The shadow of your smell pervades the air

dougie-roadIt is said that our scent memory is the most pervasive and suggestible of all our senses. We all have thousands of scent memories. Some of them noxious, some of them nostalgic and some of them sexy. When we are hit with them they come right back to the time and place.

Indeed they are so powerful that you can actually imagine the fragrances, which may or may not be a good thing.

Labor Day weekend invariably takes me to scent memory. Scent memory of the first day of school. Boo.

Ah yes, Douglas Road School in Burnaby back when Burnaby was still a Vancouver suburb and essentially a rural entity, rather than the obnoxious mass of highrise towers it has become. In my day it was basically a small town and I am grateful to have grown up in a place that still had small farm holdings, as well as deer and the occasional bear. I liked it and resent that I cannot have ‘that’ Burnaby back. But I can’t.

Anyway, I attended Douglas Road School (still there). While my feelings about that are ambivalent. It was a school after all. Not only did I go to DRS, so did my mother and assorted aunts and uncles. Since I have no point of comparison, I don’t know if it was a good or bad school.

When I started there were two school structures. The shiny brick building that was already decades old, and what was know as the ‘old grey building’, which seemed like centuries old. This is where my fragrance thesis arise. After this relic of a school had lain fallow for the two months of summer it was set to open again at the beginning of September. And it stank. Its oiled-wood floors which had been doused with gouts of vomit and urine down all its decades came back to fragrant life each September regardless of how much sanitizing had been carried out through the summer.

So at the beginning of the school year there were the odors of such human emanations, as well as the smells of new notebooks, pencils and Pink Pearl erasers. They are all stuck in my memory bank and I know full well that if I were to go back to that school on a visit it would all return in an instant and I would be six, seven or eight-years-old again. No time would have passed and my olfactory memory would tell me that big lie.

They suggest our scent memory is so powerful as a means of protection. We know certain odors represent danger and we respond to them and pay heed. Natural gas, for example, has no odor. They add that gassy odor so we don’t ignore it when it creeps into a room in which we plan to light the fireplace. We know what gas smells like and we act accordingly unless we are really stupid.

I will now close with a little piece of verse my dearly missed Uncle Basil passed my way when I was a kid. Basil was also a DRS alum.

When you are old and in distress, remember the days at DRS.

He didn’t say whether such memories would make one feel better or worse.


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