Mom used Palmolive dishwashing liquid and Safeguard deodorant soap. Later she switched to Caress. Aunt Gin used Joy for dishes and Zest in her shower. These scents still remind me of my family.
The smell of cigarettes and pipe tobacco also filled my family homes. Mom smoked
At Aunt Dorothy’s house the predominant scent was coffee grounds. They seemed to drink a lot more coffee and it seemed like coffee grounds were often in their stainless steel sink. I don’t remember their dishwashing or household soaps, perhaps because I didn’t spend as much time at my cousins’ home as at my grandma’s or aunt’s.
I also came from a family of cooks and bakers. Everyone was making pies, breads, simmering stews or frying chicken. The scents filled their homes. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we gathered at Grandma’s house most years, or Great Grandma’s. Occasionally we had a celebration at Aunt Dorothy’s. I think we gathered there less often because they didn’t have space for guests, really, except for the garage that had been converted to a room. Grandma’s house had three extra bedrooms after they built the addition, two before they added on. Each room had a large bed that could sleep two and they also had a “layaway” bed that sat folded up in the middle and could be wheeled into the living room, plus a small cot. In the winters it was advantageous to be able to spend the night on Christmas Eve, which is when we had our celebration. I learned later this was in accordance with German traditions, and of course Great-grandma married into a German family when she married Lee Elschlager. My family knew how to make big vats of sauerkraut, for example, as a part of the German heritage. At the same time, the Irish side hadn’t been forgotten. Grandma made frequent references to being “Black Irish.” We were a family of tea drinkers and we always added milk, a custom that my mom described as cambric tea. We of course wore green on St. Patrick’s day.
Everyone in the family owned dogs, and they contributed their own scent to the mix. Many of the dogs in the family were small dogs: poodles, toy terriers, chihuahua, and terrier-chihuhua mixes. Aunt Gin got the tiny dogs first and tempted Grandma by showing her
In the end, Grandma and Grandpa had two toy terriers,
Aunt Gin had Tiny, Tippy, Tinkerbell, and Tammy. Tiny was the largest of the toy terriers and the mother of the rest, including Grandma and Granpa’s. Tammy was a black chihuahua. Uncle Frank got Tammy when they split up. Tinkerbell was the female counterpart to Jake, black with a brown chest and brown on the muzzle, Tippy was the smallest girl with a white tip on her tail, and Tiny was white with black spots.
Aunt Dorothy had a black poodle named Charlie and Big Grandma had a chihuahua that was larger than our Fifi. I can’t remember her name; I didn’t get to spend much time at Big Grandma’s house. (She was my great-grandma.)
We had my chihuahua, Fifi, and two poodles—Misty and Apricot--to start with. We ended up keeping two of Misty’s first litter: Honey and Dawn. Five dogs were a lot to keep up with and when my mom was depressed she was simply unable to. That led to a completely disgusting home when Mom fell into a severe depression and couldn’t keep up with her four poodles—or even take them outside—as well as her male poodle kept in a crate for use as a stud. I’ve forgotten his name because we only had him for part of one year. My mom waited so long to change the newspaper under his crate that there were maggots. The scent was so awful that year that I spent most of it in my room. I remember I had a perfume that was based on the scent of the sea. I used to put some on the light bulb before I turned on the light so the scent would fill my room. The walls of my room were turquoise and I got a light bulb to match, so the effect was really like being in the sea, or at least a swimming pool. All I needed were fish or mermaid figures on the wall.
In my own home scent remains an important consideration and throughout the years I’ve used incense, simmered spices on the stove, put oil on light bulbs or lamps, chose my soaps and detergents with care, and otherwise tried to create a home with a pleasant scent. I use Murphy’s soap on my floors, I use lavender lotions and soaps in my bath, as well as Bonny Doon rose geranium soap. For dish soap I sometimes use lavender but for heavy jobs I return to my mom’s favorite green Palmolive liquid.
Cooking remains an important source of positive scents in my home and my use of spices in Indian cooking creates its own special scent. I’m sure my children have memories of ghee and spices from their own childhoods. I’ve also done my share of baking and when we were very poor I often baked my own bread. As a vegetarian I make foods from a variety of cuisines and each have their distinctive scent.
Scent dominates our fondest memories. What are some of yours?