Recently, I picked up a leather purse and the fragrant leather reminded me of my dad. He had great respect for good leather and took exquisite care of his leather baseball shoes and gloves. I remember him sitting on the back porch working on them while my brothers worked on their baseball gloves. I believe they rubbed oil into the gloves to make them softer, but I’m not sure on that.
When I was a young mother, kid gloves had come back into fashion. I had a collection I’d carefully gathered: black kid long plus shorty gloves, also white kid were elegant. I still keep them in my top drawer and sniff them from time to time!
It’s fascinating that the sense of smell is directly linked to our brain and memories from the past. Here is more on that: Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren't for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory -- associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral.
When I smell things that recall my childhood, like leather or coffee, I have a sense of well-being.
My mother perked coffee on top of her gas range, in a Pyrex coffee maker. Once in a while, she’d use her big electric percolator, when she served a crowd. Either way, the fragrance of that coffee was heavenly, long before I even drank coffee.
One of the year’s best smells was Thanksgiving dinner. Early in the day, Mother always simmered the chopped celery and onions in a little broth, before adding it to the cornbread dressing. Of course, the huge turkey would already be baking. Now that’s how Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to smell!
During my college years, I had a date every Thanksgiving with the same guy. Thinking back, I see the reason for the pattern. We always had homemade pumpkin pie, and often one of Mother’s delicious three layer cakes. I don’t think he was all that crazy about me, but he loved my mother’s cooking!
On the big dinner days, Dad was always in the kitchen with Mother. They made a great team. They never owned an automatic dishwasher so he stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and pots as she prepared the food. He used to laugh and say he tried to keep ahead of her, otherwise the kitchen would be a disaster area. Her fried chicken was the world’s best, and I could identify our dinner from the fragrances coming from the kitchen. She cooked the chicken in those big, heavy iron skillets so of course Dad was needed to clean them.
I used to love nothing better than to find honeysuckle in bloom. While walking around outdoors, its scent was delightful. I would break off the bloom and suck the “honey” out of it, just a teeny, sweet droplet. I tried this not long ago when I found honeysuckle growing in my neighbor’s hedge but it had no flavor at all…sigh…….
My Tony did not want to have his dinner the very minute he came home from work. He wanted time to change clothes and unwind a bit. In warm weather, he usually walked out to the dock and after we moved back to Augusta, he often swam in our pool. However, he needed reassurance that he was going to be fed. He would get very upset with me if he walked in the house and didn’t smell food cooking. I finally figured out that if there was something cooking, he was fine. So if we were having anything with onions, peppers etc, I made sure to saute them a little to get the old scent going. I have been known to throw some cinnamon and cloves into a pot of water and simmer that a few minutes before he got home. I used to make a lot of homemade applesauce, so the spices were not so far fetched.
In one of her columns, Erma Bombeck said she just dabbed some vanilla flavoring behind her ears when she heard her husband come through the door.
Walking outside on a cool fall evening with the smell of a wood fire in the area is comforting to me. Our big gas grill that came with the house when we bought it is really convenient and we use it a lot. But it can never compete with a charcoal fire, no way. Alesia and Michael also love the smell of a wood fire.
A neighbor, in Tennessee, had an adorable basset hound. Who knew that he had figured out the relationship between a fire in the grill – and something good to eat?! One Saturday evening while sitting out on their patio having a beer, Herman came strolling up with a huge, thick steak he had removed from someone’s grill.
Driving across the causeway or bridge to one of the Georgia or South Carolina barrier islands, the smell of the marshes and later the sea is always soothing to me. I can actually breathe deeply and totally relax once again. Conversely, I feel the same way while in the Smoky Mountains. No smell of the sea, of course, but the clean fresh air of the mountains. Hmmmn, perhaps that’s the heritage of a Cherokee Great-grandmother. I don’t have to go far for those smells, either. A lovely thing about my state is that Georgia has mountains, plains, and beautiful coast.
Have you ever picked fresh tomatoes right off the vine? The scent of the tomato leaves smells fresh and clean to me, also the scent of very fresh corn on the cob. My dad and I liked to cook fresh tomatoes, okra, and corn just cut off the cob, all together just til tender. Some folks call it soup mix etc. but we just called it corn, okra, and tomatoes. So good!
Dee and I agree that the fresh smell of rain on sun-warmed sidewalks, in the city, is a smell we love. When I was young and dating a lot, I often walked down Peachtree Street, after a movie, in the evening, with my sandals in hand. Quite often, the fireman would open a hydrant to wash the sidewalks and the clean, cool water on the pavement felt so good to bare feet and smelled so good!
I’ve left until last two of the loveliest fragrances. One is the lemony, sweet Magnolia blossoms. One doesn’t want to stick one’s nose into the blossom, however, because one is likely to snort a couple of ants - best to love it from a distance, like some people we know.
The other is my all time favorite - gardenias. They were the only flowers used in my wedding and I think I’ve planted them everywhere we’ve lived, tho’ the climate was nearly too cold in Tennessee. They thrive here so we have six healthy bushes.
I leave you with this quote from the remarkable Helen Keller:
Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.