Memory, Scent, and My Mother

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Earlier this week, Molly Birnbaum wrote about her first writing teacher and the scent of Passover. She has been blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day. In celebration, my mom and I went out to lunch. We ate crisp salads and tuna sashimi. We laughed a bit too loudly, tipsy after a glass of white wine. Before that we had been shopping, trying on summer dresses and sandals with straps twisting up our ankles—a little too hopeful for the immediacy of warm weather as we listened to a chilling thunderstorm soaking the streets outside.

I write about my mother in my book, Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way. After all, she took care of me after I was hit by a car while jogging in 2005 – the accident that broke my pelvis, tore the tendons in my left knee, and fractured my skull; the one that ultimately robbed me, an aspiring chef, of my sense of smell. In the months of my recovery, I found it devastating to not be able to perceive the scents that had once been so closely aligned with my memories of my mother: the smell of her lilac perfume, of her rosemary-mint shampoo, of the chicken dish she used to make with dried cherries and cream. I understood the importance of scent in terms of taste and flavor. But I had not realized how intrinsically it is tied to memory and emotion, too.

I’m lucky, though, I know: I recovered from all of the injuries I sustained in the accident. My sense of smell slowly returned—once scent at a time, over the next six years. And all the while, my mother was there—supporting, comforting, helping me to move on. I’m incredibly lucky to have her, too.

During lunch, my mother and I watched the rain come down in torrents through the tall and airy windows of the restaurant. It was cozy inside, warm with the scent of yeast rolls straight from the oven, and the taste of a fruity white wine lingering on the back of our tongues. Instead of immediately leaving to face the weather once again, we decided to linger over coffee and dessert. We shared apanna cotta. It was silky and smooth, laced with vanilla, and topped with fresh strawberries, which were an almost neon red. Very little has tasted better.

Molly Birnbaum’s Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way will be published by Ecco in June.

Posted on May 11, 2011

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