There are two kinds of smells that instantly take me back in time: the irresistible scent of a brand new car and its upholstery and the pungent smell of a house encountering its very first visitors, the fresh cut wood overwhelming my olfactory nerves. The former is one I normally encounter when getting into a rental car that usually wears off after about a day on the road. I’m instantly reminded of the time when my dad’s blue mini-van was brand new in 1999 and he had just gotten the floor mats put in. They smelled so fresh and pleasant when first laid down, the air being pushed out from tiny spaces underneath with a ssss sound, like the one emitted from that squeezing device I never know the name or purpose of.
After about ten years, the fresh car scent of the mini-van that took my once big happy family on a trip to colonial Williamsburg in 2000 had worn off and I had gotten so big since then that the vehicle seemed quite smaller, cheaper looking, and quite behind with technology (the cassette deck is the thing that can easily give away a car’s age). A miraculous thing about the van that formerly belonged to my dad but now my Wisconsin sister was that it never got messy once, save for a vomit episode – no landfills of candy wrappers, discarded gum, tossed bills, or other sticky substances that comes to mind when I think of my mother’s purple mini-van of many years ago.
The fresh house smell has a similar story. When I was about eight, my family moved into a brand new house out in the countryside. It was one of those manufactured homes that came in two halves and had just been assembled onto the foundation that turned into a crawl space for access to the plumbing and gas lines. It was a very large house with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen, family room, laundry room, and dining room. When I first stepped into the home, a smell like no other I had sensed before reached my nostrils. It was a mixture of wood, fresh paint, and something like Old English polish. As soon as I experienced that aroma, I knew I was going to love living in that home, albeit my mom’s poor choice of burgundy carpet, for the next 5 years until we moved to a more secluded home way back in the sticks that had nothing on old little Erie. That house built just beyond the railroad tracks and outside a small, sleepy town of about 1,000 was where I experienced the turn of the millennium and then the turn of the century, not even aware that I had exactly ten years to go until I would graduate from high school. Where I unknowingly first witnessed the events of 9/11 unfold on television, being sent home from school that day. Where, at nine years old, I wrote a poem about the girl I liked in the house in back of us, much to my embarrassment when my parents found it. Where I got my very first home computer that had me hooked on Windows. Where the Nintendo 64 and first two PlayStations dominated Sunday afternoons. Where I got my first cats and dog. Where I swam in an inflatable pool that wasn’t practical to set-up and put-away. And where I raced cars on a track made of clothes hangers during the final days.
The fresh smell of new can be bought in a bottle or as an air freshener but nothing beats the authenticity of it, when you first get into a car or enter a new home and know right then you have chosen correctly. Preserving it is then the key to never letting the good memories of love at first smell go away. Of course, that new car/house smell probably is nothing more than VOCs (volatile organic compounds) off-gassing, but let’s not spoil the party.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Smell You Later.”
Humans have very strong scent memory. Tell us about a smell that transports you.