Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year Repast - Scents of Memory

I choose many things by the scent of them. Scent is the key part of taste. People that lose their sense of smell often lose their enjoyment of food. Smell is transport or torment, as simple as hunger, as complex as love. Scent is memory, simply the whiff of something takes us back. The smell of Charlie perfume, six months I spent in London on an assignment years ago where I bought some in an apothacary, the fresh clean air smell of raw corn silk, brushing my nose as I waited in an Indiana blind. Rosemary baking on bread and the floral steam scent that was my Mom hand ironing everything in our house, including the sheets, while I played with my little Tonka trucks underfoot. Waking up now, the faint scent of shampoo and vanilla on my pillow.

The smells of childhood are all their own, be it your own childhood or that of your children. Clean milky skin, the scent of fresh grass, bicycle oil and band aids, the bite of apple in a school lunchbox, soap bubbles and Hershey's chocolate. The teen years are simply a smell of angst, gangly legs and sweat, locker rooms, Right Guard deodorant, burnt rubber and a corsage that lay dying in a bedroom drawer.

Then the smell of a hospital, a smell I hate to this day, watching someone become more and more body and less and less self, until the self was so wrapped up in pain all that was left was the body, wasting away, releasing its scent to the room. Yet I could still hug them and could still smell, if only in my mind, the warmth of cookies, the smell of Wind Song perfume and baby shampoo. Not for me, an end like that, lay me out where I smell only fresh rain or motor oil, release me to the wild, to become part of it, then never look back.

Scents are like colors, bringing back memories some would wish swept away. Crayons, Flesh and Indian Red, colors not politically incorrect, and soon bleached to remove possible offense. Just as some mask the breathy clean musk of natural beauty with too much powder and perfume, covering up that which is innately desirable. But scent, like colorful crayons, remains vivid in memory, drawing horizons on pieces of paper that went back home to that kitchen that smelled of perfume and cinnamon. I can still walk through my childhood home and take in those scents, of yeast and meat, spice and coffee, tracing them with my noise through alleyways of retrospection, cataloging them with the smells of other things, marionberry pie, fresh cotton, the exhaust of a muscle car.

There are scents that in just one moment, take us back to a place, a single, distinct point of time.

The stale air in a bedroom, the smell of sleep laying deep in your throat as your brain refuses to rest. You watch someone sleeping, looking at that exposed place on their neck where the sheet and their hair almost meet, the skin laying pale in the moonlight. Flesh, bridging a contrast between soft silky hair that smells faintly of sandlewood and the sheets pure smell of crisp softness. You place your lips on that space of skin, inhaling softly and deep, breathing in the balm of future tears.

The oily jet smell of a turbine engine blowing up and out from the hot eternal darkness of a engine, the odor rising like flame and blowing cleanly back, across tarmac. You never forget that odor, the vivid, dead perfume that is a dinosaur cooked on a kerosene stove, coating everything it touches.

That particular smell followed me throughout the years. The air smells like brimstone, upon the disembodied plane of it, our shadows move, walking in grids, slowing, not stopping, as if our shadows only congealed for a moment, in proximate musings. That coppery smell of blood for me, is not just a smell of maturation, it's a visceral journey to those places I've stood, the blaze of remaining fire swimming in my eyes like two tiny torches, daring me to tear up. I don't, I can't. Not here, not now. The tears will travel back, harsh, sparse swift drops, brought back with the scent of soundless explosions and cold fire, to be gathered up into a sealed red container, where they remain as I drive home.

But, there are other smells, so many smells, that bring only smiles. The smell of wet dog, soaked and tireless, rushing from the water that beads on his dense fur, as slow as chilled glycerin. The smell of green, as the wheels of an airplane pull away from it, the length and breadth of life measured in the takeoff run on a freshly mowed runway. Garlic baking, a peppery meat infused scent of Merlot poured into glasses at lunchtime, stealing away from work and duty for a few days of leave in a city foreign of sight and scent, dim sum and sourdough, the salty scent of an oceans' release.

There is the smell of fresh blueing, the smell of the first handgun I ever bought. I held it, taking in the deep blued finish that seemed to hold all reluctant light and breath, feeling the weight in my hand, the scent of cold steel bracing me. Then I simply stepped up and fired it. A single shot, in which a lifetime lay behind me. A single shot, upon the bare and pock marked wall, the shadow of its form shuddered in what was not the wind, but my own trepidations, until holding it steady, I squeezed the trigger with one intake of virgin breath.

In that moment, in the rich, trembling roar of its power, the trepidation fell behind and I knew that this would be one desire that would stay with me always. In that moment, the sounds and smell of every old hunting rifle I had ever shot came in that single converging brace of gunpowder smell and noise that was that moment, spoiling me for anything else.

So many smells, so many memories. Food and wine, and guns and love, all intertwined, the power and the need of it all. I wonder what scents tomorrow will bring to store up for later? The snow falls from above, covering the landscape of both form and flaw, cleansing the sky of all burden and need.  I open the door to breath deep the scent of the air, curtains inhaling in and out with a breeze that is as fresh and new as the day waiting to be breathed in deep.


  1. It is amazing the memories smells bring to mind. One thing about riding motorcycles is you catch whiffs that you never would in a car, sometimes just for a second.

  2. Beautifly written as always. Happy New Year!

  3. Beautifully written.
    Yes scents can transport us back through the web of memory.

    Happy new Year to you and your loved ones Brigid


  4. Beautifully said, and Happy New Year Brigid! Salut!!!

  5. Wonderful article, thanks.
    Happy New Year.

  6. Happy New Year! Brigid and Barkley...

    Smells like a good year...

    Dann (and gals) in Ohio

  7. Well done...
    Wishing you a Happy New Year filled with Wonder & Love...

  8. Happy New Year.

    Hope 2013 smells nice for you.

  9. The smell of Spring plowing.

    Happy New Year, Brigid.

  10. Happy New Year, Brigid and Barkley.
    May God richly bless you in the coming months.

  11. Well done! I have my childhood memories of campfires, Dad's cigarettes (quit 25 yrs. ago, thankfully), fresh-cut grass; two of our three sons tell me the first things they think of re: childhood smells is Alox bullet lube and burnt powder as Dad taught and practiced. There's a lot worse things to smell; a crack house being one that all too many will remember; a barroom for other kids. I thank God for the blessings.

  12. It just dawned on me... last night was the first New year's Eve that I hadn't emptied the household guns! I happened to be home alone for the first time in many years, watching the idiot box; it completely escaped me! That's what has been one of our traditions since we moved out of town, on New Years's Eve and Independence Day, to rotate ammo. I guess it will have to be tonite! Of course, even though in near-darkness, we still have a very safe backstop.

  13. My husband has very strong reactions to smells. They evoke memories for him very quickly. Beautifully written.


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..