Dark-Roasted Memories

When I was a child, I have several fond memories that all seem to be centered around scent. Even today, I’m strongly influenced by smell. I love smells. I’m weird in that I even love bad smells, to an extent. Hard to explain. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I find smells fascinating.

I’m not a very ‘girly girl’, in that I’m not the type who likes getting manicures (though I used to love doing my own nails), don’t really need or want strangers touching my feet for a pedicure, would rather not wear makeup than wear it (though I really do love the mineral makeup, a lot!), and if I had my way about it I’d always wear pajamas. Okay, that last part isn’t true. Every now and again, I used to enjoy dressing up fancy and going out. With the oxygen and my health recently, I haven’t been able to leave the house though. For those who don’t know, I was diagnosed with Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension, and I am now on oxygen 24/7, and we don’t have a portable oxygen machine, so I am stuck inside the house until we can get one.


Back to smells… my one ‘girly girl’ vice has always been scented body washes, soaps, lotions and shampoos. (This one smells amazing! It’s the one I’m using right now.) I love the flavors and scents or perfumes too, misting sprays, and more. Don’t even get me started on food. Oh… the smell of garlic and onions sauteing with butter. The scents of prime rib rubbed with the perfect spices. BBQ sauce bubbling on the stove, tart and tangy in the nose.

In fact, if you were to ask me what one thing, just one thing, that every person I’ve ever been in a romantic relationship had in common is, I’d tell you that it was that I loved the way they smelled. Chemical attraction is very strong for me. And it’s not about what cologne or aftershave or perfume a person wears. To me, it’s about their natural scent, the way their hair smells, how they smell fresh out of the shower and how they smell when they are hot and sweaty from hard work. Ohhh, boy, yum.

Yes, I like… I like…


But none of these smells compare to my favorite scent of all. I sometimes think maybe it’s not my favorite scent, and then I smell it again, and I realize, yup, this is it, the one thing I love the smell of the most: coffee.

It’s not so much that coffee smells that good, except that it does, but it’s more the memories that are associated with coffee for me that makes the scent so compelling to me. You know, I learned in my psychology classes in college how scent is the number one sense tied to memory, and I believe it. Think about it: you’re walking down the aisle in a store and there’s a wafting of cologne that comes your way, smelling vaguely like the man you dated back in college, and for a brief moment, you’re transported back to that time, and you see his face. Maybe it’s a good memory; maybe it’s a bad memory. But you remember, even if it’s fleeting.

I’ve often read that people remember what their grandparents or the grandparents’ house smelled like as kids. This is true of me too. My grandfather on my father’s side, we called him Papa–everyone called him Papa, for that matter, except a few folks who called him Jack, which is funny, since his name was Ollie… but that’s a story for another time–anyway, Papa smoked a pipe, and to this day, I love the smell of pipe tobacco. I don’t like cigars or cigarette smoke, but pipe tobacco, yum. Ryan smokes a pipe every now and then, and the scent of it is heavenly to me. So pipes and Papa and now Ryan are all linked in my memory to the scent of pipe tobacco.

But before I could smell the pipe, before I could smell anything else, the one thing that I remember the clearest about time with my grandparents was the smell of coffee in the house. All the time. They used one of those old kettles on the stove, and Papa drank chicory, so it was strong and stout coffee, with a strong scent. I could smell it the moment I walked in and then it would refresh itself every morning when Papa would wake right before sunrise to take a walk (he’d had a heart attack a few years before and was supposed to walk for exercise every day, and he had his walking stick and did his daily walking faithfully.) He’d get up and put the kettle of chicory on the stove, and the scent and the sounds of making coffee woke me to the day. It was peaceful, quiet that time of the morning, and I could hear my family still asleep, some of them snoring, and nobody was fighting (Papa and grandma loved each other, but boy could they yell at each other), and I could lay there and feel comfortable and safe and breathe in the scent of coffee.


When I was a little older, I remember going to church with some friends of ours, to a Lutheran church not too far from the house. The kids I went with were from our neighborhood, and we certainly weren’t Lutheran growing up, so going to this church was a bit of a culture shock to me. My father was once going to be a minister for the Salvation Army church. From the story my grandmother has told, he was ready to start preaching. Then, for reasons unknown to me, he became an atheist, and he held that stance for a long time. That is the stance I grew up with. Today, my father, married to his second wife, apparently has found religion again, or at least, his wife is religious and he goes along with her. I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him in nearly three years… he won’t return my phone calls or emails, and even the ecards I’ve sent him for Father’s Day and Birthday went unopened. Still, I often think of him when I smell coffee too, because when we were on speaking terms (and I still don’t know why we aren’t, though I have an idea)… he used to always have coffee on the pot. When we’d visit for dinner, just to shoot the breeze, whatever, they always made coffee.

Now, my mother on the other hand grew up Baptist, in the South. Not so bad, since the Baptist churches here are often big with a lot of money behind them. Well, my mother is the second oldest of seven children, the oldest girl, and when she was eleven years old, her father died, while in her care, from complications due to uncontrolled diabetes. It had to be devastating for the family, but it left my grandmother with seven kids–ranging in age from about 13 to 18 months old–and it left her with very little money. To say my mother grew up dirt poor would be an understatement, since they couldn’t even afford dirt. My mother didn’t grow up with coffee, drinking it or seeing it drank, most likely because they couldn’t afford coffee at the time. She grew up not drinking it, but interestingly enough, a couple of years ago, she did start drinking coffee–heavily creamed and sweetened though.

My grandmother had ‘issues’ with the church, which centered on two different ministers having ‘issues’ with her family… but that’s a story for another time. The point being, my mother grew up with the church influence, but not really overtly religious. She did, however, put us (my sister and I) into Sunday school programs and such, and she allowed us to attend church with our friends. Our family just didn’t go to church together.

At that church, where I went with the neighborhood kids, there was a table for snacks, cookies, and other baked goods church members would bring, and there was a big metal dispenser for hot cocoa and a bigger dispenser for hot coffee. Next to the hot coffee were cups with sugar cubes in them (I loved sugar cubes a a kid), and stir sticks (I loved to chew on stir sticks as a kid). Plus, the ‘little’ kids all got cocoa from the kid’s table. I was almost ten years old, two whole digits were almost in my age, so I didn’t want to be a little kid and drink cocoa. I wanted to be a grownup and drink coffee.

With lots of cream.

And about half a cup of sugar cubes

It was the blondest coffee you could imagine and it was sickeningly sweet by the time I was done with it, but it was coffee, dammit! I was a grownup, dammit!


Starbucks should be sued for breaking my bank account several times when I was struggling as a single parent to make ends meet. I was really happy NOT to have a Starbucks back in podunk Odessa, but then one day, they built one, and suddenly, I’m scrounging pennies and nickles and dimes to buy a Venti Sugar Free Vanilla Latte, breve, two Splenda, please. And when I was really rich, quad shots, please! I walk (or these days with the wheelchair, I roll into them) and stop at the door and take in a big, deep breath. Ahhhh, coffee. I’m home!

I became something of a coffee aficionado. Which is to say, I’m a coffee snob. Now, today, Starbucks can’t compare to anything… in fact, after the coffee I’ve drank, Starbucks really is nothing special at all. I’ve had, literally, the finest espressos money can buy, in some of the finest restaurants in the country. I’ve had cappuccinos made by baristas who have trained in culturally acclaimed facilities. I have drank coffee that cost more than $5 per ounce of it…

I also now own a cappuccino/latte machine, which is one of my most prized possessions. It ranks right up there with my computer, whose name is Quosi, by the way (pronounced K-oh-see). I have not named my cappuccino machine though. I just call it LOVE.

Well, sadly, all that is changing.

I’m not supposed to drink coffee anymore. With adrenal problems like I have, caffeine is a no-no. I’ve tried the decaf, and while I have found some really good decaf coffees, they all taste weak and watery to me, no matter how fine I grind, how loose I grind, how hot I brew, how much I use… I just can’t get the decaf to get me the flavor I want. Plus, decaf coffee really isn’t decaf. Not sure if most people know this, but it isn’t decaf completely – it has caffeine in it, a little less than most sodas, but not as much as full-flavored coffee. And most decaf coffee is chemically decaffed, and I have to avoid the chemically decaffed stuff, because I try to eat organically and as natural as I can. I don’t always succeed, but I do try, mostly for my health.

Giving up coffee for me is harder than giving up breathing, and since I have PAF and am on oxygen supplementation 24/7 right now, you can imagine I know how important breathing is! And coffee still, sometimes, wins!

So I allow myself a precious cup every rare now and again, when I’m feeling okay, when I’m ‘up’ and not ‘down’, when I can get away with it, I hope. But it’s not like it was before. I could almost live on coffee alone, almost.

Like you needed to know any of this…

But do tell me, my blog friends, what scent triggers your memories? Is it something you could give up? What does it remind you of? Is it a good memory or a bad one? If you take this as a writing prompt, why not share your scent memory on your blog and then link to it here on my blog in the comments and I’ll pop by and read your scent memories and leave a comment and promote your blog on my Facebook (I’ve got lots of friends there who might come read you!)

Thanks for sharing a memory with me. If anyone has a recommendation for a really good, non-chemically decaffed coffee, please let me know!

Love and stuff,




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5 comments to Dark-Roasted Memories

  • Buffy  says:

    My smell-inspired family memory is based on Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. That was a Sunday evening dinner staple we were allowed the privilege to eat in front of the television. As a family, we watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, The Wonderful World of Disney, and Bonanza. It was a time before pizza delivery, a time and place where even fast-food restaurants closed on Sundays.

    I remember making cinnamon rolls with my maternal grandma. They were rich, buttery, gooey, and made from scratch with love. That same grandmother taught me to make egg noodles, dumplings, and chicken broth from scratch. My paternal grandparents made pickles. Their sweet chunk pickles were the only sweet pickles I ever found even remotely tempting. Their dill pickles were heavenly!

    I remember the smell of Spam frying on a griddle. Unfortunately, that memory is tied to vivid memories of nausea, light sensitivity, dizziness, and hours of wretching which accompanied the inevitable migraines that followed the consumption of said Spam.

    I remember the smell of pine smoke on crisp, dark summer nights, singing around the campfire with friends and family or telling stories or toasting marshmallows. It never mattered where I would sit, the smoke always seemed to follow.

    Over the years, a lot has changed, but some smells can still take me back to my childhood, to people and places who are gone. Sometimes, the smells are the only ways to get back there.

  • Beth  says:

    Scent really is a huge memory trigger! I blogged a quickie about this, right here.

  • The Robert  says:

    The cinnamon donuts my grandfather kept in a kitchen drawer, and the smell of his indoor outhouse….

  • Emelda Shumard  says:

    Awesome thanks for sharing that to us all!

  • Thanh Willmon  says:

    Awesome writing style!

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