Living creatures have five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. As humans, we are especially aware of our senses when we are not able to access one of them. I’ve been awakened in the dark of night and felt the terror of not being able to see the source of the noise that woke me in the first place. When out and about on a summer evening, it is obvious when a skunk–either alive or dead– has been in the vicinity! I assume that animals experience all five senses as well, although they are unable to express their pleasure or displeasure of how something may taste or if the television is playing too loudly.
Speaking of senses, have you ever experienced something through one of your senses that instantly stirs a memory? Perhaps it even transports you back to the time and place of said memory–at least in your mind. I recently had that experience.
Where I live, it is winter for half of the year. The bitter, below zero temperatures may not last the entire six months, but for the most part, windows are closed for half the year. I did not spend my growing up years in the state where I currently live, but the place I did grow up had similar weather patterns. Temperatures didn’t drop to the levels they do currently, but I did get to enjoy much more snow as a child than I get to enjoy now. The other day, I was driving somewhere when my sense of smell was stirred by the aroma of burning wood. I don’t know if someone had a home fireplace or wood stove; perhaps someone was burning something in a backyard fire. Regardless of the source of the smell, as my nostrils breathed in the scent of burning wood, I was instantly taken back to a time in my childhood when I was treated to that smell on a regular basis. In my mind, I was ten years old again, sitting in an old rocking chair in the family room of my house on Carter Drive. Against the wall in that family room was a wood burning stove that was the primary source of heat for the lower level of our home. My grandmother, who lived with us for a time, kept a silver kettle of hot water on the stove. We were free to use the hot water in that kettle for hot chocolate, although her main reason for the kettle was to humidify the air.
As I breathed in deeply, cherishing the pictures that paraded through my mind, I found myself wishing out loud that I could be ten years old again. I longed for the safety of that house on Carter Drive, not to mention the carefree life that came along with being ten. I had my ideas of how my adult life would play out. Of course I was naive in that thinking. I wouldn’t have predicted the loss of a baby, the near loss of my marriage, years spent battling depression, the pain of an empty nest, nor the diagnosis of a chronic illness. I couldn’t have known that friends would be hard to find, let alone keep. I had no way of knowing how difficult being an adult could be.
As I drove out of the range of that memory-triggering smell, I wondered if maybe the house from whence it came also had a child or two that sat by the warmth emanating from the fire. I also wondered if someday they too would look back with fond memories of these years spent in their childhood home.
I am still amazed that this many years later (more years than I care to name here) that smokey smell can instantly take me back to a simpler time in my life. The scent didn’t linger very long, but for those few minutes, I was able to forget the oppressive weight of a life that for the last several months has been tumultuous and wearisome. Sometimes I think memories are more of a curse than a blessing. This day, though, I am so thankful for little memories like this one that gives even a slight reprieve from the loneliness, sadness, and pain that now characterizes my days.