Scent Memories From the Last Time I Went Camping

Description: It’s a crisp spring morning at our home in Johnston, Pennsylvania, filled with anticipation and relief that school is out for the summer. I’m nine and three-quarters. Our camping trip is special, since it’s the one week out of the year we’re all together as a family. Dad’s grunting as he loads the tent into the car makes me laugh.


Top Notes: Dust mites and gasoline

Middle Notes: Eggo Toaster Waffles (Buttermilk)

Base Notes: Freshly brewed coffee

Description: After a four-hour drive, we’re finally upstate by Lake Eerie, but Dad took two wrong turns because Mom was talking over the GPS, so we’re a little late. Things are kinda tense, but I grab my backpack and jump out of the car. My sister follows and immediately steps in dog poop. Mom takes a deep breath while she grabs the Clorox wipes.


Top Notes: Fecal Matter

Middle Notes: Antiseptic

Base Notes: Morning dew

Description: Dad huffs and puffs to put up the tent, but he forgot the center pole at home. Mom’s voice is three octaves higher than normal. She slowly unpacks the food, placing hot dogs in the cooler with a crack in it. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds and Dad begins to sweat. He changes his shirt to the one he wore two nights ago, except now, I notice there’s lipstick on the collar. And it’s not Mom’s signature shade.


Top Notes: Solar accord and raw hot dog

Middle Notes: Sweat

Base Notes: Iris and Orris root

Description: I’ve sat in this one spot for hours now, playing with a stick. Dad returns from collecting firewood, but it’s damp and won’t catch. Mom shouts, “Oh great, Jim, just another thing you can’t do right!” Dad ignores her, while he takes a shot of Maker’s Mark. Tears stream down my little sister’s face as she finishes the last apple juice. The dog poop is still crusted on her shoe.


Top Notes: Bourbon

Middle Notes: Cedar and apple

Base Notes: Smoke, tears, fecal matter

Description: The fire has finally caught, but Mom says it’s a sad excuse for a fire and he’s a sad excuse for a man. Dad says he won’t take this in front of his children. Mom says, “Okay, you just nurse your bottle of booze, Jim, and I’ll keep raising the kids by myself while you sneak around with that pig in her ombre headband, you sad, lonely, unemotional shell of a person.” Dad throws down the kindling and lighter and storms off to our car, leaving us alone in the dark. I haven’t eaten since this morning’s Buttermilk Eggo waffle.


Top Notes: Mom’s perfume: warm amber and cinnamon

Middle Notes: Soft earth

Base Notes: Soot and despair

Description: Dad peels out of the campsite in our 2001 Honda Pilot and mud flies everywhere. The ground is still wet from the week’s rain and Dad loses control, swerving wildly. He hits a silver maple tree and the front of the car crumples. He gets out, looking shell shocked, as the engine begins to smoke. He goes to pop the hood and at that moment, there’s an explosion of smoke and blaze. He runs back over to us, eyes wide and panting. Mom takes a sip from her Stanley Cup, looks at the mushroom cloud and says, “Wow, Jim, all it took was you being an irresponsible idiot to start a fire.”


Top Notes: Petrichor

Middle Notes: Gasoline, again

Base Notes: Earthy notes, and wood burning

Description: We watch as our family car is engulfed in flames. Someone at another campsite yells, “call 9-1-1!” Dad looks at me and my little sister for the first time since we arrived and says, “Your mother and I are getting a divorce.”


Top Notes: Gasoline

Middle Notes: More Gasoline

Base Notes: Also Gasoline