Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Power of Scent

"For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories and it's a pity that we use it so little." - Rachel Carson

It's funny the smells that I remember......I remember how my grandmother Mamie's back door step smelled, an odd mix of red clay,  old wood, coffee grounds, and lavender.  Before our shaggy dog, Charlie passed away earlier this year, I swear he use to spend time with her( and she has been dead over thirty years).  He would  bark and want a hug, usually when I was really down,  and he would smell just like walking out Mamie's back door.

I remember how my dad smelled the last time I ever hugged him.......Old Spice, Dial Soap, and Brill- cream hair tonic.

Most of us love and remember the smell of freshly fallen snow,  rain on dry earth, and an ocean breeze.
Flowers evoke memories good and bad......carnations remind me of funerals, violets and gardenias of spring here in Alabama,  and peonies and lilacs remind  me of my mother.

My very first real  perfume was Ambush.......I bought it with money my parents had given to me the Christmas I  was thirteen.  My girlfriend, Debbie and I had ridden the bus to Birmingham to go shopping for clothes, and I brought back this big bottle of Ambush.  I still remember that sticky sweetness, but  I wore it until my senior year, then I wore Chanel # 5..........I thought I was so cool.

In college, musk and patchouli oils became my scent and then someone gave me Shalimar,  that is when I began to fully understand the power of scent.  Scent creates memories that are as distinct as color,  or sounds.  To this day, I can remember the smell of stale beer, cigarettes and urine .......a memory from my childhood in Chicago.....walking down Wilson Avenue, in the winter on Sunday morning, passing the bars as the cleaning crews opened the doors and swept out Saturday night's remains.

Even as a young child, I must have realized how important scent was.....everytime the Avon Lady came to call on my mom,  I begged for Daisies Won't Tell,  right now if I close my eyes I can smell  that scent,
remember that chubby little six year old begging for it.

I remember the smell of coal burning in our furnace,  and of the  mix of coal and damp dirt in our basement where the coal bin was. I remember the softness of mimosa blossoms that bloomed in our front yard, a light powdery scent.

When it's cold, I can close my eyes, and smell my mom's kitchen......the smell of coffee, bacon,  and vegetable soup......and if I try really hard......the smell of her home made sauerkraut "working" in the crock.

I love driving to the beach, when you get that first sniff of salty air, before you ever see the ocean.
I love the smell of play dough,  paste and favorite smells from grade school.

Isn't it amazing when you start to think about smells, all the memories, good and bad that flood your brain?  The sense of smell really is quite powerful!


  1. Smells are right up there with songs for me. Get the right one and you're instantly transported back to a time and place.

  2. I love love love the smell of bread baking in the oven! Really cheers me up no end!

    I think that's the best bit of baking for me! Take care

  3. I can still smell Campbells book store at the opening of school with all the new rulers, erasers, pencils, work books...

  4. I found it interesting that two of your perfumes were also on my dresser. Yes, Ambush was my first present as a teenager from a boy at the ripe old age of 13. My Mom always wore Shalimar and it was a rite of passage at 16 to be given a bottle from her for our birthday. I now have several fragrances I choose depending on the mood and Shalimar is still one of them!
    Thanks for the memories~

  5. Orange blossom is one of my favorite scents. In the sixties, it was sandalwood! Everyone's house smelled like sandalwood. Our clothes reeked of it.

  6. What a nice, calming post. Just as the scents calm us and recall the memories you mention. You have a fine store house of loving memories. I remember news print smell on a cold day. They must have changed the ink because I don't seem to notice the aroma anymore. :)

  7. The smell of coffee and bacon always brings my brain home! Oranges remind me of Christmas because we got them in our stockings. Motor oil reminds me of my Dad because he was always working on cars and smelled of it when he came in the many memories are soaked in the perfume of time...