Have you given much thought to the strength of sense-memory? How a particular smell can immediately bring to mind people, places or events in your life?
Though I demanded very little in the planning of my wedding, I just had to have gardenias in my bridal bouquet. Out of season and costly, my florist allowed three.
To the sentimentalist in me, that delicately scrumptious flower paid homage to my childhood and celebrated my Southern roots.
But mostly it honored my grandmother.
Dambarr we called her, one of those made-up names invented by the first-born grandchild, the best attempt my cousin Ellie’s tiny lips could manufacture when she was learning to name people, places and things. It stuck for all the grandbabies who came after.
I liked that name for my grandmother–everyone else had a Granny or Grandma or Memaw,
but Dambarr was wonderfully one of a kind. Paradoxically like every other grandmother.
Her death the year after my mother’s was painful loss. By the end of my fourth grade summer the two most important women in my life were gone, making precious every memory of them.
Sometime between third and fourth grade, I think my olfactory sense must have matured. I have strong sense-memories associated with Dambarr but none from my mom~
Jean Naté after-bath splash
Face powder in a compact
A ham dotted in cloves
And Jungle Gardenia perfume
When I catch a whiff of any of those scents, my first thought is Dambarr!
Dambarr was a master gardener, and it was among primrose and pansies that she cultivated my love for fresh flowers. I didn’t inherit her green thumbs but rather her love for the end result–blindfolded, I could identify most flowers by their scent, something caught more than taught and I know due to the time we spent in her garden.
Lilies of the Valley were my second favorite; sweet and delicious, their diminutive size plus my imagination had me convinced they were actually fairy parasols.
But my absolute favorites were her gardenias, delicate and aromatic…they smelled like…well…Dambarr.
Gardenia’s scent is unmistakeable; if a bush is nearby, it’s not unlikely you’ll smell them before you see them.
Smells are invisible, attention-getters, indicators.
Smoke in the distance, gas in your kitchen, a child’s dirty diaper, flowers in the garden.
Often smells demand a call to action or serve as a harbinger of something else. Whether offensive stench or aromatic perfume, an odor is not unto itself; it emanates from another source.
And so it is with our lives in Christ ~
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17, ESV)
Don’t you love how God purposes all our senses for his glory?
In light of the sense of smell and its evocative nature, isn’t this passage thrilling?
Because Jesus lives in us, He lives through us; and though invisible, His aroma is detectable by others. People process and perceive it differently based on where they are in the faith.
It has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Christ because Jesus’ fragrance remains consistent.
So. We smell like Jesus.
Is this blowing anyone else’s mind or am I the only one?!
When you recall strong sense-memories, those scents that have strong association with your past, does it help you better understand what God is saying through this passage?
I wanna hear your stories. Do you have strong scent-memories that help you make sense of this passage? If you’re willing to share one in comments, we can all “stink” to high heaven together. Or if you have a story about a special someone (like gardenias and my grandmother), let’s celebrate that together, too.
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by Robin Dance who smells like Sun Ripened Raspberry from Bath & Body (except for when she smells like Head and Shoulders?!). She declares PENSIEVE subscribers bless her socks right off her feet and new Twitter friends are always welcome.Leave a Comment
Lisa H says
I remember a while back buying Palmolive dish soap because it was on sale and I had a coupon. I always bought the off brand cheap stuff! The first time I used the Palmolive I stopped moving and closed my eyes as my sink filled with those tiny fluffy soap bubbles. I immediately went back to my young childhood and doing dishes for my Mamaw in her tiny kitchen. She always used Palmolive and I had forgotten about that. She died in 1990 and it has been so very long ago since those days of doing her dishes (70’s/80’s)……….so now when I’m having a particularly bad time and I am at the store to buy dish soap, I buy Palmolive! 🙂
Robin Dance says
Palmolive…yes, Lisa! Do you remember the TV commercials? And isn’t it worth it to delight in the memory of your Memaw? Only a grandmother could turn the drudgery of washing dishes into something a child has fun doing. 🙂
Lisa H says
so very true Robin! Washing her dishes and little juice glasses was so much fun to me at the time. As well as cleaning the glass on her storm door! Washing window and doing dishes now are not nearly as fun!
Robin Dance ~ PENSIEVE says
Which reminds me of polishing silver with my grandmother! My MIL gave me her set on my 40th birthday, and I think I’ve only polished it twice since then. But when I helped Dambarr, it was FUN!
Dr Mari says
What a fragrant and beautiful piece; thank you! My mom’s favorite perfume was First. It’s been years since I’ve smelled it but, when I have, it’s as if I’m with her. Yes, our God-given sense of smell is powerfully linked to our memories. What a gift that our senses can transport us back to joyful times with loved ones no longer with us. God is so good and so wise!
May we all spread the aroma of Christ as we go about our days! Thank you for doing that for us through your inspiring writing.
Robin Dance says
Thank you, Dr. Mari! I often think of certain scents (and songs on the radio) as time traveling machines; when I smell (or hear) them, I’m whisked back to another place. It doesn’t hurt a bit, it doesn’t cost a thing, but the treasure of strong memory is a gift. (Your comment put a big smile in my morning!)
Dr Mari says
God’s economy of mutual blessing! Smiles here, too.
I’ve had flashbacks all morning of doing dishes with Mami. Indeed, she made it fun then… and now that she’s no longer physically with me, when I do dishes I feel close to her. God’s gifts!
Natasha d says
lilacs remind me of spring and “new beginnings” — love that!
Robin Dance says
Oooo–honeysuckles remind me of spring, and again, my childhood and the South! Yummy!! For some reason, that’s the first thing that popped in my head when I read your comment :).
Jenny from Mommin' It Up says
As you and I have discussed before, the smell of Vicks VapoRub brings back awesome memories of care & soothing to me. Maybe Jesus smells like Vicks, too. 🙂
Robin Dance ~ PENSIEVE says
JENNY!!!! THAT made me ear-to-ear GRIN! xo
I bet Jesus *does* smell like Vicks sometimes!
My grandmother had a church friend who would bake and bake- then drive around town, making house calls, leaving fresh baked goodness … I remember walking into my grandmother’s house after school, and knowing Mrs. Ruth had been there…
The smell of fresh baked bread reminds of love and friendship, the significance of sharing and reaching out.
Robin Dance says
Oh, Sidnie, I want a friend like Mrs. Ruth! Wait…I want to BE a friend like Mrs. Ruth! What a beautiful calling card and legacy. 🙂
Just now making my way back to this post…
I think it’s why I fell so deeply in love with German bakeries over these last 5 years.
Mrs. Ruth was a gem.
And yes, to grow up to BE a friend like her… I can only hope. 🙂
Robin Dance says
🙂 I love it when people reply muuuuuuch later :). (and glad you saw my reply!!) xo
Robin thanks so much for sharing this today. I am so thankful for the grand design God put into forming our bodies and b/c of this all our senses work together like a finely tuned orchestra. I mean, imagine that for years and years our brains store up those wonderful smells, sights, sounds, and tastes (ahh, yes – perhaps my favorite of all the senses – tastes definitely send me back on a journey into the past as well) and at those special times they are sparked again and come to the surface of our mind and transport back with a wonderful memory! And as for scents, mine is sandlewood. Back in the 70s it was so popular to burn insense. My mom and my stepdad (one of the dearest men in my life besides my Daddy) loved sandlewood insense. To this day, when I smell it – a precious image of them together immediately pops into my mind. So happy to have memories and so blessed to be able to acknowledge that “I am wonderfully made”.
Robin Dance says
🙂 Yes, I love God’s intention and how He gave us so many beautiful gifts in who we are. Thanks, too, Marsha for sharing that special scent-memory. 🙂
Recently, I caught a whiff of something that smelled like orange blossoms from home (south Florida) way up in Indiana. It was an instant transfer back to my own backyard while growing up. Far far away,
It was so strong that I sat down and sent out a post on my FB wall. Soon that post sparked a sweet connection with all my back home friends. If I couldn’t be there to actually smell them….chatting with old friends was a close second.
I have many memories stored in my smell-er! God is good to share that ability with us, huh?
Robin Dance says
That’s when Facebook is best, when it brings friends together from shared memory. Sweet.
Kathy @ In Quiet Places says
Honeysuckle in the spring… love the fragrance and the season!
Oh, that I would be that fragrance of Christ to others….
Robin Dance says
I just have to respond this morning! I spent yesterday on the porch with my little granddaughter, reflecting how our Lord made all the different aromas, the variety of colors and tastes in our world, for our pleasure and joy! And to remind us of His beautiful love for each of us individually! He didn’t have to provide us with such a rich variety, but in His love and wisdom, He did!!
Funny how the scents I remember and recall mostly are tied to my grandmothers, as well — the beautiful scent of tea olive blooms always brings one grandmother to mind (gone now 40 years) and earthy smells from the garden, as well as Jontue (an old perfume) reminds me of my other grandmother (gone almost 10 years). When she died, I was able to keep her Jontue powder that she had left, and I keep it in a special place.
I wondered yesterday what memories/scents/tastes will keep my memories alive with my own grandchildren……
Robin Dance says
Oh, Nana…THANK YOU for replying! And I remember Jontue, though its spelling was peculiar to me (I said it in my head and I remembered!).
Yes…yes…one day, years from now, your granddaughter will remember yesterday. With her mind…and nose. I’m sure of it! Precious :).
I had mini calalilies in my wedding bouquet — a tribute to my Grandma who carried calalilies 🙂 I didn’t mind paying a bit more for them!
Skin So Soft — the same grandma and getting to go play in her backyard..and the smell of her kitchen, not sure I could describe it
“the lake smell” reminds me of the times spent at my other grandma’s house – especially her “special closet” where we got to pick out treats she brought back from her trips to CA
Chocolate chip cookies remind me of my mom
Citrus — orange or grapefruit — makes me think of dad (as does vicks vapo-rub!)
Boiled peanuts — growing up in the south, watching games with my dad, big family gatherings 🙂
Robin Dance says
It’s amazing, isn’t it? The more we sit and think, the more smelleries there are to remember. Wait! I kinda wanna go back and retitle this post! Maybe I will!!
(Our favorite flowers speak to us for good reasons, don’t they?) 🙂
I’ve always felt that scent is one of the most powerful holders of memories.
My grandma used to use a certain kind of lotion, and to this day, when I inhale that scent, it’s like she’s standing next to me.
Marina Bromley says
Thanks for sharing!
I lost my mom and grandma within a year too, although it was a the start of my sophomore year. Still, there are the scents that remind me of “home” back then… some similar to yours, others more ethnic to my Armenian side of my family that was lost with them…
….and YES!! I’m SO thankful that God gave us the “scents” to remember by.
Your post is a blessing this morning!!
I was JUST talking with my mom about this. My grandmother sent me some seeds for my garden and they were in a baggie that smelled like her hands always have – a combination of Jergens and Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew. 🙂 I sniffed the bag and smiled just thinking of all the memories.
cate tuten says
Robin, thanks for sharing this post! So well written and so effective! You highlighted one of my favorite verses in such an appealing way…….bless you! Cate
This posting is somewhat similar to my blog entry of March 30/2012 where I talk about the connection between a memory and my Nana’s perfume.
Amanda Cross says
Love this post. My grandmother wears the Jean Nate splash too. So did my mom when I was little. My grandmother also wears White Musk. I love that smell on her.
Marsha B says
TY Robin! When I first saw your heading my thoughts turned immediately to my mother who loves Gardenias! I remember my Step-father buying her Gardenia corsages and plants over the 33+ years they were married. Every week for the last 12 years of their marriage she was also given 2 carnations, another favorite of hers. Even when my Dad was gone from home for a conference, or hospital stay, those flowers would show up like clockwork!
Then in 1974 when the Lord took him home, my 4 siblings and I sat next to Mom in an auditorium, filled with standing room only, to say one last goodbye, and to memorialize this wonderful man. We each donned a Gardenia corsage and sat near a beautiful oak casket with two carnations atop. The smell of Gardenia reminds me of the love my Dad carried to the grave for my Mom. That a simple gesture can be remembered for years to come, and that God, in His wisdom, changes lives and hearts.
I keep a small bottle of Gardenia oil and from time to time will open the lid and take a little sniff that immediately transports my mind to those fond memories of Christ’s love seen in my Step-father.And oh how deeply my Heavenly Father loves me.
I love how smells can bring back memories. Sometimes in the spring when the air is fragrant with flowers, it reminds me of high school. (there were a lot of flowers near my high school). My grandmother wore white shoulders perfume and powder…If I smell white shoulders, I think of her. Oh how I miss her!
Barbara @MadreMinutes says
Your Dambarr reminds me of my mom. She like many of the same things especially the toasted pound cake. My mothers scent was Estée Lauder Youth Dew. Can not not think of her when someone with that on passes me by. Great post.
I thought of two 🙂
After graduating from college, I packed up my things and moved to Nashville, 8 hours from the tiny Illinois town I had called home. 9 months later, I was broken, lonely, and longing for those I had left. One weekend that spring I drove to visit my parents. It was a beauiful evening, clear and warm, so I rolled the windows down to enjoy the night air. In doing so, I invited in the smell of a freshly turned field, readied for planting. As the smell of earth filled my car, I felt such a peace, because it was the smell of days spent at my grandparents’ farm, of childhood, of innocence, of happiness and new beginnings. I never realized how much I’d missed that smell living in the city until that drive home, and it was a very viceral reminder that I was not alone, and that maybe it was time to come home, after all.
And this weekend, I had the privilege of celebrating my grandfather’s 90th birthday. Grampa has always worn the same kind of cologne–I have no idea what it is, but it is a soft, masculine scent–and his hugs always linger longer than the embrace because of it. After we left the party, his hug came home with me. Grampa’s health isn’t the best, and his body is weak, but his hugs are as strong as they ever were, and I am so thankful for them.
Oma’s smell of mothballs and coughdrops – sitting in Tante Liese’s garden on many hot summer afternoons watching ladybugs and smelling lily of the valley and heated dry soil rising to my nostrils, ripening vegetables, herbs and plants, her cooking – my Tante Elsie’s sparkling bathroom smelling of lotions and perfumes – my mum (Mama Maria’s) awesome home full of baking and hot soups, her occassional dab of pretty perfume, her face lotion, the lemon scent she used to polish the dining room that sat so many people around it for countless dinners…. awesome memories!
Holley Gerth talked about Your Are Already Amazing today on 100 Huntley Street and she was wonderful and wise and isightful; psalm 45:10,11 was shared:
Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear:
forget your people and your father’s house,
and the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him.
I am reminded to celebrate the many good memories and move forward with joy in my life when some things were/are not so amazing, to take what was good and ask God to bless my today.
Beth Williams says
You all are luck to have had grandmothers, memaws, dambarrs, etc. All my grandmothers were dead before I got to know them.
My mom used to wear Channel No. 5 perfume. One vibrant memory I have is picking strawberries. We would go out to the field & pick lots of quarts. Then she would make her famous frozen strawberry pie. Yum Yum!
Miss my mom, but know she’s better off where she is.
I caught a whiff of gardenias on my morning walk today! So southern, so spring, so lovely! That passage in 2 Corinthians is an all-time favorite of mine. I have preached to my teen girls’ Sunday School and summer camp classes MANY times about “smelling like Jesus.” My husband has a super-sensitive nose and doesn’t tolerate most perfumes, but I found Pure Grace by Philosophy a few years ago (smells like soap – and don’t you just love the name?), so I’ve been wearing that. Once, after teaching a camp lesson about the aroma of Christ, I spritzed each girl with a little “Grace” on her way out of class!
(Oh and I love Dambarr…my Mom was dubbed “Bamp” by my daughter – very unique!)
Robin, beautiful. This so reminded me of my Granny, she loved gardenias and roses. It brought a smile to my face remembering her. Also, my daddy, a truck driver, used to bring home Orange Blossum perfume for us when we were little. Our Pastor taught on the smell of Jesus last Sunday. You just about preached his sermon. As much as I love gardenias and their smell, I love my Jesus so much more and want to smell like him. Thanks for a beautiful post.
Linda Schaeffer says
While walking with my Aunt Jean past a flower stand in San Francisco, she bought a gardenia and told me gardenias were my mom’s flowers in her wedding when she was her little flower girl. Her mother was my grandma (now known as Grandma Orange Cookies to my children because she always had them ready for me when I came home to Pa. to visit). Now I make them for my grandchildren. I’m called Marco, by the way, a butchered version of “grandma” which stuck. I think of my grandma when I smell peaches, strawberry jam and bread & butter pickles which she canned. I still miss her like crazy. Smells make our memories magical. I remember what my grandbabies favorites treats are and always have them ready! I’m making memories for them! PS My grandma always took the time to pray for her grandchildren before church started in that quiet time while you sit and wait for church to start.
We celebrated Silver in
September…..and I also
carried gardenias at our
wedding : ) My mom did
as well as my GiGi, and like
you, the fragrance does
and will always remind me
of them. I am so sorry that
your Dambarr and your mom
had to let go of your little
hand so early in the journey.
I still have both of mine, although
GiGi has sailed away from us
with dementia. I wonder if a
gardenia would stir up any
recognition in her mind, if we
were to place one under her
Beautiful post about the transportive
power of fragrance!
jean Wise says
Love this post as this is exactly something I have been pondering lately. Did you know at DisneyWorld when you walk up Main Street past the chocolate shop, they shoot out the aroma of chocolate into the crowds of people to entice them to enter the store. Correlates with this doesn’t it?
Kim O says
Had gardenias in my wedding 1985, because my grandmother had them in her wedding bouquet and I wore her dress! Had to!! I also had them as pew ribbons. My florist, said gardenias are so expensive. The church reeked gardenias, it was lovely. Didn’t care, they were just part of the package. I so remember my first- grade teacher Mrs. Stacckpole allowing us girls to have one pump of her Jergen’s lotion. I will forever remember that cherry-almond scent and occasionally buy it still just for the memory. Thank you for reminding us of scents that evoke happy memories and reminding us that our scent should always be that of Christ. Why is it so hard to wear some days?
Mary Ellen says
Yes, Jergens was a favorite at our house too.
I just have to say how much I love this post, but I have to say that I love that you called your Grandma Dambarr even MORE!!!! It was almost too distracting for me to to read on! My daughter is a first- born grandchild and has named her Grandma; Gaga. There are now five grandchildren that call her Gaga and I think it’s fabulous. My Mother in Law spent months choosing the “best” Grandma name and when my daughter was almost two she named her “Gaga”. It was not the name she chose, but she loves it!
When I think of my Nana the scent that she wore is Nivea lotion. Oh, she loved her Nivea!
Janelle-A Story of Grace says
Oh yes! So many smells do this. I love how God made us so complex and amazing.
Love this post…oh and how my heart ached when I read you lost your Dambarr and your mom so close together and at such a young age. So many of the “smells” you listed made me think of so many special women in my life. The smell of sunscreen reminds me of my daughers who left the west coast to attend college in the mid-west. A little coconut brings a smile to my face everytime. Congratulations on your silver!
I was 46 when I lost my Neenie and even then…I wasn’t ready. She, too, smelled of gardenias when I was a child. Chanel No. 5 is also scent I associate with her and I keep a bottle and wear it when I’m particularly dressed up. Or for no reason at all, except it smells like her. Toward the end of her life, Neenie wore Red Door. A few years ago, I was in a department store and smelled that fragrance and I followed it to a little old lady who was shopping. I approached her and asked if she was perhaps wearing Red Door and she said that she was. I told her that she’d given me just a second of thinking my precious grandmother was in the next aisle and that was such a gift. She hugged me and I smelled like Red Door the rest of the day.
Julie Sunne says
Great post, Robin! It does blow my mind to think of smelling like Jesus!
The smell of fresh cut grass/hay takes me back to my childhood on the farm. I loved everything about being a farmgirl, and I miss it. Those carefree summer days linger through mental images and fragrances.
So wonderful to be reading this today! Last evening my older sister sent me a picture with a text …the picture was her gardenia bush in full bloom…the text – ‘every time I walk past this bush and smell it’s fragrance I say…I smell Beth!’.
May we always be a sweet fragrance to our Father and He to us!
Mary Ellen says
Your post catapulted me into to a full-blown fragrance recall. The smell of garlic or cinnamon transports me to my Yiya’s (Greek for grandma) kitchen. Garlic was an ingredient in almost every main dish she cooked and her pantry was always full of cinnamon smells and pastry. We lived in her home for a while and the big bay tree in the front yard was a consistent aroma. She lived in Santa Barbara and I walked to school every morning through the main part of town. The smell of fresh baked goods carry me back to my walk where I passed several bakeries. Popcorn–Walking past Woolworth’s — and the smell of warm fresh made tortillas. Yes, these were also on my way to school. It’s no wonder I enjoy cooking and eating. 🙂 A season in time saturated with memorable fragrance.
Honeysuckle reminds me of waiting for the bus at Oma’s house. Playdoh reminds me of Kindergarten. Loves Baby Soft of Christmas stockings that my Mom always got me along with Jean Nate. White Linen and White Shoulders of my Oma and my Mom. My gardenia bushes just bloomed and I hope when my girls grow up they remind them of home. We live a few miles down the road from where I caught the bus at Oma’s, and at the end of our driveway is an old stump covered in the beauty of honeysuckles. Memories for them too.
Dawn Camp says
White Shoulders perfume makes me remember my Aunt Mayme. Jergens original scent (cherry almond?) recalls my mother during my childhood. Baby Magic brings tears to my eyes remembering my babies. When you pour a Pepsi in a glass (yes, I’ll drink Coke or Pepsi) and drink it right away, where the bubbles come right up and tickle your nose, that’s the smell of my great aunts’ dining room when I was a child. 🙂
My strongest scent memory has to be that smell that only comes once in a while on a cool morning with spring flowers in bloom. I can walk outside and it is Easter morning when I was six. My heart immediately fills with the joy and hope of my savior in heaven and i recall that overwhelming feeling I had as a kid knowing my Savior was in heaven watching me and loving me. Such a blessing and can make any day, no matter the mood and circumstances, a perfect day.
Tammie Howard says
It’s a crazy scent-memory, but my Grandmother, called Wawee because no one could say Laura, used vick-sab vapo rub every night of her life. She lived with us so whenever I had a bad dream I would go crawl in bed with her. She would roll over, give me a pat and sing me a lullaby. I knew everything was going to be ok. It was the sweetest sleep ever. She always smelled like vick sab, so to this day when I smell it I think of her even though she’s been gone for over 20 years.