Time Machine

“A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people’s moods and even affect their word performance. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the ‘emotional brain,’ smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously” (Sarah Dowdey).

I thought of this phenomenon this weekend when I put lavender and lilac into the Scentsy and opened the windows, welcoming the aroma of fresh air and mowed grass into the house. I hadn’t broken out the spring scent or cracked the windows since last April, when my belly and my patience were ready to burst, and suddenly, as I was sitting at the kitchen table grading papers, I had the overwhelming urge to – ugh – cry.

Not the helpless, ugly cry that Geoff witnessed last spring when he came home from work and found me in bed, covers pulled up to my quivering chin, declaring myself permanently pregnant, but the bittersweet, nostalgic cry that can only be sparked by memories. Memories triggered, and perhaps exaggerated, by scent.

For the rest of my life, lavender and lilac will smell like eager anticipation.

Crackling bonfires like rebellion, secrets and invincibility.

An empty gym like basket tosses and friendship.

Lucky cologne and keg beer like first love.

Cooked shrimp and cigarette smoke like a grandmother’s – a family’s – security.

Dirt and gasoline like a father’s hard work.

The pages of an old book like elementary school – and the start of an unquenchable passion.

Sarah Dowdey also writes, “When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing, or even a moment … When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or mood.” We don’t have rewind buttons, but we do have noses. All we have to do is smell, and we’re taken back to a place otherwise untouchable. Add the perfect song and we’ve got ourselves a time machine.

What scent transports you to a memory? Close your eyes, breathe it in and go there.


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