Monday, November 27, 2006

Common Scents

The last time I bought bar soap, it was, for whatever reason, Dove.

Now, Dove soap isn't my favourite- it has quite a distinctive fragrance, but, like I said, for whatever reason, I bought it last time we were out.

The thing about Dove bar soap, though, is that it makes me think of Grandma Friesen.

Grandma Friesen must have always had Dove soap in her bathroom, because whenever we have it, and whenever I smell the Dove soap smell I am immediately transported to Grandma's purple bathroom, with the furry purple toilet lid cover and the floor to ceiling metal towel holder.

I almost expect to come out of the shower and smell her good soup cooking in the kitchen.

This has made me wonder, for the past few days, about olfactory memory.

There are smells that trigger such clear, sharp memories... the spring there's some kind of tree or shrub that must grow in the Central Interior of B.C., because every year when the trees start budding I can walk past the copse of trees by our house and close my eyes and be 10 years old again in Prince George... and if it's been raining in the spring? That particular bushy smell combined with spring dirt and fresh rain takes me back to my Bible camp days at Ness Lake...

...there's a certain kind of laundry detergent or fabric softener that my sister must use, because sometimes when I take something out of storage, and shake it out, the pleasant laundry smell reminds me of her...

... fresh baking buns makes me think of my Mom, and home... and Wednesday evenings when we'd get home after various music lessons, and it would be snowy and cold and dark... and she'd have made a big pot of amazing soup and we'd have cheese, and cold cuts on fresh buns, and the doughnuts my brother and I begged for while we waited for the organ and guitar lessons to finish... 

... fresh cut hay and manure take me back to Grandpa Brown's farm and his beef cows, and the smell of whole wheat pancakes with butter and homemade strawberry jam makes Grandma Brown young again, and me a little kid at her breakfast table...

...Christmas Peppernuts remind me of my Grandma Morrison, because they smell just like her Swedish Ginger Cookies...

...roasting turkey or baking pumpkin pies make me feel happy and excited, as though something good is about to happen...

...diesel fuel and damp reminds me of my first trip to London, England and makes me feel adventurous and young- like something new is around the next bend...  

So, as I've been showering with Dove bar soap this week, I've been wondering what things will trigger memories for my kids. I've been wondering if I need to chose a particular cleaner and stick with it; if I should always buy the same soap or shampoo; if one brand of dish-washing or laundry soap should become my only brand.

Maybe I have a chance here to affect my kids and (hopefully someday) my grandchildren in the same way that Dove bar soap affects me.

I'd really like to think that some day- far away, out of the blue, one of my offspring will be washing dishes and suddenly, without realizing why, think of me.

It's a happy thought to think that for all the therapy they'll all surely need, maybe I can bless them with some good smelly memories.

Something to think about.


  1. I had the same experience. I got a bar of the pink dove soap and then it hit me that my Grandma always had that soap in her bathroom. Parked on top of one of those giant sponges on her sink.

    Another smell of my grandma is when i am ironing and I use spray starch. She smelled like spray starch too, because she always had doilies and things that needed pressing and starching around her house.

    Isn't it funny how the small things we have grown to love and we didn't realise it at the time that it was being imprinted on us? 'Till suddenly 10 years or more later?

  2. Laura - I know just what you mean about olfactory memory.

    Diesel fuel/fumes always reminds me of icecream vans on hot days first, because London used was always full of icecream vans and they were always diesel powered and ran all the time to keep the icecream cold. It also reminds me of passenger ferries and sailing across to the isle of wight for a boys brigade summer camp.

    Fish and chips deep fried in lard was a VERY classic London smell - I associate it with 2 places: a model shop at woodside (called the cabin or collectors cabin) that bought and sold toys from the last 100+ years, and a road in Penge where a mate shacked up with someone else's wife (?!).

    I have just started ebaying my father-in-law's miniature tools, and they all have a characteristic smell of wood shavings and sweat, just like he so often did.

    There's a smell of rotten wood in a confined space that reminds me of a caravanning holiday we were taken on by my grandafther. It doesn't smell bad to me (even though others hate it) because I associate it with good times. The caravan we were in must have been really rotten!

    Pfeffernusse (pepper nuts) and cinnamon + ginger combined always remind me of Christmas.

    Lakeside marsh gas brings back memories of being an 11 YO boy, going fishing in the lake at Mitcham Common in south London. Sunny days and big spikey perch.

    Pine trees on a hot summer evening bring back our first holiday abroad - in Greece (Halkidiki). I'd never known the smell so clear before, and it was a fantastic time. Made us actually wonder about moving out there!

    My ears aren't particularly great, and I wonder if my nose has 'sharpened' to compensate. Smell is very important to me. There's loads more than this, but I need to dig them out as they're so much a part of me.