There are always those smells that can transport a person back to another time and place, or evoke a memory that has long since been forgotten. It can happen anywhere, at any time. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not. But that's okay - our memories are what makes us "us." :)
Why am I waxing poetic about smells today? Well, for a couple reasons, actually. For one, it has gotten a bit chilly here in good ol' Maryland, and despite having some insane bipolar weather the last two weeks, the leaves are changing, the chill is hanging in the air, there's even that autumn fog I've grown to expect in the mornings. Also deer trying to commit suicide by vehicle, but that's a story for another day.
My favorite thing about autumn is when people start using their fireplaces. For whatever reason, the sweet smell of chill on the air mixed with that creosote and wood ash smell is so incredibly comforting to me. It reminds me of my grandmother, and my childhood. Growing up, we had a regular fireplace, and a wood burning stove (a potbelly stove, to some). When it would snow, or be super cold, my family would light a fire in the fireplace and snuggle on the couch in blankets watching movies, or cuddle on the floor in our blankets with our pets and coloring in coloring books, or drawing, or whatever.
My grandmother had a small waterfront cottage and their only source of heat was that wood burning stove. MawMaw's wood burning stove being lit meant winter was in the air, pancakes were going to be made for us (with sausage, and sausage gravy like only she could make it!), Halloween and Thanksgiving were coming, Christmas tree picking and decorating was just around the corner, and we'd have a bunch of time off school to spend visiting the old bat. It was excellent! My dad always cleaned out her stove pipe, too, to make sure it was safe, and I'd be allowed to help. Nothing better than being allowed on the roof to your mother's dismay! Oh! And there were always bonfires too! We'd burn the hell out of some leaves. Fireplaces are just...my favorite smell of childhood!
Anyway, on to the second reason, I got off on a tangent there. The second reason is that I obviously work with fragrances when I make soap. There are few that make me stop and say, "Where do I know this from?" But that is exactly what happened when I received a bottle of "Warm Flannel" from Brambleberry last week. I knew I recognized it. Where from, though? I kept sniffing, like some weirdo teenager huffing Lysol, just to figure out (remember, kids, don't huff things. There are too few people with a brain these days - save all the brain cells you've got!). And then I realized - it really does smell like flannel blankets. Only it had been so long since I'd snuggled up in one that I'd forgotten that smell. And of course, it brought me back to my MawMaw's house, curled up with her wood burning stove going, watching Looney Toons and Tom & Jerry on Saturday mornings while she made us pancakes and sausage, playing with tinker toys, or maybe a board game. This freaking fragrance bottle encompassed my entire childhood sleeping over at my grandmother's house.
Holy freaking crap.
And suddenly there I was, little 9 year old me (my MawMaw died when I was 11 so all of my memories are pretty early in my life), arguing with my cousins Emily and Greg about who would get to sleep on the "gold couch" (arguably the most comfortable couch in the house - they were a mish-mash of grandmother patterned sofas, and the coveted gold couch was the best one for sleeping on...PLUS, it was right next to the wood burning stove, so it was also the warmest spot). I was curled up on her horrible 1970s rust brownish-orangeish carpet, with wood paneling on the walls, a tall, gaudily decorated Christmas tree to my right in the corner, while my cousins and brother took up the couch, all of us laughing at Tom & Jerry, not understanding the WW2 jokes and propaganda that we couldn't fully grasp until we were significantly older...Listening to the old bat cackle (you could find her anywhere in a room as long as you listened for that cackle) at some horrible joke, while Big Band music (Benny Goodman was one of her favorites) played in the front area of the house so she could sing while she cooked.
I am actually quite convinced that my penchant for bursting into song in my day-to-day life is because of her. She did that all the time. Everything was a song to her.
But there it all was. All of it. That whole story. In this one fragrance bottle. I wasn't sure whether to smile or to cry. So I put the bottle away for a few days while I sorted out life things, thought on it, and then came back. I decided I felt loved, and I wanted to make a soap that reminded me of my MawMaw. I was hoping to make a nice soap that looked like a flannel blanket.....but, as with everything in life, I got a significantly different end result! It is okay, though - it still looks neat. I don't have a name for the soap yet. It turned out very 'Merica patriotic, or maybe Grateful Dead fan. I'd like to try again after this current batch is cured and gone, and hopefully get a more MawMaw-worthy pattern out of it. Though who knows, she might have liked the patriotic look!
The fragrance made it through the saponification process just fine - the batter itself thickened up like pudding on me relatively quick, even for soaping at room temp...But I still had enough time to get the initial Taiwan swirl done. And since the fragrance didn't morph, I'll put the thickening in the "worth it" category. I can't wait for these bars to be usable - I will just keep one to smell and think of my MawMaw forever.
I hope that the rest of you encounter good memories through smell or food or sight in the near future, especially with the holidays coming up. And I hope those memories make you feel super happy and loved like mine made me feel.
Elizabeth is a new to soap making, and wishes to share her journey in learning to make cold process soap with the hope that it will help other newbies who may stumble upon this site as a resource. From swirl techniques, choosing colors, combining fragrances, embeds, toppers, and textures, she chronicles her lessons and stories here.