Afternoon Inquisition

AI: The Scent of a Skeptic

I was in a department store a few months ago when I could suddenly smell my mother. She wasn’t there, and it must have been a perfume she once wore. I tried to follow the scent throughout the store, walking around and sniffing like a coke head, but then it was gone.

I could only detect vanilla in the scent. It recalled to me an otherwise unmemorable moment in the 80s when I was walking beside my mum, and I felt a moment of happiness and calm.

What is a comforting scent to you?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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  1. Mint…it reminds me of the spearmint my grandmother grew just outside of her screened in porch. She would let me pick some leaves and chew on them……

  2. Patchouli. My dad always wears patchouli oil so whenever I smell it on someone else it instantly reminds me of him.

    Also, propane, oddly enough. It also has to do with my father. He has a propane pick up truck and we used it mostly when we went on road trips as kids. So, whenever I encounter a vehicle that runs on propane, it always reminds me of childhood road trips.

  3. Burning wood, as in a fireplace. That always takes me back to my childhood, all-summer-long visits to a lovely cottage in North Ontario. Quite compelling.

    And, although it has almost completely vanished from the landscape, the smell of burning leaves in the fall always gives me a very pleasant melancholy.

  4. I have a weird one: vulcanized rubber. It’s new shoes and new cars and new toys at xmas when I was a kid. It’s summer with new inner-tubes at the pool or river or beach. I love it.

  5. The earthy smell of a forest after a rain. The smell of burning pine.

    Conversely, most synthetic fragrances, perfumes and especially the crap they put in laundry products make me want to run screaming from the room

  6. As a chemist, I love love LOVE esters. Anytime we were given free reign to make any compound we wanted in organic chemistry I went straight for Fischer esterification (refluxing a carboxylic acid with alcohol and sulfuric acid). It took forever (and I hate working with sulfuric acid) but it was always worth it. Esters do something very weird to my brain. Wikipedia has a very good list of ester odorents.

  7. I’ve recently gotten into Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs perfume oils, and one my favourites is called Lady Una – Honey musk, green tea leaf, blackberry leaf, vanilla bean, and fae spices.

  8. Lilac, there is this big lilac tree on my parents yard, love that smell.

    Coffee. There is always fresh made coffee in my parents home, so the smell off coffee brings me to my childhood home.

    A forest after rain.

  9. Burning wood, especially pine, cedar and birch
    Burning leaves – I agree with SicPreFix
    Lilac, heather
    Fresh baked goods just out of the oven, especially bread
    “I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning…”
    A fresh ocean breeze
    CanadianSkeptic is right – cats do smell great for some reason…So do dogs right out of the groomer’s shop. (A month or so later, not necessarily so much…)

  10. The strong smell of a home perm kit reminds me of summer days when we would head over to grandma’s house so mom could give her a perm. Grandpa would play with us in the yard all afternoon.
    Yeah, I know I’m odd.

  11. @QuestionAuthority:
    Fresh baked goods just out of the oven, especially bread

    Gingerbread cookies for me.

    Both my grandfathers smoked pipe tobacco, forgot about that one. In the last 10 years I have smelled that only once, but the smell brought tears to my eyes.

  12. The smell just before it is about to rain.

    It had been the longest, hottest, deadliest, unbearable summer I could remember. It was a Friday in Autumn and it smelt like it was going to rain all morning but managed to hold out until just before lunch time, when it suddenly went dark and poured down.

    As soon as the bell rang for lunch we ran outside and onto the grass oval in the rain. We jumped, we danced, we ran from the teachers. Everyone was happy. We had maths after lunch, where we stood on the balcony with our arms outstreached, listening as the younger class squealed whenever there was thunder.

    The smell before it rain reminds me of that perfect day when we were all friends and we were so happy.

  13. campfires

    I also used to work across from an industrial bakery, that smelled pretty good.

    And an ex-girlfriend lived in a neighborhood that smelled like freshly baked cookies.

  14. Fresh ground and brewed coffee first thing in the morning. And a fire of hardwood burning in the fireplace. And scotch in front of the fire in the evening. And the smell of apple pie just out of the oven with my scotch in front of the fireplace and more pie with my morning coffee.

  15. Like many others, I grew up with lilac in the backyard. But ours were tree-sized, and we loved climbing them…much to the dismay of my mother, who tried not to freak out when we climbed out on the bits that overhung the concrete driveway.

    Also, almond. And scotch, in an uncomfortably anticipatory sort of way. And coffee brewing on a morning when I have no plans for the day. And BACON! I can’t believe nobody has mentioned bacon!

  16. mmm bacon.

    The scent of marigolds has always caught my attention.. the first time I remember being conscious of it, I felt it made me think about my birth-mother; whom I have never met, and apparently did not spend more than a few moments with.

  17. *Sunscreen
    *Freshly picked apples
    *Wood burning in the stove at my parent’s house
    *Clean laundry (I wish I could find the detergent and fabric softener my friend’s mom used when we were little…it always smelled sooo good! She washed my towel once, and I tried to keep it unused for the longest time so it wouldn’t lose the “Westenbroek” smell.)

  18. Ironing.

    My mum used to iron all the time when we were kids – I think she still does, but perhaps not quite as much. Everything got ironed – socks, hankies, bedsheets, unmentionables – and the scent of clothes being ironed still takes me back to the security of my childhood home.

  19. The smell of mint makes me very happy, it reminds me of hot mint tea of Morocco, and of soaking up the sun at a cottage in France where mint grows through the grass… oh, and of course the ever yummy mojito.

    I’m also a fan of rain just hitting concrete after a hot summer’s day. Good memories.

  20. Wet, rotting leaves.
    New books.
    Apple cider mulling on the stove.

    Oh, and Emeraude. I had terrible nightmares as a kid, and my mom would spritz this perfume over my bed when I was scared to go to sleep. She called it “Good Dream Spray.”

  21. The smell of clean laundry being ironed, because it makes me think of my mother. Oil of Olay face cream for the same reason.

    Low tide smell. Yeah, it’s gross, but it’s the smell of home to me.

    I have a love/hate reaction to the smell of cigarette smoke. My mother and grandmother used to smoke, so I have warm childhood associations but then, the smell also makes me feel a little ill.

    @Some Canadian Skeptic: So true. I’m a cat huffer, too. Of course, my childhood kitties liked to sleep on clean laundry so they always smelled extra good.

    @ChaoSkeptic: I have their Bonfire scent in perfume spray form. When I’m really stressed I like to put a little on my wrist so I can smell it and think of happy memories to help calm down.

  22. Estee Lauder Youth Dew… my gran has been wearing it for nearly 40 years, long before I was born and the scent hasn’t changed. Every cardingan and jumper she knitted me smelt of it and her home, her car, if she’d been in a room you’d smell it for days after.

    Also I love the smell of petrol….sometimes put a little on my hand on purpose after filling the car up just to smell it…..awful..I know, but there it is.

  23. Wood burning; reminds me of grandparent’s and cabins.

    The smell of my car, specifically, my 1972 VW. New cars have a specific smell, so do vintage cars. It’s probably what the seats are stuffed with, but it has a distinct smell that I’ve come to love.

    I love the smell of onions.

    And finally (and this is awful) I love the smell of aviation gasoline. It has a distinct odor. I love flying so much, and a whiff of that from my flight bag is better than any drug (I imagine).

  24. I am very sensitive to smells; the girls were passing around some BPAL samples at work and I had to step outside; I almost fed my forearm to the girl who tried to stick one right up my nose.

    That said, however, I love the smell of baking bread.

  25. Waffles.

    My mom would make them about 3 or 4 times a year, especially in the winter, and I’d wake up to that smell. Oh man, I want some waffles, right now!

    There was a certain smell in my dad’s dental office that I cannot name. Perhaps, the chemicals used in devloping the x-rays. I rarely smell it today, but when I do it reminds me of Sunday’s when I was young and my dad would take me and my sister to the office and check our teeth. Yeah, I’m wierd.

  26. Hi there!

    Oddly enough, clove cigarettes.

    Cloves smell like a group of gothy freaks and misfits hanging outside a crowded nightclub on a crisp autumn night laughing at the normal respectable people who pass by on the other side of the street, looking the other way . In other words, they smell like MY people. :)

    Pity that they BANNED the damn things a week ago. >:(

  27. @Draconius:

    Dude, I totally second that.. Clove cig smell makes me feel comfortable for the same reason… all my “misfit” friends would smoke theses, though I did not, across from school or outside during play rehearsals.

  28. I second many already stated – burning wood, oil of olay, patchouli, wet sidewalks – but here’s one I don’t think anyone has mentioned: horse manure. And Murphy’s oil soap. And leather. All three have to do with my childhood of horse obsession and general stable rattery.

  29. Roasting chicken or turkey. I know it sounds odd, even odder that I am now a vegetarian but the smell of poultry roasting instantly reminds me of Thanksgiving or Christmas morning when I was a little kid. I would wake up before dawn all feverish over the thought of opening presents or gorging on Turkey. There would be a cold snap in the air and I would run into the warmth and comfort of the kitchen and my mother cooking. I can’t walk through a grocery store that is roasting chicken without getting all misty eyed at the memory and slightly nauseas from the smell of dead cooked bird. Sigh – life is full of contradictions.

  30. Tuberose.

    My mom grew up in Hawaii, and we still have family there, so I’ve had the good fortune to visit a number of times. And the scent that always brings back good memories of visiting Hawaii is the smell of the tuberose flowers that are typically woven into leis.

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