Saturday, December 25, 2010

Things Remembered

Fragrant, the smell of a Christmas tree…as intoxicating and palpable smell as there is. I woke from a little holiday induced nap on my couch to the deeply moving smell of a fresh Douglas Fir. The little lights and their waxy cords warming the needles and branches just enough to entice the tree’s aromas to fill both the tiny space that is my living room as well as flip the switch on bits of my cavernous melon illuminating memories and emotions that I had boxed up and tucked away long ago.

I guess I was always a freak when it came to aromas. I was that annoying kid that smelled everything….yes, even the gross stuff and would base half my decision on whether or not liked something, and sometimes someone, by the way it smelled to me. I have always remembered smells just as strongly and vividly as I do sights and sounds, more often than not a scent can trigger a memory or feeling faster than a picture, a song or the written word can.

The gamey, feral aromas of a skunk always remind me of those long car rides back to San Diego from Long Beach, the uncomfortable silence as our VW Bug bumped along the dark highway….my mother making her walk of shame back to our dingy little apartment after having to ask her parents for money, again. An unpleasant smell on my levels, also one that evokes a little fear in me.

Corn tortillas, an aroma that fills me with self satisfaction and a sense of wander…a desire to learn. My odd little summers in Mexico with my American but truly foreign, grandparents. The days and nights left to wander the market stalls, smell and taste things that I had never seen before. The warmth and affection given me by those that really understood why I would rather spend hours alone fondling and sniffing fruits, burring my hands deep into the bins of dried beans, scooping up as many as my tiny hands could hold, lifting them above my head before letting them all rain back into the bin, the laughter and pat on my head when I called them “Pennies from Heaven”. I began my love affair with food there in those stalls but it will forever be the smell of corn tortillas that is the most powerful. My little pockets stuffed with still-warm-from-the-stone tortillas, placed there by a “stranger” their heat and aroma my only company on the long, breezy walk back to the Bourbon and Scotch scented trailer that contained the strangers I had come to visit.

Roasted turkey always meant a happy day. Thanksgiving being my mother’s most beloved holiday. Can’t remember one time that she wasn’t positively giddy once she put the bird in the oven so….well, the smell of roast turkey makes me smile and feel at ease.

Blistex, the thick white clunky goo that my first lover would slather upon his young chapped lips. The tiny jar tucked into the upper pocket of his jeans, the way it would blend with his lotion and cologne…those nervous hands fumbling about my skin, grazing my nipples, making them tingle with want and a craving so powerful that it convinced my young body that I needed him. The first man to love me, like really love me and the first man I would surrender to.

Warm milk and yeasty bread….Europe. My first morning, sleep deprived and lumbering down into the dining room of a Paris hotel. The clank of heavy cutlery, the rustle of the morning paper, the plushy, ornate woven carpet giving beneath my feet, the finding of my spot and ordering my first café.

The brickish orange cleaner that I used to scrub my palms, my nails, the one that used to stain my skin…the scent of a medicine cabinet and alpha, the aroma of visiting my son. His tiny body fighting for life, gasping for air, my cleanser filled nose dipping down into his tiny incubator…taking in that sweet, soft, vulnerable scent. His scent, the one that would forever change my life

Burgundy, discovering that wine was more than something I liked. It was to be as passionate and consuming….as physically and emotionally enveloping as any lover I had known before. The aromas that slithered from the glass like fingers wrapping around my jaw….pulling me closer, deeper. Standing in a cold cellar with five other people while this glass of wine slipped inside me, landed on my frame like a warm, wet mouth, causing my skin to tighten, my eyelids to heavy, the “oh fuck” to escape my lips. The groan as I felt my body demand that I take in more, one more sip, one more stroke, my heart pounding out of my chest, my mouth full of the most intoxicating and sensual lover I had ever tasted, a lifetime to do it over and over again.

A Christmas tree. As the vibrant, green, piney aroma filled my sleepy head I flipped through the pages of mental tasting notes, my connection and history with this most iconic holiday cast member. The first half of my childhood the smell of a Christmas tree made me feel sullen and helpless. We didn’t have a tree during the holidays when I was little, just couldn’t afford one and walking past them each time we entered or exited the supermarket my mother would stop and take deep chest filling sniffs…..likely visiting her own batch of “notes” and each and every time her eyes would fill with tears. Never understood it, knew nothing about her connection to that smell but the feeling was thick with words unsaid. It was a sadness and helplessness that I first connected to that smell.

The second half of my childhood we could afford a tree. One would think having this most longed for thing would inspire jubilation and a feeling of upward mobility, yeah…not so much. We first had a tree when we moved into a house with a man that would taunt, threaten and emotionally torment us. Flaunt the fact that we were lucky to have the tiny space he gave us and if we were not careful, didn’t jump when he snapped, he would yank this “beautiful” home away from us. My second connection with the Christmas tree smell was one of rage. Sure I was angry at him but I was also enraged that my mother once longed for this….brought us there to see what was never really ever going to be something for us. Hated it and in a way, hated her.

Years after moving out of that terrible place we would get a tree and thus began the sullen and miserable month of December. My mother always worried about what she wasn’t able to give. That smell made me feel guilty, like its being in the house was just one more symbol of failure to a woman who was doing all that she could, alone.

Sadness, rage, pity and guilt, these were the boxes I was riffling through as the tree…my tree shared its scent with me. I ran through the notes, reflected on those trees of past but the thing was…I didn’t, couldn’t feel any of it. My little tree, tucked into the corner of my living room, its lights blinking, the ornaments of varying interest, (hockey, wine, Jeremy’s Harry Potter) dangling from its scent saturated branches….my senior in college son sleeping in the next room, my desire to come here, write, talk and be with all of you. Profound happiness. I felt profound happiness as that piney smell swirled around my head, dove into my lungs and wrote the next chapter of notes…another page in the book of smells that will remain with me forever.

Fuck, I’m rambling ( so unlike me) but I just wanted to come here, to this spot where I have gotten to share my love for wine, my passion for the job that I get to do, my rants and revelations…just wanted to come here to thank you all. Your support and affection means more to this wine slinger than you can possibly imagine. You’ve all leant a hand in changing my story, writing the next chapter…there are no words powerful enough to express my gratitude.

Happy Holidays to you all….
Forever Yours,


Anonymous said...

Happy holidays darling Sam! You've done more for us than we could ever possibly do for you. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say that.


TWG said...

Happy Holidays, glad Jeremy was able to make it.

John M. Kelly said...

Smells - I think at the most fundamental level it is smells that have dictated the courses of lives like ours.

For me the smell of distant skunk will forever be a good one - on vacation, camping out in the bunkhouse at my grandad's place in Escondido with my Montana cousins, or sleeping on the porch, the smells from the heat of the day - black asphalt sluiced with cold water, gasoline, leather and fresh paint on the '47 Chevy pickup we worked on, orange rinds, fresh-cut wood in the shop - softening and changing as the air cooled; the salt tang pushing in from Oceanside when the evening breeze was enough onshore, the coyotes singing in the hills around.

And then that whiff of distant skunk - did a coyote get unlucky? or did the skunk get unlucky and lumber across the highway at a poorly-chosen moment? It is for me the smell of youth, and summer, and endless promise. And all to do again the next day.

Merry Christmas, Sam. And thanks for sharing yourself.

webb said...

An early Happy New Year and may all your smells be good ones in 2011!

Samantha Dugan said...

Another Day of Crazy,
Happy holidays to you and your lovely family as well. Thank you so much for all your love and support girlie, you mean the world to me.

Happy holidays to you as well darlin' and I too am thrilled to have my sweet, remarkable son home for the holidays! Thanks as always for visiting me.

Fantastic story love, thanks for sharing that. Merry Christmas to you and your family kid. I adore you.

Happy New Year to you too sweetheart. Thanks for all the support over the last year and here's to hoping we all have a 2011 filled with amazing aromatics and all the rich memories that go along with them.

Thomas said...

Yes in deed, we thrive on thoughts of past aromas. I've many memories of the smell of Christmas--some as bad as yours, Sam, some better.

We couldn't afford trees either, but there was a custom in Brooklyn: if you were there when the tree man shut down for the season on Christmas Eve and you could catch the tree that he threw at you, it was yours. Caught many in my day.

Samantha Dugan said...

Gawd, I love that. I can just picture a young you readying yourself to wrap your arms around a tree being tossed your way. Very cool image that.

I'm not sure I would say my scent memories were bad, just were what they were but I must confess that I much prefer the one that is closest to me now. I have been amazingly lucky. Happy holidays to you my sweet fuzzy friend.

chris said...

Christmas tree scent = "joy". That's a good thing.

Beautiful words from our favorite wine slugger Sam, that's another good thing.

Life is good.

Samantha Dugan said...


I simply cannot thank you enough for being one of most loyal and supportive readers. Your emails and comments here always flatter me beyond what I feel is deserved but....they are in my ear and heart when I feel like no one really gives a crap. I remember your, as well as many others, kindness and adoration when I am feeling down and like magic my heart feels touched and I know that people, you people have given me a gift that I shall never be able to repay....humbling but always feels like the hug I need and want. Happy holidays to you dear friend.

Larry Anosmia, M.S. said...

Smells? I have no idea what any of you are talking about.

Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

I have a brother. What I remember about childhood Proustian aroma memories boils down to, "He who smelt it, dealt it."

What's amazing to me is that I've made a career from my nose, and I didn't even pick it!

Your beautiful, as usual, essay made me recall many powerful smells from the past--my Grandmother's White Linen cologne, Christmas cookies baking in the oven, gunpowder from the firecrackers my father gave us, freshly mown summer lawns, the underwear drawers of strangers' houses... Powerful stuff.

And I love your bouquet most of all!

Samantha Dugan said...

Larry/Ron My Love,
Such a perv! Love that about you...