Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Nose Knows Best

A few of the things that please my olfactory system:

A new-mown lawn
Fresh-cut wood
Pine trees
Hot buttered popcorn
A campfire/fireplace in use
"Catholic Church incense"
Baking cookies/bread/brownies
Pizza/Any Italian dinner made with tomato sauce
Old Spice
A good cigar
Russian Sage

It is said that the sense of smell is so powerful that it can trigger long-forgotten memories when we catch a whiff of something, good or bad. Each of the above items has a place reserved in my memory banks that I hope never goes away.

A new-mown lawn reminds me of the countless times I have cut the grass over the years, something that has rarely been a chore. I am either singing along out of tune with my Ipod, listening to the radio, or just letting my imagination run wild while running the mower. It also recalls for me the sight and smell of a golf course in the early morning, the dew upon the grass, the sun beginning to shine, the air crisp and clean. I also picture a well-kept baseball diamond before the players come out onto the field.

Fresh-cut wood reminds me of when we built what was to become our second house. Knowing that the wood being cut was to be used to construct a home for our family was a nice thought. I cut a number of boards as a kid, never straight, just to feel the saw going through the wood so I could smell that fresh-cut smell. A pile of sawdust can trigger similar recollections.

Pine trees are Christmas, of course! We grew up with Scotch Pines as our yearly tree, prickly though they can be, and no matter when we would pick it out, Beloved Father always let it sit in the basement for a few days before allowing us to put it up and decorate it. After Christmas we would go through the neighborhood collecting the trees that had been tossed out, using them to build forts or pile them up to play King of the Hill, or just jump on them because we could. It was wonderful smelling like Christmas trees by the time we were finished. Although I do not know the year, I can recall the last time I did the collecting and realizing I was getting to old to do it, and I felt saddened. A part of my childhood had passed away.

I had White Pines in my yard for a number of years before they fell victim to strong winds or disease. I liked the scents, and you didn't get pricked when you worked around them; you get a bit of sap sometimes, but that was better than a sharp needle. We have used Canaan Firs, Douglas Firs, and Fraser Firs over the years, each one having a pleasing scent of its own. Canaan Firs smell like oranges.

Hot buttered theater popcorn; who doesn't love that smell? There is probably someone, somewhere, who doesn't, but they likely had a troubled childhood or something. The theater popcorn we ate as children was made with coconut oil, which has been discontinued because some busybody worry-wart decided it was bad and should be banned. I also recall the times at football and basketball games, waiting on the concession stand popcorn popper to finish a new batch. That aroma was heavenly! Even day-old popcorn from a ballgame or a theater was still great the next day.

I only went on one campout as a Boy Scout; it was freezing, with several inches of snow, and the campfire was not very effective warming our feet as we slept in the shelter, but the smell was nice. The closest I get to a campfire these days is toasting marshmallows at Indian Lake or poolside at Robert T's fire pit. The breeze always seems to shift the smoke toward my Wonderful Wife. Alas, She Who Loves Me has allergies, and we now burn pressed newspaper logs in our fireplace. They are fine to watch, but afterward there is always a lingering odor that detracts from the memory.

For lack of a better term, "Catholic Church incense" is what I label the scent from deep in my childhood, recalling the majesty and awe of the liturgical ceremonies we experienced in those days. Many were in Latin, which we children did not speak, other than during these rites. The incense used, sparingly, these days, is the same, but because the churches are built differently and the rites are in English, it does not have the same power it used to have. A church that echoed to the vaulted ceiling with a chorus of Latin prayers, chants and hymns had a power that today's churches lack. Most are like those all-purpose stadiums built in the 70s, bland but functional at best. Think Riverfront in Cincinnati, Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, and Busch in St. Louis.

Baking bread/brownies/cookies are warm, almost loving, aromas. Sainted Mother did not do a lot of traet baking (if any?), but Lovely Wife and Wonderful Daughter do their fair share of it. The bread aromas arise mainly when I use the bread machine, but I have experienced the mouth-watering aroma of bread baking in the oven; that rivals the hot buttered popcorn aroma for intensity with me. Brownies and chocolate chip cookies are the mainstays of Lovely Wife's baking treats, and I have even been known to do it myself. The house is pleasingly filled with smells that mean my diet is about to take another hit, but it is worth the price, in moderation (when I can limit myself!).

I do not eat tomatoes, generally, unless they are petite diced and used as an ingredient in a recipe, but hot Italian foods made with a tomato sauce are usually enough to make me wish I was eating Italian at that meal, instead of what I had brought along (at work), or to keep me from eating something else I had had my mind set on before I arrived at the restaurant. Robert T is particularly vulnerable to the Italian Urge when he dines out.

Beloved Father was a daily splasher-onner of Old Spice after his morning shave with razor, shaving soap, brush, and mug. It was a scent that has stayed with me lo these many years after his passing. Every once in a while I pop the top off an Old Spice container in the grocery store and renew my whiff of Dad. The manly scent of Old Spice was more pleasing than that of the main competitor at the time, Aqua Velva. I am still able to hum and occasionally whistle the tune for the Old Spice jingle today.

when I was a lad, the smell of what was likely cheap cigars at a Jets baseball game was one I liked, compared to the cigarettes Beloved Father and Sainted Mother smoked all the time. Nowadays, a cheap cigar smells almost as bad as a cigarette, but I have never minded if someone nearby was smoking a good-smelling cigar. Other than the aroma there is really no difference to me between cigars and cigarettes, but irrationally I do not mind the former. I can sniff out a whiff of cigarette smoke no matter from whence it comes, and wrinkle my nose in disgust, but the same person smoking a god cigar will not get the same reaction from me.

Finally, Russian Sage is a plant I have in one of my back gardens; I purchased the first one from Robert T's hardware store because I liked the smell of the plant. I now have two of them, and they have been thriving in the garden that was Dearest Kelley's idea almost 10 years ago. She only saw the beginnings of the design of the garden, but I have continued to maintain it as well as expanding the gardens around the house as a tribute to her and the idea she came up with. Russian Sage has tiny, delicate flowers on long, wispy stems, and brushing up against them will give off a pleasent scent which lingers on the skin or clothes for several minutes. They stay fragrant and keep their color through the winter, and are a nice contrast to the often gloomy winter landscape.


  1. You didn't mention the how the air smells after rain (or a thunderstorm!). Mike, who is now 5'9" wears Old Spice deodorant - talk about memories! Amelia says chlorine, bleach, orange blossoms and how books smell. I say chocolate!Also, turkey baking in the oven and coming home to anything in the crock-pot after work.Don't forget the singular smell of the woods and the wet, damp smell of the beach. There's also something about the smells of cooking onions with lots of garlic that works well for me, too. Grilling anything.

  2. I agree with the pine scents and I love the smell of where the shore and sea meet to spin their delectable aromas together. But dude, I got two words for ya; pumpkin pie!

  3. Read the beginning: a FEW of the things etc etc etc

    This was not meant to be an all-inclusive list! These were just a few things that popped into my mind.


  4. Well, if you didn't want rude comments you shouldn't be related to us! Geeez!