Saturday, October 20, 2007

Listen! Can You Smell That?

They say that writing is a habit. The more you write, the better you get. The more you write, the easier it becomes. Since I seem to have gotten out of the habit of writing this summer, let's start off with something easy - like a memory:

When I was young I could smell the change of seasons weeks before they actually arrived. In January I could smell the damp earth of spring and the air held the promise of warmth in its molecules. By April I could smell the heat of a July summer day, and in late August it was the smell of leaf litter and burning leaves that clung to the wind. But winter was the most notable. As early as September I could smell and sometimes taste the biting winter wind all crisp and clean long before it swept down upon the plains from the frigid north.

I kept this ability to smell changes in the air into my teens, with the bitter winter air being the last to leave my senses. But I remember this strange power and wonder if others had the same experience.

It wasn't just seasons that assaulted my senses either, it was people as well. I don't mean this in the bad body odor way. I mean that every person - every family - had it's own, unique odor. I could smell it the minute I walked into their homes or if two or more family members were together. My family included.

Sadly, (or maybe not...) I lost this ability early on in childhood and frankly never thought about it. Until one day I was rummaging around in a junk store, looking at the old dresses and hankies, when I smelled Aunt Della. The smell of her hit me so hard and the memories came so suddenly that I looked around fully expecting to see her standing there, smiling at me like she did when I was little and was digging through her drawers looking for dress-up clothes. I was so shaken I could only stand there, clutching that dress to my face while her memory filled me with longing.

I did not buy the dress because I knew that it could not be her's. She had died in Iowa and I was in Pennsylvania. Maybe my memory was off. I was an adult, after all. But Aunt Della had come from Pennsylvania, along with her sisters (my Grandma Moss and Aunt Emma) when they were just little girls. Their parents had driven them out in a covered wagon with all their worldly possessions. Could this dress belong to a distant relative whose family still had this same smell? Who knows. I certainly don't. But it's fun to think it might be so.

Age (and cigarettes) have taken this heightened sense of smell away from me. But the memories of the change of seasons lingers. And for that I am truly grateful.


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

That is lovely Sally. Smell is an amazing sense and seems to have such strong memory!

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...

That is so true. I can still smell Estee Lauder when I open my grandmother's china cabinet.

joanna_977 said...

This morning I can smell Autumn. Now I know our summer is truly over. I googled whether anyone else can smell the change of seasons, because I have always been able to, but it never ceases to fascinate me. (p.s. non-smoker; if it makes a difference??!!)