Our sense of smell is a door that opens our memories. Sometimes the actual scent can be elusive, while the memory is strong. Yesterday, I walked into a room and for some reason it reminded me of a funeral home. That isn’t exactly a good memory, and I’m not even sure what it was that made me think of it. Sometimes, a certain combination of floral arrangements will ignite that memory for me, but this room had no flowers in it.
On a better note, one of my favorite scents is coffee. That signifies the beginnings of most of the days of my life. It’s like waking up to a new page in a favorite book. Coffee and Jim are intertwined in my memory. He loved his coffee, drank it half a cup at a time so that it stayed hot. To this day, if my coffee isn’t hot, I can’t drink it.
After shaves and perfumes can be associated with certain people. I saw a movie one time, I think it was The Notebook, where a man tried to find the scent that his wife wore and couldn’t find it. Eventually, he realized the smell was shampoo instead of perfume. Smell is our strongest connection to those special people in our memories whether it is cologne or just the smell of their skin.
I hate the smell of Vick’s Vapor-rub. It makes me think of being miserable with a cold when I was a kid. That’s why I only use Mentholatum for stuffy head colds. For the same reason, I can’t stand the smell of wintergreen—Pepto-Bismol. It does come in a cherry flavor now, but I’m sure the smell of that would make me think of cough syrup. How about the distinctive smell of the doctor’s office? Don’t notice that so much anymore, but Dr. Hoffa’s office had a scent like no other place and a whiff of that antiseptic/medicine smell will take me back in a heartbeat.
Our brains link countless smells to events. Does the smell of popcorn make you think of going to the movies? Does a dank odor make you think of the showers after gym class in school?
Because of the known connection between scent and memory, researchers have developed an oPhone. Its cylinder shape is nothing like a regular phone and you can’t use it to have a conversation with another person. Instead of sounds, the emails, tweets, and texts are odors. It has an oChip that produces over 300 scents now, but eventually it will produce many more. The scents are complex—not just a single odor, but more like real life where a combination of odors makes a memory.
The oPhone is currently being used to provide a “sensory experience” in a coffee shop in Paris—sort of smell before you buy. The hopes are that the oPhone has more value than a gimmicky marketing tool. In fact, with the close association between smell and memory, it is believed that the oPhone could stimulate memory in people with Alzheimer’s.
Since it may be a long time before this product is available, you could try your own sniff tests to see if it will jog your loved one’s memory. No one knows the scents that bring back favorite memories more than you.
The smell of a fresh baked cinnamon roll makes me think of my wonderful mother-in-law. She’s long gone, but the smell of her homemade baked goods live in my brain associated with the smell of cinnamon. Of course, that would call for a good cup of coffee from the pot that seemed to have no bottom. Her house was always filled with baked goods and love. I can hear the laughter, the sounds of a pitch game, and Jim strumming his guitar in the background. I can plainly smell the memory.
copyright © February 2014 by L. S. Fisher