When Did You Know You Were Home

A bit ago, I was chatting with a friend about what it means to be Home and I asked ‘when did you know you were Home?’.  For her, it wasn’t a house, it was the moment  she first stepped into the deli on 87th Street in Chicago, around the corner from the new house her family just moved into.  She was 11.  That was 1962.  It’s now 2021 and she can still remember the smell of pickles that greeted her, just inside the door.  Like it was yesterday.



In Southern California it’s the weird vegetal/urinous odor of the evergreen box, ubiquitous the whole of LA which, combined with the 10′ rosemary bushes and the eucalyptus trees, comprises a unique smell.   It’s lodged in my olfactory memory and signals Home. There’s a box hedge down in Peoria that, in midsummer, brings that memory close and if I’m in a fragile place it can bring me to the brink of tears. Unlikely I will move back to CA, since it seems determined to burn itself out or hurl itself into the sea… but that smell?  Immured in my DNA.  It’s Home.

For some, it’s a taste (which is triggered by smell, of course).  My sister’s was the smell and taste of Jay’s potato chips.  Yes.  Salty goodness.  She could be anywhere, and if she felt anxious she would grab a bag of Jay’s, open it, inhale the smell …and the first (way over-salted) chip to settle on her tongue started settling her fluttery heart right down.  She always carried a couple of small bags of Jays with her when she traveled. ‘Makes me feel like I’m home’.

I’m not sure where I am now is really Home, though certain rooms feel more so than others (my bedroom always smells like No5 – it’s probably permeated the walls by now – and that makes me feel lovely).  I don’t think it’s the place, per se (though it might be – this is a strange place for me to have landed) but who knows…  However, there is one space that makes me feel safe and a bit at home – it’s the little, original kitchen garden, back in the Southwest corner of the garden.  I think it’s the walls.  Whenever I’m in there, I feel the smell of borage and tomato leaf – even when they’re out of season.

I also assign scents to my definition of others’ Home, whether they like it or not.  The first time I visited, a friend’s house had just been cleaned and her cleaner had used Orange oil.  Something about that scent, coupled with the warm, comforting feeling of the house itself, affixed it, in my mind, as Her Home.  Try as I might, I cannot replicate it in my own house.  Yes, it smells amazing  (and omg I LOVE me some Orange oil cleaner) – but I can’t identify it as Home for me as I do at her house.  Go figure.

So.  What defines Home for you?  A scent?  A taste?  The wind through a Summer-opened window?  Talk to me.

And for those of you who Talked to Me on A Fine Romance – thank you! That was a Squickton of Fun!!!  I had The Girl poke a pawnail and She came up with Sharon C!  Congratulations!  gmail me (evilauntieanita) with your deets and I’ll get the Yuzu Soda out to you.

  • Sharon C. says:

    Thanks to you and The Girl for the Yuzu Soda win! Will send my info on ASAP.

    Home? Even though I’ve lived in a variety of places (a 20-year Navy career saw to that), the only place that I think of as “Home” is the farmhouse where I grew up in northcentral Pennsylvania. The scents of daffodils, purple lilac bushes and honeysuckle in bloom can take me back to the place “that’s not mine anymore” when I’m in the right mood. Jo Malone’s Blackberry & Bay can do that sometimes as well.

    The best part about western TN, where I’ve lived for the past 24 years, is how often it reminds me of PA, especially on spring evenings when the fireflies are out.

  • Patty says:

    Bread baking. If that is happening, that is home. My mom used to bake bread every week, sometimes 2x a week, and that smell is love and care and time, because she put so much into it, plus the taste of bread still hot from the oven, sliced with butter slathered on it just has JOY writ large. That’s my smell, and I love every perfume that has a break component to it.

    • Musette says:

      that sounds wonderful – I’m not a huge bread lover but I do love the smell. But I do love the crust (oh, a warm crust!) so… save me a crust, thanks! xoxoxo

  • HeidiC says:

    I grew up in NC, and had never been to the desert before moving to Utah for grad school. I can’t explain it, but Salt Lake City just felt like home — that dry, slightly metallic, ozone-y desert smell, that alien landscape. I moved to the Upper Midwest after that, but whenever I visit friends in UT and walk out of the airport, that smell hits me and I see the mountains and I just relax.

    • Musette says:

      That is so cool! I have limited experience with any desert areas but it seems to really resonate with those who love it!!


  • VerbenaLuvvr says:

    Pulling into the yard at my mother’s house, opening the car door, being smacked with the humidity that is the deep south, and inhaling the scent of her roses. That’s when I knew that I was home.

    • Musette says:

      that’s a double whammy of fabulous, VerbenaLuvvr, that those smells are associated with your mom’s house. xoxox

  • March says:

    LOVE this post. The house I grew up in had a ton of books (my parents were both big readers) — bookshelves everywhere. So that dusty-library smell always gets me. Like a lot of people I’m not that attuned to the way my own house smells (you get nose-blind to it) but acutely aware of the way other houses smell. Sometimes a kid would come home and I’d know who they were visiting — meant as an observation, not a negative. And the first time I ever visited CA, well into adulthood, and saw those enormous rosemary bush-trees (I had NO IDEA they could do that!) I was enchanted. Just could not shut up about it. I have a fair-sized one in a protected area in front of my house now, near the front stoop, it’s probably 4 feet tall and makes me happy, I’ll reach over and give a branch a gentle squeeze.

    • Musette says:

      In a proper environment rosemary can be… impressive! I, too, am anosmic to my house smell so I always try to imagine what it must smell like (especially TGirl’s room which, as you can imagine, can get really fon-KAY!). The best way to see how your house smells is to go away for a few days!

    • Musette says:

      and I, too, love that ‘dusty library’ smell! I’ve not smelled CBIHP’s ‘In the Library’ – does it replicate that?


  • Cinnamon says:

    My mother was a refugee and to her home was always the place she had to leave. That had a big effect on my sense of what ‘home’ meant. I spent a semester in London when I was 20 and discovered that I felt more ‘at home’ there than I did ‘at home’. Took me 15 years but when I moved back it was definitely ‘home’. Just an existential feeling. I sometimes miss the feeling of Carroll Gardens/Park Slope — the heat in the summer, the long gardens, Halloween, the flowering tree at the bottom of Union Street, bagels and iced coffee. However, even living outside of London now this remains ‘home’ — the enormous sky, huge ancient oaks, being right near the ocean, tree tunnels, gorse and heather. If it was distilled into a smell it would be flowers, sea air, the ozone of impending rain, and farm animals.

    • March says:

      THIS. I know we’ve been talking about it. Santa Fe felt (stunningly and absolutely surprisingly) to me like “home” the second I got out of the car, smelled the air, saw the light. I still don’t know why it grabbed ME that way and not somewhere else. My daughter feels the same way about the northern coastline in Maine.

      • Musette says:

        Your comment about that is the reason I wrote this post! I will probably always equate SFe with you. My first ever ‘Home’ reaction was at the fort in St Augustine FL – I was …12? 14? on holiday with my parents. The sea air and this perfect, glancing light… I doubt I would consider StAug (or anywhere in FL) as a Home destination – but it definitely grabbed me in the feels back then. The closest I’ve come to it since is Mill Valley. xoxoxo

      • Cinnamon says:

        I’ve never been able to explain to people the why of it. I don’t mean to be clicheed, but either you’ve felt it or you haven’t.

    • Musette says:

      that distillation sounds lovely! And… you know, whenever I get all skritchy about my (relatively comfortable) situation, I am reminded that I am actually very privileged, in that living here is, really, a choice. I’m always humbled and amazed by people whose choices were thrust upon them – and still they made it work.

      • Cinnamon says:

        Her experience wasn’t like people who drift in rafts and hope they make it to safety. The leaving was however harrowing and she was 13 so able to remember every bit of the circumstances.

        I know I natter on about sea air in things a lot but it is ubiquitous here — colouring (so to speak) everything. The best time to catch it is early morning in summer.

  • Portia says:

    Hey Musette,
    Fortunately there are a bunch of places that feel like home to me. I’m not sure if smell is part of the mix TBH.
    We have a big old table. Sitting there, folding washing on it, sharing meals, working out finances, making dumplings, writing Xmas cards or postcards, everything around that table feels like home.
    Went into a nightclub last week for the first time in years and felt like I was home.
    Walking ANY dogs through dappled sunlight feels like home.
    Watching TV curled up in a duvet feels like home.
    Lastly, spritzing Shalimar is home.
    Portia xx

  • Kathleen says:

    Lilac blooms come as close as scent feels like home, a treasured smell I strongly associate with my childhood. We had a huge lilac bush/tree by the front door and I’d sit on the front steps in early summer and be in heaven.
    Now, my animals define home. I’ve moved houses several times over the past 20-ish years, and I don’t really care which house I live in as long as I have my animals currently one precious dog and kitten.

  • filomena813 says:

    As the old adage goes: Home is where the heart is.

    • Musette says:

      I agree, filomena! Living here (where people are deep in the generationals and rarely move farther afield) has altered my sense of what Home means – and I think I need to revisit that philosophy.


  • Tara C says:

    Deep subject right now, as I am currently homeless, my previous home sold and won’t be in my new home for three months plus. I used to think home was a physical place where I felt I belonged, where I had friends and familiar surroundings, but now after moving yet again, I’m starting to think that unless I develop a sense of home within myself, unrelated to place, that I will never really achieve the sense of comfort I associate with the word Home. I perceive the house I’ve just purchased as yet another place that is just a temporary stop on the journey of my life. Maybe I’ll feel different once I’m settled in there, but after being wrenched out of comfortable surroundings multiple times, I’m beginning to abandon the idea of ever finding home in a place.

    • Musette says:

      Tara C, that philosophy is a very sound one, the idea of ‘stops on the journey of life’. I’m going to appropriate the living daylights out of it, if you don’t mind 😉 xoxoxo