Friday, April 23, 2010


Our sense of smell has such powerful influence over us. The faintest scent can suddenly transport us to another place and time.

My Grandmother Stricklin kept a small pink perfume decanter on the dresser in her guest bedroom. I don't remember there ever being any perfume in the pretty glass bottle, but when I dusted my Grandmother's furniture every Saturday, I always paused to lift the stopper and sniff the hint of fragrance that lingered inside. That bottle had once contained an entire rose garden.

Many years after my Grandmother had died and all her things had been distributed among relatives, I received a tiny clear vial in the mail. My sister was working then for a cosmetics company, and the glass tube contained a single drop of perfume, a store sample for interested customers. I opened the tube and sniffed. My heart skipped a beat. I closed my eyes and breathed as deeply from that tiny tube as I possibly could. Instantly, I was back at my Grandmother's, standing in the guest bedroom, the one with the blue satin comforter, holding a pale pink decanter in my hand as I paused from my dusting. Inhaling the sweet, faint scent of roses, I could almost hear my Grandmother calling from the other room.

A very different smell from my childhood....bologna. My parents housed an assortment of lost souls over the years, and one of them was a young man named Johnny. While he was living with us, Johnny worked at the local meat packing plant. His job was slinging bologna. All day long, he took long, heavy socks of bologna and hung them on hooks mounted to a conveyor overhead. Every evening, Johnny came home exhausted from a long day of lifting bologna and collapsed into the rocking chair at one end of Mom's kitchen. I would climb into Johnny's lap, and he would rock me and chat with Mom while she cooked dinner. He smelled exactly like a giant sock of spicy bologna. Forty-something years later, the smell of bologna reminds me of the comfort of a warm embrace, a creaking rocker, and Mom busy in the kitchen.

Last week, I wrangled use of the car and made a trip to Jackson. Morning chores checked off, I climbed into the car and hit the road. Ummmm, this car sure smells good, I thought as I pulled out onto the highway, kind of like molasses. A couple of miles later it hit me. Sweet feed! I had picked up sweet feed for the horses at the Co-op the day before, then forgotten to tell the boys to unload it from the trunk. I turned the car around and headed back to the house to empty my cargo.

Back on the road, I drove through the Obion River bottoms. Farmers were making the most of the sunshine. Tractors as big as mountains pulled disks as wide as valleys, turning up acre after acre of rich dark soil. Windows down, I inhaled deeply, savoring the smell of freshly-turned earth. It smelled like spring. It smelled like home.

What about you, Dear Reader? Any favorite "smell" memories?


The Westmorelands said...

my freshman year of college, i had a particular air freshener that i would spray in the dorm room from time to time. my college roommate (who remained so for 4 years) and i deemed that fragrance "the beginning of the year smell." the bottle was misplaced many times, but every time it turned up over the next four years, we would immediately be taken back to those first thrilling and oh-so-fun weeks of our freshman year. i think if i smelled it now, i would be transported back to main hall #185. i can almost remember what it smells like. such fond memories!

tracy said...

Honeysuckle. That's the smell of long lazy summer days and childhood before there was anything to worry about. The house I grew up in had a meager wire fence lining the backyard that was supported by thick vines of honeysuckle. As I played in the backyard I was surrounded by the fragrance.

Anonymous said...

This is because your olfactory cortex is closely tied to your memory-association cortex. This cortex is responsible for associating sights, tastes, scents, and tactile sensations with memories. Scent is by far the most powerful stimulus for recalling memories through the association cortex, though.

Camille said...

Having a son-in-law with a mondo science brain is awesome! :)