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Smell is linked to memory

This is the second installment of my column about how our sense of smell is closely linked to memory, and that smell is highly emotive, as it says in “Psychology and Smell — Fifth Sense.” It deals once more with my first five years of life on York Avenue here in good old Warren.

On warm summer days, I loved to lie down on the front porch glider. The cushions had that petroleum smell of their oil cloth covers, while holly hocks, with bees buzzing all around them, peeked over the bannister and gave off a sort of harsh, smelly, unpleasant odor. Since I had yet to wear long pants — which I desperately desired — I would have to peel myself off those cushions when I tried to get up.

Sometimes, Mom would give my sister a permanent. She used an electric curling iron to put some wave into her die-straight hair. I thought that Mom was just trying to burn Sis’s hair, and the burning hair gave off a most unpleasant odor.

That smell was duplicated when I visited Mom’s beauty parlor in the Adams Building within the “Y” formed by West Market and South streets.

Toasting marshmallows over the gas range was great fun. With paring knives, long sticks were whittled to a point in order to impale those marshmallows. I begged to be allowed to whittle a stick or two. Under the closest of supervision, I still managed to badly slice my left index finger, close to the last knuckle. It was deep and painful. To this day, I wear the scar.

Anyway, I never could quite get the hang of just toasting my marshmallow to a golden brown as my sister could. I always set mine on fire, and I would hold onto the stick until the fire went out — or someone blew it out. However, I really liked eating that crispy black cinder. It tasted great. And that smell of burnt sugar was intoxicating.

My dad was one of 10 children, and his father died when he was 10. As you can imagine, growing up, my dad was very used to hardship, and making do was the rule.

One wonderful byproduct of that early time that he brought into our little family was coffee soup. On Sundays after church, while Sis read me the funnies, he would dice cold baked potatoes and fry them in the skillet. An equal amount of stale bread, ripped into small chunks — like you would feed the birds — would be placed in a mixing bowl with the potatoes. To this, he would pour day-old coffee and cream (milk would work if there was no cream). With a large wooden spoon, he would mix this combination, adding salt, pepper and butter as he went along. That was it!

Sis and I could smell that lovely mixture from our place with the funnies on the living room floor, salivating at the prospect of that wonderful concoction. To us, it was a glorious aroma. He would call us into the kitchen.

Mom, Sis, Grandma (Dad’s mom), and I would slide into our places in the breakfast nook. Dad would proudly plop that grey-brown mixture in a pile on our plates and we would ravenously dig in — but only after we said the blessing. What a heavenly treat! All but Mom just loved it.

To this day, I have never been able to get a friend to take even just one bite of that magnificent coffee soup. You see, the smells of sentimentality far outweigh the appearance and taste of some things we hold dear.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday .com

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