Fragrance — a memory trigger

Have you ever noticed how a certain fragrance can trigger a memory in a way that our other senses can’t? It’s interesting how such a thought can come on so quickly from something as fleeting as a hint of a smell wafting by.

Or maybe it’s something that surrounds us with smell, like the odor of popcorn. That’s what happened to me this week when the school board meeting ended earlier than usual. There was a high school basketball game just about to start in the other end of the building, so I decided to take a stroll down the hall. It turned out to be a short trip down memory lane for me.

As soon as I got close to the cafeteria/concessions area, the smell of popcorn enveloped me. If I hadn’t known where I was, just that smell would have been enough to give it away. It was a high school basketball game, with fans of all ages waiting their turn at the concession stand, perky cheerleaders waiting their turn on the gym floor, and-of course-the big popcorn machine hard at work to meet the demand. And the pep band, as always, was there, adding atmosphere with a peppy march accompanied by the steady beat of a bass drum.

Although I was never an athlete, I attended many such a game, following my team and playing in the pep band. Later, in the same gym I observed, I watched numerous games and listened to the pep band where my children played.

This evening, I looked around at the color and noise and got another popcorn whiff but didn’t stay. I also didn’t buy any popcorn. As I walked to my car, though, I couldn’t help feeling that all is right with the world.

So what is the smell that immediately brings up a memory for you? I checked with some of my people on just that topic. One of them was positively effusive about the memories that came forth for her with a recent whiff of a coal furnace like was in the house where she grew up. For other folks, all women, it was food smells that took them back: “The smell of a roast in the oven makes me think of Sundays at home,” one told me, while another woman said it was a negative memory, because her own children have had enough roast and won’t eat it any longer. “My mom’s cinnamon rolls,” another answered.

The smell of a wood fire brings up warm memories of summers on a camp staff for one friend, a thought that I appreciate especially. Similarly, a whiff of Woodsmen’s insect repellant takes me back to my summers at a New Hampshire camp. Woodsmen’s has a vile, pungent odor that very effectively keeps away mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and people who aren’t wearing it.

Aren’t all of our five senses wonderful?