Monday, June 13, 2011


My mother was crazy about babies. Little ones. Ones that smelled of Johnson's baby oil on their heads and their bums -- and Johnson's baby powder on their bodies. I wouldn't call it a fetish, but she certainly made it known that there was nothing in the world as sweet smelling as a tiny baby.

Now don't laugh when I say that the picture above is one she took of me when I was just a tiny thing. It came from the baby-book she kept of me, and under it she had printed "Little Babs' cute neck. She smelled so good there." As an aside, wouldn't you think there would be a picture of my face instead of my neck?

I imagine mother kept me powdered and oiled up until I was twenty-six months old and my sister arrived on the scene to get the oiling and powdering.

Although at some point my sister and I outgrew my mother's ministrations (as I'm sure a much-later born brother also did), when we got older and went with our family to the beach mother always slathered Johnson's baby oil on our back -- ostensibly for sunburn protection but probably still because the smell of it took her memories back to our baby days.

I have always been surprised to experience what an impact a smell can have. I wonder if other people automatically conjure up old images when they smell certain things. I know a whiff of White Shoulders can bring back my college years instantly. It's almost like seeing my life at that time play out before my eyeballs! A smell of Vicks brings back those times as a child when I got a cold and mother put a mustard plaster on my chest and Vicks in my nostrils.

When I drive down toward Long Beach there is a certain point on the freeway where I can get a whiff of the ocean smell -- and there again I relive my teenage years that I spent on the beach or in the water canoeing -- or out on the piers watching people fish. The ocean was a large part of my growing up and its smell is still down in my soul somewhere. (Of interest is that it mainly needs to be the ocean near Long Beach. The ocean at San Diego does not do that to me.)

I have not smoked for many years. I quit in 1963, and even so, at that time I had only smoked for a couple of years. During the time I was single between marriages I did have a few cigarettes now and then, mostly when I was nervously out on a date, but luckily I never considered taking it up again. For the most part I absolutely hate the smell of cigarette smoke. But every once in a while that smell will bring back not only the remembered pleasures that the cigarette brought but also a panorama of my life during that period - not specific images but just of time and place and good things.

Maybe it was because my mother often told me about how good I smelled when I was a baby, as exemplified in that picture of my little fat neck and her comments about it, that makes me more conscious of the connections between memories and smells. Maybe everyone has smells that they respond to in that way. Do you?


marciamayo said...

Baby lotion (in the yellow bottle) does it for me.

Olga said...

I am all about sniffing and smelling. I have no problem whatsoever with a picture of a sweet smelling baby neck. Babies don't always smell that way, though.
While I have strong positive associations with some scents, there are also smells that instantly make me anxious.