Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Sweet Smell Of Memories

What reminds you of when you were young?  Is it music? It is a smell? Is it a physical place? It is thinking or seeing someone from that time?

For me, it’s mostly the first two or three.  Music shoots me back to a time so quickly that it’s like some sort of emotional wormhole for me.  I think this is true for a lot of people.  For some reason, music, smells, and places are able to tap into a person’s memory extremely directly.

Music is just an incredible thing, isn’t it?  I wrote another blog entry a while back called, “Time After Time,” in which I described the strange phenomenon of how a song can whisk me away so quickly, it makes my head spin.  There can be something in the musical arrangement or in the words and melody that just cut right through to me riding in my ex-girlfriend’s father’s Trans Am, or to me sitting on the ledge of The Sea Castle, an apartment I had on the sand of Santa Monica, or of finishing the last few miles of one of the twenty-six full length marathons I have run in my past.  Songs have the effect of almost softening up my soul, bringing down the defenses that I’ve normally put up to blur out the memories’ acuity.  The music allows me to feel the feelings again, if only so momentarily. 
We’ve all smelled something that takes us back to our first grade teacher, and grandma, or some place where romance was new for us.  More subtly for me, and I’m guessing for others too, there can be a weather condition, like a little extra windy and dry, that evokes memories of my living in the Hollywood Hills and summer nights as dusk set in and my bike riding was about over. 

Up there, there were not a lot of trees.  It was a newer neighborhood in the early 1970’s, and so there wasn’t the dotting of mature trees that eventually inhabits many older neighborhoods.  And when the warm summer winds would arrive, the Santa
Ana’s they’re called, it was a particularly hollow experience.  Desolate because the winds seemed to blow from one ridge to ours to the next one with no obstacles in between but some un-built barren real estate lots here and there that added a little dust into the mix.

And so, later, when I was living on Studio City in the San Fernando Valley, the same winds would arrived a few times per year, beginning in the northern valley and working down towards our area.  And sure enough, it would take me back ten years earlier to my roaming around the Skyline Drive Estates in my earlier youth.  When the Santa Ana’s start up even now, it’s like a “B-Line” for me, escape velocity back to the dusty dusks of the Hollywood Hills.

Smell does it as well, and very well at that.  Perfume, cooking, or the smell of the interior of someone’s home; all of these allow me to once again be in that moment.  And it’s something I don’t want to let go of, but it’s always fleeting either because the stimulus goes away (or I go away), or because it’s really just the first shock of the smell from not having smelled it for years that brings everything back.  The fragrance opens up a door in my mind and makes me feel like I’ve actually captured the memory for just a short time; that I’m saturated in it, bathing in the memory as if I’ve taken a time machine back to it.  Because, my point is, otherwise, it would be very difficult to spontaneously bring this kind of clarity of emotions without these stimuli popping up every once in a while like they do.  They are sweet surprises.

These trips back makes me pine for that place and those people I was once with.  Just recently, I smelled something, I can’t recall what now, but it brought me back to the kind of evening routine I had with my parents when I was young, like around dinnertime.  It was unnerving how strong the sensation was for me, but I loved it while it lasted. 

The sound of the beach, especially with wooden structures around such as houses or piers, evokes very strong memories of my childhood when my parents had a house on the sand.  The combination of dampness, salt, painted-on tar that often covers wood pilings to protect them, the sound of crashing waves, and the stillness that is the evening in one of these communities makes my spirit swirl. 

And that’s the other category for me.  It’s the physical place.  I’m not sure if this is so true for other people, but my going back to the place where things happened, or where I lived, brings memories dancing back to life for me.  The visual reference helps me as an adult anchor those youthful memories, and sort of organizes them better in their time and place when I go visit them.  Visiting places in my past is something that I do consistently on occasion when I feel the pull in myself to see one of them again. 

Fittingly, the other day I drove over Malibu Canyon to the beach along the old road on which our house sat.  It soothed me.  It says to me, “I’m still here.  That wasn’t all a fantastic dream.”  It’s something I need every once in a while.  I then drove down to Santa Monica, where I also used to live as noted earlier, and refreshing those memories was really nice recalling the fresh summer mornings on the beach when the sand it still a little wet?  Did you know that sand is often wet in the early mornings because the fog and dew over night has saturated it?  It’s not knowledge that would be expected of most people who arrive to the beach late morning for a day tanning.  But it’s a nice sensation on your feet. 

All of these are a way for me to feel that I’m still in touch with my youth.  Resurrecting those memories I feel brings me closer to that earlier version of myself that still exists somewhere inside me.  And I believe that memories sort of help free the spirit a little when revisited.  It’s a kind of internal validation that is needed every once in a while.