Scent and memory are a funny thing. It’s amazing how you can be minding your own business, pass by someone on the street who is wearing the same cologne your boyfriend in 8th grade wore, and suddenly you’re in his basement in the dark…sitting on the floor playing Mario Kart on a Nintendo 64. For real. Get your mind out of the gutter. We were only 13!
This morning, I reached up to grab my hairspray only to find out that the can was empty. If you know me, you know that this is somewhat of a tragedy. I’m a girl who loves her hairspray. Thinking I might have some squirreled away somewhere, I dug around in the drawer where I keep spare toothpaste and contact solution and came out with a bottle I’ve had for a while. Several years ago, I was Betty Draper for Halloween and tried to do it as authentically as possible (pantyhose with the seam up the back, red lipstick, curled hair that was set with rollers) and bought a can of Aqua Net to really do it right. It’s been in the drawer ever since.
Just one spray of this stuff sends me back to my grandmother’s house, into the back room that belonged to my mom and aunt when they were growing up- the room that became my grandmother’s closet and dressing room after they moved away. There was a built in vanity along the wall where my grandmother kept her Aqua Net and lipsticks and lotions. I’d often stay in that room when I came for a visit and hang out in there while my grandma was getting ready. My grandmother moved out of that house more than 10 years ago and she passed away seven years ago, but every time I use Aqua Net I’m back in that room and I can picture the very 60’s yellow-y carpet and wood paneled walls, the poster of the kitten on the wall telling me to “Hang In There” (that poster always made me sad and I didn’t like it next to the bed), the water color of a sunset that hung on the ceiling, the tiny windows that overlooked the side yard and the creek beyond. I see closet where I staged a photo shoot of my stuffed animals the Christmas I received my very own camera (my mom wasn’t too happy when she paid to develop the film and realized the WHOLE ROLL was Care Bears, bunnies, and lambs). I’m suddenly in the tiny bathroom next to the bedroom with my grandfather’s shaving cream mug and brush next to the sink and the Palmolive that my grandmother used to give me bubble baths in sitting on the tub ledge. Huh. Palmolive. That’s another one to add to my list.
The scent of Bactine always, always, always turns me into a 17 year old who, after begging her mother for a year, was finally allowed to get her belly button pierced. She was given instructions to leave the silver hoop in for two months and to clean it regularly with Bactine and she followed those instructions to a T until she got sick of the hoop and changed it for a little barbell just shy of the two month mark. She kept her bellybutton pierced until she was 29 years old and finally decided it was time to grow up, just a little bit.
Some of the scent-related memories are bittersweet. The smell of hand sanitizer sends me back four and half years to the hospital where my then boyfriend’s sister was battling cancer for the third time. She was only 32. We used hand sanitizer and donned surgical masks before going in to visit her. She’d had a bone marrow transplant and her environment needed to be sterile. She didn’t survive her fight with cancer. I only knew her a short time, but I’m glad I have something, even something so small, that reminds me of her and what a wonderful person she was and that I’m lucky to have known her.
Fall is my favorite time of year. Leaves in piles on the ground mixed with the smell of smoke coming from a chimney and the crisp scent of cool air take me to Halloweens past and dressing up in costume and running around the neighborhood trick-or-treating. Sometimes when I’m walking home from the bus stop in the evening, I’ll stop and soak in that smell. It’s a quintessential New England scent and always reminds me of autumn at home in Vermont.
Having a scent trigger a vivid memory isn’t something that happens to me every day, which another reason it’s such a special occurrence. I love the random instances when you’re suddenly taken back in time and reminded that life is more than the day-to-day: it’s the people you love, the places you’ve gone, and the memories you’ve made.
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousand of miles and all the years you have lived.” – Helen Keller
Song of the Day: The Background by Third Eye Blind