AI: Memories

It’s almost 2010. I’ll be 25 years old in February. I don’t even remember the ’80s. Seriously, I remember none of that decade. Well, except for when my sister had a glass vase dropped on her as an infant by the manager of a Marshall’s, which had to have happened in either ’88 or ’89. I remember how it sounded, the way she screamed, my mom crying, the ride in the ambulance, the feeling of relief that she was ok. I can even still picture the manager’s face despite never seeing him again.

My memories, no matter how old, are so strong that they link with tangible senses. I can smell my Aunt Lili’s perfume just by picturing her face. I vividly remember the sick (in a good way), nervous feeling in my gut when my husband leaned in and kissed me for the first time while sitting at a red light in Philly (at approximately 3:30 am on June 9, 2007 – ha). I feel the burn in my knee when I remember sliding down my gravel driveway after I feel off my bike. I still feel safe, warm and comforted when I think of my dad hugging me.

Memories are incredible. The fact that my brain can trigger physical (or at least seemingly physical) reactions from memory amazes me every time.

What are some of your strongest memories? How do they stimulate your senses?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.


Chelsea is the proud mama of an amazing toddler-aged girl. She works in the retail industry while vehemently disliking mankind and, every once in a while, her bottled-up emotions explode into WordPress as a lengthy, ranty, almost violent blog. These will be your favorite Chelsea moments. Follow Chelsea on Twitter: chelseaepp.

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  1. Oh, man. I’m just going to link to a public LJ entry I made recently for a writing contest I was in (and stopped participating in because it got kind of boring):

    In short, in 7th grade, I danced with my crush, who was in 8th grade, and I can STILL remember the way it felt, how fast my heart was beating, and that dang red tie.

    There are other memories that are just as vivid, but this is the one I always think of first when asked to relay a vivid memory. :)

  2. One of my strongest memories is one of my earliest. I wasn’t in kndergarten yet and we were living in a duplex in Martinez, CA. It was on a street that dead ended into an old overgrown park. I was two or three years old. I know I was that young because my sister hadn’t arrived yet and she showed up when I was 4. Some of the older girls, (6 or 7, maybe 8 ) and I would wander up to the old park and all the way across it to the chain link fence by the Conoco tank farm. We had a place in the bushes where we could see out and people couldn’t see in. When we got into our secret place we would take off all of our clothes and compare the differences of our bodies. I know it sounds weird that a 2 year old would be wandering the neighborhood without his parents in tow but I was a precocious child and my parents were little more than kids themselves. Plus this would have been 1974-75. So I did.

  3. The smell of box elder transports me back to my grandfather’ s house in Kensington. No matter how cold the room is I start to sweat remembering what summers are like in Maryland.

  4. My first very vivid memory is that of the last day shot of a Saturn V launching into space from Florida. I remember the sound. A sound so loud it encompassed everything. I was 2 or 2.5 at the time. Since then only an earthquake (I live in seattle) has come close. That quake took me back 30 some years in less than a second.

  5. @davew: I can’t listen to anything that remotely sounds like “happy hardcore” (you don’t want to know, but it’s a type of electronic music, and very obnoxious). When I was 19-21 years old, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and he was big into ecstasy and raves and whatnot. Ecstasy would cause me to have MASSIVE panic attacks (not that he cared). That kind of shitty music still brings me back, and I have to have them turn it off or leave the room, because I get all panicky, and I’m not prone to panic attacks (when sober). ICKY ICKY!!!

  6. Memories? I guess I have a few:

    1973 : Starting a new school at age eleven and being the *only* kid in shorts.
    1979 : My first motorcycle. I stood on the pegs and screamed into my helmet. I still do that every time I ride.
    1988 : Coming to the US.
    1988 : Kissing my wife for the first time, Canal Street subway station.
    1990 : Getting married.
    2003 : The crunch of my tibia shattering, wedged between my bike and the buick that turned in front of me.
    2006 : My brother-in-law dying of melanoma.

    But the one that stands out more than any other is :

    1994 : The birth of my first child. Nothing I have done, or could ever do, will compare to that moment. Just typing this I want to go home and hug her.

  7. Smells infrequently trigger memories for me. Like I’ll go back to my old high school, or grade school, or the drugstore by my old house where we bought candy, and just inhaling puts me back in size 4 shoes. Or one time I was in a Kohl’s department store, and I don’t know if it was somebody’s perfume or what, but it smelled exactly like the baseball card store by my house where I’d buy Pokemon and Magic cards.

    I’m 26 and also don’t remember much of the 80’s besides The Goonies and my open-heart surgery.

    Also just lost my dad, which has drudged up all kinds of vague and diffuse but mostly happy memories. And burns in some shitty, new, horrifyingly lucid ones also.

  8. @jtradke: I’m really sorry about your dad. The 6-year anniversary of my dad’s death is coming up this Saturday. I won’t say that it goes away – it never will – but it does get easier with time. Hang in there.

  9. When I was 25 (about 50 years ago), I was involved in a disastrous marriage that lasted about two years. I can’t even remember what she looked like; we were very unhappy together. She wore a mild perfume.

    Every one in awhile, l will pass someone wearing that fragrance and be overwhelmed with a mad mix of emotions evoking that whole period. It’s a little like getting hit in the head with a soft baseball bat.

  10. My most vivid memory? Crying and cowering in my high school bathroom, calling my mother on my cell phone as I wondered if the person with the gun would come in and shoot me. I remember the smell of gun smoke under the door and the fear that someone had died. I remember the one final shot and wondering who had been the recipient.
    I remember hearing the first shots about a hundred feet away and wondering if someone had simply dropped a textbook. I remember the press of people as we ran for our lives.
    This is my most vivid memory. I still can’t use that bathroom and sometimes go months where I think about it every day. Luckily I’m graduating this year so I never have to go back to my high school again. I was a freshman in 2006 when it happened. Luckily only the shooter died but it was the worst day of my life.

  11. The smell of the ocean. The smell of surfboard wax. Waking up to the sound of crashing waves. = my youth

    The feel of a woman’s skin the first time. Okay, every time. = primal

    Rankin Bass christmas specials. = childhood

    Mulled spices, pine trees. = holiday magic

    The purring of a cat on your lap. = relaxation, communion.

    Motorcycle racing, dragging your knee at 120 mph. = sensory overload and Zen all at once.

    Vomiting the first time getting drunk. = kill. me. now. please. (And yet, I did it again.)

  12. 1967: Canadian Centennial
    1968: First day of school
    1969: Apollo 11
    …some early memories that have stuck with me.

    There are also various meet-cutes and first dates through the years that stand out in my mind. One in particular never fails to make me smile.

    My most powerful memory, though, is from 2001. I visited the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. I took my 4-year-old over to the monument and we stood there, staring up at the two names:
    It was cold and windy but we stayed there for a long time. I stood there and he stood beside me, holding my hand. He listened patiently while I talked to him about airplanes and spaceships. I rambled on for a while and then said, “It all started here.” I doubt he remembers but I’ll never forget.

  13. One vividly detailed memory of my childhood would be when i was really little and my Mum had put me into a new nice outfit with these new brown shoes with long laces. One of the laces came undone causing me to trip and fall, I put my arm out to brace the fall only to have my arm land right on top of the hot kerosene heater. My arm sizzled on top of the heater and i was rushed to the Emergency Room where my severe burns were treated and i had to have my arm in a cast for a good while. The odd part of this memory is that i remember the hard floor (from the colour and texture of it), the style and length of the shoes and laces, and the act of tripping onto the heater. But i have no knowledge of how the pain felt at all, which i still find weird.

    I was very lucky to have not had serious burn scars on my forearm (though even if i did, they would now be hidden underneath my tattoos).

  14. The smell of pink pearl erasers always remind me of my childhood and kindergarten. I keep two of them right ontop of my desk at work and I smell them any time I am depressed or anxious.

  15. My most recent smell memory is a kind of hand sanitizer. It smells like synthetic grapefruit. I used it constantly in Ethiopia last year, instead of washing my hands to avoid Giardia, after changing diapers (for the first time in my life), before eating, all the time. A few months after I came home I opened a bottle and it was like I was standing in a hotel room with my son, whom I had just met, sleeping in a crib. Sometimes now I open a bottle just for those memories to come back.

    jtradke: I’m sorry to hear about your dad. My dad died in October very unexpectedly after surgery. Lots of memories surfaced. Luckily for me I have come to terms with some of our issues and can just miss him without a lot of baggage.

  16. whenever I smell copper or burning hair. Always brings back memories of ambulance corps and the smell of fresh blood (and yes, there are some horrendous memories associated with that). I am SOOOO glad I do other stuff for a living now!

  17. Corny but I still remember the first time I saw the guy. It’s been almost 10 years now but that memory will sneak up, whack me between the eyes and make me weak in the knees.

    I don’t believe in love at first sight or fate. But I do have a type and, lucky for me, the guy I get along with best happens to fit it perfectly.

  18. One scent that triggers strong emotional memories is cut grasses, especially if they’re a bit wild. Even here in the swamp, it smells like going to my grandmother’s house in Kansas, the wheat fields freshly harvested.

    Oddly enough, every time I open the safe at work, I am reminded of the computer game Quest for Glory V, and counting the dimes always makes me think of Fallout 3. I have no idea why these associations started, but I think they’re now self-perpetuating (i.e. I think about how I always think about them).

  19. I do have one scent that always strongly reminds me of a time in my childhood. It’s the smell of a particular type of modelling clay that the kids got to play with while our parents were at some religious thing (I have no idea what religion, my mother tried them all in alphabetical order).
    Other than that, I remember remembering blood. If I cut myself or see someone else cut I feel just as scared as I did during a childhood accident – the opposite is true, recalling those events makes my skin crawl and makes me practically smell blood.

  20. I had encephalitis when I was about 4 years old. The smell of hospitals always bring back memories of the worst headaches I could ever think possible. and the lumbar puncture. that wasnt pleasant either

    I love the smell of earth right before it rains because it brings back memories of growing up on our wine farm. very happy times!

  21. @Joshua: I’m even worse. I’m 21.

    I managed to have extracted some senses from memories. Imagining things other than sight is interesting, although I am not very good at it.

    Certain hair products bring back memories of my first girlfriend, not because she smelled like that, but because I attempted to gel my hair for some of our first dates.

  22. Just an interesting observation:

    A lot of the memories shared here seem to be brought up by scent. I guess I can see how seductive aromatherapy can be even to those who try to maintain critical thinking.

  23. Riding the train up to Cambridge and all the countryside scents triggering an ‘I’m home!’ feeling. Walking over Clare College bridge, the same.

    Pita baking and the scents of allspice and sumac reminding me of my childhood in the Middle East.

    Incense reminding me of the.. wait, I don’t remember the 70s…

  24. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I realized the smell of a overly warm motor was not the smell of cookies being made.

    When my mom would make cookies, she’d use the mixer and it would always start to get warm… I still associate that smell with cookies.

    Not a burning motor, but when it’s just getting overly warm.

  25. @marilove: OH GOD Happy Hardcore. Yuck. I had a raver phase as well… Still love Jungle/D&B… Hate HHC.

    @Sydust: That’s certainly an intense memory. I’m really sorry you had to go through that. Being in high school at the beginning of the school shooting “fad” (I don’t know what to call it, but there were enough that it started seeming that way) I can relate to the fear that it could happen but… man. I can’t imagine actually going through it. I’m glad you made it out alright.

    @Bookitty: I like corny :). I like to think back to those moments with my husband.

  26. My favorite childhood memories are ones that all my senses were used. Some of my favorite memories are of camping. Another one was sitting under our huge lilac bush, digging in the dry leaves and finding a “nest” of hundreds of red lady bugs. Almost always it involves nature/the outside world.

  27. My earliest memory is playing baseball with my older brother and our friend Mike when I was 4-years-old. As catcher and my brother at bat, I remember the bat coming toward me as he swung back. The next thing I remember is waking up on the living room sofa. Everyone thought I was dead as I had stopped breathing and there was blood everywhere.

    The next vivid memory is 12 years later when my older brother, then 18, died in my arms of a heart attack brought on by obesity.

  28. The smell of the ocean, or the crash of the waves = memory of the first time I felt like an adult. (I was 28)

    The smell of rubbing alcohol = memory of having tubes put in my ears, in the doctor’s office, while I was awake and screaming with many adults holding me down (5 years old)

    Small pink rosebuds = memories of abuse from childhood

    The childrens department at a store = memory of a cute guy telling a lady that her kid probably deserved to be beat in public, after all he was sitting quietly next to her on the floor (all said in the very condescending voice of a 17 year old). That guy is now my husband.

  29. Hhmm… I am 19, and none of my memories are particularly vivid. I remember a lot of things from my life, alright? But even the ones in which I was really excited in don’t bring me any feelings. Maybe I am cursed.

  30. I can only think of one memory linked to smell. The smell of rain takes me back to holidays at our summer house.

    Other than that my memories are sorely lacking in sensory information. Even the visual is vague and hazy.

    Which isn’t too surprising as I think almost exclusively in words.

  31. I have a smell one.
    My grandma’s porch had a very distinctive smell. It was kind of musty, but not at all unpleasant.
    I have met two men in the past probably 5 years who have smelled EXACTLY like my grandma’s porch. I think its maybe a mixture of their cologne and their natural smell, but I never met anyone who smelled that way until recently. It immediately sends me back to the summer in Manitoba as a little girl.

  32. The sound of the .45 hitting the floor as my brother tackled my mom to keep her from killing herself, and the way it just laid there afterwords, like that single thing filled the whole floor.

    Sorry, I know most of these are positive, but that is the most vivid memory I have as a child.

  33. My father died at home, essentially in arms of my mother. Quite a lovely and poetic death actually. He suffered from chronic heart failure, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy. He was always cold. The last few years of his life he wore a cap; a small, soft ,wool cap as if he were going out to sea.

    That hat was how I cheated death. Month after month after he died, I could always find that hat, sit on the bed, and when no one was looking, deeply inhale. Synapses fired. Neural circuits whirred. And if I closed my eyes I was viscerally with my dad.

    That has been my strongest sense memory.

    to truthwalker,
    I so hope your mother received help afterwards and though real life often does not come with a happy ending, I certainly hope that yours did.

  34. I am about 4 years old and my sister is six. She and I were very close, and still are, and back then she could get me to do almost anything. So, on a summer evening while we are playing in my room, she decides that we should hide from our mother, and convinces me to crawl out my bedroom window and into the bushes outside our house. Meanwhile she just saunters into the kitchen and tells my mother that I’ve disappeared. My mother panics and searches the entire house for about 30 minutes while I sit in the bushes getting cut to shreds by the sharp branches. Needless to say, about an hour later I emerge from the bushes, sheepishly, and there’s some serious splainin to do. Years later, my sister finally admitted to mom that it was all her idea. I remember the juniper bush I sat in, and any time I see a bush like that in front of a house it triggers the memory.

    However, my most vivid memory is of the day my mother died. I can still see the couches in our living room and the tears running down my sister’s face as my father told us that our mother had passed away early in the morning (June 25, 1989). I was 24 years old and very close to my mother. Unfortunately, I can dredge up that memory any time. It still hurts, but it’s more of a dull ache than the sharp pain I felt then.

  35. @ Sydust

    How are YOU doing now? That is a very, very significant event. I assumed you had post event counseling. I so hope you are doing ok.

  36. One of my earliest memories is April 3rd 1974, when the tornadoes came and erased Xenia, Ohio off the map. Even in Cincinnati, the sky turned blacker than night. We knew from the TV that there was nothing coming our way, but we huddled in the basement anyway. I remember sneaking up to the basement door as my Dad stood at the top of the steps watching the sky.

  37. My memory is so super weird. I remember practically everything, I will never forget a face (but happily forget a name) and conversations I had 20 years ago I can remember like they were yesterday.

    I wish this applied to studying but it doesn’t. I remember practically the entire script of short circuit but can’t remember my tri-axial stress equations.

    I remember the falklands war…….I’m only 28. How the f**k is this possible?!

  38. @halincoh: Well the holidays were right after. The anniversary is in three days which is why i’m thinking about it more than usual. I’m mostly happy my sister was in middle school at the time. I also never had to deal with the loss of someone dying as a result of the attack. But kids are resilient. At least now I’ll never take lightly an event like this again.

  39. I don’t remember much from my childhood in the 80s, other than I had my hand cut open by a pair of sissors by another kid (it was an accident).
    Another memory that stand out is when on my grandmother’s birthday in 1996, we got a call that one of her son’s was found dead. This was the second child she had lost. Spent New Years up at their place in Michigan for the services.
    I vividly recall when I was in the navy about word of the 9/11 attacks. I remember thinking that after I heard the Pentagon was hit, that “We’re going to war!”
    I vividly recall the day I heard of the loss of the Columbia. I felt crappy for most of the day after I heard what happened. It’s sometimes difficult for me to see documentries on the event. I recalled those sensations when I saw the recent mission by Atlantis.

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