Making Scents of Time

Stop and smell the roses

I think of all the senses the power of smell may be the most evocative. There are some smells that have the power to transport me, almost as if in a time machine, to a certain place at a certain time in my life.

We all have this trigger mechanism and much of it has to do with food. But I’m not referring to food.  I’m talking about very distinctive odours that suddenly come at you from out of left field and leave you awash in a remarkable moment of nostalgia.

Why, for example, is the smell of gasoline so attractive? It’s clearly a health hazard as evidenced by all the warning labels all over the service station pump. But there is something about the slight scent of gasoline that many people find particularly appealing.

I’m going to theorize that the smell of gasoline is pushing a deeply embedded childhood button that, perhaps, takes you back to the family garage when Dad was out there working on the car. Maybe it places you at the cabin or summer camp when someone was fueling up an old outboard motor.

Is grandpa in there?

Is grandpa in there?

I remember being in a used book store with one of my young sons. It had that funky, dusty trace of old books. At one point my son looked at me and said, ‘Dad, this place smells like Grandpa‘. And it did. My father had a house full of old books. That scent is the imprint left on his grandson. It was not a conscious device for remembrance. It was something that just took root.

There are three distinct smell triggers for me. When I am mowing the back lawn and brush up against a big cedar the odour released by the tree instantly places me by the shore of Lake Huron where my family once rented a cottage.  There were long cedar hedges near this cottage that were trimmed almost daily and the warm summer breeze was redolent with the scent of cedar. If I get a whiff of this, though it’s been more than 40 years, I’m right back at the lake.

The second signature smell, and this is going to sound a little strange, is the earthy, humid odour that comes from the top of an aquarium. I have kept tropical fish since I was eight years old. I still keep a few in a big tank. If I open that tank, lean in and take a deep sniff…I swear to God, I’m eight years old again.

Chanel No. 5. There are hundreds, if not thousand, of perfumes in the world but none of them gets to me like Chanel No.5. Simply put, this ever-popular scent reminds me of my mother. When I was a kid it seemed like every woman was wearing Chanel No.5.  The popularity of the fragrance (produced since 1921) skyrocketed after it was introduced to North America in the 1950’s. My mom died when I was fifteen. It is the overriding tragedy in my life. If you put Chanel No. 5  in a room,  my eyes will fill with tears. The memory still lingers in the air.


One Response to “Making Scents of Time”

  1. It is amazing how scents can bring you back in time. There is certain scent I smell from time to time that bring me to my childhood of our summer home on the St. Lawrence in Quebec, certain type of laundry bar soap in the the laundry room. Thanks for a good read!

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