Scent memory, again

More than once, I’ve ruminated on the power of smell to send a person hurtling back through memories and into a moment of life that is far removed from the one that they’re actually standing in. There was the time with the nectarine, and other when a peach crisp impersonated my grandfather’s pancakes. The scent of the hallway leading to my apartment takes me back to childhood whenever one of my neighbors cooks a pot roast.

Yesterday, it was a cup of tea that sent me reeling. Yogi Tea’s Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut, to be exact. In the fall of 2007, when I was frantically trying to finish my master’s thesis, I spent a couple of days holed up in a one-room cabin owned by an order of nuns, hoping that by removing myself from the distractions of life, I’d be able to finish the thing. I spent those two days sitting on the back porch of my little cabin, wrapped up in a blanket against the October chill, pounding away on my old laptop and drinking mug upon mug of tea.

I established a ritual that I repeated four or five times a day. After my brain started to give out, I’d put the computer aside and boil up a bit of water in a saucepan atop the built-in, two-burner hot plate. After six dunks of the teabag, I’d slowly stir a spoonful of honey in and add a dollop of milk. It was enough of a break to get me to return to the computer and start writing again, fueled by the tea and the ritual.

Over the weekend, I rearranged my tea collection, in the hopes of paring it down a bit and finding some treasures that had become buried under boxes of mint and Earl Grey. While sifting, I found the last remaining bag of Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut in a stack of Masala Spice. I brought it to work with me and brewed it up in my office kitchen. The smell of it just wiped me out, yanked me instantly back to those two days of frantic writing. I could feel the satisfaction of writing in flow and the damning irritation of slippery words. The general feeling of that period of my life flashed by as well, those waning days of grad school, just before Scott and I finally got together, when I was so uncertain of what was next.

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