Say the word “lilac,” and ghosts of perfumes past waft through me. Bushes pour their lush scent through an open window into my teenaged soul. My toddlers take turns carefully sniffing purple blossoms along a neighbor’s fence. My husband plants a lilac for me on Mother’s Day.
Say the word “lilac” to my allergy-ridden friend, and she thinks “dynamite.” She once considered sneaking into her churchyard at night and blowing up bushes that every spring swelled her nose to clown size.
The beauty of a scent is definitely in the nose of the beholder. For one conscientious church custodian, ammonia spelled righteous spring cleaning that should characterize God’s house. However, my office faced a restroom door. Ammonia’s powerful fumes wiped out this choir director’s brain cells — critical because she owned so few.
Cultural factors play major roles in olfactory opinions, too. Many Frenchmen eat Époisses cheese. Southeast Asians consider the hedgehog-shaped fruit durian delicious. But because of their, er, distinctive smells, laws in both areas forbid taking these foods on public transportation.
And you thought your Uncle Archie’s garlic breath reeked.
Thankfully, many scents imprint positive impressions. Hubby’s marriage-long aftershave. Vanilla tippled into birthday cake batter. Autumn’s smoky, smoldering leaves. Plump baby necks. A new book with crisp, untouched pages. (Kindles will never replace that.) An old book with its mellow air of wisdom. (They will never replace that, either.)
A tiny tinge of flavor in warm spring air proclaims, “ice cream.” My husband says I can sniff out any ice cream within 50 miles. (Ice cream trucks, take note: add extra guards.)
Perhaps your nose, like mine, shifts perspective per experience. The smell of June roses may recall an evil prom date who handed you a corsage one night and, the next, dumped you for Bambi LaBody. Contrariwise, the return of a familiar bison ambiance to your college-age son’s bedroom fills your heart with joy.
Given the power of smells, shouldn’t we be grateful our Creator did not design us like dogs? Their noses are 10,000 to 100,000 times as sensitive as those of humans. I am doubly glad I am not an elephant — and not only because that nose might mess with family portraits. According to a Baltimore, Maryland, zoo, this pachyderm’s trunk can outsmell any canine nose, anytime!
In heaven, someday, perhaps mine will surpass them. My allergic-to-lilacs friend, Uncle Archie, and I, sans furry nose or undulating trunk, will together inhale the beautiful fragrance of Christ. No more “ewwws!” or “aaa-chooos!” Only “ahhhhs.” Our holy noses’ sensitivity will make those animal buddies’ olfactory talents compare to stuffy-sinus flu.
Even better, every smelly memory will be a perfect one.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What are your favorite smells?