Conversationality | Recalling Memories

I encounter something strange every time I walk up the stairs to our apartment.  On the third string of steps, a very distinct and familiar scent wafts through the air and it transports me to my grandmother’s basement.  The two smell exactly the same.

I am often overcome by scents that recall memories, but this one occurs so consistently it amazes me every time.  Regretfully when my sister came to visit, the scent of paint still lingered in our stairwell (of course the handymen had to ruin this for me), and Ethan has never been to her home in Illinois.  So I am still the only one who finds this significant.

I cannot begin to describe this smell, but I can describe what it makes me think of.  The first part that hits me is the old dining room table that sits wobbly on the cool tile floor and the old padded bar sitting dusty next to the stairs.  Another stair up and it’s the old floral couch against the back wall.  It sits next to the door that always gave me the heebie jeebies.  Up on our landing, it reminds me of the day my dad put on my grandma’s old record player and we listened to The Sound of Music album straight through.  And just as I am reaching for our door, I envision the unfinished laundry room with the damp linens my grandmother would hang from the rafters.

It’s odd being reminded of these things daily, especially when I never saw my grandmother on a regular basis.  When I was younger, we might have visited once in the summer and around Christmas if the weather allowed, but since growing up it’s been once a year at best.  Before my wedding, the last times I had seen her were August 2011, January 2010, and June 2007.  She’s the only grandma I’ve known and yet we’ve been so far apart my whole life.

Aside from the basement smell, other things that remind me of her are lamb baking molds, bowling trophies, and my Eddie Blazonczyk tee (which she gave me after my grandfather died).  In my basement back home we have some young photographs of her and there are two that resemble Amanda and me.  Sometimes when I am surprised or exasperated, an “Oh” comes out of me that sounds just like her.  It’s uncanny.

Now that we are in Alaska and time at home will be slim for the next three years, I really don’t know when I will see my grandma next.  Considering how little we’ve been present in each others’ lives, it’s amazing that reminders of her continue to pop up even here.  These photos of her from my wedding are just so beautiful, they make me wish I knew her more.

Are you often reminded of memories by the random scents you smell?  Another frequent scent that I encounter is in the back of an antique store here that smells exactly like my best friend’s childhood living room.  And the local post office smells like the hallways of my grade school.

/ photography by Kerrie and Stefan /

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10 comments

  1. I definitely can relate to this. I mostly get reminded of New York in general, where I grew up. The smells there are so different than the earthy smells in Florida.

  2. Smells can you bring you back to a certain place in a second! It is amazing. I hadn’t worn a specific perfume since right out of college and started by first job. When I put it on the otehr day it was like time travel. So weird! I could even remember how I felt at that time specifically. As for grandma’s….they are so special. I’m sorry you haven’t had much time to spend with her but I can tell your relationship is a wonderful one. I hope when you have kids you are able to spend a lot of time with you mom and your husband’s mom. I think grandkids get a sense for the future through their grandparents and I think grandparent’s get a fighting sense to stay alive because of the grandkids. A perfect relationship

    1. That’s so true. I’ve definitely been thinking about how much I want my parents in my future children’s lives. And I love looking at photos and hearing stories about my dad’s grandmother–she stowed away on a boat from Poland. Amazing how much history each of our family’s hold.

  3. This is such a beautiful post, and a wonderful way to find time with your grandmother, even if you’re far away. For me, baking brings my grandmother and I together.

    1. That is so sweet. Food is wonderful that way.

  4. The year after my grandmother died I smelled tea rose with a faint trace of mothballs everywhere. I really felt closer to her in those moments, and that night I would often dream about her. It is funny how some smells register so quickly in your brain that the emotion comes first. A smell, a smile or tears welling up, and then you figure it out. xo

    1. Wow, that’s amazing. When my dear friend passed away, I dreamt of him too often to keep track. I suppose that is how our dearly departed live on…through our memories. =) Thanks for sharing, Chelsea.

  5. Mary Ellen · · Reply

    What a lovely post for grandma!!!!! Wish you could have known my mom, she would have loved you!!!!! And you know all about MY dreams!!

    1. I’m glad you liked it. I wish I knew your mom too =(

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