September 22, 2010
It's the Smell I Remember
It’s the smell I remember.
When my older sister was in high school she got a summer job at the local bookstore in the center of our town. It was only about a mile from home, so I would sometimes walk or ride my bike there to visit her. I tried not to interrupt her professional duties too much. It was there that I first learned to browse.
In the brightly sunlit shop were stacks of neatly piled paperbacks on tables and shelves. Some current fiction and self-help to be sure, but it’s the classics that stick in my mind—Shakespeare, Twain, Steinbeck, Hawthorne, Melville, H. G. Wells, Upton Sinclair and more. Some became friends at that time. Some later.
Even more than that, however, I recall the smell. As soon as I stepped into the door of the small shop, the fresh scent of pulped wood surrounded me like a forest in the Rockies. “What’s that smell?” I asked my sister quietly.
“It’s the books,” she confided.
The effect was magical on my young imagination. We had books in our home, but not nearly so many of course, nor so many that were as new. The books in this store, however, engaged me fully in sight and touch and even hearing as I flipped pages. Nonetheless, the sense that overpowered the others was smell.
Every once in a while I am still carried back to that shop in my memory when I step into our own warehouse here in Westmont. It happens less often when I enter a bookstore which in its spaciousness and diversity of other products allows that special fragrance to become more diffuse. But whenever I catch the scent, I think of my sister and sunlight and the classics.