The change of seasons has finally hit and I have been thinking a lot about the way we process and store memories. Something about the way the fall air carries the scent of wood fires, wet earth and roasted meats manages to invoke childhood memories that never even existed for me, such as sitting by the fire and eating beef stew. How is that even possible?
Humans evolved to use vision as our primary sense, but I think of smell as our primal sense. It can be so strong as to attract us to a potential mate or warn us of danger. The fact that it can also unconsciously conjure feelings and images from the past makes it perhaps the most human of our senses. Since my honey is a baker, he transports warm bread in his car so often that the seats themselves have soaked up the aroma. When we first started dating, his work trips meant that I was left with his much-fancier-than-mine car...just climbing in and getting hit with that smell would give me butterflies in my stomach. (That and I was nervous I would run over a curb and ding the rims.) Even now, four years later, I still have the same reaction to the smell of his car.
With each passing year I have become more and more aware of the way our bodies store emotion - both trauma and joy - from our past. Yes, I thought I had it all managed when I somehow pulled through after my mom passed away my freshman year in high school. I went to therapy, I wrote some poems, I healed. But all that loss and pain didn't just evaporate with the rain, it found little cozy pockets here and there to hibernate, always part of me at a deeper cellular level. And twenty years later I finally feel ready to untangle it. Here's where I wonder if our primal sense can help us to delve a little farther into the things we have relegated to unconscious corners of ourselves.
As a young kid growing up in Berkeley, the changing leaves of the Japanese maples were one of the few clues that Thanksgiving was almost upon us. Though family meals were not a big part of my upbringing, we managed to pull it together for that holiday, and mom sent me picking colored leaves in the backyard to gussy up the dining table. That simple act became my favorite tradition, sent outside to wander in the crisp air, alone with the wet leaves and the lingering smell of something in the oven.
I have no idea what she ever made for Thanksgiving dinner. Aside from the leaf picking those memories have completely faded over time. But when I smell chicken legs braising with port and sweet onions, I have a distinct feeling I've been there before, and that's a good place to start.
Find the recipe: Braised Chicken Legs with Apples and Onions