Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scent Memories

Do you have scent memories? A scent memory is often the most powerful memory bank you have. You can go years and years and not smell a certain scent, but smelling it again brings a flood of thoughts, feelings and pictures to the forefront of your mind.
The thing is, the memory can be a good one or a bad one. Men don't much wear Old Spice aftershave anymore, so catching a scent of my father doesn't happen very often. When it does, I picture him in his hunting clothes, a shotgun, and me along side him. Hunting in the Fall. For some reason, that picture comes up. He certainly wore Old Spice almost every day, but the hunting picture and feelings are the most pleasant. Once that picture comes up, then I also have scent memories of wet hunting dogs, dead leaves, gunpowder, muddy boots, and beer.

On the other hand, there are negative smells. Smells, that if you never catch a wiff of them again, it would be too soon. Unfortunately, a particularly pungent and negative smell for me, seems to be everywhere---diesel fuel.
When I lived in the city, delivery trucks and busses would belch big, fat diesel fumes. Now I live in a more rural area, and I'm surrounded by F-250s and Chevy 4x4s. All these folks still believe that you need to protect the engine by leaving it running, no matter where you are. Every time the kids and I would stop at Sonic for something, some JoeBob would be sitting there letting his truck burn and pollute the air around me. I would just have to deal with it.

The origin of the negativity regarding the smell of diesel is 25 years old. I was dating a young man that I thought would be my one, true love. He always said he loved me, but kept me at arms length. He and some buddies planned a ski trip to Colorado one winter. The buddies talked him into taking me along. They were taking their girlfriends.

To cut costs, we all took a chartered bus there from Kansas City. It started off okay, and slowly it became apparent that he really didn't want me along. He felt that guys and girls shouldn't vacation together, even if no time was ever spent alone together. Guys in one hotel room, girls in the other. The trip out to Colorado was long. We stopped twice along the way to pick up other folks. All the while, the motor was running. The smell of diesel began to permeate every crack and crevice of the bus. Between that and the cigarette smoke, I felt ill for most of the ride.

Once in Colorado, the young man would barely hold my hand---"You shouldn't be here. This isn't right in God's eyes, us vacationing together." I was crushed.
By the time we headed home, I was miserable and just wanted to get home. Of course, the middle of Kansas is no place to be in the dead of winter. Blizzards are the stuff of legends there. The highway patrol didn't close the interstate, but they might as well have. We barely crept above 25mph for 10 hours straight. I felt like I could have walked across Kansas more quickly than that stinky, old bus was moving.
By the time we reached Kansas City, the smell of diesel was a part of my soul. My heart ached and diesel had become forever etched to that feeling. Of course, the feeling faded and really is gone, but the dislike of the smell is still very much there.

Today at the farm, the delivery truck came by me for the hundredth time since I started volunteering there in November. Of course, it's a diesel. Until today, I just choked and held my nose. Today, I was given a new scent memory to go with diesel-----happiness because of working at the farm. It now tells me that food is moving out of the fields and into the barn to be washed, packed, loaded and delivered. Food I picked. Food I have sore muscles for. Food I eat with delight. Food I share with other people, new friends. Food that makes me happy.

I wonder how many people are lucky enough to switch a bad scent memory into a good one? Do you have a memory triggered by a scent? Good or bad?


  1. Woman, you have some of the most poignant posts. I'm glad you have switched a bad memory for a good one.

  2. I have so many. One that came to mind is any time I smell a musty, damp smell. You know the smell of wet stone. I immediately remember going down into my Grandma and Grandpa's cellar on their farm. I loved going down there with my grandpa and seeing all the canned jars of food that my grandma had put away.

  3. Oh girl, I have many, many scent memories. They can be so powerful and sudden can't they? I infinitely prefer the good ones. Like for me, old spice, is my always makes me ache and smile all at the same time. I'm glad you replaced your bad one for a good one. And I'm glad you ended up with the man you were meant to be with in the end. :)

  4. Excellent post, CeeCee!
    I'm glad that good memories have replaced those bad ones. :)

    My weirdest scent memory is of spagettios.
    When I went to school in Maine...with mountains of snow pushed to the sides or the roads I had to walk down....getting to the warmth of the school and smelling that spagettio scent made me feel safe and comfortable. Odd thing is that the school always smelled like that...morning and afternoon...and I don't remember eating spagettios at school every day. lol!

  5. My goodness me yes. Very very potent stimulus. Let me think about that!

  6. I loved this fact, I've just discovered your blog and thoroughly enjoyed it. Here's a post I wrote a while ago along the very same thought...