“Sents”ible

8 Nov

Since Mom and Dad's wicker chest is too far away to photograph, this one will have to do. The only problem is that this one's lid isn't broken at the hinges!

Scent. They say that there is no memory-trigger more powerful. While I do not believe everything that “They” say, I do believe this. Have you ever stepped into a store, for example, and been immediately transported to a different place to the point that you almost felt dizzy with the intensity of it all? Since none of us have mastered the art of apparation Harry Potter-style, this sort of scent-inspired travel is about the best we can do. But that’s okay with me; it’s powerful fun this way, too.

I first experienced this when stepping off the airplane at Hong Kong International Airport. I was on my way to Bangkok and we stopped to refuel, stepping out onto the tarmac at a covered (but open-sided) waiting room. Hot, humid air engulfed me and I almost swayed on the spot with sudden, overwhelming memories. The murmur of fellow college-aged voices around me disappeared and I was ten years old again.

I stand in front of the Chinese wicker chest and gently disengage the broken hinges. I open the lid towards me, carefully bringing it to rest at an awkward angle, wondering for the thousandth time what happened to the key for the lock and wondering, too, why I never asked.

Kokeshi dolls...much like the ones we used to have.

The smell of the Orient waves over me. Musty spices, incense, heat and storms and sweat: all part and parcel of the items themselves.

I have been granted Mom’s permission to look in the chest, to take out the Chinese lanterns, the wooden Japanese Kokeshi dolls, the gatas and obie and kimono. I am heady with this seldom-given opportunity, knowing full well the consequences of looking without authorization.

These are exactly the grandparent Kokeshis that Mom had...minus their original box!

Fingers tingling with excitement, I bring the treasures to light, gently lifting each one into the Pacific Northwest air, this cold and pine-filled climate so different from the one they came from. There are no mongooses here, no sewing girls, no specter of death as Dad flies to rescue downed airmen, ambushed soldiers. These are the stories I have grown up with, though I wasn’t born yet when they lived in Okinawa.

I shiver with the thrill of it all as I pull open a dark red lantern, its paper crinkling, its wires protesting. “What does this Chinese character mean?” I wonder, tracing the black swirls with a finger. “Food,” I think Mom said. I imagine the hole-in-the-wall place where it hung; wispy-bearded men sitting cross-legged at low tables deftly manipulating their chopsticks as they eat mysterious vegetables and sticky grains of rice. I think of –

“Time to reboard! The plane is ready!”

I slam back to reality.

Dizzy with the clash of the years, the speed with which I have traveled – mentally – I rub my eyes, heft my backpack, and stumble to the plane, my head still whirling. Where am I?

Yes, it was that intense. The power of scent.

Baby powder scent=arm pits.


P.S. –

Have you smelled a box of Crayola crayons lately? Or playdough? Talk about swirling memories – both of my own childhood and of my children’s. And then there’s baby powder, a scent which Madison Avenue hopes will inspire us to buy their boring products. Trouble is, it’s been so overused that baby powder doesn’t really count as nostalgic anymore because it just reminds me of arm pits. Perhaps if they really want to connote those cozy baby feelings in a woman then they should make Cheerio-scented deodorant because, by golly, if I catch a wiff of that particular wheaty-breakfast food, I am right back there at the messy high chair and I can actually feel soggy O’s on my arms. Mixed, of course, with mushed banana and milk.

Ahhhh…the scent-filled memories.

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10 Responses to ““Sents”ible”

  1. Minnesota Prairie Roots November 8, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    And then there are words, deftly crafted like yours, which take us to places we’ve never been. Lovely post, Gretchen, for how you engaged the reader by tapping into your sensory memories.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 8, 2011 at 11:37 am #

      Thank you and I’m so glad it worked. The itallics button is my friend!

  2. Jeyna Grace November 8, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    I’m agreeing with the above comment 🙂

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 8, 2011 at 11:42 am #

      Thank you! I really appreciate you commenting – and your kind words!

  3. Andrea November 8, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    I so often hear your mother’s excitement in your writing.

  4. Jenny November 8, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    For me it’s music. A certain song can take me to my loft, with that horrible hot pink shag carpet, and even the book I was reading at the time. It took me years to find the song on i-tunes! I never new the title or who sang it. Or what about that Canadian classical music station Mom and Dad used to listen to. The opening music for one certain program. When I hear that I am in our living room. Though wet wool smells take me to that living room also and the carpet in it!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 8, 2011 at 11:41 am #

      I always thought the hot pink carpet was wonderful! Wee little bits of it all over the bedroom…I probably should blog about that room!

      I’m glad you finally found the song! The Bee Gees always remind me of Kris’ room!

      yes, that radio station’s theme would take me back there too, I know. Though I don’t remember the wet wool smell! I’ve never seen carpet like that anyway…but if I did I think I’d love it! It made great roads for little cars…

  5. Hotly Spiced November 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    I think that’s so true. A scent can come along and immediately transport us back to a place we remember from long ago.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 12, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by! Yes, it’s amazing how effective scent is for triggering thought…and emotion!

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