By Chuck Woodbury
I was organizing some boxes in my storage locker the other day when I came across my father’s hairbrush. My father died nine years ago. When packing up his stuff back then, I placed the brush in an air-tight Ziploc bag (and put that bag inside another bag) and stored it with other items.
The brush has many short bristles, and it picked up a lot of hair. Every so often a brush like that needs to be cleaned. My father’s had not been cleaned in a long time, and contained hundreds of his hairs.
What a surprise I got when I opened that Ziploc bag! It was like my father had walked right into the room: I could smell him! I put my nose even closer to the bag and the smell was stronger. It wasn’t a good smell or a bad smell. It was just the way he smelled.
If I closed my eyes, my father was there! It was unnerving. It made me sad, because all of a sudden the memory of him was overpowering, and I felt briefly the same emptyness I felt for months after he died.
I have kept that Ziploc bag handy, and every year on his birthday I open it for about five seconds. With my eyes closed, I sniff. And ever-so-briefly my father is with me again. It’s wonderful.
AFTER THINKING ABOUT THIS, I realized that smell is the one sense we can’t actually imagine at will. I mean, if I close my eyes I can almost see my father’s face. If I concentrate I can hear his voice. But no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember what he smelled like.
My mother, who died shortly after my father, wore the same perfume every day. When I came into a room, if she were there I would sometimes know it before I saw her. But if I try to remember the smell of that perfume, I cannot. Yet, if someone were to walk into my room today wearing it, I would immediately recall my mother.
I don’t believe that anyone can, at will, imagine a smell of the past. I believe you must actually smell it. I don’t even recall a dream that involved smell.
What do you think?