Rural Living

The Power of Common Scents

 A Sashay Through Aromatic Memories


by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer

Margo Oxendine

I was driving past a meadow yesterday, and spotted a couple horses.

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 going.

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 sad.

“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 is depleted.

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 choice.”

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, or call 540-468-2147 Mon-Thurs from 9-5.


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