Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Scents of Self

The leaves swirl upon the ground, crunching beneath my feet and scraping across the pavement. The bittersweet sound means bidding farewell to to the warmth of summer while welcoming the cool winds of fall.

Vibrant gold mixed with rich ruby red leaves are beginning to dot the skyline that surrounds the mill. The cider mill. A visit that serves to usher in fall. J's very first visit.

This past weekend we had our very own adventure. J wasn't too sure what to make of the crowds of people, the sounds of chatter and laughter, the aroma of apples and dewy leaves . . . he simply sat back and soaked it all in while his mama got lost in her memories.

I was only in first grade when I first visited the cider mill. Although time has left my memories a bit clouded, my subsequent visits throughout my childhood have etched the cider and cinnamon-laden experiences in my mind.

The collection of colorful leaves acts as a canopy, filtering out the light and casting a ethereal glow on the ground. The sounds of laughter dancing through the air. My fingers sticky from
real caramel.

But, it is the sweet scent of apples that truly pulls me back. I am a child all over again. Enthusiasm courses through me as a smile creeps across my face. I see the plump red fruit in my hands. I hear the joyful crunch. I taste the sweetness.

Yes, images, sounds, textures all add to the verisimilitude of my memories. But, it is the scent that captures and pulls me into them, letting me live once more in their essence.

Sausage Gravy . . . I can see her reaching over the stove to retrieve the well-done sausage patties. She crumbles them, places them into an ancient iron skillet that must be older than she. She drops a tablespoon (or was it a cup?) of lard into the pan and I can hear the sizzling sound wrapping around my ears. I watch as she moves in the kitchen, her ample size betrays the finesse with which she dances around the tiny room. She looks back at me and beckons me to come over. I follow as I watch the back of her flowered house coat make its way around the corner of the stove. She pulls up a chair and she hands me a bowl of flour. She scoops it up with her hands and drops it into the skillet. She motions for me to do the same. Milk. Stir. Scrape. More milk. Stir. The aroma of sausage gravy moves throughout the house, filling every tiny room, waking every slumbering body.

I am ravenous. She senses this and pulls a warm biscuit from the basket and dips it into the skillet. Her eyes tell me that this will be our secret. And it was . . .

My aunt has been gone for years, but when that rich aroma begins to waft around me, I am back in the kitchen, examining the patterns of her house coat, watching her flitter about the kitchen, tasting gravy-dipped biscuits and loving every moment of it.

* * *

Cool Water . . . Slowly, with caution in every step, I make my way down each aisle. Shadowy clouds crawl across the skies above the Windy City. With the storm approaching, I am eager to catch the train and head back to the dorms. I begin looking for my friends and find them hovering over a magazine, giggling and sharing silent stories. I don't care to join them. Not today. I return to the aisles, walking without intent, letting my fingers linger on the items as I pass. Who goes to a drugstore on a Friday night? A lame brokenhearted college student, of course. But, I am on the road to recovery, so says my magazine-hovering friends. I am "finding my way back."


I turn the corner and spot a young couple standing at the cosmetics counter. For a brief moment my heart cracks. Deep breath. A couple. I was once a couple. BUT, I am a lonely young woman. NO, scratch that. I am a woman who is confident in her alone-ness.


I move on . . .

But then, it happens. I am assaulted by a scent the shakes me to my core. In an instant I am there. His arms, wrapped around me. His lips slowly finding the curves of my neck. My hands working through his hair. His caress forces me to catch my breath . . . and let it go as he pulls me into an embrace. My face rests against his, finding a tender comfort on his shoulder. Breathing him in . . .

I am already out of the store. Heaving. Looking out at the city lights wondering when and how the pain will finally leave. A mere spritz of a cologne and a young couple proceeded to crack open my chest and let the million tiny pieces of my heart fall to the ground.

Cool Water rushed over me . . . and left me. Left me . . .

* * *

Baby lotion . . . If you close your eyes, you can see how baby lotion smells. Before J, baby lotion looked like rainbows and Sweet Tarts. Don't ask me why. It just did.

It was a like a poem with a perfect rhyme. The filling in a jelly donut. A clear puddle after a spring rain. A puppy rolling to its belly, begging for a rub. The final note of the perfect concerto.

But the moment I held J in my arms, the images changed.

Belly buttons. Soft cheeks. Chubby thighs. Big blue eyes. Velvety tufts of hair. The "oooo" sound he makes when I pull his small body to mine.

Baby lotion can bring my knees, my heart grateful for my gift. Make me squeal with delight when I see his little wobbly figure make its way toward me, hands in the air and laughter escaping off his tongue.

Baby lotion makes me remember who I am. Who I've become. And even where I may go . . .

* * *
Believe it or not, I have a whole other paragraph dedicated to the power of scratch-n-sniff stickers, but I will save that one for another time. You may thank me later . . .

Our senses. Our scents . . . amazing. Tell me . . . what about your scents?

Share, please.


As Cape Cod Turns said...

Today somebody had a fire in their fireplace. There is nothing like the smell of a fire on a crispy fall day. Totally gives me a happy feeling all the way to my toes.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this was beautiful...really, nice work.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You're so right about the power of scent.

My husband leaves early so after I shower, when I go into the closet the scent of his Givenchy is always there. It's a nice start to my day.

Momisodes said...

WHOA! This was brilliant. And beautifully written. I have a short list of colognes that send a surge or memories and emotions through my mind. Coincidentally, Cool Water is one of them :)

However, the one scent that sends me straight back into my parent's house, sitting on their brown, shag rug, watching an enormous console TV, is cooked Jasmine rice :)

Kristen said...

Ok, so no matter what scents I tell you about they will never be as well written as yours just were! Wow! Amazing, seriously great writing!!

Ok, so most of mine are fall too. Corn chowder cooking on my mom's stove, the smell of autumn while on a hay ride, and the smell of my now husband's sweater when I would need to borrow one from a sleep over in college. The best!

Rachel said...


you moved me, you touched my heart and you made me remember some of the most powerful scents in my own memory.

thank you.

Lori said...

wow that's powerful! for me it's anything baking in the oven that brings me back

Deb said...

amazing!!! i don't know what got me more excited... the food or the cologne! but i guess, hands down, the babies get me every time. i miss having one around to smell... MOST of the time.

Unknown said...

The smell of a wood fire, and this time of year - the smell of leaves burning, apple cider heating on the stove, the smell of bacon on the stove, the smell of biscuits in the oven. Fresh cut grass, the fragrances along the lake shore first thing in the morning when everything is still and fresh.

All of these, and more, have the power to take me somewhere.

Karen said...

Your writing is amazing, as always.

The smell of the earth. After rain, in the spring when it's thawing, in the fall as it's slowly fading away, in the deep and dark woods...

Jennifer said...

that was, of course, great!! :) you always write so beautifully!!

my friends and I were talking about the way smells can bring you right back to a moment... and one of them said she never had that experience... and my other friend and I were shocked. I have that experience with a lot of scents, with colognes and perfumes, with food, with different shampoos with food with materials, with a lot of things. I love it. It sometimes is bitter sweet to have that memory burned right back into your mind with a smell of something but it is so comforting to know you haven't forgotten it.

I have always lathered all my babies up with lotion after every bath and sometimes between diaper changes... and I love that beautiful smell. It does look like chubby cheeks and thighs and big gorgeous smiles that light up an entire room, like sweet soft perfect baby!! :)

thanks for sharing this!! :)

Laural Out Loud said...

For me, freshly cut grass transports me back in time to MANY wonderful moments. Must mean I love summer (though I thought I preferred fall, lol). Smell is such a powerful sense.

Loved your post. So beautifully written. And how badly do I want some biscuits and gravy now?

Blessings From Above said...

Wow, this is so beautifully written!

The scent of the ocean always takes me back to childhood vacation at the beach.

Aracely said...

I take it your not in to the new cucumber melon trend sweeping the baby lotion isle.

Unknown said...

just saying cool water takes me back and I can almost smell it.

Kori said...

Too many to list here, and there would be no way to match your eloquence; I love these posts of yours!

Kat said...

There are so many! Fresh laundry. Irish Spring soap. Oil of Olay lotion. Freshly cut grass. Rain. Baby powder and lotion. Cookies baking. My mom's chicken. Or stew. Or chili.

The list goes on and on.

It always amazing me how smell can pull me back to an exact moment.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Kathryn on freshly cut grass. I smell the way the sun hits the blades and am transported to childhood. The smell of crashing waves will do that, too.

I think this might be your very best post. It was brilliant in how many situations you noted the smell.

Beth said...

The smell of bread baking takes me right back to the kitchen of my own childhood.

Anonymous said...

Oh there are all kinds of scents that bring me back.
The smell of moth balls reminds me of my Grandma's cellar.
I worked at a high school and whenever I walked through a locker room (to fix the computer in the teacher's office), the stale feet smell brought me back to being insecure in middle school gym class.
The smell of greasy fast food joints reminds me of my high school job and how much fun it was.

CC said...

This made me hungry. I so want to visit a cider mill.... And I can almost smell the fall smells.

Lisa said...

The smell of my moms detergent, my grandma's house, a newborn.

Beartiful post.

Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING said...

stupid - but the feel of sand on my feet makes me want to do carwheels. I must have done them as a child on the beach.

stupider - the sound of bike tires on leaves makes me want to drink a beer. Don't know where that one comes from.

The lower sun and the long shadows of this time of year make me remember and yearn for our time in Canada again - so many months of long shadows up there.


Woman in a Window said...

Odd, usually I'm steeped in sensations of the tongue, the ear, the nose. All that comes to mind right now is just how distinct farts are. I know, I know, little goodness here but it's all I have tonight. Rough night.

Truly though, there are five farters in our house. Four people, one dog. The dog is always odd man out because there is no question. But even the people. It's like a thumb print sometimes. Strange things. (We eat too many beans.)

Your stories were lovely AND smelly good.

Cheffie-Mom said...

My husband always lights a fire in our backyard when I want to relax. I absolutely love the smell!

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Ah, yes. Scents. There is one version of cologne my hubby wears that he THINKS is cool and it makes me want to yak.

Does that count?

Beautifully crafted words my friend!

OHmommy said...

Awesome post. I love the smells that transport me to my childhood.

And scratch and sniff stickers? Do tell.

Kamis Khlopchyk said...

my word! I loved this! I was there with you through each of these. You were the one who asked me about scent I think and I just don't associate with scent like that - see my latest post :-)

I now wish I could associate with scents so strongly and then also that I had your incredible gift for expressing it in words!

Anonymous said...

Magnolia can conjure some good memories; it seriously makes me dizzy--good dizzy!

The smell of beer on Michael's breath can drive me sexually insane.

Fresh baked bread puts me back into a six year old's body, at Baba's house, waiting for a piece with a big slab of butter and some feta cheese on the side.

The smells of spring and fall; you know them and they bring two different kind of familiarity. One of rebirth, another of closing a chapter.

The power of scents. How sensible.

April said...

I love this! White Rain shampoo reminds me of who I was many, many years ago.

Kellan said...

This was so beautiful! I loved how you put me right there in the moment and I could smell these wonderful scents as if they were mine! Well, done and well very well writter!

Have a good Sunday - see you - Kellan

Carol said...

What a wonderful post.

Scent is so powerful it really transports us back to a place in time wonderfully well.

Anonymous said...

I felt like I was there.. LOVE THIS.. you have such talent.. I just read the Red Shoes post.. have an inch of your writing ability..

Wineplz said...

My scent memories are mostly food...

Pot roast reminds me of coming home on Sundays after church with my family and having a relaxed meal together.
Homemade pizza reminds me of being over at my cousins' house every Friday.
Warm chocolate reminds me of my grandma's homemade fudge (the whole house smelled of chocolate--bliss!)
Strawberry shampoo and lavender Baby Magic (combined or separate) remind me of bathtime with my kids (I often smell it on my hands/arms hours after they're in bed).

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