Sunday, May 5, 2013

What's in Your Sniffsonium?

Matt's illustration of the Sniffsonium. I sure do love having an in-house artist.

The "Sniffsonium" is a term coined by hubby Matt and we all have one. It is that internal sanctum where we store our memories and emotions related to certain smells and scents that we've experienced in our lives, proabably from day one. Matt also calls it a Smellatorium, however that sounds like the place where not-so-pleasurable smells go to be cremated and entombed. Although, that could serve a purpose too.

There's nothing like the sense of smell to send our memory reeling back years and years to a specific moment in time. A familiar scent can evoke the person, the place and the feelings associated with that one scent. And it happens in a split-second. With a direct link from our olfactory receptors ("vacuum" as depicted above) to the limbic system, our reactions to smells occur in an instant. And as the limbic system is the part of the brain that deals with emotions, memories are conjured like a genie out of a bottle, literally in the case of perfume.

The sense of smell is so important to me and it's one of my life's great pleasures. It's fun to be taken by surprise by a scent and experience a memory unbidden. But it's also wonderful to know that I can make the memory happen by using a particular perfume or lotion. And it's startling when that doesn't. When I've had a cold and head congestion and I can't smell, I experience a momentary panic. It's like someone suddenly turned the lights out.

As I examine my Sniffsonium, these are the scents that come to mind:

Estee Lauder Youth Dew: This powdery, exotic scent is the smell of dressing up to go out. It was the signature scent of my grandmother and all six of her sisters. They each had the little faceted bottle filled with the brown-as-bourbon elixir on their dressers. With a whiff of Youth Dew, I'm instantly sitting between my grandmother, Bootsie, and Aunt Myrt in the backseat of Aunt Dot's Cadillac going out to a fancy lunch in New Orleans.

Jergen's Original Scent Cherry-Almond Hand Lotion: This is a comforting smell for me. The sweet, slightly candy scent of this brings back similar memories as above. All my aunties used it and a bottle of it was always sitting on the bathroom counter. I can rub a little on my hands today and feel my aunties near me.

Old Spice: The scent of my gravel-voiced but sweet-mannered Uncle Irvin.

4711 Cologne: The dry citrusy scent used by my grandfather. The one and only scent he ever wore.

Hawaiian Tropic Suntan oil: The smell of summer (and sun damage!)

Guerlain's Shalimar: I was eighteen when I smelled Shalimar for the first time and it was a revelation. I learned that scent can open a new sexy and exotic world.

New Orleans French Quarter: There is a damp, old wood, crumbling brick, spilt beer, bourbon splashed root-like musty smell that doesn't exist any other place.

Petrichor: It was such a pleasure when I  learned there was actually a name for the smell of the air right after it begins to rain. I remember playing outside in the hot Louisiana summer afternoons and suddenly it would begin to rain. The dusty asphalt street was so hot, steam would rise sending up a sweet and earthy smell.

And there are so many more...

So, I would love to know, what's in your Sniffsonium?


  1. In my perfume sniffsonium would be my first contact with scent in the "5 and Dime Store", Evening in Paris cologne. It was horrifically sweet smelling, sort of like the deoderants used in public bathrooms. But, oh, that cobalt blue signature bottle conjured up dreams of adventure and romance in the City of Light. When I see a bottle here and there at a garage sale or junk sotre, I can recall that nauseating smell and my dreams of long ago.

  2. This is a great, personal blog. I love Matt's drawing of the brain. Your story is a departure, sort of branching out. Don wore patchouli for several years. It was a scent of the 60's, hippie perfume. I always liked it, and still have an old bottle of it. I also remember my Mother and all of my aunties wearing Estee Lauder's youth dew. I have never really had a signature perfume,but for several years I did wear Dior,s Poison. Did you know that a dogs brain devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times larger than a humans, and can identify smells 10,000 times better than the human brain? Bet you didn't know that! Hey, your writing is getting better and more interesting all the time. Tia

  3. Great post! I'm reminded of my childhood every time I smell Dana, by Tabu. I have a small bottle and wear it, especially around the holidays. Noxema is another scent that takes me back.
    PS Love Matt's illustration!

  4. I really loved this post. I related to each and every scent that you described...some I had forgotten. Beautifully written. Here's one I'd like to add: Lemon Pledge. As a child, one of my chores was dusting the furniture on Saturday morning.