Katie McCarthy: Catching a whiff of the past

July 7, 2013 

My dad recently gave me a box filled with some old books that I had enjoyed as a kid.

It was mostly filled with large, hardcover Disney books that I collected when I was young, but there were also a few smaller picture books inside.

As I opened the cover of one, I found my name scrawled in an uneven, grade-school cursive. Next to it was a scratch-and-sniff sticker of a skateboarding cherry under the word "Soda-Licious."

So I scratched. And I sniffed.

And to my surprise, there was still scent in the roughly two-decades old paper.

Synapses fired and my brain began recalling images of bottle-shaped gummy snacks that might have been coated in sugar or filled with some kind of syrup -- Soda-Licious, the cola-flavored fruit snack.

Of course.

But it probably would have taken me significantly longer to recall the snack if the scent had been worn off of the sticker. (On a side note, there is actually a Facebook page dedicated to bringing back this odd snack item. Some things are better left in the '90s.)

It's funny how your senses, smell in particular, can encourage a memory.

A few days prior to the Soda-Licious incident, I had a similar experience with a Tootsie Roll -- the taste of the small Halloween staple instantly sent me back to sitting on the living room floor with my brothers, three empty pillow cases and an equal number of candy mountains looming in front of us.

Was Halloween the only time of year I ate Tootsie Rolls as a kid? It's doubtful, but every time I so much as smell that artificial chocolate I think of wet leaves and bulky costumes, chilly October nights and pumpkin parades.

These two pieces of nostalgia got me reminiscing on my childhood and wondering what kinds of memories my daughter will hold onto from her childhood.

There are things from my own childhood that I'd love for her to also experience; however, time and geography may pose a formidable barrier.

She's too young now, but if we continue to raise her in the South, she'll never know snow the way my husband and I do. And as silly or trivial as it may seem, that really bothers me.

Having grown up in northern Illinois, it's hard for me to think that she might never correlate the smell of hot chocolate with long, cold days building snowmen or never know how it feels to thaw your hands by a fire after hours spent sledding down the neighborhood hill.

But instead, she may have equally fond remembrances of coming inside from a particularly hot, sunny summer day and cooling off to a cup of sun-brewed sweet tea and a favorite snack.

And maybe in 30 years, an old scratch-and-sniff sticker will bring those memories flooding back.

Katie McCarthy, kmccarthy@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-5815.

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