I was asked a while back what I have against baseball hats. The answer is nothing. There are times and places I’d say wearing one is inappropriate, but I don’t generally have anything against baseball hats. I was asked to defend the opinion because it was expressed by a character in one of my books. While I admit to some overlap, my protagonists do not think and talk just like me.
Sometimes my characters say something I would never say or do something I would never do. Sometimes I have a lot of fun when I get to invent an opinion and especially if there’s a memory behind it.
This is what I was working on recently. My next heroine, Heidi Ray, likes the smell of bacon. Partly she likes it because it reminds her of something. I amused myself for some time coming up with different fictional anecdotes for that particular memory before I settled on one that fit the story. You’ll have to read the book to know what it is.
I think these memories tied to our senses are some of the strongest because they can catch us by surprise. A sound or a scent floats by and you’re carried ten years or more into the past without warning. It got me thinking about some of my own memories, and I decided to speak for myself for a change. For each of the five senses, I thought of something that immediately reminds me of something else.
Taste: chocolate no-bake cookies
One of my aunts made these for family gatherings. It was the only place I had them as a kid. My sister found a store nearby that sells a very similar cookie. One bite and I’m at my grandmother’s house in my head.
Sound: Mr. Jones by Counting Crows
This song was popular when I was in high school. (And now it’s listed under classic rock. Am I really that old?) I can’t say it’s my favorite song of the time or that I even listened to it all that much, I just know that nothing makes me think of my teenage-self more than this song popping up on the radio.
Touch: a certain heavy blanket
My mom has a blanket made by her sister. It has hung on the back of her couch (several different couches actually) for longer than I can remember. We always left it there, just as decoration, unless we were sick. Any time I had to spend a day lying on the couch, I pulled that big heavy blanket down on top of me. Its weight was like a warm, comforting hug. My siblings did the same thing. Now and then I’ll feel that blanket and remember only the good parts of staying home sick from school.
Smell: printer ink
Not the ink from my home printer. I mean more large scale. For some years, my mom had a work-at-home job that involved stuffing folded flyers into grocery store mailers. (I’m wondering if anyone does this by hand anymore.) Sometimes she let me help fold the flyers. I didn’t even realize they had a distinctive smell until many years later when I opened a church bulletin and got hit with a very familiar scent.
Sight: the horizon
I’m looking forward to triggering this memory soon. I currently live in North Carolina. There are too many trees and hills for the sky to touch the ground here. But I grew up in rural Ohio, which is mostly flat farmland. Every time we drive up there to visit family, there comes a point in the trip when one of my kids (who have always lived in NC) will look out the window and shout, “Look how far you can see!” That’s when I look past the clumps of trees moving impossibly slowly by us to the distant sky and think, “It looks like home.”