In My Mind’s Nose

Oranges in SevilleI was thinking about smell today because I put on a dab of orange blossom essential oil that I bought several years ago in Morocco. Despite the real beauty of the fragrance of orange blossoms, I rarely use that essential oil. I had never smelled orange blossoms until I went to Spain with Daniel and his Spanish club in 2008. Now, whenever I smell orange blossoms I am whisked back to Spain and to our day trip to Morocco. The day I bought the essential oil was the day Daniel lost his passport, and I had visions of his being locked away in some third-world prison in Morocco, and my having no way to get to him. I also had many wonderful memories of Spain,  but the smell of orange blossoms still sends waves of panic through me. Where is Daniel? Is he safe?

That made me think about the power of scent. For example, I have not been inside my grandparents’ house since 1968 when the house was sold. All I have to do is close my eyes, and I can smell that house in my mind’s nose as clearly as if I were standing inside it again. There was always a faint cedar scent, since all the closets were  lined with cedar, and unlike my parents, my grandparents had bacon and eggs almost every morning, so the cedar always had traces of bacon, toast, and coffee filtering through it. Bacon, eggs, toast, coffee, and cedar. It was an old house, built in 1908, so there was that too — oldness. It’s still there. I wonder, does it still smell of cedar and breakfast?

Our family cottage in Michigan has its own fertile fragrance. The soil is sandy, but rich with the odor of decomposing cedar needles, beech, poplar, and birch leaves. The sound your feet make walking on that earth is different from the sound they make walking on the rocky Texas Hill Country soil. It’s a soft padding, quiet. The little cottage, a century-old Brown family historical site, holds a potpourri of that soil, wood-fire, and the gentle wisp of the lake water blowing in through the screened windows and doors. It’s the best smell in my world. I am as rooted in that soil as the willow tree on the shoreline.

I have scents associated with people too. Daddy smells of sawdust and grease. He was always either building a boat or fixing something. His hands were never clean. He had a workshop in the garage that always smelled of freshly cut lumber. And he could fix anything — I mean anything. He took the engine out of my sister Melinda’s VW Bug and repaired it, rewired the dryer motor, and even when we moved him out of his house at age 90, he had two motors for the furnace. He’d switch them out back and forth. Fix one, put it back in. Fix the other, put it in, and so on. The world of machines makes sense to him. It’s manageable, logical. Still, the smells of sawdust and grease make me think, “Dad.”

Jergen’s Lotion makes me think of my mom — the original scent — cherry-almond. It came in a glass bottle then, with a black label. I still buy Jergens because it brings back a little of my mom. Summer is Coppertone. It has to be Coppertone. Long summer days at the Cape Municipal Pool with the neighborhood girls, Kim, Kaye, and Ann. I love the smell of old books too, of libraries, even though I do nearly all my reading on my iPad now. Still, I like to pick up an old book from the shelf and flip the pages so I get a whiff of it. Takes me back.

Mad Dog. Mogen David 20/20. I haven’t smelled that since 1976, but man oh man, I can smell it and taste it just as clearly as if it were last night. Of course, I generally tasted it twice, once going down and again coming up. Carole Anne knows. Ah, high school.

So, smell. Right now I’m smelling our cat box. Not so great. Guess I’ll go scoop the poop.