I have a very good (and very sensitive) sense of smell. There have been times my mom has referred to my nose as “a pregnant nose” because of my inane ability to pick up even the smallest scents, and my inability to go down certain aisles in the grocery store (I’m looking at you laundry detergent) because of the scents being too strong.
I am also good at identifying smells. I like to pinpoint it down to the finest detail. For example, I might say something like, “does it smell like blue raspberry jolly ranchers in here to you?” or “why does this soup smell like Christmas?”
Scents are big memory keepers for me. And sometimes when I smell something familiar it stops me in my tracks, and I am taken back to wherever or with whomever the scent pertains to. And while most of the scents outside, and even inside right now, are sadly riddled with smoke, there have still been summer smells that have brought back some good (and minorly traumatic) memories:
1) Wet grass
The other day I walked across a wet lawn and I was immediately taken back to an early morning soccer game. I could hear the rustling of kids and parents trying to find which field they had to be on, and I could feel the damp blades of grass being kicked up with each passing pair of feet. I hated playing soccer, but I loved putting on my uniform and cleats and feeling official. I also loved the coupon for a free snack bar Popsicle we got at the end of every game.
Whenever I smell chlorine I think of myself as a 10 (and then 11, 12, and 13) year old girl trying to learn how to dive off a family friend’s diving board, and never quite figuring out how. I can feel the water in my nose, hear the splash of other kids doing cannonballs, see the fluttering toes of my sister doing a handstand in the shallow end, and hear the encouraging words from my parents and their friends asking me to try again. Which I did, again, and again, and again, to no avail.
There are few things that give me an immediate, cozy, summery feeling than the smell of a backyard barbecue. When I was little and my family would go over to friends’ houses to swim or have game nights, there was always something on the grill. And being a girl with mostly simple pleasures when it comes to food—especially when I was young—I love a homemade cheeseburger that you awkwardly eat off a paper plate in your lap, while trying to keep track of your fork so you can eventually transition into your helping of macaroni salad, all the while ensuring you leave enough room in your stomach to have a homemade cookie later.
I have competing memories when it comes to sunscreen. On the one hand, there is the beach. There are the long days spent swimming in the ocean, trying my hand at boogie boarding and getting womped by the waves enough times to retire from boogie boarding at age 12. There is the sound the ice chest made when you dragged it through the sand and the wonder at how good the snacks inside the ice chest tasted after you’d be out in the sun for a few hours. There are sandcastles and digging for sand crabs, and there are sandy walks to the showers and drives home with wet hair. On the other hand, there is pure trauma. When I was around seven or eight, I got sunburned on my shoulders so bad that they bubbled and blistered; when I was 17, I got sunburned on the back of my calves so bad that they peeled for an entire month afterward; and my personal favorite, when I was 13 I went water skiing and didn’t put any sunscreen down the center part of my hair and burned my scalp, making it look like I had thick, mutant dandruff for weeks to follow. So while sunscreen smells like fun in the sun and overall sun safety, it also smells like a lesson I learned the hard way—more than once.
5) A summer night
This smell is hard to describe but without a doubt one of my favorite smells in the whole world. It’s that combination of the warm weather, the slight cool breeze that starts to sneak in the screen door after dusk, and the hint of water from the neighbors’ sprinklers that just kicked on. Plus there’s the wide open night sky, the quiet swishes of the ceiling fan, the distant chatter of neighbors sitting on their back patios, and, when you’re little, the knowledge that you don’t have any homework to do. To this day summer nights feel so light and free, even when I know I have to get up for work, or take my trash barrels out, or do my laundry, just as I would at any other time of year. Summer nights just have that magic about them that makes you feel like you might end up anywhere. Maybe you buy a spontaneous ticket to a baseball game, maybe you drive down to the beach just to watch the sunset, maybe you see a movie and then walk down the street eating a double scoop ice cream cone.
This summer, obviously, is a little different than most, and for many it is impossibly tough and completely void of those special nostalgic smells. If that’s you, I hope this post can find you and not only remind you of some good things, but encourage you toward the good things awaiting you on the other side of this hard season.