How does a certain smell bring back a memory of days gone by?
Why do certain smells bring up a memory of a time long ago? I smell something and I am immediately taken back to a time in my childhood. How does this happen? It isn’t a bad thing, most of these memories are good ones and I enjoy reliving them over and over again. But this made me wonder if I am in the minority here or if other people have this same thing happen. And what smells bring up memories for you?
Here are 10 of my most memory evoking smells.
- The smell of fresh cut grass – I loved the smell of our yard after my Dad cut the grass. People cut grass all the time, I know we do here, but it doesn’t smell like it did when my Dad cut our grass. Still when I smell freshly cut grass I can see my father out back mowing our yard.
- Freshly washed clothing that was hung outside to dry – as my Mom and I folded the wash or put the clean sheets on the bed, the smell was overwhelmingly crisp and it made me feel so fresh, clean and renewed. Even if you put something out to dry these days, and most places it isn’t even allowed, it doesn’t quite smell the same as it did back then.
- Gasoline – Ok, I know I may be alone in this one, but I absolutely loved the smell of gasoline being put into the car. I would open the window no matter how cold it was when Dad was getting gas pumped at the gas station just so I could smell it. On second thought…maybe that’s what is wrong with me!
- Our freshly cut Christmas tree – I loved the smell of the tree when we brought it home and how it made the house smell the whole way through the Christmas season. This was of course until Mom decided we needed to have a white flocked tree and then after that the dreaded aluminum tree with the color wheel. Christmas just wasn’t the same after we stopped having the fresh cut trees. But I still think of ours when I smell the scent of pine.
- A cornfield – we had a huge cornfield in back of my house growing up. We played in that cornfield from morning till night. We played hide and seek and lots of childhood games in that field. However, sometimes we just plopped ourselves down in the field and stared up at the sky. I loved the smell of that cornfield and smelling corn now reminds me of those lazy summer days of long ago.
- My grandmothers – each one had a certain smell. My Grandma G smelled like food and baking because she did that all the time. And most of the time I spent with her was spent baking something, so in my mind she smelled like pie. My Grandma F smelled of lavender. Her clothes and bed linens smelled of it too. I loved that smell back then and still do now.
- A book – There is nothing to compare to the smell of a book. A real book with pages and words on the pages. I have tried the Ebook thing but it doesn’t do it for me. I want to hold a book in my hands and smell the pages. I loved this smell growing up and still do all these years later.
- The musty smell of late summer – We used to go to my fathers work picnic every year when I was growing up. The place we went to was out in the country. It was late in August and everything had that musty smell. I loved going to that picnic. We spent the entire day there and had so much fun. So when I smell this musty odor now it brings back all those happy times I spent with my family at that picnic.
- My skin after a day in the pool – we always had a pool when I was growing up, they weren’t huge or real deep but they provided me and my sister and the neighborhood kids with hours of fun. After a full day in the pool my skin would smell so fresh and clean. I don’t think we used any chemicals back then or if we used sun tan lotion. I do know we used baby oil, so maybe that is where the wonderful fresh scent came from. I just know I loved that smell. And sometimes now after my grandkids go to the pool for the day I catch a whiff of that scent and it takes me back.
- Burgers and hot dogs grilling on a charcoal grill – Dad was the griller in the family. He could never get the charcoal to light and we would be nearly starving to death until it was ready to go. Or everything was burnt to a crisp and he couldn’t get the flames to calm down. But miraculously every now and then it all worked just right and he made us some amazing burgers and hot dogs. I have yet to taste the likes of the ones he made back then. And when I go to a park and smell the odor of charcoal I am immediately back in our yard with Dad at the grill.
Smells can evoke memories both good and bad. I remember the smell of the coal fire burning in my grandparents basement. My grandmother changing from her house dress into her nightgown in front of it. I remember how the peach pie smell would waft throughout the entire house as my grandma and I were baking it together. Waiting for that oven timer to go off seemed like an eternity. The smell of the beach takes me back to when my parents took me there as a young child. The sea air, the smell of suntan lotion, the fries cooking on the boardwalk. I loved that smell even as a little girl and I guess that is where my love of the beach originated. Maybe that smell and the way it makes me feel is why I love it so much now.
There is one thing I don’t like. I don’t like the smell of fire. My grandfather took me to a fire when I was around 4 or 5. There was a fire the day before down the street from their house and he thought I would like to go down there with him. I always liked going on walks with him so of course I went. The whole block had burned to the ground. Every house was destroyed, everything. It was all still smoldering and you could see the kids toys and beds just laying there out in the open, charred from the fire. I was devastated. I couldn’t sleep that night and cried until Mom came up and asked me what was wrong. I told her I was afraid our house would burn down. She spent most of the night consoling me and holding me until I finally drifted off. I never liked the smell of fire after that night. I still don’t.
As you can see smells stir up a lot of memories for me. Do certain smells bring up any memories for you? Are they good ones or bad? How do they make you feel? I love hearing your stories so please share them with me.
“Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.” ~ John Betjeman