“Of course winter has a smell!”
I had the facts of the client’s life, and was prodding to get to the stories behind them—the perspectives and experiences that were hers alone. The things that would make her children and grandchildren care enough to turn the page.
“And what is that, exactly?”
She was a keen observer, but quiet. Not a natural storyteller. And her last real winter was a long time ago. She packed her things and headed south from Minnesota on the first day of 1957.
“When you’re inside, winter smells dark green and damp, like there’s a layer of moss. Like your dad’s flannel shirt and socks drying by the fireplace. Like bread just out of the oven, but coated in something burning. Bone dry but somehow damp and decaying."
She sipped her iced tea. Beads of condensation dripped from the glass and down her hand.
"Like the heating oil that caused the neighbor’s house to blow up and the Christmas tree that caught on fire and burned down my grandmother’s house.”
She looked at me. “It smells like death, and that’s why I got the hell out of there.”
The sense of smell is often overlooked in storytelling, but is a powerful way to connect with the past and add depth and personality to a memoir.