I used to wear essence of Patchouli - a "busty herb of the mint family". I'd get a bottle at the health food store and put just a few drops behind the ears and on my wrists. After a while, my entire closet and all my bureau draws reeked of the stuff. More than one of my friends would remark "I smelled you before you walked into the room".
I loved the earthy fragrance of it - mostly because it reminded me of my late teens - early twenties, when, it seemed, every friend's apartment I walked into was burning a stick of Patchouli incense. The prevailing ....um... "wisdom" at the time was that Patchouli would mask the smell of pot, but even if you didn't actually .... um ... "imbibe", it was a signal that you were "cool" enough to know that it did and some might infer that you, in fact, had had a bit of a "toke" before your guests arrived, so you were cool no matter what.
And, at that time, being "cool" - or even just the illusion of being "cool" - was very, very important. I suspect it still is. It's definition is just different for each generation.
Besides, Patchouli was very inexpensive. A small bottle used to cost a few bucks and last forever. As an added bonus, you seemed very "cool" to anyone who had ever "grooved" to the music of Buffalo Springfield or the Doobie Brothers or The Guess Who or Bob Dylan or Joan Baez or ....
Well, now I'm calling up other memories, right? Okay, for a certain generation of people.
Just the other day, I walked into a health food store and someone was burning a stick of Patchouli incense and my mind was instantly transported to another time and place. That one fragrance brought a rush of memories - I could hear the music of "House of the Rising Sun", feel my colorful macrame bag hanging off my shoulder, and even taste pizza - that staple of youth - in my mouth.
No, I've never "dropped acid" or other hallucinatory drugs. Yes, I have tried pot. Many, many years ago. It just made me very hungry for Oreo cookies and I just figured, what was the point of that?
I think the senses are a very powerful link to memories.
One of the real enjoyments of eating fresh peaches in the summertime involves not just the taste of those particular fruits, but the memories they stir. I can take a bite of a fresh, warm peach and as the sticky-sweet nectar is dripping down my face and arms, I'm instantly transported to the picnic table at my grandparent's house - the one under the grape vine which my grandfather used to make his own wine and my grandmother used to make the best grape jelly I've ever had.
Suddenly, I'm six years old and my grandmother has brought a bowl of peaches to the table on a beautiful early summer afternoon. I can feel the warm sunshine on my face and hear the wind rustling through the trees and the vines which filled their backyard. I can hear my sisters and brothers and cousins laughing and the intense debates we'd have about the peach pit.
One of my older cousins would say, under his breath and in Portuguese, that it looked more like "a woman's bottom".
Wherever you sat at the picnic table, you were never too far for my grandmother to give you a mighty whack on the back of your head, which sent the rest of us into gales of giggles, even if we hadn't heard, much less understood, the naughty thing that had been said.
She had magically appeared at the picnic table from the back door of the kitchen carrying a large tray and asserted that the cut open peach with the pit in the center and the red pulp surrounding it look like the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and we should think about that and give thanks for the sacrifices He made for us so we could enjoy our lunch.
Grandmothers can be weird like that.
Whatever sting my cousin felt in the back of his head dissolved into the place where our laughter fell suddenly silent as all eyes were focused on a glimpse of the heavenly banquet in which we were about to partake and which we were absolutely certain awaited us all.
On the tray was a gloriously golden round loaf of freshly baked bread - still warm from my grandmother's oven, all crusty on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth soft on the inside - a large slab of pale yellow butter on one of her delicate blue print china plates, a huge matching blue print pot of tea, and a matching print bowl of sugar and a pitcher of milk.
From the back of the tie in her apron, a large knife would magically appear and we would watch - wide-eyed and mouths gaping - as she would expertly slice the bread and give us each a generous piece to slather with butter. I can still see and smell and taste the pale yellow butter melting on the warm, soft, white bread.
Then, she would take some of the peaches out of the basket and slice them to perfection. How was it that they were warm and fuzzy on the outside and yet cool and juicy on the inside? One of the manifestations of God's amazing miracles, no doubt.
She'd hand the slices, one by one, to us, right off the knife - which drove my mother NUTZ! Oh, the dangers to which little minds were completely oblivious. We'd wait like hungry little birds in a nest, taking the slippery slice of peach, patiently building our peach sandwich.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Don't take a bite just yet! The finishing touches needed to be applied. My grandmother would dry her hands on the end of her apron before reaching into the sugar bowl to get a handful of sugar to sprinkle on top of the peaches. If you were really lucky, some of the sugar would fall onto the butter on the bread, giving it just the right "crunch".
Oh. My. Soul.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Not just yet. We all wiggled in our seats in anticipation, but how could you even think of taking a bite before offering a prayer of thanksgiving to God who had provided this amazing bounty for us, imprinted as it was with the Sacred Heart of Jesus? So, we'd close our eyes, secretly wiping the drool off the corners of our mouth, waiting for the loud AMEN.
As far as we kids were concerned, 'Amen' was 'Latin' for "Okay, kids, dig in!"
And, we did. We'd let our lips touch the warm buttered bread and the cool of the peach slice before taking a huge bite. We'd all sit there, perfectly behaved little lambs sighing in pure delight, while my grandmother fixed our cups of tea. Lots of sugar, of course, and about half tea and half milk.
There ain't nothing better than peach sandwiches and sweet tea with milk!
Well, there wasn't when I was a kid.
I confess that I haven't had a peach sandwich with sweet tea with milk in years. I think I tried it once as an adult, but store bought peaches that had been sprayed to a fairtheewell with pesticides and mass-produced bread from a factory bakery just didn't taste the same. And, nothing tastes quite like my grandmother's butter.
To this day, I can't stand the smell or taste of beer, and as much as I love peaches, I can't go near peach liqueur, even if it's used with a dessert.
Too many painful memories to even go there. They are best left like footprints on the sand waiting for a wave to wash them away and take them to "The Deep".
Ah, but the good memories that are stirred by a sight or sound or smell are the best. Sometimes, I think these memories are perhaps even better than the actual, lived event.
I'm sure many scientific studies have been made on the sense-memory connection, and there's probably lots to be said about what it all means.
For me, they are little, unexpected gifts. Some I open. Others, I don't.
Some are like old friends. Some I invite in and we have a grand old time. Others, I simply stand at the door and make polite conversation until they get the hint and go away. Still others, well, I don't even answer the knock at the door when I hear it.
One thing I know for certain, invited or not, memories will come, often triggered by one of my senses. What I do with them is my choice. My decision.
And, when a good memory comes along - like peach sandwiches and sweet tea on a beautiful day in early summer - I am the richer for entertaining it.