Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Fortunately Found Forgotten Fragrance

I have this shower gel that smells like my great-grandmother's house. It's innocent enough in the bottle, pleasant even, but once I begin lathering trouble brews. It's that near putrid aroma I've associated with my great-grandmother since childhood: a mangled cross between a freshly opened box of Wheat Thins crackers and a fermented peach, moldy and oozing, squelched to its shelf by its fluid. But the peach thing might just be because my great-grandparents owned farmland and an orchard that may or may not have grown peaches.

That smell was her house. Though now that I think of it, the AstroTurf of her "mud room" and the general musk that must have been grandpa mingled in with the cracker/peach fetor, creating a scent that was singular to that two story hope house in Ogden.

Which is why I know it so vividly. That house, for me, was not the gardening wonderland my uncles and aunts reminisce on. All I knew and all I remember was the faux turf grass carpeting in the mud room and sun porch, the rotten fruit smoldering in the orchard and cellar, the sun-bleached yard gnomes and critters, and the well that had been sealed and used as a home for potted plants. I knew stripped wood sheds the size of the house stretching back farther than I was allowed to go. And the pine-needled floor that lead to the horses who I only remember because grandma said if I clenched the apple like that instead of just resting it on my open palm the horse would get my fingers for sure.

Thank you grandma, for that three year fear of horses.

But I digress.

I only smelt the stench when entering the house through the back door that lead to the AstroTurf mud room and hidden door to the dank cellar, and when passing through the kitchen that got more and more cluttered with each passing year, and when visiting grandpa and his TV broadcasted subtitled basketball game in the living room with the fuzzy faded green couches. And in the pink tiled bathroom with the large window overlooking the backyard that, for my later years, seemed always to be broken, supplying what I sarcastically knew to be heaps of privacy.

I'd wiff it seldom other times, and when it crept up I'd recognize it immediately, but I never knew what it was that created the scent. I was always miffed, when walking past that house on the corner on my way to elementary school, and one out every three hundred times I'd smell it. I'd always taken it to be a secretive mix only feasible through my great-grandmother's elderly clutter and aging fruits. But there was the smell, like a disembodied voice, uncalled for and confusing, unwanted and unknown.

In spite of the displeasure I seem to express whilst describing this odor, it does bring a certain waft of nostalgia (pun unintended), as exemplified in my near two paragraphs of blithering nonsense.

But while the memories are bright and blissful, the scent itself is dank and disconcerting. So you see my trouble with a body wash that has mastered the scent of that house. But still I continue to use it, aside from each nagging fear that it does not grow agreeable as it soaks in the skin, but rather stays the same, and as my luck should have it I'll have chosen to wash with it instead of some other soap and that day be approached by a prospective mate who, upon smelling my aged rotten grandmother-house stench, politely steps away never to come a'calling again.

It's odd to hold that bottle in my hand, seconds before dumping some of its contents on my loofah, and know all along the scent has had a name: a reasonable name, one I would never have pegged for such an off smell. It makes me wonder if the contents of my great-grandmother's house really had anything to do with the smell that resided there. Perhaps it's in the little-old-lady handbook to obtain a bag of dried plant bits infused with this scent and sprinkle pinches of it in every nook and cranny, behind every dusty trinket and unplayed piano. Perhaps it was just her favorite flower, and she was so stuck on it she abolished all use of any other and only employed scent of iris in her home.

Or perhaps my body wash is just as fermented as that peach, as fermented as that dear old woman, and it's not the flower at all, but the funk of age in general.

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