I spent a couple of weeks this past winter with the Kenai Crud or whatever we called it this year. I don’t usually give in to wintertime sniffles, but this year was a different bug, I guess. I was also without a sense of taste or smell for that two weeks and a few days beyond as things got back to normal. It’s a different world when you can’t smell anything and it made me think of scents I enjoy, and a few I don’t.
Some odors are forever recognizable: baby powder, wood smoke on a cold morning, fresh mown grass, mud flats, diesel exhaust, pig pens, rotten eggs. Not always good smells, but depending on where you grew up they are guaranteed to bring back memories. And of course, all the good kitchen smells … pumpkin pie, bacon frying, baking bread, Thanksgiving turkey.
Do you remember fried pepper? My Grandma fried eggs every morning of her adult life, I think, and the most enduring memory of that is the smell of black pepper on the hot cast iron skillet. It’s a start-your-day type of smell, one that gets you going, in memory very comforting because you knew all was right and it was time to go to the table when you could smell the pepper frying. It’s not the same these days, mostly because everyone uses a non-stick fry pan and not many grandmas fry eggs anymore, either. I doubt my grandkids will reminisce about the smell of eggs scrambled in a Teflon pan.
Some smells I really miss: line dried sheets, pine trees, chalk dust, and Prince Albert pipe tobacco smoke. Also carnations. They used to smell so spicy. A carnation corsage was the best thing you could get for a formal dance. The guys all thought roses, or maybe an orchid for that really special dance was the protocol, but deep down, we girls really loved the carnations because they smelled so good, and lasted for a long time after the dance. Roses faded the next day, and orchids were too fragile to be enjoyed very long. Nowadays carnations don’t even have a scent. Another loss to technology, I guess, as they are available all year long, not just a springtime thing but at the expense of that delightful scent we ladies “of a certain age” remember.
Digression alert: Remember putting white carnations into a jar of colored water or blue ink and waiting a day for them to suck up the liquid and turn color? It was a popular thing to do for St. Patrick’s Day to have green carnations. Or making fake ones using pinking shears to trim layers of fan folded facial tissues you tied in the middle with a pipe cleaner then carefully separated the sheets to make a perfect, if oversized carnation. We made hundreds to decorate dances and floats, or just to have in our room for fun. It’s a lost art, I’m sure.
I remember my mom’s scent on nights she and Dad went out “to town.” It was a warm smell, and I have no idea what it was, as she didn’t use perfume. Nothing as garish as Evening In Paris (which I’m sure we ALL remember) nor as spring like as a flowery cologne. It probably was simply a combination of all the scents of her getting ready to go out … bath soap, talcum powder, make-up, and the sachet bag my “other grandma” crocheted for her one Christmas and filled with sweet smelling herbs and flowers that hung in the closet with her dress. It was an odor associated with no other activity and it’s been a long time since I’ve breathed it. I doubt that I could duplicate it, but I know I’d recognize it.
Along with no sense of smell, of course is no taste. Even coffee has no taste but bitter if you can’t smell it. I didn’t have much appetite so chicken noodle soup and soda crackers were all I ate for awhile. No matter … what’s the use of eating crispy fried chicken or chocolate cake if you can’t taste it? I even took regular doses of what I learned later was really vile tasting cough syrup because all I could taste was a slightly acidic liquid. It’s terrible when the first taste you get back is wild cherry lighter fluid.
There are some tastes I miss: peaches fresh off the tree, sun warmed vine ripened tomatoes, “real” buttermilk; all things I can travel to find as most of us do, eventually, but tastes that manufacturers have tried to duplicate to no avail. My nephew (raised in Alaska) once told me that peach schnapps “tastes like it’s just off the tree, Aunt Virginia.” I told him he’d been in Alaska too long.
I got my senses back (Hubby might argue with me there) and once again enjoy coffee and chocolate and even the smell of the mud flats, but right now, I’d be happy to walk out the door, take a deep breath and smell spring.
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her firstname.lastname@example.org.