Skin-scented sentences

July 4th, 2007

They say that smell is the sense most strongly linked to memory.  I have zero doubt about that.  I can catch a scent of something, even vaguely, and whole parts of my childhood come rushing back like some sort of scratch and sniff slideshow.  I’ve spoken to enough people about this to know it’s a pretty common occurrence.

Today at work we had a client come in with a box of leather headstalls.  They’re actually destined for a contact of ours in Ukraine, but for now they’re sitting in my office.  My office is usually the communal dumping ground for these things because A) the other offices are a little more cramped and B) it’s not worth the bitching to put anything in the bosses general vicinity.

Anyway, these headstalls arrive, in the box, and it was less than a minute after they were in my office that I caught the smell.  That smell of leather.  It sent my senses and the memory electrodes in my brain reeling.  Suddenly I was on the floor of my bedroom in Wagga, cross-legged on an old blanket, rubbing saddle soap into my old saddle.  It was really run down, that old thing – made of pig skin and probably about 25 years old.  Once I’d had it re-stuffed though, and the wear and tear around the pommel and cantle patched up, it was actually pretty good.  I loved it, anyway.  And that’s all that mattered.

I usually only cleaned my saddle before a competition.  This was all well and good if I was competing most every weekend, like through the summer and the autumn.  But if it was the first competition in a long time, man oh man would that saddle be dirty.  Horse sweat, combined with dirt and hair, and then alternately wet and dry over a period of a few months, means that shit got almost welded on.  I had a whole saddle cleaning tool kit for such situations that included, among other things, an old toothbrush and a wooden skewer for getting in where the stitches were.

By the end of the whole saddle and bridle cleaning exercise, particularly the clean after the hiatus, I’d end up with black fingernails, pruney fingers and smelling like a saddle myself.  But there is nothing better than the warm glow of freshly cleaned leather – all sienna brown and imperfectly smooth in its colouring and texture.  Also, the smell of saddle soap and leather is the most wholesomely good smell.  Even the smell of horse sweat and dirt and general grubbiness.  It brings back memories of warm horse breath and cold, early morning air and the smell of lucerne hay and the ache you’d get after a full day of riding.  That good, dull ache, from the inside of the bones.

Anyway, those leather headstalls today bought back the saddle cleaning memory, and then the general horse memories, which got all tumbled up with the memory of buying the saddle, and then the bittersweetness of moving to a synthetic saddle that was not only easier to look after but better for my riding in general.  And that moved on to… well, there were a lot of memories from one little smell.  And they’re still coming.  Tonight I’ll move through that and kinda forget about it and fall into dreams about other things, and then I’ll walk back into my office in the morning and probably go through it all again.  A little more quickly, perhaps, but the same journey.


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