke strong memories. For lack of a better idea for a post (and God knows, I am severely lacking of late), I thought I'd share some with you.

Oscar de la Renta perfume unfailingly brings back the time my Mom spent every morning painstakingly curling her hair and applying mascara before going to work at the restaurant. A routine that often included an entire pot of coffee and several phone calls (all to the same three or four people. Everyday.) but no less meticulous for the time it took. My mother had the most mesmerizing eyelashes of anyone I had ever known. Icy blue-grey eyes set in the creamy, freckled face with the startling long black lashes framing them.

For a couple of short years in my life I lived on the island of Newfoundland. While there, it was fashionable for young ladies to wear their hair in such a way that paid tribute to the biggest of '80's hairdos. I'd spend hours curling my then bone-straight, nearly waist length hair, then teasing it all so that it often stood just shy of a foot off my head and fixing it in place with at least a half of a can of Salon Selectives hairspray, Extreme Hold. To this day, a whiff of the previously mentioned hair product brings me back to my bedroom in the drafty old house; arms burning with the strain of an hour spent holding the curling iron in my hair.

My Dad is a denim and leather kind of guy. So much so, that I was convinced I would never see him wear anything but (except for those little blue shorts with the white stripes down the side that were the cause for much embarrassment during my childhood, but they are a story of their own). For the first twenty or so years of my life my Father's daily uniform consisted of a pair of blue jeans (sometimes black ones, but not often) a brown leather belt with a huge brass buckle, a t-shirt and a black leather vest, adorned with buttons collected along the way (he had plenty of flair). As a result, the scent of worn leather fills me with images of my Dad when I was little. They are usually accompanied with the sense of awe I felt over just about everything he did or said (have I mentioned I'm a 'Daddy's Girl'?).

Finally, jet fuel. It's not the only scent that reminds me of my husband, there is also Joop cologne; shoe polish; and orange air freshener, but jet fuel is one of the strongest. As an airplane mechanic, he regularly brings the scents of his trade home with him but that is one that leaves a lasting impression. One day, very early in his career, he arrived home from work, I went to give him a kiss and was brought up short. The stench of him was breathtaking. I swore and asked him what he'd been doing and why did he stink so bad. He laughed and told me he'd been crawling around inside the wing of a plane, which is where the fuel is stored. It was empty at the time, but, you know. He was probably highly flammable, he was going to shower and could I please wash his uniform in cold water and line dry it instead of use the dryer. Just in case.

How 'bout y'all? Does the smell of chocolate chip cookies remind you of your Grandma's lovingly made cookies as a kid? Does the smell of stale beer and cigarettes remind you of that night you've tried so hard to forget? You spill the memory beans and I'll work on flexing my writing muscle and maybe I'll write more often.