Julie Seedorf: Do certain smells evoke memories for you?

Published 1:00 am Monday, June 5, 2017

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

I love the smell of spring and summer. It has its own sweetness. Smell has a way of evoking memories in our mind.

The lilac bushes when they are blooming outside my house bring back memories of waking up in the upstairs bedroom of my grandmother’s home. I can still feel the breeze touching my face from the open balcony door on awaking, the smell from the lilac bushes down below, wafting up and tickling my nose. It was a sign summer was here and we could play outside day and night.

Many of us don’t get to smell the apple blossoms as they prepare the apple trees for the bounty of the apples. Apple trees used to be in almost every yard and as a kid, it was fun to snatch an apple for a quick snack as we played nearby. We only had to worry about the worm holes, not pesticides, because most people in the old days used natural remedies to keep the insects away. We in the city now have manicured lawns and don’t want to put up with the fallen apples that have to be picked up off the ground.

Not all smells that tweak our memories are sweet. I was fortunate to spend some summers in Los Angeles with my relatives when I was a teenager. I loved the smell of California, the hot pavements and the smell of the ocean. There is something to all those old summer songs about California. Sometimes today I still close my eyes and see if I can conjure up those smells of the California cities and beaches. It brings back to me a time of freedom and fun and loving relatives.

As I was driving through the countryside I was reminded of another smell of summer that invaded my nostrils — manure. You see, manure was the fertilizer my mom and many others used on their gardens in the old days. Can you imagine that happening in the city now? The police would be very busy with complaints.

The smell of manure brought me back to memories of my mother and uncle’s garden filled with vegetables and strawberries. We raised strawberries to sell, and the best fertilizer was manure. I imagine these days it would be considered unhealthy. I am not sure, but it seemed we didn’t have as many foodborne illnesses in those days, or if we did we didn’t know what they were. We lived on the edge of town and still had horses and cows, so manure was easy to come by.

We still get that manure spread smell here in town from large farm operations that spread manure on their fields, so it permeates the air. I must admit I never liked the manure smell and still don’t, but it is part of living in a rural area.

I was in the Cities recently and I wondered, in the busy grind of the big city, if people ever took the time to smell the roses. Those who are urban dwellers probably have different scents that stimulate memories, some good and some bad.

Smell is a powerful source and kindles emotions. Essential oils are popular right now, not only for their smells but for their healing powers. Some of the healing begins just by smelling.

I find myself flitting from one thing to another, and I ignore what is drifting to my nose unless it’s my burned cooking. I don’t take moments to literally smell the roses. If I did I would be calmer and happier.

This week, notice the smells around you, good and bad, and see what it awakens in your mind and body. If you find a sweet smell of summer that brings back good memories or calms you, find a way to bring that scent with you. Let it be there so you can reach out and bring a little beauty into your life for a moment to keep you going through the rest of the day. Enjoy the sweet smell of summer.

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years. Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.” — Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at hermionyvidaliabooks@gmail.com.