Three Kid Circus : Do You Smell That?

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Do You Smell That?

As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I caught a whiff of the past. My old cowboy boots had been shoved unceremoniously under my side of the bed by one of my children. The scent of worn leather wafted up to rest on my pillow, and I found myself standing in the tiny ranch house kitchen of my dear friend and country dancing buddy. I glanced around and saw the pile of wet boots by the door, the fifteen varieties of munchies and the empty coke cans from a 2am refueling. A surge of joy built in my chest and I released a giggle into the still of my bedroom. My husband stirred in his sleep, and I drifted off, awash in recollection.

The sense of smell is a powerful weapon against a leaky memory. I spent a summer in Japan when I was 15 year old. Every couple of years, the air around me will briefly take on characteristics that leave me mentally wandering the sidewalks of Osaka. Each place I've been has a distinct aroma that calls to me. More instinct than conscious action, my brain has catalogued these atmospheric elements.

The beach where we celebrated my son's fourth birthday is the same beach where I took my own first steps as a baby. The tang of the salt air, the smell of drying seaweeds on the gravelly sand are imprinted in my mind. A lifetime of memories rush back to me when we open the car doors on the cliffs above the beach. I become the child who posed with seaweed like a feather boa and scoured the tidepools for signs of life. I become the preteen who wore a bathing suit despite the freezing surf, and the teenager who sat on the rocks and rehashed conversations with friends and talked about cute boys. My first joyful trip to the beach as a mother combines with the long remembered trips of my own babyhood in the sweetness of salt water taffy, bought from a roadside shack.

The sense of smell is remarkable. It entices with the perfume of a passing stranger and causes me to salivate when my favorite dishes are prepared. A baby, minutes old, knows his own mother by her smell. There is comfort in a familiar scent and excitement in an exotic spice. These mental getaways are always surprising. Like a favorite song from an earlier time in my life, certain smells send me on olfactory flights of fancy, remembering in great detail the people, places and events that occurred.

My brother has no sense of smell. He did, before his body was attacked by Lyme's Disease at the age of nine. It has been problematic for him - he can't tell if the gas pilot has been left on, or if there is an unfamiliar smell. It distorts his ability to taste food. I've never asked him about how he remembers things. It makes me sad to think that he has been robbed of the pleasures of smell.

On the other hand, my husband's brother stayed with us last Christmas, and informed me that he eschews deodorant, because he has been told by women that "they love his musky goodness." Okay, look. If he said he was allergic, or that he couldn't bring himself to slather chemicals in his pits, but he showered after major exertion, I MIGHT have some sympathy. But the men of my husband's family generate some serious, knock you down at 1000 paces, nasty, rank, foul, oh my GOD is that coming from your pits kind of stankyness. It's lethal. Musky Goodness. Hell, no. I howl every time I think about that. Then again, I'm happy that there is a special scent for everyone, musky or no.