My senses are strongly connected to my memory. Something as small as a single thought can trigger a vivid recollection. But nothing brings back a memory more intensely than four of our five senses – sound, smell, sight and taste. Sorry, touch, you’re out of this conversation.

When I hear an old song on the radio, it takes me back to the first time I heard that song, or a memorable event that happened while I was listening to that song. All I have to hear are the opening few guitar licks of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and I am instantly transformed to my childhood bedroom. That is my earliest memory of a song, any song. In my mind’s eye, I can see the room, I can see the small toy record player, and I can see the orange and yellow swirl on the record label as it turned on the record player – and that was more than 53 years ago. Multiply that by hundreds of songs throughout my life, and I have a deep, personal connection to most of them.

My sense of smell is strongly connected to my memories, too. One whiff of a good aroma, or a bad odor, and I am connected to some event, item, or foodstuff from my past that has a good, bad or meaningful association. I was walking across the parking lot from my office to the restaurant the other day, and the prep cooks were cooking roux for our restaurant’s gumbo. The smell of toasty flour browning was billowing out of the exhaust vents on top of the restaurant, and, in that instant, the aroma took me back instantly to my grandmother’s kitchen.

As a child, my family ate almost every Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s house. Gravy was always the last item she prepared using the pan drippings from the roasted leg of lamb, roast beef or turkey she had just pulled out of the oven. That nutty, browned-flour scent wafted through the house, and I always knew that lunch was just minutes away.

Nothing may connect to the recesses of my memory banks more than my sense of taste. I can be halfway across the globe and my first bite of lamb will instantly take me back to my paternal grandmother’s house. Fried chicken takes me back to her house, too. Brownies and chili – not paired together, obviously – take me back to my maternal grandmother’s house. Gumbo reminds me of my mom and my childhood home. I could go on like this for hours.

Several years ago, I was sitting in a meeting I attend almost daily. There are always baskets of candy sitting out on tables at this particular meeting. Different people are in charge of keeping the candy baskets filled throughout the year. One day someone added Jolly Rancher candies to the usual mix of Tootsie Rolls, miniature candy bars, and assorted hard candies. I saw a neon green sour apple Jolly Rancher near the bottom of the basket and, on a whim, popped it into my mouth. It had been decades since I had tasted one.

I was instantly transformed to the Minit Mart in my old neighborhood. That was ground zero for snacks and candies when I was a kid. My friends and I would ride our bikes to the Minit Mart in the hot Mississippi summers and load up on Icees and sweets.

Jolly Ranchers were my go-to candy of choice. Five dollars could buy an entire box of Jolly Ranchers in those days. More weeks than not, I rode my Schwinn Stingray nine blocks to the Minit Mart and spent my entire weekly allowance – five dollars – on a box of Jolly Ranchers, rode home with the box tucked under my arm and stashed them in my room so my brother wouldn’t find them. The box never lasted a full week, and my brother never found them.

Somewhere out there today, in some random neighborhood, on a non-descript street, in a small unassuming house, is a boy in his bedroom with music turned up loud. He is lip syncing every word to what he thinks is one of – if not – the coolest songs ever written. If he’s lucky, 53 years later he’ll still think it’s one of the coolest songs ever written. Hopefully it will stir up positive memories for him in his adult years. Maybe that boy has candy stashed somewhere in his room in hopes that his brother won’t find it.

If he’s truly lucky, he’s got a relative that is a great cook, who loves to entertain, and he’s looking forward to Sunday lunch at his or her house in the near future. He might not be in touch with the sensory connections to his memory banks yet, but if he is truly fortunate, he’ll be able to spend quiet moments in his adult years reflecting back on the gifts those memories hold through sound, smell, sight and taste. He will be a blessed boy, indeed.


ROBERT ST. JOHN is a restaurateur, chef and author. Find his recipe for Apricot Tarts at

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