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Memory Triggers

It’s interesting how something small and seemingly insignificant to others can trigger in one a vivid memory. This phenomenon can be, for a writer, a valuable catalyst for writing ideas and descriptive phrases. A simple sound or smell, unnoticed by others, can open the floodgates of creativity for an observant writer. It can elicit nostalgic feelings in nonwriters.

Take smells, for instance.


The other day, I caught the faint, fleeting, but unmistakable smell of a ripe peach, and that distinctive aroma transported me immediately to a place in my childhood memories that I had not recalled for many years. Though in body I was in South Carolina, in memory I was suddenly in an old tobacco warehouse in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Frequently, late on a summer Saturday afternoon, as the sun began to trek toward the horizon, my parents would load us kids into Daddy’s coral-and-white 1957 Chevy and go into town in search of fresh peaches. As soon as we drove through the large door of the tobacco warehouse of the Western Avenue Market, my body was assaulted with a host of sensory stimulants.

There was a cacophony of sounds. Truck engines, honking horns, shouts from the vendors as they sought to attract customers to their wares.

There was also a potpourri of smells. Automotive fumes; tobacco smoke; sweaty bodies; fresh, overripe, and rotten produce. But it is the smell of the peaches that I remember most vividly.

Mother was always on the prowl for the best deal. Her reasoning was that the vendors would sell their near-overripe fruit more cheaply than the near-ripe or fresh; otherwise, it would be a total loss for them. She also calculated that, it being late on Saturday, that the vendors, especially those from South Carolina and Georgia, would be eager to sell out of their produce and make their long journey home for Sunday. As usual, she was right.


Invariably, we returned home in the dark, the spacious trunk of the Chevy loaded with several bushel baskets of peaches that demanded our immediate attention. Mother then set about separating her treasures into two groups: peaches that could wait until Monday morning and those that we would have to do right then and there, lest they rot before Monday. (A strict sabbatarian, she refused to do any such work on Sundays.)

Into the wee hours of the night, often past midnight, we all peeled and sliced the sweet, juicy, odoriferous near-overripe peaches and put them into freezer boxes and carried

them out to the utility room, where we stashed them in the big chest-type Kelvinator freezer.

Early on Monday morning, we were up and attacking the rest of the mother lode. Mother blanched them in a large, deep pot on the stove to remove the peels. Then we sliced them in half and stuffed them into large quart Kerr or Mason jars, which Mother then put into a pressure cooker. (I can to this day in my mind’s memory bank hear the rattle and hiss of that pressure regulator!)

Mother also made from those peaches myriad pint jars of jelly, mam, and butter.

All of these products, whether frozen or canned or jellied, provided numerous delicious repasts throughout the coming year. There was no better-tasting treat than those peaches (in whatever form of preservation) on a cold winter morning or night!

I’m sure that you, even if you aren’t a writer, have your own memory triggers. What are they? Consider sharing a few with our readers in the comments form below.

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