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Jeannie Kidera currently teaches creative writing and literature courses at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, OH. She has an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from Bowling Green State University and is working towards an MA in Literature from John Carroll University. She spent the summer of 2007 in the International Writers Program at the National University of Ireland, Galway, a city to which she returns as often as possible. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in such publications as Whiskey Island Magazine, The Madison Review, New Letters, and Mid-American Review.
Mouth-watering Memories by Jeannie Kidera
They say that scent, more than anything else, evokes memories. Think about it. You’re strolling down the sidewalk in late September when suddenly you catch it: that distinctive first whiff of Fall. Something about the smell of dead leaves and the chimney smoke of someone’s inaugural log in the fireplace, sends you back in time. To that moment you had your first kiss on a cold sidewalk on an Autumn evening. To an image of yourself arguing with your parents about why you shouldn’t have to wear a coat over your Halloween costume. To a childhood trip to the apple farm for fresh cider and cinnamon donuts. Or maybe you are walking through the mall, trying to find that last minute holiday gift, when someone passes you wearing that damn cologne of the man from your past who was just no good, and forget it; your mind is thrown into a distraction of turbulent memories that, nonetheless, make you hope that person passes by again. Yes, our sense of smell is hardwired to our font of memories, but our sense of smell is also, of course, most closely linked to our taste buds, which perhaps is why so many of our memories, our best memories, are connected to food. This seems particularly apparent at this time of year, when we are surrounded by the traditions of our most family-oriented holidays, always as food driven as they are sentiment driven.
This isn’t going to sound right, but I can’t smell whiskey without thinking of my paternal grandmother, Nan, and it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve unless I could smell whiskey. No, my grandmother was not an alcoholic, but whiskey sours were her specialty and they remain, thanks to my Aunt Patty, a central part of my family’s Christmas Eve festivities. The recipe is beyond simple: a can of frozen lemonade concentrate, one can of water (only half a can for the first batch!), one can of Canadian Club whiskey (must be Canadian Club), one can of ice. Blend and enjoy. Maybe leave one out for Santa. Nan also made me a hot toddy or two in my childhood. Don’t call the authorities. I’ve got enough Irish blood in me that I could handle it even in my youth. And, let’s face it, when I was teething my pediatrician told my mother to “rub a thimbleful of whiskey on her gums and then take a shot yourself.” My kind of doctor. Regardless, if I wasn’t feeling well, or if I was simply spending the night, Nan would mix me up a hot toddy, a mixture of hot tea, whiskey, honey and lemon, and then send me off to bed with a warm belly.
While my maternal grandmother, Grandma Mac, has never served me whiskey, her pot roast is just as intoxicating, so intoxicating, in fact, that my salivation glands just kicked into high gear as I typed the words…pot roast… It’s as if I can smell the meaty juices dripping and bubbling in the pan, wafting from her oven like that cartoon scent cloud that crawls through the cartoon air with a come-hither scent cloud finger at the end of it, drawing me across the threshold of her front door, carrying me to her dining room table, where I sit, fork and knife upright in hand, drooling in anticipation. Finally, of course, as we plow through the meal she has spent hours on, she sits patiently working at her salad, her breathe a happy sort of half-whistle, letting her own food get cold. A plate covered in egg noodles with Grandma Mac’s pot roast and gravy is the best sort of comfort. And it gets even better the next day on a slice of toast; open faced goodness.
And then there’s grapefruit. Every single dinner at Grandma Mac’s house, as far back as I can remember, starts with half a grapefruit. I don’t know why; it just does, and thus, I can’t buy a grapefruit without thinking of all the meals I’ve shared at her table. And I can’t cut a banana or plop blueberries into my Cheerios without thinking about my Grandpa Mac, who seemed to start every morning that way at the small round table in their kitchen. And I can’t smell fennel without remembering the time my cousin Katie and I, as pre-teens, made our first attempt at homemade soup because I’d received a hand blender for Christmas (I was an “as seen on TV” sort of kid), and something went horribly wrong with our measurement of the fennel seeds. Licorice soup is not delicious, but my family choked it down with several laughs. Bacon cooking is my best friend’s father, Mr. Kelley, trying to rouse our freshly post-collegiate, hung-over bodies from bed on a Sunday morning. The list goes on and on. Garlic bread and creamed onions are my mother. Wontons and pumpkin pie are my father. Turkey and stuffing are my Aunt Sue. Apple pie is my Uncle Tom. Anti-pasta is my Uncle Pat. All of these foods, these smells are holidays and celebrations. They are memories; they are family. They are the reason you are supposed to bake a tray of cookies before an open-house when trying to sell. Simply put, they are home.
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