The sense of smell is our most powerful memory sense.
Coconut suntan oil transports me to hot, lazy summers in Myrtle Beach, SC. Boy crazy, junior high, not a care in the world. I can hear ELO fade as the DJ announces ‘WKZQ, Myrtle Beach,’ followed by the summer ditty, “Time to turn, so you won’t burn.” I can feel my skin, tight with dried salt water and my hair stiff with sand, my lips pregnant with the brine of the ocean.
The smell of burning wood evokes chilly autumn nights in northern Virginia. I can see the curl of smoke coming out of the townhouse chimneys. I am cozy, safe, and warm as I watch the blustery air outside kick up the last of the season’s fallen leaves. Soon, night would fall long before an acceptable hour, causing me to burrow into the warmth of grandma’s crocheted blankets and warm woolen socks. Wool. I love the smell of wool.
If winter were defined by one scent, it would have to be soup. Soups, stews, and pot roasts, all seem to tickle the same memory; walking into the warm house from the cold, shedding my winter coat and gloves and holding my hands over the steam of the simmering pot on the stove; the windows in the kitchen sweating with condensation while the tile floors stayed cold.
But perhaps the fragrance that causes me to swoon the most is honeysuckle in Maryland in the spring. Sitting high on a hill, climbing a fence that separates me from a busy street, vines wrap and tangle in on themselves, full of white flowers. I would pluck one flower at a time, pinch the end and suck the nectar from its center.
Here, in Florida, honeysuckle struggles in the sun, unable to grow. Instead, we have the gift of orange blossoms. In the spring I drive with my windows down, slowing down as I pass by groves, and inhale as deeply as I can hoping to store some of the sweet, light essence. On a windy day this perfume can be carried for miles, and like the tiniest present, it slips just beneath my nose, stopping me in my tracks. Closing my eyes, I inhale gratefully, intoxicated.
It’s hard for me to imagine a world without aromas, so much memory is wrapped up in them. A single sniff of diesel fuel takes me to the Princess couch of my grandparent’s sailboat, just behind the helm, as we motor out to sea. From that unlikely smell, a million pleasant memories flood my awareness.
Without scent, would it all be lost?
Not lost, perhaps, but certainly without that instant, surprise trip down memory lane. Scent is the key that unlocks the door to faded memories, infusing them with fresh color, enchanting us anew.
Daily Prompt: Nosey Delights. From the yeasty warmth of freshly baked bread to the clean, summery haze of lavender flowers, we all have favorite smells we find particularly comforting. What’s yours?