When I was young I loved the smell of a campfire. It seems like my family camped quite a bit when I was growing up and I really enjoyed being in the woods. But the think I remember most is the smell of the campfire. I’m not talking about the smell of the actual fire. I remember the smell in my hair and my clothes; the smell on our sleeping bags. I loved coming home and catching a whiff of the smell. I’m not sure if I really liked the smell or if I liked the memories of where the smell originated.
We don’t take our kids camping. Honestly, we’ve been once and it was two nights of sheer pain because we just weren’t prepared with the correct equipment for our old bones to sleep on the ground. So I think it is safe to say, “We don’t take our kids camping.” But even that one time, when we came home and our belongings smelled of wood smoke, I was happy. When friends build fires at picnics or if we just pass through a spot on the road where someone is burning brush, I am happy. Anytime I have the opportunity to be by a fire it’s like comfort food to me.
What does it say about us humans that we attach to something sensual because it brings us back to happier times? I have always loved the dusty, acrid smell of coming rain and the smell of overripe apples. For me it’s all about the smell. Apples are easy. They are my passage back to hours spent climbing my grandparents apple trees; watching my Paw-Paw work in the garden. I’ve always loved a rainstorm, maybe because the world is allowed to stop for the moment of a downpour; stop and wait; stop and just be. No one is expected to be on time in a downpour. No lawns can be mowed, no groceries loaded into the car. It’s an excuse to break from the routine and be with your thoughts, be with your kids. It’s an excuse to read, to make tea, even to put on boots and stomp in the puddles. Maybe that’s why I like the smell of coming rain.
Taken alone, these smells may not represent anything but fire and rain and apples. Add the memories and they represent family and freedom and adventure. It’s amazing what triggers a memory, and there’s no stopping these memories; good or bad. In my mind, I remember my elementary school by the smell of the oiled wood floors. I remember my grandmother by the smell of Oil of Olay, though she hasn’t used that particular brand of moisturizer for years. I remember college through a veil of cigarette smoke, and visits to my relatives’ through the scent of the pine forests that surrounded their houses.
It’s hard to say what I will remember by smell tomorrow or what my children will remember. It isn’t about remembering something because it smelled good or bad. There is no judgment in the smell. The judgment is in the emotion of the memory. Sometimes there is no judgment at all…just memory.
The emotion is there, but the attachment is not. It is as if these memories have found a comfortable place to reside. When I happen upon them by accident they simple raise their heads and wait to be acknowledged, then easily fall back into slumber.
I would be interested to know what brings about these easy memories in others. Is it a scent, a sight, a sound? What will bring about these memories for my children? Will they involve something I did or said or made? I know there is no way to tell, no way to control this…these memories are seemingly random and not usually of the significant events in life. I suspect they will be for them what they are for me…vivid recall of the mundane that helped to shape my personality and choices. I know from the past eleven years that surprising, everyday memories I have of my children will be most brilliant.
Perhaps when I am old I will be blessed most often with these types of recollections. Instead of sitting with memories of terrible regret or profound joy, I will be comforted by these simple remembrances of life. My grandchild will visit me with the smell of a campfire in her hair and I will be sustained. I will smell apples and remember that I was young. I will smell a coming rain and be inspired to put on my boots and stomp in the puddles.