Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The memory of scent

I love how a random aroma can transport me back to another time. When I first walked into my new local library, it was as though I had entered my beloved library back home. The scent of old books and papers...nothing like it. There's only one aroma in my house that does that for me, every single time.

Sesame oil.

When I pop open the bottle, I must put my nose right up to the spout and take a deep, lung-filling whiff. That's always followed up by a quiet smile, as the memories come flooding back. When I was about eight, my oldest son's age, my dad took up Chinese cooking as a hobby. We lived in an old Chicago Bungalow, and in the unfinished basement there was a tiny little gas stove. He would cook down there, keeping the heat and oil splatters out of our miniscule kitchen...and ensuring that little kids didn't get underfoot and burned. Once he mastered complex stir-fries, he moved on to our favorite, Hot and Sour Soup. He perfected a recipe that included a drizzle of sesame oil on top, the heat releasing its nutty scent.

It brings back the memory of being young and carefree and happy, with a dad who loved to experiment in the kitchen and share that with his family. We had delicious food, and dinners around the table, and leftovers I'd have for breakfast in the morning. No, really, I did. My sons don't get it either. It brings back the memory of recreating my dad's Hot and Sour Soup recipe in college, going to the only Oriental grocery store in Normal, Illinois to get the precious ingredients. Filling my pit of an apartment with the warm aromas of soup and sesame oil.

With one whiff, the scent of sesame oil transports me back to all those times. Better than any time machine.

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