Olfactory Stories!

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.

FirestoneAnother 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 [1], 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.

Michelle Khuon: My great-grandfather had a dirt-floor ‘basement’ under his house that had a very distinct smell that I now realize was really mold/moisture based – but it’s a dirt/earthy smell that I associate with him and that house specifically. I ended up with the old family Bible, which was unfortunately stored in that basement – and the smell of it is such a vivid memory for me that I can’t bring myself to deal with the fact that there is likely mold harming the book.
Sue Gaston: The fragrance of my grandmother’s pantry, Libbie Wallis Hadfield Hannum, at her house at 6608 North 34th St. in Berwyn, Illinois. Must have been the scent of the spices she kept in there. I was brought home from the hospital when I was born to that house since my parents were building a house that wasn’t ready yet. And we spent all the holidays and lots of other times with those grandparents. They had a TV before we did!
I love the fact that more than just the genealogy community weighed in on this.  Do you have a smell that “takes you back?” Thanks to everyone.  Although I did ask, if after reading this, you wish to have your name and description removed, let me know.
Happy Thanksgiving!  Thanks to all my followers–you are terrific.
Happy Hunting!
What I have done since the last posting: My lecture schedule this past fall has been very hectic with presentations almost every weekend. And, of course, the major conferences all want their proposals in about the same time, so I have been submitting “like crazy”.  I have heard from all but the BYU conference.  I will be traveling around the country in 2016 lecturing in Burbank, Ft. Lauderdale, Indianapolis and Minneapolis– speaking at least twice at each.  In addition, I have been selected for a couple of webinars and so I will posting that information in the near future.  I am planning a “genealogy junket” that will take me to Salt Lake, CO, Santa Fe, Tucson, San Diego, Fresno (I hope), and points north back to Seattle in January-February, arriving in Seattle for presentations at two academic conferences.  I will be writing my portfolio along the way so be prepared for blog postings about the trip and the progress.
[1] Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/, Jill Morelli.  > Jill Morelli > commercial businesses Firestone tire dealership neighborhood.  Try some or all of these search items.  You might end up with someone trying to sell you tires but it is worth a try.

7 comments on “Olfactory Stories!

  1. Kathryn Andre says:

    Delightful post. I appreciate you so much. Happy Thanksgiving.  Kathryn B. Andre

  2. Patricia Kinzie says:

    Congratulations on securing a speaker’s slot at NGS Conference 2016!

  3. Jill, do you think you’d be able to submit a proposal to speak at the IAJGS 2016 Seattle Conference on these same two topics, death and dying in the 19th c. and the “push” and “pull” and decision-making of the emigrant? The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2016 and the link to the webpage for more information is: https://s4.goeshow.com/iajgs/annual/2016/abstract_submission.cfm

    The website for the Conference is: http://www.iajgs2016.org/

    Thank you very much!

    Karen Campbell
    JGSWS 2nd VP/IAJGS 2016 Seattle Conference Publicity Committee Member

    • Jill Morelli says:

      I would very much like to participate in this conference but I will be in the Midwest doing some personal research the entire month of August. I will miss not only your conference but also NwGC. Jill

  4. Teresa Van Dine says:

    Jill: I am from Britt, Iowa (class of 70) and appreciated this beautiful blog. You might enjoy a site my sister Joanne Dudgeon has on Facebook, I Grew Up In Britt, Iowa. You can look at the site. If you go under photos on the site she has classified many of the photos under categories. There may be a photo of your father’s business if not we will try to find one. Was it Pure Oil as you mentioned above. Thanks again for this beautiful blog. You can asked to be part of the Britt site. Teresa Dudgeon Van Dine.

    • Jill Morelli says:

      Thanks for commenting. Yes, my dad and his brother, Bob, owned and operated the Pure Oil Co. gas station. I will check out the Britt site. Thanks for recommending it.

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