As I left the paper tonight, I inhaled a big breath, hopped into my car and went to grab some dinner. The smell was the remnants of a fresh summer rain. The crisp, wet (if you can smell wetness) air was a nice change of pace to the humid, stuffy cloud that I had been breathing in the past few weeks.
This got me thinking about other fragrances, odors and aromas that stand out to me. As someone who travels, the two most prevalent smells that stick out to me are that of manure and skunk. These odors used to bug me a great deal when I was little but now have become more of an alerted smell to activity in the area.
According to Psychology Today, the smell and memory correlation is based on brain anatomy. Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which is inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The bulb has direct connections to areas that are implicated in emotion and memory — the amygdala and hippocampus. No other sense runs through these brain areas, which Psychology Today points out may be the reason smell is successful at triggering emotions and memories.
One of my favorite fragrances is that of decaying leaves in the fall. This always brings on memories of football and the enjoyment that I got out of running on to the field in September. For some reason, it seemed like the smell was amplified Friday evenings before we took the field.
This memory would lead me to another memory and another smell — paint. When the field at Otter Stadium was natural grass, I can remember warming up to the smell of fresh paint. It was sickening in the early going, battling through something that you don’t associate with being outdoors. The smell itself would engulf my senses and force me to work extra to focus on that night’s opponent.
Another smell that sticks out to me is the smell of coffee. My memory is jogged to recent history as I remember waking up with my wife and each of us having a cup of coffee. These were times before we had kids and both of us were preparing to head off to our places of employment.
One of my favorite smells in the morning is that of pancakes or sausage. Growing up, my father would cook breakfast every Saturday with the menu choice being pretty consistent: sausage, eggs, hashbrowns and toast. Since my father passed, I still get the feels when I smell sausage cooking in a pan.
Pancakes were something that my mom would make me during the school week. I could always tell it was going to be a good day when I awoke to the smell of pancakes and a frantic dog. My dog, Eightball, and I would each have pancakes and eat next to each other. Although pancakes are probably not the healthiest thing to feed a dog, this was special as EB (Eightball’s nickname) was more than a pet, like a brother to me. (Side note: EB I don’t believe knew he was a dog as he would sit next to me on a chair while I did homework on the computer.)
There are also negative memories that I have due to smells. The smell of alcohol has always been a smell that I associate with unhappy memories. These were usually the times in high school and college that I felt like I really didn’t fit in. Several times I would go to parties and get-togethers where someone would be drinking. I was someone that rarely partook in imbibing and still am that way today.
These times I usually saw friends and acquaintances acting out of the ordinary. A lot of them were irrational and would tell me sad stories about what they were going through. It broke my heart to hear friends talk about personal issues, but it was the only time they felt comfortable enough to share them with me. I would put my best foot forward and listen to them, but I knew that they would probably not remember they had the conversation with me in the morning.
Cigarette smoke was another negative smell. Almost everyone in my family smoked and it was hard for me growing up to realize that when I left my home I already had the smell of smoke in my clothes. It took two years away from home before I realized what cigarette smoke smelled like. As a kid, I wished my parents could quit and as an adult, I hope that my children never decide to pick up the habit.
As I close out this week’s column, the smell of fresh-cut grass permeates through the windows of my house. The neighbor has decided to enter in the ongoing struggle (probably made up by me) of trying to have shorter grass than I do. He can have it this week, I am just going to enjoy the memories that come with the scent.
Zach Stich is the managing editor of The Fergus Falls Daily Journal. His column appears Friday.