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  • Writer's pictureJane McKenzie

The Scents that Shape Our Lives

In the summer of 1999, I walked into a clog store and factory in Holland, Michigan with my family. We took a road trip with our longtime family friends around Lake Michigan in an RV. One of our stops was Holland. The beautiful clogs they create were on display. As soon as I stepped foot into the shop with my brother right next to me, we realized the same thing and turned to each other. The place held the same exact smell as my Grandfather's workshop. It was unbelievable. I will never forget that moment, or that smell and how it transformed me into his favorite place to be. His workshop. In the basement of my Grandparent's ranch home in the Chicago suburbs was where he sketched, planned and created the most beautiful furniture for his family. Wooden rocking chairs, folding chairs, benches, tables and Adirondack chairs. That basement held his passion along with his bountiful garden in the backyard of his home. The spaces that he created were a true reflection of him, his past and his future.

It wasn't until 2009 when I traveled to my Grandparent's hometown, a small village in Croatia, that I realized the life he created in the United States was a direct representation of his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in Croatia. While there, we visited family homes and gardens, woodworking shops and met so many family members that I only heard about in stories. All of the pieces connected. The people I met were undeniable relatives of my Grandparents. The way they spoke, moved and clothed themselves. The smells that my Grandfather experienced in Croatia were being recreated in his workshop and garden, making it feel like home for him.

My Grandfather passed in 1995 but I keep him close to me. I keep all of my grandparents close to me and think about them all the time. They were artisans, all of them. How I wish they were here so I could witness them on this Earth as an adult. But they are here, I can feel them. They live through our family in different ways. Through smells, speech, mannerisms, facial features, memories, personality and grit.

I recently started reading a book titled "The Paris Library" where the author, Janet Skeslien Charles writes about a young woman interviewing for a job at the American Library in Paris, France. She walks into the historic building and writes, "Breathing in the best smell in the world - a melange of the mossy scent of musty books and crisp newspaper pages-I felt as if I'd come home...The library means more to me than any place in Paris. The library is my haven. I can always find a corner of the stacks to call my own, to read and dream. I want to make sure everyone has that chance, most especially the people who feel different and need a place to call home."

For me, home is the smell of my Mother when she hugs me in the most perfect way multiple times a day. I treasure this time with her. She is so beautiful. In many ways, I envision my Mother as the young woman in the book I am reading. Her love for books is ravenous. She worked at a bookstore for years and is always drawn to the quaint bookstore or library and the adventures it holds. And like her father, my Grandfather that I mentioned, she has created her home surrounded by books, stories, and a beautiful garden that stuns me every year.

In my artistic life, my haven is my art studio and art classroom. Opening the door and being surrounded by the cacophony of intertwined smells of paint, paper, oil pastels, colored pencils and clay all huddled together makes me smile and a sense of calm envelops me. These smells make me grateful that I have scents and moments that make me feel like I am home.

After reading the above passage, what moments, smells and feelings come to mind for you? If you would like to, please share in the comments below. I would love to read your thoughts.

Thank you for being here and please come back again soon.

Until next time,


(Photo of my Mom and I in my pottery studio in my home.)

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