Weblog tour: the smell of nostalgia

We have a new weblog tour question! As usual, after I’m done, readers are encouraged to post their own answer in the comment box.

What’s your favourite smell in the world and why?  Smiley

Scent is the least-used descriptor in novels and literary nonfiction. Consider how often a main character is described: you’ll get his height, his build, what his voice sounds like, but never what he or she smells like. In fact, one way to make sure an editor takes notice of your writing is to describe the scent of your setting right on the first page.

Despite that, scent is a powerful sense. Or possibly because of that: something of which you’re barely aware many times can dictate your initial response to a thing or a person. Women in arranged marriages often dislike the scent of their husbands, whereas women who choose their own spouse most often like the way he smells. Individuals selling their homes will often bake cookies or bread right before a showing in order to give their house “that homey feel.” Everyone, apparently, wants to believe they will turn into a whole-foods chef and produce nourishing meals for their family the instant they buy a home.

So, what’s my favorite smell? It’s nostalgia.

You’re going to laugh at me, but one of the things I associate with the past is the way the place smells. It isn’t something I can summon in my head when I want to. But sometimes, when I think about places I used to live, or people who have died, I’ll recall the scent of the house, the scent of that person’s cooking. 

I think of college and sometimes I can smell my old dorm room, or the dry smell of dusty paper in the library.

Several times after Emily died, I caught her scent. Once in my bedroom where Kiddo#3 was sleeping, and the air was so still and silent that I could feel her presence even before the smell evoked her memory. I smelled it several times in Kiddo#2’s hair. And always, always the smell of chrism reminds me of holding her in the hospital as the chaplain anointed her, and it makes me cry.

Scents are an unmarked exit from the present into the past. There are smells I love when I come across them, but the best ones are the unexpected memories of smells that bring me back in time unawares.

Other stops on the weblog tour are:

http://meganeileen2005.typepad.com/  twinkletoes
http://thatsloanegirl.blogspot.com/   CathyF
http://wryexchange.com/   Wry Exchange
http://www.absentmindedhousewife.com/  beckygoesape
http://verycontrary.wordpress.com/  Contrary
http://amandagorby.blogspot.com/  amanda_tg                 
http://whatsmylife.blogspot.com/ grinningcomb
http://nolechica.livejournal.com  nolechica
http://addierambles.blogspot.com  andra
http://la-eme.livejournal.com   MsMoonbunny
http://mischief0617.wordpress.com/  CrowGirl
http://www.housewife2000.blogspot.com   housewife2k
http://fatgirlartist.blogspot.com/  Amy Rose
http://lulupop.wordpress.com  Lulupop
http://chrisnada.livejournal.com/  Cnada
http://robandkrista.blogspot.com/  CelticGemini
http://anime-coroner.livejournal.com/. AllyKat
http://www.drunkenhousewife.com/ The Drunken Housewife
http://ladyj3000.blogspot.com/   LadyJ3000
http://heartstart.livejournal.com  Heartstar1
http://hijinksshenanigans.blogspot.com/  Hijinks’s Shenanigans
http://deltatangosgbs.blogspot.com/  afbluebelle
http://sarahesperanza.wordpress.com/ SquishyMooMoo
http://www.dutifuldanielle.blogspot.com/ dpbenson
http://sinkingtent.blogspot.com/ ladiedeathe


  1. ivyreisner

    My favorite smell is raw fleece. It over powers the house whenever I open it, making the entire place smell like a barn. It’s the weird almost-sweet smell of manure and hay and soil. I like the deep, musky oder, not just because I can always get a seat on the subway when I open the bag, but because of what it symbolizes. It’s totally natural. No perfumes, no chemicals, no dyes, nothing, just straight off the sheep stinkiness.

    I like the link to the past. When Midwood actually was in the middle of the woods there would have been sheep right near where I live now. The area would smell just like that fleece.

    It’s the smell of the bible. Abraham, tending his sheep, would have come home with that smell on his clothes. Leah, preparing the wool to spin for Joseph’s coat, would have the same scent on her hands. The skirting and scouring and carding or combing of a fleece is a practice that goes back for thousands of years.

  2. Jason Block

    For me…it’s the smell of vanilla. Whether it be in a perfume, the raw vanilla in cooking…or in a soap. I love it.

  3. CricketB

    Fresh breeze, either spring or summer early morning — when we can open the windows and be a tiny bit cool. Real, not that artificial version. Like today. It makes me smile and feel productive and actually be productive, or take a break because I want to, not because I don’t want to do anything else.

    Even better when the bedding smells like it.

    My tent. I hadn’t used it in years, but opened it up and felt right at home. Mixture of wood smoke and a touch of old vegetation –not much, since I use a ground sheet and brush it out well and always dry it, but just a bit, probably stuff that got in and was crushed into the nylon.

  4. Jenni

    I would have to agree with Jane and Jason – smells take me back and vanilla is my favorite scent.
    I got a compliment the other day from our gardener who said my house always smells good – like vanilla (yay, the plug-ins work!).

    The one smell I really miss is the body spray my husband had when we first met – Old Spice Metallic Ice. He used to spray some on my pillow so I could fall asleep thinking of him. Sadly, they don’t make it anymore. 🙁

  5. xdpaul

    Hog manure.

    Not kidding. The perfect blend of ripe urea, digested corn and sulfur. The ammonia permeates everything. I remember dollar bills, the skin on my palms, and my dance partner, the shovel carrying the odor on them like emissaries from the empire of swine,

    The hog lot was the one place where I could do things my way, instead of the only way, and still do it well. It smelled like self-determination.

  6. philangelus

    You know, I always thought my Patient Husband was kidding when he said he had friends who’d see they were coming up on a hog farm and roll DOWN the windows. 🙂

  7. nolechica

    Great entry and idea. I used your title to build my entry.

  8. ladyknight

    Please don’t laugh. My favorite smell is the smell of a dog. Not that horrible nasty dogbreath-in-my-face smell, but the natural scent of a dog, when you bury your face in their fur. It’s comforting, and reminds me of being a kid, laying on the floor playing with my family’s two dogs.

  9. philangelus

    That’s a neat image, ladyknight. I can almost smell it myself when you describe it that way.