Miss Pelican's Perch

Looking at my World from a Different Place

The Scents of Memory


I am taking an online course through my regional library on aromatherapy and the use of essential oils.   The main reason I am taking the course is to try out the virtual classroom software on something fun and easy before I take a “serious” course like business or accounting.  In this online course, we must submit assignments just like a real classroom.   My first assignment is write about the memories evoked by specific smells.   I thought I would draft my assignments here before I submit them to the instructor and to use them as a bit of writing practice.   So here goes…. 

The Scents of Memory

I had to think about this for a few minutes.  The sense of smell is often overlooked when one is discussing lifetime memories.  One usually remembers things seen or heard, not what one has smelled.   Actually, it is the unpleasant smells that evoke the most potent memories:  my first trip to a non-first world country where my olfactory center was overwhelmed by the smell burning garbage, bad sewage system, and offal boiling in a sidewalk cauldron.   Similarly, some of the saddest memories come from the smell of urine and disinfectant from hospital visits. 

There are some smells that in themselves are bad but they actually bring back fun memories.   I remember those road trips as a child through the smell of diesel fuel,  hot rubber tires on sizzling cement, and the smell of lingering cigarette smoke from previous occupants in motel rooms.

Obviously, my favorite memories are associated with the loveliest of scents:  the sweet, exotic fragrance of plumeria as I stepped off a plane in Honolulu,  the warm, resinous smell of pine needles and cedar bark on a hot summer day in Yosemite, and the ragged scent of saltwater and seaweed on Cannery Row in Monterey.  

It is interesting that I most vividly remember these smells of childhood travel.  I guess we take for granted the smells of everyday experience.  But here are some I do enjoy:  frying bacon, baking bread, the smell of cinnamon and hot sugar from the bakery down the street.  And coffee.  Oh, the wonderful, mellow richness of fresh brewed coffee. 

Scents are more powerful than image and sound, it would seem. 

Miss Pelican (c) 2012

7 thoughts on “The Scents of Memory

  1. Scents really do trigger memories. My grandfather will forever be linked with the smell of tobacco and Old Spice in my memories. I remember the scent of him more clearly than I remember how he looked or sounded. (He died when I was six.)

  2. I say you nailed this assignment, if for your imagery alone. Every scent or odor you described evoked strong images and it was like I was there with you briefly, experiencing what you had. One of my strongest memories is of childhood summers spent in our backyard, playing, sunning or swimming in our small pool my parents set up every summer. Why? Because of the fragrant, lovely soft purple lilac bush bordering one side of our yard. To this day, lilacs are one of my favorite flowers.

  3. Your writing is really evocative in this piece. I can almost smell the scents/odours you write off. You have made me think of smells that carry memories for me. The smell of a market in Bali has stayed with even though I went there in 1970

  4. a friend of ours stores his wine glasses in a cupboard which smells divine when you open it. It doesn’t evoke any memories, I just like the smell, it’s almost chocolatey and I’ve no idea if it comes from the wood or the fact that several bottles of liqueur are also stored in the same cupboard

  5. This a lovely piece of writing. Scents and smells do have the power to transport us back to places and people long gone. My mother’s signature perfume was Tweed, and I still have her last half bottle.

  6. I agree with you about the scents of the trees in Yosemite and the smell of the salty fragrance of the ocean. I would add to that the smell of the air after the first rain, fresh baking bread, and yes, the coffee too, that first cup in the morning.


  7. How utterly perfect, Lori! Yes, indeed…those scent memories are pretty amazing and you captured the true essence (pardon the pun) of scents evoking memories of all sorts.

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