When A Scent Takes You Back Through The Years

Posted on 14th September, 2018

I finished a bottle of bath oil this week. It's a bottle I have been hoarding and ekeing out for just short of 20 years. Why hang onto it for so long? Well, it was part of the last birthday present I received from my late husband. He didn't buy it himself - he was too ill by then. Instead he despatched the lady next door to find a suitable gift and birthday card. She bought one of everything in a range of smellies called Kuyusu that was being sold by Boots. Kuyusu has long since vanished from the shelves, making my little collection even more precious.


This is all I have left now from that birthday gift. The blue colour has faded over the years but the distinctive fragrance is still intact - an instantly recognisable aroma that immediately transports me back through the years.


Have you noticed how certain smells can do that? They evoke a place, a person, a particular incident, a certain time in your life, as nothing else can. 'Evoke' seems a weak word to use - as if what is conjoured up is a faint replica of the real thing. What these smells do is hurl you back in time in a flash of memory so intense it rocks you to your core.


Another smell that means a lot to me is that of homemade mincemeat being prepared in the oven. Ever made your own mincemeat? It takes ages to assemble everything in the bowl; then you leave it to rest in its own juices for 24 hours; then it goes in the oven on a low heat... and the smell starts to fill the house.


When I was little, my Gran lived with us and she made mincemeat every year, ready for Christmas. When the mincemeat went in the oven and the house started to smell of oranges and lemons, that was the first sign that Christmas was on the way.


The first time I made my own mincemeat, I had forgotten about Gran's. Then I put mine in the oven and went off to do something else... and the pungent smell of oranges and lemons began to filter through the house.



At once I was plunged into the past, into childhood and the house I grew up in and Christmas and Gran and Ginger, her old cat, who had his basket beside the fire in the living room.


Are there any smells that throw you into the past?




Make A Comment

Characters left: 2000

Comments (7)

Jen, how lovely to hear from you. I love the thought of the distinctive aroma of your grandmother's peppermint sweets. In the novel I am currently writing, the heroine works in a sweet shop and, as well as the pleasure of finding out about the sweets that were available in the 1920s, I have been finding ways to describe the various smells in the sweet shop.
Thanks, Cass, for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts. I know just what you mean about those old-fashioned wooden desks. I too sat in them throughout my years at grammar school. Wood and ink - such distinctive smells!
That's so beautifully poignant, Susanna, about the birthday gift and the memories it evoked. <3 You express it so eloquently.

I loved reading about your memories of your Gran making mincemeat. It's not something I've ever tried to do - I'm not really a baker as I don't eat carbs - but I do love the smell of mincemeat. Can't wait for Christmas!

I happened to visit a second hand shop not so long ago, and they had some old school desks - you know the sort? Wooden, two fixed together, with lift up lids and ink wells? Just like we had at my grammar school. I opened the lid of one, and the smell of the wood, old ink and goodness only knows what (probably best not to know!) threw me back instantly to school days!
Such a touching post, Susanna.

Smell is so powerful and the focus of many of my most poignant memories, both good and bad.

The scent of peppermints always takes me back to my childhood and the dear grandma who kept peppermint candy in her handbag to dole out to me at church and concerts.

A whiff of clean washing, frozen dry on the line on a cold winter's day, reminds me of playing beside my mum while she ironed and the sense of comfort and closeness I felt at those times.

What a lovely poignant post, Sue. For me it is my mothers Oil of Ulay (as it was then) and her Je Reviens perfume. And the Imperial Leather body lotion that takes me straight back to backpacking around the world in my 20s xx
Thanks also to Jane at The Place to Write, who replied via Twitter, remembering the lavender on her grandmother's mantelpiece as well as the scent of powder and lipstick in Mum's room.
Many thanks to those of you who have replied to this via Twitter:
Jane Cable, who recalls the scent of her grandmother's face powder;
Joy Johnson, who remembers the pungent smell of muscle ointment after strenuous sessions in boot camp;
Nigel Smith and AJ MacKenzie, who both recall Old Spice aftershave.