by Wayne Geiger
You’ve probably heard that, as we age, our ears and nose continue to grow. We’re doomed to be perpetual Pinocchio’s.
You might have read this information online somewhere, or perhaps, even noticed this strange phenomenon in someone older than you. Or worse, you may have been horrified when looking at some of your old photos and seeing the evidence firsthand.
First things first. It’s not true that our noses and ears continue to grow. That’s the good news. The bad news is, our noses and ears do get bigger, or at least appear that way.
The culprit is chronology and the powerful pull of gravity. Our ears and nose begin to droop and sag, much like the rest of the body, over time. What a drag.
Research has shown that the human ear will droop about .22 millimeters per year—every year. This growth is so precise that it can be used by forensic scientists to figure out the approximate age of a person with amazing accuracy.
We take our noses very seriously. The size and shape of the nose has been so extremely important to many people that, for years, rhinoplasty (getting a nose job) was the second most popular type of cosmetic surgery. It shouldn’t take much for you to figure out what was number one.
More important than the size and shape of the nose is the power of the nose. No matter the size, humans have quite the smeller. We have roughly 400 types of scent receptors that can detect at least one-trillion different scents.
Not bad, unless you compare us to the bloodhound which has about four-billion. But, hey, who wants to have ears that big, anyway?
Our ability to smell and distinguish scents is vitally important and incredibly powerful. For one thing, the ability to detect smoke may alert us to the potential danger of fire.
We might also decide to have some leftover lasagna in the fridge, but before eating, decide to take a whiff which makes us exclaim, “Gross, I’d better not eat that.” Our nose knows.
We’ve also traveled down the road and caught a whiff of a putrid skunk that met his untimely end. In death, as in life, his disgusting scent is a defense mechanism that stands as a stark reminder, “stay back dude or you’ll smell like this for a while.” Instinctively we back away and say, “No thanks. You win.”
Even large predators will turn up their nose at the smaller, weaker skunk and move on. The skunk’s main predator attacks from above.
The great horned owl and red-tailed hawk will attack a skunk because they have little to no sense of smell. To them, “Tastes like chicken.”
Some things smell bad. Some things smell good. Our ability to smell also helps us find friends and potential romance. Although humans are first attracted by sight, smell is a huge part of our decision to extend or end the relationship.
Scientists tell us that, subconsciously, we choose potential mates based upon how favorably they smell. The great hair, tone body, and pearly whites will only go so far. A little deodorant or perfume can go a long way. Too much, however, can go the wrong way.
Many years ago, one of my employees who worked in marketing talked to me privately about a client that did not wear deodorant. “I’m not sure I can continue meeting with this client,” he said exasperatingly, shriveling his nose, “His smell is just repulsive.”
Even that brief description may have made your nose kind of shrivel up a little as well. Not to be nosy, but you’ve probably had a similar exchange or met one of the one in four people who struggles with halitosis.
Trying to mask odor or smell attractive goes back thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used fragrances as a sign of social status.
Over time, wearing perfume became more affordable for anyone. In our time, making perfume has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry. It is a smelly science.
Perfumeries don’t just play guesswork in making their concoctions. They spend billions of dollars a year researching and testing their scents to determine which concoction will attract members of the opposite sex.
The goal is not just to “smell good” but to attract. These researchers have found that there are certain formulas and chemicals that will attract a mate.
Our sense of smell is also connected to our taste buds. Just this week at a family gathering, we ordered pizza. “Man, that smells good,” my son in law said as the delivery person made her way up the driveway. I inhaled deeply and smelled the golden delicious scent of pizza fresh out of the oven. Like Pavlov’s dog, my mouth began to water.
Several things can affect our sense of smell. If we have a cold, an allergy, or are taking medication, for example. In addition, our sense of smell diminishes with age. That’s one reason why older people may use more salt or hot sauce on food or why uncle Wilmer is obsessed with bathing in Aqua Velva and your eyes water during the family reunion. That’s not a problem for Aunt Ethel, because her sense of smell is diminishing as well.
One of the most fascinating things about smell is the fact that it is inextricably linked to memory—more than any of the other scents. In other words, a familiar smell will conjure up deep, powerful emotions.
This is why some people will keep articles of clothing that belonged to those who have moved or passed in order to “remember” them. They sniff that person’s pillow or shirt and they are transported to a happier time and place.
Scents can conjure up unfortunate memories as well. I have often confessed that I am not a huge fan of flowers. As magnificently beautiful as they are, and as wonderful as they smell, they bring up unfortunate memories for me. As a pastor, I been involved in many ceremonies where we have said goodbye to family members and friends as the aroma of florals filled the room.
History records that in 1874, when President Andrew Johnson passed, they did not embalm him. When it came time for the funeral, the casket had to be closed and loads of flowers were brought in to mask the obvious.
I do believe flowers at memorial services are beautiful and meaningful and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But there are times, in other venues, when the strong scents transport me to relive a painful memory.
Smelling also provides humor. I sometimes marvel at my wife who will smell something awful and invite me to join her. “Oh, this is gross,” she’ll say, pulling her face away and shriveling her nose. Then she’ll say playfully, “Smell this!” “Why?” I protest. “If you tell me it smells bad you save me the trouble of having that unpleasant odor too!” On the other hand, I’ll come out of the shower and she’ll say, “You smell good.” “Thanks,” I say, “It’s called soap.” “Soap is good,” she’ll reply with a smile.
So, what do we learn? Let me offer five conclusions:
1. Heavy earrings will only intensify the inevitable. Wear them sparingly.
2. Always attack a skunk from above.
3. Use soap.
4. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Longevity is in the sniff of the schnoz.
5. It may be necessary to water down Uncle Wilmer’s Aqua Velva.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Church Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech at Johnson Country Community College, and a freelance writer.