I love the smell of two places, the library and the Post Office (because it reminds me of the library). Why? I’m figuring it’s the collective smell of paper. I recently joined Pinterest and it became another means to explore what I want in my life, and maybe a bit of a time waster when all I can do is “pin” a picture and post (zombie brain days I call them)—but it got me to blogging today, so that’s a plus. And one of my boards in Pintrest is entitled, My Library. It’s a virtual bulletin board of my dream home library and awesome crafty bookshelves I hope to acquire one day. Lord knows I have enough books to fill them. Confession, I was at the secondhand book store at the La Mesa library. The kind elderly volunteer watched me and my children with interest as I perused, dissuaded my children from buying a recipe book for bread or grammar usage (shocking) and found nothing I really needed or wanted, even if I lingered a bit too long on a paperback copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary (I own a copy already as well as the movie). But, I had to argue with my brain that just because the book was 80 meager cents, I didn’t have to possess it. So, proudly we walked out empty handed.
Now, back to the library. I was once a library aide in the 5th grade because I had the “connects” as we say on Guam. My best friend at the time, well her auntie was our librarian at Ordot Elementary School. She got me weekly time to assist. But, for the most part I have memories of the wonderful smell of books in air-conditioning. The metal shelves were cold and gray, but beautiful to me. Don’t get me started on the metal book ends. A specific memory, aside from returning books, playing Donkey Kong on a portable miniature arcade game and perusing literature was building a clubhouse of stacked books. I was in heaven. Another cohort, Jennifer, would build a wall of books around her and I did the same. I would be seated in the corner of two shelves and start building the two walls to box myself in. Where the librarian was at this time and whose idea this was at first is gone from my memory. But, what I do remember is the childhood distortion caused by imagination. Suddenly, this makeshift clubhouse of bookshelves and walls mortared by books that had crisp plastic covers or linen hard covers became the apartment building I would have when I was an adult. I felt safe in my box of books. I remember the smell of that time and place very fondly.
So, living stateside, I found it a luxury to have mail delivered right to my door (saved me the trip to the post office, unless I had a package to send). I didn’t realize an errand such as going to the post office could be missed, that is going to the Hagatna post office on Guam. Every other day, after work at John F. Kennedy High School, I would find an excuse to go off my route home to buy an iced meximocha at Hava Java and walk the maybe 500 feet to the post office to check our family mail. Our entire family shared one post office box. Not just the immediate members, but my grandma, uncles and aunt. I would have to pull out whatever number of letters, look at each one and pull out mine and put the rest back. It probably looked like I was shuffling a deck of cards standing at box 1843. I digress. I will say, post offices smell the same in California as they do on Guam. And, not until I was designated the mail girl for the nonprofit group I work with did I realize, I actually like my weekly trips to the post office. 9 times out of 10, a rooster would crow in the neighborhood in the surrounding hills. That sound makes me smile too. Doors open to the post office, paper smell envelopes me, I walk past boxes that remind me of the ones at home…the ones that used to be opened by combination, a fancy dial in front of each box. I-D-E was our combination. My parents would pull to the curb and I would race up the steps to our box; happy to be trusted with this task. Today, my children join me as I check CHE’LU mail. They too race to the back quadrant which houses our group’s mail. They argue about who is going to turn the key, my son pulls the mail out, my daughter has to close the little door. Post office memories. Library memories.
Try having an olfactory memory with your Kindle/Nook/E-mail.
Found this interesting/somewhat parallel take by author, Christopher Paul Curtis.
“As soon as I got into the library I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I got a whiff of the leather on all the old books, a smell that got real strong if you picked one of them up and stuck your nose real close to it when you turned the pages. Then there was the the smell of the cloth that covered the brand-new books, books that made a splitting sound when you opened them. Then I could sniff the the paper, that soft, powdery, drowsy smell that comes off the page in little puffs when you're reading something or looking at some pictures, kind of hypnotizing smell.
I think it's the smell that makes so many folks fall asleep in the library. You'll see someone turn a page and you can imagine a puff of page powder coming up real slow and easy until it starts piling on a person's eyelashes, weighing their eyes down so much they stay down a little longer after each blink and finally making them so heavy that they just don't come back up at all. Then their mouths open and their heads start bouncing up and down like they're bobbing in a big tub of of water for apples and before you know it... they're out cold and their face thunks smack-dab on the book.
That's the part that makes librarians the maddest. They get real upset if folks start drooling in the books.”