The Scent of a Memory

When I was in college, I spent my summers working at a variety of different kids camps in far away states. The most extreme of these paying Kum-Ba-Yah gigs kept me in the camp’s kitchen area, where I spent the majority of my time running trays of glasses through an oversized, supersteamyfingerburning Hobart machine. Believe it or not, it was way worse than it sounds.

We woke up early and stayed up late, and in between, we made super greasy homemade mayonnaise, and washed approximately 5,000 dishes each sun cycle, only to wake up early and do it all again. Ah, the memories. Every early morning, well before sunrise, the septuagenarian camp owner entered the dark cold kitchen, all chipper and shiny, and sang about what a swell day it would be.

Understandably, this was the summer I started overdosing on coffee.

Each dawn of crack, I would sit at a table with him, willing myself awake and warming my hands with caffeine, while he waxed and waned about the joys of camp ownership, camp traditions, camp rituals. His favorite of these rituals involved cereal, and his favorite cereal involved honey, nuts, and 0s. For him, eating this cereal was a complete and complex sensory experience. Like an expert sommelier, he would smell it, swill it, and swallow it down. He consumed it like a man in love. It was a rhapsody, an event, and here was the deal. He would only allow himself this love affair during the summertime. The rest of the year, he would mix it up with samples of lesser wheats, oats, and smacks, saving his true love for camp months…since just thinking of the smell of it, gave him a taste for the summer. Through selective seasonal abstinence, he artificially created this cereal sensory association to get him through the year.

Weird, right?

Why yes, it was. Here was this guy…who statistically didn’t have much time left…willingly deciding to deny himself of his favorite thing 273 days of the year, just to make it more fantastic when it came around. Even then, I realized this dude and I thought with different parts of our brains.

Because I’ve found that I can create the most profound sensory memories in the exact opposite way… by celebrating them whenever possible. This works, even when employing reverse psychology. To this day, the smell of coffee continues to remind me to appreciate my current, non-Hobarty surroundings. When I’m bummed or drained or glum in anyway, the smell of coffee creates immediate cheer. I willed it to be so. Because even then, back at that camp, I thought, if smells can get me through rough times, how much more fantastic would they be in association with excellence. Travel. Experience.

So now, every time I go somewhere wonderful, I find a smell that connects me back to that time and place.

Now, Japanese Quince smells like Christmas at the Mandarin Oriental London.

Persimmon smells like Lake Pend Oreille in Hope, Idaho.

Lemon Verbena with Sage smells like winter in New York City.

White Pepper Nectarine smells like a sunset in Santorini, Greece.

And Dahlias with wine smells like a Broad Summit in Napa Valley.

These are just a few associations I’ve serendipitously created by connecting travel memories with a particular scent, soap, or candle. And I love to pull the olfactory touchstones from my bag of tricks when needed. Whenever needed. Not just in a particular season or surrounding. Life is too short…and too scented.

*I’m joining nine other bloggers today to write about scent and sensory memories to celebrate the launch of a truly fantastic contest that I can completely not win. But you can. And I really hope you do. Check it out.

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One Response to The Scent of a Memory

  1. Erin Butson says:

    Love the Hobart… I did the same thing inhighschooland can'teven be more thankful that I never (hopefully) have to see (or smell) a Hobart again) Great post.

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