Monday, June 14, 2010

Memory Sense

Last weekend, while driving to Oklahoma City, I'd had enough of talk radio--admittedly, a rare occurrence. Time for a little music. So, I decided to play the first CD I blindly pulled from the sun visor CD wallet - Deep Blue by Keiko Matsui. When the mournful piano music began to play, I was immediately taken back to the days following the terrorist attack of 9/11, when I'd had to drive to California due to all flights being cancelled. All of the feelings I'd felt back then, listening to the CD over and over along Interstate 40, returned to me.

Pulled back so deeply in time, I began to wonder which of the five senses best takes us back: sight, sound, taste, smell or touch? For me, it's a toss-up between sound and scent.

Any song by the Bee Gees, Chicago or Earth, Wind and Fire will send me straight back to my high school days in the 70's. I still remember listening to Michael Jackson on the school bus in junior high. Further back? Aquarius by the Fifth Dimension and Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond made me wish I'd hurry up and become a cool teenager.

And, music is not the only sound that brings back a memory. If I close my eyes at the sound of a rooster in the morning, I can pretend I'm under one of Grandma's quilts at her farm. The sound of rain trickling down a rain spout takes me back to my bedroom in California, where, as a teen I would lay in bed and think about all the joy and uncertainty of being a teenager.

When it comes to recalling memories, certain scents are a close second to sound, though. Funny that the awful smell of a diesel engine brings back happy memories of high school, when we'd wait to board the buses that would take the Armijo Superband to its next band competition.

The scent of Polo cologne still reminds me of my early dating days, when the boys seemed to slather it on, anxious to impress.

The rich, woody aroma of coffee still reminds me of waking at my grandmother's farm. It was accompanied by the sounds of the adults talking and laughing around the table, a happy start to my day.

Hairspray and cigarettes. Whoosh! I'm taken back to my childhood, when I'd sit next to my mother and watch her get ready to go out with my father. Watch her try to decide what to wear, take a puff of her cigarette, fix her hair just right, then spray it all over, before taking another puff. It all looked so glamorous, and I couldn't wait to grow up.

Why do you suppose the other three senses--sight, taste and touch--aren't as powerful as sound and scent in taking me back? Is it because they are often fleeting, and don't allow me to linger with pleasure in the memory? Is there a scientific reason--perhaps that sound and scent imprints deeper on our brains?

Maybe sound and scent memories are unique to me. What sense takes you back?


  1. It'd be vision for me. As a child I used to worry that one of the buzzards usually to be seen soaring high above would swoop down and snatch me up in its talons. But after staying in the house for a while I'd forget about the winged menace and amble out. Then hours later I'd remember, and look back in horror on my narrow escape from death.

  2. Jan, I do remember a "touch" incidence. It was recent, as well. I was in a very low place in my life after my divorce from a 25-year marriage. I had stuffed, shoved down, and held in as much stress as I could hold. When I blew, I really blew. Depression took me to a very bad place. I was "rescued" by my female nurse practitioner, but right there, after my family found me, my grown son hugged me. Tight. He wouldn't let go. His thin chest breathed deeply, as though he had finally found me, touched me, and could not bring himself to let me go. That hug, the firm embrace of my child, did what no words could ever convey. I'll never forget that feeling of his firm grasp. I tear up now just remembering it. Life is such a rollercoaster ride sometimes. Thank God for those who love us and those we love right back.

  3. Mr. Quixote, I will pray those buzzards leave you alone!

    Everdayclimb, you describe a powerful moment. You're right, a touch can be precious and powerful. Count your blessings to have a son who loves you so.

  4. I love smell. Good smells. Especially certain perfumes. But so many people-and me too when it's overdone-object to perfumes, that I never put any on when I'm leaving home.

    However, at night, after I've taken a shower and am settling into the evening in my nightgown, I put on Eternity perfume. I do it for myself. For the feeling of all-is-good-with-the-world that it gives me.

    Correction. I NEARLY never put on perfume when I'm leaving home. Sometimes, when I need a little pick-me-up, a little dash will do.

  5. I think sound and scent are so powerful because they are the first two senses we employ. Sound maybe more because we use it even before birth. Young of all animals find the mother's milk through sound and scent, as well. Touch seems like it ought to be more important, but doesn't trigger so much for me, either.

  6. I like your theory, Madison. Certainly makes sense that sound would be so powerful.