Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Nose Knows

INGRID THOFT

The other night I was cooking chicken stir-fry with a sweet and sour sauce when I was hit with a wave of nostalgia.  I flash backed to the months I lived in London a couple of years after graduating from college and the small kitchen in the basement-level flat.  What brought me back?  The scent of the sweet and sour sauce smelled like a Tesco meal I often heated up in that little flat.  Twenty-three years later and almost 5,000 miles away, I was right back there, prepping my meal before plopping down in front of the telly.




It's believed that scent triggers memory more than any of the other senses, but it's still amazing, and even a little jarring, when it does.  My dinner prep prompted me to react on other scents that have hit  my olfactory bulb and lit up my amygdala and hippocampus. 


Palmolive dish washing liquid reminds me of my paternal grandmother's kitchen in Montana.  I can never quite believe this because I was only in that kitchen a handful of times in my childhood.  The formula has changed over the years, and the memory is not as strong, but the memory of that initial scent recognition remains with me to this day.


Oil of Olay:  Yes, I know it's Olay now, but when I first smelled it on my mom, Oil was part of the name.  A couple of months ago, I was staying with my aunt, and she happened to walk by the open bathroom while I was applying Olay.  She stopped and came back to the doorway to ask if I was using Oil of Olay.  In turns out that her mother used the lotion, too, (is there anyone who hasn't) and catching the scent on the air brought her mother back to her.

When my husband and I go for walks along Puget Sound, the briny smell of the sea instantly transports me to my hometown, Marblehead, MA on the opposite side of the country.  The tang of salty air is so intertwined with my childhood, I can't imagine one without the other.




What about you?  What scents live in your memory?

62 comments:

  1. Having grown up at the shore, the smell the ocean always makes me think of my childhood.

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    1. Me, too. The ocean has a very specific smell. It's one of the things I miss living int he desert, but we do have creosote when it rains, which is pretty magical, too.

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  2. Lavender: My mother has little sachets of lavender among the sheets in her linen closet and she puts drops of lavender oil on her guests' pillows. It's a calming scent of lightness that does - and likely always will - remind me of her. We live in separate cities in Western Canada.

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    1. How lovely. Does the scent help you sleep?

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  3. So true! When I smell the kind of lighter fluid in cigarette lighters I am instantly at my grandmother's side. She had an elegant silver lighter. Blessedly I don't remember the smoke itself. And when I smell pines, cool, clean air, and a hint of wood smoke, I'm back with my family camping in the Sierras every summer amid giant Sequoias. Thanks for the memories!

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  4. When I walked into the house after work yesterday, I thought, "It smells like summer." Now, I've always associated summer with the smell of sunscreen, salt air, freshly cut grass, meat being barbecued, etc; but apparently there's also a smell just based on the temperature of the house? It brought me a rush of good feeling!

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    1. My husband and I were talking about this, and he said freshly cut grass always reminds him of growing up and doing yard work!

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  5. Jergen’s lotion! The kind that kind of smells like almonds? There’s also a face cream by Elizabeth Arden called Visible Difference, , that we all used in the 70s. When I smell it, I instantly and transported to Washington DC. And yes MaryC sunscreen, absolutely! Coppertone, right? And that orange gooey stuff, Bain de Soleil. What a fabulous topic, Ingrid!

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    1. I remember Bain de Soleil, Hank. The print ads featured incredibly tan women who looked like they were covered in oil. I think the SPF went up to about six!

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    2. Oh that Jergens odor. Made me want to drink it

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    3. That's how I feel about suntan lotion in general. The coconut aroma makes me want a pina colada!

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  6. Oh yes! Just a whiff of Irish Spring soap takes me right back to my grandparent's bathroom!

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    1. Ha! I forgot about that one - that will forever be the smell of my brother's bathroom when we were teens. He was a big Irish Spring guy.

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  7. Scent memories! Just hearing or reading the words "Muguet des Bois" can remind me of the smell of that lovely perfume, and the lilies of the valley it smells like. (My favorite flower, just blooming now.)

    The smell of Chantilly reminds me of my grandmother; my mom was always associated with the fragrance of her purse, a combination of Juicy Fruit and cosmetics.

    My friend brought her daughter over when she was visiting from California. She walked into the house and stopped dead, and said, "Your house still smells exactly the same as when I was little". Then: "I mean in a good way!"

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    1. Smelling sweet pea blossoms takes me back to our first house, which we moved out of just before I was five. Early memory!

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    2. Juicy Fruit has a very distinctive smell, Karen. What scent do you think your house smells like?

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    3. Hard to say. Maybe potpourri, since I've made it for decades. But it's an old house, and they always have individual fragrances, don't they? Probably dust. LOL

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    4. Coty Muguet des Bois was MY scent as a teenager. Because Lily of the Valley is my flower. Even as I speak, the little shoots are poking their way up all over my garden.(Later than yours, I guess, Karen.)

      I checked lately and found that it's no longer a $2 bottle at the drug store. It's become so upscale you could buy five new hardcover books for the price of a tiny bottle.

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    5. Susan, Muguet des Bois is made by Coty, and it's actual perfume. We have a store here in Cincinnati that specializes in things from France, and they carry it. I just love that fresh scent, and it carries me right back to high school years, when that was what I wore.

      I wonder how many of the boys we dated then could recall us when they smell it?

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    6. I must have been buying the cologne or toilet water version. Always cheaper than the perfume.

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  8. Bluegrass by Elizabeth Arden. My grandmother used the talcum powder, and the old-fashioned scent instantly transports me to her house and my childhood.

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  9. I have a Cape Cod pine dresser that still gives off a whiff of my grandparents' house on damp days. And weeding under the pine trees with the song sparrows in full voice, always transports me to the beach.

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  10. You're so right about scents, Ingrid. SO evocative! Jergens almond-scented hand lotion - my grandmother. Cooked cabbage :-p my first apartment building in NYC. Jean N'Ate body wash. Getting ready for a date in my teens. Lilies: funerals.

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    1. Oh, Jean N'ate! I remember that! When I lived in NYC my freshman year of college, I felt like I couldn't get away from those candied roasted nuts that street vendors sold. For a long time it had a negative association, but that's faded.

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    2. Ingrid, you're reminding me of the smell when you came up out of the 50th St subway station on the IRT (7the Ave) - there was a candied roasted nut shop that also sold caramel apples. Occasionally I find myself there and expecting that same smell, though of course no nut shop could afford today's rent on W 50th st and Broadway.

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  11. Chanel No. 5 and my mom. Sun on pines and the Rockies--there are pines along a fence row where I live and every time I mow and the scent wafts by, I'm hiking up a mountain trail. Lilacs and my childhood. Tall bushes grew outside my window and the spring breezes would waft the scent in at night. Old roses.

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    1. Flora, I love the idea of a scent wafting into your room at night!

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    2. There was a huge gardenia bush outside my southern California bedroom window. I still love that scent and it takes me back to being ten.

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  12. You are so right about scents and memory, Ingrid! Here are a few of mine: Chantilly perfume = my grandma, Jovan's Musk for Men or Old Spice colognes = my dad, bayberry candles = Christmas, lilacs = spring.

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  13. When my mother died I brought home her beautiful sewing box. Sometimes I open it, put my nose down and breathe in the scent of her house

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    1. Oh, Rhys, that's lovely! I have my mother's old button box, which evokes memories on sight, but not by scent.

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  14. Sweet pipe tobacco -- my grandfather on my mom's side. I don't know the brand unfortunately.

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    1. I'm right there with you, PK. My cousin Jan and I agree: Grandma's face powder and grandpa's pipes and cigars mainline us right back to those golden years.

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    2. My dad smoked a pipe, and it brings him back. Thank you for that sweet memory.

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  15. Both of my parents were teachers, so the smell of chalk dust takes me back to the days when I'd wait around in their classrooms after school until it was time to go home. The dry, slightly mildewed smell of old paper takes me back to my favorite library when I was a kid. Every once in a while, these days, I wake up to the smell of coffee. I don't drink it, so I wonder if my house is remembering the man who built it, because he certainly drank coffee first thing in the morning.

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    1. I like the image of your house conjuring up the smell of coffee, Gigi!

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  16. A guy I dated for awhile was in Vietnam, and had an R&R, as so many did, in Germany. (This is before I met him.) He was really homesick, and said he was so taken by catching the scent of White Shoulders on a German woman that he followed her for awhile. He knew it was creepy, but it comforted him so much he couldn't help himself.

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  17. Pipe tobacco and Old Spice: my father
    Estée Lauder, the original scent: my mother
    Johnson’s baby oil: my babies
    Orange blossoms: California
    New mown hay, alfalfa of course: my childhood
    Chanel #5: Julie
    Ponds cold cream: my grandmother
    Fritos: Toby and Penny’s feet
    Wood smoke: winter
    White Shoulders: my college self!

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    1. Ponds Cold Cream! I think my grandmother used that, too, Ann!

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    2. Three of yours reminds me of my mother : Johnson's Baby Oil when she took the sun, Pond's cream for her skin and Chanel #5, her perfume

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  18. Okay, here's a funny one: the smell of diesel fumes on warm air takes me right back to time spent in Mexico City as a child. It's one of my most intense scent memories, and not as unpleasant as you might think. London traffic has a distinct smell, too, but not as much diesel.

    Lavender--my grandmother loved lavender, and when I was a teenager I was crazy about Yardley English Lavender cologne. I bought some in the last year or so and thought it smelled horrible! Change in formula, or change in my perception?

    Cherry pipe tobacco reminds me of my favorite college professor.

    The smell of very crisp, very cold night takes me instantly back to when I first lived in Scotland, walking from my in-laws' house down to the village pub.

    And, like Ingrid, there are certain garlic and curry scents that immediately transport me to walking London streets in the evenings, catching cooking smells from basement kitchens as I passed.

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    1. I don't have a scent memory of it, but I actually like the smell of gas (my husband thinks I'm nuts on this one) so I get the diesel fumes, Debs. I also think wet pavement in London has a very distinctive smell. I realize it's wet often!

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    2. I remember going back to Iowa and meeting my cousin's wife for the first time. I didn't know those relatives very well and always felt uneasy at first, but on the way home from the airport, we stopped at a gas station and my new in-law said to me, "I love the smell of gasoline, isn't that weird?" and as I liked the smell of gas, too, I felt a kinship right away.

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  19. I just did a little research. Apparently I am not the only one that thinks the new Yardley English Lavender is horrible. One critic compared it to "toilet cleaner." Definitely a change in formula.

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  20. Scent is so powerful. I remember my paternal grandmother used Pond's cream as a moisturizer/makeup remover. I smelled it years and years later, and was instantly back in her bedroom.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. I think Ponds has a particularly memorable scent!

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  21. Ingrid: As you walk the Seattle Waterfront you inhale one of my childhood call backs -- Creosote combined with Ivar's fish n chips and kelp.
    Cedar mixed with Douglas fir and moss, and I am back home in my mind. Old Spice for both my grandfather and my husband. Emeraude perfume for Mom. Wool sweaters and tobacco for Dad.
    Oh my thanks for this topic.

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    1. I will definitely keep that in mind the next time at by Ivar's, Coralee! It's amazing how many of us have mentioned our parents and their scents.

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  22. Oh, I love this topic. So many smells! My dad was a wood sculptor so the smell of saw dust is always his smell, my grandmother used Jean Nate (do they still make that stuff?) so when I'd smell it in the drugstore it would bring her back to me, the smell of damp earth always makes me think of springtime in Connecticut and running wild in the woods with my brother, and the scent of coconut shampoo always brings me back to spring break in the Bahamas, well, that and the smell of Myer's Rum. LOL!

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  23. They still make Jean Nate (accent over the e), Jenn! Wonder how it would smell to us these days?!

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  24. Fresh mowed grass and pines on a warm day: childhood and scout camp. Noxzema: junior high. I had a friend who practically bathed in it. The distinct smell of tomato plants: various gardens over the years. Fresh mint: the time I tried to pinch it under my husband's nose and accidently got his mustache too. He's shaved since.

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  25. Honeysuckle. I smell it and I am transported back to my youth and smelling honeysuckle on a warm summer evening.

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  26. I really appreciate when authors include sensory impressions to the narrative.

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  27. My sense of smell has degraded over the years; I think because I smoke. However, there is one smell I always perk up at. It is the smell of incense used in the Episcopal church on 46th Street on Manhattans west side near Times Square. It is sort of a patchouli smell and very distinctive. I am not an Episcopalian but I often, when living in New York City, would stop in there a lot for rest or quiet or whatever. It doesn't happen a lot, but when I smell it, I think of my days as a younger adult.

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  28. when I wear a particular perfume, a relative said the smell reminded her of our grandmother.

    Diana

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    1. Did her grandmother wear that perfume, Diana?

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    2. not the same perfume, Ingrid.

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  29. 1) When my partner and I made our first visit to our attorney at his musty old office building--circa early 1950's, I'm guessing--it immediately transported me to my pediatrician's office. I was almost paralyzed by the sensation, it was so strong. Eventually I noticed it had the same funky linoleum, same polished wood. I can't wait until my brother comes to visit; I'm going to drag him in there and watch for his reaction.

    2) Taboo perfume reminds me of when my half-sister lived with us when she was in high school and I was in preschool. I thought she was the coolest thing ever. I remember the shoes she wore, the clothes she wore, and her long, straight hair like Julie from Mod Squad, but I didn't realize I remembered her perfume until I was at a department store and an older woman walked by, leaving a trail of perfume. I followed her! I wanted to hug her, and I almost burst into tears. When I got control of myself, I asked what she was wearing and she told me, "Taboo. It's my scent." She has probably been wearing it since my sister was, back in 1968.

    3) A Sarah Michaels Raspberry scented powder and bath gel my mom used. It wasn't expensive, and I didn't especially love it when she wore it, but it is so comforting to me. It's not made anymore, but I bought it on eBay whenever it was for sale, and I am very judicious about which days are so crummy they are deserving of a Sarah Michaels bubble bath.

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  30. The cherry-almond scent of Jergen's hand cream brings back sweet memories of my beloved paternal grandmother; it's no coincidence that my protag's grandmother uses it, too.

    My maternal grandfather smoked cherry tobacco in his pipe. It's a rare thing to happen upon that aroma today, so all the more precious.

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