On Sniffing Out the Scent That Lasts a Lifetime

While many of you were starting school this month, our Lucy graduated. In a ceremony marked by much emotion, pride and only one accident, Lucy received her diploma from puppy training class.

I speak of the puppy world here only for orientation. My subject, of course, is humanity.

The graduation was highlighted by a “Heel” contest that Lucy, a Toto-esque terrier, won, as others in the room applauded and barked.

There was also a “Stay” contest. Lucy was the first disqualified. While Heidi, the German shepherd, and Burleigh Grimes, the Lab, were still staring motionlessly at their masters, Lucy broke the first time her mistress (my daughter Hannah) moved away from her.


Besides, Lucy cared not for contests. She spent the last class cavorting with her school chums, Max, a little cattle dog, and Boots, a fluffy Lhasa apso.

Lucy, Max and Boots formed a clique. They started out class as shy little puppies, hiding under their folding chairs and clinging to their masters as the pointers and retrievers galumphed about.

But they left school frisky teen-agers. One day, in the middle of a “Sit” drill, Boots jumped on Lucy’s back and Lucy snapped at Max and all hell broke loose.

At the end of class, the teacher suggested we trade phone numbers and try to get our dogs together. (I had to explain that to my husband when he found the little slip of paper that said: “Max 555-2776.”) The teacher assured us that if any of the dogs were to meet again any time, any place, they would know each other. She said that each dog will remember the smell of each of its classmates for the rest of its life.

I wondered what life would be like if this were true for humans. I often see someone who I think is a friend from school but realize that I’m looking at a person 20 years younger than my friend would be. I’ll see some hippie with a long ponytail who I think is Roger, then I’ll remember that Roger is probably getting bald now.

But imagine the situation if you could be sure. You’re standing in line at the wedding buffet. You’re about to put back some of the pasta salad because you see there is a huge dessert table. Suddenly, the groom, a Midwestern attorney with grayish hair and a gray beard, starts to sniff you. You sniff back.

“Alice?” he asks tentatively.

“Yes,” you say, your nose wiggling.

“Alice Nelson? Senn High School class of ’61? Chicago?”

By now, both of you are jumping up and down. You take a nip out of his neck.

“Bertie Weinberg! You were in my homeroom!” you cry as you take in the incredible Eau de Bertie that once followed you from homeroom to Mr. Pomazel’s biology to Miss Melody’s typing to Mr. Dentamaro’s--The Dent’s--study hall.

By now, the two of you are jumping around the room chasing each other. You have stepped in your pasta salad and tracked it across the floor of the Brazilian Room. He has accidentally knocked over the wedding cake. The bride is aghast. “Heel, Bertie! Heel!” she screams, holding her bouquet as a lure. But Bertie doesn’t want to smell the roses. He wants to smell me.

The guests form a circle around you as they did in high school when someone could really jitterbug.

Bertie jumps on your back. You growl at him.

“Sit, Alice, sit!” your embarrassed husband implores.

Then you race out toward the lawn with that catch-me-if-you-can look. The wedding is ruined, but you and Bertie don’t care. That old familiar scent fills up your nostrils.

Tomorrow, when word gets around, you’ll both regret it. But just for now--noses wet, teeth bared, tails wagging, tongues dangling--you’re Sweet 16 and back in school again.