The Scent of Memories
I had a memoir writing workshop scheduled next Saturday and was looking forward to leading the participants in one of my favorite exercises: using smells to spark our memories. I usually have a variety of items available to sniff before we write, but wanting to be cautious here in Washington state, I decided to come up with a list of smelly items rather than bring the items themselves. That way, we wouldn't all be touching the items. But yesterday, I cancelled the workshop, a prudent decision coupled the widespread closure of schools, libraries, worship services and offices in my region.
Many, many of us will now find our activities being curtailed for several weeks at least, and I'd like to do my small part to provide an alternative to the anxiety of the news as we stay close to home in the form of a creative writing exercise.
Here is my "smellphabet" list of fragrant (some pleasant, some not) things in alphabetical order. I hope you'll find something on the list that reminds you of a time and place in your own life. If you do, take a few minutes to jot down the story (somewhere between 5 and 20). Once you've written your memory, I invite you to share it with someone. Was there someone else in your memory that'd get a kick out of reminiscing with you? Email them the story, or give them a call. You are also welcome to post your story as a comment here, or email it to me. I'll be sure to respond with encouragement!
~Compiled by Cathy Warner
A Air freshener, asparagus, ammonia
B Baby powder, baking bread, bubble gum, bleach
C Chanel No. 5, cigarette smoke, cough syrup, cinnamon, cabbage
D Diaper Cream, Dove soap, dog (wet)
E Eucalyptus, eggs, earth
F Fish, forest, formaldehyde, Fritos
G Grass, grape (artificial), ginger, gardenia, gasoline
H Hairspray, hay (wet), ham
I Illness, Irish Spring soap, icing
J Juicy Fruit gum, juniper, jasmine
K Kelp, kirsch, kabab
L Lysol, lavender, lacquer
M Mint, mouthwash, maple syrup, menthol
N Narcissus, naan, napalm
O Oranges, olive brine, onion
P Puppy breath, Playdough, permanent marker, pencil dust
Q Quince, quinine, Quaker oats
R Roses, rain, rodent droppings, red wine
S Spray paint, sauvignon blanc, skunk
T Thanksgiving turkey, tobacco, tires, tar, turpentine
U Urine (animal or human), udon noodles, urethane
V Vick’s Vaporub, violets, vomit
W Windex, wax, Windsong perfume
X X-14 spray, Xerox copies, xylitol
Y Yeast, yard clippings, yogurt, yam
Z Zoo, Zippo lighter fuel
According to neuroscientists, smells have a stronger link to memory and emotion than any other sense. Read more about that here.
My father, Duane Preimsberger, wrote his memoir, Badge of Honor: Memories of My Life in Law Enforcement, to honor the courage, caring, commitment, and comedy of the men and women he served alongside during his 35 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). Now that his memoir is published, he plans to honor the City of Hope with the book’s proceeds.
My dad began his career as a deputy with the LASD, the largest sheriff's department in the world, at the age of 20 in 1961, just a few months before I was born. In 1992, a few short years before his retirement as Assistant Sheriff in 1995, he was diagnosed with a rare sinus cancer and received treatment at the City of Hope, the Southern California research and treatment facility specializing in catastrophic illnesses. (In the photo above, taken at his retirement party, you can see that he lost an eye to the cancer.)
In response, he and my stepmom, Judy, a deputy sheriff (now retired, too), formed a fundraising and blood donation chapter for the City of Hope. It was the first law enforcement chapter of its kind in the nation and has procured several million dollars and many gallons of blood for the City of Hope. Since then, both my parents have needed the City of Hope's care and cures for other cancers. They owe their lives to the City of Hope, and my father is donating all author royalties from the sale of Badge of Honor to them.
In his colorful memoir, which I had the privilege of editing and publishing, my dad recounts delivering a baby, holding a dying drunk driver in his arms, patrolling the Watts Riots, interacting with East Los Angeles characters like Scooter Man and Scuba King, rappelling from helicopters, tracking a mass murderer, supervising detectives with monikers like Pumpkin Head and Turkey, coordinating athlete transportation for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, introducing laser weapons training to the Sheriff’s Training Academy, and several volunteer activities to entertain and assist sick children—they were granting wishes long before the Make A Wish Foundation existed. A good friend, and fellow sheriff (may he rest in peace) drew a number of illustrations for the manuscript, one of which appears on the cover (below), and I've included photos from his career, including some provided by the LASD historian.
My dad penned the occasional story about his work escapades when I was kid—roping an alligator was one—and began writing in earnest after his retirement. In addition to his stories he wrote news and profiles for dozens of newsletters, newspapers, and magazines including the FBI Journal.
He has won multiple awards from the Erle Stanley Gardner Murder Mystery Writers Contest and is included in the anthology Felons, Flames, and Ambulance Rides. My parents have made their home in Temecula, CA, since retiring and have been active in the community serving on the board of the Hospice of the Valleys, City of Hope Patient and Family Care Advisory Council, Assistance League of Temecula Valley, Canine Support Team, and the Temecula Valley Museum where my dad also acted as a docent.
I am grateful for his legacy of community service and proud to be part of birthing his memoir.
Badge of Honor: Memories of My Life in Law Enforcement is available for purchase at Amazon.com.
I began blogging about "This or Something Better" in 2011 when my husband and I were discerning what came next in our lives, which turned out to be relocating to Puget Sound from our Native California. My older posts can be found here.