My apartment has smelled the same for as long as I can remember. When I was a child and we’d come to visit my grandparents, I would take a deep inhalation of breath as we walked across the threshold, because it was the smell, more than the sights, sounds or people, that really let me know that we were here. It’s not an unpleasant smell, but not one that is easily articulated either. It has a little faded perfume, combined with wood, carpet, furniture and building. It is familiar as the long pink couch and glass coffee table that have sat in the living room since before I was born.
My presence does make an scent impression on the apartment, my shampoos, scented oils and cooking let the air know that I live here these days, as opposed to my grandmother. But, when I go away for a while and then come back, the smell reverts and I spend a split second looking around, checking to see if my grandmother is coming out of the bathroom, her perfectly manicured hands held aloft in delighted greeting. I’ve come to accept the fact that when it comes to the aromatic impression of this home, my grandmother’s 35 years here will always trump my measly four. I don’t mind the situation, in fact I prefer it, because it is just one more thing that makes it feel like home.
I actually missed out on being greeted by my grandmother’s scent when I came home from this last trip. My friends had come over the apartment early, to make dinner and wait for me, so when I opened the door, I was greeted by the smell of soup and a view of smiling faces. Tonight I went to the movies and was gone for about four hours. When I opened the door to walk inside and hang up my coat, I was forced to step back, so strong was the wave the scent memory with which I was assaulted. I could almost hear my grandmother’s gold bracelets clacking together. Somehow, the apartment knew that I had missed out on its aromatic greeting, and brought it back to welcome me home tonight.