Smells are important. They say that smells are what most easily triggers the memory. A smell will transport you to another time and place immediately and sometimes against your will. At times you don’t even know where you’ve been taken, only that you’ve been there before. In our home there are smell memories for Christmastime. Shortly after Thanksgiving, ever since my children were very small, I have been buying thin-skinned oranges and a big jar of cloves to make pomanders. We sat around the table with a bowl of cloves and a pile of oranges, spearing the cloves right into the orange – sometimes in fancy patterns and sometimes just plain around it. When the clove pierced the skin with a satisfying pop, orange oil would bead up around the fresh wound. Soon the apartment would be filled with the scent of spice and fruit so strong that it wafted into the hallway and delighted the neighbors too. By Christmas the pomanders would be cured and we tied them with red and green ribbons and hung them from the doorframe so that you could smell them the strongest when you walked into the house.
I’d never heard of paperwhites until one day shortly before Thanksgiving, a co-worker asked me if I wanted to chip in on a bulk order of the bulbs for Christmas. I did and every year since I put paperwhite bulbs in water and I keep them blooming in batches through the deepest dark winter months. The first batch is timed so that it blooms right before Christmas. I remember that when I started this tradition, I wondered if the earthy and very un-floral scent of the paperwhite would become a smell memory for my children. When they were grown up and far away, if they smelled a paperwhite flower, would they be transported home at Christmastime? Would they remember?