Sensory History: What Does The Plague Year Smell Like?

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Sensory History: What Does The Plague Year Smell Like?

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If someone asked me ten years from now the defining smell that I remember from the plague year, I would quickly respond with hand-sanitizer. Before the start of the pandemic, it was the smell of bleach and Pine-sol that reminded me of those bygone days when my mom would wake up early on a Saturday to open all the windows and scrub the house from top to bottom because “cleanliness was next to godliness” as she would say. In the past, the smell of bleach and Pine-sol had come to mean a sense of cleanliness and the simpler days of childhood, where my biggest fear was missing the latest Power Rangers episode. However, hand-sanitizer mixed with its scent of alcohol and strong perfume has now become the smell that I relate to cleanliness. Hand-sanitizer has become that essential item in my purse that I cannot leave the house without first checking to see if I have more than one bottle. When I leave a public space, the first thing I reach for is not my car keys or my cellphone; instead, it is my Bath & Body Works Pocketbac Sanitizer. It has become an accessory that matches my outfits, masks, and even daily perfume choices. This past fall, when I celebrated my birthday, one of my most exciting gifts was not my seasonal favorite body spray, Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin, but the hand-sanitizer that shared its name. Hand sanitizer has become a safety net and tool to make venturing in public spaces with high touch areas a bit easier. While handwashing, social-distancing, and proper face coverings are the most effective way to prevent the spread of Covid-19, hand sanitizers can hold one over until they can wash their hands properly. Anyone with children can agree that hand-sanitizer is a necessary tool because kids touch everything.

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This item was submitted on January 15, 2021 by Angela Gates using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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