Olfactory Similes

21 Oct

Have you ever noticed that certain smells trigger memories of a specific time or place? I have often experienced that feeling when a scent grabs hold and takes me back to an event or a location I frequented in my youth. I have a very visual memory, so when this happens it’s rather like a Hollywood dream sequence where I can almost look around and see the people and landmarks of that moment. If I catch the smell of diesel fuel on a hot day, I am instantly reminded of Mumbai. Invariably I will find myself craving a samosa after passing a diesel truck on a summer afternoon, especially if it had rained recently. If I close my eyes, I can almost relive the memories: walking past Hiranandani Gardens on our way to the market to refill my secret stash of fruit roll-ups, taking an auto-rickshaw to the shopping center, feeding my leftover dinner to the stray dogs on our block…

Right now my backyard smells like my childhood- specifically, sneaking through the hole in the Hughes Jr High back fence to hang out with the neighborhood kids at a Bismarck High Demons’ football game. I can even hear the kids giggling and screeching as they run and play…no wait, those are the neighbors. Even so, the memory is inescapable.

I know the olfactory memory is not uncommon; I’ve read about studies that have been done on the subject though I don’t feel like researching to find any of them at the moment. I’m sure you are more than capable of googling the subject yourself. What I wonder is whether everyone else has the same experience as I do. Do you just say to yourself “hmm, that smell reminds me of Grandma’s house,” or can you picture Grandpa reading the newspaper at the dining room table, see Grandma’s makeup mirror on the bathroom counter, slide down the bannister to the basement, and feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you walk past the creepy storage space that you were always pretty sure was haunted?


Posted by on October 21, 2011 in Life in General


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2 responses to “Olfactory Similes

  1. Joy

    October 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    This happens to me all the time. Yay! I’m not alone. šŸ™‚

  2. mareserinitatis

    October 21, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    My grandma has a particular smell. I don’t know what it is, but every time I see her and she gives me a hug, I remember her old house, where we’d visit every Labor Day and watch the telethon. Then I’d sit on the steps and play next to a window with a statue of a nymph…I can’t even remember what I played, but I’m pretty sure I was talking to myself the whole time and grandma thought I was crazy. If I sat there too long, she’d ask me to help her clean house. šŸ™‚


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