The neighborhood where I work in Seattle is one that just 10 years ago was a commercial/warehouse zone north of the city of Seattle. In just a few years (and the influx of the headquarters of Amazon), the entire area has changed into large office buildings filled with 30-somethings. There are a few vestiges of that commercial area left–holdouts mostly. The small antique store has moved south of the city leaving a building that has a development notice on it. The two story brick building across the street is still there, but now it is a Tesla dealership/maintenance facility! The Athletic Awards store is still there and, so far, in spite of offers, Monty is not selling the family business.
Another of these vestiges is the Firestone dealership, a large two-toned ochre two-story building. While it is slated for development (read: demolition and new big office building), it and the people within it continue to rotate and sell tires and other related items. I walked by the open roll up door the other day from lunch and it wasn’t the lifts or the cars that reminded me of my childhood–it was the smell. It wasn’t strong or unique but it made such an impression I had to stop walking. The smell of oil and rubber took me back to a simpler time in Iowa.
My dad, Harold Jacobson (1911-1983), ran a service station in Britt, Iowa, with his brother Bob. I would sweep the office and the women’s restroom for a dime so I could go to the store with my friend Susan and get a vanilla phosphate. I still love the smell of gasoline being pumped into cars (probably lost a couple of IQ points with that!) and I rue the day they added those protective collars on the gas pump nozzles. These smells were a part of the service station (Pure Oil) and of my dad and my strong memories of a small town in Iowa.
When I posted an abbreviated version of this story on Facebook , many readers leaped in with their olfactory remembrances as well and I thought I would share them with you. I thank each of them for allowing me to use their stories here. I have occasionally done a little editing to make the writing flow.
Dave Liesse: One of the more unusual ones would be the sulfuric odor of an oil refinery. Both my lines come from Standard Oil families, and the Sinclair refinery was across the street from the Standard Oil refinery (it seems to me there was a third, as well, but I don’t remember which company). This was in Whiting, Indiana.
Lisa Chan: About a decade ago [my dad] had a contract as a superintendent for one a building up on Capitol Hill of what had been one Seattle’s oldest car dealerships. They needed to install an elevator, so he dismantled an old wooden car elevator lift and scavenged the ancient maple flooring. For a wedding gift, he (and myself and husband) built our simple bed headboard out of some of it… and the grease and oil stains are visible in the wood. The smell of spirits, turpentine, linseed oil and motor oil will always be associated in my mind with love of my father and his support and approval of my best friend in this life.
Eileen Furlani Souza: The smell of homemade spaghetti sauce with meatballs. The way we make it takes many hours with the delicious scent permeating the air making you hungry. Today, when I make it, the great smell immediately takes me back to my family.
Zola Troutman Noble: Boxwood bushes surrounded my grandparents’ front porch in Virginia where we would play on their swing during summer vacations in the ’50s. To this day the smell of those bushes takes me there. My husband planted boxwood bushes by our front porch for me, but they don’t have that aroma of the old bushes. Come to find out, that smell has been genetically engineered out of the new bushes because some people thought it was offensive. I won’t say what they thought it smelled like.
Suzanne M. Johnston: I remember the smell of my grandmother’s basement. A mixture of potting soil (African violets) and coal furnace. Odd, but a vivid memory.
Peter Lehndorf: Italian food on my Sicilian side. Sauerkraut for my dad. My basset’s flatulence of both. That’s all I got.
Emma Norland: Orange with cloves. My grandma hung those in her clothes closets.
Lee Johnson: ….Your father always let me into one of the empty bays to pull, clean and gap my spark plugs and set my points on my Pontiac late Saturday afternoons just in case someone might want to “run the boxes” later in the night. I think he charged me a buck! Those were the days! The smell I remember is burning rubber on concrete!!!!!
Lisa Sbrochi McCurdy: Homemade … “anything” coming from mom’s kitchen, spaghetti sauce, fried chicken, pot roast… then there was always something she was baking, pies, breads. But breakfast food was the most comforting… especially pancakes!!
Amy Kime Arner: The scent of the powder my grandmother used. I don’t know the name of it, and it’s not popular today. Occasionally I smell it when I’m out and about.
Linda Lawson: All my aunts used Pond’s hand cream…don’t know if it still exists. Evening dessert was often toast with butter and cinnamon.
Betsey Cotter: My mother’s bread baking and my father’s smell of formaldehyde……
Diana Chrisman Smith: Potting soil for me, too. My dad raised African violets to sell to local florists and give to friends. There were always several large tables FULL of plants in various stages of maturity. And I inherited my mother’s ‘black thumb’. Can’t grow anything!
Janice Lovelace: Bakery – bread! There was a bakery across from an “auntie” and I loved the smell of bread baking and then getting [it] fresh out of the oven.
Mary Kathryn Crews Kozy: The smell of rain and smoke from wood fires burning… Means it must be time to go back to school! :-) Probably why fall is my absolutely FAVORITE season!
Laura Flanagan: Sawdust. My father was a woodworker. He had his own business for over 40 years.
Diane Blomgren: We had many bonfires in the fall and I love that smell! We found a good long stick, whittled it down to a point on one end and browned/burned marshmallows over the fire! Another smell I remember well…. Those burned marshmallows! Ate them anyway!
Judy Keller Fox: [F]an belts: Dad had an auto parts store. I get the oil and tires smell, too!
Tami Osmer Mize: Ivory soap. My grandma washed EVERYTHING in Ivory soap and that scent takes me back to her farmhouse kitchen.
Sandy Barnes: I do [have] a very specific smell associated with Nov 1963, the day President Kennedy was shot. My mother was a very avid ironer. She would sprinkle water on the clothes and roll them up before ironing them. Those wet clothes [after being] steam ironed had a very specific, almost metallic, smell. I was in sixth grade; they sent us home early and when I walked in, my mother was ironing.