I know of very few words that directly describe odor. Only by reference and by telling of reactions, can I put these memories into writing. If you, the reader, have not formed similar memories, how could you understand what I have written?
As a little boy, I remember how my grandma’s kitchen smelled of something that felt deep, old, and good. However, in winter when she kept the windows shut, the smoke of soft coal made my eyes water.
At the time, I did not know what made her place smell good, but one summer, between semesters at the University, working as a Hall Baking Company route salesman in the suburbs around Buffalo, I found out. Those same smells met my nose in a little old house in the Town of Tonawanda, not far from where the Erie Canal passed through. I asked the customer, a small, wrinkled lady about it, and she explained the ingredients to me: Limburger cheese and garlic. She then bought an extra package of sweet rolls, brimming with raisins and sugar frosting.
At the office of our family doctor, Frederick T. Schnatz, he and everything there smelled of antiseptic – PHENOL! — PHOO!
On the other hand, my allergist, Dr. Howard Osgood, smelled like Edward G. Robinson Pipe Tobacco; not at all unpleasant: rather rich and rewarding to my runny nose. However, his waiting room reeked of wet wool and galoshes, with an undertone of Old Magazine.
The city room at the Buffalo Courier-Express stank of stale cigarettes, while nearby in the Linotype room, the vapor of molten lead cut into my throat. Beyond that, the pressroom reeked of oil and ink solvents, not to mention the ozone emitted by the old heavy-duty electric motors that moved the huge print drums on the presses. I used to visit my Uncle Ben who worked there as literary editor, and I also worked there one summer as a courier for the engraving department long before FAX and e-mail made courier jobs dispensable.
Our little fluffy dog used to sniff at everything with great curiosity and enthusiasm. From the way he shook and whimpered, I suppose he derived intense pleasure from that activity. Thankfully, my nose is too far from the ground to appreciate it.
Nowadays, this octogenarian feels quite happy to be able to wake up to bacon and toast, drifting into my bed chamber. And, just today, without looking, I found a dead mouse in the basement.