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Friday, 08 February 2008


By Rabon Saip of Elder Times

I was recently walking down the sidewalk in Petaluma, California, totally wrapped up in my own thoughts and with my autopilot fully engaged. I had no conscious connection with my surroundings. Then there was this faint odor.

Suddenly, without warning, I was five years old again, standing in an aisle of F.W. Woolworth’s, in Macon, Georgia. It was 1940. I was fascinated by the money tubes that occasionally flew across the ceiling, up or down the wires between clerks on the main floor and the cashier’s cage high above. I was barefoot, but in calloused comfort on the narrow wooden floorboards, which were intriguingly decorated with grain pattern landscapes and worn to a dull satin finish.

The air was thick with the odor that had brought me there – that popcorn, powder puff, chewing gum, marshmallow, comic book odor with an undercurrent of gunnysack dust, and the faint occupied musk of sweating bodies tinged with an intoxicating whiff of vanilla and peppermint fading to chocolate. I was totally there, transported in time and space on the wings of an alchemy that only noses can know.

Then, suddenly, I unexpectedly stepped off the curb in Petaluma. The jolt woke me up. I got a few worried glances from other pedestrians as I went back and forth on the sidewalk, sniffing the air and trying to find that odor again. I became completely obsessed with finding the source of something I hadn’t smelled in over sixty years – that exhilarating, downtown, five-and-dime smell of my childhood dreaming.

I went from store to store, still sniffing the air. I even told a few people about my experience. The brief moment that had just passed was not enough. I wanted to go back, to that wonderful innocent time, to see the world purely as possibility again.

The clerk in the drug store was alarmed when I asked if I could come behind the counter and sniff around. As I started to tell her my story, I got another faint whiff, from somewhere outside. I hurried back to the sidewalk.

I have been on the trail of that odor ever since, even in my sleep. And I have this certain feeling I’ll find it again. Someday.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Not too long ago I got a whiff of Jergens Hand Lotion and immediately transported to the womens locker room at Ridglea Country Club at 14 years of age. It is so amazing what smell can do! Yes, let's stay on the trailof who we were and are. Thanks for another good story.

I sometimes get that old Woolworth's Five and Dime deja vu when I smell chili and popcorn together (doesn't happen often...LOL) They had the best egg salad sandwiches at their lunch counter!

Oh, that's a good one, Sharry. A couple of years ago, I ran across Jergen's Lotion for the first time since I was a kid and was slammed back to my childhood. My mother always used it.

Oh,yes,indeed. I remember wafting into Woolies and drifting through the aisles paying attention to nothing but the aroma of hot dogs and fried onions.

Heading over to the lunch counter and counting my money I couldn't wait for the first bite of that charred hot dog. Like Pavlov's pup, I would salivate at the thought. But, WAIT! It was Friday.....

No meat on Friday.. Church rule. Not to be disobeyed no matter how hungry you were. There was always the egg salad that Judy mentioned, but it wasn't the same. Egg salad only tasted good when it wasn't Friday and the hot dogs only tasted good ON Friday.

I often wonder how many people never made it past St Peter's Gate because they succumbed to the temptation of having a hot dog at Woolie's on a Friday...

I could almost smell it, too, from your description! I love the way aromas evoke different places and times. I can imagine the way my grandma's basement smelled and I'm also 5 years old. Good story!

I was jolted back to WT Grants, and the old floors, the elevators and the smell of wood. This story was fascinating.. Tell us more.

Dorothy from grammology
remember to call gram

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