Psychologists tell us that memory can be triggered by sensory input. I like many, accepted that fact without much thought. We can all recall times when some sight, sound, smell or taste would remind us of something from our past. Over a month ago it happened to me but unlike previous occurrences, a whole series of memories were triggered leaving me stunned, shaking, aching in my heart for what had once been but would never be again.
It was late, about 1:30 AM; I was at work at my desk when an employee of the company where I was assigned as security officer walked by. I barely noticed her passing until after she was out the door and into the offices beyond. Then it hit me. My head jerked up, my eyes scanned the area. A sweet, buttery aroma floated through the air. What was that smell? I "knew" what it was but was unable at the moment to name it. My mind flashed back over the years, twenty, thirty forty years and more, back to a time of innocence when Kennedy was President, gas was cheap, and I was 10 years old.
I shrugged to bring my mind back to the present. That wonderful aroma was still faintly wafting through the air but fading fast. I rose from my desk and followed my nose. I knew that what ever it was, its source had to be with the woman who'd walked by my desk. I passed through the door to the next office following the scent. A labyrinth of cubicles was before me. I put my faith in my nose and started into the maze. After several minutes and more than a couple of wrong turns that had forced me to back up and retrace my route, I found myself looking at the back of a woman of middle age. Graying hair cut in a pageboy style, a sweater around her shoulders and there on her desk the source of the aroma. It was a bag of microwave Carmel corn. I hadn't known that any company was making it and its' intense smell retriggered a flood of memories zeroing in on the ones associated with Carmel corn. I must have really spaced out and I think my eyes may have gotten glassy as my mind roamed the past when I was suddenly jerked back to the present by the woman's voice.
"Officer, are you okay? Is there something I can do for you?"
I apologized profusely to her for intruding, explaining that the smell of her snack had triggered some intensely powerful memories that frankly were making it difficult to keep my mind on the present. I took a moment to look at her as I explained. Deep cobalt blue eyes in a gently aged face that was still attractive, a dimple in her chin and a warm smile gave me the impression of gentle grace and a life filled with happiness.
"Funny you should say that Officer..."
"Burney" I said to fill the obvious opening.
"Burney. I had the same thing happen to me when a friend made a bag last week. I'll always associated the smell of caramel corn with my first date."
I glanced at her nameplate on the wall of her cubicle as I told her that by strange coincidence it evoked the same memory for me. K. Bethany Andrews; it didn't ring any bells for me.
"That is a strange coincidence. What memories does it bring back?"
I smiled and said, "Nickel candy bars."
"Dime cokes" she replied smiling back at me.
We began to go back and forth naming things we remembered from those long lost days.