Tag Archives: Home

Smell The One You’re With

Pepe Le PewI’ve been home a few weeks now and I think I’m starting to smell different. I don’t mean my olfactory faculties have changed. I mean I think I actually have a different smell. It’s a strange mix of sauted onions and garlic, chlorine, dog hair, anti-bacterial dish soap, worn denim, paper, tahmari sauce, cold air, maple syrup, old slippers, toast, blood oranges and wood. It’s slightly sweet and kind of vegetabley, a bit like a compost pile before it composes. It’s not like I’m rotting away or anything. It’s not a smell that makes you wince or pinch your nose or leave the room. It’s more like I’ve been having a major make-out session with my house, leaving my hair snarly and my lips bruised and that faint smell of, well, home, lingering on me.

You are probably thinking, she really needs to get out more. And maybe that’s true. But I don’t necessarily miss the old smell. That smell was metallic and sour. Like coffee breath, hairspray, the after taste of sugar-free gum, manilla folders, nail polish remover, twice-used knee-high stockings. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t welcoming. It was a spray tan as opposed to a walk-on-the-beach tan. And you folks in that tanning booth, don’t kid yourself, we can all tell the difference.

I’m a smeller. I associate feelings and memories and moods with smell. Every job I worked at has a particular smell. People I love and hate have smells. The house I grew up in, the place I lost my virginity, the state of Maine, every Target in every town, favorite cars, my mother’s scarves, the ball field where I watched my father coach Little League, old ornate theaters hushed before the performance, my kids’ pajamas, my high school library, the Eliot Bridge in Cambridge. They all have a smell. When my other half goes away to a yearly conference for work  I take one of her t-shirts from the laundry basket and sleep next to it.

My father is a smeller. He knew where we had been and what we were up to with one whiff. Like my father, I too will smell my children around the house when they have grown and left, and it will dry up my throat, moisten my eyes, and make me feel small in the world. From 300 miles away I want to wrap my arms around my father and let him inhale.

So here’s my thought for the day. Get out there and smell. And when you are writing that quick-witted dialogue, scintillating scene and page turning plot, don’t forget the smells. Get us to smell you and we’ll follow you anywhere.

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In The Middle of our Street

It’s 10:00 at night. My kids are bathing the beagle because she smells like dead fish from an afternoon of rolling in worms, poop, and decaying leaves. My partner is screaming at the TV because some guy from the Mets pitched a no-hitter, the first in their history as a ball team. She finds this a deliriously monumental occasion and I find only a feeble, that’s nice to respond with. There are fruit flies circling this computer (which happens to be an Apple but I was resisting the strangeness of that), and our ceiling fans are squealing full tilt trying to choke a little cool air out of the windows and into the house. This is causing magnificent tumbleweeds of dog hair to dance across the floor.

Behind me sits a pile of papers fraught with bills, store advertisements, promises of lower insurance premiums, old notices from the kids’ schools, and clippings my father sends me about local writers, most of whom are in their twenties. My fridge is wrapped in a chain of bungee cords because the seal is unreliable and the door pops open making the milk sweat. There is a watermelon in the middle of the dining room table along with plastic silverware from last week’s Memorial Day cookout, my partner’s bright orange Timbuktu briefcase, 3 Spode tea bag holders shaped like little teacups that my mother loved, a hardcover copy of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, and a pink ladybug hat belonging to a friend’s 3 year-old.

This is my home. It’s where all the madness and beauty resides. It’s where I cook, sing, create, retreat, cry, imagine, forget, scheme, shovel out, hide, fume, and write. It’s where shame and joy and pain come to rest. It’s where the constellation of my family changes with the days. We move around and among each other through routine and crisis, in and out of focus. We are stars in the night sky, hardly noticed most days, breathlessly beautiful at times, unexplainable, far-reaching, the same and yet different.

There are days I hate my house. I want to move out, leave everything behind. I want floors that are free of dog hair and sinks that don’t drip and every shelf organized and a clear path to the washer and dryer. But other days I love my house. I love it fiercely and beyond reason. I feel like the luckiest person alive to have this house, this yard, this neighborhood. I feel its embrace and its safety. And I am grateful.

There are many houses I admire. There are houses I drive by and covet. There are homes, like my father’s, that were once mine in some way and still carry the smell of memory. But this house is mine. Flawed, impossible to keep up with, bursting with potential, overwhelming, aging, but mine.

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