Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Heightened "Scents" of Nostalgia

There are certain scents that take me back to a time and place. It's so powerful and evokes very specific memories.

Infant cereal: Whenever I smell this I can recall my baby brother sitting in his highchair in our kitchen. It's as if I'm right there while my mother spoon feeds him and gets his Playtex bottle ready for an after feeding snack. Baby brother is now 34 and 6'3" tall. And takes his Corona in a Playtex bottle. Not really.

Old paper: You might think "library" but no. My mother worked in a pharmacy pretty much my whole life up until adolescence. She was a single mom and would utilize daycare sparingly. Sometimes my brother and I would spend summers or school vacations hanging out in the stock room of the pharmacy. We'd bring activities to keep us occupied but mostly we played office. Adding machines were a big thing. When I got a little older I would do some data entry on a dinosaur they called a computer. By eleven years old I was queen of the ten key. Today's youth and their texting capabilities had nothing on my right hand. On special days, I got to answer the phone. I also did quite a bit of filing. Looking back I think they may have been violating several child labor laws. Does paying me in Big Hunk candy bars and strawberry Pop Rocks count?

Vanilla candles: No matter where I am when I encounter this scent, I'm immediately flooded with memories of spending time at my Cousin K's house, as a child in the 1970's. She's really my mother's cousin and has always been more of an "aunt" to me, but I've always called her "Cousin K" [there's more to her name than "K" but, you know, anonymity being what it is]. There are the copper bracelets she wore, the white four poster bed that I eventually inherited, the little Russian wooden dolls that opened to reveal a smaller doll and so on until the tiniest carved version emerged, the step down den, the fruit trees in the backyard, and the crazy jigsaw coffee table that I could crawl around in like a maze. You know how you can look back on your childhood and there was that ONE adult that stood above the rest? Yeah, it was like that. And, K, if you're reading this please will your copper bracelets to me. If they're still around. I promise to cherish them.

Beef stew: This would be my grandparent's house. We went there every Sunday for dinner while I grew up and on our birthdays we were allowed to request the menu. Both my mother and I would ask for beef stew and dumplings. And a 6 layer lemon and coconut cake because, COCONUT! My grandma made a mean beef stew. It was NEVER bland. You could smell it pulling into the driveway. It, by all counts, rocked hard. Other scents of Grandma's house: Prell shampoo, Lysterine, and tonic. As in vodka and tonic. Grandma was my kind of gal. Both have long since passed away and I still dream when I sleep, about being at their house.

Sarma: Reminds me of living at home. What is Sarma, you ask? It's a tasty little treat you may know as "stuffed cabbage". Whenever my step grandparents from Belgrade were visiting (and those people don't even kid around with vacation. They're all about the two months) we were treated to Sarma. The cabbage needed to um, pickle sour spoil age in a bucket that was kept in the garage. In the summer. In southern California. Did I mention it was in the garage? Not pleasant. However, it did make the yummiest dinner ever which would usually be followed by Palacinke which is basically a crepe. Sometimes there would be a torte or biadera (I don't even know how to spell it) which can be compared to our version of fudge, only with more nuts and less sweet. They were an animated bunch. Very boisterous. Lots of singing and guitar playing. And even though I could manage to understand and speak few words, we managed to communicate. They're both passed on now and I miss them.

I have no living grandparents. How much do you want to hug me right now? And what about you? What scents generate memories for you?


Anonymous said...

Lilac: My grandmother's house. Her driveway was lined on one side with lilac trees. We did the birthday dinner request thing too, and she would make me galobkis (polish version of stuffed cabbage - very yum!).

scargosun said...

Scents are probably the strongest memories for me unfortunately with my nose stuffed up it's hard for me to think of one right now. :)
Cigar smoke: most people hate it but it reminds me of my Grampy and my Dad. Nothing too fancy but the smell makes my head whip around every time I catch a whif. Makes me sad and happy at the same time.

Tempered Woman said...

Garlic! My granfather was Basque and insisted on cooking with it til' the walls sweated with the smell.
Baby lotion is prob the only thing on this planet that makes me ache. I wanna slather down a baby so bad whenever I smell it. Weren't bath times the best?
None of my grandparents are living anymore either~ maybe we can hold each other? Or wine. Wine works too. ;-)

Burgh Baby said...

I always want to hug you. You are just so damn huggable looking I can't help it.

Baby Magic baby shampoo KILLS me. Literally, I fall over dead from joy when I smell it.

Madame Queen said...

Aqua Net hairspray reminds me of my aunt Iris.

My stepsister has in-laws from Hungary and when they come for a visit they always stay at LEAST two months.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I don't have many smell memories - allergies ruined that sense for about 10 years.

My Grandpa wasn't buying this 'I can't smell this or that...' nonsense and grated some horseradish. He figured it would unstuff my nose and out me. That I was fibbing...

He grinned while I took the biggest whiff, expecting me to be bowled over.


(He died of lung cancer, right after I found out I was pregnant with Lexi. We didn't always see eye to eye, but I wish he could have seen my kids. He would have got a kick out of them, and I know they would have adored him.)

Now, hugs all around.

barbra said...

I only have one living grandparent, and she is actually my step-grandma. She has a biological granddaughter.

Hugs all around.

Anonymous said...

Well, I started crying just as soon as I saw venilla brought back memories to me of the great times we had together when we were still in California. I remember Grandma's house, especially when it smelled like her wonderful vegetable curry and the smell of Jergens lotion reminds me of Mama and how no matter how old Mama and Daddy's house got it always smelled new - how'd they do that?. Thanks for making me think of those things sweetie. K

dkuroiwa said...

Oh...Old Spice. My dad, who passed away 2 years ago, always wore that...when I was single, if a man came up to me smelling of Old Spice..well...I was pretty much a goner!!

Any Avon grandmother loved Avon...and you could pretty much smell that little woman coming at ya long before you ever saw her!

The smell of rain...on the plains of So. Colorado, especially in the summer, you can "smell a rain" coming. That fresh smell, if i'm ever lucky to experience it...always makes me homesick.

Wow! have opened up a whole mess of olfactory memories!
Sweet dreams for me tonight!!

OHmommy said...

OK Tootsie. We got to talk.

I am taking a 5 minute break, right now, from making stuffed cabbage. I just boiled the cabbage and will begin rolling the meat into them.

Shut up!

Everytime I read your blog... I find YET again something I puffy heart about you.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

How fun. I saw DumDum suckers being made on the Food Network the other night and was immediately back in the bank my Dad worked at...on Saturday mornings they let me work the drive up window. At age 10. So I totally hear you on the pharmacy thing;)

Anonymous said...

L'Heure Bleu Eau de Parfum by Guerlain. That was Mother. Cigarettes, that was Mother, too. Gin? Yup, mother. Gardenias? Mother.

A freshly cracked Coke over ice in a plastic glass? Gramma's house. Ahhhhh. Pop.

Sebastian Spritz Forte? My college years.

Heather said...

There is a scent that I can't identify it, but whenenver I smell it, it reminds me of visits to my grandpa's house in the country. It was an old house, and maybe that has something to do with it. I often smell it in old buildings.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

There is no better scent on earth than baby scalp, in my humble opinion.

Unknown said...

Top two favorites: the smells of backyard bar b que (and I am talking charcoal here) and Ponderosa Pines (give 'em a sniff they smell like caramel...pure mountain heaven.)

Jennifer S said...

The scent of a freshly plowed garden or field always takes me back to the area in Missouri where I grew up.

Your list is wonderful and touching.

smalltownme said...

Alfalfa, even the smell of sprouts...takes me back to summers on my uncle's farm, riding on the wagon while he picked up hay bales.

Hugs about the grandparents. I only knew my dad's mother.

Woman in a Window said...

Huuummmm...lost in my grandmother's big, fat, poofy, powder-puff that sat tippy-toe-far-back on a counter in her bathroom.

stephanie said...

I want to hug you lots; beautifully said.

Last summer I wrote about the smell of a garage (, if you care much.

Other faves: suntan lotion, takes me to our yearly vacations in Texas; Love's Baby Soft, gives me the wiggly good feelings of junior high.

Day Dreamer said...


We used to slurp off the sweet nector from them every summer in Georgia.

A Wood Fire.

Reminds me of when we used to go snow skiing in Mass. The lodges smelled of fire and coffee. Sounds of swishing snow pants everywhere...

Ahhhh....thanks! I needed that!

:) Great post!

Mrs. G. said...

Strawberry incense reminds me of the Spencer's store in Raleigh Springs Mall in Memphis, TN.

Karen said...

You'll never understand this unless you're an equine enthusiast, but the best smell on planet earth and one that takes me back to my childhood instantly is the smell of a horse blanket straight out of the dryer. You can never eradicate that sweet horsey smell, and combined with fresh laundry detergent and dryer sheets is pure heaven. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

My grandparents are all gone too :( But it's strange you should post this! I was just thinking about this the other day.

Homemade fried chicken: my great-grandmother's house. She made the BEST fried chicken. Shortening and all.

Lagerfeld: not a particularly pleasant memory, but it makes me think of my high school boyfriend every single time. He bathed in it.

Mustache wax: my daddy. He has always had a handlebar mustache, and before he retired, he's wax his mustache for work every day :)

Listerine and Mentholatum: My grandparents' house :)

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

The smell of my grandma's greasy bun hamburgers--not good for you, but oh so good!

JCK said...

I loved your list and especially the story of your mom taking you to work and you playing office!

The sense of smell is so powerful to take you back...violet scented bath water - my grandmother, cookies baking at Christmas, especially gingerbread, honeysuckle in Virginia at my grandparents lying in the hammock... bubble gum lip smacker. So many!

Suburban Correspondent said...

My father is a self-employed CPA, and I spent hours playing with the adding machines in his office. Also, rolling around in the office chairs, playing with the typewriters, and xeroxing things for him.

So guess what my kids like to do when they visit Grandma and Grandpa?

Monica said...

OK all these lovely memories... I'll go a different route. Anyone ever smelled the most beautiful white flowering pear trees? They smell like... well... hmmm... how do I say? The "essence" of a man... his "juice" - I don't know how many more things I can say to cover it up. The fact is, they kinda make me want to puke. And our church has like 50 of them on the campus. It's weird.

Tootsie Farklepants said...

I am LOVING reading all of these!

Beckie and OHMommy~ soul sisters.

Madame Queen~ Aqua Net reminds me of my grandmother.

lisa milton~ I feel the same way about my grandfather. He would have loved my kids and he was a huge history buff like my husband. They would have really hit it off. *sob*

K~ How did they do that? Your parents were very clean! Let's discuss the kitchen faucet. *wink*
I love you! See what I'm talking about people? My own mother doesn't read my blog, but K does!

standing still~ My hairspray was Paul Mitchell in high school. Stuff was like glue which one needed for the wall of bangs.

cheri~ Yes! That and puppies breath. so sweet.

stephanie~ Loves Baby Soft! It was a right of passage. I will check out your link.

day dreamer~ wood fires remind me of a sleep away camp I went to in 6th grade.

the introvert~ Haha! That's how I feel about Brut cologne.

suburbancorrespondent~ typwriters! I'd forgotten. Mmmm...white out.

ya about that~ Your church is trying to help with the abstinence thing.

Lovely comments all around!

Glennis said...

What a great post! I will have to take some time to think about scents that bring back memories.


Anonymous said...

My last grandparent passed away when I was 10. Once in a while I smell Vicks and I remember how much I loved my grandpa.

Finger paint! I look crazy as I sniff the kids' finger paint pictures, but it takes me back to being 5 or 6.

Brut - sad but true. Just bought some for my husband. Now I'm a teen again!

Queen Goob said...

Gardenias - Remind me of my Gammy. I have gardenias growing in the yard just for her. Gardenias and the seashore, she loved the beach.

Grandpa Doc always smelled like peppermint. He was diabetic but there was a little shop along the pier that catered to "The Old Folks" in S. Florida so he always had peppermints on him.

My Mom-Mom always smelled of powder and tomatoes. I know, sound gross, but when you hugged her right after she ate a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich it was AWESOME.

My Pop-Pop always smelled of pipe tobacco and motor oil. Every time I grab the lawnmower to mow the yard, the smell of the oil, gas, etc. reminds me of him. I LOVE that smell! I visit memories of him frequently as we mow our grass year round down here.

I love the smell of old books. My father was a minister; he passed away in 1999. His office always had the smell of old books as he was a collector. My sister and I almost went to blows over the old Persian rug he had in his office as it reminded us both of dad by the smells alone. She may have won the rug but I got the books.

Funny how almost everyone references smell that remind them of loved ones. How awesome is that? I too, have no living grandparents and only one living parent. How comforting to have something to keep our memories alive.

As Cape Cod Turns said...

I don't have any living grandparents around either. How about we puffy heart hug each other now!?
Jean Nate... the perfume stuff always reminds me of my grandmother.
Isn't it amazing how a smell can bring you right back to a time whether hours ago or many years ago?