Just like some songs remind me of specific memories or time-periods of my life (for example, "basement music," ie anything Tom Petty, CSNY, Boston, the Eagles, etc.-- reminds me of my childhood when my Dad did woodworking in the basement and my sister and I spent hours playing with our Barbies nearby, enjoying the tunes Dad chose), certain scents remind me of specific times in my life. Lilac, for example, brings to mind playing in the backyard near the swingset where a hugely overgrown lilac bush bloomed for a good portion of the ever-too-short Michigan summer. The smell of fresh cut grass brings back nostalgic memories of summers past, some in which I myself pushed the lawnmower around the yard.
Then there are the the food smells. These are tied most strongly to memory, in my opinion. When slicing tomatoes, I am brought back to the time in middle school, when my best friend, Jenni, and I were tossing tomatoes around in her front yard (I am a bit fuzzy on the details as to why we were doing this). As we tossed and smashed several tomatoes, her mom came out of the house to tell us that Princess Diana had died tragically in a car accident. So it is now normal for me to think of Princess Di when I smell freshly sliced (or smashed) tomatoes.
Today, I am enjoying the scent of baking banana bread. I am channeling my Grandma Betty, as I followed her recipe and am remembering how often this same smell would fill her house. It is different than the Betty Crocker boxed banana bread I have baked occasionally in the past. (Okay, fine. I bake the boxed stuff more often than I'd like to admit. But after today's successful banana bread baking, I will follow Grandma's recipe more often!) My grandma's recipe smells exactly like hers did. If I close my eyes, I can see myself sitting at her kitchen table, watching her move so swiftly through the kitchen, cleaning the counters, washing the dishes. I have my eyes on the timer, just waiting for her to pull the bread out of the oven so I can see how perfect it looks. When I see the perfectly shaped loaves, I know they will taste just as amazing as they smell.
So, back in the here and now, as I pull the loaves out of the oven, I will continue to have flashes from my past. It is so nice to know that all it takes to imagine Grandma in the next room is a few ingredients and 15 minutes. Whip them together, and it feels as if she is right there. Maybe next weekend I'll try my luck at her cinnamon rolls...