The Smell of Memory

Coffee

Recent posts Memory Refill and Another Cup in Judith Warner’s New York Times blog “Domestic Disturbances” speak of the connections between smell and memory, and our connections with time, place, and people.  Though her post was centered mainly around coffee and the way it served (serves) as a mechanism for bringing people together, I was particularly struck by her descriptions of smells – coffee, cigarette smoke, a certain kind of sun-warmed air – as anchors for memories.  Though the memories are not terribly accurate in their details, certain smells often lead us right back to a certain time and place on an emotional level.

The palette of aromas Warner used in her posts, even though I couldn’t actually smell them, still brought up associations for me.  In particular, I remember going to my aunt and uncle’s on Friday nights when I was maybe six or seven, maybe a little older.  My cousins and I would play or watch TV until it was time for them to go to bed.  Then I would lie down on the couch in the living room, dozing.  I could hear my parents and my aunt and uncle playing cards at the kitchen table, the sounds of their voices and shuffling cards, a spoon stirring a cup of coffee, and the smell of coffee mingled with cigarette smoke – probably pretty common for people growing up at the time I did.  It’s a comforting feeling, and reminds me of a time when my dad and my uncle were still here, and were actually younger than I am now.

Our kids have commented about how hazelnut coffee reminds them of one grandmother’s house, and another smell (I forget what) of their other grandparents’ house.  I wonder what other associations have been created for them between smell and memory.  I hope they’re good ones.

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