Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Smell of Linseed Oil

While the Northeast part of the U.S., shovels out of yet another snowstorm, I am looking out at about 3 inches of newly fallen snow.  Everything is pretty and white again and in the lexicon of snow up here, it didn't even slow down the field mice.  School buses ran, people went out and had coffee and were off to work.  No big deal.
And I have begun my day.

My kitchen smells like linseed oil.  It is a smell that half a generation ago would have been common in many homes, but is now relegated mostly to wood shops and refinish stores.  It is a smell I like as it brings back sweet memories, and memories are such good things to bring back up in the long winter days and lick up like a bowl of your favorite ice cream.  Linseed oil is my dad's work shop in the basement, and while you would think that is a childhood memory, it is actually from my adulthood and would resonate more with my kid's childhood than mine. But somehow I knew the sweet odor was from my childhood further back and in searching it is back to Mom's art room I go.  When she started seriously painting, an easel was set up in our "old" playroom, the room adjacent to our living room in the old house.  At one time it was my grandparents bedroom, but I only remember it when we moved to the farm and my dad took over the dairy herd and bought the land. Mom took a "mail order, art correspondence" course.  I remember the excitement when the big art books would arrive by mail with another part of her course being taught by the artist within those covers.  As she progressed and after she finished, an easel was set up and paint tubes were always scattered about on a nearby table and the proverbial jar of linseed oil with at least one brush in the jar awaiting her return and more colorful strokes to be added. I loved the brilliant colors of the paints, even as a child and even more than my 64 count boxes of crayola crayons, and few things were as precious to me as those.  I think it is still with me in my lifelong love of color.  Perhaps not wide swaths of color, but bold, small points of brilliance that show up in unexpected places I would like as my signature.  Art was a part of my life I think,from my birth.  Some things are just there and while nurtured would still be as much a part of us as breathing, and so it is with me and colors and the art that color makes, but Mom's easel and paints spurred that love forward.

Dad worked in wood for as long as I can remember and built things but his workshop was more likely out in the toolshed in younger years than in our house.  The smell of the toolshed was a mix of old, old wood, metal and the grease used to keep machinery of every kind running.  There was the acrid smell of metal shavings and the smell of the damp earth floor which was part of the toolshed for many years.  After harvest and before the machinery was put away for the winter, there would be the smell of corn picked or beans and decaying plant matter.  When Dad cut wood that smell would mingle with the other smells and there was the ever present smell of tobacco from Dad's cigarettes.   The finishing oils rubbed into the woods and one of those was always linseed oil would lay over top of all the other smells.  It is a smell like fried apples and coffee in the morning that always conjures up a place and time.

I made up a homemade kitchen cabinet cleaner yesterday that is equal parts white vinegar, turpentine, and boiled linseed oil.  The linseed oil took over the smells of the other two, and after serious 'elbow grease' for more than a few hours, my cabinets shine and my kitchen is full of a pleasant smell other than food.  I found a rhythm as I rubbed with a white cloth soaked in the concoction, saw dirt and accumulated grease on the cloth and then hand rubbed the door again with a clean, soft cloth.  There was a pleasure in seeing the transformation and a feeling of a job, long neglected, now accomplished.  Glowing wood was my reward and made me smile.  Sometimes the old ways are still the best.  We forget that all too often.
I will have to tell Mom how much the smell brings back the good memories of my childhood, the comforting memories.  Its a good way to start a winter day....

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