I used to work in a coffee shop. It didn’t do particularly well, not in a town like Bountiful in the early 2000’s, and not tucked away in the back corner of Colonial Square. I honestly can't remember if I quit or if the place shut down, because if it seems like the two events happened right on top of each other. In any case, it's not there anymore.
A minute ago, I opened a new can of coffee grounds and the smell set off a cascade of memories from my time as a barista. Drinking a chai latte for the first time. Making espresso for the one kid who would come in and keep me company during my afternoon shift. Blasting Delerium’s Poem album while I mopped up after a long day of zero customers, just me, myself, and I eating all the chocolate croissants that the owner brought in from La Petite France.
That set off a whole other cascade of memories, mostly related to my junior year of high school. I won’t get into those, since most of them are too embarrassing to recount.
My point is: I love my nose’s memory. Show me a photograph, and the curator of my mental memory museum might be a little bit slow retrieving any details about the event… if that old bat can find anything about it at all. But let me smell a piece of mahogany while a window is open and it’s humid outside, and it’s like a freaking time machine. BAM. It’s 1994 and I’m in my great-grandmother’s farmhouse for the first time, drinking flat Coca Cola. Crack open a can of Mountain Dew and ZOOP! I’m in a chilly basement for a LAN party, staring at a computer monitor so hard that my contact lenses are drying out. To add insult to injury, I’m getting my ass kicked at Warcraft 2. No time to blink! How does Jason have dragons already?!?
One of my college professors had us eat Starlight Mints during every lecture and every exam. The thought was that we’d connect the lecture material with the taste and smell of the mints, and it would aid our recall during the tests. It was a pretty casual experiment, but I remember thinking it worked best with the spearmint flavored ones.
I wish I could do that on purpose, and with better results. For many of the most important events in my life, I can only remember snippets and flashes. Sometimes I can only remember a feeling I had at the time. I don’t feel like I can fully immerse myself in that memory the way I can a random moment that happened to take place during a rainstorm.
What are your strongest smell-mories? I’d love to hear about them.
I’ll leave you with this excellent song by Twenty One Pilots. The second verse is about exactly this thing, and I’m seriously obsessed with it right now.