Monday, November 8, 2010

Tripping Down Olfactory Lane

I read somewhere that smell has the best memory and odors bring back recollections better than any of our other senses. Regrettably, I must be lacking in the schnozzle department, or perhaps my nostril-to-brain synapses are a bit congested, because I don’t have many memories related to smell. However, not having much to report hasn't stopped me in the past and it certainly won't hinder me now.

I actually have more recollections about bad smells than good ones, but, because no one wants to read a litany of bad smell memories, I’m going to offer up just one. The one I'm providing is more an indictment of my brother, Sandy, and how he abused me when I was a child than anything else. I remember when I was little, as soon as we passed the Glenn County line on our way to Jekyll or St. Simon's Island for a family vacation, I would start crying. The tears arrived because, as soon as that good old paper mill odor hit Sandy's sinuses, he would announce to everyone in the car that I’d just passed gas. The injustice of it all made me so furious that I would first burble and and then howl and finally my tears would irrigate the interior of our Ford Fairlane as if from a revolving sprinkler head. But I do have to say the smell was bad enough to have made my eyes water anyway.

Now on to a sampling of the very few good smelly memories I have. You'll be happy to know that I'm keeping the more personal ones to myself.

I remember my mother's scent when she and Daddy would go out, which wasn’t all that often. I have no idea what her perfume was, but I recall her smelling different and fancy on those occasions when she was all fixed up in her pretty pink and cream floral dress and high heels. My memory is mixed in with the pride I felt at those moments, pride that came from having such a beautiful mama.

I remember the fragrance of Christmas. For some strange reason, the smell I think of most often was the scent of some article of clothing, a little slip or sweater, that would be enveloped in tissue paper and a white department-store gift box and opened by a very happy me. The best way I can describe it is that it had a Belk's smell. For a child who received the great majority of her clothing straight from her mother's sewing machine, errant threads and all, I can see why the smell of something "store bought" would be memorable.

I remember taking a cooking class on the top floor of the Savannah Electric Company with my Girl Scout troop. For one of our lessons, we made some type of pinwheels that were created, in part, by melting butter. Apparently, I’d never smelled real butter before as my mother was a huge margarine fan. The smell of melting butter still reminds me of those cooking lessons, the only cooking lessons I ever took in my entire life, if you don't count the tips I garner but don't employ from the Food Network.

I remember the smell of Memorial Stadium in Savannah when we would go to Jenkins High School football games. I think it was primarily popcorn, but there was a teenage smell to it too, probably part bonfire, part adolescent boy sweat, part my Ambush cologne optimistically sprayed on as I headed out the door on chilly Friday evenings.

The smell of Johnson’s Baby Lotion takes me back to when each of my children were newly born, the three happiest times of my life, bar none. And to think that something smelling that good actually came from me! Okay, I know the mewling, hurling, crapping smells were the ones
I spawned and the lotion came from the Johnson Company, but I'm going to remember it the the more fragrant way.

In contemplating the very small number of smell memories I have, I began wondering if the paucity was based on an apathetic proboscis, or if I just hadn't tried hard enough in the smelling department. So I decided to conduct an experiment.

While walking to my polling place on election day to vote for a myriad of people who I knew couldn't possibly win, I decided to multitask so as not to waste my time. In an effort to do better in the olfactory department, I committed myself to smelling my way across South Prado, through Ansley Park, and then all the way to First Presbyterian Church where I would cast my sad ballot. Feeling confident I hadn't, in the past, worked hard enough sniffing and whiffing, I dedicated my walk to my schnozzola.

I smelled some grass being cut, but the scent was kind of annoying. A smoker drove by and I was glad for all the ordinances we have now. I coughed up some fumes from traffic on Peachtree Street. But I didn't smell anything good that I'd one day remember while writing my memoirs. No whiffs of an autumnal bonfire, no dinners being cooked by a mother (or father) in a frilly apron, nothing that would bring on a good bout of nostalgia at a future date. I felt even more dejected, not to mention light headed from coming close to hyperventilating

But all was not lost. As I was walking and sniffing and lamenting , a friendly dog ran up to me and stuck his nose in my crotch. The dog stopped, looked up at me, and then sat on his haunches with a puzzled look on his snout, as if some inchoate recollection had entered his brain stem.

Did my private parts bring back some long ago memory for that dog? Did I somehow remind him of his dear mother and her aroma when she was heading out with the pack? I thought to ask him, but decided no, I couldn't worry about a dog's quest to remember and document a reminiscence from puppyhood.

If that dog smelled something that brought back a memory, something that would bring him full circle in understanding the meaning of his life, something he needed to commemorate in some way, he was just going to have to write his own damned blog.


Bobby Dobbins Title said...

Rarely do I burst out laughing in the middle of a blog, but I sure did in yours! And I laughed to the very end. Well done, Marcia!

cile said...

I thought you came up with a lot of smell memories! Especially poignant is your memory of your Mom's perfume. My Mother wore Prince Matchabelli - I will never forget it - and I thought she was the most most beautiful woman in the world, too!

That's funny about the dog!

Anonymous said...

My ex husband had a keen sense of smell. My smell abilities were very poor. We'd walk into a room and he'd hold his nose and say "what is that awful smell". I'd said "what smell". You can image the conversation from there on. Loved your story and smells. Mary B

Brig said...

The one thing I do have is a good smeller. It has saved me more than twice.
My favorite smells are many: saddle leather, horses, dogs, grandkids, babies, pine trees...
What a hoot about the sniffer dog!

Jean said...

Oh, the memories this post has prompted! I remember the smell of Dial soap at my grandparents' farm in New Brunswick, and also the smell of rich cream as my grandfather worked the milk separator in the shed. The smell of new-mown hay cannot be beat, especially as I recall that fragrance on my own family's farm. And then there was the smell of the Old Town paper mills as I walked to classes in the early morning at the Univ. of Maine at Orono.

Arkansas Patti said...

Delightful post. I have a big enough sniffer, it just isn't very talented about savoring and remembering.
Baking bread, saddle leather, damp dog and horse. Not much romance there.
Still laughing about baby smells and your claim to ownership. Think I have set a few dogs on their heels also.
Thanks for a fun read.

Wisewebwoman said...

Oh I have a good nose, Marcia, myriads of memories tied up in the smell of a Coty perfume my mother would wear, her baking - hundreds of different smells from her pies to her fruit cakes and stews, my Granny's carbolic soap, my grandfather's pipe, oil on the sewing machine parts.
Oh my great post, it has triggered a lot of lovely thoughts.
and the dog, you had me snorfling my coffee!!!
PS Dogs have 10,000 times more acute schozzability than us, did you know that?

marciamayo said...

I love that my lack of schnozzability has enabled you all to recall so many memories. If that dog had 10,000 times more ability in the schnozzle, then no wonder he sat down.

Friko said...

Smells are very evocative. Just think of food cooking, the homely or unfriendly smell of a house when you firs walk in the door, or the smell of the gym at school.

Passing a men's urinal is fun too. Or maybe not.

Dogs love sniffing crotches, I wonder why too.

Freda said...

I love the picture - it is so ethereal and yet evocative of delightful smells and summer days. My Mother used the perfume Pagan - a few years ago I saw an advert offering perfumes of long ago, so I bought a small bottle and every now and then take it out and have a smell and some instant memories of Mum all dressed up going to the opera. Every Blessing

Olga said...

Well, I thought you came up with some good memories for believing you have a poor sense of smell. Have to say smell does evoke many, many memories for me.

Unknown said...

Bravo! Made me laugh - hard! Had to enlist Davis' help (my human thesaurus) on a few words (i.e. apathetic proboscis), but he came to my rescue.

marciamayo said...

All I can say is thank God for Davis (for so many reasons).

Celia said...

I have a couple of Mom's Nuit de Noel bottles that bring her and Christmas as child back. The oddest to me is the smell of fish feed (blood meal) in a hatchery; Dad was a fisheries biologist who ran hatcheries before I was school age. The smell transforms me momentarily into a four year old again, helping to dump the feed into the tanks. I love that smell but I do notice others covering their noses.

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