Of smells and scents and sightlessness

south African guide-dogs association

My mother-in-law is blind. She was born blind, inherited from her grandmother. She keeps her home: irons, washes, cooks and cleans magnificently. But in her own way.

Martin grew up in a house for example, where cooking was done from memory, on smell and sound. Mom knew all the recipes off by heart. She taught him to smell when the food was not cooked; nearly there; and ready. He learned to listen for the tick-tick-tick before milk boils on the stove.  She smells eggs at the store to know if they are fresh or stale. She predictably refuses a drink from a glass that comes from the dishwasher ‘smelling like spit’. Wash day at Mom-in-law’s house is a rosy affair. You smell the Stasoft throughout the whole house. The washing has to smell positively floral.

My mom again was allergic to laundry softener. Quite literally. Our clothes were not smelling like anything when it came from the line, stiff and hard. And that satisfied her: no smell meant the clothes were clean! So in my house we are trying to find the happy medium. I haven’t been using fabric softener in more than ten years. So my laundry smells faintly of soap when I pack it in the cupboard, and we are all fine with that. On rainy days when it lay in the washing machine a tad too long, and that distinctive ‘wet dog’ smell creeps in, I simply wash the load again. I hate masking a smell. I want to know it smells clean because it is clean.


Except in the loo. I understand very well why we settle for masking smells there! It does not feel wrong. The cause of the smell is already washing down a pipe somewhere and I am dealing with the fleeting leftover wafts for my own comfort and that of my housemates. So yes, we do use toilet spray!

I sometimes marvel at the potency of smell in bringing back memories. I have three arch smells. The strong smell of Jeyes Fluid reminds me of the nervous giddiness in my tummy I used to feel when Mom dropped me at nursery school.  The most unpleasant smell of my childhood? In 1982 the five-year-old me went through a ‘spookhuis’ with Mom and brother Cori. I am positive that this was at Funworld on the Durban Beachfront but I might be wrong. After those horrific two minutes I could not stand the smell of vinca flowers! Somehow to me it smelled the same as that ‘spookhuis’.

Orange flavoured Lip Ice takes me back to being five too. We never got Lip Ice except for when Tannie Dalene bought us some. But that orange flavour has to be my happy spot… even today it makes me feel at home and in heaven at once. I guess that is subconsciously why I named our citrus ODOUR fragrance Happy! Also because I absolutely love Clinique Happy perfume. But let’s not get started on perfume!

I understand why smell is so important to Mom-in-law. It is her gauge of the state of things. Even more so than for us. How wonderful that we can control odours to a large extent! What is your happy smell? I’d love to hear!