In the often frantic pace of modern life, with its ubiquitous technology and uncertainty, it is easy to miss the fleeting scents that conjure up our life experiences. Yet, if I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and concentrate, I can recall smells so unmistakable that they unearth memories hidden under the weighty mass of years.
My childhood smelled like freshly baked apple pie, sun-dried laundry, newly tilled soil, incense, and rain-drenched grass. A deeper inhale elicits those delectable first few days in the spring when the lilacs would bloom profusely and fill our yard and house with their heady perfume. Lilacs were the smell of hope—a gentle suggestion that the world held an intrinsic beauty even when I could not see or smell it.
My childhood also had whiffs of uncertainty and even pain. The acrid smell of the fire as my dad shoveled coal into our furnace, hastily discarded trash from our menacing neighbors, and toxic emissions from the nearby General Motors factory reminded me often that carving out a survival came with its share of unpleasantness.
As the years inched forward, I came to absolutely delight in taking in the wonder of freshly brewed morning coffee, opening a brand-new book, responding to the singular scent of a close friend or lover, understanding the heady smorgasbord of humanity in a large city, and unmistakable seaweed on a night breeze at low tide. As I moved from state to state, I began to associate distinct aromas with locations: Nebraska’s fresh cut hay and rolling thunderstorms, Colorado’s pristine, cool mountain air, Ohio’s dew and river and soil.
Children and grandchildren came with their own set of aroma identifiers. From soiled diapers to chlorine-soaked bathing suits to stinky tennis shoes to family dinners of meatloaf and potatoes and freshly cut Christmas trees, our shared experiences connected us in immutable ways.
There are multiple stories in my olfactory journey, and perhaps one day I will write My Cinnamon Truth, How Cigar Smoke Saved My Life, The Chicken Coop Capers, Chemo and Cotton Candy, and more. But this is enough for today. For now, it is enough to breathe deeply and calmly and let the tripwire of past smells detonate memories.
Janet Call is a loving grandmother, avid reader, storyteller, and retired educator. After nearly 50 years in the classroom, she published her first novel Empty Desk and continues to search for inspiration for writing daily.
Janet Call is a loving grandmother, avid reader, storyteller, and retired educator. After nearly 50 years in the classroom, she published her first novel Empty Desk and continues to search for writing inspiration daily.