Sunday, January 23, 2011

The scent of memory

During a recent visit to Fairhope, AL, husband Walter’s “odorometer” was operating at the extreme-sensitive setting. Fairhope is one of our favorite day-trip spots. We enjoy casually meandering the 70 or so miles over to this picturesque, squeaky clean, artsy and environmentally conscious hamlet. Downtown Fairhope sparks enthusiasm in both visitors and residents.

Narcissus, early bloomers also known as “paperwhites”
We arrived to find the downtown streets dressed, elegantly as usual, in an abundance of flowers and foliage appropriate for the season. This January, narcissus, also known as paperwhites, bloomed forth tall and proud surrounded by an understory of other plantings.

Greer’s in Fairhope, one in a chain of small Southern supermarkets,is just a few years short of its 100-year anniversary according to its sign.

We dropped by Greer’s Fairhope Market for some picnic supplies. After a lunch of fresh-baked bread, cheese and fruit in the town’s beachfront park, we drove back downtown. Walter went his way; I hit a favorite consignment clothing store. We usually visit Fairhope two or three times a year, and so far, our first visit of the new year had followed our usual pattern.

That changed when we got back together. “Do you smell that?” he asked. “It’s sort of a sewer smell.”

Eyuuuu! But, no, I didn’t smell anything. Unless tobacco smoke or someone’s over-enthusiastic application of perfume is involved, Walter usually doesn’t either. Odors rarely raise a comment—negative or positive--from my husband.

As we strolled around, browsing through various other shops, Walter would periodically get another whiff and would check to see if I could identify the elusive scent. It wasn’t until we were on the road to our next mini-vacation stop that I realized what he was experiencing – the narcissus blooms that were at every corner and in containers along the sidewalks.

The scent of the particular narcissus cultivar that was the star of the town’s plantings was barely noticeable to me and not offensive. Evidently hubby’s odor-registering brain cells were interpreting it differently. It was a weird, but to me, intriguing variation on our usual Fairhope trip.

Writing those words, though, evidently just now jump-started some synapses in my brain and triggered a narcissus memory.

Many years ago, as in more than half a century ago, my Aunt Edna’s backyard was filled with narcissus, a sea of white that was amazing, mysterious and beautiful to my three-year-old eyes. Actually, a lot seemed mysterious to me back then because, unknown to me or my parents, I was extremely nearsighted. But . . . as I remember now, the scent did not match the white blossoms' ethereal beauty. I positively did NOT like the way they smelled.


  1. I hope i don't run into them, i have a odorometer (thanks for the word) that is off the charts. I have a super enhanced sniffer, that has caused my hubby to say in another life I must have been a dog. the perfume you mentioned actually causes me pain. i have been known to move in chruch, move from one table to another in a resturant (after i told the waitress i could not breathe at the first table). it is a terrible thing to have a doggy nose, so thanks for the warning. but it is pretty

  2. So they smell bad?? I have never smelled one, now I would like to find one and sniff!! Even though I am the one with the sinus problems, it is Phil who hardly ever smells a thing. I can be overpowered by a noxious oder, and he won't smell a THING! Only thing he seems to smell is skunks. I smell every little thing. So strange that such a pretty flower would smell bad, there must be a reason in nature, maybe to keep certain predators away...perhaps I'll Google and try to find out, very intreguing!

  3. Sandra and Ginny--I think there must different varieties of narcissus. I have some research to do. I have some in my yard, actually they haven't bloomed yet. But in years past I haven't noticed their smelling bad. But I haven't agressively sniffed either. Will do this year!! Have a great week you two.

  4. Even daffodils smell a bit odd sometimes. The oddest thing happens to me when I am watching a TV programme, I suddenly imagine I can smell whatever is happening eg a blacksmith's fire. Doesn't happen with cookery progs though!

  5. I'm with you. Narcissi are not the most fragrant of the spring flowers, but I love the minidaffodills with squill. The latter don't smell so bad.