Smells like . . .

I have a confession.  In my makeup box are some items that really should have been thrown away years ago, but I keep them because they are portals to the past.  A tube of Este Lauder lip stick once opened transports me to my grandmother’s bathroom circa 1982 where she stands in a slip and bra, preparing for Sunday morning church.  She wore Este Lauder lip stick, and though this free tube with purchase has never been my shade, the smell is a link to my Grandma who died over five years ago and stopped wearing lip stick long before that.  I don’t think I’ll ever throw it away.

The other item is a tube of Aveda lip balm, almost nine years old. I’ve had it since getting an Aveda make-over at the Ronald McDonald House in LA.  I bought it the day after the make-over in the same shopping center where they host the Oscars.  Yes, that theater is in a mall . . . it’s very American.  That tube of shaded lip balm isn’t as smooth or wearable as it was many melting summers ago, but the smell reminds me of being a brand new mother in a storm with my husband and my son, us willing Liam to survive.  It’s a totem to my highest hopes.  Maybe people would think I would want to forget that time, but when I smell that lip balm I am connected to the person I was and I feel almost like I can reach back to her from here where things are still scary but wonderful and hold her hand. It is a bittersweet reminder of how far we’ve come and how necessary it is to remain vigilant.

Smell is so powerful.  When I walk into a Cracker Barrel store it always smells like my other Grandmother’s house where gravy was always on the menu.  When I pass a cloud of second hand smoke, I can always tell if it is Camel or Marlborough, and when it is I linger and remember my dad.  I know that’s not good for me to breath it in, but it’s so rare that I find a link to him that I take the risk.  Old Yankee Candle company Rose scented wares take me back to a farmhouse we occupied for only two or three months.  I sat on the floor rubbing rose-scented lotion into my mother’s swollen feet.  I was five years old and she was pregnant with my youngest sister who is now a mother of four.  There is no faster way back to the past than the perfect smell.

Photographs are powerful reminders but I believe the strongest link to our truest memories is in the air, and when certain smells cross our path we are blessed to find our way home to places long faded and forgotten.  What smells do you treasure?


  1. I haven’t smelled Pond’s Cold Cream in years, but I know one whiff would transport me back to my childhood. My mom used that face cream every night to clean and moisturize her skin, especially in the summertime when she might have spent all day working outside on our farm.

  2. I always use original Carmex and I finally figured out why I’m so addicted and attached to it a few year ago. The smell reminds me of my mom. She always used it when I was little. Back then it was in the little round glass jars. It comes in different packaging now, but still smells the same! It keeps a piece of my mom with me and brings me comfort. Funny thing is my mom doesn’t use it anymore!

  3. My mother was a hospital nurse for years, so the smell of that industrial soap they use is dear to me.

    My grandpa chewed tobacco forever, so that smell reminds me of him (and how he could hit the spittoon even when spitting from his chair on the porch through the spindles.

    Oh, and I love the smell of rubber. I love the tire store. This doesn’t come from an olfactory memory — it’s a weird pica thing that lets me know if I’m taking a big enough iron supplement (the more anemic I am, the more I love the smell of rubber).

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