An interesting characteristic of our brain is associative memories.
It is throwback Thursday, after all.
I’m refering to the brain’s ability to connect two completely different items or concepts.
Music, for example, has very powerful associative properties. For many of us, hearing a certain song will awaken certain memories, some happy, some sad.
Many songs will remind us of a time in our past when we first heard the song, say a childhood event, or a year in school.
Some songs give us a vague feeling, such as “Sugar, Sugar,” by The Archies gives me a general happy feeling about my chikdhood, whereas others are more specific. When I hear “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” I’m back in the Cub Scouts with my friends taking a train down to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Some parent had brought an AM radio along and we’d sing to somenof the Top 40 hits.
Another example is, I used to listen to Black Sabbath’s first album while a teenager reading sword and sorcery tales, particularly the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard.
Now, when I listen to Black Sabbath, a feeling comes over me, a mood, if you will, that is similar to reexperiencing the awe and wonder I had back then reading those stories.
So intense is this mood that now I’ll play their music when I’m writing, hoping to capture some of that magic in my own story.
Smells also provide strong associative memories. Maybe a whiff of a certain cologne or perfume will bring back memories of someone out of our past.
Sometimes the association will surprise us because it was unexpected.
For instance, the reason for this rather bland post is because I was making coffee and enjoying the aroma of the freshly ground coffee.
Now I’ve been around the smell of coffee my whole life. There are many decades worth of memories associated with it that I could have recalled.
I could have remembered my time in the Navy, where coffee was figuratively our life’s blood. We drank it nonstop from the moment we awoke until we fell asleep. Our index fingers nearly atrophied into a permanent crook from holding our coffee cups.
On the other hand, because I do drink it regularly, the pleasant scent of coffee doesn’t always trigger any specific memories, it just puts me into a good mood.
Today I was surprised when the coffee scent triggered a memory of my childhood. I was taken back to my parents’ house before they were divorced. Back when I thought my childhood was happy.
Both my parents had coffee in the morning, so our house would fill up with the odor as it was being brewed in an old aluminum electric purculator in our kitchen.
It was similar to the old perculators they’d show in the Maxwell House coffee commercials, like this one:
I remembered that my dad, who, because he drank a lot of coffee, smelled of it. Many people remember the scent of their dad’s calogne. Me, I remember that he smelled like coffee.
My mom had made breakfast and ee were eating at the kitchen table, while my dog, Thor, lay just outside the kitchen doorway watching us. He wasn’t allowed in the kitchen and he stayed obediently on the other side until we came out.
It was an odd associative memory and I thought I’d share.
Have you had any associative memories lately that surprised you?