Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Word Pictures

What makes a good book in my opinion is one with really strong word pictures. I like to feel like I'm inside the story and yet I feel I may have some really strong opinions on what a good word picture is. For instance, I like to know what is happening with the characters, but I like better to know about their environment in detail. Colors and sounds are very helpful, but the one that is really strong for me is when they describe smells.
I would wager I have a rather strong sense of smell and it is highly linked to my photographic memory.
    *side note: for those who don't know, I have a pretty decent photographic type memory which is helpful in some ways, but also sort of disturbing in others ways.
So smells, they invoke all kinds of memories and pictures in my mind. Some smells can take me from feeling bored to overwhelmingly happy, some smells make me feel sad, and there are even some smells that make me feel physically sick because of a memory they call forth.
An example of that last one is in order, because perhaps some of you think I am exaggerating, but I am not, I promise. When I was small, I once rode in a friends car that had leaky exhaust smells in their car, they also I would suspect had mold carpets in the back seat. Both of which give me headaches. Combine the mold/exhaust fume headache with a child who also suffers from severe car sickness and you can imagine what that 20 minute car ride was like for me. I can remember the color of that carpet and the seats and the mess of papers and magazines on the floors in the back. Mostly I remember the smell. I would wager most people would not get in that car and think a thing of the smell. For plenty of cars it is a normal smell. For me, it was the doorway to sickness that I would assume ended in vomiting.
So now that smell has been linked to a sense of nauseousness that even as an adult can still affect me in the wrong car.
Hopefully you can see how much smell affects me and therefore you may have an image of my immaculate house - yeah right. Dirty smells don't really bother me, the smell of dead animals or a skunk don't bother me. It is not like I go out looking for those horrid smells, they just don't evoke memories that bother me.
Yet the smell of my house is a different thing for me. I strive to have a smell that reminds me of some of my favorite family type memories.  My parents house smells like a combination of fabric softener and wood smoke and occasionally bacon. The smell of my aunt's house always smelled like oatmeal, apples, and vanilla. My first house smelled like fresh paint and coffee.
All of those smells are wonderful to me, and even now as a twenty something mom of two, when my mom sends me a package from her house, I breath in the smell from their house that lingers on any soft surfaces. It is a link to a very happy period of my life, when I lived at home.
My life is happy now too, but I still have not managed to get the smell of my home down. I think I cook good smelling food, but the smell that lingers after the food is put away is sometimes less than desirable. I have good smelling candles, but I rarely burn them because they are too expensive to replace. We don't have a wood burning stove, and Ken doesn't eat bacon. I have apples and vanilla and oatmeal in my house, but I don't know how my aunt got those smells to linger in the air. Fabric softener is too expensive and in our current home, our laundry is on the second floor, so the smells of laundry never greet me when I come in the door.
You can see my dilemma.
Then one day recently my housemate cleaned with some bleach and I came into my house horrified. The smell permeated all the way downstairs and made my home smell like a sterilized hospital or worse, a nursing home. The smell of sweet smelling lotions mixed with the smell of old woman perfumes and then on top of it the scent of food that has been sitting in a buffet under heat lamps for too long, all with an overwhelming scent of clean bleach - that is the smell of a nursing home in my opinion. That is sort of what my house smelled like.
I immediately went to the kitchen to cook something or at least fill my nostrils with the over ripe melons sitting on my counter. Then I opened the downstairs bathroom door to let out more of my Glade plug in scent that is strong enough to knock you out when you enter our little cubical-style half-bath.
Sigh. It didn't overcome the bleach and took several days to return to my regular smell - stale dirty dishes in the sink mixed with Glade plug in mixed with Swiffer Sweeper citrus scent mixed with what ever Asian-style dish my housemate has cooked recently in my absence. Not my favorite combination so far.
When I smell the smell of my home the most is when I first walk in from being away. So I feel the smell of my home is sort of like a first impression that I am still trying to perfect. I want the first smell people smell in my home to match with my personality and skills as a hostess - yummy food, gourmet coffee, fresh fruit, mixed with clean & breezy fresh air (that last one is hard to accomplish in summer because the windows are never open).
So for now my house doesn't smell much like any of those things.
But at least my house doesn't smell like a typical house with small children, which in my experience includes the smells of pancake syrup, slightly sour milk, and stale mac n cheese, sometimes accompanied by the smell of a dog or cat.
Now, for all of my friends who I have ever visited in their homes, none of you need to worry. The smell of your homes is not going to reflect on our friendships. In fact, the smells of peoples homes is a very individual type thing and as I fall in love with the people in the homes, the smell of their home grows into a beautiful memory that will affect me for years.
So even if your home smells like mold, pet urine, cooking beans, and stale wet laundry (had a friend who's house smelled like this as a child), I can still love you and as I enjoy your friendship deeper and deeper, the smell of your house will be a reminder of that love and all our good memories (some of my best child hood memories were in that same friend's house and therefore I love some of those smells now because they evoke such happy memories).
For a few of my friends who I spent considerable time at your houses, here is what I remember of your smells.
Lydia, the smell I most remember about your house is garlic and onion being sauteed on your stove, a very comforting smell even at this distance. I cook so often, but I always think of you when I cook onions and garlic together, or when I make fresh salsa. Another smell memory in your home centers around coffee and warm chocolate.
Elizabeth, your house always smelled fresh, like when you open the door after you take a shower and the smells of soap and warm water come wafting out - like that and sometimes like apples.
Rachel Cherry Myers, your dwellings were all about the same, the Shiloh office, the Shiloh house, your room at the ranch - the smell is of dried mud, old dusty furniture, stale food, and spices/dried herbs.
All three of those just described smell combos are very dear to me, and whenever I smell them randomly somewhere else they always make me think of you. So I hope you all know that, even as I am still trying to perfect my own smell.
PS. If I could make an air freshener for my home that would be unique to me, it would be the scent of warm sandlewood and baked apples and roses. Sigh.


Swires Family said...

I think this is my favorite post yet!! Love getting to know these things about you dear friend! And I am always concerned about the smell of our little upstairs! Because we cloth diaper it smells like pee haha and usually some old coffee that we've left sitting out over night or all day. Oh Lord help us perfect this trait! For Katrinas sake haha

Jody Aldridge said...

I loved the smell of your little apartment over the garage! And sometimes I still smell "you" in your bedroom, although it's becoming less often now that you've been gone for several years now (not living here). Hahaha, I knew the exact cars and houses you were describing.....too funny.
I love you bunches!
Mom <><