"... and this is what really threw him, the smell. Poignantly familiar.
Wax polish, apples, a suggestion of fresh coffee.
Pot-pourri, perhaps, and summer flowers. The smell of nostalgia, of youth.
The smell of the homes that his mother had created for her children."
Excerpt from September by Rosamunde Pilcher
My three month doctor's check up was last week and I arrived early as changes had to be imputed regarding my insurance. The young clerk was typing in the information from both insurance cards when I noticed there were tears running down her face. She apologized and told me that I smelled like her grandmother.
Now, one could be offended at such a statement but I knew exactly what she meant. I told her it was the Wind Song cologne and that my mother had liked the same fragrance. She had received it as a gift at one time and wore it only when going someplace special. The receptionist shook her head and said she was going to call her grandmother as soon as she arrived home from work... with tears still in her eyes.
I have worn a few different perfumes through the years, coming from perhaps one of the last generations of women who chose a signature fragrance. As a teenager I loved Heaven Scent and Musk Oil before deciding upon Channel #19 for a few years. I tried a few other scents off and on but it was Tresor that I settled upon for the next few decades until I developed a sensitivity to strong fragrance.
However, when I saw the gift box of Wind Song on clearance at Meijers after the Holidays, I knew I had to buy it to remember my mother. I was pleasantly surprised to find it so light that it had no adverse affect at all. So these days I like to spray a little on when I'm getting "dressed up"... which I still do for doctor's appointments.
I have long been interested in how aromas can take us back to a time and a place as if time had not passed at all. The combined smell of bacon and coffee in the morning always remind me of my mother's kitchen, no less than the aromas of Thanksgiving can take me back to many family get-togethers.
Often when I make cinnamon rolls, I remember the friends as well as family members who were happy when I would serve them. Sometimes still a little warm from the oven so the aroma of cinnamon was quite strong throughout the house.
The spicy aromas of ginger and nutmeg, the citrus scents of oranges and tangerines, the waft of pine that one smells when entering the home where a freshly cut Christmas tree resides... all come together to remind me it is the much beloved Christmas season.
Of course, memories are attached to scents other than those related to food. To this day, if I smell the original Coppertone suntan lotion... I am sixteen years old, the radio is turned to WLS Chicago (back then it was a top 40 station, not talk radio), and it is a summer full of warm sunlight, long days, and friends.
Another much beloved scent is that of woodsmoke in Autumn, after the leaves have turned and it is that magical two or three weeks when the light is golden and one can almost believe there are fairies in the forest.. or Hobbits.
If the aroma happened to include that of Sweet Annie mixed with the lingering scent of woodsmoke, then I am reminded of our favorite Autumnal historical reenactment from the years the French settled in the land, with voyageurs using the river as a super highway. I especially loved to attend when the kids were at home. I almost always bought a small wreath of Sweet Annie just before leaving for the shuttle bus to the nearest town where we were parked.
There is a reason Realtors tell us to have a ham in the oven baking when showing your home to potential buyers... or to bake cookies before buyers are expected. For there is something special about opening the door to a house to the aroma of dinner on the stove or the anticipation of homemade baked goods as their smells fill the air. These are the scents of... home.
I still smile when I think of the receptionist at the doctor's office and I have a feeling she did call her beloved grandmother when she arrived home that day. I've wondered if she told her the scent of a lady wearing Wind Song cologne sparked the phone call. Her reaction certainly sparked these ponderings.
Image: Warming up in Badger's Kitchen by Chris Dunn