What Does Memory Smell Like?

We all have memory-triggers, but I’ve often heard it said the greatest trigger for memory is our sense of smell. How many times have you caught a faint scent, and been immediately flooded by a vivid rush of images from your past? 

When I was in my late teens, I spent a week each summer with my husband’s family at a bayside apartment in Maryland.  I won’t tell you how long ago that was, but Pert shampoo was popular in those days. Even now, the scent of Pert resurrects flashes of knotty pine paneling, the scent of Old Bay seasoning on steaming crabs, and the trill of seagulls. 

These days I use a shampoo and conditioner infused with olive oil that I purchase from a salon. I couldn’t even tell you the name of it, but I know what the bottles look like. Hopefully, that doesn’t make me snob – – especially when I might pop open a bottle of Pert now and then solely to reminiscent about giddy fun-filled summers at the shore. I remember drinking Mountain Dew until it came out of my ears, learning how to bait a fishing line with a minnow (my initial reaction – – “Ewww!”) and riding the wake of larger boats in our tiny jon boat.

Writers love experimenting with sensory input, fleshing out scenes with descriptions of sight, sound and smell in hopes of bringing our settings alive and creating bonds between our characters and readers.  It’s much easier to feel sympathetic to a character when you know the odor of wet flannel makes a curmudgeonly cop think of the Saturday afternoons he spent fishing with his kid brother, or a harried business exec gets sentimental whenever she spies a basket of daises.

Last week, I asked “What Does Childhood Taste Like?”  This week, wrap your head around “What Does Memory Smell Like?” (and any other sense you want to use). Think outside the box, have some fun, get creative!  Here are a few of mine:

Memory looks like starlight, ephemeral and dazzling
Memory smells like a closed up attic and old newsprint
Memory feels like water slipping between my fingers, often gone before I can grasp it Memory sounds like the calliope at a carnival
Memory tastes like  ??? 
Totally stumped on that one. Cotton candy? Broiled seafood? Luden’s cough drops?  They all have meaning for me.

What are YOUR memory associations?


2 thoughts on “What Does Memory Smell Like?

  1. Memory sounds like waves while lying on the beach
    Memory tastes like an ice cream cone after a softball game
    Memory feels like the soft fur of my childhood cat
    Memory smells like boardwalk fries at the beach
    Memory looks like a long lasting love


    • Lovely! And I remember those softball games, how your team would always stop for ice cream after you played. Love your recollections of the beach, boardwalk and Princess. ‘Tis lovely what sense can resurrect for us!


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