Have y’all ever noticed how certain smells can trigger buried memories? As a storyteller, I often mention aromas that will help people connect to the story. Ponder that for a minute and you’ll know what I mean.
Think of Vick’s VapoRub. If you’ve ever smelled it before, you can imagine it now. That may be a horrible smell to you, but it isn’t to me. It reminds me of the time when I was a tiny girl; I was extremely sick with bronchitis and a terribly high fever. Late that night, my Daddy came home from his long day at work. When he heard I was sick, my exhausted Daddy rushed into the room and rubbed VapoRub on my back, to try to soothe my congestion. We sat in the darkness of my room, while he hugged me and he told me a story as I drifted off to fitful sleep. For me, VapoRub smells like “love.”
You already know that I hanker for the smell of bacon frying. That takes me back to my Mamaw’s kitchen. I long to sit down with her and snap some beans and listen to her laugh. The scent of Old Spice Aftershave brings forth the memories of all of the men from my childhood; the ones I idolized. They always called me “gal.” When the last of my parent’s generation died, I cried because I knew that no one would ever call me “gal” again. And, of course the fragrance of the cat litter box reminds me that I’d better scoop the poop.
A couple of days ago, I encountered another smell that unexpectedly took me back. I had decided to put all of our loose change into rolls, so we could trade them in for coffee money. As I dumped the coins from my piggybank onto the table, I caught the scent of pennies. Suddenly, in my thoughts, I was at my Grandmommy’s house.
My Grandmommy’s house was a magical place for a child, although my grown-up self looks back on it and is somewhat appalled by the mess. You see, my Grandmommy was the Queen of All Pack Rats. Having lived through the Great Depression, and having had a hard life even before that, my Grandmommy hoarded everything. She went to garage sales, and bought the whole sale! You could hardly get to the furniture because of all the stuff she had stacked everywhere.
But, oh, what marvelous stuff. Name it, you could find it there: wonderful clothing and hats that would today be called “vintage;” delicate glass figurines (thousands of them); antique tools and kitchen gadgets; paintings;old maps; books and magazines. We loved to meddle in all the stuff, and Grandmommy let us, as long as we were careful. She had a wall of bookshelf that only held issues of National Geographic. We loved to sneak those magazines off the shelf and go hide under the honeysuckle vines in her back yard. There, we got to sit and giggle to our hearts content as we looked at pictures of “nekkid people,” we didn’t pretend to be reading the articles.
Sometimes, Grandmommy set up a card table and threw a sheet over it, so we could “play house.” If we set the card table in the right place, our house could have little tunnels that went behind the couch and her recliner. Other times, we sat on her shady front porch in the big swing, pillowed against my Grandmommy’s capacious bosom. We talked and sang and called out “Howdy” to the neighbors who walked down the street. At night, as Grandmommy watched Lawrence Welk on the television, we curled up on the couch with a root beer float.
But, nearly every time we went to Grandmommy’s house, we sorted pennies. My grandmother traded cash for the change that a friend of hers took from the vending machines he owned around town. Our task was to sit at card tables sorting the pennies by year and “mint.” That letter under the date tells where it was minted, and somehow that made a difference to Grandmommy. She was hoping that she would find a rare coin one day that would make her a fortune (just as I keep hoping that I’ll buy a winning lottery ticket). Her old eyes couldn’t see so well anymore, so her grandchildren worked for hours sorting coins and inhaling the scent of pennies.
Grandmommy never found her fortune in those coins. When she died, my mother inherited them. Now that Momma is gone, my little sister has the bulk of them, and they will go to her daughter one day. Maybe by the time they pass through several generations, those pennies will be worth something. Right now, they are priceless, because they hold the memories.
Your sense of smell can take you places that you have forgotten. I know that you have certain aromas that conjure memories in your mind. Close your eyes and think about it. If you’d like, tell me about it. You know I like a story. Just pretend we are all “a settin’ on the porch talkin'” and now it’s your turn.