We all have songs that can transport us right back to a particular moment in time but, according to researchers, smells have even more of a lasting impact on our memories than sounds.
I once read that Andy Warhol used to change his perfume every season, explaining, “Whenever I smell it again, it will always remind me of those three months. I never go back to wearing it again; it becomes part of my permanent smell collection.” This is fascinating because it guaranteed that each stage of his life would be associated with its own scent.
Although most of us don’t do this consciously, I’ll bet you’ve had moments when a particular smell stopped you dead in your tracks. I know I have.
I experience this in my own life when I leave my house, get a whiff of the morning dew and have to be reminded that I’m not walking from my bunk to the bathroom at Camp Willoway. Or I’ll smell Love’s Baby Soft and feel that same awkwardness and hopeful expectation I felt when I was 16 going on 17.
Nobody understands this phenomenon better than Demeter, which has built an extensive fragrance collection – and cult following – based on everyday scents like Pizza, Pure Soap and Gin & Tonic. Don’t laugh – they’re amazing.
I was buying Wet Garden recently – yes, it sends me back to that carefree summer of ’72 – when I realized I could probably make a scent-track of my life using Demeter fragrances. I think most of us could.
So I’ve put together my own personal Boomer collection, defining each decade of our collective lives with a Demeter scent. Test them out yourself, and see what memories they trigger for you.
The iconic toy was introduced to the world in 1956, just like many of us. One spritz instantly offers the same innocent joy I experienced when Miss Linda popped the top off that little yellow can for me in kindergarten.
I still remember the excitement I felt every time I bought a new album. As part of the last generation to reminisce about records (and the beanbag chair I sat in, dissecting Joni Mitchell and Grateful Dead lyrics), I find this fragrance a mind-blowing flashback to my adolescence.
20s: Sex On the Beach
As yummy as the real thing – both the cocktail and the title act – this sweet and sensual combination of pineapple juice, raspberry, melon and cranberry turns back the clock and puts a sly smile on my face.
Ah, the child-rearing years. I spent so much time doing laundry that, thankfully, this fresh, clean scent brings back soft, cuddly memories of my babies wrapped in freshly-washed, powdery blankets rather than all the disgusting smells I had to wash out of them.
40s: Spring Break
Oh, the child-worrying years. I wish this reminded me of my spring break but, instead, it makes me sweat, thinking of their wild college vacations and the sunscreen I hope they were wearing on their too-exposed skin.
50s: Pruning Shears
The nest is empty, and my nurturing skills are now being applied to the garden. Unfortunately, I seem to have a black thumb so I sometimes spray the bushes with this rosy floral so my neighbors will think I’ve already picked the flowers off the bare bushes.
60s: Silvery Tip Pekoe
I envision this light white tea fragrance as the olfactory version of how I’ll be spending my evenings in my 60s – sipping tea and finally getting to watch all the TV shows I’ve DVR-ed over the years. By that point, “silvery tip” may also be an understatement when describing my hair. (See 40s)
You know that musty smell that always reminds you of your grandmother’s house? Well, this is not that smell! Kind of homey and comforting, this scent will make you glad that, as Kansas sang in the other ‘70s, “all we are is dust in the wind.”
This seems like the decade when you start feeling older than dirt. Fortunately, this earthy scent doesn’t smell dirty at all. It’s real, grounded and full of promise for the future. In fact, it’s what I hope to be like when I’m in my 80s.
As nonagenerians, will we be sitting around watching paint dry? I’m thinking, by then, it will be time for a fresh coat, and this surprisingly clean scent smells of reinvention and transformation. Let this fragrance prove it’s never too late to start anew.
100s: Funeral Home
If you’re lucky, you’ll make it to triple digits before this sophisticated, white-flowered scent offers up its eulogy. A beautiful tribute to a life well-lived, rest assured that, although it could have gone either way, this fragrance smells heavenly. It is, simply, to die for.
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Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. She is the reigning champion of Blogger Idol and was recently named Humor Writer of the Month by Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. Lois won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013, and writes regularly on pop culture and travel. Because of her blog, Oprah Winfrey selected her as an Ultimate Viewer and took her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime. A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, she was the Flicks for Kids editor at NickJr.com and a contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade. Transplanted New Yorkers, Lois and her husband of 32 years now live in San Diego, where they have turned into weather wimps and complain about the pizza. Their grown kids are, of course, both on the East Coast. You can follow Lois on Facebook or Twitter.