Sunday, January 20, 2013

Do you smell that?


You know how aromas can transport you back to childhood? I'm not talking cookies from the oven or bacon sizzling in a pan. I'm talking non-food related smells that evoke early memories.

I loved the smell of my grandma's damp basement. It was not musty-smelling. It was more like fresh laundry. I can envision her cranking the handle of her wringer washing machine as she fed soapy clothes through the rollers and deposited them into a long-legged wash tub filled with clean rinse water. The clothing was sent back through the rollers again, placed in a woven wooden basket and hung on a clothes line with wooden clothespins. She held  clothespins in her fist and mouth. The cotton clothesline became so heavy, she used a seven foot wooden prop to raise the line so the clothes didn't drag the ground. My! We've come a long way since washboards, wringer washers and clothes props.

At five years old, I tagged along with my mom to the S.S. Kresgee or Woolworth's dime stores to purchase oil cloth. A rack held dozens of horizontal rolls of colorful, patterned material (cotton, canvas, duck or linen) treated with a coating of linseed oil to make it waterproof.  Oilcloth was a practical way to cover kitchen tables. Unlike the plastic-feeling, flannel-backed tablecloths of today, which are made of fabric and coated with poly-vinyl chloride, oil cloth was biodegradable.

I can still remember that distinct linseed oil aroma. Oh the excitement I felt in helping to decide on a new pattern or design, and then watching as the sales lady removed the  forty-eight inch wide roll of material from the rack, laid it on the counter and used her large scissor to cut off a yard or two. That smell lingered in our kitchen, the vibrant colors as exciting as a new box of crayons.

When you write a story, whether for publication or your own personal memoir, be sure to include aromas that transport your reader to a place and time. They don't have to be delightful smells, either. While some people like the smell of  gasoline, I can't stand it. I used to ride a public bus to school, and the exhaust fumes were headache inducing.

Care to share an aroma memory?

14 comments:

Sioux said...

My grandmother was known for her cinnamon rolls. The smell of cinnamon takes me back to her kitchen decades ago.

The smell of my granddaughter's hair, fresh from a bath, when she was still a baby. The memory of that smell takes me back five years.

The smell of "something burned" takes me back just a few days, when an idiot at work put something in foil into the microwave. Yikes.

Yes, the sense of smell is the last one to go, and can be so powerful...

Mevely317 said...

What a delightful share!
Odd as this may sound ... and while most (sane) people are repulsed by
"barnyard" aromas ... when my commute takes me past a couple cattle-yards, I'm a little kid once more, spending lazy summers at my grandparent's farm in rural Minnesota.

Bookie said...

Your sudsy memory really took me back to a time I can barely remember!

Ah, aroma...college and every week my grandpa sent huge gallon jars with his garlicky dill pickles. Yum, roomie and I lived on them...I pucker just thinking of their kick!~~~

Joanne Noragon said...

I remember every one of them, and never thought of them until this minute. Hot asphalt on the road on a slow, hot summer day.

Daisy said...

Wonderful post! I can easily imagine your grandma's laundry room in the basement from your description. The smell of sawdust and wood shavings always brings to mind my father's workshop he had in the garage when I was young.

Terri Tiffany said...

I enjoyed this post and you have me thinking now of aromas. When we moved back here to PA in August and started walking in the leaves in the fall, the smell of them hit me as I hadn't done it in years.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

You make a great point, Linda. Odors are often overlooked when it comes to writing descriptions, and yet they are so evocative.

Susan said...

Oh yes, so true, Linda, that we must include the "fragrances" of childhood. My Polish grandma made stuffed cabbage rolls that'd melt in our mouths. They made the kitchen fill with a distinctive scent. Just the other day, I made cabbag rolls, too, and the smell of our house brought me back to grandma's kitchen, with its white starched curtains edged in red crochet, made by her hands.

Nice memories. Susan

Val said...

Summer evening at dusk, the smell of a freshly-mowed lawn mixed with that of sun-baked water running out of the green garden hose as my grandpa gave his new tulip tree seedlings, each encircled by a tiny wire fence, a drink.

OurSearsKitHome said...

I don't like the smell of gasoline either, but I do like the smell of buses' exhaust - diesel, I guess, smells like hot dogs to me...
I have a jar of Dippity Do hair gel that was my grandma's and reminds me of her.

Kim said...

The smell of Old Spice, the aroma of spray starch, and the smell of frozen corn that was stacked in the freezer too close to the green peppers. Those remind me of my grandparents' house.

My brother and I had a bad babysitter who made us mixed drinks one afternoon when I was in fifth grade. The smell of my dad's aftershave reminded me of the taste of sloe gin.

When my mom came home, I told her that we didn't need a babysitter anymore (I never told her what happened)...and we became latchkey kids.

Anne said...

I can easily imagine your grandma's laundry room in the basement from your description, My job was to make sure they didn't wrap around the rollers which sometimes happened anyway causing it to pop, separating the rollers,If it does, an article of the wash may
wrap several times around a roller before it is noticed; unwinding such a
piece is often difficult, sometimes impossible without removing a roller .
Its you're already happened?

K9friend said...

It's fascinating how certain smells immediately transport us to another time and place. There are more for me than I can identify.

First a scent grabs me, then I take a second to wonder why. Realization dawns and the person, place, or event appears as crystal clear as though seeing it through a window pane...ahhhh!

Pat
Critter Alley

Donna Volkenannt said...

Such vivid scents!

Cinnamon evokes my mom's raisin and rice dish, which she baked for us on winter mornings.