It’s said that scent is one of our most enduring memories. Having grown up on a farm, I can recall a mixture of aromas, strong and delicate, sharp and sweet.
The heady scent of honeysuckle drifting into the farmhouse with the spring breeze. The smell of sunshine and earth clinging to a tomato plucked fresh from the vine and begging for a knife and a little salt. The mouth-watering aroma of a homemade cobbler, made with blackberries picked on a trip to the pastures, baking in the oven. The acrid scent of a warming wood fire on a cold winter’s night.
And the not-so-pleasant ones.
The stench of “cow patties” steaming in the summer heat on the path down to the pastures. The strong whiffs of ammonia inside the poultry houses after their inhabitants had been in residence for several weeks.
The curious metallic tang of blood, sharp as a paring knife’s edge, mingled with the odor of singed feathers on the days when some of those chickens went to the chopping block, their eventual resting place in the deep freeze on the back porch.
Some scents, not necessarily of the most delicious kind, were so familiar as part of the landscape of my childhood they remain strangely comforting—the smell of chicken feed pellets pouring into the giant bins atop the poultry houses, for example. That scent memory returns to me every time I open a bag of dry dog or cat food.
I can never forget the unmistakable aroma of the Vicks Vapo-Rub my mother applied to my chest when my many allergy and sinus problems plagued me, its fumes working their way into congested nostrils, allowing me to breathe a little more easily once again.
And I remember the scent of my mother herself. Working on a farm surely left her sweaty and dusty, but the aroma of physical labor is not what I recall.
It’s the fragrance of the cream she religiously applied each night to her face, encountered as I pressed a good night kiss to that soft and slightly greasy cheek. The clean smell of the Dove soap she washed her face with each morning and evening and the body powder she applied liberally after showering.
It’s the scent of the various colognes she wore over the years, most especially Youth-Dew, which became a sort of signature fragrance for her. I was allergic to its spicy Oriental notes and could not wear it myself, yet I loved the way it smelled on her. Youth-Dew was a treat, a luxury she wouldn’t buy for herself, so it was often a gift from one of her girls. Mama reveled in its rich, uber-feminine scent, and was delighted when gifted with it in its various forms—eau de parfum, dusting powder, lotion—allowing her to layer the fragrance and make it last even longer.
And it still lingers with me, four years after she left us. If I catch a whiff of Youth-Dew now, my nose twitches and my eyes water a little (yes, still allergic), yet I cannot help but smile.