The nose knows

Maybe I have an unusually sensitive sense of smell, but certain smells bring up strong memories and feelings for me. 

For years the smell of diesel and anything burning (especially mixed and especially in the summer time – this usually happens when I’m driving in the car with the windows down) has sent my mind on a journey to Haiti. These were always pleasant memories/feelings (I always loved traveling to Haiti) until 2008. After I took Schnider back something changed. Now when it happens (and it hasn’t for a while) my mind still races to scenes of Haiti but I now feel a deep sense of dread and anxiety deep in my stomach. Every single time. I assume it is because returning him to Haiti was the last time I was there, the last time I smelled those smells was one of the hardest times in my life.

A couple of weeks ago I was standing at my moms kitchen sink. I reached and pumped some soap into my hand without noticing what it was. As I started lathering my hands, my stomach dropped, I felt tears start to come and the words “I just want to go home…” raced across my mind. It took me a second to realize that the soap my mom had set out was the same soap I took with me to Uganda, and the same soap I used the entire time I was there.  It’s a strong smell, a smell I’d never used before and a smell I’ve never used since. In my mind – that smell took me back to the tiny bathroom in Africa. All the sudden I was standing there again, washing my hands. The air was hot. Laundry was drying on the shower curtain. Dishes were piled in the sink waiting to be washed. I could hear the cleaning ladies talking in the hallway in a language I didn’t undersand, Mayer babbling in the background. The chattering of creatures in the trees outside.  As much as I liked that country,  I just wanted to go home….I just wanted to take my baby home.  My feelings associated with that time and that smell were frustration, sadness and at times – as much as I tried to combat it – hopelessness .   I’ll never buy that soap again. 

Isn’t it strange how we associate certain smells with specific emotions?

Yesterday my sister and I were shopping at the grocery store. I picked up another soap and took a big smell. Memories of my (long deceased) father came rushing to me. My sister said the same thing when I asked her what this reminded her of. He’s the only one I know that used soap that smelled like that, and I think that smell with forever be associated with him.
I bought the soap.

Do you have any specific smells that trigger a memory or feeling in you?

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2 Comments to “The nose knows”

  1. Yes! There is this dish soap that I took to Guatemala on our trip to pick up Gabe to wash his bottles and it still takes me back to standing at the sink in our hotel room in GC. The feelings are anticipation and anxiety, and the same “I just want to go home”.

    Then there is the bath and bodyworks lotion that my roomate used on my first trip to Haiti – Juniper I think – that always brings a smile as I remember my sweet little guy the first time I held him.

  2. Scents trigger the strongest memories, don’t they?
    Every time I use the bathroom at a certain fast food joint I’m transported back to the first time I held my new son. They use the same foaming hand soap as the NICU he was in, and it so strongly reminds me of his small tender sweetness.

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