I am grateful for the sharpness of sense memory, especially these days when the memory in my head is imperfect and full of holes. Our senses have a remarkable ability to shut down all the life around us and transport us, with great clarity, to a moment in our pasts.
There are certain smells that, for me, trigger vivid memories of a particular event or person, no matter how often I encounter those scents in other situations. A particular flowery lotion smell sends me back to sophomore year three-act play, and the smell of fresh-cut wood always reminds me of my father. Sounds work much the same way, especially in the form of songs.
Of all the senses that evoke memory, however, I think taste is by far the most powerful. Food memory is perhaps responsible, partly, for why we love or hate certain foods, or why certain foods are coated in thick veneers of our pasts.
Whenever I eat Spaghetti-O's (which is not that often, but I am a mom, so it does happen), I am suddenly in my grandma's dining room, swinging my five-year-old legs that do not touch the floor and admiring my collection of sparkly rocks. Whenever I eat pasta that has a spicy tomato cream sauce, I am back in my St. Paul apartment, leaning against the counter and talking to Chef Matt, who has just shown up with leftovers after a late cooking shift.
One of my favorite food memories came crashing back at me this weekend, with my parents' return home from Australia. When I was 20, I spent five months in Sydney and came to love, among many other things, an Australian chocolate biscuit called a Tim-Tam. At first glance, they are nothing special: crunchy cookies sandwiching chocolate frosting and coated in chocolate. But try one, and I guarantee you that your outlook on the world of chocolate biscuits will be transformed. Bite each end off and suck coffee through it like a straw, and your outlook on all sweets will never be the same.
Up until recently, you could not get anything like a Tim-Tam in the United States. I have had occasion to have a few since I was in Sydney, and every experience was the same. I was back at the University of Sydney, drinking strong Australian beer and skipping class to soak up a beach, always toting a Tim-Tam or the lingering taste of one on my tongue.
The ghost of Sydney is back upon me now, as I savor Tim-Tams that my parents brought from Down Under. I could not be farther from that time and place. But luckily, food memory does not easily die. For the briefest of instances, I am not a pregnant mother of three staring out the window at a frozen lake. I am a young exchange student with nothing much to think about except a snorkel on the Reef.
Thank goodness for those food memories. I would never exchange the life I have now for the life I was living then, but it certainly does not hurt to call that life up every once in a while with a chocolate biscuit or two.