The Smell of a Happier Time

I had a day last week when I was so stressed out, I had to get out of the house. The Canadian wasn’t home, so I had the boys here and my only option for escape was a few minutes alone on the back porch. It didn’t matter that it was 107 degrees, I just needed to get away. As I sat there stewing over things, a million different things running through my head, a familiar smell passed by with the breeze.

It was only for a brief moment, but it was immediately recognizable. Honeysuckle. As soon as it hit my nose I was instantly taken back to my grandparents’ yard when I was young. When I closed my eyes, I could see that honeysuckle bush so vividly I was sure I could reach out and touch it. I remembered playing in the yard, stealing fresh cherries off the tree, sitting on the porch swing eating chocolate ice cream with Grandpa Mc., and sneaking into the giant culvert that I never quite had the courage to go all the way through. For a few fleeting seconds, I was there again and the stress just melted away.

There’s only one other smell that can transport me to a place like that. Most people wouldn’t find it very pleasant, but the scent of a mothball takes me back to Poppy’s attic, looking through boxes of treasures, hearing her stories about each one, and even having her pry my head out from between the bars on the stair rail with an aluminum pie plate. I still chuckle when I remember her trying not to laugh as she scolded me for sticking my head through there. I think of sitting on her lap telling her stories, sneaking up those rickety outdoor stairs, and watching her make noodles from scratch. One whiff of that scent, and I’m a kid all over again.

It goes both ways, of course. There are some smells that bring back less than pleasant memories. The smell of a fire, for instance, puts me right back in an apartment complex parking lot, watching our home burn. The stench of mildew sends me back to our flooded apartment, sorting through the clothes we could salvage from our closet. The undeniable scent of freshly cut trees and newly plowed dirt takes me to that moment when I stepped out of the cellar on May 3rd of 1999 to find the town ripped apart. But fortunately, more often than not, the smells that carry me away are reminders of happier times.

It’s amazing, really, how powerful a smell can be. For me, not even a photograph can elicit such vivid memories and, as silly as it may sound, I am so thankful for that. Photographs can be destroyed in countless ways, I’ve lost them to fires, floods, and a tornado. Trinkets and special treasures are susceptible to the same fate. But a smell, each and every time you come across it, can so quickly flood you with memories that it overwhelms you and takes you back to a better time. That’s a wonderful thing, because some days, when the stress is more than you can bear, you just want to be anywhere but here.

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3 Responses to The Smell of a Happier Time

  1. Julsey says:

    You have sparked some memories that I have about smells too. I can imagine in my head you sitting there in that culvert and also eating the cherries. Very cool memories. even the ones that are not so much good.
    Right on Anya….hugs!!

  2. Scent memories are among my favorite. I buy certain candles because they’re the ones my mom uses and it makes me feel like I’m at home with my parents. Sometimes, in North Carolina, the ground would smell just like Oklahoma.The smell of the Pacific takes me away to SF or Bodega Bay and it fills me with so much indescribable emotion. So many memories. Amazing how that works.

  3. Jergens Original lotion reminds me of my Grandma, and usually that is the only smell that brings a flood of memories back. Just this weekend, my sister and I were making breakfast for my nephew, and the smell of pancakes took us back to Grandma’s kitchen. I miss her. Now I want to slather myself in her lotion, and make pancakes. 🙂

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