Before her dementia, my mother's favorite garden flowers were roses and lilacs. (pictures by Marylin Warner)

Before her dementia, my mother’s favorite garden flowers were roses and lilacs. (pictures by Marylin Warner)



She would have hated the Corpse Flower, which smells like a rotting animal. Fortunately, it blooms for less than 48 hrs., every 7-10 years.

She would have hated the Corpse Flower, which smells like a rotting animal. Fortunately, it blooms for less than 48 hrs., every 7-10 years. (This one bloomed in Denver last August.)

Drinking coffee upset my mother’s stomach, but she loved the smell of freshly brewed coffee. When I came home from school after my mother had hosted a group or club, as she cleaned up she would empty the coffee pot last, and I’d watch her breath deeply and smile. Now her dementia has diminished her appreciation of favorite smells, and she no longer responds to coffee, fresh pineapple, frying bacon, or the scents of lilacs or roses.

The power of smell is undeniable. My favorite descriptions in books are often about scent. One of my favorites is from author Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS: “The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”

This week I was surprised to learn about a new plan for matching up couples.  Those of you looking for perfect mates can forget about going online, trying speed dating or lunch-only meetings, filling out long questionnaires or trusting the blind dates arranged by friends. Instead, trust what your nose tells you.

Several services offer matching mates by smell. One of them, Smell of Success, sends each participant a T-shirt to wear for 3 days—no using deodorants, powders, colognes or after shaves allowed—then mail back the T-shirt. Each person will receive at least 10 samples cut from the shirts of other participants to sniff at their leisure. After they choose, the service provides phone numbers. (Currently, this service is available only in New York.)

Before my dad died of Alzheimer’s, he and my mother were married more than sixty years. I remember once asking Mom what made her fall in love with Dad when he was a gangly kid in high school.  She laughed and said, “Well, it wasn’t how he smelled. He used this goop stuff in his hair, and he wore more Old Spice than my brothers and their friends put together.”

This from the woman who loved the smell of coffee but couldn’t drink it without getting an upset stomach. Yet she fell in love—and stayed in love—with my over-scented dad.   Ah, the surprising power of true love.

Imagine how THIS T-shirt would smell after 3 days...

Imagine how THIS T-shirt would smell after 3 days… True love?



Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations

48 responses to “CHOOSING THE ONE YOU LOVE?

  1. Yes I remember the safe smell of my late husband. He too used a lot of cologne starting with Old Spice when I first met him. But his smell to me (over riding any cologne) was safety and security.

    • With my mom, my dad’s snoring was a comfort. I think that when they were teens (they didn’t marry until after college) she must have gently guided how much after shave/cologne he used. I always remember my dad smelling like Dial soap and just faint after shave, Judith, nothing strong.

  2. juliabarrett

    I think the sense of smell creates the strongest memories. I still have vivid memories of the smells from my elementary school cafeteria. Once in a while I’ll catch a similar scent and I’m right back there.

    • I loved the smell of the new school year, Julia, with waxed floors and clean desks, and also how all the kids were scrubbed cleaned and dressed in freshly pressed clothes. Some of my favorite smells, even now, that remind of me growing up are the clean rain smells after a storm and the scent of fresh-mowed grass.

  3. Amazing post! Smell is an issue here. Hubby smells things I don’t and vice versa. His skin is peculiar. It has a significant smell and it bleeds oil into fabric. His pillow is always a different color than mine despite many baths and showers. When my son was born, I could smell him, the same musky scent my Gran carried or I thought so. Second son I never could pick up a skin smell like number one!

    • Those are definitely unique body smells, Claudia. You must have excellent memories of your Gran to pick up the same musky scent on your son. My scent memories are connected to products like my mom’s Desert Flower powder, the Evening in Paris cologne I brought her for her birthday, and the wonderful every day scents of baking bread or fresh soil after she’d been weeding the garden. I remember them clearly, and I miss them.

  4. Smells are very important to me and trigger many memories. I remember the sweet smell of my mother, my grandfather’s cigars and my father’s cologne. Oh, and the smell of babies! Have a relaxing weekend Marilyn.

  5. It’s awful that alzheimer’s takes away the sense of smell or at least the reaction to smells. They invigorate our memories so much.It’s been 3 years this month since Ju passed and even now I get a waft of her scent sometimes and love the memories it invokes.
    It’s funny but I’m about to put on some Old Spice but I don’t have enough hair to put some goop stuff in.
    I hope whatever world your Mom inhabits is a happy one and I know she must enjoy your visits even if she thinks you’re a stranger every time.
    I wonder if there’s a specific smell from your husband that comforts you?
    xxx Sending Mammoth Hugs xxx

    • I love how my husband smells after his shower, the combination of soap and warmth. And after he’s been on a hike and comes back smelling of mountain-y fresh air is a favorite, too. Now that we have Scout the puppy who loves to cuddle and chew on our clothes, we both smell like puppy. 😉
      My dad died seven years ago, David, but I know what you mean. There are still times when I’ll be visiting Mom–or even be in a restaurant or somewhere–and for just a moment I think he’s there.
      And as we both know, there’s nothing sweeter than the warm-hug smell of holding our grandchildren, especially your new granddaughter! ❤
      Mammoth Hugs to you, too!

  6. I believe the phenomenon you are referring to has to do with pheromones, “any chemical substance released by an animal [or person] that serves to influence the physiology or behavior of other members of the same species.” Apparently I was attracted to the pheromones of my blind date years ago though I couldn’t have explained all the reasons why. I married him, didn’t I? 😉

  7. The sense of smell is an interesting one as it affects each of us differently. Most perfumes and after shaves make me sick to my stomach. It is the smell of foods that evoke good memories for me. Fresh baked bread makes me think of my mother. Prairie dust will make me think of my dear dad when he came off the fields.

    • As soon as you said prairie dust making you think of your dad, Darlene, I remembered sitting at the breakfast table with my cousin (they lived on a farm) and my uncle came in from planting and ruffled my hair. He called me “Strawberry roan” because of my red hair, and I loved the way he smelled of the fresh country air mixed with fresh coffee that steamed from his cup during his break. Ah, the memories.

  8. It is sad that your mother no longer reacts to scents that once gave her such pleasure. I’m with David, and I hope that the world she now inhabits is a happy one.

    I agree that scents are powerful memory triggers–and even the memory of scents trigger emotions. I’ve written about this, too. I think I love Thanksgiving so much because the memory of the scents of the cooking make me feel warm and cozy. I’ve always loved the smell of coffee–it was also part of my childhood mornings (and now my adult mornings). I am much more sensitive to scents than my husband is. I hate the smell of his cigarette smoke that clings to him, but one of my daughters told me that she kind of liked it because it made her think of Daddy.

    Sometimes when I’m baking bread, I’ll stop and think, “that smells done.” 🙂

    • My mother often thinks she’s a young girl back on the farm, Merril, but she’s pleasant, calm, and has not pain, which is very different than my dad was in the last years of his Alzheimer’s.
      Up until about two years ago, I’d bake cookies in mom’s asst. living apartment, and she loved the smell and got hungry. Now even the strong scent of a bouquet of lilies will make her smile because they look pretty, but not the smell.
      You’re so right about the memories connected to smells; I think it’s as strong as sounds and things we see.

  9. This is an interesting post Marylin. My dad always wore English Leather or Old Spice. Later, my mom treated him to a Chanel after shave balm. All three of these scents are comforting to me. I’ve bought my husband Old Spice just to be reminded of my father.
    I think the dating service with the shirts just may go far. 😉
    xo Joanne

    • If either of our daughters signed up for this t-shirt dating service, Joanne, I think we’d both be upset and wonder where we went wrong! 😉
      There are so many smells from my youth that still trigger strong memories. Waxed floors at school, bread baking in the oven at home, the smell of laundry as we took it off the clothes line on a sunny summer day.
      I have a friend who lost her sense of smell after an illness, and after that she lost her desire to eat, too. She ate just to survive, not because the food tasted good. Even her favorite foods had little taste after she lost her sense of smell.

  10. Dating by fragrance? Now I do believe I’ve heard everything!

  11. Oh my word, I’m not sure I’d be the first to sign up for that sort of matchmaking. Yikes! I’ve never heard of the Corpse Flower, Marylin. Like the T-shirt experiment, it doesn’t sound too appealing. One of my favorite scents is Honeysuckle…it reminds me of my childhood.

    • Honeysuckle is one of my favorites, too, Jill. We had a honeysuckle bush at the back of our yard when I was growing up, and I picked little bouquets to put in jelly glasses.
      The Corpse flower has a horrible smell. When it blossomed in the Denver Botanical Gardens last year, because it was would bloom for only about 48 hours there was a very long line waiting to witness the big event. On the news it reported that the smell (it was inside one of the glass rooms) was so strong that several became physically ill and had to leave. I’m still not sure what function the Corpse flower has in nature, but surely it does something. 😉

      • We used to pick the honeysuckle and put into glasses too. I liked to put it on my nightstand. 🙂 I’m happy I’ve never encountered the Corpse flower!

      • There are cactus that have beautiful flowers that smell like rotting flesh. These attract flies which polinate the plants. So watch out. If we kill off the bees the plants may change tactics and start using far less attractive sents. You heard it here first! 🙂

      • Of course I heard it from your first, Rod. You’re my go-to authority on these things. 😉
        Now I’m really determined to save the bees, or do anything that will prevent the Corpse flowers from fulfilling your prediction.

      • Believe me, Jill, you would definitely remember if you’d ever encountered a Corpse flower!

  12. Oh my goodness….I can’t even imagine! After having each of my children my sense of smell escalated. I am so sensitive to smells….I would not enjoy smelling anything that anyone had worn for three days! I am so glad I am happily married and don’t have to resort to these crazy match making schemes. As always, your post was a very good read! Enjoy the weekend my friend!

  13. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Interesting thoughts, Marylin! Thanks!

  14. The smell of cut grass and Tarmac after a rain shower.
    I laughed at Smell of Success … I wonder how many matches they actually make? Fun post, Marylin. P

    • For now, it’s just available in New York, and the basic price starts at $25. But that makes me wonder about “starts at”…? Maybe you’re sent a washed and used t-shirt? 😉
      And what if you don’t like any of the smell samples sent to you? Or you like them all? Somehow, I don’t think this will become a racing success, Jenny.

  15. Smell is so powerful in what it evokes, but I’m not sure I’d go so far as smelling 3 day old t-shirts 🙂

  16. To me, Andrea, this whole thing sounded ridiculous, so I looked it up, thinking it was a joke or I’d misunderstood. It’s real; I don’t know how successful or how much in demand it it, but the service does exist.
    Somehow it takes the glow off love. 😉 ❤
    And what do you tell your kids? "I fell in love with your dad's dirty t-shirt."

  17. Oh Marylin, what a great post and I had to laugh at the Old Spice story…my dad always wore it and even today, the smell of it evokes those early years when he hugged me as a child. I write about that very smell in my memoir 😉 Roses and lilacs are my favourites too, and lavendar, all of which I grow in my garden. And I’m with your dear mom about coffee, although I do enjoy a cup (or two now, thanks to your post about it being good for the memory!) to drink, but it is hard on the stomach so I never drink it at nighttime. And I remember that corpse flower from another of your posts…gross!!! But as for smelling t-shirts to find a match made in heaven, I’d rather not…so glad I found hubby when I did! ❤

    • What about the smell of a guy after 3 days of wearing a t-shirt…BUT he’s bringing you a bouquet of roses, lilacs and lavender, AND a fresh cup of coffee? 🙂
      Naw. We’re both so glad we found our hubbies when we did, Sherri. ❤

      • LOL 😀 That’s funny Marylin!!!! And yes, I’m so glad we’re both so glad! Have a wonderful week my dear friend! ❤

  18. Jim

    Interesting. I never really noticed distinctive smells of people other than the usual perfume, aftershave or deodorant the person happened to be wearing. How often can we catch people with their natural odor unless we request a three-day old shirt? I don’t mind the smell of sweat. I always told Molly and the grandkids, “Sweat is good.” It’s a healthy smell. However, there are occasions I have noticed a persistent, distinctive smell in a household aside from something they cooked. Maybe it was just the stale smell of a certain household cleaner. I don’t know. But it would always be there–sometimes a pleasant smell, sometimes not. My grandma’s home was always so clean and pleasant smelling. I loved getting on my bike as a kid and riding over to her house to just ‘hang-out’, as we we say nowadays.

    • My mother said sweating a lot and drinking a lot of water was the combination for staying healthy and happy. But her friend shook her head and said, “Men sweat. Women glow.” So much advice! 😉
      Your grandmother in Colorado and my grandmother in Missouri must have kept the same kind of house, honey. But in addition to being clean and pleasant smelling, my grandmother’s house often had the wonderful smell of baking cobbler, too! ❤

  19. Ah, the smell of lilacs and coffee…two of my favorite smells. Thankfully, I can drink coffee. I laughed reading about a new way to find a mate. I wouldn’t want to smell my clothes after three days of not showering, etc. Too funny, Marylin. 😄

    • It made me smile, too, Tracy, and I have two single friends who think it would be fun to try the 3-day t-shirt test, so if it works for them, them that’s great. Jim and I have been doing our laundry together for more than 30 years of marriage, so dirty shirts are, well…just dirty. 😉
      I love coffee, too, both smell and taste.

  20. You probably know the book A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman? The chapter on smell in that book made a deep impression on me.
    Another example of the power of smell. Watch this one if you want to smile and maybe even tear up:

    Interesting topic for a post, Marylin. It would be sad to see that sense disappear in one’s mother.

    • Shirley, what an wonderful video! Yes, I did smile…and also tear up. So touching. Thank you for sharing that.
      My mother no longer recognizes her former favorite smells, but she still responds to touch. Some of my happiest visits with her include her squeezing my hand or patting my arm and saying, “You’re just the nicest girl.” 🙂 At 97 and with advanced dementia, she rarely knows I’m her daughter, but it’s enough for me to have her smile and call me “just the nicest girl.”

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