What’s That Smell: When a Scent Transports You Back in Time

Mmmm…..coffee….. ( Photo: Margit Detweiler/ TueNight)

A particular, weird, wonderful aroma can instantly shuttle me back in time; they call that a Proustian Memory. Happiness explorer Gretchen Rubin reminds us of the power of scent to evoke a full-fledged feeling or immediate recollection.

For me, some of them are pretty random:
  • White Shoulders = My first boyfriend who had a penchant for the cloying perfume. I liked it then. Now it recalls a stuffy Greyhound bus trip to Penn State.
  • Rubber cement = The smell of pasting up stories on flats with an X-acto knife and some version of rubber cement (when we used to do that sort of thing in the newspaper business.)
  • Harry’s Habanero hot sauce = My writing retreat at Dairy Hollow. I found this rockin’ hot sauce in a local health food store and used it on my eggs every morning. Consequently, it also makes me want to write when I use it! A useful smell.
For Adrianna:
  • Cigarettes on old leather jackets = My college experience. I miss all of us thespians huddling together outside in the cold, bumming cigarettes off each other (depending on who was flush that week) and talking about 50s movies and Shakespeare. Man, I miss smoking.
  • Lavender and Eucalyptus combined = Relaxed readiness. I had an Alexander Technique instructor who used these oils together, and now the smell of either one makes me instantly calmer and more aligned.
  • Dill = morning sickness. When I was pregnant, lots of smells made me feel ill, but dill is the only one I STILL can’t eat or smell without feeling sick. Bummer for my cucumber salad.
For Susan:
  • That old-book smell — musty and just a little dank = Hours spent with my dad in second-hand bookstores. Whenever we past one, we always stopped. I was a kid (around 8-12) so I always protested. But now I savor that scent and think of Dad anytime it wafts by.
  • Patchouli = My freshman and sophomore years of college, during which I played hippie and studied none. (I did get to see Jerry Garcia before he died, though, so, yeah.) However now I cringe at the smell. Ultimately, those two years were bad trips.
  • Old Spice Figi Body Wash = My husband. Cheesy but true. He doesn’t wear cologne, and I never knew what made him smell so good to me (aside from pheromones) until we recently started ordering from Soap.com and his secret was revealed.

So we want to know: What smells recall an old memory for you? Share smell + memory!

Tell Us in the Comments

What do you think?

3 Responses

  1. Trigger Happy: The Positive Side of This Powerful Word | Tue Night

    […] What’s That Smell: When a Scent Transports You Back in Time […]

    • Marilyn R

      For myself, high school wearing way too much of Calvin Klein’s Obsession. Remembering my first high school boyfriend, Halston Z-14. That smell immediately sends me to that first real kiss, and young dopey love. The boyfriend was a poor choice, but his cologne still makes my knees week.

  2. Editor’s Note: Trigger Words | Tue Night

    […] Susan, Adrianna and I ponder the power of scent. […]


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