The Scent of Memory

Four seasons of scents that help me remember and reenter my past

Aabye-Gayle F.


A white pot on the stove with steam coming out of it.
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Winters smelled of lemongrass and Vicks VapoRub. Mom boiled lemongrass to make tea. It was her favorite cold and flu remedy. When we kids were sick, Vick VapoRub was spread across our chests and behind our ears — a bit under the nose if we were feeling brave. There was also a Vicks steam vaporizer employed at night to help us breathe more easily as we dreamed.

Summers smelled of Caribbean spices and salt water. I spent a month of most of my childhood summers with my paternal grandparents in Grenada. Everything my grandmother cooked was delicious — except the Vienna sausages mixed with ketchup and onions. Mornings I’d rise to the smell of coco tea or Ovaltine. Despite the Caribbean climate, breakfast always included a piping hot beverage.

Lunch and dinner would include savory meats — usually a curry or stew. Sometime fried fish. Always rice and peas and avocado. If I was lucky, lunch was a picnic on the beach, and the savory meal was enhanced by the salted sea air.

Autumn smelled of leather and paper. New shoes for school if I’d outgrown last year’s. Pens, pencils, notebook, and erasers. A growing chill in the air and a sense of newness I never felt as strongly in January.

Spring smelled of wet dogs after their walk. Damp clothes hanging up to dry before going in the hamper. And since my siblings and I were born in April, spring also smelled of the candles that burned for all our birthdays.

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