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A 1963 ad for Sea & Ski suntan lotion. Courtesy photo
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The sweet smells of summer

Every time I take a deep breath, I get a little giddy.

No, I’m not hyperventilating. It’s just that summer is here and I know this by the wonderful scents in the air.

Never mind the lavender, patchouli, and ylang-ylang. For me, summertime is always rife with unbottled, free, endorphin-producing aromatherapy.

It struck me as I drove down Coast Highway 101 with my windows down. I expected the glorious smell of the ocean, but I got the summer bonus of salt air mingled with a hint of campfire and roasting hot dogs. Nirvana. I think the perfume makers are missing a real moneymaker.

That night, I also breathed deeply of my blooming honeysuckle and was reminded again that much of the best memories of summer come to me from happy sniffs.

There are other things that can bring summers past to mind, but they seriously lack the same euphoria.

A painful sunburn, sand in my pants, a gallon of saltwater up my nose and the buzz of a mosquito or the itch of 12 bites on each leg are all solid summer memory joggers, but not the ones I seek to relive.

On the good list, I have to add the smell of that particular old-school suntan lotion, Sea & Ski, that never fails to take me to my happy place. I think it may have been the only sunscreen in 1955.

The scent I refer to is of the original product, but I think, bless them, that it still smells the same today. I need to buy some and dab it behind my ears.

My nose was equally tickled when my new gardenia bush actually popped out two flowers.

If I’m not careful, it could remind me of boys who scarcely spoke and the sweaty, goodnight handshakes from most of my high school formals. But somehow it has transcended that and instead smells like rustling taffeta and being young.

Another summertime feel-good smell is ripe peaches. I’m actually a nectarine fan for eating, but I will buy peaches to scent up the kitchen. I see my grandmother peeling a peach in one continuous ribbon, in preparation for the best-of-all pies.

Moving inland, I love the smell of the desert on a warm evening. It contains sage and mesquite and no doubt, a dozen other things, but it has an absolutely tranquilizing effect on me. Along those same lines is the smell of warm tent canvas mingled with pine.

If you branch out into man-made scents, add the smell of bacon cooking as you wake up in the chill of a mountain morning. Some, I suspect, might substitute coffee. It all qualifies.

Most of my happy smells come from summer, but not all. As years passed, I added the smell of a baby just out of the bath and the aroma of just about any meal someone besides me is cooking.

The oddest bit is that all this scent-memory comes from someone allergic, all her life, to way too many inhaled things. My schnoz was slammed shut as often as not, but somehow, the good stuff still seeped through. 

All right, everyone. Deep cleansing breaths. Say aaaaah, sssuuummmerrrrr.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer sniffing her way through summer. Contact her at [email protected].