What evokes the most memories for you? Is it the sound of a bird, a person’s voice? Is it the taste of a favorite food, or a not-favorite food? Is it the sight of someone’s hair, a color you wore on a special day? The feel of a favorite book, worn from overreading, that just feels right in your hand?
For me, it’s smell, that most powerful of senses. At Roanoke Regional Writers Conference 2019 at the end of July, three writers offered new ways of looking at the six senses, including the one we keep inside, our sixth sense. I drove home thinking about all the smells of my youth which define special moments.
Marcel Proust may have set the bar for a stream-of-consciousness memory invoked by dipping a small cake into a cup of tea. The resulting reverie is one of the more famous moments in literature. My memories are closer to home.
Home defined two great memories, one of my grandmother, the other of my mother. My grandmother smelled of Evening in Paris cologne. It was her favorite and she wore a drop for special occasions. She also smelled on Ivory soap and bleach, because she was responsible for doing the wash and hanging it out on the line to dry.
Mother smelled of Chanel No. 5, chocolate chip cookies hot from the oven, and, my favorite, chocolate-covered cherries. My mother was hooked on chocolate-covered cherries, the kind you bought in a box at the pharmacy, the kind with milk chocolate outer shells and mareschino cherries and a vanilla filling. God, they were awful. God, we loved them. Mom bought a box at Valentine’s Day every year. Confession: I have a box ready to open next week…
The other smell combines both scent, sight, and texture. It’s my memory. It’s one I’m writing about in my latest novel, Toad the Dreamer. It is sand. All sands are not alike. My two favorites are those of my main character, Todd, aka Toad. One is the scent of desert sands. Dry. Clean. Sun-baked. Filled with tiny pebbles, bits of lava, thorns. Shades of brown. tan, flat green.
Todd’s, and my, other favorite sand is beach sand. Todd has a house near the ocean. Here, the scent is of damp, early morning fog. The scent of red tide and dead fish. White, clean stretches with bits of shell. Sun-baked, salty. Smooth between the toes. A place to lie and nap in the sun.
Both of these memories shape the adult Todd, as the desert shaped the child Toad. It’s fun to write about places and events I lived. I hope I do honor to my memories.