Smells can bring back a flood of memories, or elicit a visceral reaction based on a traumatic experience. It’s funny, I grew up among a generation of grandparents who smoked like chimneys. I live my adult life as a member of a “non-smoking” community. Those friends that do light up, tend to do it on their own time, since restaurants, office buildings, and other public buildings no longer allow smoking. So, while I’m not that fond of the smell of cigarette smoke, I savor the memories of my grandparents and great aunts and uncles that it conjures on the rare occasions I smell it. I built on this emotion to help show Amelia’s longing for her parents in Double Out and Back. Here’s an excerpt.
Her daddy and Mr. Knudson would sit on the stoop together. Mr. Knudson would smoke Marlboros and her daddy would smoke his pipe. He’d switched from cigarettes to pipes when the Surgeon General confirmed that cigarette smoking was harmful to your health. But while Amelia found the aroma of cherry pipe tobacco intoxicating, it did nothing to prevent lung cancer from riddling her daddy’s body and killing him. That notwithstanding, Amelia‘s memories of him with Mr. Knudson survived as times when her daddy acted the most relaxed and happy.
He used to sit on the porch wearing pants from his electrician’s uniform and a sleeveless undershirt with a small tuft of chest hair peeking above the neckline. His bangs were swept back with a little “tonic,” as he called it. His broad mouth held teeth clenched around the mouthpiece of his favorite pipe. Carved out of ivory, the pipe’s bowl, shaped like an eagle’s head, looked as if it were singing an aria, with the hooked beak slightly opened and eyes wide.
As he visited with Mr. Knudson, he would effortlessly use his thumb to pack tobacco into the pipe. Then he‘d strike a match against the brick steps and hold the lit match to the ivory eagle’s hollow skull, now packed with cherry tobacco. As he’d puffed on the mouthpiece a few times, the flame had danced, growing larger, then smaller again with each inhale and exhale. The tobacco began to glow as it caught the flame. Then that delicious fragrance of cherry tobacco would drift through the air – her daddy’s scent, warm and inviting.
Amelia lit cherry tobacco as incense in her home to evoke her daddy’s aroma on days when she missed him most, but it was just not the same. The cherry tobacco alone did not do the trick. It must have needed to be mixed with the scent of the honey-roasted peanuts he ate, and the perfume of his prize-winning peonies in the garden, and the Old Spice cologne he slapped on his face after each morning‘s shave, and the Mr. Bubble brand bubble-bath soap he secretly borrowed from her, and him…and him…and him.…That warm, home, Daddy smell only survived as an olfactory memory. She wished she could have bottled it.
Excerpt Double Out and Back by Lisa Lipkind Leibow
What aromas have you encountered that brought back welcomed memories? What stenches might you imagine in a story that could bring back a dreaded memory for a character? Share some ideas, here – fact or fiction.
Best to you,
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction