Monday, February 12, 2007

An aromatic post

The painting of the day is Still Life with Fish by Alexander Adriaenssen. It was the smelliest painting I could find. It also came complete with a cat (you may have to click to enlarge it to find the cat) and one of those eyeballs that follow you around no matter where you go. Just try walking back and forth in front of your computer screen and see if it doesn’t. Yes, we have reached the pinnacle of great art on this blog: creepy eyeballs from severed fish-heads.

Last week I gave a ride home to Blake, a boy who lives two houses down from us and is good friends with my son Ethan. As Blake climbed into our van, he said, “Hey your car smells exactly the same as your house.”

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked, a bit concerned.

“No, it just has a certain smell.” Blake replied.

Always in teaching mode, I then explained to him the highly scientific principle of House Odor: “Did you know, Blake, that everyone’s house has a distinctive smell to it, but the people who live there are so used to it that they are the only ones who can’t smell it?”

Blake didn’t hesitate: “Yeah, but MY house doesn’t have a smell.”

I tried not to laugh, “My point exactly.”

So now I’m wondering what my house smells like. I have a few suspicions, considering there’s a row of wet diapers lining the windowsill in my daughter’s room and I haven’t emptied the kitchen garbage yet from last night’s 3-garlic-clove dinner preparations. It also likely smells of burnt vacuum-guts thanks to our Hoover that psychically sensed the passing of its one-year warranty date and self-destructed this weekend in a cloud of stinky rubbery smoke.

I also hate the fact that lately my front porch and back steps both smell like eau de tabby cat. We do not own any cats but the neighborhood felines have taken a liking to our house and appear to be marking the portals with their scent. I wonder, will it protect our home from some future cat plague like blood on the lintels at Passover? All I know is that every time I come or go I find myself involuntarily launching into Phoebie’s chorus of “smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you….”

What else contributes to the distinctive smell that must hang over my family like an olfactory coat of arms? If I had to break it down to its various components, I would venture to say it includes….

Tide with bleach
Target brand unscented fabric softener that really has a scent to it no matter what the box says
various crock pot meals from the nights I’ve been gone to class
pizza from class nights I haven’t planned ahead
his and hers deodorants
the oatmeal I cook religiously for breakfast every morning
the bacon I cooked in my kitchen 2 years ago
baby shampoo
baby lotion
baby puke
potting soil
Ramen noodles
Lysol cleaning wipes
wet sneakers
pee (yes we have 3 boys)
air freshener in the bathroom to cloak the pee smell
ripening bananas
rotting potatoes
furnace filters
my mother-in-law’s perfume
the two fuchsia blossoms on my Christmas Cactus (which annually celebrates Christmas in February as if it knew it belonged to a family of late bloomers)
lemon-scented floor cleaner
books (old, new, paperback, hardback, they all contribute a different smell)
kettle-corn flavored microwave popcorn
basketballs, footballs and soccer balls (and the occasional sweat that comes from using them)
the odors of creative children: paint, pen fumes, glue, and miles of scotch tape
the sweet, milky breath of a sleeping baby
the toothpaste scented breath of sleeping older children

I’m tempted to reach for the cliché and suggest that my home smells like love. But unlike fabric-softener, love really is unscented. Love is a different kind of family essence. It does resemble House Odor in the sense that we have our own unique kind of family love that differs from every other family. And like House Odor it’s made up of the million little things – past and present – that we do and are. And like House Odor it saturates our shared spaces and clings to us. It clings to each of us so pervasively that we get used to it and take it for granted, and when we come home, we feel it in such a comfortably familiar way that it goes remarkably undetected.


Kimberly said...

You phrased that so beautifully. After scrutinizing the picture, I certainly didn't except the post to end with such a lovely, warm fuzzy feeling.

Neil's really going to be puzzled by me tonight, sniffing around the house like a mad woman.

Then again, sadly, he might be used to such things by now. =P

An Ordinary Mom said...

You should consider switching careers. I am sure marketing gurus would pay you big bucks to come up with clever and witty jingles for their products. I can already see you driving up the sales of static free cling dryer sheets by comparing them to a house full of love!

Seriously, though, I loved your post ... no pun originally intended. Thanks for reminding me that we are all loved, even if we might not always sense (smell) it because it has become so familiar!

Heth said...

I'm just glad that chopped up fish wasn't on the list.

Love this post.

Trina said...

I have really enjoyed reading through some of your posts. This latest one freaks me out a tad. I know its true...but HOW CAN WE FIND OUT WHAT WE SMELL LIKE THAT? Okay Im calming down

I will be back to read more, I really like ya, you're right up my alley...hehehe

eve said...

Bravo! I'm clapping right now. This post has forced me to face one of my worst fears, that my house may indeed be "a smelly house" Not only do I have diapers on the window sills, but in every trash recepticle in the house. But charma, you know, I was one of those unruly youths who used to say "Your house smells."

tami and todd said...

HA! I busted up laughing at your Hoover comment & quickly shared it with my hubby since we have been dealing with our own Hoover problems & Fantastic Five ( has also been dealing with Hoover fun & now has a nice mele (sp?). Very creative blog as always & I always wonder what my house smells like since after moving out of my parents house & returning one day I was proud to realize that their house was feeled with the overwhelming scent of fabric softener... good thing to smell. Like although, half way through the post I had to go back to check the title since my dislexia kicked in & I thought it said "a romantic post" HA!

compulsive writer said...

"the bacon I cooked in my kitchen 2 years ago"

And that's the trouble with bacon!

scribbit said...

The only time I ever notice how our house smells is when we've been gone for a couple days, like up to the cabin, and then come home. I notice it then.

When we were first married we lived upstairs from a Korean couple who delighted in the wonders of Kim Chi. I often wondered if they thought their house had any particular distinctive odor.

Sheela said...

liked this post - left me warm and fuzzy, nodding and chuckling about the hoover... and makes me wonder about my house odor: considering that i can actually smell something different right when i enter the garage, i am assuming it is smell of wonderful foods and not their remnants.

Doggy Mama said...

Whenever my in-laws watch my dogs for a couple of days, they come home smelling like their house!

I do wonder what our house smells like... I remember what it smelled like when we were looking at it to buy (that smell was: clean), but now I have no idea!

edj said...

It's so true--all houses have a particular smell. I have no idea what ours is like, except that dust is a main component.
The fish eye made me laugh. Ever eaten one? Donn used to eat them even when he didn't have to, under the theory that he'd get used to it, but I avoided them under my philosophy of "lowest possible lifetime total". I won when he found out people aren't offended if you don't eat them!

Kathryn said...

House odor is something I'm a tiny bit afraid to examine. Well, I'd be willing to examine yours for a small fee but I'm a tad squeemish about delving into the wonderful world of my home's scent.

I'm personally impressed that you keep the used diapers in a row.

Thoroughly Mormon Millie said...

Someone needs to come over and figure out what the smell is in my daughters' room. Pyew.

Loved your post, and your list, and the scent of sweet milky baby breath. Mmmmm.

The Lazy Organizer said...

And my husband just cooked with fish sauce tonight! I can eat it but when I think about it I visualize something like that painting, only wetter. I think I saw one too many floating fish eyeballs during my Alaskan youth.

Whenever someone else holds my baby I have to bring her home and scrub her down so she smells like sweet lavender Johnson's again.