Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Scent and Sentimentality

My sense of smell never ceases to amaze me. It's a funny thing to say, I know. 

I think most people take their sense of smell for granted, though. Not me. 

Perhaps that's because for about half my life, I don't remember scents with any sort of vividness. Actually, I don't remember being able to smell at all, until I was in my teens. I'm not saying I didn't possess the ability. I am saying that I think my sense of smell was hampered in some way until my late teens. 

I think I learned to smell around the same time I learned to roll my R's. My little brother taught me. We were standing in the empty lot across the street from my house, and he told me to loosely touch the roof of my mouth with my tongue, create an R sound heavy on the wind, making sure to vocalize. Of course, he didn't use those words...or explain it so succinctly... I'm an English teacher. Leave me alone. 

Anyway, my first scent memory dates from right around that time. I became fascinated with the fact that I could smell. For a short time, I sniffed everything...even things I didn't like. I remember once taking the lid off of a steaming pot of broccoli, and quickly taking a big whiff. Not only did this give me second degree burns around both my nostrils, but it was strange because I detested broccoli. 

(By the way, mom, I now love broccoli.  You raised me good.)

By the time I was 21, I had a top 5 list of favorite smells:

      • rain
      • vanilla
      • coffee
      • lilac
      • wife ( I wasn't married until I was 26, but coconut got the boot)
I think the ability of the human brain to create scent memory is fantastic. We can smell something, and be instantly transported in our minds, years and decades back through time. We vividly remember where we were, how we felt, what we were doing. We relive emotional states and revive old desires. This is one of the reasons that recovering alcoholics are supposed to stay away from bars...because the smell alone can cause a relapse. 

This happened to me today. I was walking down the street, and passed the backside of the Kia dealership in our little village. There was a brand new K5 sedan parked along the side of the road. The interior panels, upholstery, steering wheel and gear shift were still covered in plastic.  This thing was new. At the same time, I passed some freshly poured blacktop, where the street had been dug up and patched. 

In a moment I was 21 years old again, living in Northern California, working at Budget Rent-A-Car. I spent a summer there, cleaning cars, and doing pick-ups. It wasn't a great job, but there were aspects of it that I loved. I was out in the sun, listened to music 85% of the time, got to spend a lot of time alone, pondering my life, faith and direction, and best of all, I got to drive. I love driving. 

Actually, I didn't have my driver's license until that summer. I got it so that I could have that job, and I relished every minute I got to drive one of those cars around. Usually, they weren't anything special, mid-level Kias and Hyundais (ironic that we used mostly Korean cars there), but we had two Mitsubishi Spyder Eclipses. I got to drive one of them, top down, one time. It was so cool. Some of my first memories of independence and nostalgia come from that summer...

...and I got to relive some of that, today.


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