Certain smells always bring me back. Flood my brain with memories. Ones I thought were long gone and forgotten. I love it when this happens. It’s enough to send me on a scent hunt. Digging up recollections like hidden clues to buried treasures.
Then becomes now in a heartbeat.
I can’t walk into a kitchen where baking has taken place without thinking immediately of Ma’s cookie baking emporium at 204. Oatmeal raisin. Hermits. Ginger Snaps. Sweet and spicy. Rich with love and motherly goodness. One whiff of Italian food and it’s a Spaghetti Saturday Night. The best comfort food smack dab in the middle of a brutal Northwestern Ontario winter. Cold as the Arctic outside but warm and deliciously cozy inside. Turkey roasting in the oven conjures up decades of Christmases enjoyed with our family. This mouthwatering array of aromas reminds me to count my blessings.
I can close my eyes and smell Ma’s Second Debut face cream. Breathe in her presence. Inhale it’s gentle loveliness as my lips brush against her cheek. Just like I did every morning before I headed off to school as a kid. This fine scent not only evokes memories of the softness of her skin but the kindness of her heart. In her later years she treated herself to a weekly hairdo. She would return feeling pampered and pretty, filling the house with the beauty parlor scent of freshly coiffed hair. Set for the week. I’m reminded that although true beauty blossoms from within, it’s also nourished with a dab of cream and a nice do.
When I wash with Ivory soap I think of The Old Man. A grimy bar sat in the soap dish next to the bathroom sink. As soon as he got home from work he washed off the grunge that clung to his face and hands after a long day on the road delivering Holsum bread and Persian buns. He’d emerge from the bathroom a new man. An Ivory man. Pure and simple. Now when I stand in the shower preparing for my day, lathering on this creamy white soap, I am reminded that hard work of any sort is honorable. No matter what you do. Sell bread. Or shoes. Fly to the moon. Or stand on your feet all day. Work, especially in service of others, is good.
Old Spice makes me think of Sunday mornings and going to church. Once a week The Old Man donned a suit and tie, and escorted Ma and me to Christ Lutheran Church on Walkover Street. We drove there, despite the friendly invitation to hoof it. All week he wore his stiff blue twill uniform that smelled of flour dust, sweat, and when I was really young, tobacco. But on Sundays, he dressed for the occasion. He was a stylish confident man with his two favorite girls in tow. Old Spice has always been a feel good scent memory. Yet also contradictory. Like The Old Man, in many ways. A peculiar blend of spirituality and carnal pleasure. Old time religion and hedonism. Fear of the Lord and the folly of the man. Imagine all that in just one sniff.
There’s nothing like the perfume from a mauve lilac. One hint and I’m instantly transplanted to the front yard at 204. There, a charming little tree bloomed every year in June. It marked the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. It was a symbol of freedom and carefree days. A simple bouquet adorned Ma’s kitchen table and filled the room with such exquisite inimitable beauty. I’m reminded of the wonder and splendor just outside our door. The natural abundance of the earth. It’s symmetry and grace. And for that I am grateful.
Then there’s the fragrance of first love. I can’t walk in the early morning rains of April or May without thinking of him. Not every time. For the memory to come, the rain must possess a particular scent. A bittersweetness. Sadness in the joy. Longing in the reverie. Then I go back to this love that was beginning to unravel. So new yet tired of itself. Still, all these years later I think tenderly of him. Of us then. I know the smell of him. It reminds me to be inspired by love. To carry on. Love again. And again. Enlarge my heart. Grow it bigger. Until it beats no more.
And oh, the sweetest of all perfumes. My newborn babies. Tender. Innocent. Still so close to heaven in their scent. Still so filled with the essence of the divine. Without earthly tarnish. Nor painful sheaths sullying their pristine souls. Just perfection. I have been blessed to enjoy this redolence three times. Three times I breathed in their beautiful newness. Each time I was reborn.
I’ve read that the science behind this sentimental journey originates with the olfactory bulb in our limbic system, which is associated with memory. Called the “emotional brain” it allows us to conjure up memories in an instant just by smelling something.
I am grateful for this bulb in my brain that allows me to go back. Not just remember. But to be there. Time travel does exist. And the beautiful thing is, we all possess this wondrous gift of uncommon sense.