There is a certain smell of plastic that reminds me of my childhood toys. Smelling it is pure nostalgia. The first poem I ever memorized was "El Dorado," by Edgar Allen Poe. It was one of my dad's favorites. I was 12, and I can still recite it. Suave hairspray, the cheapest kind in the pink bottles, reminds me of being 13 and in the throes of my first major crush. An unexpected whiff of Crush cologne is like a punch in the gut. I remember where I was when I first read "Labysheedy," and "Digging," and "What lips my lips have kissed..." I have eaten potato cheese soup at my grandma's every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember; it tastes like Christmas now. The first word I remember actually reading, on my own, was "mountain." The first song I ever learned after starting voice lessons was "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." When I hear it now, I am swimming in emotions, if only for a moment: gratitude for my mother for allowing the voice lessons, Mrs. Sullivan for providing them, tenderness for the little girl I was, humility at the gift I was given, and even after all these years, a genuine liking for the song. (These days I'm partial to the version Iz Kamakawiwo'ole sang.) Every so often, the sight of the mountains -- this place I call home -- takes my breath away. I can always tell when someone is smoking a Camel cigarette, and for a second, I desperately miss my old friend Tyler. I remember the first time I found the Big Dipper on my own. Leather reminds me of my dad, since he always smelled like his gun belt, Doublemint gum is my mom. I don't think I have ever borrowed a tissue from her that wasn't redolent with minty sweetness. I will never forget the first time I saw "The Kiss," by Klimt. The first John Denver song I learned all the words to is "Annie's Song;" it is still my favorite one to listen to, and to sing. I still have a copy of the first poem I ever wrote. The smell of wood fire is the smell of home.
There are other, more vague sensual experiences that prompt a memory. Although I can't really define them, I know them when they come. And I'm grateful, even for those that are hard to remember. They remind me of where I've been. Of who I am. And that I'm alive.