Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fragrant Memories

You know how the sense of smell triggers memories? I've been thinking a lot about this lately. For some reason, this became pungently clear when the chicken I was cooking smelled like raw chicken. For most people this would mean one thing: the chicken needs to be cooked longer. No big, right? But my brain took the whole "raw" thing one step further that day.

raw = dead

So, when I opened the oven to season the chicken and smelled "dead" chicken, I was just a little grossed out. How do I know what dead chicken smells like? It goes back to when I was maybe about 3 years old and we lived on a farm in Pulaski, Wisconsin. Our neighbors owned the farm and we rented a big old house from them. That's where the smell of dead chicken comes from: the neighbors' teenage sons were killing and gutting chickens and I was helping. I, in my little golden blond ponytails and frilly pinafore, was reaching down inside the necks of dead, headless chickens and pulling out their insides.

Isn't that a pleasant childhood memory?

But the memories didn't stop there. I started thinking about other things. Like the smells of cow manure and diesel exhaust. Believe it or not, I actually like those smells. Because, when I left the farm in Pulaski - after a brief stint in Krakow (are you sensing a Polish theme here?) - we moved back to my dad's hometown and his family farm. So, I grew up playing on tractors and making mud pies with "not mud" (ha ha, I'm just kidding. . . .sort of). And yes, I genuinely enjoy the smell of diesel exhaust.

Unleaded exhaust, however, brings back rather unpleasant memories of when my family had an old beat-up blue van with no rear seats. My grandpa had used it when he was doing carpentry work, so it was "functional". Not for carrying children, of course, but for carrying nails and 2x4's. This didn't stop my parents from forcing us to occasionally ride on the cold, unpadded metal floor of the old blue van, which had some kind of exhaust-disposal issue which resulted in the death of many, many brain cells, I'm sure. I remember one incident very clearly: we were on our way to go camping, and since Blue Bessie was the only vehicle that could tow our trailer, my little sister and I were forced to ride in the back with the exhaust. We stopped at a small store and my sister and I staggered from the van, gasping for air. As we walked into the store, my sister said, "Mom, I don't feel good. My ears are ringing." My mom hardly batted an eyelash and said to me, "Pick her up, she's going to faint." Um, so I did, and I brought her outside until she regained consciousness. Then we got back into the exhaust-infested van and continued on our merry way. I guess it's all part and parcel of owning a hand-me-down vehicle.

But that isn't even the worst story about that van. It always seemed to have exhaust issues, as I mentioned, and one particular time, we had been riding around town for weeks with the muffler hanging by a thread. So, then, not only were the fumes making us hallucinate, but the ensuing headaches were exacerbated by the roar of the unmuffled engine. One afternoon, on the way home from town, the muffler just fell off. Right in the middle of the highway. And what did my mother do? She told ME to go and get it. She was too embarrassed to be seen driving the van, let alone chasing spare parts down Highway 41. What she forgot to mention was that the muffler would be hot, and after I found out the hard way, I kicked the muffler to the side of the road. My mom had backed the van up by then and we both just sat there and waited until it cooled off so that we could hoist it into the back of the van and make a quick getaway.

Ahhh, the memories.

I have so many more to share, but alas, it's bedtime and I will share more scent-inspired memories in another post. Until then, fragrant dreams!


  1. Good gosh! That was brilliant! I'm laughing, but also feeling dizzy from exhaust fumes all at once. What wonderful writing! I could see it all!

  2. Wow, glad you and your sis are okay! Ha!
    Hmmmm, what's that smell coming from your blog?? I didn't know you could make your blog scented like, "mud pies". Will you share with us how please. I would love to see a tuturial. Thanks


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