Kim Henderson – The smells of Mother’s Day

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 5th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Our sense of smell can evoke recollections of long ago. WORLD commentator Kim Henderson says, the nose “knows.”

KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: The first time it happened I was in Memphis in a study carrel on the second floor of the Rhodes College library. Somebody walked by and I caught a whiff – light and floral, with a citrus undertone. I was half a semester deep in my freshman year and nearly drowning in homesickness, so I recognized it right away: Estee Lauder’s Beautiful. The scent of my mother.

That was more than 30 years ago, but the smell of that perfume still conjures up a host of memories for me. With Mother’s Day around the corner, I asked some friends what scents they associate with their moms. I discovered their memory triggers weren’t always the spritzable kind you buy in a bottle. 

For Renee, it’s cloves and vinegar. Her pickle-making mom was the practical type, but one summer day she walked away from her brining long enough to play chase with blue-green “monster fingers.” Renee says she never grew to like sweet pickles, but that memory of her mother’s fun side is precious to her. 

My friend, Jina, grew up in Hawaii among all sorts of exotic smells. Funny how it’s a regular old household product that can send her on a sentimental journey: Cheer, her mom’s favorite laundry detergent.  

For Carlianne, it’s the smell of homemade bread, the stuff that has filled her up and kept her mom’s special starter in the fridge for as long as she can remember. 

Marklyn used to help her mom cut other people’s yards. Now, the smell of fresh-cut grass reminds her of what her mom taught her about the importance of doing good deeds. Even on a lawnmower.

When I asked Teresa about a scent, she provided a simile. “Mom smells like a pound cake,” came the swift replay. “She makes one almost every day. The sick, dying, moving, or birthing from here to wherever have had one made with love by my mother.” 

Out in Arizona, my sister-in-law picked Celine Dion—well, her signature perfume, that is. Whenever she smells it, she can close her eyes and picture her mom on  Sunday morning, all dressed up in one of her beautiful scarves with a smile on her face, waiting to go to church.

So I found the synapse of scents runs the gamut: From Pine Sol to home perms, and lavender to Parker House rolls. The smell of fried green tomatoes, a rosemary bush, Bath and Body Works’ Coconut Lime Verbena lotion.

But there’s always someone who throws a curve, and my survey was no different. Pam couldn’t go with just a single scent. Oh, no. It’s a smell-sound combo that’s tied to her memories. It’s opera coming from all the stereo speakers in their house while her mother did a week’s worth of cooking on Saturdays. 

Opera while pots simmer on the stovetop? Now that’s a neat memory. But whatever sensory keepsakes we have to treasure, let’s thank God for them–and our mothers–this Sunday.

I’m Kim Henderson.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.