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It’s a Smelly Business

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By Sherry who is enjoying the Christmas lights around the neighborhood

Barb Goffman recently gave me a gift. The box says on it: No place like home. What could this be?

I opened the box and found a candle. One that purports to smell like Iowa, my home state. And I thought what the heck does Iowa smell like?

My first thoughts were a little dark: the Oscar Myer and Purina plants in my hometown, pig farms, fertilizer, the Mississippi River on a hot summer day.

But as I thought more about it other smells came to me: lilacs, the smell of ozone before a summer storm, laundry drying on the line outside, the scent of musty books and wood in the old library before they tore it down, lumber from a new house being built, mud in early spring, a pile of leaves.

It make me think about the tie between memory and scent. Every time I get a whiff of Brut aftershave (which isn’t often anymore) it’s like time traveling back to high school and remembering a boy I liked. A few years ago I bought a tube of Revlon lipstick. When I got home and opened it I thought, Mom. Who knew my mom smelled like Revlon lipstick when I was growing up?

Writers are always told to use the five senses when writing. The candle was a great reminder of the power of smell. Each of us have our own response to smell. I hear people talking about the lovely scent of just cut grass. All I think is, achoo because I’m allergic to grass. I don’t like the smell of coffee brewing either (I know, I know – it’s some kind of character flaw). But ah, a cup of Earl Grey tea – heaven.

Using the sense of smell can connect readers to a character. It can tell us something about their personality. If they hate the smell of bread baking, maybe it’s because of a bad relationship with the baker. If they love the smell of roses, maybe it’s because their grandmother who provided a safe haven for them. On the contrary if they hate the smell of roses maybe they had an abusive partner that gave them roses after abuse.

But back to the candle. I’ve had a cold ever since Barb gave me the candle so until yesterday I didn’t light it. The candle came with a card that said this: There’s no place like home. From agriculture and the Holliwell Bridge to John Wayne and the world’s largest wooden nickel. Our Iowa scented candle will have you feeling right at home with the scents of the Iowa State Fair, including the sweet butter cow. The Hawkeye State! Iowa sweet Iowa.

I had to look up the Holliwell Bridge. It was used in the filming of The Bridges of Madison County. I’d never heard of those bridges until the book came out in 1992 and I’d long since moved from Iowa by then. I also hadn’t heard of the world’s largest wooden nickel. It was erected in 2006 as a protest against county officials’ decision to raise speed limits in the area. Iowa resident Jim Glasgow spent more than six months creating the giant sixteen foot wooden nickel, which weighs about 4,000 pounds. (In my research I also discovered that San Antonio claims to also have the world’s largest wooden nickel. But theirs is smaller. Go Iowa!) And I confess I’ve only been to the Iowa State Fair once, to see the group Chicago, when I was in college. I’m not sure butter cows and sculptures were even a thing back then. (If you want to know more about the butter cows watch the movie Butter. It’s a hoot.)

So…what does the candle smell like. I lit it and waited, hoping my nose wouldn’t fail me. And now drum roll please…it smells like butter cream frosting. It’s a lovely scent which I will enjoy even if it doesn’t smell exactly like Iowa to me. Now I’m curious what candles from other states I’ve lived in smell like. Here’s the link in case you want a candle of your own.

Readers: Is there some scent that takes you back to a pleasant memory? One that you don’t like?

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