Smells and Memories

Recently I was at the grocery store and noticed an extra glow about the place; a sort of fluffiness that I don’t normally associate with the local Acme outlet. It took a couple of minutes but I finally noticed that the place was teeming with fresh lilies. Maybe the management bought too many, maybe a customer bailed on a pre-arranged large order.

Whatever the reason, these flowers were lining the walls of the store turning it from a sterile shopping depot into a slightly more lovely place to blow my money…what with the floral decorations lightening things up. I could look at lilies all day, I thought. What sort of bugs me is their smell. I am not a fan. One whiff of their aroma and I’m swiftly transported back to funerals I’ve attended and a melancholy mood washes over me. A major headache soon follows.  That’s a powerful reaction just from a smell which got me thinking about how sensitive my nose is to all the different odors that swirl invisibly through the air.

I’m far beyond questioning my motivations at this point, but somewhere along the line in my life I thought it’d be a brilliant idea to not only have kids but also add multiple pets into the mix. They’re all a joy to me, truly, but my poor nose has been put through the ringer. Add in the fact that I hate…HATE mind you…bodily functions of any sort and well, there you have it…that’s my life.

As far as my olfactory system is concerned, children and pets are nothing but rumbling balloons filled with gas that leaks out haphazardly as the day goes on. Each balloon has a buffet of options to choose from when it needs to excrete a stench, all of which make me gag. Never have I smelled a gas that has come out of my dog and thought, “Well, isn’t that just a lovely scent you got there?” No. Questions float briefly in my mind as to what I did in my life to have things come to this. But besides these toxic cloud attacks, not all smells are so bad.

Take the smell of baking bread for example. There’s nothing like it. You know what I’m talking about. Everyone succumbs to this. I don’t know what it is about hot yeast, but when I pass by a bakery and they’re pulling out steaming loaves of French bread from the ovens, I’m euphoric. The smell envelopes me with wave after wave of happiness and comfort.

Consider the following scenario: Mommy or Daddy bathes Baby nice and clean, dusts a little powder on the bum, and makes the baby smell so fresh with the scents of cleanliness. This heavenly aroma clings to the baby’s onesie which probably makes it a bit easier for the parents when their child turns into a raging demon spawn and is up screaming until the sun breaks over the horizon. Mommy and Daddy can pop a clean onesie onto that bugger, inhale the aroma and all the love will come flooding back. It can certainly make up for the “gag” smells. And I speak from professional experience.

As most of you probably already know from watching Bill Nye, of our five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste – smell is most closely connected to our memory, which I find fascinating. The sense of smell doesn’t get as much credit as some of the others, yet I don’t think it’s any less important to the survival of animal species. Smell can tell us just as much about danger as any other sense. The eyes let us know when it’s safe to cross the street. Ears pick up cries of someone in trouble from far away and keep us vigilant of areas around corners or on other levels of our house. Touch lets us know when something is too hot or too cold. Taste picks up poison. Smell, possibly the least popular of our sense, does just as much. Most of the things we use our nose for are practical. Does the baby have a dirty diaper? Is there smoke in the house? Is this milk spoiled?

It even helps us in the propagation of our species. It lets us know—dare I say it?–does that guy smell sexy? That’s an important question, people. I’ll need to do some research, but a close friend once told me that love at first sight is more often than not triggered not by how a guy looks, but how he smells – or rather, how the pheromones he’s secreting smell!

Every person you know and love has their own personal scent just like they have their own fingerprint. If I were to put you in a room with three of your closest friends, I bet you could sniff them and know exactly who they were even if you had ear plugs and a blindfold. How many of you have worn the shirt of a loved one or have lain on their pillow to help ease the pain and loneliness when they’re away? It’s much different than looking at a picture of them. There’s something about smell that goes deeper. It’s in your bones.

The strong connection between smells and emotions is a primary reason why aromatherapy is so popular. Some scents, like lavender, relax us. Some scents, such as musk, arouse passion. Scents can literally guide our actions by planting subconscious cues in our brains. Our sense of smell is so important because it has the ability to help us remember people or places from the past, comfort us, and even help us fall in love.

So next time you go for a walk, take deep breaths and see where the scents lead you! Hopefully it will be somewhere pleasant and not, for instance, a landfill.


5 thoughts on “Smells and Memories

      • Absolutely it is. I can also remember the smell of London where my grandparents lived but I can’t describe it. Their flat used to smell of stale tobacco and polish! Other things I remember – chlorine from the swimming baths and carbolic soap in the school wash room! The smell of a shop before everything became wrapped in plastic in the supermarkets. Washing powder on clothes lines in Greece!

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