Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Scent Of A Life

My sister came to visit for the holidays. (No, I am not avoiding saying 'Christmas' because of some extremist leftish ideas. I just like it when phrases sound as British as possible)
Anyways, she stayed at my house, and was getting ready to take a shower. I gathered all the soaps, loofahs, razor options, conditioners, and back scrubbers I could find....options are always nice when bathing, no? However,I was a little embarassed to present her with my only shampoo choice.

I have been a hair product snob for as many years as I have had money in my pockets. To explain why would require a pocket guide to Traumatizing Childhood Events That Haunt Us For Years, and I loaned mine to my good friend, Thaddeus. But I have subscribed to the 'better product, better hair' philosophy, and enjoyed purchasing and rotating a variety of high-end professional products.

I handed my sister the bottle of Suave, head hung in shame. I wasn't necessarily ashamed of having Suave in my posession, as I had originally bought it for Austin. But....I had begun using it. And I LIKED IT! I tried to explain that it smelled actually worked.....I would now rather spend money on clothes instead of hair...

To my surprise, Talitha was excited to try this new, inexpensive find. Though she enjoys those balms, creams, and pomades, she too would like to save her extra cash for our upcoming trip to Versailles. She opened the bottle. She inhaled, and exclaimed. Not in disgust, as I was expecting. Instead, she told me that it reminded her of being in junior high and going to the pool with friends. We talked for a few minutes about how funny it is that scent can take you back to memories that are otherwise unremembered.

As a whole, I think that memory is interesting. I have a particularly good memory, which has been a curse and a delight. Sarah Mac's Song for a Winter's Eve positively transports me, and I listen to it sometimes just to feel good inside. However, start singing " P.C.H.S. Cougars", and I will curl up into the fetal position and suck my thumb.

Memory does this; it is the power and joy of the mind to recall, to again be a member of the past.

However, I have always found it amazing that certain smells can make you not only recall a moment, but truly feel as if you are reliving it. Do you know the difference? I am not eloquent enough to put this subtlety into words. I feel the difference, but I don't know if I can convey it.

For example, I remember my third birthday. It is one of my first memories. I had a large cookie-cake, and it had a Garfield-knockoff who, with the assistance of Red Dye 4, 5, and 6, was opening a bottle of champagne. In retrospect, I think that my parents must have forgotten to order a cake, and picked up the first available sweet item that could be reasonably passed off as a celebratory pastry. (Thaddeus, I need my book back)

I remember the Garfield event, but as an outsider. In my mind I can I recall what happened; I see the colors of the icing. But I don't remember what it felt like to be seeing those colors with three year old eyes.

Smells, for me at least, truly 'take me back' so that I feel what I was feeling at the time.

I understood what Talitha was saying. And she enjoyed her junior high Suave moment, relishing the feeling of being young, while simultaeously being thankful that her braces are gone and her chest finally grew.
I don't think we often realize how powerful smell is, or that we are creating a bouquet of memory, as it were. I don't think of my house as having a particular scent. But close my eyes and take me there....I'll know just where I am.

I was shopping once at Target when they started selling salon shampoo. (Though a HUGE Target fan, I have to say that this takes the fun out of buying such products. But as I am now onto the Suave Secret, it no longer matters) I contemplated the Back to Basics line. I had used them in the past, but didn't remember how I felt about their tress offerings.

Honey-Raspberry? Too much like a Sweet*Tart. Mango-Mint? Entirely gross. Sunflower? That packaging looked familiar....

I am not being overdramatic when I say that that the floor almost gave way. My knees buckled, and my stomach felt like I was driving over a big hill.

I felt sand in my toes, and I heard the ocean. I could smell peach lotion from Bath and Body Works, and the tips of my ears were tight with sunburn. I was 16 again. And for that moment, standing in the Target shampoo aisle, I was full of summertime music and camp secrets and staying up late with my best friend.

It was kind of like holding a shell up to your ear: you think you hear the ocean, but you aren't really sure why. But it is there, and sometimes when you really need a glimpse of the tossing, foamy waters, you put your ear to the smooth shell and smell suntan lotion.

It sounds crazy, but sometimes I open a bottle of shampoo just to relive the summer when I was 16. It was a good time for me, and it makes me remember to savor whatever time I'm in. It also lets me get a whiff of my younger dreams, my less-informed self that was quicker to laugh and trust and believe.

I've started wearing perfume again. I've been trying to pick out a new fragrance for years, and never been able to commit to one. Austin and the girls picked one out for me, which I must say was rather daring. But I like it quite a bit, so I wear it when I have enough presence of mind to remember things like brushing my teeth and spritzing on my black bottle of memories-to-be.

I want the ability to remember this time in my life in its entirety. My life has good and bad parts to it, as lives always do. But when my kids are driving off to meet their friends at the mall, when my eyes are heavy with wrinkles, when my 50th high school reunion rolls around (not that I will ever go) I want the floor to fall out beneath me. I want to feel like I'm on a roller-coaster when I stop at Sephora to smell this perfume that I will by that time no longer wear.

This way I am always guaranteed to remember Sabra's baby smell, and the sound of her laugh. I'll remember what Moira's face looked like when she put on lipgloss, and I'll feel Austin's young, strong hand in mine.

A picture is worth a thousand words, a smell worth a thousand feelings.

Now if I could find out how to make Scratch-N-Sniff pictures...

No comments: