Bloganuary Post for January 16: Do You Have a Memory Linked to a Smell?

[Bloganuary is hosted by WordPress. A new topic is presented each day during January. This is yesterday’s topic.]

Nana Kitty in front of her house, 1978

I cannot describe what my nana’s kitchen smelled like because there is no specific scent I know of to compare it to. But on rare occasions, I walk into someplace and unexpectedly inhale a whiff of the same smell that was a constant part of her kitchen. Permanent just like the yellowed-white plastic radio on her burgundy-red linoleum countertop or the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil statuette of monkeys perched next to the acorn-and-pipe-cleaner figurine who played a single bongo drum, both resting on a shelf above the ledge where her princess phone lounged.

It wasn’t the smell of cookies in the oven or bread dough rising because she never baked. Her bankrupt cookie jar squatted in a corner to the left of the sink, tucked next to the toaster. It wasn’t the smell of fried chicken sizzling on the stove or a Sunday roast baking in the oven because Nana never cooked the way most women did in the 1960s. I don’t have a single memory of our family gathering around her kitchen table for a holiday dinner or any other dinner. She had no dining room. My siblings and I often stayed with Nana for two or three days at a time, but I remember little about what we ate.

Her kitchen was a small space with a trivial parcel of countertop, an afterthought of cupboards, a narrow gas stove, and an old diminutive, single-door refrigerator with a miniature freezer box tucked inside. The kitchen was designed to discourage cooking.

Perhaps the distinct smell of Nana’s kitchen was a conglomeration of its tiny world: a tea kettle of water boiling over a gas flame to make instant coffee; a sunny-side-up egg in melted butter, frying in a cast iron pan, basted to perfection; Malt-O-Meal bubbling in a stainless-steel pot; a slice of bread browning in a toaster, then layered with butter or marmalade; tea steeping in hot water, brewed to soothe a queasy stomach; a rose or peony cut from the garden, standing in a vase; shoes or winter boots gathered on yesterday’s newspaper near the outside door; an old oak table covered with oilcloth; faux brick vinyl wallpaper on the front wall; white cotton curtains washed in Fels-Naptha soap; cleanser scrubbed against the porcelain sink; wax applied to the yellow, brown, and orange patterned floor; aging varnish on wooden trim; the metal-lined milk chute, waiting for the day’s delivery; the heavy, dark wooden door, layered with years of oil from the hands of Nana’s grandchildren, children, and her dead husband.

It’s been awhile since I have smelled anything like Nana’s kitchen. Perhaps that’s because many of the smells that lived there are now too old-fashioned, having been made from products no longer used. Perhaps my sense of smell has dulled. Recently, I looked at pictures of Nana’s home on a realtor’s site. The kitchen has been modernized, but it’s still tiny, still designed to discourage cooking. I imagine the smells have been updated too.

8 thoughts on “Bloganuary Post for January 16: Do You Have a Memory Linked to a Smell?

  1. The details are the ticket to making your writing so accessible. I agree with Janice’s comments. ‘A kitchen to discourage cooking ‘ is a new, interesting, thought for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The presence of a person in a space time and again in a child’s mind can create their own sense of smell, even if not robust baking or cooking was present. The air of movement can stay put and be that individuals own aroma. Such details of that small space – wonderful!

    Like

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