Earlier in our understanding of COVID-19, ENT’s suggested that the loss of the sense of smell was a sign of infection. About 30% of those who tested positive for the coronavirus in Europe reported anosmia (inability to smell). Researchers have invested more time developing testing and treatment options rather than find the correlation between the virus and the sense of smell. For that I am thankful.
While the sense of smell does not receive the recognition that sight and sound do, smell offers intense interactions with what’s going on around us. Including, the ability to take us back into our own personal stories.
The smell of roasted peanuts always takes me to the beer distributor at the corner of 4th and Adrain St. in Emmaus. They always had them, and I could never get them. Likewise, in Indiana—they told me that was the smell of money, but I know pig shit when I smell it.
Harrison and I mixed Moravian [Sugar] cakes Sunday night. I bracketed sugar because some people know them as sugar cakes—and there is a lot of sugar in them. I grew up only knowing them as Moravian cakes. We mixed in the church kitchen because it was a bigger kitchen for our bigger sized mess.
When I entered the kitchen yesterday morning, the magic combination of yeast, sugar, potatoes, flour, and more sugar, transported me to 1985. Our youth group made these at the Emmaus Moravian Church. (Someone still does, but they won’t mail them to Wisconsin). I was a fifteen-year-old with fifteen-year-old problems. The building fragrant with dough rising and teenage angst. I remembered the younger years when the only job for us was to put on the butter and brown sugar. I remembered the high school years and working the ovens. I also remembered the shenanigans of undersupervised teenagers running around the church building—and outside—and in the surrounding neighborhood.
From there I was transported to an earlier memory. The same smell of yeast leavening sugar and potatoes. My mom was making sugar cakes with my grandmother. The house was filled deliciousness. Cakes baked in the oven. Sticky buns spiraled and candied on tables. At the end of the day, my mom, dad, and grandmother worked together to fry faschnachts in what I’m assuming was a giant vat of lard.
Like that, the memories that I turned over in my hands dissolved into the recognition that I had not yet made coffee and that I had to…and…and…
I hope we are learning the importance of sitting with a memory that creeps up on us unaware. This pause can afford us a safe time for memories to sweep us up and away. This disruption can provide us with the safe place where a smell, a photograph, a song on the radio carries us backward—or forward. These days can be special; use them well.
I love you.
I hope for you.
Please be safe.