Scents and Sensibility

The smell of an acrid stinky cigar still reminds me of my father.

Dad smokes a cigar in 1961 during a Camp Winadu visit 
Jack and Cigars:

My father, who passed away almost two years ago, stopped smoking in the 1970’s. He smoked a pipe and cigars starting with his college days at The University of Pennsylvania in the late 40's. Today, if I pass by someone with a cigar, I get immediately transported back to an emotional place that makes me think of him. It is an interesting contradiction since cigar smoke is a smell I don't like yet it is a memory rush triggering time with my father. 

Memories up in smoke
While walking in my neighborhood this weekend, the scent of a cigar from a passerby was like a time machine; taking me back to my childhood. The scent was a strong reminder of my Dad and I could sense his presence. In the photo of me with my Dad, note the cigar in Dad's left hand while I was at Camp Winadu in 1961. I can smell it as I write this post. 

Remarkable how scents, smells and odors can be like portals to the past delivering you to emotional places you haven’t been in a long time or connecting you with loved ones. I started to think about my family and which aromas I associate with each of them. 

Bea and Jello:
Bea and Jello 

For Bea, my mom, one of the strongest associations I have is the smell of Jell-O. As the queen of Jell-O molds from my youth, I can’t remember a party that didn't include J -E- L -L -O in some shape or fashion. The confetti jello mold with its jiggling cubes of multi-color jello mixed with cream cheese filling still conveys a sweet scent of surprise.  Although I haven’t eaten Jell-O in thirty years, if I see it or smell it at restaurant or in someone’s home- my first thought is mom. Something about that sugary sweet smell and artificial cherry flavor that makes me want to shimmer, wiggle and giggle. 

Ra El: Chocolate and Lavender:

Scent of a Spirited Woman
For Ra El, my wife, I think of two powerful smells that trigger two parts of our life together- baking chocolate as a reminder of the Rachel’s Brownies period (1975-1989) and lavender essential oil that she uses to infuse herself with inner peace and calm. The deep scent of rich chocolate is from the past; the lavender oil smell is from today. Whether rubbed on the soles of her feet or inhaled into her inner soul, lavender is a comforting aroma. And like  Ra El, lavender oil is natural, beautiful and exceptional

Chocolate Daze in Malvern, Pennsylvania in 1982

Sarah and Banana Yogurt, Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese:

Tomato Sarah Soup - mmm good.
For Sarah, our older daughter, I think of her when I smell either banana yogurt or tomato soup and grilled cheese. Those smells transcend time and space and give me moments of joy as they make me think of foods that comforted her when she was younger. Tomato soup is an anchor smell- reminding me of her and connecting me with how food can be the best way to comfort someone. It is warm and calming and needs to be slowly enjoyed. Today, tomato soup is still a frequent part of her comfort food collection. Living in Hawaii, she doesn't have many cold days that require warm soup, but I know it is ever present on her shelf like a can of condensed happiness. 

Fanny and the Breakfast Surprise:

Scrambled cheesy eggs with basil leaves and tomato
For Fanny, our younger daughter, it is hard not to think of a several food catalyst jolting me back in time. As a toddler, Fanny loved bologna which she enjoyed rubbing on door knobs as well as devouring by eating a hole in the middle and then working her way around the outside. It was the early stages for her of food as a toy or a portable companion. 

But I have to go with the lofty aroma of the breakfast surprise (scrambled egg on a honey wheat English muffin with cheddar cheese, basil and chopped tomatoes) wrapped in silver foil. The surprise was that I would wrap it in silver foil so she could eat it during the car ride to school. In years past, I would tell her it was a surprise- even though it was the same surprise each time. Although Fanny likes food surprises, I think she secretly craves predictable surprises- if that isn't a contradiction in terms? 

The combination of all of those smells brings home the bacon…so to speak. Ironically, as I was writing this blog, Fanny, who came home for a few days, wanted me to wait to make her breakfast on Sunday morning until she came downstairs so she could smell it cooking. She didn't want to miss any part of the experience. 

Grandma Fannie and Stuffed Cabbage:

The Fannie Special - Stuffed Cabbage
Going back a generation, when I think of the sweet/sour smell of stuff cabbage with tomato base with lemon and sugar- I am immediately back at my Grandma Fannie's apartment on 186 Tuxedo Parkway where I spent so much time as a child. Also tied to that stuff cabbage aroma is a sour cream coffee cake made with a brown sugar topping.  The hint of that flavor combination- with a bit of cinnamon dusted on top reminds me of her love and sweet lilting laughter.

Aunt Annette and Butter:
Annette and the golden butter

Butter is the trigger for memories of Aunt Annette. I can’t melt butter on toast without being reminded of all the time we spent cooking together. The sweet smell of lightly-salted butter spreads joy all throughout my being. It was like a yellow brick road of pats of butter that we would go down together, while she taught me some of Julia Child’s basics. 

Pop and Photo Fixer

The old darkroom and the smell of fixer 
The aroma trigger for Poppa George is not something edible.   For Pop, the smell of photographic fixer reminds me of spending time with him when I was 15 years old and we would work together in the darkroom printing photographs in my basement. Fixer is what we used to used in the darkroom to permanently fix an image onto a piece of paper.  Old family photographs, particularly black and white ones from my albums still have the slightest smell of this acrid acidic scent- and I love any whiff I can get of it. It has me transfixed. 

So take a big deep breathe and be mindful of the wonderful scents around you reminding you of your loved ones. If this makes scents/sense to you and you aren't turning up your nose at this blog, let me know what aroma you associate with your loved ones by commenting on this post. 

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