It's surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.
~Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
Have you ever been running errands about town, steeped in the mundane, almost as if on auto-pilot, when suddenly, you catch a whiff of something subtle, something so faint as to be barely noticeable, and you are taken away in your mind to a long ago carousel ride? The ride upon the pink and blue beribboned pony on a gilded pole. The ride where your brother stood crying as you came round and round again because he was too small. The ride where you decided to jump off the carousel because you felt sorry for his sense of abandonment, falling into the dirt and gravel, skinning your palms and knees.
What took you to that far-away place, to a time you thought you had forgotten? It was something so fleeting, so evanescent that your brain seems foggy as it tries to pinpoint the stimulus.
Aha. There it is. You turn around and see a small brunette girl that you had passed on the sidewalk, about five or six years old, holding her mama’s hand in one of her own and something else in her other. Cotton candy.
Smell is a powerful sense. It warns us of sour milk, rotten meat, and fermented pineapple.
For me, it is more often associated with tiny pleasures in life, those things as Robert Brault reminds us at the top of this blog, that become our most powerful memories.
My favorite scents often have root in a sweet childhood memory. Sensing them today takes me to a place of a mother’s love, a cherished friend, or a day on summer vacation.
Here are a few of my favorites.
Vicks Vaporub [being cared for by mom when sick]
Cinnamon [Mom baking cinnamon and sugar dough from leftover pie crust]
Lily-of-the Valley [grew against our house as a child]
Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup [this deserves a post of its own]
Catholic Church incense [Midnight Mass at Christmas]
Eau de Infant [or the “new baby” smell]
The air after an Iowa thunderstorm [summer evenings]
Libraries and bookstores [learning!]
Ponds Cold Cream [Mom]
Wintergreen Lifesavers [Chomping them to make sparks in the dark]
Peppermint [Christmas candy canes]
Vanilla [cooking with Mom]
Anise seed [Mom let me chew these]
Black Licorice [yum]
Baked Apple [and I don’t even like apple pie]
My dad’s spaghetti sauce [ I still don’t know how he does it]
Root beer [going out to eat, rarely, as a child]
Lilacs [my childhood home had lots of them]
Chef Boyardee Homemade Cheese Pizza [Mom would wake us back up at night to see if we wanted some]
Kindergarten paste [school]
Crayolas [ I still love coloring]
Peonies [ they say “Iowa spring” to me]
Fudge cooking [ mom’s rare delicacy]
What are yours?