Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Road Trip Repast - The Scents of Memory

A story from the past while I work - hopefully you are all warmer than I have been the last couple of nights and days. - B.

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  Revlon Charlie perfume, worn the six months I spent in London on an assignment years ago where I bought some in an apothecary, 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, sandlewood 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, that lay as real today as that of a dead red rose that lay in a drawer, the scent of which, to this day, rends your heart like a veil.

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 bread and 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 now, 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 bluing, the smell of the first firearm 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 rain has passed, a deep cleansing rain that's washed from the sky all burden and need. I open the window just an inch, curtains inhaling in and out with the scent of fresh air that is as new as the day waiting to be breathed in deep.


  1. The air after a lightening strike curled the nape, surged the adrenalin, a rush to flee or stand. Nostrils smitten by the richness of the aroma, shoe leather on standby. So true the scents of life carry deep memories locked back in the cortex, ready to usher forth.

  2. I have just finished reading a great book written by a Red Headed woman about a Black Lab. Family and memories,if you have not read The Book about Barkley you really need to find you a copy and once you start you will not want to put it down until you finish it thanks for the memories.

  3. Loved the whole post, but those jet engines, or suck and blow machines exhale noxious fumes that make me want to vomit! Now the smell of a nicely mixed combustible mix made of O2 and 115/145 avgas is a balm to my nose! Every time a round motor comes to the local FBO, I always try to get behind it on startup and inhale deeply as if trying to preserve that aroma for a few more moments!

  4. Just on a quick break but thank you --

    john - your words are poetry, as always.

    old okie - thank YOU. So glad you liked it. Please tell others as there is no advertising but word of mouth. I've asked people not to link HOTR to the book and not use my full name (just LB Johnson) but any mention to friends and family of the book in general is so appreciated

    Everett- I can imagine - I am so enjoying your book on growing up on the island. I hope you share it with more than just family(internet adopted or otherwise) and friends.

  5. This is beautifully written!

    There's a biological reason for what you're saying, by the way. It has something to do with how the brain processes the sense of smell. Smell travels a different path, so it strikes us differently than the other senses.

    I could look it up to remind myself what I'm talking about, but that would only dilute my real point, which was to applaud you on a really great post.

  6. I wrote a paper about scent in a lit class, but nothing as rich as this. Excellent.

  7. Charlie
    the steam and clean of ironing
    It really is amazing how your writing evokes 30, 40, 50+ year old memories so effortlessly.

    My Mom wore Chanel N°5, any time that scent passes my nose I'm once again 5 years old.

    Fresh damp dirt, freshly cut knotty pine? Yes, just a wiff while driving down the road floods back decades old memories.

    Ms B, Thank You.

    Rich in NC

  8. Fresh brewed coffee at zero dark thirty (with bacon); the ORIGINAL Hoppe's #9 and strangely enough the smell of brand new tires still in the rack, as a nod to my motorhead side.



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..