Follow @EllenGrabe Grabe's Gatherings: An Aromatic Memory

Monday, September 1, 2008

An Aromatic Memory

Have you ever noticed how certain smells can stimulate your brain in a way that brings back past memories?

Recently Eric returned home from a night working at the hardware store and sat down on the couch beside me. As we discussed our days the aroma of his shirt sent me back to a more innocent time in my life. My thoughts raced back to the days my sister and I eagerly jumped into my dad's rustic Ford pick up truck to go uptown to the hardware store, Coast to Coast. We would park in the back and as the ding of the bell announced our arrival, the fragence of tools, oils, paints, and rubber caught our senses. As our dad shopped for his means of home improvement, Emily and I would walk around the store looking at the various items. We would creep down the basement stairs just to catch a glimpse of the sparkling bicycles lined up in rows that crowded below the creaking floor of the customers feet. Dad would purchase his improvement products at the front of the store where a gumball machine stood at my heigth with colors shimmering out. Four cents and an unknown dollar amount later, the same bell that greeted us, sang a farewell as my sister and I climbed into the truck with chomping jaws.

Last fall we were back at Eric's parent's farm. Company was coming for dinner and I was helping his mom prepare. We went out to the shed where the second refridgerator was kept to get salads and drinks. As we stepped into the shed and took my first breath of air, I was reminded of endless hours I spent on my grandparents farm as a child. The musty smell of dirt, hay, tools, and spare farm equipment reminded me of the second garage and barns on my grandparents farm. Growing up I found excitement in exploring the hay loft, corn crib, and sheds. I would climb to the rafters and look down over the cow pasture, search the garage for kites and sleds, and seek for the most recent litter of kittens to tame. It was a time of carefree enjoyment that I never wanted to end.

Both of these memories were strongly triggered by my sense of smell. These are safe and happy memories of my childhood. Memories that could go forgotten over the years, but, thanks to the sense of smell, were triggered back into my memory bank. I never felt fearful or mistreated in any way in these memories. They remind me of the secure life I had growing up and make me smile as I realize I will soon be telling these childhood memories to my own children.

As school has started back in session, the unexpected is sure to come from some students. You never know where they slept last night, the last time they were fed, who is living with them, or whether or not they are safe in their own home. Two weeks in and cops have already been called, DHS has been contacted, and meetings have been held to brainstorm ways to help these children while in our care.

How do these neglected children relate to my happy memories? Every student that walks into my classroom comments on the same thing. The smell. As soon as they stroll through the door the stop and take an extra sniff. I am told that my room smells like bubble gum, candy, cherries, and flowers. What is my secret, they ask?

My secret is not as simple as an air freshener or a Glade plug in. It is well known that smells trigger memories. Children spend the majority of their time in school. With all of the time you spend going to school in your life, you are bound to have many memories of your school days. Some people may have their school memories triggered by a new experience, a book, or by visiting a school. Others may have their school memories triggered by a smell. My goal is for my students, who go home to the unknown nightly, will someday remember me and my classroom whenever they smell bubble gum, candy, cherries, or flowers. The smell of a car air freshener or their children chomping on gum will trigger a memory of them walking through my classroom door, ready to see what Mrs. Grabe had in store for them that day. As these smells jog their memory I know that it will be a safe memory. One where they feel comfortable, blessed, and delighted to have and share. With the inconsistency of their home lives, I do what I can to ensure they have some happy childhood memories.

Not everyone is fortunate to have a life full of wonderful memories, but everyone should at least be fortunate enough to have someone in their lives striving to give them a memory or two that they will forever cherish.

1 comment:

Eric said...

What a nice story Smellen. I can tell by your last few paragraphs that you are a teacher who cares about her students and you should be commended. It takes a special person to babysit kids for 8 hours a day...let alone try to teach them something! I should know having two parents as teachers.

I can't think of any smells that I associate with things. I associate music with times in my life. Whenever I hear Dead Eye Dick's "New Age Girl" I think of middle school dances and watching the movie "Dumb and Dumber." It's on that movie's soundtrack. Of course, there are songs that we played in band like "Hush" that I think of too. I hear that this morning on my alarm clock and had to to listen to the whole thing. I specifically remember Mike Thompson breaking his sticks on the Quads during one parade while playing that song. Anyway, I digress. Good post!