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October 26, 2005


Not many of my modern friends know this [modern translating to BB, or Before Brooklyn], but my mother was a potter prior to my birth. I hold only a few memories of her at the wheel, such as when she tried (in vain) to teach me, or when she would take the kick wheel to her elementary school and demonstrate how to throw a pot. There are a lot of old photographs of Trancho Pottery, as well physical remnants of her trade; her earthenware resides in my parents� home and my own, as well as the cupboards of many other family members.

Despite the fact that the kiln went cold in the late 1970�s, our basement was a constant reminder. Years later, after my mother�s tools had been long since sold, it still smelled like clay dust. The scent was calming. It was an integral part of our house and represented part of my parents� past. I might not have been alive to witness my mother creating pots with her bare hands, but sitting on the basement steps and breathing deeply, I could envision it. Clay dust made stories come alive.

On Sunday, Lex and I toured a few Gowanus Open Studios. On Douglass Street, we stepped into a building and I was overcome by the memory of home. Standing in that unfinished, cobwebby stairwell, the scent of clay was everywhere. Suddenly, I was back in my basement, sitting on the rickety steps and peering out at empty drying racks. There was my mother, most likely my age, shaping a bowl, firing the kiln, and labeling pots for the next craft fair. It was wonderful how vivid the images in my mind were, and equally as delightful that they had arisen simply from the smell of clay.

What scents bring you such memories?

Posted by callalillie at October 26, 2005 4:09 PM | Introspect


Smell is a huge memory trigger for me, it seems that anything significant can be recalled by a single sniff.

The smell of the ocean & a burning fireplace reminds me of our family cabin and the great times spent there.

The smell of certain perfumes can take me right back to high school and remind me of friends that I no longer see

The smell of my dog, the smell that is right behind his ear...a smell that is the comfort of home.

Posted by: Kris at October 26, 2005 11:23 AM

I was blindsided by a smell once -- I don't know where I was or what I smelled, but I suddenly said to myself: "that smells like my best friend's basement in kindergarten." I only knew her for that one year, but the scent held in my memory forever, waiting to be triggered when I was 23.

Posted by: beth at October 26, 2005 12:01 PM

I just read an article on scent-triggered memories. I'll see if I can find it for you.

Posted by: breana at October 26, 2005 12:54 PM

you don't envision that scene in ghost, right?

Posted by: tien at October 26, 2005 12:55 PM

ahhhhhhhh! MY EYES.

Posted by: corie at October 26, 2005 1:24 PM

My mom always makes toffee at xmas and when it was around in Brooklyn for the wedding in September, I realized how strongly I associate that smell with being in Denver for the holidays, and it was really offputting to have the familiar smell in an unfamilar setting and time.

Posted by: Liz at October 26, 2005 2:48 PM

Mine is the smell of curried chicken cooked with coconut milk.

Posted by: jenn aka j-yo at October 26, 2005 7:20 PM

I remember the smell of my Mother's water colors when she took up painting. You and Lex may have seen some of her paintings when you were in Maine. Walking in after school and seeing them drying propped against the wall. Ahhh, memories of Mom.

Posted by: Mick Wagner at October 26, 2005 10:03 PM

There's this smell... it's kind of piney? I don't know what it's supposed to be, but we used to have some candles out during Christmas with the same smell. My parents found some body wash with the smell and sent it to me...

Posted by: debzanne at October 27, 2005 12:02 AM

the smell of a warm kitty, when burying your nose in a snuggle. there is no more comforting smell than that.

Posted by: brandy at October 28, 2005 12:12 PM

Oddly enough...stale beer and dust.

My parents owned a country store when I was a kid and we took back deposit bottles. I used to sort the cans and bottles in the musty back room.

One night, in college, I was in a guys' dorm where lots of beer had been spilled. Oh, it took me back to those days in the store.

So many others too, but that one is strong. It's been 17 years since they sold the store. I still remember.

Posted by: Dawn at October 28, 2005 9:15 PM

Beeswax does the same thing for me. I went to a Waldorf-y school and we modeled beeswax while listening to stories. The smell of beeswax candles makes me feel about six and blissful.

Posted by: jess at October 30, 2005 2:15 PM

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