Sunday, January 8, 2012


A little boy who was in Abby's class suffered a severe brain injury last month. He is on the road to recovery. One of the therapies they are using with him is to introduce familiar smells to stimulate brain activity. Smell is closely tied to memory. Few things can stimulate recall like familiar scents.

Several weeks ago I attended a parent-teacher conference at school. The smell of chicken and hot dish soap instantly conjured images of orange lunch trays, cardboard milk cartons and lunch ladies garbed in plastic aprons, gloves and hairnets. I can see myself standing in line, waiting for tired women to slap a spoonful of chicken and dumplings, overcooked green beans, a brilliant orange yam and a slice of peanut butter cake on my tray. It seems like no matter what is being prepared in the lunchroom, it always smells like chicken to me!

A whiff of honeysuckle in late May and I am riding my bike, barefoot, around the block... drawn by the sweet smell to stop, pick a few flowers and collect the drops of "honey" clinging to the ends of the stems. I can feel the warm breeze, hear the whine of mosquitos and taste the dewy sweetness as clearly as if I had climbed into a time machine and whisked back through the decades to a spring day in 1985.

The scent of Irish Spring soap reminds of baths in the claw-footed tub at Grandmother Hall's. The gleam of sunlight through homemade curtains, the feel of the bristles of a nail brush under my nails, the creak of floorboards as Grandmother brought in a fresh towel and a bottle of Jergen's lotion for after the bath.

Chimney smoke wafts by and I can see my dad adding another piece of wood to the wood burning heater while my mother sits so close to the warmth she is almost IN the fireplace, reading a book. A patchwork blanket wrapped over her and her glasses perched either on her nose or on top of her head. The squeaks of the rocking chair as she rocks and reads. Oblivious to anything outside the pages of that book. The warmth, the noises, the images are so vivid they are almost touchable. As clear as a photograph.

So perhaps nostalgia is all in the nose?


Aunty Evil said...

Totally agree, whereas some memories caused by places, people or sounds can be vague, the smell memories take you to the exact place and time, you can remember what you were doing, who caused it etc.

Now, on to the more important part of your post.

Peanut butter cake? That sounds too good to overlook, recipe?

Fairlie said...

The smell of various deodorants/soaps can instantly take me back to the particular dormitory in boarding school I was in at the time - depending on who used what brand.

That is really interesting about smell being used to stimulate memory as a therapy.

Mary said...

I have a very strong sense of smell so that scents are really important to me.

Pears Soap is a strong trigger for me of childhood.

Beautifully written too btw.

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