“Think of a smell that makes you happy.” I posed this challenge to friends in the last few days, expecting a questioning frown or an eye roll. Boy, was I wrong! Every person closed their eyes and thought for a few seconds. Suddenly, a smile of bliss transformed their faces into what I can only describe as pure joy.
Their willing responses varied. “The smell of chocolate chip cookies baking when I came home from school.” “The powder smell from a just-emptied shotgun shell on a crisp fall morning.” “The sweet cream and vanilla smell from snow ice cream.” “That new-leather smell from a brand-new car.”
My siblings never disappoint with memories. I could hear a smile in Darlene’s voice as she replied, “Apple cake as it baked and Mom’s cooked brown sugar frosting. Sour cream raisin pie with meringue. Clothes just brought in from the clothesline on a cold winter day.”
Dorothy happily recalled newly-plowed soil and fresh-cut hay scents. On wash day, the fragrance of Tide filled the air as the wringer-washer churned away. In the kitchen sink, whites soaked in a hot bleach solution. The pleasant clean smells that spread through the house are good memories for my sister.
Every one of us treasured the aroma of our mom’s tuffies that greeted us when we walked in the door on special occasions. The fried bread dough, slathered with butter and sprinkled with sugar was an unforgettable treat for every sense!
Deloris, who carries on the pickle-making tradition, savored the smell of spices and vinegar blending in hot brine. Mom would pour the brine over cooked beets waiting in jars. New shoes emitted a pleasant smell on my sister’s first day of school. New-crayon scent added to the excitement and anticipation.
The unique aura of the farm prevailed in our brother’s fond memories. Fresh-baled alfalfa, corn pollen on a hot July day and fermenting silage elicited a contented sigh as he remembered. Always one to try to outdo his sisters, Delmer went on to list combinations of smells that he found particularly satisfying. The mix of spent diesel and turned earth as he plowed. Raindrops blending with dust as they splashed off the ground on a hot day. A summer rain on just-cut oat stubble gave off a unique aroma that was unforgettable to the young boy.
All of these olfactory experiences released positive feelings, and for a moment, we were whisked back in time. Studies have found a strong connection between smells and powerful memories. The anatomy of the brain allows signals to get from the nose to the limbic system, the center of emotion, very quickly. Thus, certain scents conjure up memories AND the emotions we felt when we first experienced them. Smell is the only human sense linked to the emotional center of the brain.
Of course, not every childhood smell is pleasant, and the unpleasant odors and their accompanying emotions are also stored in our memories. Darlene recalls the feeling of disgust when she stepped in a fresh cow pie (probably barefoot).
Occasionally, one of my hens will deposit a dollop of foul-smelling manure directly on the beaten path. As my boot squishes the putrid mass, the smell transports me back to the chicken house when I was eight. I reached into a nest for an egg, and my fingers connected with something wet, slimy and very smelly. I remember sniffing my fingers hours after I had scrubbed. I was sure I could still smell it.
Have you ever singed your arm hair or eyebrows? Of course, I have never been so careless, but when it happened, that horrible odor reminded me of burnt chicken hair. Part of the butchering process was to pass the plucked carcass over a small flame to char the hair that remained, allowing it to be scrubbed off. I wondered how our mother could bear such a stench.
The odors and fragrances we experience today trigger memories of the past. Clear images flash into our minds, and emotions come flooding in.
Recalling the good stuff, the wonderful smells of our childhood, gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling. The essence of joy and contentment fills our souls as we re-live the moment. So, close your eyes and think of your favorite smell from your growing-up years. Sniff a really big sniff---and bask in the happy memories!
Want to read more of Kruempel’s writing? Her book, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, as well as her 5-book series, Promises to Keep, are available on Amazon.com. All make great gifts for all ages. Watch for details of Kruempel’s soon-to-be-released book, Putting on the Big Boots, a compilation of the stories from the column of the same name. Contact DeAnn at firstname.lastname@example.org
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