Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Memory Smells

Have you got a Memory Smell?  That’s my informal name for what is formally referred to as the “relationship between olfaction and memory”.   I think mine sounds better.

I’ve got stacks of these, as I’m sure you have.   And possibly, like me, you don’t know you have them until you smell something.  Someone’s perfume might take you back to an old friend.  The smell of bread might transport you back to a simpler time.  The smell of freshly mown grass may elicit cricket, beers and summer memories.

For me, the smell of rice takes me back to my Nanna’s kitchen and to Mum’s kitchen.  It never fails to make me feel happy.   Whenever the Polynesian Princess smells rice cooking, she runs into the kitchen, sniffs the air dramatically and then declares “mmmmmmm that smells GOOD!!!”  And I smile.  Because I know that I have created a memory smell for her.

And Bully Beef!  Yes, “Smelly Beef” as The Architect has named it.  This is another childhood memory smell for me that I have also passed on to Polynesian Princess and Little Warrior.  They love it.  And because The Architect won’t eat Smelly Beef, it is served, generally when he is at work.  Or travelling.  Or mowing the lawn.

One whiff of Samsara and I’m back in my 20’s, asphyxiating in the backseat of a taxi with my besties, heading into the city.   The heady mix of all of our perfumes was enough to bring on a migraine.  Srsly.

The smell of Cedel hair spray makes me feel 14 years old again.  Does anyone remember that hairspray?  I had the pale pink one.  Man, that stuff smelt toxic…

When my Nanna died, I discovered that a dress I had of hers, still had her scent on it.  So I kept this dress wrapped tightly in a plastic bag and shoved in the back of my bottom drawer.  Every now and again I would sit on the floor cross-legged, open the drawer, reach into the back and pull out this plastic bag.  Then I would reverently untie and unwrap the bag, hold the dress to my face and breathe in deep and remember my Nanna.  Eventually the dress didn’t smell like her anymore and I lost her all over again.  That was a sad day.

The smell of grease evokes memories of my Dad.  Grease and diesel.  Hopping into his ute on a hot summer’s day (and getting burnt by the friggin vinyl in the front seat) and smelling grease, hot vinyl seats, cigarettes and maybe the faint hint of kabana.  Good times.  Good memories.

And what about you?  What are your memory smells?


  1. Jasmine. Lanolin. Honeysuckle. These remind me of my grandmother.
    Impulse -the green "illusions" one takes me back to high-school. Hairspray reminds me being a young teenager, of horses, and horses remind me of freedom.
    Of course I remember the scent of certain peoples houses. Perhaps some washing detergents will be enough to take my thoughts to their friendship.
    Of course certain baby products bring a snuffling baby, so delicate in my arms, to mind. I have many "memory smells" as you call them.
    Indeed, they say scents are the strongest memory triggers you can get, and that you should where the same scents whilst taking an exam as you do when you study.
    If I think of any more, I'll let you know.

    1. Love it. Lanolin especially :) And the scent of people's houses...


Would love to hear what you think :)