Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Good. Strong. Coffee. Breathe it in kid.....

There are some things I can't help, but remember the smell of when they float to my nostrils now. Certain fragrances that hold memories for me that are absolutely inescapable.

Folger's and Maxwell House coffee for example. Any brewing coffee will do, but specifically the large, blue or red coffee cans... the kind you used to make stilts out of when they were empty, as a kid. That smell is morning at either grandparents' house.

Mimi's kitchen always smelled of freshly brewing coffee, lil' smokies (a kind tiny of sausage Kansans are rather fond of which smell curiously like a mix of butter, brown sugar, and bacon... or maybe that's just because that's what she cooked them with) and wheat toast.

There was also a lingering smell of pipe smoke and cinnamon about her house. Grandpa W smoked a pipe before he died (when I was four) and Mimi always had cinnamon bears about her person. And the overly sweet, dusty smell of Equal packets.

 In fact, we as kids, were designated to guard her purse (usually my cousin C had that honor; he was the eldest and had therefore earned the right) and gather the following whenever we went to a restaurant: blue equal packets from the little bin on the table, a few extra napkins from the shiny silver holder, jam packets and peppermints, toothpicks, or whatever they have for the taking as you leave.

I learned later that sweet, little old women also love marmalade. Specifically the little packets of it found in diners throughout the United States. It is, in fact, like gold to them. Perhaps there's some sort of underground black-market bidding that goes on, largely in cases of marmalade, gathered in secret from diners across America.

When I was working more than a few jobs at a time, right after I graduated college, I worked in one of these diners. I got harassed by grouchy (and sometimes sweet) old men all day long, harangued by middle aged women (nothing against my fellow ladies, but some members of this demographic are the worst to have to serve... they insist you botched their order, despite the fact that you wrote it down and read it back to them before putting it in with the kitchen, and they always skimp on tip), and sweetly thanked and winked at by couples and singles of all ages.

We were ALWAYS running out of marmalade. We had to hide it in the back of the jelly cabinet, because on several occasions, people, usually elderly ladies, would go to the jelly bin and grab packets; marmalade being the ultimate goal.

Mimi's car always smelled of Wrigley's Spearmint gum. She quit smoking I think around the time that D and I were three... or maybe five... I was old enough to remember her going outside to have a cigarette and I still really like the smell of tobacco... except the really cheap-o brands... not sure which they are, someone told me once it's "Pall-Mall," brand of cancer-stick that smells like doggie-doo on fire, but I've never run a burning sample, and I don't care to.

Mimi also liked to use all manner of Chap Stick brand (usually the black original flavor),  Jergens and Eucerin hand lotions and Carmex lip pot. I also remember her, on special occasions, using something (I think from Crabtree and Evelyn) that smelled of Lily of the Valley or something similar. A very light, delicate almost honey-suckle scented cream. Mimi always smelled good, no matter what.

I am unable to smell any of these without recalling some scene from my childhood.

Grandma B's kitchen always smelled of instant Folger's coffee (the little glass jar with the green lid) which is a distinctly different smell, almost like that of the foil covered paper sealing the top of the jar... not unpleasant.... and fried bacon, eggs, Lipton's Breakfast Blend hot tea and white toast.

I also associate sauerkraut, boiling sausages or hot dogs, frying, carmelizing onions, melting salted butter and cherry pie with Grandma B.

Her house also had the smell of old spice wafting about (my grandpa C) as well as the sweet whiff of Worther's Original toffee candy, holiday ribbon candy (she almost always had a bowl of it), spice gumdrops, and Wrigley's Freedent gum.

Grandma B always smelled of toilette body pouf powder; I think it was Estee Lauder brand or something expensive smelling. I also associate fondly, the original Lysol smell and Pledge polish as well as Aqua Net hairspray.

In fact, Mimi used this too, so I just take it for granted that grandparents everywhere smell of perfumed chemicals on Sunday mornings. Grandmothers also smell this way upon their return from "the Beauty Shop," just having had their hair washed, set in curlers, dried, teased and sprayed until the fluffed curls were springy.

Grandpa C's hands always smelled of Dial soap, and the bedroom he shared with my grandmother always smelled of Lever 2000 soap; clean, manly, spicy and not sharp, but not subtle either.

Grandma B also used Surf and Tide laundry detergent and bounce dryer sheets.  Her house smelled of clean cotton; that fresh, salty, spicy, sweet mix that happens when you open the dryer.

Mimi used Dreft, downy and bounce as well. Her house smelled of clean baby, but not the intoxicating and borderline asphyxiating smell of baby powder; more the soft, fresh, and flowery-warm nurturing and comforting smell.

Both houses smelled of sunshine streaming through windows, warming up the rooms.

Both sets of grandparents had designated bathrooms by sex; his being (in both houses) off the back bedroom, and the one belonging to Grandma not Grandpa, was in the middle of the house off the front bedrooms. Curious, how there was the same set-up in both houses.

Crown Royal, Scotch, Vodka Martinis and iced tea all remind me of Mimi.

Wine, port, Diet Dr. Pepper and lemonade all remind me of Grandma B.

It's amazing to me how almost every single member of my family has a designated smell in my brain.

I make "Christmas coffee," almost every morning - I just lace the freshly ground coffee beans with cinnamon, because that's what my mother does on Christmas morning, and I like the smell so much that I do it every morning.

My mom smells like cinnamon, vanilla, soap and something deeper. Her smell is warm.

My dad smells like Gillette Edge shaving cream, linen and soap. His smell is clean.

My great aunt Babe smelled of oatmeal cookies. I could keep going, but I think I'll stop there. I  could go on and on about the smells of people I know. It would be impossible to cover all the bases. Chances are, if I've met you, I know what you smell like.

I wonder what I smell like now? What I'll smell like when I'm a mom and a grandma? I hope it's something pleasant, like chocolate and oranges. Some combination of comfort food and freshness.

I believe if you really want to know what someone smells like, their scent sits in the hollow of their throat just below their neck and above their clavicle and sternum. It also floats behind the ears and inside the crooks of their elbows, and at the nape of the back of their neck, or on the top of the crown of their head.

I've been told I smell like sugar cookies. I'm not quite sure if that's true... but I do believe it's possible that  I smell of butter, sugar and vanilla because I bake and cook a lot.

I wish I really knew what my inherent smell is. I'm sure there's some chemistry, some process that can imitate, or mimic the smell of a particular person and their pheromones.

J's nose isn't "sensitive," or I'd ask him to smell me and tell me. He tells me I have "the most sensitive sniffer of anyone [he's] ever met," and since my dad used to tease me when I was a kid, telling me I was "part dog," because I had to smell and sniff everything, maybe he's right.

I just want someone to smell me and tell me I smell inherently good and describe the elements of my scent to me. That's probably a slightly insane request, but I'd really like to know.

Someday I'll find out.