Home smelled like love. It smelled of the milk my parents would warm for my breakfast cereal—peeling off the taut skin first because they knew I didn’t like it. Home smelled like early morning wakeups without the help of an alarm—just my parents and their precise internal clocks.
Home smelled of two dogs, a cat and the two litters she had (the second a surprise), a goldfish that lived so long we gave it a biblical name, another cat that seemed to prefer the stray life to the limiting comforts of indoors, and the many hamsters (all doomed) that we took care of.
Home smelled of coconut oil in the rice and peas, salt fish and chicken wings, lemongrass, cinnamon, cloves, soup with dumplings, and bread still warm from the bakery.
When my brother and sister were young, home smelled of diapers then apple juice and graham crackers. Home smelled of sucked thumbs and pacifiers.
Home smelled of all the words and phrases that had a unique meaning in our family—a language only we understood because we’d invented it for ourselves.
Home smelled of my mother’s perfume and my father’s cologne, of my brother’s orange juice, and my sister’s sweet tooth. Home smelled of grandma’s rice krispie treats and the orange soda I once thought paired with them perfectly.
Home smelled of the pages of mom’s many Bibles and dad’s law texts. Home smelled of late nights doing homework and trying not to wake anyone creaking up and down the stairs for a snack.
Home smelled like the intersection of where my parents were from and where we children were born and the pursuit of the American Dream. Home smelled of hard work and having enough but never being wealthy.
Home smelled of the backyard garden where we’d plant tomatoes and cucumbers and the fight we lost to the squirrels when we tried to plant watermelons. It smelled of clothes hung out to dry in the sun or (on rainy days) in the laundry room.
Home smelled of the stairs I knew exactly how to run up two steps at a time without looking—stairs and hallways my father would routinely mop like he’d been in the military.
Home smelled of that time my brother and sister decided to have a snail collection in a fish bowl and the damp earth and lettuce leaves that filled their habitat. Home smelled of dolls and stuffed animals and wooden blocks and train tracks and the cities we’d erect.
Home smelled of mom gently greasing our scalps and braiding our hair. Home smelled of dad patiently showing us how to iron—his handkerchiefs were always the first lesson.
Home smelled of the soft floral sheets on my parents’ bed—the safest place to be after a nightmare. A bed we all napped on and played on at one time or another. My parents’ room was the hub of our house, and so it smelled like all of us.
Sometimes I’d visit another home and wonder how they could live with this or that smell—all those strange aromas in which I couldn’t get completely comfortable. And then I’d wonder if guests ever came to our house and misunderstood our scents. Did they smell the love, or did they find our family’s fragrance too different?