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Thursday, 17 February 2011


By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

Shasta Shampoo

In my first memoir, I wrote a poem about odors and how strongly they evoke for me memories of parents now long gone and of major loves. Actually, I posited that I chose men who were cleanly odorless, thinking that I’d have no pain of remembering them when they were gone.

That was total poetic license, because I never expected that anyone would leave me — till after they did: one by divorce; one by death. I also commented in that poem that it wasn’t true – that I could still be brought to my knees by the remembered “no-smell” of clean.

My first broken heart came in college from my second boyfriend. I still remember the unusual smell, and taste, of his kisses – not bad, but distinctive.

That same year, there was a shampoo on the market whose scent I also adored –Shasta. For some reason, the brand was shortly discontinued but almost 60 years later, I can conjure up its lovely fresh aroma.

The miraculous thing about those long-lingering sensual memories are that neither Chuck nor Shasta lasted long: Chuck only two weeks; Shasta a year, tops.

From my childhood, I remember the sharp acrid smell of the miner’s carbide headlamp that my father always wore to the barn when feeding and milking the cows on winter nights. I hated the stink of it, nor was I enamored of the cow dung smell that clung to his shoes, but I adored him, so the memory of those scents brings warm loving feelings.

carbide lamp

As a young wife, I kept my wedding gift, copper-bottom, Revere Ware pans bright and shiny with a metal polish that reminded me faintly of the carbide. A few years later my husband gave me the gift of an oriental brass gong coffee table, thus guaranteeing that I’d be sniffing brass polish for the rest of my days.

As a new mother, I nuzzled my babies’ sweaty little necks, delighting in their sweet sour aroma. I learned to identify the unique smell of strep throats and later learned to tolerate the oily-hair odor of hormonal teenagers.

I never understood why anyone would wear musk. Since some find it sexy, I’m assuming they find it pleasing. It always reminds me of mothballs and causes my breath to catch in my throat at the slightest whiff. Not being able to breathe does not put me in a sexy mood.

After my marriage ended, the first healing relationship I had was with a kind and generous man who, unfortunately, had a problem with body odor. It took me a while to become aware of it because our romance began in the summer at a house with a private swimming pool.

When fall and winter came and we were no longer cavorting in the pool, his body odor began to bother me too much and after a few Cape Cod days in an enclosed, air-conditioned, luxury, recreation vehicle, and with the looming specter of spending a week captive aboard the Mississippi Queen with him, I couldn’t stand it any more and ended the relationship.

My over-sensitive nose has continued to create problems for me: I seem to be bothered more than my housemates by bus fumes, meandering skunks, and trash burning in a neighbor’s backyard incinerator that masquerades as a barbecue grill.

After said neighbors were given a citation by the police for setting their tree — and almost the whole neighborhood — on fire with the grill, the worst of the smells abated. Often, I get an adrenaline rush when I think I smell smoke.

Late on a recent night, I began to detect an odor that I couldn’t identify. It got stronger as the evening progressed. It was a night when my window fans were going full-force. About midnight, it finally dawned on me: my next-door neighbor’s AC was on and exhausting the smell of soul food directly into my fan’s inflow of air.

You need to know that my favorite restaurant is called Soul Dog, BUT although much of my neighbor’s cooking smells tantalizing, making me wish they’d invite me over, let me tell you — black-eyed peas cooking at midnight does not a pretty smell make.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I'm still using a certain brand of hand lotion because I received a tiny bottle of it as a gift when I was seven years old. I loved the scent then and fifty-three years later, it still makes me happy. Lucky for me it's much cheaper than any new brand.

Odors I remember; the lingering scent of my mother's perfume and then the horrid stench of cat spray, but the smells I remember most are those of my babies; both sweet and sour but they were wonderful. Loved your story.

Scents can really stir up memories. I loved two colognes, Straw Hat and another whose name I can't remember. They are no longer on the market, but if I should smell one of them it would bring back wonderful memories of youth.

Lynn, with your sharp sense of smell and delightful writing talent you shudda been a journalist --- sure to win the Pulitzer.

I just ordered 3 bottle of Jergens liquid hand soap from an online pharmacy because I can't find it in a local store. I wanted Jergens specifically because of the almond/cherry scent that I remember so well from my mother's (and later my) Jergens hand lotion. The soap also happens to be very gentle and moisturizing, more so than any of the modern varieties.

Lyn - Nice memories!

My more memorable smells include: the wind drifting off the sea and sand, damp fallen leaves in dense woods, pine forests, and smoke from my grandfather's incessantly lit (oh how times have changed) cigars.

But, I can't relate to hand lotions, the baby's skin, or even colognes! - Sandy

When I was about 14 I discovered Avon's Skin So Soft which seemed to me to smell like the fox grapes on a fence row on our farm. I'm in my 70s but I still think it's a delicious smell and I'm glad the stuff is still available.

And it keeps the mosquitoes away, June. Thanks everybody. My mother used Jergen's, too.

Johnson's baby lotion is my all time favorite smell. It reminds me of my own babies.

Does anyone remember that new aroma of the ocean as I did, always pure and mysterious?

And when selecting a nursing home, use your nose as more places are turned down with smelly halls and rooms than for any other reason.

Wonderful essay..Shasta shampoo, holy-moly! It made me remember the smell of my Mother's pocketbooks, now called purses/handbags. She was a smoker as were parents of my time (l94l)and I never started smoking for some reason, but when I am with women who smoke I always get a little whiff of that aroma when they take out their smokes. Loved your commentary on smells...Great writing...Mary

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