Smelling Memories

Smelling Memories

By Kathy Koches


wine smellMy little dog cocks her head to one side, her black nose quivering as she detects a scent. I sit wondering what it might be, as the smell is undetectable to me. Something has caught her attention and her tail begins to wag – is it the delicious aroma of something cooking? Perhaps another dog nearby? Her sense of smell is 1,000 times more developed than mine.  

But can she or we really “smell memories?” Scientists have long known that smells are one of the best ways to evoke the past. Studies have shown that memories triggered by smells are more vivid and more emotional than those triggered by sounds, pictures or words. According to the latest research the aroma of breakfast is a man’s favorite smell, while for a woman it is a newborn baby.  

People can remember smells with 65% accuracy after a year, while visual recall is about 50% after three months. Research has shown that smell is the sense most linked to our emotional recollection and that 75% of emotions are triggered by smell.  

A childhood memory of mine is the overwhelming scent of a small room filled with too many flowers. This evokes the painful memory of the living room in my childhood home, filled to overflowing with floral arrangements sent to us when my parents died. It was many years before I could enter a florist shop without being flooded with feelings of sadness and loss.

Ah, but then there is the smell of fresh brewed coffee. I awaken each morning to that lovely smell, wafting up the stairs to tempt me to get out of bed. My husband rises early, brews a fresh pot of coffee and brings me a cup every morning. As it turns out, the phrase “wake up and smell the coffee” is true. When you are asleep, your sense of smell shuts down. You can only smell the coffee after you are awake.

Being from the Pacific Northwest, I love the smell of a pine forest. I can close my eyes and for a few seconds I am transported back to the lush green forests. And I love the smell of the sea and the tangy, salty taste on my tongue that reminds me of the many years I spent at the beach, learning to surf in the warm California waters.

And then there is the scent of the people you love. There have been many articles and research papers on how scent play a big part in sexual attraction, but it is more than that for me. It is that indefinable “something in the air” when your mate is around that makes you feel their presence and their love.

A certain person could be the furthest thing from your mind until you catch a whiff of something and suddenly you are transported back in time. Old Spice cologne or freshly mown grass never fails to make me think of my Dad and Jade East will immediately make me think of my high school boyfriend. I wear my favorite perfume most days called L’Air du Temps. My children and grandchildren have told me that they associate “Grandma” with this scent. Do you ever wonder how people will remember you? What scent will cause that ache or longing inside of them when you are gone? The true gift is the quality of the person associated with it and their love, care, devotion, time and energy.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.” Take a walk down memory lane with me today. What is a scent you associatewith someone or something you love?


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