I took a little stroll down memory lane the other day.
No, I wasn’t feeling particularly nostalgic that day, nor was I harkening back to a simpler time in an effort to transport myself mentally to a better day. Actually, it all started with a song.
Without getting too specific, let’s just say it was a John Cougar Mellencamp tune playing in a local establishment, and I suddenly felt as if I was driving my 1971 Olds Cutlass down New Hampshire Avenue to pick up a friend of mine for a night of debauchery and alcohol. There I was, invincibility of youth coursing through my veins while I checked my freshly-gelled spiked hair in the rearview mirror ...
Stop laughing. I used to have hair. Lots of them, in fact. Well, fine, I never really had lots of hair. Even as a young boy I had that Eddie Munster thing working on the front of my scalp ...
But I digress.
The point of my story is that senses can indeed transport us temporarily. Now, if it causes you to stay in the past for any extended period of time ... well, you might want to talk to someone about that. But the simple verse from a song, or whiff from a trace of perfume or taste of something sweet can make us, for a brief moment in time, seem like we’re somewhere we’ve been before.
It’s what we do, isn’t it? Oh, we don’t consciously subdivide things by sense, but it’s what ends up happening. I hear a song from the ‘80s and I’m instantly reminded of all the hours I spent listening to music during that time period, and the group of knuckleheads with whom I wasted so much time. I smell strawberry shampoo and my thoughts go back to a girl I had a crush on in the eighth grade. The smell of Aramis cologne and cigars? Dad’s somewhere in the house. A big pile of dollar bills and the smell of fertilizer? I’m instantly reminded of many members of Sussex County Council.
Wow, that felt good.
Digs aside, there are a few things that can conjure up bad memories, as well. There is still one corner back home I avoid whenever I go back because a good friend of mine died in a car accident there right after we graduated high school. The sound of gunfire is not one I confuse with fireworks or a car backfiring. And the smell of strawberry shampoo reminds me of that snotty little girl who was too good to talk to me back in the eighth grade. Man, I hope she’s in prison or Harrisburg or some place like that.
Regardless, for good or bad, we hold on to these things through a sense of, well, sense, that is more reliable than many of our long- or short-term memory capabilities for logic. Perhaps that’s logical in its own right.
And, since my mind tends to wander off on tangents whenever the opportunity presents itself, I began to wonder what sensory triggers I would have in the future concerning things that are going on in my life right now. Twenty years from now, what sights or sounds or smells would bring me back to 2006?
Well, I’m guessing that the smell of bacon cooking and coffee brewing will instantly transport me back to my mornings of walking into Kool Bean and finding Bud Palmer and his merry men discussing everything under the sun while I waited for my coffee.
The sounds of babies crying down the road will remind me of sitting in the office and being serenaded at any given moment by M. Patricia Titus’ little Cian, or Monica Fleming’s Lily, or Susan Lyons’ granddaughter, Lily, or Carolyn Fitz’s Julia.
The smell of baby seals and the clicking of a computer keyboard will always make me smile at the thought of our resident Inuit Eskimo and computer dork, Shaun Lambert, while the haunting screech of an owl will harken back days of Susan Lyons on deadline days.
Every time I see a man in a Hawaiian shirt clutching a purse in the future I will reminisce on my days with Bob Bertram, and the sounds of two grown men giggling like schoolgirls will make me feel as if I’m sitting with John Denny and Jonathan Starkey.
I’ll never again be able to see a blonde woman stumble walking up the steps without feeling a sense of deja vu that I’m watching Susan Argo in all her glory, and the next time a 37-pound woman yells at me like I’m a second-grader who just ate a gallon of paste, I’ll be tempted to call her Monica.
Yes, my senses might all be spoken for in the future. But it will be a terrific ride down memory lane.