How Your Sense Of Smell Can Take You Back In Time

Some smells are so strongly linked to a particular memory that one whiff can instantly conjure up people and places and scenes more thoroughly than staring at a photograph. As we head home or host friends and family or just try to get through the November/December rush, I’m reminded by the scents wafting through the air that another holiday season is here.

Here are some of my favorite scent memories:

The smell of turkey roasting is Thanksgiving. The aroma wraps around me like a cozy blanket, bringing with it images of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the TV, the table set with the good china and late afternoon sunlight streaming through the living room windows.

The scent of pine, heavy and fresh, is Christmas. It instantly sets the scene: my parents’ wood-paneled rec room, darkened so we could gaze up at the twinkling multi-colored tree lights, an Andy Williams record (yes, an actual record) playing softly in the background.

Fresh-cut grass is the smell of freedom, of possibility. It’s one of my favorite smells of all time (if you’re listening, Yankee Candle, I’d love if you’d bring back the Green Grass candle), and it instantly brings me back to sunny, early summer days, running around in the front yard, content to believe that school was a thousand years away.

The salty smell of beach waves is full-on summer to me. Ocean air still makes me as excited as when I was a kid, impatient for my dad to find a parking spot so I could get out there onto the sand. Going to the beach was a special treat. The smell of sun and sand makes me think of happiness and warm skin and coconut-scented sunscreen. It’s tangled hair and sand in my clothes and the cool menthol tingling of Noxzema on my skin.

Burning leaves are autumn, and the scent conjures images of Halloween nights trick-or-treating with my heavy coat on, convinced my costume was ruined because no one could see it.

Childhood smells like the sweet-scented plastic of Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Elementary school is a mixture of pencil shavings and boiled hot dogs and scented art class magic markers. And the fresh, steamy smell of water on hot concrete makes me remember being very young, playing outside a house I can only recall from pictures.

When I smell Chloe perfume, I am instantly in a London tube station, waiting for the train. I still have an old bottle in my nightstand, and sometimes I’ll take it out and close my eyes and inhale the scent. I feel the wind of the arriving train blow my hair back, and I’m 21 again. I wore Chloe throughout my time studying abroad, so I’m not really sure why I associate it specifically with waiting in a tube station, but there you have it. Scent associations can be as inexplicable as they are powerful.

What smells transport you to another time or place?

(Pssst! I’m (finally) on twitter! Follow me @StephSpitler)

Image via Shutterstock

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