You can read the brain physiology, but the connections between emotion and memory and smell are very tight. It hit me the other night when I was using my snowblower on a freezing night with a scarf wrapped across my face. It took me back to the three-hole facemask I wore as a kid. That wet wool, frozen snot smell threw me to a memory. So it made me think of other smells, emotions, and memories.
I’ve always said you can hear, see, or touch poverty – but you don’t understand it until you smell it. In 1975, I was an exchange student to Ghana. My first day on the street in the capital of Accra I met a young boy eating green mush from a chipped, white ceramic, double boiler pot. I can see that scene as vividly as if it was yesterday. If I get anything close to that smell it throws me to an emotional memory FORTY years ago.
There is a burnt electrical smell that jumps me to a fatal car crash where I was first on the scene that ended poorly for a couple souls. Can see it like a motion picture.
I have some nicer ones – mom baking cookies, the bakery in our home town, my grandma’s flowers, cut alfalfa, and my granddaughter after a bath. Those send me to good places.
They say the sense of smell often diminishes with age. Maybe it’s to protect us from a lifetime of memories. Or maybe it’s because WE start to smell.
This really hit home as it was the sense of smell that first left my mother-in-law as she slipped into dementia. What a powerful sense and how it connects us to so many things, good and bad.