Nasal history

>>Nasal history

I smelled my grandfather tonight. Since he’s been dead for more than 20 years, it kinda caught me off-guard.

Grandpa Morgan was an extremely intelligent, sometimes intimidating man who didn’t say much to grandkids (although he obviously got a kick out of us). He took his dog outside for walks a lot because Mom and Dad wouldn’t let him smoke his pipe inside. When he’d come back, the scent of sweet autumnal smoke trailed him throughout the house.

Tonight, heading out to the studio, I had a sudden, overwhelming feeling that Grandpa was in the room. It stopped me dead in my tracks, looking for him, until I figured out what was going on: I was smelling pipe smoke. I hadn’t so much as thought about Grandpa’s pipe in at least two decades, but one sniff was all it took to convince some part of me that he was right there.

On investigating, I found that the smell was coming from the Skutt. The kiln has reached the mold-drying portion of its firing schedule, the lid is cracked slightly for outgassing, and something vaporizing inside the kiln smells exactly like Grandpa’s burning pipe tobacco. I suspect it’s the blue painter’s tape, which is being used in an experiment that may solve a LOT of problems with a particular casting project…if it works.

Update: It’s not the painter’s tape. I’d forgotten that one of the molds in the kiln is a core mold (i.e., a vessel shape that needs investment inside as well as outside). I use organic material as an investment filler in core molds, usually chopped up kitchen scraps. Was out of that stuff when I mixed up the mold, the garage doors were up…and the yard was filled with fallen leaves. So I grabbed up a few, crumbled them up and used them in my core. I really AM smelling burning leaves in there, and they smell just like sweet pipe tobacco. Cool.

Hmmm. I’ve been reading Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses,* in which she credits the sense of smell with triggering the most powerful memory associations of all. If my experience tonight is anything to go by, she’s right. Wow.


*And many thanks to my friend Rinee for loaning it to me.



  1. Rinee November 12, 2009 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    The book isn’t a loan. Its your to keep. Glad you are reading it. She writes WONDERFUL books. You might want to try A Natural History of my Garden next.

  2. Susan November 7, 2009 at 4:40 am - Reply

    You’re so right about scent-memory, Cynthia. I just opened a jar of Mentholatum and immediately thought of my late father-in-law, who died in 1978. I never even knew he used it, but the scent was unmistakably his.

  3. chaniarts November 6, 2009 at 7:19 am - Reply

    there was an interesting article on smells and deep-seated memories in a 1986 National Geographic issue, with the results appearing in a 1986 issue. they did a scratch&sniff test with 1.5 million subjects to see what kind of memories, and how olden memories, come back when smelling certain kinds of odors. it doesn’t appear to be online, but there are numerous abstracts and references online to it.

    ref: Gilbert, Avery N., & Wysocki, Charles J. The Smell Survey Results. National Geographic October 1987 p513-525

  4. gary November 6, 2009 at 8:01 am - Reply

    I have young Patrick’s baby blanket in a zip-lock bag. Every so often I open it up and take a hit. The kid has just turned 24. Do I need therapy?

    Don’t answer that one…


  5. Coretha Cooley Fulton November 6, 2009 at 6:13 am - Reply

    We spent three years in equatorial West Africa where cook fires were common. Sometimes in the fall when leaves are burning, I could swear I was back on the streets of Accra. Smell is a powerful sense.

    • cynthia November 8, 2009 at 1:28 am - Reply

      Hey, Coretha! So…do you ever wish you could go back?

      (And Gary, I’m not going to say a word…)

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