The early 20th century French writer Marcel Proust, so literary legend goes, was inspired to write his monumental novel A Remembrance of Things Past, after eating a madeleine (a sweet cookie, now available at Starbuck’s, but not in his time) and drinking a cup of tea.
Literary and other scholars have surely written a lot of stuff that I’ve never read exploring the idea of involuntary memory triggered by sensory experience, as Proust always claimed that eating the little cookie crumbled into his tea was what prompted him to write his semi-autobiographical work that took 13 years — he was still tinkering with it when he died in 1922 — and totaled nearly 1.5 million words in seven volumes.
I have lots of memories related to more than 30 years of writing about sports and other subjects for newspapers, but I must admit I’ve never been inspired to do anything similar after walking through a smelly locker room — a much more intense sensory experience than the Frenchman’s snack.
I got to thinking about all this after listening to one of my favorite radio programs, NPR’s “Science Friday” on the way home from a little holiday catching up at the office this afternoon. A researcher was talking about the relationship between smell, memory and learning with the program’s host, Ira Flatow. (Eternal kudos to the show “The Big Bang Theory” for including him in an episode where the insufferable Sheldon Cooper earns media attention through some of his obscure research.)
The show used the Thanksgiving holiday as a jumping off point for a discussion of how humans associate smells with past experiences and how they incorporate that into their knowledge of the world.
And this holiday does give me a little bit of that Proustian experience, as the smell of a Thanksgiving feast brings back lots of good memories. At this holiday, I always think of my parents packing us up for the trip to Saluda County, S.C, where my Aunt Hazel was the Cannon family’s capable Thanksgiving host for years — always a big turkey and whatever wild game the men could bring back out of the woods over the long holiday weekend.
And for non-hunters like me, there were football games to be played out in the field next to her house, and the usual run of games on TV, plenty even in those pre-ESPN days.
So in the spirit of Proust, that association leads to another association. As I sit and eat a turkey sandwich before heading out to cover a high school football game, I’m thinking about football seasons past.
I’m fortunate to have one probably final opportunity to cover a game tonight as I go see a Class 4AA state quarterfinal game between Mallard Creek (13-0) and Vance (10-4), the two Charlotte schools I’ve seen the most this season. It’s a rematch of the regular season meeting, won about a month ago by Mallard Creek, 44-20 — actually one of the best games anyone’s given the Mavericks this season. I’ve enjoyed my encounters with players and coaches from both teams and it’s a shame one of them will end its season tonight.
But there are other playoff games tonight in states stretching from Pennsylvania to Texas, where we’ve lived and made a lot of memories, and where I’ve seen a lot of good high school football. Starting closest to here and working my way across the country, I’ll be following:
(1) Myrtle Beach at Bluffton in the Class AAA Lower State championship game. I covered the Seahawks and their legendary coach Doug Shaw for a couple of seasons in the late Seventies while with The Sun News. The Seahawks are trying to make it back to the state championship game for the third straight season.
(2) Pensacola High vs. Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee: When we worked in Pensacola, Fla., I watched future NFL linebacker Derrick Brooks play his senior season at Pensacola High, and “Choctaw” is the older school in a neat intracity rivalry just one county east from Pensacola. (Go west of Pensacola and you’re in Alabama…)
(3) Navasota vs. Tyler Chapel Hill in a Class AAA regional game Waco, Texas: Jayne and I spent a fun year working for The Examiner in Navasota, an interesting little town not far from College Station. And a note on the game site: in Texas, playoff games are played at neutral sites. It’s fun for the players as later-round games may end up being played at college, or even professional, stadiums.
(4) North Allegheny vs. Woodland Hills at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Saturday: This is the Class AAAA (or “Quad A” in the local slang) championship game for the WPIAL — pronounce it like “wippy-ul” and in Western Pennsylvania it’s probably still a bigger deal than winning the newer PIAA state title game.
For some reason, I’m now hungry for a madeleine…. I wonder if they’ll have any at the concession stand this evening….. Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.