The smell of childhood

We are moving things around again. Rearranging stuff so I can put my sewing machines on the second floor and out of the basement. A chest didn’t fit the new configuration. It had to go. It was my mother’s chest.

It was part of her bedroom set. Purchase date was sometime in the early 1930s. It predates me by a lot.

I’ve been struggling with this change for a few months. I don’t have a lot of stuff from my parents. Nothing of true value really – a couple of coffee mugs that my mother used every day, her baking spoon and this chest. The chest was the biggest piece. Parting with something that dear took a lot of thinking.

I haven’t used it for anything except obscure storage for the last 20 years. (Obscure storage is junk that you should throw out but you store it someplace out-of-the-way because you can’t part with it.)

Did I mention it’s large? Some people call them highboys or chest-on-chests. Big drawers on the bottom and two drawers suited for jewelry or wallets on the top.

The chest itself wasn’t so hard to let go. Someone in the family wanted it. I no longer needed it. You can follow the logic here. Makes sense especially as it frees up space that I can use.

Except….it smells like my mom’s bedroom. It’s not a bad smell or musty smell. It’s a wood smell. It’s old mahogany, dark in color and heavy in weight. Whenever I opened a drawer, I could smell my mom’s bedroom. I could almost see her nightgowns and my dad’s flannel shirts folded safely many years after he passed.

Her jewelry was kept in the top drawers, mostly a collection of costume jewelry stored in velvet boxes. When I was around 12, I took a blue velvet box to bury my canary. We had that canary for several years and she deserved the satin-lined velvet coffin she got. (Mom wasn’t happy about that but didn’t want to dig it up with a dead canary inside.)

There were several pieces all kept in their bedroom. Lots of wood. I remember the bed with a headboard and footboard. I could do a flip over the footboard but only when no one was watching.

There was a vanity with a big mirror and drawers on either side. It came with an old-fashioned secretary too.

I don’t know where they are now. I only took the chest.

As my niece loaded it up in the pick-up truck, I stuck my head inside and took a last deep breath. I told her that when I needed a fix, I’d come and smell her chest. She laughed. Perhaps she didn’t realize I meant it!

69 thoughts on “The smell of childhood

  1. Pingback: Highlights on 2017 or what the hell happened? | Views and Mews by Coffee Kat

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  3. Oh, I held my breath and then found, in the end, it was going to family and I inhaled and exhaled in relief. I could smell your mother”s bedroom and then the scent of my father’s after shave wafted around me. I still have his shaving brush. And I have some pieces of furniture from my parents I just cannot part with. A Duncan Fyfe Table; my mother’s mahogany hope chest; the grandmother clock given to her on their 25th anniversary which no longer works. I have no one to give them to who would care about the memories and so they will stay with me for a while longer. So many strong memories from this post. Thank you, Kate. Sleep well.

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  4. I really do admire your strength in pushing through the feelings and making the decision to part with the chest. It surely must feel good to have your space functioning more like you want, but nonetheless letting go of a tie to happy childhood memories is something some people can never do. It’s a pretty piece, and I’m sure your niece will really cherish it. And by the way, I have entirely too much “obscure storage.” I now have a name for it. 🙂

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  5. I just inherited an old table, built by a great uncle in Vermont over 100 years ago. It lived in my grandfather’s house before mom and dad adopted it in 1989. When I open the drawers and take a sniff, I am transported back through the years to my grandfather’s house. Bliss!

    Glad that your niece was able to adopt your chest and its scents-ability.

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  6. Aww Kate! I got choked up reading this, but I did have to smile about the blue velvet box. Yes your canary deserved it.
    There are so many powerful things that can trigger memories.
    I am very glad it went to your niece, bope she lives pretty close!

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  7. My close friend, Helen, passed away in 2004. Since she wasn’t heavily into jewelry, her jewelry box was nothing more than a small Tupperware box with a few inexpensive pieces. It’s been thirteen years, and still I’m clinging to that box, because every time I open it, I smell Helen. Your attachment to that chest makes complete sense to me.

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    • My mother had the same sort of jewelry and I still have it. She had a wonderful cameo she got as a gift from her sister. She gave that to me when she was still alive and I wore it with my business suits. It’s gorgeous mother of pearl. She also had a aurora borealis necklace. I don’t go places for that sort of jewelry but I treasure those pieces.

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  8. I so completely understand. Experiencing a scent, especially at an unexpected moment can trigger some real wonderful memories. They are important part of life. Too bad you had to get rid of the chest (btw I think it was beautiful), so glad you were able to keep it in the family.

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  9. Totally off subject, Kate, but I can’t find your email. Thank you so much for your donation to our kitties – that was a wonderful surprise!! Very sweet of you.

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  10. Oh, how smells can bring us back. I still have my grandma’s cologne bottle, and she died in 1990! I have one of her Catholic Epistle books and there is her smell upon opening it. I completely understand needing the space but having difficulty parting with it. Your niece will be surprised when you show up at her place for a smell. 😉

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  11. I didn’t take any of mom’s furniture. No room. My sister has some of it, and I always think of her when I see it. She always wore the same perfume. I don’t think it is made any more. I would break down for sure if I ever smelled it again.

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  12. That’s a toughie, especially when the memories are so vivid. Amazing how the scent of something so long ago can transport you and you don’t miss it as much until it’s not there for you visit any longer.
    Make sure you visit😊

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  13. This post makes me wistful – I have only a few bits and pieces from my mother’s kitchen, and her sewing machine, of course. But I can remember her bedroom furniture. I used to go exploring every now and again and admire the jewelry or scarves.

    Thanks for the contact buzz and the trip back in time!

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    • I had decided that if we had to junk it, I’d keep some of the wood. It would’t take much space and would smell so good! I enjoy my mom’s coffee mug. She had two. One was “best cook” and the other was “greatest grandmother.” I have both.

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  14. Trying not to cry as I type this. I know exactly what you mean, and smells — more than almost anything — take me back to places and people. I don’t have that kind of scent memory for my mom, though. Possibly because she lived in so many different places.

    Or maybe the only thing that really reminds me of her is cigarette smoke and honestly, that is foul.

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  15. These sentimental pieces have so much emotion wrapped around them. It’s so wonderful that after so many years, the smell could still trigger such deep memories. How touching that it’s now in the hands of another family member who will hopefully love it like you did and pass it on.

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