It’s a Smelly Business

The winner of Murder on the Toy Town Express is Kay Garrett. Barbara Early has your email and will be in touch!

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?

37 Thoughts

  1. What a lovely and thoughtful gift! Especially harking back to your birth state. So cool.

    I love the first scent of the ocean. The one where it’s playing hide and seek with the scent of cars and asphalt while you’re trying to find the best way to the parking lot. It is the scent of childhood to me. And new-mown grass (sorry, Sherry), and ozone before the storm, and the wine scent of early fall air.

    You made me laugh when you said pigs. I remember hiding on the floorboards of the car under a blanket when we would pass pig farms. Cannot imagine anyone attempting to capture the scent in a candle. That would be a room-clearer!

  2. I can’t think of a smell that brings me back to a bad memory, thank goodness. But good memories: I also have to go newly mown grass. Whenever I smell it, I think: it smells like Connecticut, which is where I spent four summers as a kid.

    So glad you’re enjoying the candle, Sherry!

    For folks who have Amazon Prime, you can get the candles from Amazon for a dollar more than Etsy, buy with the shipping thrown in for free. It looks like Etsy is charging $10 for shipping.

  3. In general I can’t abide scented candles, but I’ll bet the California one will smell like orange blossoms, which might be all right. I recently bought a lipstick that smells like my mom, too, Sherry! And whenever I smell cigarette lighter fluid I’m taken back to my grandmother lighting her cigarette (in a long holder). The smell of the sweet pea flower takes me back to early childhood because my mother grew them. A lovely post, Sherry.

  4. The smell of basil and tomatoes always reminds me of my grandfather and the wonderful times we spent together and in his garden.

  5. The smell of Mr. Clean always makes me think of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., because my mom would let my brother and me stay up past our bedtime on Friday nights to watch the show if we would wash the kitchen floor first. And Evening in Paris reminds me of my maternal grandmother, because she used to give me a little bottle of eau de toilette every Christmas when I was young.

  6. My grandmother always wore Bellodgia perfume by Caron. I’ve never known anyone else who used it. But the real twist is, a few years ago I was driving to Philadelphia and stopped in Westfield, New Jersey, where my grandmother had lived when she and my grandfather first married. I pulled into a McDonald’s for lunch and was suddenly hit by the smell of that perfume in the car. There was nothing in the car that had been hers, and I’d been driving for five hours by then without smelling it. I figured she was glad that I was there (and of course I visited her grave and said hello before I left town).

    (Now I have to wonder what a New Jersey candle smells like!)

  7. Such a fun gift! My brother gave me a candle a couple of years ago that was themed for the North Carolina coast—sea salt and oak. It does indeed capture the spirit of the place!

  8. A few years ago here in NC, Farmers opened their doors (or barns) to the public and we went farm hopping. I bought a few things, one of which was a package of sausage. Of course it was from one of the animals on the farm. When my husband cooked it I could swear I was a little girl of about 5 or 6 again in the kitchen with my dad. It smelled exactly like the sausage he’d prepare for breakfast. Now, I’ve been eating store bought sausage for years, but it doesn’t smell like this fresh sausage that was cooking on the stove. Makes me wonder what they’re putting in our food today. Anyway, the smell almost made me cry. It brought back great memories.

    I hate the smell of bleach and tuna fish.

    1. Oh, that is interesting and makes me think of my grandmother. She made her own sausage and it was so delicious. I wish I had her recipe. I keep meaning to try making some myself — in pattie form and see if I can recreate it!

  9. The music teacher at my elementary school always wore White Shoulders perfume. It’s not as popular today but anytime I smell it, I go right back to those fun music classes. My dad used Brut cologne—when I smell it, I think of my dad.

  10. Fresh mown grass – it takes me back to staying with my Nan and Grandad and using the rows of fresh mown grass cuttings as “horse” jumps!

  11. I love fresh mown grass, too, and the now banned but much loved burning leaves. It was one of the few things we did as a family – rake leaves and burn them by the street as the sun was setting. And there is something that I occasionally get a whiff of that takes me to a garden in a little hostel in the Sacred Valley of Peru. I even like the smell of newly spread manure which is a good thing since it is common where I live!

  12. The smell of wild roses takes me back home, every time. We had a long row of wild roses growing along the side of our house and the smell was amazing. Combine that scent with ocean breezes and I would buy all those candles.

    1. What a fun post, Sherry! When I was a little girl i passed a spaghetti sauce factory on my walk to school – if I could smell sauce at the end of my street, I knew I was late. That aroma takes me right back. Also beach roses – they smell like summer!

  13. I grew up camping in the redwoods, so a redwood forest is the first thing that popped into my mind. As much as I love living in Southern California, I wish we had redwood forests down here. I’d go visit one regularly if we did.

  14. Gingerbread baking allows me to remember my Granny. She knew it was my favorite so when I would go over as a youngster to mow her yard she would make me some. Nothing better than homemade gingerbread right out of the oven slathered in butter. Taste bud explosion and memories flood back.

    1. I do so thank you being the fortunate one selected to win the book by Barbara Early!!!!

  15. My favorite scent is sheets that have been washed and hung outside to dry. It reminds me of my childhood because my mom always dried our sheets that way most of the year and I haven’t been able to do that with my sheets since I moved out…20 years ago. I am asking my husband to install a clothesline this summer, so we’ll see.

  16. I enjoy the smell of Christmas cookies baking and thankfully Yankee Candles has a Christmas Cookie Candle! I don’t like the smell of feed lots…we passed those on the way to my grandmother’s house and ugh, not pleasant.

  17. My great uncle (who died when I was 12) used to smoke a pipe. Every so often I’ll smell the same scent & search for who it belongs to. It’s always an elderly gentleman & I just want to give him a hug for bringing back fond memories of Uncle Norm.

      1. Roses make me remember my Dad’s rose garden. He always had such beautiful roses and they were always some in the house and they were very fragrant.

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