sense memories

Since reading this post by my friend Kristen, I’ve been thinking of how well she captured the scents and tastes of young motherhood. Especially this: “The sweet, milky taste of open-mouthed kisses that were given freely have long since stopped.” Awwww….

Then I read Dina’s post full of sense memories, which reminded me of a free-writing exercise I did. Have you ever spent ten minutes jotting sense memories? I loved the exercise; in case you decide to do it on your own, I dug up my notes to share (I picked smell & taste), so it can feel like we’re taking a class together.

One extra anecdote about the senses: I read a fantastic article in April’s Real Simple today in the Life Lessons section called “Sight Unseen” (can’t find a link to it online yet). I identified with the author’s description of “football-shaped” eyes and the wonder of the world after putting on contact lenses the first time. I think it’s not a coincidence, then, that I left off vision completely from my list of sense memories.

What are some of your favorite sense memories?


  • Baking bread, playdoh
  • Spring smells—magnolia blossoms; and fall smells—hickory nuts we were sure squirrels were purposely aiming at our heads
  • MUD. Spring mud versus summer mud, clay mud versus dirt mud, and how we avoided the rain puddles near the horse barn only to have the boys throw us in them
  • Rowing smells—too many sweaty people in a crowded gymnasium; the fishy smell of the church parking lot on a Lent Friday; how you could tell the season by whether the odor of Canada goose poop hung in the air over the Chattahoochee, and could tell the swiftness of current by whether you could smell garbage
  • Photography smells—odors that linger on and about a photographer…sweaty leather banjo strap, pungent nostril-stinging stench of cooking chemicals
  • Summer smells—Wet pine needles, dry pine needles; Hot car with leather seats, melting crayons, old French fries, and mostly empty coffee mugs; rotting mangoes and citrus around trees in Florida; railroad ties that reeked of tar; the stifling scents of cedar and old things in Grandma’s attic


  • The tastes of the outdoors—warm-to-touch muscadines that we’d suck like gooey eyeballs from their tangy peel; figs that always seemed too ripe or not ripe enough; juniper berries that tasted like Christmas; how deliciously sweet pecans off the ground tasted until inevitably you got a bit of the bitter center, the unpleasant taste of which would linger on your tongue for hours
  • Meats of the places we’ve visited, and the powerful taste of iron: zebra in Kenya, reindeer in Sweden, horse in Quebec, duck and practically-raw hamburger in Paris, haggis in Scotland, blood pudding in England
  • How exceptional all food tasted after a week of camping, especially the last piece of jerky forgotten at the bottom of your pack

If I had to pick a sense memory my kids will form today, it would be touch. It’s spring break this week, and we’re headed to a warehouse full of bouncy castles and trampolines, where they are sure to take a few accidental punches and accumulate rug burns. Fun times!

sense memories - heirloom mothering

8 thoughts on “sense memories

  1. Railroad ties that reeked of tar…whoosh. You just took me back to the house I lived in while in middle/high school. Haven’t thought about that scent in a long while. And YES! Horse (poop) smell in Quebec–it was atrocious when we were there! Love this post. I need to do this exercise more often myself. And thank you for sharing my post too–so kind of you. xo

  2. “Hot car with leather seats, melting crayons…” oh yes. Isn’t it remarkable how these evocative scents that we can conjure by memory connect us all, across time and space? I love this writing exercise…the idea of it AND how you executed it with such vivid memories. Thank you, also, for linking to my post! xox

    1. Me too, Lindsey! I bought a tub of Carmex when we moved north, sort of remembering that my mom used it when I was a kid. I opened it and whoosh, back to being nine years old and looking through Mom’s purse while waiting for her to pump gas.

  3. Enjoyed this post, Justine. Smells definitely take me to nostalgic places (Sandalwood reminds me of my father, Drakkar Noir takes me back to high school and peppermint takes me to a childhood store that my family visited for ice cream). That photograph is fabulous.

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