How does Tennessee smell?

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

I was shopping online for some upcoming birthdays when I found Homesick candles.


I was intrigued by their spin – an entrepreneurial industry that started around a kitchen stove. The inventors were “hand-pouring candles in our kitchen as a hobby, crafting scents that reminded us of the people and places where we grew up.”

Pretty cool. And the company, now owned by BVGrowth, has a candle for all 50 states plus some key U.S. cities, European countries, college towns and memories, such as First Kiss, New Job and Summer Camp.

I was applauding the enterprise and clicked on the Tennessee candle, intending to buy one for my family in Seattle.

I didn’t.

Here is how the company describes a Tennessee scent: “a fragrance reminiscent of steeped bergamot, tea, single-malt whiskey, and magnolia. Pressed lemon and spicy cloves balance woody notes of patchouli, sandalwood, and delicate oil guaiac wood. Top Note: Whiskey, Bergamot, Lemon. Mid Note: Magnolia, Patchouli, Sandalwood. Base Note: Clove, Guaiacwood, Musk.”

I checked the picture on the candle. Yes, it’s Tennessee.

I was confused. Have these people ever been to Tennessee? I will admit that capturing a state’s allure in scents would be difficult. As my friend Meg said: “For Virginia, do you go with coastal or mountains?” Still, even given the difficulty of the job, I just don’t see much of Tennessee in the description.

OK, I’ll give them whiskey, magnolia and tea. The rest is just wrong.

Science has been telling us for years that our sense of smell is the one most closely linked to memory. Certain smells take us back – sage to Thanksgiving dinners, lavender to grandma’s house and smoky cherry to a favorite pipe-smoking uncle.

If I were to design my own homesick candle, I would have to start on Dixie Street, third house on the right. Then I would need to decide the time of day.

The morning smells would be a mixture of dewy blackberries, picked that morning, the slightly smoky spice of country ham sizzling in the iron skillet with a yeasty overtone of hot biscuits from the oven. Top notes: Coffee, bacon. Mid Note: Lavender from Mother’s powder and the sweetness of the sorghum ladled into the bowl.

Late-afternoon smells would start with the smell of lemon Pledge, quickly overcome by the pungent onions and fatback boiling on the stove, with earthy, just-snapped green beans waiting to go into the pot. The rich, beefy smell of pot roast seeping through the oven door mixes with the smell of cooked carrots, onions and potatoes. Step into the dining room for a rich chocolate smell of a pie, cooling on the table.

Evening smells on Dixie Street are out on the carport, where you gently fan as you wait for the evening’s cool breeze, which sometimes never comes. The sweet smell of the roses growing up the brick mixes with the mossy smell of Rex and Billie’s just-mowed yard next door, plus the ever-present scent of pine from the trees in our front yard.

Reviews for the Homesick candles were mixed. If you think I am being harsh, don’t read the reviews of the candle for New Jersey. The memories it evoked were evidently of a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop.

So, tell me, how would your Homesick candle smell?

Sherri Gardner Howell, a former features writer and manager at the News Sentinel and publisher at Blount Today, has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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