Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Power of SMELL….my first memory

I have tried very hard to recall my early days but I honestly don’t know what I can actually remember as opposed to those things that were retold so many times in my family that they seem to be MY memories.

I am not able to go back much further than when I was 6 or 7 years old. The years before that seem to be lost to me...except for this amazing experience. I have heard that the primary sense is that of smell...and I can attest to that. When I was very young the whole gang of us went to Brattleboro, Vt. to visit my mother’s family. I know this is true because we have pictures to prove it and it is also recorded in my Aunt Emma’s diaries. I must have been 3 or 4 at the time and I have no conscious memory of that visit.

HOWEVER...many years later I became aware of a very strange smell...it seemed to be a combination of three odors, the pungent smell of new sawn lumber, the slightly gamey smell of lamb being roasted in the oven and the almost sickly sweet smell of maple syrup bubbling on the stove. I was immediately transported to the kitchen of my grandparents in Brattleboro. The sensation was so strong that I felt like I could reach out and touch them...and I actually remembered being there. It was a swift but powerful memory and then it receded almost as quickly as it came.

The interesting thing is that Grandpa was a carpenter and had a wood-working shop and lathe in a large room off of the kitchen. They also had a “sugaring-off” business and would tap the maple trees and boil the sap into syrup on the wood stove in the kitchen...the smell of lamb being roasted?? Perhaps that was the special meal being prepared for our visit.

Whatever it was, I have only smelled that combination three times in my 74 years and each time it has pulled me back to that warm and loving kitchen of my childhood.


Blogger KGMom said...

Oh yes, of all the sense, smell is the most evocative of memory. That is definite--having been studied.

Years ago, National Geographic did a most interesting article, sending out a scratch & sniff test series. You were to scratch off each smell spot, then record what it smelled like & if it evokes pleasant or unpleasant memories. Then about 1/2 year later, they published the results.

Women have the stronger sense of smell. One of the questions was whether or not pregnancy affected smell. I answered affirmatively--much as I love coffee, when I was pregnant, the smell of coffee turned my stomach.

7:30 PM  
Blogger kenju said...

I have written about smells before too, Ginnie. There is nothing more evocative!

8:44 PM  
Blogger dmmgmfm said...

I love the smell of freshly cut wood. I'd spend hours out in my dad's shop, drinking in the smell. To this day when I smell it, it brings me back to those days in the wood shop. Such happy, precious memories.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Cazzie!!! said...

Lovely, smells mean so much. I miss my nannas smell, of sweet mandarines and vanilla :)

2:39 AM  
Blogger Pam said...

kgmom is right on. Sometimes, when I become aware of certain smells, memories come crashing in like tidal waves. Fast and intense.

4:43 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I have heard about this type of thing but never experienced it.

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an interesting article. Yes, smell takes us back to our childhood memories.

9:33 AM  
Blogger dmmgmfm said...

I went to the hardware store/lumber yard today to pick up an extra 5 gallon water jug for our workshop tomorrow (it's the last day of the three day event and I'm a little down about it being almost over). I had to walk through the lumber storage area and it smelled so good and brought back all of those wonderful memories of childhood. Those memories reminded me of this post, which reminded me how much I love that smell, so I wanted to stop in again and tell you about it. :)

6:08 PM  
Blogger Chancy said...

I "googled sense of smell and memory" and found this interesting paragraph from the BBC site.

"you usually either like or dislike a smell. Smells also leave long-lasting impressions and are strongly linked to your memories. The scent of mown grass, for example, might remind you of a childhood summer holiday, and the smell of chocolate chip cookies may make you think of your grandmother"

Good post Ginnie, thanks.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Ginnie,
This is such a great topic. I know what you mean about a conjugation of smells. It was the same for me. Olive oil + oregano + my grandfather's after shave transports me to 1966 in their apartment in the Bronx. I like the photograph.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd have to agree that smell is a powerful memory.
Mine is of something in the air (a flower, particular grass, not sure) at the farm in NH where my mom grew up. We'd go there for weekends and I'd smell it upon awakening in the morning.
The only other time I've smelled that was HERE on Cedar Key, about a year ago, just once. And it instantly transported me back to the farm. It's amazing, isn't it? The sense of smell.
Really enjoyed this post!

6:16 AM  

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