LJ’s Corner—Memories from the Senses

As a kid visiting my grandmother, I remember the intoxicating aroma that filled the air surrounding the Wonder Bread factory in Jackson Heights, Queens, just two blocks from where she lived. After a proper “Hi Nana!”, I’d climb the apartment stairs onto her roof to take it all in. (Seemed safer then.) To this day, when I eat Wonder Bread, I imagine myself on that roof, nose in the air and breathing deeply.          

It always struck me curious how the senses trigger all kinds of memories…unfortunately not all are good ones. When I was a chubby preteen, sitting alone on a playground swing surrounded by Lily-of-the-Valley and dandelions, it was not a fond memory. Nor was sitting alone on one side of a seesaw with kids taunting they couldn’t find three more to sit on the other side. I was one of those kiddos that today they call “bullied.” My parents called it “baby fat.” What at 12? Yes, I got over it, but at the time, it seemed like the end of my world. Worse, I cannot stand the sight or smell of those flowers. On the other hand, the first time my romantic husband presented me with a single, yellow rose in a charming restaurant, it became my forever flower. He’s gone now, but seeing yellow roses today brings me back to that magical moment.           

We often have an immediate like or dislike for people, places or things just by their mere sight, sound or smell. Well, we won’t get into the BO factor, but fragrances and aromas can spark memories — men’s cologne, women’s perfume…or that salami hanging in the deli. Ok, that last one is just mine. My dad wore Canoe, my husband wore Polo, so anyone sporting those scents perks up my “like” sensor. But anyone wearing a beehive hairdo (not so much today) turned me into a bull spying red. Why? Because I had a supervisor who wore that wrapped up hair for weeks before she washed it, and, well frankly, it creeped me out. Just like men in white socks (I dated a guy who wore white socks with a suit and tie). Now I hate men in white socks for no darn good reason but that my memory bank made a deposit I cannot withdraw.          

A childhood friend of mine loved to jump out from behind hidden spaces to scare the ?!$&@ out of me. Her favorite hiding nook was behind the shower curtain in my bathroom. To this very day, my knees buckle when startled. Needless to say, there’s no shower curtain in my bathroom. Instead, there’s a huge wall of glass. That’ll show her if she ever visits! I still peek behind shower curtains in other peoples’ homes; I make no apologies for that.           

There was a unique double-click sound that my father’s Buick door made when it closed. My mind perks up whenever I hear a similar vibe — usually from something totally unrelated to a car door — but still it brings me back to day trips he and I used to take, most often to the beach. So that’s a three-for-one flashback: my dad, his Buick and the beach, unlocked by an echo-clicking memory.

Our brain is a remarkable instrument, recording every nanosecond of our lives, good and bad, where the tiniest memory flashes into our consciousness by the trigger of a sight, sound or smell. My “like” and “dislike” buttons are fixed double anomalies in my circuitry that I cannot unplug. What I once thought as déjà vu moments, I now realize were probably deep-seated memories. And while some memories should stay “lost,” others, I hope, will keep saying “hello” again and again.

About the columnist: LJ Bury is a resident of Copperleaf at The Brooks with a diverse background including stints as creator/editor of a fine arts magazine, a political blogger and a talent coordinator. LJ’s Corner tells the stories of everyday life, with all its joys, frustrations and ponders.

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