The Scent of Memories

In mid-May our lilacs were in full bloom. After cutting a vase full and placing them on the kitchen table our house smelled like heaven!

When I shared this on Facebook, dozens of people responded. One in particular pulled at my heartstrings:

My great grandmother died when I was five years old but to this day, whenever I smell lilacs, I have vivid memories of her and the lilac sachets in her lingerie drawer.”

Sight is our strongest sense for short-term memory. It’s estimated that up to 73 percent of our short-term memory is through what we see.

Smell is the strongest and most vivid sense for long-term memories. Certain smells can trigger memories we haven’t thought of in years.

We make memories through our senses and it’s through these same senses that we recall our memories.

Each of our senses makes its own connection for the same experience. When we see a dog and stop to pet it, we double our memory of it! When we think, talk, or write about something, we make even more triggers for that experience.

What memories are you making today for the future?

Listen with your heart,

Laurie Buchanan

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
— Laurie Buchanan

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© 2012 Laurie Buchanan– All Rights Reserved

56 thoughts on “The Scent of Memories

  1. Watching my oldest son graduate high school with honors and experiencing his pure joy and excitement of moving onto the next chapter in his life: college. To see the world through his young unjaded eyes opened in awe by the many amazing possibilities and dreams for his future. These are the memories I am making at the moment and it’s wonderful! 🙂

  2. Great question Laurie. I’d have to say that almost every day I stop for a minute and remind myself “these are the good ole days”, especially on those occaisions when they don’t appear to be at all. The truth is I can see myself telling the story of how this piece of the puzzle fit so perfectly into the creation of the whole picture because that’s what I’m doing now, about something that happened in earlier moments of now. . .and usually laughing about it. Using the trigger line “these are the good ole days” adds levity into the moment, allowing me to take life way less seriously.

  3. Laurie, Alison’s comment really resonated deep in my heart. Gazing from my window at the pecan tree playing hostess to the squirrels, cardinals, bluebirds and mocking birds is like looking at a snapshot that will be pulled out later to enjoy. The rains of the past two days have rejuvenated all living beings here and they are as fresh and lively as they can be. This is a memory to be filed under “June Morning, sparkling fresh!”

  4. I was just talking about this last night with my great Aunts! Sweet tobacco smell is definitely a reminder of my Gramps. 🙂 Memories memories…Not sure yet what the memory making plans consist of but this trip to NYC and LA might have some in the works!

  5. My mother had a particular smell about her. She died 25 years ago. I have a hanky of hers which still to this day has the faint smell of her.

    • Don – Like you, I had an article of my mom’s clothing that I kept in one of those large zip-lock baggies. Over time, her scent eventually faded, but I opened it on Mother’s Day for years!

  6. I knew that smell is the strongest long term memory, but for some reason, I hadn’t thought about the ability of smell to trigger early memories. I have no idea why I hadn’t made the connection. Silly me! By the way, nothing smells better than lilacs. I absolutely love them!

  7. When I was young and having all the cancer problems, a therapist used rose oil to keep me calm and my veins open and functional….As a child it made me feel safe. It still does.

    I was overwhelmed by the smells in Hawaii – I am not talking about the plants and sea water, I am talking about the human smells and mold and mildew, too many people with too much suntan lotion and outgasing clothing of laundry products….all the big resorts…PU
    I do not think I wish to go back again…

    • Patricia – I love what you said about rose oil not only calming a person, but keeping veins open and functional. I use rose absolute essential oil — a little goes a very long way 🙂

  8. Hi,
    What a gorgeous photo, and oh yes they do smell gorgeous. You are so right about our senses, every now and then there is something that will remind you of others through the sense of smell, this also happens to me as well, and it is always wonderful to have a memory come forward so quickly at times, it always brings on a smile. 🙂

    • Magsx2 – Seeing/smelling the lilacs in person was wonderful. They’re hey so short lived we try to keep Mason jars full of small bouquets throughout our small home when they’re in bloom. I’m glad to know that your memories bring smiles 🙂

  9. I left the window open last night to the smell of fresh cut grass that reminded me of haying rather than the lawn. Today the studio windows are open with the faint sent of the ocean mixed with petunias and linseed oil from the latest painting drying on the easel. These are my nose recordings at moment Laurie. Lovely post 🙂

    • Terrill – I’m familiar with the smell of haying, the ocean, and petunias, but I don’t think I’m familiar with linseed oil. I’m guessing that anything — ie., linseed oil — that brings painting to mind is wonderful!

  10. I took pretty much the day off…so no memory making?
    probably one or two if I really thought about it..
    I have to say Lilacs were my grandmothers flower too…
    I know she is around when I smell the fragrance floating on the air..
    we can’t grow them here in SanAntonio….
    I want the olde fashion tried and true ones, not the new and susposably improved LOLs..
    this was great Laura…
    Take Care…

  11. Every evening around suppertime,I go down to the poolside-it has an old resort-like atmostphere,the area around it is wooded,behind me are oak trees and a worn down picnic table,in front at a short distance are palm trees–the stillness is almost measurable and so very soothing to the spirit.I take it all in and hope I will recall th e essence of this experience whenever I long for it.

  12. I just returned from making lots of precious memories with family members back “home” in Lower Michigan. Sweet, sweet memories! My dad isn’t in the best of health and it’s a joy to be able to spend any time with him. We laughed so much this visit–and sang for his birthday–that we’ll all remember it for years to come. Lovely blog, Laurie.

  13. I have many memories associated with lilacs and that great big burst of gorgeous scent that always accompanies their blooming. My grandma has moved three times and in each location, by sheer (and wonderful!) coincidence, each house has had a huge lilac bush by the door. They remind me of grandma…how could they not be one of my favourites? 🙂

  14. Good smells (like Nag Champa incense burning) bring me back to moments of extreme calm and contentment. Other smells (like drugstore perfumes– ugh!) bring me back to my “tween” years and make me feel awkward all over again. 🙂

    I love the scent of pine needles and sap baking in the warm sunlight. Every time I smell that, it makes me remember all of the wonderful places I’ve hiked.

    • Dana – I love the word picture you painted — “The scent of pine needles and sap baking in the warm sunlight” — they transported me right there! My favorite incense is a very mild sandalwood.

  15. The scent of lilacs is heavenly! We had one in our yard growing up and the scent reminds me of when they were blooming and the smell would drift into the open bathroom window, especially when taking our baths.

    After my grandmother died I was given her blanket chest. I can smell her sweet scent every time I lift the lid and feel her presence in my life renewed… I know her comforting scent probably won’t linger in there forever, so I try to not open the chest too often…

  16. Tonight I attended our school’s eighth grade graduation, and I’ll be storing up the visual recollections for future reference. I love this post and agree that our senses work in different capacities to trigger memories that will bring the past back in usually fond and emotional terms. Smell is indeed a sense that can bring a scene back in full bloom. The pleasing smell of vinegar french fries at a local carnival last week made me think of Palisades Amusement Park, which was torn down in 1972, but once offered the smells, tastes and sounds that at times even trumped what we saw, and are surely more long-lasting.

    • Sam – I haven’e had vinegar french fries in years and now my mouth is watering! With graduation, does that mean you and Lucille are off for the summer, or do one or both of you teach summer school as well?

      • Ah Laurie, you know the gig indeed! I begin teaching the summer school program on this coming Thursday, June 21st. It convenes every Monday through Friday excepting July 4th of course, and ends on August 1st, running from 8:15 to 12:15. So four hours a day, which isn’t so bad. Lucille is a principal so she works through the summer, but gets three weeks off, which she will take in August.

        I have taught this summer school program now for 19 years in a row.

      • Sam – Four hours a day leaves you with plenty of time to go to the movies in the afternoon — not only to see the big screen, but to enjoy the delicious air conditioned theatre 🙂

  17. Lovely post! I too have some great memories that come to mind with certain scents. Lilacs and spearmint remind me of my Grandmother. It is a bit of Heaven with me…when I smell those scents…Grandma with me.

  18. My great-aunt once gave me a small bottle of lilac cologne, and I remember how amazed I was at how much it smelled like real lilacs! I kept the empty bottle as a keepsake for a long time…

  19. I really like white lilacs…not only for the smell, but the beauty. I seem to gravitate to white flowers. Just got myself 3 small gardenia plants to put out front, right in front of the porch.

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