Certain smells take me back. Songs are long like too…and flavors. Strange how emotions can be conjured…how our senses conspire to reconnect with the past.
Foggy mist reminds me of my senior year in high school—during that part of the season when winter is still thawing into spring. Huddled in my car, U2 played on the cassette player, and I penned long love letters to my first real boyfriend—as if our separation would be much longer than a mere seven hours’ time.
Autumn, with is swirling leaves and crisp winds, has always been my favorite season– long hikes under bare canopies, the smell of wood smoke wafting over rooftops; walking side by side, fingers intertwined, nose running from the chill, lips chapped and cold…but welcoming and eager.
When I hear Leonard Cohen the walls close in and my heart cracks open. I am twenty-four and have let go of the only world I ever knew or wanted. His voice carries my doubt and regret, and it serves as a reminder of every mistake I’ve ever made. He is the soundtrack of the bitterness in my soul; he is the scar that reminds me of past wounds.
Potatoes and onions, warm and pungent, bring me comfort. The flavors meld together and call forth home, and security, and solace. The chatter of children, the low hum of the news droning in the background, and the scratching of pencil on paper as homework is completed…the familiar bustle is punctuated only by the sound of dinner sizzling on the stovetop.
Digging into the still chilled-soil of April, the smell of earth grabs hold of me. Quite unlike the pungent green smell of spring, earth is timeless and ancient. I dig my hands deeper and let the scent renew my soul. For a moment, I am a child in my grandmother’s garden digging up new potatoes, the warm sun shining on my face. I close my eyes to stay there just a bit longer.
And always, always, the smell of an old bookstore. If I could, I would wear it like a perfume. Bookstores punctuate my life as much as any song, any movie, or any cherished article of clothing. I can tell you exactly what was going on in my life by what bookstore I was frequenting.
Dalton was the bookstore of my childhood. Orthodontist visits were made tolerable only by the promise of books afterwards. Each visit to dental hell was followed up immediately afterwards by a visit to the B. Dalton Bookstore in Utica Square, and I piled the books high. As recompense for the pain, my parents indulged my voracious appetite for escape.
First Edition down on Cherry Street was the bookstore of my heart. A converted house, room after room, filled with every type of book imaginable. Benches and chairs invited book browsers to loiter away the hours. Tiny closets piled high to the ceiling offered barely enough room to turn around. Tall shelves offered privacy, for both shy readers and young lovebirds. It’s gone now, just like that period of my life, but I remember it with the same sense of longing.
Gardners was the bookstore of my college years. There was little order to the books, but they were available in abundance, and at a price that my slim purse could afford. Their vast number of books satisfied my eclectic tastes and no one bothered you when you spent hours browsing the crowded nooks and crannies.
Peace of Mind bookstore offered herbals and religion, history and metaphysics, and anything quirky that I couldn’t find anywhere else. It was a favorite high school haunt. The building’s uneven floors and drafty windows lent a certain bohemian charm to the shop.
In the age of Amazon, it can be easier to order online. New, used, old, rare, and out of print…they are easily available with the click of a button. It comes right to your door.
I see it like this: a microwaved meal can quell hunger, but a meal made with time and patience, with fresh ingredients and love…well that does more than just nourish the body; it nourishes the soul. And so is it with bookstores, especially independent bookstores. You get more than just a book, you get an experience. The smell of the books, the flash of a cover that calls to you, the suddenly recollection of an often-forgotten title….these are all lost when you merely “add to cart.”
I love books: hardback, paperback, e-books, new, and used. And I love bookstores: new, used, on-line, and independent. But bookstores, physical bookstores, are what stay with me. They are what define these periods of my life. They are what made me into the reader I am.
Bookstores were my refuge. They still are.
Yes, it is strange how emotions can be conjured. Memory after memory, strung together with the fragile web of sensation. Smell, and sound, and taste, and touch all circling around to the past.