GUEST COLUMN: The smell is in the air
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 by Mark Magnan
Recently someone gave me a small air freshener for my truck. I am not sure what they were trying to tell me, but the "new" smell has worn off of my truck, so a fresh smell might be welcome. The air freshener seems to bring back the memory of a previous vehicle I owned.
It is strange how smells can trigger specific memories. There have been studies related to how the sense of smell seems to go much deeper into our memory bank than, for example, sight or sound.
Many animals rely heavily on their sense of smell. That is the reason dogs are so good for tracking, they seem to be able to differentiate between two humans. Perhaps the sense of smell is a primitive characteristic that has helped us find food.
Of course we all have our favorite food smells. It might be your grandmother's house on a holiday, or some special dish she made. It might be that one dish you really liked as a child, the one that cannot be duplicated. It might just be some smell that triggers that memory of a taste that you remember fondly.
One smell that I have always remembered is the first step into a Waffle House. It is the combination of the smells of waffles, syrup and coffee. It seems to be the mixture of those that creates that special smell. There is nothing in the restaurant that has that smell or taste, but that is a distinct aroma. With that memory comes the reminder of trips I have taken when I have eaten at those restaurants.
Another food smell was the elementary school lunch room. It may have been from the extensive use of bologna and mayonnaise, but it had its own smell, something very different.
One other school smell wasn't all that pleasant. At least once a week some child would come to school and during the day, well, lose his lunch. Of course this was usually a mortifying experience for the child. But worse yet was what the rest of us had to endure. The janitor was called and they came with a mop bucket full of Pine-sol water. The cleanup took place rather quickly, but the scent lingered for quite some time. Even to this day the smell of Pine-sol takes me right back to elementary school and those unfortunate events.
A few more specific memories; The smell of a leather shop. That had such a unique smell. I remember a certain saddle shop that always had that leather scent. Then there was the bus depot. I can recall when a lot of friends and relatives traveled by bus. We often made trips to the bus station in Dallas, to pick up or drop someone off. We would venture into the covered staging area, it was similar to an underground garage. The odor of the diesel engines had a sweet aroma, unlike any diesel smell that I have experienced since then. Most of the time it was a fond memory of a pleasant visit.
During my school days we took several trips to a very large bakery in Dallas. This bakery made the loaves of bread we found in the grocery stores. Upon entering the building you were met with this wonderful aroma. We went through the baking process and ended up in a meeting room where we were given a tiny loaf of bread that was still warm from the oven. After absorbing the, almost magical, fragrance of baking bread for the past hour or so, the complimentary loaf was a welcome gift. I think most were devoured within a few seconds. Of course this bread had such a great taste, much better than anything in the store. It may have been the freshness, or warmth, but probably it had to do with the aroma.
There are a lot of current smells that we can just enjoy now. Around town we can smell burning wood for BBQ, or fresh coffee brewing, or the different scents of our favorite restaurants. Regardless of where we are, we store more memories that can be recalled in the future. Now if we could just recreate some of the past meals that generated those special smells then that would be great.