Updated: Jan 18
It's the first of May 2019, San Pedro, California. The sky showed some gray clouds and the wind was chilly as I walked briskly towards my classroom from the main office of the school I work with. At that point, a whiff of freshly cut grass hit me, transporting me back in time to two places in my past. Memories started trickling in, bringing happy thoughts of being young, carefree and lighthearted. The first was of my idyllic childhood at the farm of my grandfather at the Daet Agro-Industrial Complex, Alawihao, Daet, a town in the Philippine province of Camarines Norte. I remembered the long summer days, stifling heat, rubber slippers, lemonade, dirty ice cream, volumes of Books of Knowledge, dog barking, dragonflies and fine dust. I can still picture my Lolo (grandfather) cutting grass using a scythe with a long handle (basabas) and swinging it rhythmically cutting long-bladed green grass. The second was my college days at the Ateneo de Naga University in Naga City, Camarines Sur. I vividly recall the old wooden building, wide open windows, mild breeze, green trees swaying in the wind, waxed floor, wooden chairs and chalk dust. I can still feel the uncomfortable uniform that we had to wear, closed-toed black shoes, necktie and the freshly ironed white blouse. I do not recall seeing the janitors using lawnmowers, but I can distinctly hear the faint purr of the machine from afar.
How can odor stir such powerful memories?
Dr. Mercola, in his article Why Smells Can Trigger Strong Memories, says this is known as “odor-evoked autobiographical memory” or the Proust phenomenon, after French writer Marcel Proust.
According to physcologydictionary.org the Proust phenomenon is the sudden occurrence of a powerful memory. The memory is so powerful and vivid it can also contain a number of sensory and emotional components.
In Proust's famous novel In Search of Lost Time, the narrator dips a madeleine cookie into a cup of tea and is transported back into time as long-forgotten memories of his childhood come flooding-back.
Certain smells can trigger involuntary memories or even mental time travel, taking us back to a point in time that have been otherwise lost to us.
What about you? What are the scents that bring you back in time?