Certain smells remind me of my childhood. The smell of cheap coffee that is so bitter it makes your nose turn up is one of them. I spent many weekends at my Nanna’s house and she always started her day with a newspaper, a cigarette and a mug of hot, cheap coffee. Sometimes more than one cigarette. The kitchen never smelled particularly inviting in the morning, but it smelled like my Nanna and Ronnie’s home. I always appreciated it back then. In fact, I never thought anything of the smell when I was a child; those smells were a second home to me.
Cheap coffee is something I hate to smell, but I can’t live without it anymore–and it’s all I can afford. I suppose that’s the only reason my Nanna and Ronnie had for buying it. Even Starbucks manages to make the most bitter coffee I’ve ever tasted, and yet the idea of starting my day with one–iced or hot–is enough to get me out of bed.
I always imagined myself like my Nanna when I became older: a newspaper in one hand and a coffee in the other. It happened sooner than I expected–of course, in this day and age, our generation’s newspapers are more often computer and smartphone screens, but I’m engaging in my world the same way Nanna does.
Even still, I love the feeling of a newspaper in my hand. That’s why I’m here, at this particular desk, with an oversized iced coffee to chill me down and wake me up on this hot, summer morning–because I enjoy creating that printed product that stains your hands and with which many people still start their mornings. (And the extra shots of espresso I ordered aren’t a bad additive, either.) The smell of freshly printed newsprint is enticing. I remember sitting at the table, opposite Ronnie, and he would tease me and stick his tongue out at me from the top of his newspaper. I would giggle, eat my scrambled eggs and take the “funnies” section from my Nanna before she could read them. Nanna and Ronnie would read the news and lifestyle sections and scoff, while I would read what Schultz and Davis had to say about the world and smile. Occasionally, Ronnie would put down his section and find the crossword puzzle, and I would help him. I didn’t always understand the pop culture and historical references, but Nanna and Ronnie would teach me what they knew as we tried to solve it. It was one of those moments when the phrase “you know more than you think you know” resonated with me. I could fill out the rest of the names and events if enough letters were there, and there were times where I would teach them–you’re so willing to learn at that age. I admire my younger self for that reason.
I always acquaint the smells of printed word–in any form, really–to something positive. My mother used to take me to the library every week and I would sit and open the used books just so I could learn from them and smell them. No matter how many hands had held that text, those books never smelled of tainted people and their likewise minds. Those books smelled of the pages and the words printed on them. When I opened each book, it was the same each time–as if that book had been sitting on the shelf just waiting for me and me alone. The binding could be tattered and it would still fall open like a crisp new book. When I get a new textbook for school, I do the same thing–I hold it close and smell it. As odd as it might seem I’m far from the only one who does it. Knowing that, I do it unashamedly now. When I do have friends who think I’m strange for it, I can only feel pity for them and the things they must have missed as a child.
Despite the memories they bring, I’ll probably never be happily reacquainted with the smell of cigarettes or cigars as I once was. When I smell them now, I can almost imagine their taste, and I can’t imagine anything nice. Amber and I wandered into a cigar shop one evening while in Orlando and I discovered a smell I had never pinpointed until that moment: Ronnie’s cigars. I knew he smoked them, but I hadn’t noticed how distinct their smell was when I was a child amongst the other smells that cloud their house. The aroma nearly knocked me over when I walked through the cigar shop’s door. How I ever put up with the stench of them as a child, I’ll never know.
But I guess I have a phone call to make soon–there are a couple of old fools I haven’t talked to in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll catch them while they’re sitting at the table shaking their head at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, just like I remember.