According to “How Stuff Works,” smell is the sense which is the most closely tied to memory: “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.”
This has never been the case for me.
My memories are most strongly visual, nearly photographic in quality. I can conjure up a nearly perfect memory of many experiences just by closing my eyes. During exams, I used to turn the pages of my notes in my head. This memory is not perfect, but it’s close.
Smell does very little for me. Don’t get me wrong; I like smells. I love deep spicy smells like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. I love vanilla and melted butter. (Can you tell I love to bake?) I love the musty smell of an old book and the warm, sweaty, manure-y smell of a horse barn and the crisp, damp smell of an autumn morning in New England. They give me a sense of happiness and well-being, but none of them deliver instant memories.
There is one thing, though. The smell of a gin-and-tonic does have very specific associations for me. On hot summer afternoons when my dad would get home from work, or especially when we got back from the pool or the beach, he would make himself a gin-and-tonic. He would cut the fresh lime, mix the drink and often leave it on the counter, the glass sweating in the humidity, while he went out to light the coals on the grill. The sharp, fresh smells were intriguing to me, and I sometimes stole a sip out of curiosity: what was it that was so appealing about this forbidden drink? Would I like it better as I got older? Maybe that was why it wasn’t allowed, because you had to be grown up to enjoy it. I still don’t enjoy a gin-and-tonic, but I do think of my dad every time I smell one.
Do any of you have specific smell memories that you’d like to share?