Aromatic Memories

NiveaA few of us here at Loyola Press were yakking the other day and the topic turned to memories.  Someone said that her strongest memories were often attached to aromas of various kinds and, suddenly, we were all agreeing with her.  Here are my five strongest “aromatic memories.”

5. Great Aunt Louie’s 4711 cologne.  One whiff and I’m right back in her arms.

4. Our French neighbors’ home smelled potently exotic — not of garlic, or just of garlic, it was complex, layered and unique. Thinking about it puts me right back in their hallway, asking if Luc can come out to play.

3. The smell of freshly-laid tarmac.  Most people don’t like the odor, but when our street was paved with it when I was five or six, I found it intoxicatingly wonderful.  I still do and could inhale it all day long.

2. Wet pine cones and moldering leaves – bring back a whole world of rainy Sunday afternoons wandering on the trails of Belfast Castle.

1.  The Nivea cream my mother had smeared all over her face when I’d go to her room to kiss her goodnight. [Occasionally in a drug store I will pop the lid off some Nivea to bring my mother “back” for an instant.]

What aromas bring powerful memories back for you?


  1. says

    Funny how aromas from childhood are especially powerful in our memories. I grew up in the Bronx, and to me the scent of a kosher deli is just paradise. It’s not just all the delicious things to nosh on, but all the associations it evokes for me–friends and neighbors and fun.

  2. Maura says

    The smell of …
    the newly churned up ocean brings back days at the beach with Gramma and Grandpa T. and Aung Ag
    Fresh tilled earth bring back long hours of gardening with the M. side of the family.
    Apple Blossoms and Apples ready to be picked bring back memories of my bedroom ( shared with 3 sisters) which that looked out over our mini orchard of 1/2 trees.
    Gingerbread the comforts of Gramma’s kitchen ( she thought it was health food!)
    Baby Powder and AD ointment those wonderfully sweet first days of bringing home our son from the hospital.

  3. Maureen says

    – an overwhelmingly strong scent of flowers (that I associate with gladiolas) takes me back to my brother’s funeral. Even 30 years later, I smell them and I’m back there. … and I’ve never liked gladiolas since.

    – tar on wood brings back the boardwalk on a hot summer day – and boardwalk, anyplace. It’s a universal smell.

    – is there anything better than that wonderful purple ink on mimeograph paper on anything handed out in grade school a few decades ago?

  4. Kathleen says

    Elizabeth Arden Moisturizer … reminds me of my wonderful mother.

    A fresh/live Christmas tree and Wreath

    Fireplace/fresh wood … grew up in a house built in 1890’s and loved the smell from inside or outside (chimney) especially the first one of the Fall season.

    Burning Leaves … we’re no longer allowed to burn them.

    Freshly popped popcorn as you enter the movie Theatre.

    Mimosa trees … my sister and I used to walk/talk on a street with these trees.

    “Mennen’s” aftershave … my Dad wore it when he was younger. He’s 82 and says soap is just fine, now that Mom is in heaven waiting for him. Not sure Mennen’s is around anymore.

    Smell of the ocean, as we got closer to the bridge into Ocean City, NJ. Dad and Mom took all 10 of us … for 6 weeks every summer when we were growing up. We were so blessed.

  5. says

    My dad has no sense of smell – so I wonder what evokes these strong memories in him, for he is a well spring of family memories. I’ll have to ask!

    Rosemary – a hillside covered in rosemary on my parents’ farm. The aroma is full of warm memories: the warm golds of the fields, the warmth of the late afternoon sun, the warmth of family. Shakespeare had it, “rosemary for remembrance”

    The smell of a sidewalk after a warm fall rain – and the excitement of walking to school in the fall. I rode my bike to the market this morning just after a rain – and was transported back to Octobers forty years gone

    Laundry detergent, on the gown the nurses dressed my husband in after he died. Almost twenty five years later that scent opens up the door to a deep grief.

    The smell of the chrism on my sons’ heads. The incense in the walls of a favorite chapel, the beeswax candles…these all whisper grace.

  6. Karin says

    Jergens lotion always makes me think of my Grandma

    The somewhat moth-bally smell of my Nana’s house

    Orange flavored coffee reminds me of vacation in Florida

    The smell of my Grandpa – I’m not sure if it was his cologne or his Vaseline Hair Tonic

    The somewhat pungent odor of freshly laid mulch/compost – what I refer to as the smell of Spring!

  7. Paul says


    I apologize to you and to everyone. I had a full weekend and didn’t make it to the computer to respond to your comments.

    I instantly got a whiff of the deli as you wrote about it. Absolutely delicious – in every sense of the term.


  8. Paul says


    How could I not have had the ocean on my list? I grew up within sight of it and miss it all the time.

    Your other aromas are also very evocative. I especially appreciate how baby powder and ointment bring you back to your first days as a parent.


  9. Paul says


    We both love the smell of tar! And I, like you, associate the smell of musky flowers with funeral homes and with the hushed voices of those places. My favorite is the “purple ink” from the mimeograph. Upon reading it, I was transported back to my elementary school and I could smell that ink right under my nose. Thank you.


  10. Paul says


    Nivea for me, Elizabeth Arden and Mennen’s for you. Are we really not allowed to burn leaves any more? I’m so out of it. It’s sad to lose that.

    I don’t know what a Mimosa tree smells like, but now I want to find out.


  11. Paul says


    A great list. And, yes, I too had relatives with “moth-bally” smelling houses and you brought me right back there. Thank you.


  12. Caroline says

    I too was going to say that the smell of Jergens always made me think of my Mom. She always had it next to the kitchen sink so that when she was done doing the dishes, she would put some on. Also, a vivid smell is at my Oma’s house. She would dry chamomile tea in her attic and I always loved going up there and smelling it. Also, the smell of jack-o-lanterns when the candles are lit inside of them and the smell of autumn leaves. And my Mom used to have a glass Christmas decoration that for years she would have on the piano and I would open the top and it would have a clove-like smell. That always brings me back to my childhood.

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