Gracie, my eight year old golden retriever and I have a usual route for our morning walk. I’ve been taken aback the last few mornings by the scent on our walk. No, not that… that goes into a pink biodegradable bag, tied shut and carried to the dumpster…
The honeysuckle is in bloom. Although I moved ten years ago, I immediately am taken back to the house I lived in for 27 years in Pennsylvania. The honeysuckle would grow wild along my back fence and for a brief period in late spring I was treated to a wonderfully sweet smell that seemed to fill the neighborhood. I would smell that sent, close my eyes and feel safe and secure knowing I was “home.”
I used to teach a graduate level course for teachers on “Brain Compatible Learning.” Scent is perhaps the strongest of our senses in imprinting the brain with associations. A scent can take us to places we haven’t been for a long time with the associated emotions. What scents create experiences for you? As a writer, how could scents create levels of symbolic meaning to characters?
Gardenias always take me to my senior prom having carried a nosegay of gardenias set among colored carnations. Fresh cut grass sends up red flags declaring DANGER right before I run to the medicine cabinet for a Zyrtec with my eyes tearing and sneezes coming one after the other. Thanksgiving would be just another day without the smell of roasting turkey filling the house. I could get through the day without eating it, but not without smelling it. The open campfire brings me to childhood and memories of girl scouts.
Some scents usually elicit a common response ~ peppermint is calming and cool and puts the brain at peace even without the taste. Skunk is acrid and distasteful, if it is emanating from a beloved pet it also causes the brain to scream in pain. A good realtor will tell you that besides staging your house for potential buyers with paint and furniture arrangement to throw an apple pie or a loaf of bread into the oven. It helps the prospective home buyer to visualize themselves living in that warm cozy environment.
Sometimes scents are unique to the individual. When most people smell a pot of chicken noodle soup bubbling on the stove they feel nurtured, loved and the center of attention. It conjures up the warm fuzzy feelings of a thick fleece blanket and a steaming cup of tea…I get all of those feelings from a plate of spaghetti and meatballs…and there is not one drop of Italian blood running through my veins!
As a young child my mother worked. When I was home sick from school my Great-Aunt Margaret would travel by trolley, bus and on foot to get to our house to take care of me. She always stopped at the grocery store and came bearing the ingredients for spaghetti sauce and meatballs. I suspect Aunt Margaret’s DNA is responsible for a long line of “out of the box” women in my family. She wasn’t Italian either, but the smell of that huge pot of sauce and meatballs on the stove makes me feel better immediately! It made me feel loved, nurtured and secure. That smell still makes me feel that way while chicken noodle soup doesn’t do a thing for me!
A trip to the Jersey shore (no, not anywhere near Snookie) held a myriad of scents. The salted sea air has a smell that, when combined with the sound of crashing waves, creates a steady pace and rhythm that my body will quickly follow. The beach is a calming and peaceful environment for me. A walk on the boardwalk floods your senses with the consecutive food smells of pizza, pier fries, cotton candy, popcorn and salt water taffy as you “walk the boards.”
One year I took my nieces who were then about 5 and 10 years old to Avalon, NJ for a few days to stay with my aunt and uncle. We were always in search of treasures and found one on our last day. Finding a dead horseshoe crab on the beach, we immediately named him Horace and decided to bring him home. Horace wound up in a plastic trash bag on the floor in the back seat of the car. We stopped at the Peter Pan Diner for dinner on the way back to Pennsylvania. People in the diner kept looking our way as we entered, sat down and ordered and ate our diner. We were so proud of our gorgeous bronze coloring accumulated after only a few days on the beach. We knew how jealous our fellow diners were!
Returning to the car we almost passed out as we flung the car doors open and were greeted square in the face with Odeur du Horace imbedded in oppressive air carrying an undertone of damp bathing suits and towels, sea air and sand. As we continued down the road we had to roll the windows down which helped only a little to make the ride bearable. It was definitely a seashore synaesthetic experience!! We realized, with much chagrin, that it was probably not the visual senses of our fellow diners that we had awakened! After soaking for several weeks (outdoors) Horace finally lost his scent. He lived with me for many years until the purging before my move to Maine.
S0, where does your sense of smell take you???