Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Nose Knows

So I've been thinking about smelling lately. No, wait, I don't mean I'm considering becoming very odoriferous or anything. I mean I've been pondering the power of fragrance, the memory of scent, the utility of having a sense of smell.

My mother lost her sense of smell from a tragic sinus infection several years ago. Can't smell anything, good or bad (we call her Trusty, after the aging bloodhound in Lady and The Tramp who has lost his sense of smell until its miraculous reappearance right at the most critical point of the plot). Makes her a perfect choice for changing really rancid diapers. Makes her somewhat of a bad cook. It also affects her sense of taste (in food, not in art or clothing) which is a bummer for her because she doesn't enjoy the same foods she used to. But I digress...

You don't really think about your sense of smell until you lose it or it saves your life. This past weekend, my sister's super sonic sense of smell detected a gas leak in her basement that prompted a call to the gas company. Turns out all kinds of carbon monoxide was leaking into the house. Only the terribly drafty windows and doors (and Divine Protection, of course) saved them. There are a lot more details to this story, but the important part is steps are being taken to rectify the problem and we all have my sister's bloodhound nose to thank for it.

Our noses can detect other things besides danger. I walked outside this morning and stopped dead when an unmistakable breath of Spring hit my nose. I closed my eyes, lifted my face to the sky and drank it in slowly. I love winter, but those first wafts of Spring are always intoxicating. I know it's still early February, but there is no doubt Spring is slowly on her way. The birds are hopping about singing madly, the wind has mellowed into a breeze and in just a few short weeks the woods across the street will be full of the sound of tree frogs. And the nose knew it first.

Memory is also closely linked to our noses. How many times has a particular scent taken you right back to another place in time? Cinnamon always reminds me of family vacations in New Hampshire. Coffee reminds me of parties at my parents' house and pot luck suppers at church when I was a child. Pipe tobacco reminds me of my grandfather who use to blow smoke rings for me and died when I was seven. The perfume I wore when I was 19 brings back intense memories of when The Viking and I were dating. Gardenia reminds me of our wedding day. Moth balls and garlic remind me of EGOD and ginger ale reminds me of vomiting myself silly while pregnant.

Recently, I met a man who wore a particular cologne that I recognized. I couldn't place the memory at first, but I knew it was familiar. It reminded me of something. And because I shook his hand, the scent was transferred to me and I kept smelling it even after I had left him. And then I realized it reminded me of someone. And I realized it was an ex-boyfriend. Thankfully, I could not recall which one at first--which is a sign that those memories are good and faded and NOT that I had so many boyfriends to try and remember. But, inevitably it came to me and I had to go wash my hands. I just couldn't go about all day smelling like an ex. It would be too weird.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a scent? Have you ever been moved to tears by a familiar fragrance? Do you feel cherished and loved when your children sniff your coat and sigh and say, "Mom, I like your smell,"? Do you go out on your porch and make weather predictions according to what you smell?

Now that I'm back in my house, my nose is collecting all kinds of unpleasant data. There's a mysterious odor lingering in the kitchen. I haven't gone poking around yet, but my bet is on the garbage can or disposal. I made chicken soup last night and the kitchen always smells bad the next day when a chicken carcass has been involved. I also have my suspicions about the upstairs bathroom and the dog. So, I suppose I'd better be off to clean and deodorize things (except the dog--that's The Viking's domain) so my nose will be happy and free to breathe deep.

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