Irises Don’t Smell

Especially if you have teenagers, you can go through each day feeling as if no one listens to a thing that you say, but let me assure you, your words make a difference.

In the same way that they come in many colors, irises feature many different aromas — but they do smell. Photo by Steve Henderson Fine Art

I Love You is always impacting, as is its counterpart, but even innocuous sentences can resonate far beyond their initial utterance.

Like this one:

“Irises don’t smell.”

I don’t know who said that to me, twenty years ago or so, but it obviously stuck.

On first hearing it, my thought was, “Of course irises smell!” I remembered their honey-sweet aroma from when I was eight years old, plunging my olfactory glands deep into the blossoming sensuality of the flower.

For some reason, I didn’t actually smell an iris again until I was in my 40s, when a friend piled a series of exotic bulbs on us and springtime found them bursting forth. As I walked by, a group of them beckoned to me in the breeze, and cupping one flower gently in my hands, I thought, “Irises do smell, don’t they?”

Indeed they do, and don’t let any anonymous voice follow you through the decades denying the experience of your childhood.

Sights, sounds, smells, touch — all of these can transport us back to our childhood. Summer Breeze, at the Lawrence Gallery, by Steve Henderson

As I inhaled the heady, complexity of the flower’s aroma, 35 years dropped instantly away, and I was eight-years-old again, in the backyard of my childhood home, smelling irises. I had no idea that smell is a more powerful inducer of memories than sight or sound, but in this case it definitely was.

I moved gently from one bloom to the next — thanks to my friend I had a significant number from which to choose — and breathed in. This one was deeply aromatic, that one lighter and sassier; a third one had no smell at all — which could explain my unremembered commentator’s observation — but a fourth one beckoned me with its balmy, fragrant, perfume.

At lunch I announced, “Irises smell — they’re beautiful!”

“Of course they do,” the Norwegian Artist replied. “They have an amazing aroma. Who told you otherwise?”

“Somebody, a long time ago.”

How many other misconceptions have I held on to all these years without proving whether or not they’re true?

That afternoon, our granddaughter Small Person was with us, and I decided to give her a gift she could enjoy 30 years hence:

“Smell this flower!” I brought it down so that she could breathe it in.

She did, but she’s four, and I don’t think my point got through.

So I sought out Tired of Being Youngest and dragged her out to the flower beds.

“Smell this flower!”

“It’s . . . sweet. Is there anything special about it?”

Sweet 16 — youth will not last forever, but memories endure. Ocean Breeze, open edition art print available at Great Big Canvas. Original and limited edition print at Steve Henderson Fine Art

“Trust me,” I replied. “Close your eyes, smell it, and feel the sunshine on your shoulders. Thirty years from now, when you breathe in the aroma of an iris, you will be 16 again.

“So yes, there is something special about this flower.”

Irises do smell, my friend, and they are beautiful.

They’re in bloom right now where I live, and I spend a lot of time with my face immersed in their petals, capturing their essence and storing it into my memory banks. Thirty years from now, when I am 80, this tiny time machine will transport me back to, not only when I was an eight-year-old child, but to a 50-year-old woman, still discovering, learning about, and marveling at the world around her.

Find an iris, and go ahead: Inhale.

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