The Smell of the Past

09 Aug


Humans have very strong scent memory. Tell us about a smell that transports you.

When I was a child, my family and I lived with some family in a neighboring town.  We lived there during the sicknesses and deaths of my paternal great-grandparents and grandmother.  During those several months, I remember particularly the fall of that year.  My cousins and I would hurry outside to tromp through a pile of fall leaves and throw a football through the crisp, cool autumn air.

I am a fall and winter type of guy.  I love the first signs of autumn. The sounds and smells of fall are exciting and tantalizing to my mind. I love the yellows and oranges, the browns and reds.  The early morning “nip” and crisp afternoon breezes stir life within my bones.

I was born in the fall of the year and I think its vibrance and essences are infused in my blood.  Life, for me, is a counter-hibernation: I slumber in summer and awaken in passionate overtones and energetic happiness in the cool, chilly months of autumn.  Perhaps there is something antipodal in my nature, that as death falls and swirls around me, I . . . I feel more and more enlivened.

I am also an avid football (not futball!) fan, especially college, and so my love for that time a year is increased even more.

One day, as my father and I pulled up after a day of work and school, my attention was captured by a wafting scent in the autumn air.  Someone nearby was burning a pile of autumn leaves.  The smell is unmistakable.  It is something of a rite of passage.  I don’t remember if I paused and contemplated the smell or not.  I do know it left an indelible imprint in my memory.  From that day forward, that smell would remind me of everything of which that time in my life was made.

Memories are funny things.  Our responses to them are even more so.  Our feelings toward them can range from happiness to sadness to ambivalence and all else between.  We can laugh, being reminded of silly stunts and amusing situations.  We can be warmed, as we remember friends and family and holidays. And we can feel the sting of sadness, as we recall years long since gone and old acquaintances and dear loved ones gone longer still.

There are times when we welcome the narcotic of memories.  When we allow them to wash over us, immersing us in a flood of feelings of by-gone years.  There are other times when we would wish to be spared from their effect. When they rage against us in a fury, frothing and foaming in a whirlpool of nostalgia and bittersweet reminiscences.

It is a strange thing.  The connection between memories and the subconscious mind.  In a moment, an instant in time, I can be transported back and feel and know in a solitary moment all the feelings of days, weeks and months.  And then, just as fast, I am thrown back into the here and now.

I remember them.  Those whose voices have long since been silenced to my mortal ears.  Those whose smiles have faded past a thin veil; a photograph that is always just out of focus, blurred just enough so as not to capture the true essence of the person.  Yet, even still, I remember and I know them.

The smell of burning fall leaves brings all this and more to my mind.  It happens without my thinking of it.  It happens without asking my permission.  It happens . . . and every time it does, I am changed by it.

Even now, in the waning of summer, if I close my eyes and free my mind, I can faintly smell a neighbor burning fall leaves in their back yard.  And I . . . I am once again whisked away, back to the past, back to them.  And I remember it all . . . all over again.

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
      This autumn morning!
(A small slice of Among the Rocks, by Robert Browning)
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Daily Prompt


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