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Roz Warren Headshot

What's That Smell?

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A horse-mad friend -- one of those women whose idea of bliss is to be on horseback -- recently remarked, "I wish they made a scented candle that smelled like a barn!"

A barn? Really? This would not be my own first choice. I'd go for something -- cleaner? Sweeter? Less equine?

Freshly laundered sheets! Or a spring day after a rainfall. But I loved the idea -- a customized candle of your favorite smell. Just light it and it takes you right to your very own Happy Place.

Maybe I should go into the scented candle business! But what aromas would I start with? "What's your favorite smell?" I asked my Facebook friends.

Within seconds, I had my first response: Honeysuckle wafting on a warm summer breeze in the evening.

Immediately, others chimed in: Baking bread... Fresh mown grass... New car... Fresh sawdust... Single malt whiskey.

Then: Baby powder... Marijuana!... A vacant lot filled with sage brush after a summer rain... Pumping gas... A horse barn on a hot day...

Another horse barn? Clearly, "Stable" was going to be a more popular candle than I'd thought.

Unleashing the olfactory imaginations of my Facebook pals was the right idea. Within two hours, I had hundreds of responses:

Rain drying on hot pavement... Ozone in the air during a lightening storm... Mulch... Ivory soap... Freshly-bathed dog...

My flower-loving friends are lucky -- you can already buy a candle that smells like roses, jasmine or peonies. But a scented candle that smells like a freshly-bathed dog? Probably not.

Pipe tobacco... Sheets dried on an outside clothes line... Nail polish... Suede... A freshly-showered man!

Some favorites were quirky: Plastic headphones, 3M clear tape, a shopping mall, the inside of a man's hat.

Others were wonderfully idiosyncratic:

Bacon frying on 9th Avenue.

Cosmoline preservative from WW2 Surplus.

Bleach! Because it reminds me of the chlorinated indoor pool at the Detroit JCC on a winter day.

The most eccentric response I got (and thus my favorite)?

There was a computer lab at my middle school. The air conditioner in that room had a very particular smell that I loved. Sort of musky and clean.

Good luck getting that into a candle.

Although new mown grass and new baby smell had plenty of fans, the most popular aroma of all, with dozens of votes, was -- Puppy breath! People, in fact, loved almost every doggy smell imaginable, from the top of a dog's head to the bottom of a puppy's paws, including wet dog fur and puppy tummy.

Cat fans voted too, for the aroma of kitty paws, as well as "a cat who has been dusting herself in the sand, then sun bathing."

(Nobody voted for "litter box.")

Wake up and smell the coffee? Many want to do just that -- brewing coffee and baking bread were by far the most popular food-based smells. Other favorites? Baking chocolate chip cookies, homemade chicken soup, strong cheese, turkey stuffing and apricot pie.

Some favorite smells evoked favorite people: Grandma's banana bread. An uncle's cigars. A fiance's chest. "The smell of my Pop's coat when I was a little girl." Even: "My husband's underarm." (Now that's love -- but I think I'd rather smell a stable.)

There were evocative smells from childhood: Crayons. Magic Markers. Play-doh. A just-fired cap gun. Several Boomers voted for Mimeograph ink. "Entire generations," one lamented, "will never know the best smell EVER."

There were fire-y smells: Burning fall leaves. A just-extinguished match. Wood burning in a fireplace. A campfire. And watery smells: A tropical ocean night. The Atlantic. The Pacific. Tidal areas at low tide.

Still another horse-mad friend got very specific: "My favorite smell? A horse stable -- a mix of horse, hay, sawdust, leather, straw, oats, saddle soap, liniment -- with a touch of manure!"

I'm a writer, so it makes sense that many of my friends love book-related aromas such as bookstores, libraries and "that new book smell." But I did hear from one jock. His favorite smell? "Sweaty hockey gear. Honestly, if you play hockey, you know the smell and love it."

Uh... I'll have to take your word for that.

Am I really going into the customized candles biz? No way! I'm having too much fun writing essays inspired by the cool things my friends say. So if you're feeling entrepreneurial, feel free to grab this idea and run with it. (Based on my research, I'd recommend starting with candles that evoke baking bread, freshly mown grass and anything puppy. And, of course, that stable.)

No need to pay me. But I would love a sampling of scented candles, to remind me of the friends who helped me write this essay.

(This essay first appeared on Zest Now.)