Sunday, May 6, 2012

memory and scent

Tonight my husband, daughter, and I were taking our dogs for a walk in our neighborhood. All of a sudden we could smell one of my favorite scents: wood smoke. I love it because it reminds me of Conner Prairie, and of camping -- all good memories.  But my 3-year-old had a reaction too. She piped up, "I smelled this smell when we got chicken nuggets, fries, and chocolate milk, and I smelled this smell when we slept in a tent." She was referring to when we went camping in Brown County last October. Scent and memory are inextricably linked.

I was especially glad of her little discovery because of something in my book. My character, Maddie, has a memory of her past when she smells a wood smoke scent, too.  Her parents refuse to talk about it, but Maddie now has her first clue as to where they came from, and that is wood smoke.

            “Mama,” I began. “I-I know that wherever we come from is somewhere you don’t want us to know about….”
            Mama lifted her chin, a worried look surfacing. “Oh?”
           “I just don’t know why.”
            "You don’t know why?”
             I shook my head. “No. I don’t know where we came from, I don’t know why we left, and I don’t know why you and Papa won’t tell us. I was tired of asking you questions and getting these worried looks, but today I remembered something from back then… the memory came back at Conner Prairie --”
            “The memory?” she cut in. “Wh-what do you mean by ‘the memory?’” Her look was bewildered now, almost frightened.
          My hands went up in exasperation. “I-I don’t know. I couldn’t place it, but -- at Conner Prairie, I smelled a wood smoke smell. It seemed so familiar, and I realized that wherever we came from, it had that same smell. And there were so many things at Conner Prairie that you do at home too, so I thought that might be a clue….”
           “I see.” Her expression softened. “But you don’t know where we came from?”
            No, Mama. I told you I don’t. But I really would like to know.”
           My mother sat down at the table and brought her hand to her forehead, and I watched as the worried look surfaced once again. She rubbed her forehead, shook her head, then looked up at me, her face wrinkled with sadness, her brown eyes misty.
            “I can’t tell you, Maddie. It’s too dangerous. I’m sorry.”
            And with that she stood up and left the room, leaving my head spinning with more questions than I’d begun with, and not a single answer.

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