QotD: Scents & Sensibilities

What's the strongest association you have between a scent and a memory?

My father was a pipe smoker.  The photo of him which you can sort of see in this double portrait I took today was taken I believe right around the time my parents were married, six years before I was born, but he looked pretty much exactly like that for the whole time I knew him.

He always wore long pants (even to play tennis) and usually a tie and jacket, he often wore a hat, and he always, always had his pipe in his mouth, or near at hand.

When I was 12 and we were moving, my mother tried to throw out all of my father's old pipes, but I wouldn't let her.  They're still around somewhere, probably in my mom's basement.  I've never done anything with them, because of course they smell terrible–like old, stale smoked tobacco.  They belonged to my father, but they aren't him at all. 

I've never been a smoker, and I generally try to avoid really smoky places unless there's some compelling reason, like good music, to enter them.  But if I smell even the faintest whiff of pipe smoke, I'll follow it.  I'll follow until I find the source, and of course it's never my father, either, even though it smells like him.  But I keep following, perhaps as a result of reading Nabakov–"the following of such thematic designs through one's life should be, I think, the true purpose of autobiography"–and perhaps just out of hope.

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2 thoughts on “QotD: Scents & Sensibilities”

  1. I like the Nabokov quote; from Speak, Memory? I have tried to read that several times with no success, even though I love the other Nabokov I have read.

    The quote reminds me of the passage from The Unbearable Lightness of Being about the bowler hat.

  2. That's a lovely passage–and a reminder that I ought to read more Kundera.

    Speak, Memory is an odd and somewhat uneven book, but parts of it, such as the bit about the matches (the line I quoted is at the tail end of it) are unutterably good. I have never read any of Nabokov's other work–my father actually seriously suggested naming my half-sister (who was born in the late 1950s) Lolita. It was, as I understand, part of a larger argument with his first wife, but it's made Nabokov particularly difficult for me. I shouldn't blame him, of course, but it may be human nature to make these not-totally-rational leaps.

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