Tuesday, January 12, 2016

SMELL AND TIME TRAVEL

The sense of smell often acts like a time machine. Unique, often incidental smells unlock powerful emotions that often send me back in time to forgotten memories, good and bad. I have been thinking a lot about memorable odours as of late.

A trip into the Freak Lunch Box with my boys sent me time traveling to Boniface's store, a cigar and candy store in Ingersoll, Ontario, that I used to frequent as a five and six year old. Suddenly, I could envision the glass bottles, the pitch and the creaking of the hard wood floor. and the pipe smoking gentleman who patiently took my dime in return for candy. I can also recall the the sense of excitement of being allowed to go there unaccompanied by an adult.

It was the extreme boundary of my independence. Exploration beyond the store was not permitted. Up Caroll, down King, past Mill and Water to the top corner of Thames Street. I was always tempted to cross the road at Mill Street at the entrance of Memorial Park and go for a slide.

While taking pictures of the tidal action at Middle Cove, a sudden whiff of fresh salty water and mist set off reverberations of how clean the harbour in St. Bernard's smelled when I was a young boy.  It is a kind of damp, fresh smell that always accompanied a nice natural tidal flush.

A trip to Afterwards used bookstore always makes me feel warm inside. The enduring smell of old books reminds me of those days when mom would let me go down to Sammy Parrot's house on the other side of the harbour for books. Sammy, a lot older than me, was a fervent reader of science-fiction.  He lived with his aging parents, George and Olive. He was as close to a shut-in as I knew. However, he hoarded books. Every now and than he would give me a garbage bag full of paperbacks.  I looked forward to going down their. I will always associate the musky smell of old paper with Sammy's kindness.

Than there are those occasional evocative memories like the smell of stale tobacco which brings back memories of Father Bennett's breath and hanging out at the parish house reading comics and National Geographic.

Why is smell so linked to memory? Why do some scents unlock forgotten memories thrusting you back in time with such vivid recall. How does smell become associated with people, places, events and experiences?

It all comes back to our individual CPU - our brains and our unique memories.  Apparently, our olfactory bulbs are designed to interact with the parts of the brain that store our emotional memories.

Who says we can not time travel, now if only I could change a few things on these trips!

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