Smells Like…College

Ever catch a whiff of something and find yourself totally transported through space and time to the last time you smelled it? When it’s a good smell, the experience is dandy. A not-so good smell and, well, not dandy. The power of smell is so awesome and yet often overlooked by our love affair with the sight of things.

But smells are very, very powerful things indeed.

Remember your first “true” love and how s/he smelled? Fresh sheets on your bed? Tide detergent? Pipe smoke? Rubbing alcohol? Vomit? Booze on someone’s breath? Lifesavers? Cotton candy? Old Spice aftershave. And so on.

They say that the first thing you learn is the smell of your mother. They also say that absolutely every memory you have is attached to an emotion, and a good percentage of those emotions can be accessed by a smell.

These things are good. Really they are. It is all part of how we survive this thing called life. You sat next to the fire, you smelled the burning wood, you touched the flame, you burned your hand. The smell of a wood fire, for the rest of your life, is going to have a bit of a “careful now!” aspect to it.

I was thinking all this and more the other morning as I made my son his lunch. Biggest is quite a picky eater so lunches are a bit of a challenge. But both he and Littlest love, as in ginormous love, Top Ramen. So I send him a thermos of Top Ramen at least once a week.

It was still pretty dark but the sunrise had started to bleed pinks across the horizon. I knew this because as I stood at the sink, ready to pour the Top Ramen into the awaiting thermos, a squirrel darted across my power line and startled me. The blur of squirrel against the morning sky, and the wafting smells of boiled Top Ramen transported me.

Cleaning up the mess, the distinctive smell of Top Ramen took me back to the dorm room of my freshman year.

Until that moment, I’d never really thought about how distinctive the smell of Top Ramen is. It will always smell like college to me. It will smell like a lack of sleep, of fear and being startled, of books and Bic ink, of stale beer spilled on floors. It is the smell of anticipation of what might be and the remorse of needing to let go of what was. Top Ramen, for me, is the smell of growing up.

For the record, Biggest likes his Top Ramen soupy. Littlest likes his mostly drained and tossed with shredded cheddar cheese. And Middlest thinks its disgusting and would just like an apple and a tortilla with Nutella, thank you very much.

And me? I like my Top Ramen to stay tucked away with my other memories of college.

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2 thoughts on “Smells Like…College

  1. I recall reading that smell is the most powerful and fastest trigger to memories. I think this post is a fine testament to that.

    This also brings to mind how little things, small noticings start cascades of memory, thought and emotions.

    I like my ramen soupy also.

    Thanks for this, Kristina – insightful, as always. 😉

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