I was driving past a meadow yesterday, and spotted a
An overwhelming sense of just how a horse smells
enveloped me. Oh, how I love the heady aroma of horses.
I have what might be a heightened sense of smell. I
like to think so, but maybe mine is no better than anyone else’s; I
wouldn’t know, really.
What I do know is that smells can evoke memories,
even nostalgia. One whiff of pipe tobacco, and I’m a goner. My late
father smoked a pipe. And, while it’s difficult these days to find a man
who does, if I do, I will follow him anywhere.
My dear mother and I did just that, shortly after
Daddy died. We were walking down a city street somewhere and suddenly,
there it was: Pipe tobacco, wafting off a fellow passing us. We looked
at each other, inhaled deeply, and spun into a 180-degree turn. We
probably followed the unknowing stranger for three blocks, breathing in
the scent. Then, we giggled at ourselves and headed back where we’d been
I think the first smell I became addicted to was
Chanel No. 5. I was about 4, and could finally reach that attractive
bottle on my mother’s dresser. I took out the stopper and gave a big
sniff. Then, I doused my small self with most of it. Delighted, I
scampered into the kitchen (there were plenty of good smells there; they
just weren’t Chanel No. 5).
“Mama! Don’t I smell nice?”
She didn’t need to inhale deeply; I reeked of the
very expensive perfume. It was perhaps the first and only bottle of
Chanel No. 5 my mother had in her life. Her smile was kind, but rather
“Yes you do,” she said. “Now, it’s time for a bath.”
Funny, but I do not recall my mother ever having
another bottle of any perfume whatsoever. I, on the other hand, will
forgo paying the gas bill to get my hands on a new supply when the old
Another scent I am absolutely crazy for is lavender.
I fell in love with that when my grandmother gave me a bottle of Yardley
Lavender Sachet. I had no idea what “sachet” was, but the scent of the
very fine powder made me feel hap-hap-happy. I would frequently unscrew
the cap, stick my nose into the opening, and take a big sniff. Once, a
small clump of the stuff flew up my nostrils and into my brain. It took
me days to stop sneezing. But, as soon as I did, I was right back there
sniffing lavender. At a safer distance. It could be called my “drug of
It’s peony season as I write this. Is there any
flower with a more divine scent than the peony? I think not. Gardenias
are overpowering in their sweetness. And roses, which smelled so
wonderful in my youth, seem to have almost no bouquet these days. What
the heck happened there? Maybe roses got weary of all the publicity.
They can thank William Shakespeare for that, I guess.
There is some rare, night-blooming plant somewhere
that has an even rarer flower that smells like a corpse. Yet, I’ve read
that folks turn out by the hundreds to poke their noses up and take it
all in. These are probably the same people who like haunted “fun houses”
and death-defying thrill rides.
I know of no other town that exudes more of an
all-encompassing mélange of delicious smells than Key West. The island
is rife with fruit trees and flowering shrubs; there was one tree that
actually smelled like fresh-baked cake. And then, there were the
fragrances of food — the underlying hint of coconuts and mangoes and
plantains, of fresh-caught grouper being grilled in a backyard, a whiff
of vanilla every time one took a breath. Riding a bike through the
streets late at
night, one would be enveloped by the glorious scent
coming from one of several Cuban bakeries, turning out that airy bread
that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. And who could forget
the all-encompassing conglomeration of various suntan oils radiating
from the beach?
Right now, I think I’ll go outside and stick my nose
in a peony.
To order Margo Oxendine’s A Party of One, email
firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 540-468-2147 Mon-Thurs from 9-5.