My previous job was based inside a huge manufacturing facility, a place so large it had its own zip code. And as I made the long trek to the cafeteria every day, for another round of mediocre-at-best void fillers, I passed through an area of the plant that smelled EXACTLY like the Dunbar Bowling Alley. I don’t know what was going on there, what kind of toxic cocktail they were brewing up, but I always loved the smell. And I’d breathe in several big lungfuls, totally aware that I might be flipping the cancer switch to on.
I spent hundreds of hours at the Dunbar Bowling Alley as a kid. During the last week of school every year they’d give us a card that entitled us to bowl one free game per weekday in the summer, and my friends and I used the shit outta that thing. We’d walk there around 11 am, bowl our free game, and mess around in the room with the video games and pinball machines. The workers absolutely hated us, with good reason. We were smartass little bastards, generally up to no good.
We used to open the door that led to a junky storage area, roll a bowling ball in there with force, and close the door. Sometimes we’d just hear a KLUNK! and be disappointed. But other times glass would shatter and heavy things would fall over, spectacularly. We considered this to be great fun. An old guy we called Steamboat would always come running back there with a cig dancing on his lips and chew us out for five minutes, which was the cherry on top of the whole deal. I’m not sure why we were never banned outright. We certainly should’ve been.
Another time my friend Mike was having a verbal altercation with a kid we didn’t know. This was out in the main bowling alley itself. The stranger was mouthing off, and Mike was giving it back to him. Finally, Mike removed the big Blow Pop from his mouth, and threw it at the kid. Have you ever tried to throw a Blow Pop? It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, because of the weight distribution. But somehow this thing went straight into the kid’s shaggy 1970s hair, and embedded itself deep. As we were leaving, he was trying to pull it out by the stick, and had a panicked look on his face. I don’t think I stopped laughing until well past Bowen’s Pharmacy. Man, that was pure greatness.
So, whenever I’d pass through that area of the plant, and get a whiff of those good ol’ days, I’d happily breathe it on in. I’m not sure what created the original smell, but I think a lot of it was the oil they put on the bowling lanes. That, and cigarettes, beer, hotdogs, rental shoe spray, and probably ass. Who knows? But I liked it, and if I smelled it again today I’d feel happy in my soul.
Do you have any specific smells that transport you back to childhood? Fresh cut grass does it, too. But I’m sure that’s pretty common. There was also some kind of powder that my grandmother used that I occasionally smell in department stores, or whatever. I’m not sure if it’s the exact same kind, but it’s close enough to trigger a transport.
If you have anything to share on this one, please do so. Also, on a related note, what smells do you wish they’d capture and bottle in a cologne or perfume? I don’t use cologne, but might start if they ever came out with one based on the essence of a just-opened pack of baseball cards. Ya know? Maybe just call it Topps? I’d go for it, I think.
I’m calling it a day here, my friends. It’s all up to you guys now. Have at it in the comments. Then go buy a bunch of expensive stuff from Amazon, after using one of our links. Or cheap stuff, I don’t care.
I’ll be back soon. Have yourselves a great day!
Support us by doing your shopping at Amazon! In Canada? Here’s your link. Thank you guys!
Every time I smell a cigar, I think of my grandpa, who used to smoke Roi Tans, and hanging out with him.
Cigarette smoke on clothes mixed with Right Guard deodorant. Shoots me back to my first early teenage love. You don’t catch that combo too much any more, but when I do, BAM.
From later in life, the smell of the aisle where they sell the disposable diapers and baby power, etc. My baby days are behind me, but that smell makes the last of my remaining female hormones kick me in the gonads.
Sometimes the air just as the sun sets on the rare occasions when I drive with the windows down and my hair blowing, but that’s probably a common one as well.
The most familiar smell from my childhood was the wonderful Cajun food being cooked in my Grandmother’s kitchen. Nothing else even comes close. In fact, when I think about it, that’s about the only smell I really remember well from my childhood. I do remember the smell of clean sheets off the clothes line; no electric dryer for us. Mom hung the sheets in the sunshine and they smelled so fresh and clean. The downside of this was the towels that felt like a loofa when you dried off after a bath. Sunshine does not fluff fabrics!
So first some science about this phenomenon: the place in your brain where the signals from your smell receptors land is right next to your long term memory block. It’s hypothesized that there is crosstalk between the neurons and that’s the nostalgia generator.
FYI this is also why aroma therapy often works well for treating depression. You need to find the right aromas though.
For me, it is burning leaves. Growing up I walked home from elementary school, in an era when there was no homework. So at 3:15 pm, the rest of the day was always right in front of me with nothing to do but play and get up to shit. There were always neighbors burning leaves on the curbside, which was still legal then. I always associate the burning leaves smell with happiness and freedom.
A quick note: My current job is in northwest Ohio but my family is still in NC due to the wife’s well-paying job that we can’t give up. I make the 9 hour drive about twice a month, and what town would you guess is almost exactly halfway, where I often stop for gas? None other than Dunbar, WV, a place I know way too much about because of Jeff and the Surf Report. I think you can almost see his old house from I-64.
And as my uncle the biochemist used to say: “Nostalgia, it ain’t what it used to be…”
That sounds like a Yogi Berra-ism.
Cigars, definitely. My grandpa would woof 4-6 per day. These were “Factory Seconds” sold in a big plastic bag from ths local Osco drug store. He would puff them down to the nubs and either toothpick it or cool it off and chew it. Geez Louise!
There was the smell of the mom& pop store by school…sort of musty plus bubble gum plus cigarette smoke. Throw in the slapping sound of a wood screen door and I would expect to see Topps baseball cards 2 for a penny. I always got third stringers from the Kansas City Athletics, Chicago White Sox or the Cleveland Indians. Regardless, all were archived in my Roi-Tan cigar box (The cigar that breathes…sheesh!).
Excellent post and comments…THX
Celestial Seasonings tea. My mom used to drink a cup of that tea every night during the fall and winter. I had a cup of it at a hotel a couple years ago. When I opened the tea the memories all came back. Definitely made me miss my mom.
The smell of the NYC subway, which was always “subway smell” to me. And I only realized recently that the smell of the DC Metro is different. It may be city-specific.
Also the smell of the interiors of my friends’ houses in Brooklyn: plaster walls saturated with the smell of garlic, from thousands of meals cooked by Sicilian grandmothers.
I can’t think of a childhood smell, but I still think about one of the all time best scents of my adult life.
I was a sales rep many years ago and one of my customers was a local, semi famous soda manufacturer called Faygo. It’s a local favorite and they make several dozen flavors, I think.
I’d visit their plant from time to time and the front office was accessed by passing through the plant. When you walked in there was a sweet, spicy, warm smell (now that I think of it did remind me of childhood in general) that was like pouring smiles on my brain. I can’t think of anything that has ever smelled better.
On a side note, my brother and I used to call the perfume area in the big department stores the chemical warfare department. I still hold my breath when I walk through those areas.
Almost forgot Grandpa’s pipe. He smoked Sir Walter Raleigh (the tobacco brand, not the Elizabethan-era dude). He used the empty cans in his workshop, for storing nails and whatnot.
I always loved the smell. Once I “grew up” I tried smoking a pipe myself, and hated it. I do still love the smell, though.
My folks rolled-their-own from a can of Raleigh that sat on the kitchen counter. I’d give a friend a ride in my F150-3 on the tree and they would inevitably freak when they saw Pops roaches in the ash tray. A guy at Pops work snuck into his office and shaved his shoe sole into Pops tobacco pouch. Boy howdy did that stink. I miss my Pop.
I lived down the road from an Alfalfa dryer and that smell always reminds me of the 60’s and 70’s. That smell can also be found outside the Budweiser plant in Columbus. A malty, roasted aroma.
Interesting. My grandmother lived about a mile from the Dewar’s distillery in Perth, Scotland. I would lean out her second floor window on breezy summer nights and get wafts of that malty, roasted smell that floated across the town at all hours. Pure gold. If you are familiar with the British cereal Wheatabix, it has exactly that smell out of the box. Malty and roasted, indeed.
I have to get my Weetabix from Canada 🙁
I grew up near a brewery. On warm summer nights my bedroom was filled with that chewy, hoppy, malt smell. No wonder I drink so much bloody beer!
Tomato plants, specifically the plants not the tomatoes. My grandparents used to grow lots of tomatoes in the summer, and I’m assuming little me was often tending to them and harvesting the fruit.
Odd thing is I don’t like tomatoes, nor did my grandfather, and nor does my nephew. There’s something in the family male genes that’s anti-tomato 🙂
I know exactly the green smell you’re talking about and I love it too, but I don’t have any associations with it. It’s just a great smell.
Grew up on a farm…
Chicken Crap and Diesel Fuel
Can’t beat it with a stick.
That is so close to a haiku it makes me nervous.
It’s perilously close.
Dust, juniper and pine. We used to go camping in the Eastern Sierras every summer when I was a kid and there’s this smell that pine and juniper get when it’s hot outside. Every time I smell that it reminds me of those great camping trips, hiking with my dad.
Not unusual, but campfire smell is the best.
Dust on a hot day is a surprisingly evocative scent. I spent some time living in the Middle East, and the smell of dust and petrol fumes in hot air immediately brings back particular city streets.
“Dust, Juniper, and Pine” will be the title of a non-fiction novel, sooner rather than later.
Southern gothic, I think, or romance…
I guess I needed another year or two of college. To the best of my knowledge, Dust, Juniper and Pine are strippers.
Not sure about the other two, but Juniper’s a stripper for sure.
She also had the distinction of being selected as one of the updated New Age nun names in the 90s: Sister Crystal Juniper.
The magical, plastic scent of a box of colorforms. My mother would frequent a five and dime and while she would be rooting around in a bin looking for socks, my sisters and I would make a beeline to the back of the store. They had a shelf set up with various toys and games and a whole stack of colorforms boxes. Sniff… I’m even getting nostalgic for those long gone five and dime stores. Even Woolworths bit the dust.