Do You Smell That? An Olfactory Memory Lane

"Did you smell that?"


"I'm not sure but it smells familiar."

"You're off your rocker."

"Seriously... where is she?"

About a decade ago I squashed most of my sense of smell.  A long story involving allergies, a soap shop in which I worked and a a six-month supply of Allegra (the original stuff, not this watered down stuff they sell over the counter).  The result is that although it does save me from the onslaught of not so pleasant smells in an afternoon elevator ride, it also means if there is ever a gas leak, I will not be the alerting party.  Truth.

Be that as it may, not having a keen sense of smell hasn't really affected me in the long run.  It did hurt my chances of becoming a bloodhound, but I've still managed to carve out a nice little livelihood.  Luckily, design is a relatively visual field and I don't have clients requesting for a "new car smell" when designing their homes.  If I were colorblind, however, I might be singing a different tune.

Thank goodness.

Fault in mind, I still have random olfactory moments. You all know what I'm talking about.  Promenading one beautiful sunny/snowy/sleety afternoon, the wisp of a recognizable flavor tickles your nose.  A spark is set and a flash of the past ensues. I have a number of those triggers.

The floral twists of Chanel No. 5 always makes me think of my Aunt Sharon who wasn't really my aunt but was responsible for my first word.  And scaring my mother with stories of hanging me from the ceiling fan as a baby.

The indelible grotesque scent of Abercrombie's fragrance for men brings me to a world of tanned, toned, preppy.... shirts.  Preppy shirts I tell you and I'm sticking with that story dammit!

But my favorite.  The one scent that brings me back.  A scent I've tried to replicate for years with little success.  My grandmother's spice cabinet.  Growing up, I knew my maternal grandparents for their abilities in the kitchen.  Certainly neither could play off the part of Julia Child, but both knew their way around a pressure cooker.  And a de-humidifier.  And a smoker.  Their downstairs pantry (there were two pantries....) was always an abundance of homemade treats.  Dill and Sweet Pickles.  Butter Pickles. Duck and Beef and Turkey jerkies. Saurkraut. Mason jars of mushrooms and tomatoes and....

Where was I?  Let me wipe up the drool.

My grandparents' house is laid out so that the kitchen is a mere twelve feet from the front door. The transition from the hall to the kitchen is a two-foot tunnel of sorts - pantry on the right, spice cabinet on the left. Most children would head straight for the hard candy on the coffee table.  My mother to an embrace with her parents.  But me. I would stop short of the kitchen, open the door to the spice cabinet and inhale with a vengeance.  The scent was ever changing over the years as my grandparents introduced other home grown scents - garlic salt, jalapeno pepper... - but in a way it remained the same.

My own spice cabinet is a mix of my spice loves. Full cloves. Dried lavender. Various salts from chardonnay smoked salt to hickory salt to truffle salt. Bay leaves. Lawry's Seasoning Salt (hey.... the can't all be gourmet!).  But no matter the new ground bits of heaven that I introduce to my own collection, I can never replicate the grassroots smells encased in my grandparents spice cabinet.

Even now.  No longer the lanky blonde geek of my past (I'm not lanky anymore).  Acknowledging the anniversary of my grandmother's passing. The weakening of my aging grandfather. I still stop in that mini-tunnel and thrust my nose into shallow cabinet straining to catch even the tiniest pouf of spicy goodness.  The magical scent appears and I'm taken back if for just a moment, to simpler times.

For all my loyal followers, perhaps you can find those smells that bring you back to innocence and peace at a discounted price here at Target.

And by the way.... Happy St. Valentine's Day!

This blog post is just one of the dozens of super-excellent blogs participating in this week’s theme “What Smell Takes You Back”.  To see the other great blogger’s take, click here to take you to the Let’s Blog Off page.