Yesterday was a long, tiring day. Not a bad day—I was visiting my Mom and Dad. But where I live means it is 2.5 hours of travel one way and a fair amount of in-and-out running around as I progress through the day. And I started out tired—not enough sleep because I stayed up too late finishing a novel. You know, just one more chapter. Late in the afternoon, before settling in for a visit at my dad’s convalescent hospital, I grabbed a quick diet coke to boost my energy levels and took the time to drive through the window at one of my favorite bagel shops. I snagged my usual order—onion, garlic and jalapeno bagels—and sped off to visit Dad.
Later, when I got back to my car, I was dragging—but looking forward to a late dinner with my sister before heading home. I opened the car door and was treated to a delightful aroma—my bagels had filled the sun-baked car with their sweet, pungent aroma. I know about comfort food, but comfort smells? I was overwhelmed, in a good way. I sat there, sipped a little more diet coke and was transported to many a good dinner, fun times cooking in the kitchen, meals with good friends over a good bottle of wine. Forget Calgon, the savory garlic and onion took me away. And I was thankful—it was a great pick-me-up to get me through the rest of night.
Today as I enjoyed one of the bagels for lunch, I kept thinking about the power of smells and their association with memories, or at least memory retrieval. We all know the typical examples: a whiff of cotton candy and you are back at the fair, enjoying the excitement of the day, or the lingering smell of a camp fire puts you back on a camping trip enjoying s’mores.
A fast trek to the internet confirmed the science of the relationship between smell and memory. Neuroanatomy offers the reasoning, according to a quick review of a study by Mueller and Velisavljevic (June 2001): olfactory nerves are in close proximity to emotion nerves (amygdala) and thus are associated with the early processing of memory that takes place in the hippocampus. Basically, smells help lay the emotional foundation of memories as they are first being processed and stored, thus the smells remain effective triggers to recalling those memories. Knowing that certainly appeases my curiosity—and makes the power of smells to trigger memories even more fascinating.
At this point, I cannot help but think of a friend from college who had lost her sense of smell, and the loss affected her sense of taste and enjoyment of food as well. I realize now that was a greater loss than it sounded like at the time. Even the smells that are not necessarily “good” bring forth memories: definite stink of skunk, either on the road while driving by or—worse—on your dog after a skunk-dog encounter. Rotten eggs. Dog poop—worse if in your house brought in on the bottom of your shoes. Full diaper pail, even if the kid is cute. For me, the smell of fish, especially if lingering in a restaurant, worse if permeating a walk along a wharf.
Not all “bad” smells evoke negative memories. I actually like capturing a whiff of dogs—not really dirty, need a bath, oh my goodness dogs—but their musty smell. It always makes me think of the dog I had for 16 years—I still miss him! But I am even more thankful for my favorite smells and the memories they conjure up! So here are ten of my favorites, in no special order. I have added pictures where I could, many from other general sources than my own photos. I could not figure out how to turn this into a scratch and sniff post—maybe technology can address that problem in the future.
10 FAVORITE SMELLS
A burning cigar: Not being a smoker myself, I realize this seems a bit odd, but it brings to mind my Uncle Bob who smoked cigars when I was a girl.
Popcorn: Especially wafting through the shared office when someone else took a break—the smell always made everyone take a break. Good snack for at-home movies, better if butter, garlic and parmesan cheese are added.
Freshly mown grass: Not that I ever enjoy this task, but it brings to mind leisurely summer afternoons. See, I was not the one doing the mowing!
Lilacs: spring, Grandma’s garden, Mom’s favorite flower, and walks in local gardens.
Fresh fruits: Peaches, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, coconut—so tantalizing, so refreshing, ingredients for great drinks, reminders of lazy summer evenings. But not bananas—that smell is not so sweet!
Desert sage: Whether walking in the desert and crushing the leaves or using a dried bundle to cleanse a new apartment, the smell brings comfort and mystery.
Coffee: I do not drink the dark liquid, but the smell is overwhelmingly delightful, always makes me think I should try drinking the stuff again, but the taste never matches the expectation. The smells do remind me of friends who do enjoy the brew.
Garlic: I do love the sweet aroma—and it brings to mind delicious meals with friends, trips to the Gilroy Garlic Festival where they even serve Garlic Ice cream, and drives along the fields before the garlic is harvested.
What aromas are you thankful for—or wish you could avoid?