Tag Archives: recall

Encore! Come to Your Senses and Unlock Childhood Memories.

How much do we remember from our childhood? This is one of the questions examined recently by Canadian research scientists.

I’ve just finished reading Blanks for the Memories  which highlights aspects of the research originally published in the journal Child Development…Read more.

Come to Your Senses and Unlock Childhood Memories.

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.

                               ~Diane Ackerman

How much do we remember from our childhood? This is one of the questions examined recently by Canadian research scientists.

I’ve just finished reading Blanks for the Memories  which highlights aspects of the research originally published in the journal Child Development.

Neuroscientists believe that there are different kinds of memories, stored in many different neural circuits. “We can’t go to a particular spot in the brain to see where our third birthday party is stored,” says Dr. Hudson….

Scientists think the brain’s prefrontal cortex processes experiences, using sensory input from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, sorts them into categories, and tags the various memory fragments with specific associations (smells of home, friends from camp, bugs, a pet, for example).

Reading this made me realize how important the senses are to unlocking childhood memories. I must admit I could do a better job of incorporating sensory questions into my interviews. To get me pointed in the right direction, I’ve written a few sample “sensory” questions below.

I tested some out on my mother and she had great fun. It turns out that a taste she strongly associates with her childhood is jelly beans. Her mother would carefully count out five each for her and her two siblings. Today this may not sound like much but during The Depression jelly beans were a real treat!

How much do you incorporate sense-related questions into your interviews? Do you have a favorite “sensory” question?


  • What do you remember most about your mother’s appearance?
  • Paint a picture for me of where you lived – the weather, terrain.


  • What sounds do you associate with your childhood? What memories do they evoke?
  • What piece of music  do you remember from your childhood?


  • What was your favorite food when you were a child?
  • What tastes do you associate with your childhood?


  • What do you recall were things you loved to touch as a child?
  • What do you remember liking to run your hands over or through?


  • What are some of the pleasant smells  you associate with your childhood? What memories do they bring back?
  • What smells from your childhood weren’t pleasant? What memories do they evoke?

Photo by h.koppdelaney

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The Life Story Quote of The Week.

looking back

If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.

Pearl S. Buck – (1892-1973) American writer

Preparing our personal history offers us the opportunity to look back on all our yesterdays. By doing so, we come to see more clearly how we got to where we are, the values that have inspired us along the way and what wisdom we’ve accumulated.  A clearer understanding of our past helps us better navigate our future course.

Photo by Markus M.

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Are Those Memories of Yours Really Accurate?

It seems that the way our brains store and recollect memories is kind of quirky. Our brains frequently convert rumors, falsities and opinions into perceived, recollected fact says Scott LaFee in an article in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Everybody does it,” said Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton University. “Memory formation and retrieval isn’t like writing something down on a piece of paper. Memories drift and change, and things we may have once doubted, we no longer do.

As we recall stored facts, said Wang, our brains reprocess them, collate them with new information, re-interpret the result, then re-store them as new and “improved” memories.

What does that mean for those of us writing our own memoir? I think what we need to keep in mind is that we want to render a three dimensional portrait not fret about getting every little detail correct. What’s important is that it’s your story, your recollections, your response to the events in your life. So what, if your brother or sister saw things differently. It’s not their story.

What I aim for in producing a life story for my clients is something more than just a chronological retelling of the events in their lives. I want to know how they responded to events; how they felt; the life lessons they learned; the values and passions that have driven them; their triumphs and tragedies and their hopes and dreams.

So, don’t worry. Like me and everyone else, our past memories are most likely an amalgam of fact and fiction. What’s really important is that we start recording and preserving memories now before they’re lost forever.

Photo by dierk schaefer

Powerful Ways to Recall Forgotten Memories.

I’ve been reading a remarkable book by Ojibway storyteller, Richard Wagamese. Recently published,  One Native Life, is a memoir about roots and the power of recollection to heal. For anyone contemplating the writing of their own story or the story of another, I can’t think of a better book to inspire you.

I was struck by a passage that made me realize how sound and light can be triggers for recalling forgotten memories. Wagamese writes,

The more I presented myself to the land in those early hours, the more it offered me back the realization of who I was created to be.

I began to remember. The sound of squirrels in the topmost branches of a pine tree reminded me of a forgotten episode from my boyhood; the wobbly call of the loons took me back to an adventure on the land when I was a young man. And there was always the light. The shades and degrees of it evoked people and places I hadn’t thought about in decades. Every one of those walks allowed me the grace of recollection, and I began to write things down.

For me the lonely blast of a foghorn, the wild call of geese flying south and the pounding surf on a rocky beach are just a few of the sounds that can evoke strong memories of my childhood on the rugged West Coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  What are some of the sounds that trigger memories for you?

Wagamese’s book has made me consider other ways our memories can be triggered. Here are a few:

  • Smell. One of the strongest memory triggers for me is the smell of baking bread . My mother always baked bread and today all I need is a whiff of freshly baked bread to take me back to some fond childhood memories. What odors evoke memories in you?
  • Photographs. Bring out the old photos and within minutes people will begin telling you the stories behind the images.
  • Music. We all have a song or two that can trigger vivid memories. One of mine is Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.” I was a university student at the time this was popular and it became something of an anthem for me then. What’s your song?
  • A favorite object. Everyone has a favorite object. And every object has a story to be told. Do you have a favorite object?
  • A favorite childhood place. This can be a place that was indoors or outdoors, rural or urban, fanciful or spiritual. What’s the story behind your favorite place?

When writing, keep in mind these powerful ways to tap into the rich treasury of memories that lie just below the surface of our awareness.

    Photo by Micky