Enable Your Senses

A few days ago my husband and I had a morning filled with running errands. We decided to grab lunch at a place called Betty Boop’s. The little cafe happens to live next door to a classic car show room, Memory Lane Motors.

Attribution: How Stuff Works
Attribution: How Stuff Works

My husband is a classic car fanatic, and I enjoy looking at the classics myself. On this particular day there were lots of convertibles being showcased. It was after all a rare sunny day in the Pacific NW!

However, what caught my eye was an old Chevrolet pickup, vintage 1935 or so, modified as a grocer’s truck. The truck was very similar to the one here, which is a 1947 Dodge.

The first words out of my mouth were, “Oh, when I was a kid, we had a truck like this come through our neighborhood.” Suddenly, the aroma of produce and truck smells all came back to me. And visually, I could see the scales that hung at the back of the truck.

The truck in our neighborhood was slightly different in that both sides were open and one contained a section of penny bubble gum and candy. The joy of being handed a penny to buy something was big thing in the 1950s.

But enough about the truck. What I want to write about is allowing our senses to guide our memories. Let’s look at the bolded and italicized paragraph above:

The first words out of my mouth were, “Oh, when I was a kid, we had a truck like this come through our neighborhood.” The aroma of produce and truck smells all came back to me. And visually, I could see the scales that hung at the back of the truck.

My senses were obviously heightened as my eyes rested on the truck. But who enters a place called Memory Lane and doesn’t begin floating back in time.

As writers, when we are out and about in the world-at-large, we need to have our senses at the ready — sight, hearing, touch, smell and even taste. Each one can trigger memories long forgotten. Those memories may be what you’ve searched for to fill a gap in your memoir or an essay or short nonfiction piece you’re working on.

Our senses are God-given and intended to enhance our lives. Without them, life would be boring. How would we know a rose by its fragrance, or an orange by its taste or even its color? How would we ever smell bread baking?

So, we shouldn’t allow these magical gifts to sit back and become lazy — allow them to help you rediscover past scenes, to trigger those memories long forgotten.

Attribution: Nicki Dugan via Flickr
Attribution: Nicki Dugan via Flickr

15 thoughts on “Enable Your Senses

  1. Sherrey, since we are still talking about senses, Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses comes to mind, which you may have read too. I found it to be a well-researched book for the non-scientific, but curious mind.

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    1. Marian, I haven’t read Diane Ackerman’s book. I’m glad you included the word “non-scientific” in your description of it. I’ll check it out. Thank you!

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  2. I will have random memories that are associated with smells or sounds, especially songs. I also have synesthesia and smell colors (my mom has it too, but in a different way). I don’t know if that makes me more prone to sensory memories or not, but it can be fun!

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    1. Allison, I am fascinated by synesthesia. The fact that you can smell colors is amazing to me, and it’s interesting that your mom has it but differently implying a genetic action there. So appreciate your weighing here on the senses. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. Neither of us realized it was odd until later in life. I thought that everyone smelled colors until I said something about something smelling blue (it goes both ways) and my husband said, “what the heck does that mean?”

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      2. Alison, it seems as though you are going through life with an extra-cool sense in your tool box. Can you also touch sounds? By the way, I love your blog and reviews!

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      3. Allison, I had never heard of synesthesia until a few years ago when I enrolled in a color theory class at a local quilt shop. One of the women in the class smelled colors as well. That’s when I started reading about it. Are you familiar with a music composer who has written a series of compositions named for colors? He too is a synethesete and hears colors.

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  3. My husband also would love the car place. Right now all my senses are ill with the flu. But yes, smell is the strongest scent and the one related to memory. I can still get a whiff of something and a batch of memories are triggered.

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    1. Hi Sue! So good to see you here, but sorry you are ill with that nasty flu. Triggering memories through our senses seems to be the truest recall, at least for me.

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  4. I’ve always thought that scent was the most powerful “memory sense” because a whiff of an obscure scent can bring back a very vivid memory out of nowhere. I also need the practice in bringing these things to life on the page. I’m not very skilled in writing descriptions that bring alive the senses. Practice is always good. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Lisa, glad you stopped by. I too find that the sense of smell seems to be the strongest trigger for memory. Practicing writing descriptions will soon make them easier for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Great post, Sherrey. It’s funny how something can trigger memories of scents and smells. Sometimes, a certain smell will trigger memories of my grandmother’s apartment and it brings pleasant thoughts. In writing, we should invoke all five senses and I’ve often heard the sense of smell is the most powerful.

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    1. Joan, so happy to see you here. I love how there seems to be an echo in our discussion regarding the strength and power of the sense of smell. I too agree on this point. I have had experiences where a certain smell will evoke memories simultaneously of grandparents and children in totally different circumstances. I’d love to learn more about that.

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  6. Sherrey, you must be up early too–or very late, writing this blog. You always make great connections to the bigger picture in your writing. Yes, I know, that’s what writers do, but you do it with such finesse.
    My husband and I are exploring the Monterey Peninsula in CA, a long, long way from steamy Florida. Oh, that I could use more of my senses right now, a few of which are out of whack because of a sinus infection. Thanks for the timely reminder.

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    1. Marian, I have a secret — I usually schedule my posts to go live around 1am Pacific time. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for your sweet comments in the first paragraph.
      I’m so pleased to hear your on my end of the country while resting and relaxing. And Florida can be a steamy place! Good for you for escaping. Sorry to hear of the sinus infection. May you heal quickly. Enjoy your time in the Monterey area.

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