Can’t You Smell That Smell?

posted by Momo Fali on August 19, 2008

My nine year old daughter was born ten weeks early, during an emergency c-section. I went to the hospital for a routine ultrasound and they didn’t let me leave until they had strapped me to a table, cut my stomach open, whisked my baby away to be put on a ventilator, and fed me Percocet and chicken broth for five days. Ahh. Good times, good times.

Her brother was competitive from the get-go. Although he was only seven weeks early, he came complete with four heart defects, a kidney disorder, a missing right tear duct and a stomach flap that wouldn’t close…thus allowing breastmilk to freely flow out of where it had recently gone in.

Needless to say, my husband and I spent a lot of time in the hospital when our kids were young. And, each and every time we entered that place we had to scrub our hands with a very distinctive smelling anti-bacterial soap.

Now, whenever I visit someplace that has that same soap, be it a hospital, restaurant, or gas station, I get a flood of memories when the aroma hits my brain. Usually that flood is somewhat traumatic.

The smell of ginger takes me to Hawaii, the fragrance of roses to my Grandmother’s back yard, and I can’t even buy apple cinnamon oatmeal because, when warm, I revisit some seriously nasty diapers.

I have read other blogs and comments that make mention of this phenomenon, and my best friend has a story about chopping green beans when she received a phone call from someone bearing bad news. Guess what she thinks of when she smells green beans now?

What I want to know, boys and girls…where does your mind travel when you get a whiff, and what’s that you’re smelling that sends you on your way?

    Comments

  • Heather


    Cat urine. It makes me think of my daughter’s granmda’s house.

  • DYSFUNCTIONAL MOM


    The smell of Palmolive Dish soap takes me back to my grandmother's house. The smell of Polo cologne takes me back to a trip to a carnival with my cousin & his cute friend when I was a teenager.
    I have SO many more smell-related memories.

  • Mama Dawg


    I have tons.

    The smell of honeysuckle takes me back to my childhood. The smell of Electric Youth perfume (actually have a post coming out about that sometime next week) takes me back to middle school. The smell of a department store takes me back to shopping at a mall with my grandmother. The smell of rotten food and rancid water takes me back to my first trip back to NOLA after Katrina hit.

    Like I said, tons.

  • Ms Picket To You


    cinnamon toast. reminds me of my mom taking care of me when i was sick or grumpy or sad or in need of some TLC. she made it the morning i brought my first baby home, so now it reminds me of that scary, awesome day too.

  • MamaMo


    Smell of rain takes me to wonderful childhood memories of relaxing by candlelight and drinking tea and talking as a family with the windows open during thunderstorms. (post coming)

  • Kori


    I have too many, both good and bad, to even begin a list-but this has always fascinated me, the fact that memory and smell are so closely tied together. Good post, and food for thought!

  • Bec (bad mummy)


    There’s a Palmolive body wash that I can’t use because it’s what I used while I was pregnant and very, very sick. Anytime I smell it I feel sick to my stomach.

    I’m the same with hospital soap. Fortunately I’ve never come upon it outside the hospital, but every time we visit the NICU I can smell it as soon as I get off the lift.

  • Immoral Matriarch


    Smells don’t make me remember anything. Am I weird?

  • chefmom


    Honeysuckle reminds me of my childhood. Standing in fron of the bush just picking and sipping the nectar. And like you, the smell of Hospital soap, fills me with dread. I spent ALOT of time in the hospital when I was younger for a few rare diseases and that smell will forever haunt my nostrils.

  • Kat


    The smell of a chicken boiling makes me think of my great grandmothers house and her chicken dumplings. I lost her 2 years ago and I still haven’t been able to make anything that requires me to boil a chicken first.

  • Elaine


    Peanut butter, and indian curry (not together!) take me back to being seasick when I was stationed on a ship out of Hawaii. The smell of a roux or onions cooking remind me of my mom’s kitchen. Freshly cut grass bring me back to Saturday mornings as a kid, when the whole family went out and did yardwork together.

  • The Mom


    I love this post!

    Jasmine reminds me of Hawaii and Santa Barbara.

    Stetson reminds me of my grandpa.

    Birdseed scent reminds me of my grandma’s house, she raised parakeets.

    I could go on forever!

  • Heidi


    There’s a guy that I work with that smells like my grandpa. Kind of a mixture of Old Spice, cigarette smoke and laundry detergent. 🙂 Takes me back to those days spent at my grandparent’s house when I was very little.

  • Christina


    Cool, wet, green air (like after it rains) reminds me of my summer in England.

    Sunscreen reminds me of my summers at the pool as a kid.

  • Melisa


    The smell of lilac takes me back to 8 years old immediately: there were tons of lilac bushes in the wide open field behind my house. I LOVE that smell.

  • A Buns Life


    sprinklers and grass remind me of my grandparent’s house growing up….still to this day. (we never watered our grass growing up)

  • Slick


    Rose smells = I screwed up

    Every time I screw up, I send my wife roses.

  • Birdie


    what fun Momo! Watermelon taste & smell takes me back to my Gramma's when I was little…the only time I ever got to eat it! While my aunt was in the ICU recently, there was that distinctive cleanser smell after you rounded the corner. I can't put my finger on it now but I'd know it if I smelled it again I'm sure. I smelled it so much in there that I knew it would alwyas bring back a bad memory. Maybe I'll never have to go there. Sounds do it for me too. Crows cawing always remind me of Gramma's house in Maine.

  • Jeremy (Discovering Dad)


    Like you said Momo, I can’t enter an antiseptic environment without thinking of my first daughter and subsequent kids stays in the NICU. For me, it’s more than just smells that trigger these memories. Every time I see/hear a helicopter I think about those last minutes with my daughter on the way to the hospital. I could barely fit inside the Lifestar, so I had to sit up front where I couldn’t touch her. She was crying, but I couldn’t hear her. The imagery was burned into my brain, and now it is attached to the sound of choppers flying high above. Every time one flies over, I say a quick prayer and try not to dwell on it. I’m thankful to have 3 happy and healthy kids now.

  • Jill


    The smell of Dove soap reminds me of my favorite Grandma. My sister & I used to spend 2 weeks every summer with her.

  • Tom


    Tearing open a packet of Emergen-C takes me to my grandmother’s house when I was ten. Instantly I’m there in the back porch, eating a peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich. I don’t know how, but a freshly torn packet of this stuff smells exactly like her kitchen.

  • Ashley


    honeysuckle takes me back to childhood…freedom. Food cooking on the stove takes me back to my grandmother…so do cookies. I have so many…

  • Tenakim


    I am all about smells! Jhirmack shampoo reminds me of 6th grade camp.

    But colognes are big ones for me… Obsession reminds me a scum bag guy my mom used to date. Polo reminds me of a boy I went to grade school with. Lauren reminds me of my Aunt Pat. Drakaar reminds me of a one night stand I had in college.

  • Jenny from Mommin' it Up!


    Drinking out of a really thick glass filled with ice….somehow the smell of the glass reminds me of my Grandma’s house. Her glasses were always so heavy and always smelled the same, no matter what drink was in them. Sometimes at a friend’s house or a restaurant I will take a drink and get transported back to Grandma’s. I know that is a weird one but it’s true!

  • Philly


    The smell of KFC,,,,makes me want to vomit

    #1

  • Stella


    That antibacterial smell takes me back to the hospital, too. The smell of purell, also.

    The smell of hot pretzels takes me back to early mornings on the river in Philadelphia.

    And low tide always takes me down the shore to when I was a kid.

  • AlisonH


    I visited a friend who was in a coma after a car accident every week for eight months. The hospital used a lotion on her skin with a distinctive perfume to it, and one day I bought a gallon of liquid dishsoap at Costco–and when I got home, found it had the same perfume.

    I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t use it. It was about two years after she’d finally passed away that I brought it out from under the counter, sniffed it, thought about it, and found that at last it was okay to use. If it reminded me, then that was okay. Finally. But just so you know, and the reason I tell it, is, it did become okay again. And yes, that smell will forever remind me of her. And you know? That’s okay.

  • AlisonH


    I think I said "okay" about forty-leven times there, but that's okay. Heh.

    I want to run back and talk about the smell of the C&O Canal, walking it with friends, and the Potomac River, and newly mown grass…

  • Jamie E


    A certain soap reminds me of the time I went to church camp for a week. There was this girl kept trying to watch me shower one day and I had a pretty hard time. Of course I was home before my postcard arrived detailing my horror story. I’ve been back there and I don;t seem to have any dwindling ill will. It was just rough at the time.

  • Aunt Debbi/kurts mom


    Homemade pickles and chicken fried steak -paternal grandmother

    Jungle Gardenia perfume – maternal grandmother.

  • A Shade Of Scorpio


    Patchouli oil…..my hot and heavy relationship with a live in boyfriend that lasted for only a year…but wow…..did I mention it was hot?

  • Pand0ra Wilde


    I have so many, but I’ve got it worse. As a soapmaker, I HAVE all those scents–the lilac that reminds me of Grandma’s house that’s torn down now and is a parking lot, the patchouli essential oil that reminds me of the embarrassing moment when someone in college band asks, “Who smells like a hippie?” and my roommate and I both say “Yes” simultaneously… all sorts of stuff like that.

    Fortunately I don’t tend bar anymore, because those smells don’t have quite the nice connotation the others do 🙂

  • Jennifer, Playgroups Are No Place For Children


    I have so many. My most recently recalled scent, though…The smell of Milwakee’s Best beer reminded me of float trips down many of Missouri’s finest rivers. And the resulting hangover.

  • Anonymous


    Jergen’s original scent reminds me of my grandmother. She used just a little dot every morning. (She was very frugal.) She lived on a widow’s “pension” and they called it back then. Margie

  • Half-Past Kissin' Time


    This is a great post (among tons, of course!) Roses make me thing of my grandma’s bathroom (she liked the spray scent, and it grossed me out!) Polo reminds me of a gay guy I used to work with in the 80’s.

    Your soap memory…poignant. Thanks for sharing it. (and your comment today CRACKED me up, thanks!)

  • dlyn


    Odd – I can’t think of a single connection off the top of my head, but smells whisk me off to other places all the time. I guess I had to be there …

  • Lisa@verybusymomwith4


    Your kids are born fighters–I am glad they fantastic now!

    Smell is actually one of strongest memory sensors–I used to wear Poison in highs school when I studied for tests and wore it again for the test.

    My smell…pumpkin pie–I can feel the cool Ohio autumn breeze and the bright leaves 🙂

  • wheremytruthlives


    This my favorite topic. You always have such great topics.

    Pinesol – Childhood trips to the bank with my dad on payday. That stuff smells just like my favorite lollipop flavor.

    Rosemilk scented lotion – everything about my sister

    Black cherry tobacco – all my best memories of my grandpa

    Dead algae – fishing trips with my dad (good memories)

    jetfuel – memories of flight school

    carb cleaner – a very unpleasant experience of getting that stuff in my eye and damn-near blinding myself

    rain on hot cement – walking barefoot in the gutters with my best friend

    mothballs – the house of a strange elderly Lebanese lady my mother was friends with. She used to make me sample her cooking. I’m sure they were fabulous authentic recipes and all but it all just tasted like mothballs to me.

  • Angie


    It’s been a while, huh? Sorry about that, life’s been crazybusy! Yes, one word “crazybusy”. So, there is a smell that brings back memories! You see, there’s this special soap that you must scrub your hands with when entering a NICU. Oh! Wait! LOL, that’s my smell too. But add to that the Purel antibacterial hand sanitizer that you must put on before and after you touch ANYTHING WHILE in the NICU as well. Ah, the memories…

  • Undomestic Diva


    The smell of the plastic bags at Target and the smell of Ralph Lauren’s perfume “Ralph” make me want to puke at first whiff as they both remind me of that overly-smell-sensitive time during pregnancy.

  • Jo Beaufoix


    Face powder makes me think of my lovely Gran and how she used to powder her nose and then mine too.
    Great post Momo, and blimey, I never knew you’re two had such a rough start. N wonder that hospital smell has scary memories.

  • Kathy


    Fresh paint. Grade school. Don’t ask.

  • Heather B.


    Camp fire reminds me of 13 years of Girl Scout camp.

    Ivory Soap reminds me of my maternal grandparents house.

    Whenever I walk past a Lush store in the states, I’m automatically thrown back to Calle Fuencarral in Madrid. There’s a lush store there as well but it reminds me of how homesick I was when I lived in Spain.

  • www.startswithanx.com


    Tabu perfume: eighth grade. Corn tortillas: my grandma.

  • Bean


    Ah, those fresh green beans. Ugh. Also, the smell of incense always takes me back to the mid-1970s, when my mom would put on a Led Zeppelin album, burn incense, and paint ceramic figures.

  • meleah rebeccah


    I am always so amazed with you as a mother when ever I read about what you went through to have your children.

    I dont know what smell brings back bad memories for me.

    But yes, Percosettes = good times.

  • Our Crooked Tree


    Honeysuckle takes me back to my childhood and the smell of White Diamonds perfume makes me think of my grandmother ☺

  • Jaina


    Almond extract smells like Christmas, because we use it in spritz cookies at Christmastime. Winter Dream Tea Latte’s from Coffee Bean taste and smell like Christmas.
    There are lots of other things that take me back. Scents, songs, pictures, locations, it’s crazy.
    Honeysuckle takes me to our first house in San Diego when I was little.
    Then there are the scents that stir memories I can’t quite grasp. Those are the ones that drive me absolutely nuts, when I know a scent but can’t quite remember the significance.

  • Kimmylyn


    the hospital smell reminds me of seeing my sister in a coma for the first time.. no matter what now.. whenever I walk into a hospital (even when I was going there to give birth) I see the vision of her laying in a bed with her head wrapped..

    sorry to go there.. but you asked and that is the first thing that popped in my head..

  • Dapoppins


    I have been catching up on all of your posts…but I don’t see where you brag about being nominated for the Hottie blogger calendar.

    Oh, come on. You know your Hawt!

    Any way…consider this a comment for all your posts…I couldn’t stop reading…but now I have a stinky smell in my head and I need some coffee to erase it.

  • Mamapajama


    Oh, I have lots of em’, but here are a few…
    Oil of Olay – My Nana
    Copper Penny or any metallic smell – My first french kiss at a birthday party in 6th grade. Jimmy Murphy had braces and one of my baby teeth had just fallen out and had been bleeding! LOL
    Pine Trees and Bactine – My Gramps and summers at the lake.
    McDonald’s french fries – my kids poopie diapers when they were babies. YUCK!!
    My youngest son’s farts – old man’s shoes (and I tell him that too!)

  • Percocet Prescription Medication


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    I am 35 years old. Have been on Percocet for 7 days now. It did help the pain but the side effects weren’t worth it. I’d rather have the pain.

    I have experienced some of these side effects-
    nausea, very itchy, racing heart, anxiety, flashing lights(almost hallucinogenic?), weird dreams, tiredness

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