Tag Archives: Odor

Home Is Where The Nose Is

“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

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Felony Breath

I spent the better part of my workday in one long meeting, the conference room table so full we were elbow to elbow all the way around. My mind wandered as the chairs wedged on either side of me pinched first an arm, then a hand –  and I caught the occasional smell of an unsavory scent. And as my mind wandered, I reflected on being brought up in the South where a high premium is placed on good manners. Being brought up right meant I was taught to respect my elders, hold the door for those behind me, and be gracious in my dealings with others. Never was I to stray from the path of courtesy. It was imperative to avoid being rude to others at all cost.

So how then was I to tell the man sitting next to me that his breath could bring a bull elephant to its knees?

It’s understandable that most people’s breath can’t constantly maintain the freshness of a spring zephyr, but this man (who shall be referred to as Mr. Malodor) didn’t have breath that fell into the temporary category of “Excuse me, I had garlic at lunch.” He had breath that fell into the category of “Hello, I chewed my way through a dumpster to sit beside you.”

As my eyes watered, and between dry heaves, I scanned the room for another seat. There were none. About that time something gave Mr. Malodor a reason to laugh. The floating blast of filthy stench that came from his mouth had me looking up to watch birds and stars encircle my head. Just as things were going black it was announced we would break for lunch. I came to, hopeful to make an escape.  Mr. Malodor stood to get his box lunch and as he disappeared into the hallway I decided I would stay put. Maybe the table would fill up before he got back and someone else could sit in the midst of his mouth fog, a cloud that could surely melt iron ore.

It was as I finished my lunch that I felt movement to my left. Mr. Malodor was back. He sat down and began to do what I feared most – talk directly to me. Subconsciously, I reached for the peppermint included with my box lunch. It would be no match for his laser breath, but it was my only defense.

“Mint?” I almost pleaded as I pushed it towards him.

“I stay away from sugar.” He said. “It rots the teeth.”

Too late sir.

He continued to assault me with the fetid fog. “How was your weekend?” He asked, with what seemed to be a very breathy “Howwww…”

“Oh I didn’t do much.” I answered curtly, trying to curb the conversation. Courtesy compelled me to ask, “And yours?”

“Great weekend for me. I went hiking for a couple days. Love to see the wildlife.” He puffed.

I had visions of him on the trail, skunks high-fiving as he passed. “Well done!” they’d say. And then I had visions of birds flying… and stars circling… Oh no, it was happening again… I was saved though, by people returning to their seats. Mr. Malodor pivoted to get back in place but left me with one putrid parting shot as he said “Yep, it was a fun trip until I lost my backpack. Not a big deal though. Nothing much in it except another pair of shoes and a map. Oh, and my toothbrush.”

You don’t say.

Stuart M. Perkins

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