A Memory of Senses

I have a wonky memory. I have purchased many novels, and have read twenty or thirty pages in only to realize that I had read the book before. I forget character’s names and movie titles and basically every plot point. My lack of memory goes for my own life as well as the stories I consume, so when I read that this week’s theme was childhood memories, I felt at a loss for what to write. But while I don’t remember many stories, I do have a keen sensory memory. I can conjure smells and sounds, tastes and feelings from earliest childhood. Here are some of my favorites:

IMG_5743Growing up, our backyard was defined by a wall of tall lilac bushes. In the spring I would lay down in the damp grass, close my eyes, and just breathe in their sweet scent.

Every summer my father would pitch a tent in the backyard, and I would fill it with Barbie dolls. The tent was made of red nylon, and smelled of mold and the sun-warmed plastic of Barbie bodies.

There was giant, house-sized piece of granite next to my grandmother’s house that was covered in pine trees. I spent my whole summers on that rock, building houses out of sap-sticky branches and napped on prickly beds made of dried pine needles.

My grandfather used to grow peas, and I remember the green scent of the shells, and the satisfying snap of the shell popping open in my fingers.

My dad grew up in the 50’s. He was a greaser-type of tough who worked on cars, and grew up to drive a truck, but he was always fastidious about how he looked. His pants were never wrinkled. He wore these wonderfully soft chamois shirts that were always clean. And he had a wonderful dad smell to him—Right Guard and Speedstick deodorants, some sort of hair tonic, coffee and cigarettes. This was the scent of home for me.

The crackle of butter melting in a small enamel pot, and the toasty scent of popcorn kernels in hot oil, over a gas flame.

The metallic taste of chocolate ice cream served in little silver bowls at Cabot’s ice cream on special occasions.

Sitting on the little back porch in the early morning on a white-painted rod iron chair, listening to the mourning doves call as they built their nests.

The smell of newsprint, and the dry way the paper of the funny pages felt under my fingertips.

What are your favorite sensory memories from childhood?

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Louise Miller

Louise Miller is the author of THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking/August 9, 2016), the story of a commitment-phobic pastry chef who discovers the meaning of belonging while competing in the cut-throat world of Vermont county fair baking contests. Find out more at louisemillerauthor.tumblr.com.

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This article has 6 Comments

  1. Louise, I love your sensory memories! Specially the lilacs, your photo is gorgeous. I remember my grandmother’s wall of lilacs. The smell was as heavenly as was her pantry’s smell of freshly baked cookies. I remember that well, as I climbed up her back kitchen stairs after playing ball outside. I can remember the sound of my big pink ball bouncing on the sidewalk or up against her house. And the smell of my Mom’s roasts cooking in the oven, her pie crusts just out of the oven, so rich you couldn’t resist running your finger around the crust for just a small taste. I remember clearly the sound of the front porch screen door as it latched, the way the stairs creaked when I walked up them. Oh, and I can’t wait to read your book, The City Baker’s Guide To Country Living, for I know you it will be filled with lots of delicious enticing images to remember!

    1. thank you so much, Carol! I love your memories, too. Those pink playground balls! I can remember they way they smelled and the grippy texture, and the hollow sound when they hit the pavement. I love how vivid memories like this are of childhood–when everything was new.

  2. What a beautiful way to remember things! It completely got me thinking in a different way…
    We moved around a lot and so I often can’t place where my memories happened, but I believe it was southern California where the honey suckles would bloom– so fragrant! And we would suck the bottom for the little sweetness.

    1. thanks so much, Abby! I didn’t learn how to get at the honeysuckle nectar until I was an adult, but what a wonderful pleasure!

  3. Some mornings I would get up early to share breakfast with my dad, the rattle of his Krumbles and Wheaties shaking out of the cardboard box as if he were pouring his poker chips into his cereal bowl. The background percussion of the General Electric percolator, the shhhooop of boiling water sucked up its aluminum stem into the hole-pocked basket of Maxwell House, bouncing into the see-through knob, then journeying back down to ride that roller coaster again. Slurping the too-hot, black-as-tar-and-just-as-bitter liquid quickly, never letting it cool, my father would squeeze in a second cup before commuting to the job he held onto for more than thirty years, the vessel in his hand quivering as he aged like mine does now. In those early days, that morning caffeine rhythm didn’t signal my writing beverage of choice, but the scent of parents and grandparents and my favorite aunt, who prided herself on never drinking water, just the occasional glass of wine and dark oceans of coffee.

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