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Smells and memories

David Epps's picture

I was with someone recently who was using one of those “vape” things, “E-cigarettes,” that help people to either cut down on smoking or to smoke without the tar and carcinogens. From the vapor, or “smoke,” came a very pleasant aroma that triggered something happy in my mind.

“What is that smell?” I asked.

He took the vape out of his mouth and said, “It’s the aroma of pipe smoke.”

“Ah,” I thought. “There’s the memory!”

When I was a kid, my grandfather, Charles Duckett, would take me fishing from time to time. To keep things together in those days, my dad would work a full-time job and often a second — and a third — job. That didn’t leave a great deal of leisure time.

Until I was almost 9, I was an only child and I think Grandpa sensed that I needed some time with a father figure. So, he took me fishing at one of the lakes in northeast Tennessee.

Most of the time, the fishing was on the bank and, as the lines rested in the water, he would light up a pipe. We talked, made plans, and sometimes just gave in to the peaceful silence of warm summer days. But, always, there was the pipe smoke. Whenever I smell a pipe, I am transported to that “peaceful, easy feeling.”

The same is true of cigar smoke. One of the activities in which my dad was regularly engaged was gun trading. In the southwest Virginia / east Tennessee / western North Carolina culture of the working class, firearms were a way of life.

At any given time, the hall closet housed fifty or more rifles and pistols. At gun shows and on the weekends, guns were bought, sold, haggled over, and traded. To my dad, the activity was recreational and financially rewarding.

It was at these events that Dad smoked a cigar. Mom hated the smell, so he never smoked cigars around the house. Gun shows and flea markets were another matter.

On those times when he took me with him, I was overjoyed. And, always, there was the smell of the cigar. To this day, although I have never smoked anything, the smell of a cigar brings an immediate and visceral memory of times together with my father.

There are other aromas that take me back: a freshly mown lawn in the late summer will cause me to be a teenager again, dressed in full pads, and ready to snap the ball to a waiting quarterback.

To most people, a smelly locker room is a place to exit as quickly as possible. To me, it is a hallowed place bringing with it the voices and faces of youthful athletes now long grown up.

The aroma of honeysuckle takes me back to the place where I grew up and the house where honeysuckle hung heavily on the fence nearest the woods, filling the area with its sweet smell.

A bus traveling by, leaving its diesel scent in the air, takes me to away games on the football team or to the journeys I made from Marine Corps bases to home to visit family and girlfriends.

It’s amazing and intriguing how the human mind responds to odors and aromas. Negative emotions and memories can also occur, of course.

The smell of wet concrete, takes me back to a summer construction job that was distasteful — although that experience convinced me that I should go to college.

Once in a while, however, the experience of being unexpectedly and happily taken to a place in the memories that we have stored brings an appreciation of times, places, and people that were significant in our lives.

As the Beatles sang, “There are places I remember in my life ...” Invisible aromas that bring the gift of priceless memories and powerful emotions — may they never cease.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA ( He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee ( and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at]

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