Reader Friday: The Nose Knows

For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories, and it is a pity that we use it so little. – Rachel Carson

What is a smell that you associate with your childhood? Describe the scene.

30 thoughts on “Reader Friday: The Nose Knows

  1. Going to my great-aunt’s farm and helping feed the chickens. Opening a bag of bird seed still brings back the memories, although it’s been well over 60 years.

  2. Though I’ve definitely become assimilated as a city girl now, and though I didn’t like Maryland (flat as a pancake–give me my western mountains!), I absolutely value the fact that I was raised in the country and that definitely conjures up smells that I deeply associate with that time in my life. Smells that I still miss:

    * The smell of Sweetina horse feed. Though it happens rarely, sometimes I’ll be somewhere and swear I can smell it.
    * The smell of fresh cut wood (LOVE IT!)–for this I like to go to Lowe’s occasionally and sniff the wood aisles. Though less so now I also used to imagine I’d hear people out cutting wood on weekends (not much occasion to hear that in the desert).
    * Smell of manure–which doesn’t bother me, as it does some of the born & bred city wimps who complain about it here in the metropolis.
    * Lilac trees

    Smells I don’t miss:
    The nauseating smell of seafood–the ever popular Maryland crabs (GAG!) and my mother’s regular fixing of salmon patties. UGH!

  3. Since you bring it up this week – the smell of fireworks. When I was a little girl, it was legal to set off fireworks in your yard. We did sparklers, pop bottle rockets, roman candles. “The whole shooting match.”

  4. Using “childhood” loosely, particularly appropriate in my case:

    The rich smell of ripe peaches compensating for the peach fuzz from hours of New Jersey summer New Jersey truck farm work, getting into your skin like blown fiberglass and requiring an hour scrubbing in the shower to remove.

    The smell of gasoline fumes, in this case clear, white Amoco high octane premium being proudly pumped into a 1955 Ford with a recently installed replacement 1958 Mercury V-8 engine, creating the illusion of providing pure food for your baby, ready to give you a 110 mph ride on the Tappan Zee Bridge that it could easily do at 1 p.m. in the morning, when you could see any looming threats from either direction in the bright bridge lights.

  5. The smell of the chicken coop at my uncle’s suburban Chicago home. This was in the 50s. I have a feeling today chickens would be frowned upon.

    And the smell of the horsehair seats in an old Army Jeep that my dad bought to use to level the backyard. At one point the Jeep must have been submerged. Definitely an unforgettable aroma. Just like the chicken coop’s.

  6. The rich, loamy smell spiked with the sharpness of ammonia in a stable full of horses, all standing with their noses to the bars waiting for fresh straw beneath them and fresh oats in their feed trough. I loved my time spent working in the stable in exchange for the opportunity to ride.

  7. The aroma of hot biscuits, sausage, and gravy coming from my grandmother’s kitchen early on a summer morning. My nose must have been insensitive to the smell of scrambled eggs, which I considered something I had to get through to get to the good things on my plate.

    Lilacs after a rain. Laundry fresh from the clothesline. My mother’s favorite perfume – Tabu. When I started wearing perfume I chose Tabu for years because it felt like a loving embrace.

  8. The fragrance of juniper and pine on a hot afternoon propel me back to the months I spent with my folks camping in the mountains of eastern Oregon. My dad was a logger and all non-school days were spent in a tent or camp trailer close to where he was working. I can still see the creeks, the tall meadow grasses, the early morning sun illuminating the orange bark of the Ponderosa Pines. I can hear the Killdeer calling as they dive and spin in the cool evening air.

    The scent of wet sage after a rain brings back memories of days spent sheltered in the camp trailer playing games with my sister, reading from our sacks of library books, and spur of the moment drives along Forest Service roads with my dad looking for historical sights.

    The sound of rain on a car roof resurrects memories of polish sausage, crackers, and cheese picnics watching sudden hailstorms whiten the ground and sending wafts of heady scents into the cleansed air.

    My dad, a self made naturalist and historian, shared his knowledge, appreciation, and wonder of our world. Before I could name one pop song on the radio, I could identify every tree and bush, recognize the tracks of numerous animals, and name different birds from their call.

    Among many unforgettable memories, one stand out. At sunset, my dad took us to a mountain top. We stood in a grove of virgin timber tinted green gold in the fading sunlight. Stretched before us was hundreds of miles of mountains and forest, unbroken by civilization. As if awe of the moment, the world held it’s breath. No birds sang. No squirrels chirped. No wind stirred.

    I can see the star filled night where heaven and earth melted one into another. Coyotes sang, owls hooted, and the wind sighed through the pine boughs. Fresh caught trout for breakfast, stew on tin plates for dinner, reading in the shade of a pine tree next to a gurgling brook.

    I never miss a chance to go back.

  9. The lingering smells of the Kansas City stockyards as we drove over them with the car windows down (before air conditioning) on what is now I-70, heading toward my grandparents home in Independence, MO. The stockyards are gone now, along with the smells, and the area is now known as the West Bottoms. It houses a lively business district and artisan restaurants in the old buildings. We ate Cajun food there this week with our daughter who works down there. We ate across the street from the great Golden Ox, Kansas City’s oldest steakhouse, which closed decades ago and is currently being remodeled to open again this fall. And we have A/C now…

    • I remember traveling the street along Folger’s Coffee in KC. The smell was heavenly. But it’s the batches that were burnt that I remember most.

      • Folgers is gone now, and that whole area is now expensive lofts above bars and new restaurants. I do miss that coffee fragrance!

  10. Skunk – My cat got sprayed as a kid. The whole house smelled like skunk for about 6 months. Then, wherever the cat slept, smelled for another 3 months, and then the smell came back when the cat cleaned her fur. Finally, a year later it was gone, but to this day, I smell skunk and think of my cat. To this day, the smell does not bother me in the least.

  11. Stale smoke mixed with Old Spice deodorant is the smell I most associate with my grandparents. Going to my grandparents’ house was a true holiday for me, even as an adult. I had no stresses, because my grandmother insisted on doing everything, bustling around like a happy hen. She’d make food I liked, and she’d make lots of it. Grandpa’s been gone 20 years now, and Grandma passed a year before him.

    And then there’s potato pancakes. I always despised them. And yes, they do smell different from any other kind of cooked potatoes, though I don’t know why. Just the smell can make me sick to my stomach – and I don’t get sick to my stomach easily.

  12. The aroma of tobacco roasting in a barn of oak logs. It’s a combination of smoky autumn leaves and fresh-split apples.

  13. I had the opportunity a few years ago to spend two nights in the house my grandparents lived in when I was young. It’s been all remodeled, though keeping its old character. The pink 1930s tile in the bathroom is still there. It felt like I was back there as a kid. What got to me the most was the smell of my grandfather’s cigars–I swear the house was not free of it, even after all these years.

  14. Deep red chalky lipstick from Kresge’s. Evening in Paris perfume. Pall Malls. That’s my mom’s scent.

  15. Fresh-baked pies remind me of my grandmother’s pies. Grandma was a spectacular cook. And Kris, she wore Evening in Paris and smoked Pall Malls.

  16. My mother baked all of her own bread from scratch. As soon as the first loaf was done, straight out of the oven, she would cut off a hunk for me with butter and honey. I could have a 7-course dinner and smell the aroma of fresh bread baking and my mouth would water and I would think of my mother and her bread. No one since has been able to duplicate it. She actually won blue ribbons at the state fair for it. I, unfortunately, lost her before she could teach me, but I’ll always remember.

  17. Ms. Whitley’s horse scents take me back to my first outside-the-home job as middle schooler, mucking out stables for an airline farmer – mixed in with the old, unpainted barn wood and the creosote railroad tie fence posts dropping into freshly dug postholes ~

    There’s also day-old asphalt, cooled enough to play tennis on, which is what my folks were playing, (or trying to, with my 3 year old brother and 5 year old self running amok)~ slightly better than the steam from a quick July rain on the same paving.

    (Funny how one leads right to the rest, huh?)


  18. The smell of incense in tatami mats. Haven’t smelled this for about 35 years, but the memory of it, and of the temple where I lived then are vivid and clear.

  19. Can I just say that it seems to me that the majority of people who’ve replied thus far had an AMAZING upbringing?? The stories of camping and outdoors and barns and home-cooking….
    It’s lost, I tell you; damn near lost.
    My first thought when I read the initial email was, “Lamont Cranston!” but that veers away from the original question.
    This is not childhood for me, but a scent which engenders loving, warm memories is woodsmoke…as in an outdoor campfire.
    That heady aroma takes me right back to numerous American Mountain Man rendezvous with my husband and friends. We’d set up camp far, far off the beaten path, and at night we’d all gather around a snapping fire under the white blaze of stars with steaming cups of whole-bean coffee, songs sung acapella, and richly-woven tales. Good times, indeed.
    Still making them, in fact, but during the in-between times, just getting a whiff of our “period” clothing in storage is like opening a time capsule.

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