Last weekend, while driving to Oklahoma City, I’d had enough of talk radio–admittedly, a rare occurrence. Time for a little music. So, I decided to play the first CD I blindly pulled from the sun visor CD wallet – Deep Blue by Keiko Matsui. When the mournful piano music began to play, I was immediately taken back to the days following the terrorist attack of 9/11, when I’d had to drive to California due to all flights being cancelled. All of the feelings I’d felt back then, listening to the CD over and over along Interstate 40, returned to me.
Pulled back so deeply in time, I began to wonder which of the five senses best takes us back: sight, sound, taste, smell or touch? For me, it’s a toss-up between sound and scent.
Any song by the Bee Gees, Chicago or Earth, Wind and Fire will send me straight back to my high school days in the 70’s. I still remember listening to Michael Jackson on the school bus in junior high. Further back? Aquarius by the Fifth Dimension and Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond made me wish I’d hurry up and become a cool teenager.
And, music is not the only sound that brings back a memory. If I close my eyes at the sound of a rooster in the morning, I can pretend I’m under one of Grandma’s quilts at her farm. The sound of rain trickling down a rain spout takes me back to my bedroom in California, where, as a teen I would lay in bed and think about all the joy and uncertainty of being a teenager.
When it comes to recalling memories, certain scents are a close second to sound, though. Funny that the awful smell of a diesel engine brings back happy memories of high school, when we’d wait to board the buses that would take the Armijo Superband to its next band competition.
The scent of Polo cologne still reminds me of my early dating days, when the boys seemed to slather it on, anxious to impress.
The rich, woody aroma of coffee still reminds me of waking at my grandmother’s farm. It was accompanied by the sounds of the adults talking and laughing around the table, a happy start to my day.
Hairspray and cigarettes. Whoosh! I’m taken back to my childhood, when I’d sit next to my mother and watch her get ready to go out with my father. Watch her try to decide what to wear, take a puff of her cigarette, fix her hair just right, then spray it all over, before taking another puff. It all looked so glamorous, and I couldn’t wait to grow up.
Why do you suppose the other three senses–sight, taste and touch–aren’t as powerful as sound and scent in taking me back? Is it because they are often fleeting, and don’t allow me to linger with pleasure in the memory? Is there a scientific reason–perhaps that sound and scent imprints deeper on our brains?
Maybe sound and scent memories are unique to me. What sense takes you back?