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The power of smell

Posted Jan 14 2009 8:48pm

One evening Mr. Jelly Belly and I were enjoying a few cocktails while sitting at the bar of our favorite casino, me mindlessly shoving fistfuls of hard-earned twenty dollar bills into my favorite video poker machine and him watching several sporting events at once on the big screen.

As I lifted my drink I was distracted by a strong smell pervading the room. It was an inviting, buttery smell I couldn’t immediately place, but caused me to be totally overcome with warm feelings of love and comfort and happiness. Then, oddly, “chicken” popped into my head, and that’s when I identified it. It was the smell of my grandmother’s house when her kitchen was filled with the aroma of her world-famous (at least in our part of the world) chicken soup with homemade noodles. It was always the first thing I smelled when I walked into her house. When she knew we were coming, she got that soup on the stove.

My grandmother has been gone since 1978, yet I could suddenly see her so clearly and feel her arms around me in a welcoming hug. And I could smell her. And her house.

I’ve had memories triggered by a smell before, but never in such an overwhelmingly powerful way. The smell of bacon frying makes me think of lazy Sunday mornings; the smell of fried fish and tartar sauce takes me back to Fridays in the cafeteria of the Catholic school I attended only in the first grade; and the sweet scent of a slightly sweaty baby’s head always brings back the feeling of love I would get when I picked up one of my own babies after they had been napping.

And I have been appalled on more than one occasion to realize my “gotta get some now” feelings of lust have just been triggered by an 85 year old man wearing the cologne favored by a former boyfriend.

Strangely, and with the exception of the heavenly aroma of Cinnabons at the mall, most food smells don’t actually make me hungry. Instead, they lead to feelings of love and loss and deep nostalgia.

Sitting quietly in the midst of the loud noise of the bar that day, I continued to inhale deeply of the smell until it was gone, all the while wishing I could hug my grandmother just one more time.

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