According to Sarah Dowdey of www.howstuffworks.com “A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people's moods and even affect their work performance. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain's limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it's sometimes called the "emotional brain," smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously. Bear with me I am going somewhere with his, I promise. “Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren't for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood”
I smelled home in the air this morning on my way to work and I’ve spent all morning feeling homesick. I cannot remember the last time I even felt homesick (probably last Christmas because firewater always makes me homesick and weepy) or maybe in my civil wedding this year when I couldn’t enjoy the company of people I wish were there with me. As much as I felt the painful twinge in my heart I couldn’t help smiling. The smell was some sort of soapy, clean, disinfectant smell that reminded me of a bathroom (a private one, not a public one) and I really cannot recall what the moment was but it made me think of a trip I made to Colombia one summer almost 15 years ago. It’s amazing that I am now old enough to have 15 year old memories (Eeeek!) but also amazing is the fact that I can recall the moment on a flash of smell. I remember how I felt that moment. I couldn’t recall the day, or whose bathroom it was, but I remember the sense of expectation for the vacation days to come. I remembered the wondering what I would do with my time and the books I would read. I remembering feeling love, for the place, the people I was with and hot with the sticky Colombian summer.
I spent this last weekend alone with Dear Husband in California doing some business stuff and I sat on my couch watching TV and feeling homesick. For two whole days I thought I was just missing Dear Husband and our depressed dog Zoey wasn’t helping matters much with her “I-miss-daddy” puppy eyes. Then I realized I only felt like that (down and a little depressed, and therefore hungry) when I was seating on the couch. Dumb that I am I didn’t notice that the smell of our Christmas tree was making me miss Christmas at home. The smell of dog and pine and freshly cleaned house was bringing memories of home.
I still miss home so much. I miss the music and the people, the plans, the city that shines blindingly on Christmas, the Avila Cross that sits on the mountain, turned off all year and then lit up brightly for the whole month of December and that looks like it floats on the air at night, when the mountains are so dark they blend in with the night sky. I miss the chilly air and the chilly mornings, I miss the Christmassy billboards and the 15 foot blow up Santa one of the banks put on its building climbing up to the roof to leave some presents. I miss the Gaita concerts, with songs we’ve all heard before a million times and still make us want to cry. I miss the grapes, and the preparations, I miss the smell of the city, a combination of pine, smog and food. I miss my home with its high view of the valley and how it seemed to glow all twinkly at night with the city bellow us shinning green, red and yellow full of Christmas lights.
I wish the smell and the barreling emotions that come with it would give me a warning instead of swallowing me whole in bittersweet memories of moments lived so long ago but I still remember as if they were yesterday.
One of my exile buddies living here in Florida after leaving Venezuela posted in his Facebook how depressing Christmas is away from home, how he misses the celebrations that start in December and don’t end until half way January. It’s not just the parties he misses, but the familiarity, the sense of belonging. His immediate family, like mine, it’s here in the same city and even though it feels ten thousand times better now that they are here, we are all still castaways during Christmas time, away from all familiar, drifting around listening to jingle bells and eating turkey instead of listening to danceable Christmas music and eating hallacas.
Nothing, not even being away from home can ruin Christmas from me. I took a deep breath Saturday of my Christmas tree smell, the sweet, sharp, crisp and clean scent made my heart weep for all left behind, and the twinkling lights mocked my mood. Ahead we move all the time, leaving behind precious things that will never come to be again part of our lives. Thank God for the sense of smell that won’t let us forget.