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
Lysol cleaning wipes
pee (yes we have 3 boys)
air freshener in the bathroom to cloak the pee smell
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.