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Sensory Triggers and Childhood Memories: When Life Comes Full Circle

Piecrust promise. That’s what it was. My promise to be done with the I’m-Turning-40 articles was what Mary Poppins calls a Piecrust Promise. Easily made. Easily broken. Ooops. Sorry! I really did think I was done but apparently not!

At the heart of this whole “nostalgia thing,” comes a palpable need to retrace where I’ve been pre-40 before re-embarking on where I’m going post-40. I call this “circling the wagons.”

In the ol’ pioneer days, when a wagon train made camp for the night, they would circle the covered wagons for protection. They’d cook, eat, care for their animals and otherwise regroup to hit the dusty trail again in the morning within the protective firelit circle of wagons.

That’s what midlife is like. During your twenties and thirties, you’re making a life for yourself. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

Then you hit forty and hey! presto! Right on schedule you have this need to pause, reflect, re-adjust before striking out again in life, perhaps more intentionally and thoughtfully. I suppose that’s where a lot of men go off on the proverbial “red sports car and a blonde” tangent.

But all I want to do is remember.

Click here for the pictorial history of a 1980s and 1990s childhood compiled by the author!

I want to remember as far back as I possibly can. People, names, places, experiences and physical possessions long lost and long forgotten are springing to mind out of nowhere. It’s uncanny.

I need it. Need to see the full picture from the 10,000 foot view and then zoom in to see every tiny, minuscule detail. Together, they form the full picture of who I am and what my life has been. Life is becoming more cohesive. My gratitude is blooming! The wagons are circling.

I’d always scoffed, no make that “dreaded,” the idea of a midlife crisis, after that term was applied to my own family going batcrap crazy when I was fifteen. That’s when the narcissistic abuse got really bad. I am a product of their midlife crises and that’s why Narcissism Meets Normalcy exists. It’s a cognitive effort to do all that internal work before turning forty, so I wouldn’t go batcrap crazy and have a mother of a midlife crisis myself.

This strategy seems to be paying off as my midlife “crisis,” if that’s what this is, is all about drippy, sentimental nostalgia. All I want is to remember. To go on Google Images and save pictures of places, events and possessions of auld lang sayne that meant something to me. But sometimes, I find myself on eBay trying to find a particularly precious item again, especially fragrances that conjure old memories.

Now, I’ve never been much of a fragrance girl. Mom was allergic to most fragrances so I never got in the habit of spraying perfume. But for some reason, I find myself trying to recoup the fragrances of my youth and with them, the memories.

Every time we went to Target, I’d make a beeline for the Cosmetics Department and sniff deeply at the L’Effleur tester. Mmmmmm. It just did something for me. Made me feel calm, Anglophilish. Like I was The Little Princess which was my favorite book.

But the fragrance of L’Effleur gave Mom a headache so it was twenty years before I remembered and Michael said, “Get it!” Strangely, it doesn’t do anything for me now as an adult so I sold it to my friend, Patty, who always loved L’Effleur too. Both of our dreams were realized.

Then there’s the powdery musk of Windsong. Every time I press the nozzle, a fine mist of memory sprays out. I’m about fifteen or sixteen. Dad’s had to go down to Mankato for a business meeting and he brought Mom and me with. We wandered the mall while he was at his meeting. That was the day Mom bought herself Windsong talcum powder. To me, Windsong is the fragrance of my mother’s love.

I’m eight years old and watching Dad get ready for work. He’s not a fancy man. Simple. Uses liquid handsoap to shave and then moisturizes with Shaklee’s Tioga. That’s the fragrance of Daddy going off to work every day to support us. I’ll never forget his fragrance…nor how to tie a Windsor knot. Over. Under. Up and over. Down and through. Tighten it up.

Recently, I found myself watching vintage Crabtree & Evelyn Lily of the Valley items on eBay, waiting for the seller to send me a discount. I’m a young teenager and walking into the half-English countryside, half-French baroque Crabtree & Evelyn store at the Southdale Mall. It’s like walking into Heaven. I’m thrilled, overwhelmed. I’d move in if they’d let me.  I’d forgotten I once had Lily of the Valley barsoap and Nantucket Briar something. Drawer liners, perhaps.

Now I’m sixteen and receiving my first real perfume, Jovan Musk, and my first mascara. The scent of Jovan Musk conjures the terror of being a teenager (“Social Anxiety” I believe it’s called now), the pain, the magic, the stress, the nerves, the great expectation and hope that adulthood and happiness would be just around the corner. All are encapsulated in Jovan Musk.

But it’s not just fragrances. It’s things too. One person’s taken-foregranted adult possessions are magic for the little people who are experiencing the magic of childhood around those things.

So many of the things I remember and grow nostalgic about would surprise my mother. Her knick-knacks. Her Swiss chalet music box with the spinning ballerina inside. Her floral teacup. The records she spun for me when I was little, sitting in my red bean bag chair, memorizing every word. I remember everything. To her, they were just possessions to be packed away or, more probably, dejunked to the thrift store to temporarily assuage her raging OCD spartanism. They were just the “stuff” she owned during her 20s and 30s.

But that was my childhood. Her knick-knacks glowed with magic in my childish eyes. I remember them all. The china egg that opened, with flowers on the lid. The blue glass high-heeled Fenton slipper. The floral teacup. More Fenton. Pfaltzgraff. A perfume atomizer with a squeeze bulb. Oh! So feminine!

Unlike most children of narcissists, I was peculiarly blessed with a childhood that was 95% halcyon. Looking back at my Timeline of Abuse spreadsheet, there were many events of narcissistic abuse and undeserved shame, but being a child, I accepted them as constructive, well-meant parenting. That buffered me.

Nevertheless, I was blessed with parents who realized how precious, never-to-be-recovered childhood is. A sacred trust. Thanks mostly to Mom, my childhood was magical. The trees were full of faeries and elves…but I still had those running-from-monsters-but-I-can’t-move night terrors.

Today I find myself going online, trying to find pictures of all the things I remember. Pretty things. Favorite candy. Long-forgotten books. My plastic childhood jewelry. A spoon bracelet I wore as a little girl. My flocked bunny shirt. Long-forgotten fragrances. Photographs of my hometown in 1985. They all help me circle the wagons as my life becomes more cohesive. A timeline with no gaps. Smooth and logical. Cognizant of the great gifts of health and four decades of live-live-living. Enjoying the time the Good Lord has given me and using it mindfully.

There’s a visceral need to remember absolutely everything from the past forty years and to share them with you on my website. (Click here!) I want my parents to know my gratitude for the happy childhood they gave me. A happy childhood is the greatest gift you can give anyone.

And sometimes I splurge and order that “vintage” item off I miss from eBay.

But you can’t do this when you’re twenty. The memories aren’t old enough to be gilded. It’s all too real, too every-day for you yet.

One day, you’ll be eighteen. The next day, you’ll be forty and wondering what the…!?! Along the way, don’t be too ninja on the whole dejunking thing. Someday, you may find yourself needing some memorabilia from a life well lived. Something to make yourself feel whole. Take lots of pictures. Lots and lots and lots.

Maybe there’s a little pitcher with big ears watching your every move, admiring your stuff as only a child can admire it. Maybe they’d like to have some of the things you consider pedestrian but they glow with magic in their little eyes. Heirlooms are important. Like the animated “Chef Piggy” my cousins and I loved and remember so well.

It’s not about materialism. It’s about memories. “He who steals my purse steals trash,” wrote William Shakespeare and he was right. Money is just numbers. You may have some of my numbers in exchange for more memories.

As Fred sang to Ginger, “Oh, no, they can’t take that away from me.”

Sensory Triggers and Childhood Memories: When Life Comes Full Circle

Lenora Thompson

For five years, "Narcissism Meets Normalcy" has followed the real-life, ongoing story of freelance writer, Lenora Thompson, and her readers’ healing journey from narcissistic abuse to healing, peace and happiness. In August 2020, Lenora launched a new blog, "Beyond Narcissism…And Getting Happier All the Time" as she and her readers explore the new world of peace and happiness. "Beyond Narcs…Get Happy" is 100% reader supported! To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael’s heroic fight against Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to subscribe to her other writings, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2019). Sensory Triggers and Childhood Memories: When Life Comes Full Circle. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Oct 2019
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