Science tells us that smell is the biggest memory trigger. Something to do with the olfactory bulb being close to the brain’s memory center or something. Mr. Wizard I am not, so a more in-depth explanation of the mechanics will need to be found elsewhere.
But I had just such a memory trigger this morning on the way to work. I had swung through a drive through for breakfast (Dunkin’ Donut has a perfect breakfast dollar menu–I got an egg white, cheese, and sausage wrap and a cup of coffee–perfectly healthy and cheap for someone like me who’d rather have an extra ten minutes sleep versus actually getting up and preparing any sort of meal.)
It was a great morning, so I had the roof open. At the next stop light, I cracked open my coffee and instantly I had this memory of my late grandmother’s house. Now, if I’d been asked before that to describe how her house smelled, I couldn’t have even begun to. And it took most of the traffic light cycle to pick apart the smells that brought the memory to me.
There was the coffee, of course. During my childhood summers, I often stayed at my grandmother’s during the day while Dad was at work. We would get to her house, and there was always a fresh pot of coffee brewed.
The faint odor of cigarette smoke was coming from a car a few spots ahead of me. I don’t recall what my grandmother smoked before she quit, but the smell of her brand was slightly different from “typical” cigarette smoke.
And to my left and a few cars back was a truck loaded with new lumber. My grandmother’s husband had taken up woodworking in his retirement and was always working on pieces of furniture in the woodshop below their garage.
So now I can say that her house smelled like fresh coffee, cut wood, with a faint trace of cigarette smoke. Doesn’t sound all that appealing, does it? But until the light turned green, I felt like I was ten years old again.