Thursday, December 11, 2008


Our house when I was growing up always smelt of BOOKS. We had lots of new BOMC ones which I read much too young, all the ones from our school library, and the loads I lugged home from the little smoky-green board-and-batten library which dispensed books and a cookie now and then. And the old crumbly ones, whose pages would shatter at the corner if you didn't turn with your gentlest touch.

My own personal trove was a gift from a between-generations cousin, who was exactly ten years younger than my Mother and older than I. Lynnette was the Nellie Oleson of our time, an absolute terror, a hitter and pincher and tattle-tale whose parents owned one of the two little grocery stores in a neighboring town, and who had an enticing gallery of exquisitely-dressed dolls, ordered from "OFF" for her childhood Christmases and birthdays. She also had BOOKS.

“Bought” books of her own---whole series of Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton and the Maida series and the Hardy Boys and every Tarzan in print. I would look at the dolls (not allowed to touch), but I coveted those books with a grievous avarice, and when I was in third grade, we got the CALL: Come get something she was giving away.

She was putting away childish things, and my Mammaw's joy at the idea that I would be receiving all those gloriously-attired dolls was boundless. She had even discussed shelving with my carpenter Daddy, hoping to provide them with the perfect display area.

We arrived to find three huge boxes, all packed and taped, and so heavy that they required the dolly and the help of a couple of bystanders---they had BOOKS inside, and Mammaw was NOT happy. And I was absolutely mortified that my Dad was handling a big container with "KOTEX" emblazoned on the side, RIGHT THERE IN DAYLIGHT.

But the bubble of joy that displaced all the feeling in my stomach---that anticipation and pre-enjoyment is still a milestone in my life for sheer happiness. I spent the entire Summer immersed in places and lives outside my own realm; I was right there in the front seat of that roadster (in my own smart outfit and dashing hat) as Nancy sped toward the solution to the mystery.

I passed whole days up an enormous pecan tree, trekking the steaming jungles in pursuit of elephant burial grounds and wicked traders, joining in the Jane-rescue with an echoing yodel and a swift vineswing.

Lynnette gave the dolls to the younger sisters of her boyfriend, and I have no doubt that they were soon scattered around that tatty yard, all those satins and velvets, little feathered hats and tiny, intricate shoes, trampled and whisked away in the wind, but I can still close my eyes and be up that tree in the deep Summer heat, keeping watch for lascivious Jane-stalkers and angry tribesmen.

The scent of old paper, the Johnson's wax we used on the hardwood floors (my Saturday polishings were carried out to rocking music, as I put on Daddy's old socks and danced the floors shiny), the flowers which were always present, the faint scent of my Mother's Pall Mall's, the aura of Chanel and Joy and Estee Lauder wafting from her dressing area, the delicious odors from the kitchen, where we would all be chopping and cooking and baking, the Summer tang of vinegar simmering in the latest batch of pickles, plus the Coppertone richness of a hundred days in the sun---those are still the scent-memories of my life, and my own home replicates these in its own way.

We have no idea of the complexities of our own homes' personae---the scents are just one of the points which go into their makeup; a friend used to come to our house often, and several times she said, "This smells like rich folks' houses." It was just a little house on a little street in a VERY little Southern town...but she was WAY right about the rich part. Books and music and really good food and friends to visit. Wealth beyond wishes.

And what three things does YOUR house smell of, right now?


Keetha said...

Scent is so evocative - I've read it's the powerful of the senses in bringing forth memories.

My house at this moment smells of Christmas tree and coffee perking.

Anonymous said...

Right now: garlic, olive oil and shrimp, to be served over capellini, and soon to be eaten in a big-bosomed pasta bowl while watching a rare mid-week movie, "Baby Mama." I get a chick comedy for two thrillers for His Handsomeness. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl, slurping shrimp and pasta from a dish on my lap watching Tina Fey. Hey, you only go round once!


racheld said...

Keetha---I'd have expected exactly that---the big old chrome coffeepot sending out that best of all aromas. And I envy the TREE---we have several, stuck in random spots all over the house---all artificial, all knocked about a bit by time and family.

And MAGGIE---that sounds as beckoning---all of it---as Cigarettes, Puff Pastry and Shalimar, but not nearly so intriguing and memorable.

Here's to big-bosomed bowls and the women who use them!

sparrowgrass said...

My house smells like lavender, lemon verbena, and just a hint of skunk. I love lavender--essential oil in the bath, lavender soap at the sink and a bar in each drawer and one tender French lavender plant in the sunroom.

The lemon verbena plant is indoors for the winter, right by the front door where I can brush the leaves any time I walk by. I vacuum the dry leaves up, and my vac smells like lemon instead of dog hair. (Well, to be perfectly honest, it smells like lemony dog hair, but, oh well, we take what help we can find.)

And the skunk--Stella the sorta-dalmation had an encounter a couple weeks ago. Thanks to Oxyclean and peroxide, she smells much better, unless you get carried away and give her a smooch on the top of her head.