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Andy and his grandfather in June 1976.
Andy and his grandfather in June 1976.

The power of scent

Allow me a minute to use this space for a blog entry that’s a little more serious and sentimental than my usual ramblings.

I had one of those moments while on bedtime duty with my 4-year-old daughter tonight. One of those moments in which a simple question led to an answer that surprised even me.

My daughter has been transfixed with heaven lately. It’s a confusing topic to understand for anyone, but especially for a little kid who is starting Sunday school and is suddenly hearing a lot about God and prayer.

I’m not sure what the official parental approach is on this one, especially because my own beliefs on the topic are still sort of murky. So, I’ve been trying to reinforce that everyone has their own belief in God (or not one at all) and that we all interpret the afterlife differently.

That seemed sufficient until tonight, when, with the lights turned low, my daughter asked me if dinosaurs go to heaven, and if they do, do they have their own separate place? I said I didn’t know, but I imagined that all people and animals go to heaven and happily coexist.

Crisis averted? Not quite.

Next, she asked me if our family members who have died before she was born know her. And if so, how?

This was getting harder. I was afraid of accidentally overloading her with information that sounded as magical as the previous topic of the night, when she asked me if Count Dracula and skeletons are real. (I said no, Dracula isn’t real, and yes, skeletons are, but they can’t get up and walk around.)

I stammered something about how I believe that our relatives are looking down over us, and even people like my grandfather, who never met her, would be proud of her. I told her that when people have a dream about their deceased loved ones, some of them think that’s their way of communicating from the other side. I told her I once smelled my grandpa’s cologne in the room with me, and I thought that might be him sending me a message. My daughter looked confused, and rightfully so.

Finally, I had an idea. I asked my daughter if she wanted to know how my grandfather smelled. I told her that he always wore the same cologne; he practically bathed in the stuff. After he died in 1991, my grandma gave me a bottle of Aramis, so I could be reminded of his scent.

My daughter said yes, so I found this 22-year-old unused bottle of Aramis. Over the years, I’ve opened it up and taken a whiff. Tonight, I unscrewed the cap for her to smell. She said she liked it.

But then I did something that I don’t remember ever doing. I splashed some of the Aramis on my wrists. People who know a thing or two about cologne will say that how a fragrance smells on paper or in the bottle is different than how it smells on your skin.

Suddenly, the scent on my arms didn’t just remind me of Harold Nemson. It was Harold Nemson. It might as well have been 1985 or 1976. I was temporarily overcome with emotion, only saved by my kid's next question, this time about Rapunzel – she had by now moved on. But I knew right away that I had to write this epiphany down.

The power of scent is such an amazing one.

Yes, I can wear the gold Rolex that my grandpa left me and think of him. Yes, I can look at photos of him holding me as a baby. But smelling that strong, distinctive cologne on my own skin made these last 22 years vanish, if only for a minute.

All this from a question about dinosaur heaven.

It didn’t need to turn into an exercise in existentialism. But I’m glad it did.

Talkbacks

EdysEventTickets | Feb. 21, 2013 at 9:44 a.m. (report)

It amazes me how a familiar scent can take us back in time.
My Dad passed away this past August, and as a little girl my weekly chores were to dust the furniture.
In my parents room my Dad had a bottle of Old Spice cologne. One day when I was dusting I dabbed some on my wrist and smelled it through out the day. My Dad worked a 3rd shift at Armour Dial so we didn't get to see him everyday.
I always remember this scent on him.

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