Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scent of a Woman

In this case, a young one. Who really liked her jacket.

Throughout college and grad school I was fond of a leather bomber jacket that I wore pretty much exclusively every fall and winter. When I moved to Texas in 1998, I seldom had a need for it. Still, I kept that old jacket in my closet.

It's heavy. Left on a plastic hangar, the hangar inevitably drooped and warped with time. Every once in a while I'd find my jacket crumpled on the floor and I'd have to find a new hangar for it to eat.

The zipper is broken. I don't know when that happened, but it's the reason I stopped wearing it. Having a zipper replaced on that jacket would cost more than the jacket's worth.

The little chain at the back of the neck, used for draping over hooks, is also broken. On cold days, that freezing metal chain would slip down the back of my neck and make me shiver.

In several places, there are small tears. I think those are from my dog's paws, when she'd jump up to greet me after class.

The jacket is way too big for me. Back then, the fashion was for baggier clothes. Today everything I wear is fitted. When I put the jacket on today, I swim in it.

The leather is worn to a softer texture and golden hue on the left shoulder. It doesn't match the rest of the jacket. The left shoulder is where I always flung my backpack strap. I still remember how heavy my backpack was in college and can't believe my posture didn't suffer permanently.

But my favorite detail is the way that jacket smells. Sweet leather. Not just any leather. That leather. I have tried to donate that jacket a dozen times. It was in the stack I set out tonight for tomorrow's Purple Heart pick-up. I lifted the jacket, slipped it on for the final time, and smelled it. It reminded me of the young woman I was in college. Of a time when I had the world at my feet and innumerable paths ahead from which to choose. When I smell it, I remember the library at Wright State, its computer lab, and the way the lounge looked at Allyn Hall. I remember snowy walks through campus, going to movies a few miles away, euchre and Meijer. I remember how much I loved to wear boots.

I pulled that damn jacket out of my stack again. The memories its scent conjures can't be evoked with photographs, old songs, or even reliving glory days with friends who knew me back then.

Which is why I say to the writers out there--never underestimate the power of scent in narratives.


  1. Good observation. I've read more than one novel co-"written" by a celebrity and a book doctor. (You get the feeling that the only writing the celebrity has done is endorse the back of checks.) And I've noticed that these very competent professional writers utilize smells much more frequently than most authors.

  2. I have read/heard that scents bring back the strongest, most vivid memories (I don't remember where), but I know it's true!

    Cathy M

  3. I'm listening to Dolly Parton's autobiography on CDs right now. She makes a similar claim. Somewhere, she'd learned that the part of the brain responsible for scent was one of the first parts to evolve. So it wouldn't be surprising that that sense is one of the better developed. Seems to hold true for me, anyway, where memories are concerned.

  4. I can still see you in that jacket. Don't you dare ever get rid of it. I can almost smell it from here...