A number of smells I remember from my youth. Many of these have disappeared or are barely lingering in our present environment.
My dentist’s office smelled of clove oil, which was used with metal to fill cavities. There was also the smell of toothpaste.
Black exhaust poured out of buses and trucks whenever these vehicles accelerated, and the soot hung in the air.
We heated our home with coal until 1952 when we switched to oil, but coal dust in the atmosphere continued to linger for years because many people kept heating with coal. Because of the use of coal, the sky many times had a gray cast.
In the schools I attended, the halls smelled of floor wax, the bathrooms smelled of disinfectant, and the art classroom smelled of crayons and paint and paste. Also, the odor of chalk dust was quite evident in the classrooms because blackboards were written on with chalk.
Whenever a movie was shown in the classroom, the film projector would emit a burning odor for a few minutes when the light bulb in the inside of the projector was turned on. Often when a radio or television was turned on, a slight burning smell was emitted because radios and TV sets had tubes that had to warm.
During the fall, leaves were raked into the gutters and set on fire. This was an acceptable and legal practice. I loved the smell of burning leaves and, of course, the person who set the fire had to have a hose ready to spray water if the leaf fire accelerated.
Zehender’s Pharmacy at Chicago and Marion always smelled of perfume and talcum powder, and whenever I sat at the soda fountain, the smell of chocolate invited me to feed my sugar addiction.
Grocery stores often had a citrus aroma, and the smell of sawdust on the floors of meat markets was quite apparent.
Many of the ladies in our neighborhood — including my mother and grandmother — dried the family clothing on a clothesline during warm weather. I am familiar with this practice because I was often recruited to hang the wet clothes on the line. The job was a drag, but the smell of freshly drying clothes flapping in the breeze was wonderful.
The most prevalent odor of all was tobacco because smoking was allowed practically everywhere. For example, a diner in a restaurant could get a face full of tobacco smoke anytime during his/her meal, and when you went to a medical office, the frequent aroma of La Paloma [a cigar brand] and other smoking products was present — except in Dr. Traut’s office which smelled of antiseptic alcohol.
The dentist who shared a suite with my dentist was a smoker, and since his office was next to my dentist’s office, people in the reception room could be assured of smelling lingering tobacco.
Well, the days of awful smells are abating, but I do miss the aroma of burning leaves.