Monday, August 10, 2009


Last week I was at the dentist. Far from my favorite place to hang out. I was waiting to get a cavity filled. Waiting to get a tooth drilled and filled could almost be worse than the actual process. I got there a little early and I found myself without a book. I hate being in waiting areas without my book. I didn’t even have my notebook so it was difficult to write anything. I’d have to scrounge paper then tape it into my writer’s notebook.

I checked out the reading material in the dentist’s office. They had “O” magazine. I’ve never been a big fan. Nothing against Oprah. I like her choice of books, but the magazine didn’t thrill me. I am probably one of only a few people in the US my age never to see her show. Lots of people like it. Now it’s sort of a personal record for me.

There was AARP magazine trying to convince me that 65 is the new 40. Hmmm. At 52 I’d like to extrapolate that out and think of 52 as the new 27. Doesn’t work.

My dentist’s office is in a pretty nice area so they had Money magazine. Lots of expensive stuff in the ads and lots of articles about how to invest your money. Wish I had a little more to invest.

Car and Driver would have definitely appealed to my son Devin. If he had been sitting there it would have been the only thing for him to read. Not me. I’m more than happy with my 11-year-old Toyota. Best car I’ve ever had.

Family Circle looked a little appealing. They have good recipes. Not what I had in mind.

My dentist must be a hunter/fisherman because they had a few recent issues of American Hunter. There was a picture on the cover of a big old buck with a big old hole in his neck and a big old man holding this deer up by the antlers with a big old grin on his face (the man, not the deer). I’m not squeamish - but not for me.

There was a pile of a regional women’s magazine called Skirt. At the risk of looking effeminate (there were no other people in the waiting area but the receptionist could see me if she wanted to) I picked it up and began to leaf through. It was mostly ads. Clothes, fine dining, manicure/pedicure information, where to get facials, that kind of thing. There was this one full-page ad on skin tightening. Truly. $500 Lower Face (Regularly $600). $500 Neck (Regularly $600). There was even a $50 rebate on all botox treatments. Good deals I guess.

At the very end of the magazine there was a little piece that I really enjoyed reading. The author wrote a tender little story about the smell of her dad from when she was a little girl, before her parents got divorced. It was a leathery, soapy, pipe aroma sort of smell. Her dad had a special after shave lotion he used that she couldn’t identify but that she still smelled every once in a while when she was in a large crowd.

It started me thinking of my dad’s smell. Most of the time I remember him working was in an office. He worked as a technical service rep for a big steel company and spent a lot of time at the office. His smell was coffee, and dry cleaning (he always wore a suit), cigarettes (he smoked off and on but a lot of his cronies were smokers), after shave, restaurants and dinner mints. When I was young he often had a handful of dinner mints in his pockets to hand out when he got home. Sometimes I’ll get a whiff of him when I don’t expect it. It makes me a smile in a small, private way.

I got to thinking about other smells that make me feel good. I’m sure everyone has his or her own. I’m not sure what it says about a person – their list of favorite smells. Here are some of mine. They aren’t in any particular order. These were originally written on the torn out last page of Skirt, which was the only paper handy.

* Fresh cut grass. What a harbinger of spring. It reminds me that summer is around the corner.

* Babies. Anything having to do with babies. From poop to powder, from the smell of their heads to the milky smell of their breath. It reminds me of my own two little ones from so long ago and of my little brother Dan (soon to be 47). I am five years older so I remember his baby smell.

* The hot sweaty smell of 2nd and 3rd graders after a hard recess. Okay, some of these are weird, but they’re my smells. My students all remember me saying, “Hey! It smells like a bunch of little kids in here!” To which they always reply, “That’s because we ARE little kids!” To which I respond, “Oh, yeah.”

* Heidi Mills’ hair in the morning.

* It’s funky if you’re not the one eating it, but the smell of chicken and rice always makes my mouth water. The way we make it has dried onion soup mix in the recipe. If I walked into someone else’s house and it smelled like that I would think pee yoo (sp?). But when it’s my kitchen, yum. It reminds me of Heidi’s beloved grandma Hulda Hansen. She gave us the recipe.

* The sweet basil in my summer garden. Oregano and cilantro too.

* Roses. Other flowers too, like this new snail flower that we grow (it smells like concord grapes) and the angel’s trumpet, of course. You can smell the angel’s trumpet thirty yards away. And gardenias. And wisteria. But roses are my favorite. Heidi used to wear a rose smelling perfume when we were kids.

* The smell of chlorine in a swimming pool. Summer.

* My dog’s feet.

* Fresh cut lemons, peaches, oranges, apples. Any fresh fruit.

* Wet paint. Some people hate it. To me it represents a job well done; effort with obvious rewards.

* The oily smell of newspaper ink when you first open it up. Sunday mornings, early back porch, coffee, quiet, mourning doves and hummingbirds.

* Pancakes.

* Pinestraw.

One of my favorite books is The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter. It is also one of my favorite books to give. I can’t tell you how many copies I have given to student teachers, new friends, old friends and family members. I think they keep it in stock at our local Books A Million just because I buy three or four copies every year to give away. I have read it many times. I always find something wonderful and refreshing about the narrator’s look at the world.

Little Tree is a young Cherokee boy during the depression who ends up living with and learning about the world from his elderly grandparents in the mountains. (Stay with me, this gets back to smells.) Here is a quote from a chapter called “The Secret Place”.

Once I spent a whole afternoon collecting some musk bugs, just a few in my pocket, for they are hard to catch. I took them to Granma, as I knew she loved sweet smells. She always put honeysuckle in her lye soap when she made it.

She was more excited about the musk bugs than I was, might near. She said she had never smelled anything so sweet and couldn’t figger out how she missed out on knowing about musk bugs.

At the supper table she told Granpa about it before I could, and how it was the brandest new thing she had ever smelled. Granpa was struck dumbfounded. I let him smell of them and he said he had lived seventy-odd years, total unaware of such a smell.

Granma said I had done right, for when you come on something that is good, first thing to do is share it with whoever you can find; that way, the good spreads out to where no telling it will go. Which is right. (p. 57)

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