November 30, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Coffee under brew can define your day, or at least open the door. Universally, whether you enjoy java or not, a whiff reminds you of mornings as a child, or the early trip to an old diner where the urns were behind the counter puffing away. I use the memory association in a local food program, and it is rewarding to see how people smile when there is such welcoming aroma. Add a sacrificial pancake or two grilled a bit to the dark side — another compelling whiff — and whatever is baking in the oven, and the cold of a long night on the streets fades a bit. A parent is in the house, as it were. At least a friend.

Such bouquets are not class-conscious, of course, and welcome the rich as well as the poor. There were many wealthy children who hung around mansion kitchens with the great cooks. Perhaps they even learned a thing or two to the good from such wise folk.

An old Army friend of mine, pinned down in the hell of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, told me about the packet of coffee he carried and opened from time to time just for the memory (and so, comfort) it evoked.

It is said the sexes are attracted to one another through biochemical perfume known as pheromones, perhaps a deliberate part of nature’s mate selection that may be tied to genetics and the push to procreate. Yet beyond the science, if it is so, is the undeniable fact that we all like certain scents in one other, and we like them in some people more than others. Add association to those old flavors, and even a 90-year-old can recall great love long shelved when she (he) thinks of a certain scent.

The opposite is true, too, whether it be people or food. Some whiffs can drive you away from unpleasant memory of someone or association with what you did not want to eat. For example, I don’t like asparagus, and the tang of it reminds me of a cold night in 1947 Sloatsburg, N.Y.,  when my mother put the dish in front of this almost five year old. My brother ate it, as he did most everything, but I shuffled in the snowy driveway a bit, where I went for a breather. Not sure if I got anything else to eat that night. Would not have blamed my poor mother.

So, the power of scent is enough to boost or reject a mood, a person, a time, a memory. I’d rather choose the “boost” side, though.

Off to make that morning coffee. …

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at