The Smell of Memory

memory slotsMy brother believes that we are all born with a finite number of memory slots. Of course, he is speaking in jest…probably.  When we’re little, memories go in and out as more experiences create new memories.  Then those start staying longer until BAM. The memory slots are full.  So now what happens?  Will noticing a beautiful butterfly knock out the memory of a divorce?  Umm….not. With this theory, each time a memory is jolted out of it’s slot to be lost forever, it’s because a super-stupendous experience has taken it’s place.

I may be reading more into what my brother jokingly said quite a while ago (but it is obviously still in my memory slot), but this seems to explain the loss of short-term memory as we age, while the long-term memory is hardwired into us forever.

One of my kids used to call it a rememory.  I thought that was awesome.  “Mom, we’re making a special rememory.”  I still like to say that. But how do we recall our rememories?

The greatest trigger for me in regards to remembering an experience is smell.

coppertone bottle

Every time I open a container of Coppertone Sunscreen, I am immediately transported back to summers when I was a kid and I smile.  Being a kid was not an altogether pleasant experience for me, but the smell of Coppertone brings back a rush of happiness. Even the smell of a deodorant can bring back a memory.

Or perfume.  Just a whiff of Chanel No. 5 on the breeze and I think of my mother.  For all the years that I knew her, she never wore any other perfume.

Now for a biggie.  Every person who was in high school in the USA or Canada in the late 1960s to mid 1970s will have an immediate reaction when they read this.  The smell of English Leather.  Am I right?  Even reading about it brings that smell to life.  My high school boyfriend wore English Leather.  I smell it and think of him.  My girlfriend in high school had a stuffed dog whose nose she dipped in English Leather so she could always be reminded of her boyfriend.  I’m sure the guys knew that the girls loved the smell.  So my point is made.

English leather

Is it just me for whom smell is so powerful? I’ve just been writing about the good smell memories.  But what about bad smells?

I was raised Roman Catholic and have 4 specific memories of my First Holy Communion. Which is a lot, but it’s an important day. The absolute biggest one, and is smell induced, is that the girl sitting next to me in the pew vomited. Besides the grossness, I still feel sorry for her.  I still feel the deep sorrow that a 7 year old can feel for someone.  I remember thinking that her day was ruined. And that is obviously a big memory for that girl.  Enough about vomit.

And then there was the time when I was in middle school and I woke up in the night thinking our house was on fire.  Then, as I woke up more, I thought someone was burning a tremendous amount of garlic.  But what I was smelling was the 3 large, white dogs that were strangers to us, but were on our front porch desperately trying to get in because they had been sprayed at close range by a skunk. That’s a big rememory for me.  The bushes, the door and shingles of our house took a hit as well.  That smell lasted a long time. And the smell of a skunk instantly brings me back to that night.skunk

I have had some tragedies and some comedies in my personal life.  Those have knocked some memories out of their slots and replaced them.  But these memories I’ve just recounted? I think they’re with me for the long haul.

The rememories of smell.

About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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14 Responses to The Smell of Memory

  1. annieg421 says:

    The smell of home made soup always brings back memories of my gran. Going to her house and there would be a pot simmering on the stove.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Of course I read that first as “home made soap” and thought how interesting that your gran made her own soap. And then quickly realized you said soup lol. What a pleasant memory to have every time you smell homemade soup. ❤


  2. Bumba says:

    A little neuropsychology is in order. Slots, sluts, there’s a lot of room in there. Several experts have attested to a mysterious air tunnnel inside my brain that runs from ear to ear – which explains all those “in one ear and out the other” comments I’ve heard so many times that my memory slots… well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul says:

    My sense of smell also recalls some memories. As does my hearing. Like if I hear a song, a lot of the time I can pinpoint the time in my life when I either first heard the song, or when I used to listen to it a lot, and then recall certain memories from that time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My brother and I are the only two people I know who kind of like the smell of skunk. My brother told me when he went away to summer camp he met a girl who also enjoyed the smell of skunk. I said he should have married her.

    Liked by 1 person

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