I’m surprised to learn, after sniffing up a storm today, closing my eyes, and hoping the olfactory part of my mind would wander down some ancient pathways, that I have no real smell memory, not even one that reminds me of ‘home’. I have three smells that take me back to earlier years. Someone taking the first puff on a cigarette. There was nothing like that smell to me and it was non-reproducible. I can picture a friend (different friends throughout my smoking career) lighting up, taking a deep inhale, and blowing out the smoke. All or much of it landing on my nose. Today I try to move away from cigarettes. Don’t really want the memory pull.
Then there is being outside on a walk and, suddenly out of nowhere, smelling marijuana. Usually, I never see where it’s coming from. But the smell takes me back to the most romantic of my memories of my hippie years when everything was in front of me, and I had left all the bad, all the painful back at home. I easily picture in my mind, friends sitting around in a circle. Sometimes we are talking. Sometimes we are listening to music. But always, it was friendly, and it was an invitation for my brain to take a break from whatever the day had held.
And lastly, there is just-baked bread. Since weight has always been problematic, I don’t have great associations with that smell as delicious and heavenly as it is. Since I’ve been in Paris and no longer worry about my weight (though I never eat bread), I’ve learned to just appreciate the smell, how aromatic it is. There is a boulangerie on the corner of my street and if I’m up and out early enough, I walk by and can inhale the staff of life while watching the cooks who have been up since 3:30 am take a break leaning up against the wall of the shop smoking cigarettes.
I must be an auditory memory person. I can hear the first three bars of “EaterPurple People ”, and I’m back in my youth, nine years old, lying in my twin bed with measles. A transistor radio propped on a chair in front of me where I first discovered Hy Lit on WIBG, Philadelphia.
I can hear the first note of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and I’m in a VW bus with four other people riding up the west coast of Italy singing at the top of my lungs. I’m returning to Florence where I had spent my senior year abroad and I was buzzing with excitement.
I can hear three strums of ‘Silver Dagger’ from Joan Baez’s first album and I’m sitting on the floor at Christmas, down in the rec room, my parents, uncle and aunt, and Peggy all sitting there. I have a guitar and I’m playing a song I wrote. We’re at the far end of the room next to the doors that open up onto the backyard. I’m wearing my dark hair parted in the middle and trying to look as much like Joan Baez as I possibly can.
These are visceral feelings I have no control over. I recently listened to the Beatles on Spotify. Here Comes the Sun started the playlist. I was instantaneously overwhelmed with memories of being young, of being hopeful, of just wanting to have fun, and not worrying about money, family, or health. I had to sit down and take deep breaths and just let the feelings roll through me. It all feels so long ago—literally another time, a different person that was there.
Would I go back there? Not on your life? What hits me is always the best of those times. Music was absolutely the best of the best. I lost myself in music. I listened to rock ‘n roll around the clock. I don’t know when it stopped but it stopped. And now it’s like sparkling sand that flows through my fingers. I can’t hold onto the feelings, nor do I want to. But I do love that I have a magic key that takes me straight back and I get to relive a tiny part of the past.
Thanks for reading Out My Window! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.