During an extended period of travel last year, my husband and I lent our house in the Ozarks to an older couple who were having work done on their own house.

We returned after a month away to a spotless house and two hostess gifts. But there was also a distinctive smell in the air: slightly stale and sweet, like the musty first whiff of strawberries in a cardboard box.

I wiped countertops and mopped floors. Still, the odour remained. Not terrible but strange and cloyingly human. Late that night I guiltily Googled, "Do old people smell?"

The answer I

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