The corners of my mind …

So. I’m on the phone, talking shop with my mom tonight (her official title may be bookkeeper, but she is hands-down the best teacher I know), and she asks me, “Do you remember the name of the SRA math program we used with you when you were little?”

This prompted a lengthy Google-while-racking-our-brains session that ended with me remembering — in disturbingly vivid detail — the graphics on the side of the box, at which point I suddenly recalled that the name of the program was The Skills Ladder.

A quick glance at a cached eBay page found via Google turned up this image.

In class the other day, my kids were reading “The Raven,” and we were discussing the line in which Poe talks about the air being “perfumed from an unseen censer.”

We talked about the power of suggestion and discussed how the narrator’s obsession with his lover’s death was such that the presence of the poem’s eponymous bird caused him to imagine that he was smelling the incense that had been burned at her funeral. One group was particularly fascinated by this, and we spent several minutes chasing rabbits and talking about the kids’ own experiences with this concept before we found our way back to Poe’s chamber.

I was thinking about it later, and it occurred to me that of all the physical senses, smell is probably the one most easily influenced by suggestion. That certainly seems to be the case for me, anyway. I was reminded of that tonight when I found the eBay picture of The Skills Ladder and saw a familiar worksheet.

Like Poe’s narrator, “methought the air grew denser” — but instead of imaginary smoke, I could smell the heavy paper and richly colored ink used to print the worksheets; the transparent plastic sheets I laid over the worksheets; and the china markers I used to write my answers without spoiling the worksheets.

Somehow that memory was strong enough to override the smells of both the caramel-apple pie I baked this evening and the bottle of peppermint extract that fell out of the cabinet and shattered on the counter while I was trying to put away the sugar after my pie project.



One thought on “The corners of my mind …”

  1. There’s no question that the sense of smell is more closely associated with memory than any of the other senses. I can testify to the strength of those associations first-hand. About 5 or 6 years after my father died, I took the car to get new tires. Simple, straightforward task, right? I got to the tire store and told them what I needed. They said it would be about 20 minutes, so I sat down to wait. Having nothing to read but the requisite car and tire magazines in the waiting room, I mostly watched the clock. After about half an hour, I thought I would wander around to the garage area and see if they were working on my car yet, or just how many seemed to be in line in front of me. As I rounded the corner of the building, the smell of the air that had been living inside all those tires as they went down the road all those months hit me in the nose. I thought I would break down and bawl my eyes out in front of a whole bunch of strangers in blue uniforms. My dad had worked in a garage most of his adult life and those smells were so thoroughly interwoven with my memories that they all came flooding back together. It felt like he had just died a minute before. Mind is a mysterious element of our being.

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