The Scent of a Memory

Have you ever noticed that certain smells have that way of evoking a memory so powerfully that you feel as if you have transported right back into that moment?

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I love the smell of coffee.

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Sourced from Pinterest
It conjures up images of me standing on a chair “helping” my mom set up, fill, and percolate the coffee on the stove.  Not sure if you remember, but that was pretty technical (and it was glass!) for a little one to be helping with, so it was kind of a big deal  đŸ˜‰  Watching as the water bubbled up that tube inside and erupted over the grounds to turn from colorless and clear to that dark, rich brown was fascinating.  And as the color turned darker, the coffee smell grew stronger.  Probably where that love of science had its start.  It was exciting to be a help in the morning, a sign that I was growing up, and I held great pride in that.

Too bad I can’t stand the taste of it.

Not that my Gramma Rose didn’t try to remedy that situation.  We would visit Rosie every day “for coffee”.  Mom and Rosie would sit at the kitchen table and us kids would do our best to drive them nuts running in and out of the house between bike riding, playing on the swings, and trampling up the stairs to make a mess of the playroom.  When I got old enough to sit still, Rosie invited me to join them at the table and have my own cup of coffee: warm milk, tablespoons of sugar, and just enough coffee to make it turn color.  Because it was for Rose, and it meant that I got to spend more time with her, I would drink my “Rose Coffee” while snacking on saltines, talking about my day, and learning to play Rummy.

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Sourced from Pinterest
Every time we walk into a coffee shop or a bakery, that first big intake of breath brings me back to those moments, just for an instant.  They help fuel my Happy.

Have you ever noticed that certain smells have that way of evoking an emotional response or a memory so powerfully that you feel as if you have transported right back into that moment?  Like getting that heady feel from putting on your boyfriend’s sweatshirt and being not just swallowed up in the warmth of it, but in the smell of him?  Well, its not just a phenomenon experienced by you.  Turns out that through some pretty interesting biology, we are actually wired for this emotional response. “Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory:  the amygdala and hippocampus. Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas. This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories.” (Jordan Gaines Lewis, PhD)  There are smells that are pretty universal in revolting us or causing a flight response, such as the smell of rotting food or smoke.  One can see how they would be useful in keeping us out of danger.

Where we luck out in this quirk of biology is that it can help us link back to some of those

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Garlic Scape, Colgan Farm
powerful, happy moments.  The smell of garlic and motor oil reminds me of my Grampa because he ate it every day and was constantly tinkering on engines; my Gramma Mary had a powder she used that I swear I smell out of the blue and suddenly I am sitting with her at the piano singing “On Top of Spaghetti” as we giggle away; I bring a blanket when I visit my parents just so I can bring it back to snuggle in the smell of home.  The kids and I have gone out on candle sniffing missions to find the one that reminds us most of my sister’s home, because we miss being close to her.

Scent has even been incorporated into various treatments. Probably most well known for treating stress and anxiety, aromatherapy has also been shown to help supplement treatment of depression and insomnia, control pain and help with nausea among other things.    I have used a bit of aromatherapy in dealing with my anxiety issues. Lavender is a favorite, I also like rose and cedar too, just to name a few.

Because there is such a deep connection between our sense of smell and our emotions, smell becomes another way that we can help create that atmosphere that makes our Happy feel at home.

May your memories, old and new, smell amazing! 🙂

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