Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scent & Memory: The Sweet Smells of Childhood

I open a fresh bar of Dove Soap and instantly think of my grandparent's bathroom. It happens every time. Their bathroom was always impeccably clean and cool. It was the only bathroom I've ever seen that had wall-to-wall carpeting. As a kid, I used to wonder what would happen if their toilet overflowed. Sometimes that happened at my house. Even then I had a practical mind and knew it would be a mess to clean. But, things like that didn't seem to happen at Grandma and Grandpa's house. It was just so clean all the time, like Dove Soap.

I'm sure that's why I use Dove Soap now. It's nostalgic, but it also makes me feel relaxed and like everything is okay. It smells safe and comfortable, just like I felt at Grandma's house.

It's no surprise that particular scents can take us back in time in an instant. Whether it's the smell of soap, coffee or a certain flower, there's a strong memory trigger with scents from childhood. Or, rather, according to Psych Central, the memory trigger comes from the first time we smell something, whether it's from childhood or not. Scientists can predict if a smell will leave a lasting impression by viewing brain scans of people exposed to certain scents for the first time.

No matter what the science is, there's no doubt that a particular scent can take you back decades to the time when you first smelled it.

If I ever come across the smell of Old Spice, it instantly reminds me of my dad, who died when I was six. He was an Old Spice aftershave user. That scent has fallen out of favor, I think, so I don't smell it too much these days. But, it's a scent I'll never forget. Which is pretty remarkable considering I have no idea what his voice sounded like and, if it weren't for pictures, probably couldn't remember what he looked like. Scent memories seem to be more powerful than other memories.

Smell memory triggers aren't always so pleasant. I had a bad case of chicken pox when I was a kid with great big, itchy, oozing welts. I was prescribed a medicine in a capsule, which I couldn't swallow. My mom broke the capsule into a spoon and mixed it with a bit of sugar water. The distinct smell was revolting. Every now and again, I'll get the same medicinal odor from something. I'm instantly standing in my mom's kitchen with a spoon full of chicken pox medicine an inch from my face. It's enough to make my skin itch!

Then there's the stale beer smell from college that reminds me of sticky bar room floors. Not a good smell, but defnitely a ticket to remember a few fun years!

I'm sure there's not enough soap in the world to clean those beer-drenched floors, but I can't help wondering if a little Dove Soap would help.    

What are your scent memory triggers?


  1. Peppermint... every time I get a box of mega peppermints, it reminds me of the first time I ever ate peppermint, at my fifth birthday party :)

  2. Peppermint is such a nice smell! And, it sounds like you have a wonderful memory of it!