Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I saw an elderly man, toddling along with the help of a cane as I passed Burre Center the other day. He was near the planter box and I saw him run his hand through the flowers…petunias, best I could tell. I wondered what memories came flooding back when the scent reached his nose. I tend to do the same, though mostly with herbs I pass…. especially basil. I LOVE the smell of basil. I’m sure Monica would say that smell reminds her of my mom who always had basil growing in a pot on the front porch.

I have been planting marigolds every Mother’s Day in honor of my mom who used to install them by the flat around our yard. When I brush my hand over them in the garden, that smell brings me back to watching her with a trowel, on her knees digging hole after hole. The same thing happens when I smell pansies and petunias ... and snapdragons which was why the old man that started all this made me smile.

Those figs that showed up in my farm box a few years ago (and again this week, yippee!) reminded me of something I didn’t even KNOW I remembered. Mrs. Cleary was an old lady that lived next to us on San Juan Avenue in Santa Cruz when I was very small. She was one of those old ladies that always wore a dress with tiny floral print, perhaps with an apron over the top. Even working in the garden, she wore a dress. I’m not sure I remember her from living there since we moved out of that house when I was about three but we went over to visit her on occasion. I remember that musty smell of her house but I REALLY remember the smell of figs. They were always smooshy on the ground so I’m not sure how much we ate but that smell is unmistakable. Oh, and walnuts.

More fragrant flashbacks …. riding on the motorcycle puts you where the temperature changes and scents are “in your face”. Riding down the Avenue, through the redwoods always gets me thinking about Girl Scout camps, especially if there is a campfire. Where there’s smoke, there’s s’mores. And, far from offensive, the smell of the waterfront near Pacific Seafoods reminds me of hanging out on the wharf in Santa Cruz.

So, what smells bring back memories for you?


Monica... That One Girl said...

On the days that they are particularly fragrant, the eucalyptus trees along the safety corridor on 101 remind me of Santa Cruz. More specifically, arriving in Santa Cruz. It's the smell of being on our way to Grandma's house.

And cow poo, which smells strangely organic and non-offensive to me, reminds me of dairy farm field trips in elementary school.

And basil, yes. Grandma's kitchen. It's the smell of basil that let's me know that Grandma's smiling down on us, and pipe tobacco that reminds me that Grandpa's hanging out and keeping an eye on things.

Good blog, Madre!

Kym said...

The smell of fresh baked bread transports me to my mother's kitchen and the amazing flavor of her homebaked goodies--especially the bread.

My mouth is watering now.

Sandi said...

Great post! I love the way the Mattole Valley smells. I can't explain it - somewhere between hay and salami. I know, kind of a strange combo but this smell takes me back to being a kid. I also love the smell of pavement after it's rained, wood smoke from a chimney, and fresh cut green grass (from a lawn - thought I'd better clarify!). It all takes me back to my youth and happy times.

Anonymous said...

Lemon verbena. My mom grew patches of it around the house.

And my grandfther's roll your own cigarettes in combination with his Zippo lighter.

beachcomber said...

Isn't tobacco funny that way? Pipe tobacco or even cigarette tobacco in its raw form smells oddly earthy and natural. Fire up most any of it and the smell becomes horrific to me though it didn't when I was younger. I suspect the chemical being mixed in have something to do with that. Dr. Eicholtz, a heart surgeon in Santa Cruz used to walk around IN the hospital smoking Field & Stream in his pipe which smelled heavenly. I was a Candy-Striper and could always tell when he'd passed by. I asked my dad why he didn't smoke that instead of his Cherry Blend and he informed me that F&S "tastes like dog shit". Now, how he knew how THAT tastes I have no idea but his didn't smell much better from the back seat of the car in the winter when he'd puff and tamp and light and puff and tamp trying to fire that baby up and the windows were rolled up.

Bread definitely, Kym. I love that smell. Probably more so than, say, hay and salami. Sandi, you're funny.

Matt Lewis said...

I equate the smell of the ocean - at least the cold water ocean - with "home". I truly miss the smell and the feel of coastal air - sometimes even when I get off the plane in San Jose, the feel in the air is strangely and distantly familiar. By the time I get past Scotts Valley, I'm "home". Monica's eucalyptus trees are part of that too. Also - sourdough bread, the real deal.

When I'm riding the motorcycle in California smells take me down memory lane too. Like that first faint smell of evergreens as you leave the central valley and start to climb into the Sierra - it smells like the mountains, and Tahoe, and great times with great friends when I was much younger.