Have you ever smelled a memory? The other morning as I started my day returning emails and organizing my tasks at 4 in the morning (a normal time for me), a front moved through the mountains with a gentle rain shower. A cold wet breath of air was inhaled by my house through an open window behind the desk. Suddenly, I was fourteen again, awake in the predawn darkness of a lonely cabin in a Poconos summer camp for rich Jewish kids from New York City. Rising earlier than most other life forms in the forest, my duties as the assistant camp cook required that I get the kitchen open and the coffee on before the steward and the cook arrived and awakened the other staff. I could even feel the cold damp wood floor as I swept my feet in an unseen arc trying to find the flip-flops I needed to wear for the walk down the hill in the fog draped darkness.
All of that from a cool, rain-washed, mountain breeze.
The spontaneity of the thought brought to mind how the first chilly morning of autumn always reincarnates my morning walks to the Gertrude C. Folwell Elementary School in Mount Holly. The mind is such a curious organ. One smell from a chemical plant, and I am in the back of a Chevy Nova station wagon crossing the Delaware near the Roman Haas plant to fetch my Grandmother to her new apartment in Lumberton. A subtle soft breeze on a cloudless summer day, and I can hear the parents cheering from the bleachers at the Little League field. The slightest wisp of a wood fire, and I am once again at the Boy Scout Jamboree in the Bass River State Forest. There are dozens of scent triggered memories that could easily be catalogued with very little work, but in retrospect, they all seem to share one particular similarity: a genesis in a simpler, more innocent time.
Why is it, that as adults, we don’t generate these same indelible imprints of joy in our minds? Granted that all of my smellable remembrances originate before the emancipated complexities of work, marriage, family, money, taxes and household maintenance, but should that be a chiseled-in-stone requisite for implanting a triggered memory? Sure, I could list the memorable times I have experienced as an adult; there have been many, but none that manifest in unintentional mental flashes. I cherish my involuntary reflections of the once-was-me, but I worry about the cerebral pollution responsible for my psychological-climate change. It seems that my mind has entered into a new ice age and threatens the extinction of that rare species of memory.