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.


  1. Every time I went to my Grannies she always made macaroni and cheese with friend pork chops. The smell of those two things together always makes me flash to the kitchen in the house that was falling apart.

    The smell of wild onions flashes me back to my Grandparents garden.

  2. Diesel fumes...always reminds me of when my Mom and I were in London when I was 13.When I spent 6 months there last fall, I was under a constant barrage of memories of her and I walking, shopping, taking the tube, it was really nice!

    ps.yes, please do post more often, miss you!

  3. EYVI!! You are still out there - hooray! (Yes - I know I know your phone number too ... I'm sorry) I miss ya, girl.

    I think I've already told you these ... but you know how I like to play along.

    Peach Schnapps - oh baby ... they take me back to a night where fuzzy navels and my love for periwinkles suffered a most heinous demise.

    Obsession cologne for men takes me back to my first real bo.

    Diesel transports me instantly back on the deck of the NS/NL ferry(all 18.5 hours of it each way). Oh that summer lives on in my memory.

    Banana bread ... until the day I die, the smell of banana bread cooking will remind me of my great aunt, Carrie. Really the only grandparent I ever had. She and her brother's wife (my other great aunt) used to quarrel over who got to feed us the most. Ack - you got me all misty eyed.

    Songs are another one for me (and I bet you, too)hearing a certain song can snap me back to a certain time as though only a moment existed between now and then.

    SO good to see you on here again, hun. Have a great weekend.

  4. Aha sissy sprite, I too am plagued with memories triggered by scent. One in particular is the smell of jigs dinner cooking on the stove. When I follow my nose I am immediately taken back to a time when I actually enjoyed eating the newfie feast. Also amazingly enough the smell of Javex instantly reminds me of those days when our mother would painstakingly clean our home from top to bottom with the stuff while listening to Bon Jovi, Celine Dion, and better yet The Righteous Brothers. Good Times. Whenever I catch a whiff of Alfred Sung Perfume I almost become emotional because it too reminds me of when mom would sit at the head of our table in Biggin Court, chatting it up one the phone with the same three or four people, curling her hair and applying numerous coats of mascara to her dramatic lashes. Salon Selectives also reminds me of your Big Hair and how I would wait outside the bathroom damn near peeing my pants waiting for you to finish. Having said that, your hair looked great at the time and I wanted to be just like you. I also think of Dad whenever I smell worn leather (it has to worn because the new leather smell does not have the same effect)and when I hear any song by Bob Dylan. Last but not least the smell of the ocean and wood burning also takes me back to the short time we lived in Newfoundland and reinforces my ideas about living there once again. Some scents have such strong memories attached to them that I become all blubbery and nostalgic, while other scents trigger only whispers of a memory that is gone as fast as it had come. Music is a big one for me too though, because I will never forget you sitting in the living room of our forest green apartment listening and singing to "I Will Always Love You" over and over again. I was impressed by your persistence to learn the song, but at the same time I wanted to rip the stereo out and throw it over our second floor balcony after the fifth or sixth time you rewound it and started it all over again. Good Times.

  5. Nice to see you!! For me, it is tires, reminds me of hubby, and my grandfather's garage. Oh and gasoline- but not those two things together cause they'll make you weird!!
    Mostly for me it is music that will transport me back in time and conjure the strongest emotions.

  6. Everyone! I would like to introduce you to my little sissy, Fudge Pudge. She did not discuss her Nom de guerre with me, otherwise I would have suggested she leave that particular childhood nickname firmly in the past. I also would have begged her not to publicly share my questionable taste in music during my teens. Nevertheless, let's give her a big ol' bloggy welcome! Perhaps y'all could help me convince her to start her own blog, she'd have ya laughing your assess off!

    Music is a huge one for me as well. There are songs that I just can't listen to any longer; the associated memory is crippling. Those are the sad songs, of course. Some songs are related to the most mundane of events, like Sunday morning cleaning, but are strong just the same. So strong in fact that the sound of any of the artists my sister mentioned, with the addition of U2, will fill my nostrils with the smell of Javex.

  7. Obsession for Men also reminds me of an ex-boyfriend.

    Chanel No. 5 reminds me of my mom when I was little. It was her favorite perfume.

    So many smells remind me of my hubby that I couldn't begin to name them. Lol.

    The smell of a baby's head or baby powder always reminds me of my babies. And makes me way nostalgic.

    What an interesting blog post and great topic! The sense of smell is so powerful.