Sunday, July 6, 2014

Smell it Again, Sam!

The scent of butter melting in a pan makes me picture my father making breakfasts of scrambled eggs or French toast.

The scent of butter melting on pasta and I see my maternal grandmother in her kitchen.

The scent of bacon and coffee and it's my maternal grandfather leaning across the kitchen sink looking out the kitchen window waiting for his 'lunch' to be done. He worked nights at a steel mill.

The scent of a baby's head and I get teary thinking about my little one as an infant.

The scent of Chanel No. 5 is my mother's purse as a child and watching her dress prettily to go out.

I can't walk into a hospital and smell that atmosphere without recalling my many stays.

The scent and look of a can of corned beef hash and I see my grandfather, again. This time, he's feeding his dog, King, a can of dog food. Ugh.

They can't all be pleasant memories. Just memories.

And, in writing this, I realize a lot of them are food-memories based on smell. This has to do with the amygdala, I guess. Or with the fact that I'm a foodie to my heart!

"The amygdala is an almond shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain. It is a limbic system structure that is involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival. The amygdala is involved in the processing of emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure. The amygdala is also responsible for determining what memories are stored and where the memories are stored in the brain. It is thought that this determination is based on how huge an emotional response an event invokes."

I just had to find an explanation for this morning.

I decided to treat myself to an old recipe of buttermilk pancakes this morning. Not on the diet. Not supposed to have it. Not caring. Not one whit. The butter hit the pan and I was zoomed back! It's a great feeling in that case. Where the dog food is concerned, not so much.

What was happening last night to me, then? I spent hours listening to old music. For each song I found, I was back in my father's apartment, rifling through his albums and finding old and new songs to enjoy. He worked nights, too, coincidentally. On his nights off, he'd DJ for parties. Yeah. I had the cool Dad all my girlfriends wanted to marry. I spent my preteen age listening to every funk, rock, jazz, blues, soul, and classical album I could find in his enormous collection. I'm grateful that I can 'tune' into YouTube and find, not all, but certainly a lot of them. 

I hear Lawrence Welk's voice on PBS and I'm lying on my grandparents living room floor watching the show with my grandmother in 'her' chair on a Saturday night.

I hear a bus and I'm with my big brother riding the No. 4/Cottage Grove bus from the Southside of Chicago to the end of the line at the main library on Randolph and Michigan Avenue to meet Mom for dinner and a movie (and comic books!) after work.

I hear a key in the lock and I jump slightly to put back what I'm not supposed to play with or have out. I'm an adult, for goodness sake!

If I hear an ice cream truck, fuhgedaboudit!

I see snow on television and remember freezing mornings trying to get to school or back home and the burning sensation of my feet and legs as they struggled to warm up again once I got indoors.

I see a large tree and I'm on their back porch wondering just how old that old apple tree actually is in the yard.

I see a clothesline and I'm transported back to using it for jumping Double-Dutch, even resorting to tying one end to the fence for my cousin to turn the rope for me so I could practice. I was goooood!

I straighten my hair occasionally with heat and the smell makes me jumpy. I keep thinking some woman is going to say, "Hold your ear!". Days in salons were NOT my favorite as a child.

I used to drink chocolate milk and have thoughts of being surrounded by my schoolmates in the cafeteria in the days of actual 'lunchrooms'. They've now been taken over by cafegymatoriums.

There's still something about the smell of ink, paper, books, the sound of kids playing, kids giving you your 'birthday licks' including one to grow on, the taste of Bazooka Joe bubble gum or a Chico-Stick or Payday candy bar, rubbing alcohol on a mosquito bite, the feel of the air on your hand hanging out of a window on a road trip, the scent of fresh cut grass and rolling around or running around in City parks, animal smells being school field trips, and all of it brings back memories. I need those memories. I need to know that it all happened. There may come a day when they are clearer than what happens daily. I rarely remember today if I ate and what!

I used to joke that there are entire blocks of life-years-that have been erased from my mind. It's just occurred to me that that's not completely true. Thank God!

Old memories aside, new ones are being created everyday. I hear my husband's vehicle pull up and my heart skips a beat. I smell him on his shirts. I have the photos, videos, memories of friends and family to keep me on target and fill in the blanks, too.

When you realize that as amazingly complicated as our bodies and minds are, we are able to pull it all together with the slightest hint given to our senses.

We are pretty cool creatures, aren't we?


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