Why do certain scents bring back strong memories? I'm told it's because part of our brain associates smells with events. Scientists suppose it's a hold-over from our primitive ancestors. To me, it's a way to effectively catalogue experiences.
One of my favourite scent/memory pairings is the faint odour of coal smoke and the memory of an old friend's shack. Scotty, as everybody called him, was a bachelor who lived on some undeveloped land in my home town of Fort Saskatchewan. Being elderly, he was like a foster grandfather to my sister and me.
We grew so fond of this kindly gentleman that we helped him with his chores. One of those was hauling coal in from his shed. Diane and I often squabbled over who would get to do the coveted chore.
On some winter afternoons, Diane and I visited Scotty on our way home from school. His stove, the only source of heat, radiated a welcoming warmth as we squatted next to it. Watching the flames and glowing embers through its air vents gave me a feeling of contentment that a forced air furnace never could.
As I wrote in Deliverance from Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), our beloved old friend passed away during a stormy winter night in 1964. His door blew open as he slept and ended his time on earth. I felt deeply saddened when Mom and Dad broke the news to me. Having never known either of my grandfathers, Scotty was the only senior adult who I related to then.
One of the houses here in Radway has a coal furnace, The scent of the smoke on the winter wind fills me with nostalgic memories as I walk to the post office and back home. My mind fills with images of my old friend, his cosy shack, and the winter afternoons Diane and I spent there.