I can never recall what day it is, where I kept my cell phone or what I had for breakfast this morning, but I have a ridiculously good memory for irrelevant things that happened very long ago. Unfortunately, I wasn't bestowed with the gift of an incredible short-term memory, so I can't ever really pride myself on remembering things. I do, however, take the phrase "ringing a bell" to a whole new level. Bells go off in my head about five thousand times a day, as random smells and colours and comments remind me of something that happened when I was two or six or eleven.
It's usually instantaneous. I can never explain this to people who don't have a good sense of smell or an olfactory memory, but the smell of the air can take me back in a second to another day fifteen years ago which had the same smell. If there is a slight breeze which smells like traffic, chances are I will have a flashback to opening my car door in 1992. You can probably imagine how I spend most of my time having tiny little flashbacks. I've tried telling people I'm not spaced out or anything, I just keep remembering things. Nobody gets it. If you get it, please share it with me.
The other day, something literally rang a bell. The tiny ghungroos at the bottom of someone's window blinds moved and instead of the usual clear flashback, I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it reminded me of. I remembered something round, something silver, something to do with a spoon, something to do with my grandfather, a yellow toybox, a room with high ceilings. It took me longer than usual to piece together the irritatingly disconnected rememberings into a coherent aha moment. Someone gave me a real silver rattle when I was born, which lay around our house for a long time. It made the exact same sound as the tiny ghungroos on the blinds.
What amazing satisfaction it gave me to remember.
This means I don't really have an amazing memory. I just remember what I rehearse, and thanks to my sense of smell, I've rehearsed every stupid moment of my life because it corresponds with smelling something. Apparently, back when I had silver rattles, I paid more attention to sound than smell.
Since I'm a would-be historian and not a would-be psychologist, I have no idea what this says about the human brain, but it says plenty about the past. No wonder I'm obsessed with the past when I return to it (on a micro-level) so many times a day. It just takes me one step closer to my time-machine fantasy.