Text by Kitchie Ohh, Copyright 2022
We all know that sight, smell, and sound can trigger memory. Neuroscience has proven this to be true, finding that the same part of our the brain that processes our senses is also partly responsible for storing emotional memories. As someone who has on multiple occasions said “this smell reminds me of…” or immediately thinks of someone with just a few notes of a song, I am not at all surprised. I am shocked that it took actual scientific study, though, as it seems a clear and logical connection.
This sensory-emotional connection is very likely the reason the holidays are so overwhelming for many of us. We decorate, we prepare special foods that emit delicious smells, and listen to songs written and performed specifically for this season. These things are tradition, they’ve been done for centuries, passed through generations. It seems nearly impossible to not be triggered into remembering people and holidays past during the extended period of exposure.
While our senses can, and do, link happy memories to all of these things, if you’re anything like me, you sit with the opposite type for a little longer, and compare what is to what was. Who was there to who is gone now, or who wasn’t always but now is. Memory and feeling get all jumbled.
When I pull out the decorations, the ones I hand-selected to match my style and home, I can’t help but think of all the pieces I used to excitedly pull out of their storage boxes to help decorate my childhood home and our tree. There were definitely some ornaments that I tried to avoid using only to find that mom had pulled them out to display after I had finished. Those styrofoam, glittery apples were in a word: hideous. But the year we found the squirrels had gotten into the decorations and destroyed them was sad, and something I always think of when trimming the tree. Those apples were from my parents’ first Christmas tree after they were married. I get it now. Sorry, Mom, but they were still ugly.
When I bake my dozens and dozens of cookies, alone in my kitchen, in the organized, step-by-step, everything-must-be-uniform process I rely on, I remember the way we used to make them growing up. It was an explosion of sugar, flour, and so many sprinkles. It was chaos. The sweetest, happiest chaos of at least half a dozen people in the kitchen and dining room- mixing, rolling, filling, and decorating. Every surface in those two rooms got absolutely covered. We made such a mess. Again, sorry, Mom! But also, thanks. I also recall the batches of cookies that only Grammy made. I loved to see them, didn’t like to eat them – the anisette and almond extracts she loved were not my favorite, still aren’t. I would give up all of the baked goods in the world to have her at the kitchen table with those heavily flavored, secret recipe cookies of hers this Christmas.
I’m not at all religious these days, but a dozen years at Catholic school sure drilled an appreciation for those Christmas hymns into my head. I can even still sing a few of them in Latin. Though, I do prefer the non-religious carols and above all, enjoy the jazzy, swingy versions like those performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. No matter what style they might be sung in, I cannot hear “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” without giggling at my Poppy’s versions. In case you were wondering, he insisted they were “Mark and Harold Angels Sing” and “God Rest Ye Gerry Mendelson.” Newer versions of misheard lyrics have weaved their way into the holiday memories thanks to my nieces and nephews. I think Poppy would have loved them and sang along.
Laughing while crying, smiling but sad, enjoying the presence of others while unable to ignore the void left by those absent. The holidays as an adult have taken a more reflective turn for me. I appreciate that I am able to see Santa and remember that time Aunt Betty decorated her entire bedroom to be Christmas year round. Or that year I learned the truth about how presents magically appeared under the tree after I heard one go thumping down the steps with Grammy chasing behind it cursing in Italian like we didn’t know what she was saying. And the time our extended family pollyanna was too much for the restaurant and Nanny was asked to never book there again. (For the record, I do not blame the management of that establishment at all! We were a lot then, and even more now!) All the visits from distant family friends and relatives, the local ones too, that slowed, stopped and have since faded to memory. All of it that comes rushing back with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, brings with it a twinge of sadness, sure, but most importantly, overwhelming gratitude that in all my years on this planet, I have been completely surrounded by love. No matter what else may change, that never will.
There are at least 14 holidays that occur in December. Each, I am sure, comes with specific sensory-emotion-memory triggers. So whichever one is yours, I wish you the happiest, merriest, best one ever.
About The Author:
Kitchie Ohh is a full-time professional fundraiser who has worked with a number of health and human services nonprofits for over the last 20 years, currently with a food-related Philadelphia nonprofit. She found her passion for modeling after a pinup-style photoshoot in 2013. Since then she’s worked with many talented photographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists in a variety of styles. She has been featured in -and on the covers of- multiple print and digital publications. Over the years she has branched out from pinup studio modeling to serve as a figure model for live sketching, walked a runway, and was part of two campaigns for local Philadelphia designer K. Vaughn.
In addition to her food insecurity-related work, she has also volunteered with art, historical, and community organizations, and even on the events team of a local brewery, pre-pandemic.
You’re just as likely to find her whipping up something deliciously plant-based in her kitchen or knitting a sweater as you are to find her on a photography set. Her motto is “be both.” The model and the homemaker, sultry and sweet, serious and silly. All the things, all at once.
To access additional articles by Kitchie Ohh, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/kitchie-ohh-beyond-the-playground/