Monday, November 9, 2009

Making sense of it all

Growing up, my mom always wore Cinnabar when she and my dad were going out for the evening in the wintertime. A whiff of the Estee Lauder perfume now takes me back to being four, wrapping my tiny arms around my mom's legs, covered with panty hose and soft woolen skirts. When I smell the perfume now, I'm not smelling Cinnabar - I'm smelling a million memories of my mom.

I think the sense of smell is the most powerful in sparking old memories.

There are others, sure. Hearing a certain song, for one, can definitely transport me back to a particular moment or period in my life - my trip to Australia, a school dance, the first (and only) guy who broke my heart. Tastes can do it, too, like a bite of a Twinkie would make me feel like I was five again. But smell ... that's what really gets me.

A smell can make me stop in my tracks, close my eyes and remember something so vividly, sometimes even something I hadn't known was still filed away somewhere in the depths of my brain. A smell can make me broadly smile. A smell can bring tears to me eyes. And sometimes, a smell can make me ache inside, too.

Even something as innocuous as soap in a public restroom can do it - only when it's that cotton candy pink soap, though. I hadn't smelled that soap in years and years, until about six or eight months ago when I was washing my hands somewhere. I can't remember where I was, but I remember the smell - that sweet, strange, tangy smell of the pink soap of my childhood. The same soap they would use at the Millville Motor Inn, where I went for countless meals when my dad's mother was in town.

It's not all childhood memories. There's smells that cause newer sparks, too. Cool Water cologne makes me miss John. Homemade spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove with meatballs and sausage brings back my Mema. Lavendar shampoo lets me remember Piper when she was brand new, a little ball of faux-ferocious fluff.

And then there are the smells that jog my memory in general - they don't bring me back to a particular moment, but they do make me remember general things. Like the smell of fresh pine trees in the winter flood my head with Christmas thoughts. The smell of a cool ocean breeze brings back countless days spent on the beach. The smell of crisp, frigid air that promises a snowfall fills me with countless memories of snowman building and snowball fights.

It amazes me what a smell can do, like setting off a trigger in my brain that fills me with emotion - with happiness, usually, and often with longing ... longing to be small again, when I would hug my parents before they went out for the evening, my dad in a suit and my mom smelling of cinnamon and spice.

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