A Facebook friend posted this morning about how the taste of a certain soda brought them immediately back in time to a specific moment in childhood. This in turn reminded me of a long-ago trip to Mexico. My friends were adamant about not drinking the water so I bought a glass bottle of 7-Up. Instantly I felt like my seven year-old self, heading out under the big sky of our backyard to continue my fruitless Bigfoot search of the distant wooded acres behind our fields. My mother and I lived with my grandparents at the time and my Grandma drank nothing but 7-Up. I assume the Mexican version was made with cane sugar, which is why our US canned versions failed to evoke a similar memory in me.

It turns out these kinds of memory revelations, or sense memories, are some of the best ways to recall our past. It turns out Proust was on to something with his madelines;

…the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, ready to remind us… the immense edifice of memory.

Scientists think that the part of our brain that processes sensory input also plays a role in creating emotional memories. So, for example, the enjoyment of the sour cream pie my Grandmother made every Christmas is linked with the emotional memories of being a child on Christmas; the safety and comfort of my family around me, the ecstasy of presents, and the excitement of Christmas day can all come rushing back to me as I take a bite of pie on Christmas morning in the present.

Smell, hearing and taste all provide a stronger memory recall than the visual. I’m not sure of the exact science behind this, but if I were to hazard a guess I would say that most of us are bombarded by visual information all day long. Seeing a movie may bring back the memory of the first time you saw the movie, but seldom in my experience does a single visual image bring back a strong emotional memory say the way White Shoulders, my Grandma’s perfume, can almost conjure the physical presence of her.

I love when an experience in the present can reach out across time and pull us back to a moment from long ago. With the holidays on the horizon I’ve been going though my Mom and Grandma’s recipe boxes, looking for ways to connect to them and hopefully give my own children a memory link of their own. Now if I could just get them out of the fog of chicken nugget memory…

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