My first friends on Sigma Lane in Rantoul, Illinois were from another country. (I’m not going to say which one, because the commentary to follow will not be complimentary, and I don’t want anyone thinking I’m anti-_____ or that I think all people from ______ have this problem.)

The moving truck hadn’t even pulled away from our new home when I began wandering the neighborhood looking for playmates. J and A were sitting on their driveway drinking coconut milk–from an actual coconut. I was bold then: “Hi. Do you want to be friends?” I asked. “Sure,” J responded, offering her coconut to me.

I have only flashes of memory in regard to J and A: the coconut; the time we built a go cart out of a milk crate and roller skates and, on a test run, I did a mid-air flip and landed on my face; and the way their home smelled.

It was awful. Awful. 

I mention that J and A were from another country because I’m guessing some of the awful had to do with unfamiliar oils and spices. We were a hamburger-noodle casserole family, and their home smelled nothing like that. In fact, it smelled like nothing I’d experienced before.

Except. Dog poop. That smell I recognized. I just wasn’t used to experiencing it inside the house. J and A had a Pekinese, you see, and their basement was his kingdom. The first time J took me downstairs to meet the dog, I was overcome with the sight and smell of several weeks’ worth of poo. Tip of the day: If your basement floor is covered in dog mess, your house will smell like a natural fertilizer factory. There’s just no way around it.

And it’s from this experience that I developed one of my many hospitality-related anxieties: I worry about having a smelly home.

Admittedly, I have a sensitive nose. I’m constantly chasing after “mystery smells” that no one else in my family seems to be picking up. Usually, such offensive aromas can be traced to a rotting potato in the pantry. Once, I discovered soggy newspapers in the recycling bin. Chicken packaging and cantaloupe scraps are the easy ones to pinpoint, but I’m haunted by the more elusive, vaguely organic, olfactory horrors. “OHMYGOSHWHATISTHATSMELL?” “What smell?” Jack often responds. (He’s ten years older than I am, and I’ve heard that smell is one of the first senses to go, so he cannot be trusted.)

One of the reasons I don’t open the door to unexpected guests has to do with the time it takes for the smell of a newly lit candle to penetrate a room. It’s not polite to ask people to wait on the front porch for 15 minutes to give the candle time to do its thing. So, I do the next rudest thing: I don’t answer the door. I’m doing you a favor, really.

Anyone get me? Am I the only one with this fear?


  1. Holly Wood   •  

    I could be wrong but it’s my belief that women have a more developed sense of smell. I certainly have been blessed (or cursed depending on your view) with a very sensitive smeller. While cooking I have a bag in the kitchen that I put all smelly things in. Onion skins, broccoli parts, potato parts, etc. When I am finished with the chopping, I take the smelly bag out to the garage trash can. I would never leave it in the kitchen garbage for fear of waking up to the smell and having my gag reflex kick in!

    • Kelley   •     Author

      I’ve started doing that, too. I’ve also started putting chicken scraps in the garage freezer so they don’t stink up the garage trash can. Jack checks the freezer before he puts the trash on the curb each week.

  2. Betsy Zadorozny   •  

    We live in a 114 year old house so when closed up for a few days, it smells like an “old” house. I have Bath and Body plug ins everywhere now. It is so nice to return to a nice smelling house after a weekend trip. I have 20 some plug ins in storage as well as a few other brands. The other thought was about your hamburger/noodle casserole family. It struck a note with me because that is my grandson’s favorite. My daughter made it last Sunday for youth group. I guess we are a hamburger/noodle casserole family! Our recipe has cream of mushroom soup, onions ???, frozen corn, egg noodles, hamburger, cheese, and seasoned pepper.

    • Kelley   •     Author

      Oh ha! I don’t even know what was in that casserole other than elbow mac and hamburger. I wonder how many families have their own version of that thing?

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