“I wanted to tap my heels together three times in that bakery!” the woman said as she sat down beside me for the flight back home to Virginia.
I glanced at her feet expecting ruby slippers.
“Smell this.” she leaned towards me and opened a paper sack containing several blackberry pastries. “I loved France but the smell of blackberries made me miss childhood summers at home!”
“Well, there’s no place like it!” I added.
I was fortunate to do some traveling over the last year and found myself captivated by the beauty and history of various cities in Colombia, Spain, and France. Every day, in every city I visited, I’d daydream about what life might be like to leave the place I’ve always called home and live abroad in such majestic locales. I doubted that a hint of blackberries, or anything else for that matter, could cause me to pine for home the way this woman seemed to. Just because she smelled a pastry? I wasn’t so sure about that one.
However, while waiting for our flight to depart Paris we continued discussing the strange power some scents have to unlock fond memories of people or places and to sometimes make us homesick. She insisted that the mere hint of blackberry instantly transported her back to summers as a little girl. She stopped reminiscing as the plane took off but I continued thinking about the power of scents. I admit that a remembered smell is like a souvenir from the past, but how silly this woman’s sudden urge to tap her heels three times to be home – because of a smell!
Born in and spending most of my life in Richmond, I then realized, had given me many scents to fondly associate with those years. During countless youthful Saturdays along or in the James River I remember its water’s pungent dank aroma in summer and how it took on a crisper essence whenever rainfall upriver came barreling through. Cookies baking at the FFV off of Broad Street made my mouth water almost as much as a whiff of sugary sinfulness when passing by Krispy Kreme. Closer to home, the call from fresh slices of our garden’s first cantaloupe would lure me into Mama’s kitchen. To this day, the aroma of butter beans cooking makes me homesick I confess. Maybe I have wanted to tap my heels a time or two after all.
For decades now, summer trips to my uncle Tuck’s cottage in Lancaster County where the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake Bay have provided many a memorable sniff. Saltwater marshes with their fishy odors make me recall the childish excitement of simply nearing the bay. Even the acrid sulfur stench of the paper mill in West Point has the power to remind me of long gone summers. In the air is a bracing spice given off by layers of decaying pine tags along the shaded sandy road approaching the cottage and entering the cottage itself I experience a rich potpourri of aged wood, salt air, and a suggestion Old Bay. Every one of those aromas has the power to take me back in time.
Another uncle, Jiggs, owned a farm in Lunenburg County where I also spent many summer weekends. The musty old wood of a barn is comforting to me and hundreds of bales of fresh hay emit a tangy sweet bouquet. Summer sun beating on a field of dry alfalfa causes it to release its zesty aroma and sometimes I think pure country air itself is invigorating perfection. Just after a summer rain, I know that it is. The fragrant perfume of honeysuckle on the fencerow, the peppery redolence of old tobacco barns, the faint sweetness of cornfields in the morning, and the lightly pungent pile of composted cow manure behind the barn all make me smile when remembered. Even today I can brush by a tomato plant and have the sharp scent from the crushed stem take me right back to the country. The more I thought about it, tapping my heels didn’t seem too silly anymore.
It was back to reality when I heard the pilot announce our landing. The woman beside me held up her bag of blackberry pastries and smiled. Once on the ground I gathered my things and made the slow walk up the aisle to the exit. As I neared the door a gust of wind from outside blew into the plane. Wow, I thought. There really is a sweet Virginia breeze. In that small burst of summer air I smelled trees, blooming trees of some kind, and remembered the pasture at home.
I’ve enjoyed my world travels and hope there are more in store. Surely my daydreaming of life abroad will continue with each trip, but as I walked from the plane that day I inhaled deeply and fought the urge to tap my heels.
Ahhh, I had just smelled Virginia and there really is no place like home.
Stuart M. Perkins
118 responses to “Home Is Where The Nose Is”
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And then there are city smells . . . a major reason I hope never to live in one again.
I can relate because I am also a fellow native Virginian growing up in King George,VA and attending Virginia Commonwealth University. I love going back to King George to get away from the city for a moment.
Very detailed and terrific descriptions!
Love your stories! And I know now, you will never get the garlic smell out of your nose, from a typical meal at our home! But this meal was much more than just the norm… You my Friend were a very special guest !
Wish we would of toned down the garlic or maybe used powdered instead of fresh lol K
Can’t wait to see you again…..Jack will grill out next time………but he never uses powdered garlic 😀 oh well cheers
I had such a fun time laughing with you guys and I can see why Greer enjoys it there so much! The home made dinner and desserts were beyond excellent! I can’t wait to come back again soon. Thanks again for everything and for your constant encouragement with the blog!
Welcome home and loved this post 🙂
Besides the tradition of it, I think this is one of the reasons I (and so many of us) continue with the turkey and dressing at Thanksgiving. Who among us doesn’t smell that dinner cooking, and isn’t instantly taken back to the many Thanksgivings they shared with their parents and grandparents when you were growing up? I know i am, no matter how many years I’ve been an adult. Honeysuckle…one of my most favorite scents. Takes me right back to every summer I spent as a child. I could go on and on, but I will stop there. Great post! 🙂
Scent is a powerful sense, toying with our memory centers and recalling distinctive and pronounced recollections. Now I have to go find some fresh pastry to satisfy one of mine! Yeah…it’s probably a girl thing. 😉
I can relate. After I moved away, I found that the soil in the San Joaquin Valley has a distinct smell. The smell is in things I inherited from my granny. After she passed, I spent hours with my nose in the cushions of the couch from her home. Then there is coming over Tehachapi pass after a storm when citrus are in bloom. The combo of San Joaquin soil plus citrus blossoms is almost enough to make me cry. Going back home the smell of creosote made my cat go nuts.
The Florida ocean breezes, orange groves in central Florida, and the mouth-watering smells of freshly prepared Cuban food… all make me smile… each so very different, yet each a sweet smell to jog this middle-aged woman’s thoughts of her home state. Thanks for sharing… lovely story!
A wonderful encouragement to both let your thoughts wander and not inhibit them by conviction based on perhaps spurious sentiment.
Writing about smell is as hard as writing about music. Nice one.
Really enjoyed this. The narrative itself was engaging, but so was the structure and flow. I don’t want that to sound clinical. Nothing formulaic about this. But the simple layout supports the easy-going text!
Thanks! I know what you mean about sounding clinical but in this case it’s a compliment, I feel! Thanks again.
Thanks Stuart. Your post has stirred within me fond memories that I too often leave dormant.
I love this. I am not a native but I have spent the last 30 years of my life in Leesburg and my roots are starting to take hold. I love the city and now I am loving the little cities in VA. There is something about coffee and small restaurants. You stories are redefining my sense of home. Thanks.
Thank you! What a great comment and what a fine compliment! Thank you again!
First off – I love the way you write. Secondly, I’ve always been intrigued by the way a familiar smell can take you right back to a specific moment in time. Time warp via one of the 5 senses! Thank you for sharing.
It’s great how the smells push the reader along in this story! Personally I love using smells in my writing and sometimes they work exceptionally well. The reader may never have seen the place that you’re describing but they’re probably smelled similar things, which I feel really adds to the immersion. Great job! 🙂
Loved this blog. I was taken back to my childhood with similar fragrant remembrances. Thank you, Betty Epps, for sharing.
Hope you’re doing fine!
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Quite a felicitous title, I must say and and an apt description of the sweet smells. You really scented my mind with your words.
The smell of the ocean takes me right back to Mombasa. That was once home, no longer is, but a place near the ocean will always feel like home.
I like this a lot!. I was wondering if you would share one of my blog posts on your site next? I have some already posted on my site and a few more i’ve been working on. Let me know what you think, I would really appreciate it. Thanks!
One of my grandsons and I were talking about just this, the other day! He was thinking back on 21 years…I was reminiscing a decade over a half century ago…
Palmolive soap, Kool-Aid and spaghetti sauce. Aunt Gladyce and Uncle Pokey… 😀
Loved this post! Thanks for visiting The Old Fossil Fossil Writes!
Mmmmm the powerful sense of smell…. Love this story. I once had a crush of someone whose skin smell just like that of my first boyfriend. I never knew if it was the memory that he brought back to me, or he himself who made me like him so much !! By the way, I live in Colombia. So glad you mention my beautiful country as one of your destinations.
It was beautiful there! I was in Cartagena for about a week. Loved it and can’t wait to go back.
Thanks for visiting my blog and liking my post on Elisabeth Elliot.
When you get a spare 5 minutes, I’d like to encourage you to read the following article:
God bless you always. 🙂
Love in Christ,
Took me back to my hometown for a while and all those smells and fragrances attached to it.. #Nostalgic#
Great post.. Looking forward to more of your stories.. 🙂
It’s so funny how smells can transport us home much like an old song from our childhood. Suddenly you’re back in the moment experiencing that song for the first time. Loved your writing. Great post.
Home is where the nose is hahahahaha where is the mouth then ? I like it
I started blogging this month, and it is a pleasure that I came across your blog.
It has inspired me to start my next article.
The smell from chimneys in Stromness burning peat and the sea mingled. I can smell it just thinking about it, but that the real thing is like going back in time. It brings the thought of cobbles, narrow lanes and steep steps… mmmm
I like it! gracias
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Stuart, I’m brand new to blogging and the only writing I’ve really done in my career is technical papers and documents. I started a blog a few weeks ago to begin a new hobby and let out a deep pent up desire to write more freely about the world around me. I’ve been exploring blog sites to learn how to organize and write a blog, and your writings here are a great inspiration. Thank you! I love the writing and thoroughly enjoyed your ability to describe particular scents in a way that I could easily imagine and go along with you as you explore particular memories. I’ve lived in Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Arizona, California, and Colorado. Each one has it’s own unique aroma. As soon as the plane door opens, I often have memories that come back just from the smell (even over the smell of jet fuel). Thanks for the post and I’ll join the ranks of a follower!
Hey there. For someone with “Nothingimportant2Say” you said a lot of nice things! You’re right that each “place” has its own aroma. I love that. Thanks again for the compliment!
smells trigger memories. no doubt about that. but most often than not, we have a hard time describing what we smell, let alone remembering what those certain smells would remind us of. you’ve done a pretty good job at that in this post.
Cool story, Stuart, and so true. I wrote a short story with a similar theme, called ‘Brown Bread’, about a fatally wounded soldier, slowly dying in a hospital bed. Ironically, it got attention from readers who were trawling baking blogs. I used the phrase ‘brown bread’ for a title because, in rhyming slang, it means ‘dead’.
Hey thanks for that. Yes, some people have come across my posts in roundabout ways too. Interesting! Thanks again for the compliment.
That’s awesome! Thanks for the likes and follow.
I enjoyed this Stuart and happy I stumbled across your blog tonight. Looking forward to following it…
Thanks for that!
This story made me smile.
Ah, this is so true! Thanks for
Checking out my blog, I’m following yours and really enjoy your writing!
lawd! this so wants me traveling, I enjoyed….
I chanced upon your blog this morning and I’m in love with your writing. Keep up the wonderful posts!