Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Smell (the sense of smell) (07/29/10)
TITLE: Clothesline Connections
By Sarah Heywood
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Tossing the clothespins into the nearby basket, I pull the bed sheet off the clothesline, bunch it up in my hands…and inhale. Mmmm - it’s the smell of sunshine, a job well-done, and the assurance of a restful sleep tonight.
As I press the sheets against my face, I find myself thinking about all the relatives before me who have done exactly what I’m doing now. How many of my great-grandmothers buried their noses in clean cotton sheets as they labored? Granted, their sheets weren’t washed with electric washers, but with wringer washers and even scrub boards. But this simple act of inhaling the fresh scent of my washed laundry ties me to my past.
I don’t know an awful lot about the women who came before me. I knew my grandmothers, of course. I know that two of my great-grandmothers immigrated here from Germany. I know another one was a sturdy woman of the Kansas plains. And I know that one of my ancestors was an American Indian -- something that greatly intrigues me. But that’s about all I know.
Sometimes I wonder about these women whose blood now flows through my own veins. At times they seem like mythical characters to me out of the historical novels I enjoy. I wonder -- what things did they smell as they went about their daily lives, as I now am?
No doubt they smelled plenty of sweat since they were all hard-working farm wives. I imagine their kitchens teaming with the combined smell of baking pies, sauerkraut, sausage, and of course, the underlying smell of human odor. This was in the days before deodorant, central air, and daily showers! I rather imagine their houses all had the scent of burned wood, either from the wood burning stove that would have heated them in the wintertime or from the cook stove used for food. In the springtime they would smell the rich scent of the black Midwestern dirt as it was turned over by the plows. My Indian grandmother probably smelled the scent of her leather tee-pee and moccasins. I would love to have more knowledge of her life, just to get a glimpse of where I came from!
My twenty first century life is so different from those of my forebears. I do have a pretty old house, and like all aged wood, it has retained some of the scents from the past. But other than that, I don’t think the women before me would recognize too many of the smells I experience. I have automatic deodorizers in every room of the house, decorative candles let out pleasant scents, and some of our furniture still has that “store” scent. I daily experience the smells of pizza, bleach, chocolate, and body lotions -- things that would have been a rarity, or more than likely, something my ancestors never smelled.
But the smell of my freshly dried sheets draws me to the past I never knew. While my grandmothers and I had vastly different lives, there are certain things -- and certain scents -- that transcend generations. We all inhaled the precious scents of our new babies. We all delighted in the smell of freshly cut grass every spring. And I know my grandmothers had to have loved the Christmastime scents of evergreen and cinnamon.
And as I bury my face into my sheets I know that my grandmothers did the same thing. And despite the decades and centuries that separate us, I suddenly feel very connected.
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