I used to compare my family with characters in Edgar Allan Poe’s house of Usher who suffered from an acuteness of the senses. For Roderick Usher, “the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odors of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.”
Our acuteness of the senses, unlike theirs wasn’t “morbid” but it was – is – pronounced. Especially our sense of smell. We have noses like hound dogs.
I’m married to a man who lost his sense of smell in childhood. He had asthma and allergies and grew up at a time when the best treatment for asthmatics was to get drunk (“you might have trouble breathing, but at least you won’t mind”). He was in constant misery living in a household with cats and a father who smoked indoors. Now he claims he can smell at the high and low ends of the spectrum.
Steve and I once went bike-riding along a trail created on an old railroad line. It abutted rural back yards and passed through wooded areas. Steve had found a new allergist who’d helped his asthma enough that he could occasionally smell things. It’s commonly known that the olfactory nerve connects directly to the brain so smells can trigger memories associated with the emotions they conjure.
That day as we rode along, Steve excitedly announced things he was smelling. Some I struggled to identify, confused about what he sensed as remarkable.
“What’s that? I smell flowers?” he said. It was early spring when the only blooms we passed were scilla and crocus which aren’t aromatic.
“I think it’s the air freshener in that outhouse we just passed,” I noted.
Then he said, “I smell something that reminds me of my childhood!”
“Well, we just passed a guy shoveling manure onto his garden beds.” I feel sort of bad about having been so precise. I was accurate, though.
Just last week I put some potatoes on to boil, laid down to read and fell asleep, which atypical for me. Steve coming in the door awakened me. I was disoriented and didn’t even know what time of day it was. I smelled something burning which he didn’t smell. It was the potatoes, the water was gone.
When we first got married, he liked to spend time in candle stores where he could sense the candle smells. We bought them for a while until realizing they kicked up his allergies. Then he discovered certain colognes, one of which I like a lot. It became his trademark fragrance.
A few weeks ago he switched a fragrance I didn’t particularly care for. I told him it just didn’t fit. He said he’d felt like a change so he went on Amazon and read reviews for colognes. Because it was funny, he liked the reviewer who said this one had the smell of a “rich white man.”
I told him I prefer his trademark authentic “poor loser” scent over the pretentious one. As Coco Chanel said, “There are people who have money and people who are rich.”
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