Sensory details add so much to our writing. There are some smells (or the memory of that smell) that take me instantly back to being ten-years-old again.
Sawdust. When my grandfather worked with wood I would watch the shavings gather beneath the sawhorses, snatching them up by the handful. When he ran the power saw and the sawdust would pile into little hills I filled my pockets with the little chips of wood.
Mercurochrome. That stinky, smelly, stain your fingers red, antiseptic stuff that all my friends parents used but we never did.
Bactine. What we used instead of merchurochrom.
Mud. I have always loved making mud. Still do. As a child I would make rivers of mud all over the backyard whenever I could get away with it. I’d make little boats from a half a walnut shell filled with mud and then I’d stick a twig in the middle with a leaf speared on the twig for a sail. I’d race my walnut shell boats, spurring them on with a burst from the hose until I got yelled at by my grandmother.
Orange blossoms. There were three oranges trees on the side of the driveway and when they bloomed, the smell was everywhere. I could open my window upstairs and the whole room would smell like oranges.
Tar. It filled the cracks of the sidewalk and on hot days in the summer I would watch it nearly bubble. I’d poke it with a stick until someone caught me.
Burnt rubber. We had a floor furnace with a big metal grate. In the winter time the house was freezing and I would straddle the furnace. But sometimes I would stand on the grate until the rubber on the bottom of my tennis shoes started to burn.
Dinner mints. I think that’s what they were called. Little white hard candies with a mint center. My grandmother kept them in the china cabinet and when I opened the door, the mint smell would hit me and I would have to swipe some.
The incinerator. Yes, we used to burn our trash. Every Saturday my grandfather would fill the incinerator barrel with the week’s garbage and lit it up. I loved to go out there with him and watch the flames. The outside of the barrel was rusted through in spots and the ashes drifted out.
Old Spice after shave. It was the only after shave my grandfather ever used.
Mimeograph machine. My grandmother belonged to the Druids and was in charge of the monthly newsletter. Every month she would cover the kitchen table with newspaper and bring out the mimeograph machine. She’d put on her gloves and coat the roller with purple ink then crank out copies of the newsletter until the smell of ink filled the kitchen.
Singed ducks. After a good day of duck hunting my grandfather and my uncles would pluck all the feathers off the ducks. Then my grandfather would hang them in the basement and get out the blowtorch to carefully singe any remaining feathers from the birds.
Aquanet hairspray. The smell of hairspray makes me gag but it also reminds me of the high beehive hair my mother would wear and how she would spray for several minutes to glue it all into place.
Body powder. My grandmother had a white container filled with powder and a big powder puff that she used after every bath. I loved to open the container and smell it but I always got powder all over everything.
What are some of the smells you associate with your childhood?