Stay-cation in St. Louis

 Sweets, sights and service in St. Louis inspired Sam’s parents to stay home and vacation during spring break this year. 

Inside the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate factory a sign cautioned, “Shhh. The Oompah Loompahs are sleeping.” Sam, 8, sniffed the rich aroma of natural chocolate and watched the white clad workers bend over conveyor belts arranging rows of caramel cubes for their immersion in chocolate. As each piece exited the chocolate, a gloved hand carefully pinched enough chocolate at the back of each cube to drag a distinctive line across each block. Since she did not look like an Oompah Loompah, Sam figured the real ones slept behind the doors labeled “Employees Only.” 

The tour guide held a platter of chocolate samples. No one can eat just one piece of chocolate in a room permeated with the smell of rich chocolate and the only exit being through the candy shop. Shopping followed. “I want the ones with raspberry and honey filling. And one with nuts and one with peanut butter. I love chocolate!” Sam rubbed his hands. He really loved the chocolate tasting feast at home around the table with jugs of water and tiny square plates holding samples. Chocolate with peanuts. Chocolate with pecans. Chocolate with raspberry filling. Chocolate with soft chocolate filling and, of course, the Elvis Presley specialty: Chocolate with bananas and peanut butter. 

Once I wanted to test what the difference between half a dozen very similar flavors,” the tour guide had said. “So I tried a bite of each and felt awful.” Sam tasted. He did not feel awful, he felt wonderfully full of chocolate. 

The family ended the day with a trip down memory lane at Game Haven STL with flower covered couches and plenty of original Nintendo, Atari and Play Station games. 

The Mario was really pixelated,” Sam observed. He knows today’s more familiar high definition, detailed pictures. Still for $3 an hour per person, he experienced a glimpse of his dad’s childhood games. 

So many free or historical things to see and do close to home including the city’s landmark The Arch soaring over the skyline. Sam had not been to the top of the Arch. Friday the family went. First, each placed belts, jackets and loose change in bins for the metal detectors. The past may have had pixelated digital games, but it never had such security checks. Sam and his dad studied the museum portraying the history of this ancient crossroads of North America until the time came to take the slow tram to the top of The Arch.

Sometimes the children dictated the activities: Do you want to play UNO?” Henry, Sam’s kindergarten brother, asked as he held a stack of cards hopefully. He lost. His dad won. The next day he asked, “Do you want to play Candy Land?” The kids only added a few extra rules to insure Henry won. 

Sandwiches at the park. Pizza in the car. Lunch at the cloth covered table with real dishes and napkins and the last supper at the church feeding the homeless coming in out of the cold for the night. Big sister Sophie helped hand out filled backpacks. Henry quickly found a new friend with a smartphone. Sam greeted people and talked with a young man lacking shoes. 

Sam pulled out the dollar he had found on the ground. “Here, you can buy shoes.” 

The man shook his head. 

No, you can have it,” Sam insisted. The man relented, allowing Sam to give a little back after a week of taking – a great ending for any vacation away or at home. 

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Picker estate sale

Tucked back in the dusty attic beneath a trash bag lay a plastic Winchester toy rifle from the 1960s. Heat had melted a hole on its barrel and sealed the end of the barrel, but the gun still cocked and clicked lacking the requisite roll of red paper caps. The last owner of the home had raised her sons and then aged there, “she became a hoarder her last few years,” the seller said.

It began with saving a few of her sons’ clothes and toys. Stepping carefully over books and lumber, I opened the small closet door and found Boy Scout uniforms with hard-earned badges. Behind me a couple of crumpled boxes held the pieces of unfinished plastic models. Books, boxes and electronic equipment covered the floor of the attic. The son offered to help remove books I chose, “Mother loved to read,” he said passing a books down the ladder. “She never climbed the ladder. Whatever went up here stayed,” Her son said. “She also did not do stairs not even when she showed homes as a Realtor. She would walk through the house with prospective buyers until they came to the stairs and then wave them on ‘ya’ll go take a look.’” he laughed lovingly at her foible.

And now he had returned home to clean out the dirt and debris. He cherished the memories made around the dining room table. “I’m taking it back with me to repair. I don’t know when I’ll have time,” he said and listed his commitments including the care of disabled adults.

My last visit to the house coincided with his last day to remove the remainder of his mother’s hoard before the new owner took ownership. The old family home needed repairs. During my first visit as I made my way around boxes and furniture in the back room, the seller said, “be careful that you don’t fall in.”

I stopped abruptly and studied the floor. The boards did look less than sturdy. The tub in the corner bathroom had not held water in years. Overflowing metal and plastic shelves lined two walls. Forgotten furniture and garbage bags draped carelessly with blankets littered the floor.

Boxes of Christmas ornaments and stockings and had taken over another bedroom floor. Age had dulled the once brightly colored package of toy airplanes she had given one Christmas. Nothing remained of the toys from the family dime store. “When we visited my grandmother, we could choose one toy each day and two on Saturday. The store was closed on Sunday,” the son explained.

In this house, his mother had stitched needlework pictures of birds, arranged a table using her fine dishes and crystal, encouraged her sons in Scouts, given them toy rifles and welcomed neighborhood kids who came to play. Well some played, the son laughingly recalled one who, “used to come over, but he was more interested in the girl next door.”

Workers moved another bin of debris to the dumpster. A wooden index box appeared on the window sill. The son opened it and flipped through the alphabetized cards, “These are my mom’s contacts. They all had the same handwriting,” he mused. He set the box aside to carry home. Each name reflected a long ago friend of his mother. So much time yet even with all her hoarding, so little of value remained when all was said and done. He packed up his truck and trailer. He and the workers swept the floors and locked the door for the last time. The time had come for the house to begin a new chapter.

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Come in from the cold, rest and have supper

The cold, wet rain sent the homeless who sleep outside over to a local church in search of a warm night in the gym with a mat and a blanket. This night the rich smell of baked chicken, black-eyed peas and collard greens welcomed them.

“They always open the doors to let us sleep in the gym, wash clothes and take showers but they don’t usually have supper,” white-haired Betty said.

”It’s the first time for the Red Circle to be here,” the volunteer explained.

Betty nodded and began sorting through her collection of cords to find the charger she needed for her phone. As one of the few folks at the meal with a phone, Betty called other “invisible people” as she identifies them to say, “Hey, supper is being served over here.”

She never said how she became homeless. Her son Travis did say, “a month ago our car burned up with all my papers, extra clothes and other stuff. I am trying to get a copy of my birth certificate so I can get my ID.” The process for someone without a vehicle or an address sounded daunting.

Although Travis looked neat he said, “I don’t feel clean. I can’t get a shower unless a church opens its doors and has a shower.”

“Some of the churches have clothes you can dig through. That’s where everything I have on comes from,” Betty said. She put her sneaker clad foot up on the chair, “my shoes were about worn out when this woman came with new sneakers in different sizes.”

The lack of reliable transportation, phone, cleaning facilities and address increase the difficulty of Travis finding a job – even though he has gone to college to study business.

At the end of the table a thin older man bent over coughing, He pulled out a nebulizer and took a breath. He looked at the meal, chewed on chicken and asked, “Is there any butter for the roll?”

A volunteer shook his head,”Sorry, no.”

He set the roll aside.

Later, one of the cooks sat down to eat and asked, “How did you enjoy the meal?”

“I would have preferred a hamburger and fries.”

“That would be a lot of grease,” she shuttered.

Someone turned to Katrina a middle-aged woman, “How did you become homeless?”

“I had a house and family until my husband died and left me with five children. I had to work two jobs and then I got sick.” She listed the variety of serious medical procedures she had had, her diabetes and the confusion and upheaval that followed for the children. She sat looking thoughtful and sad until she murmured, “I just need some quiet so I can think about everything I need to do.”

What did she need to do? Apply again for medical assistance with her diabetes, find a place to live, call the social services again about again not receiving the food stamps for which she qualifies.

“I call them and they say all the lines are busy and tell me to call back later,” she said. “Not an easy thing to do when you don’t have a phone. I applied for a government phone,” she added.

The list of needs grows. Activities that most can do quickly and easily thanks to cars, phones and houses, block the return to normalcy for the homeless who came out of the cold that night to sleep on the church’s gym floor and found a meal, clean clothes and a bag of toiletries. Not enough for the long run, but enough to tide them over for a bit.

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Whipping up a picnic


Mom could whip up a picnic in a blink of an eye. That’s what I thought before I grew old enough to help her whip up one of those picnics. With my dad’s yen for just hopping in the car for a Sunday drive and five kids to feed, clean and entertain, Mom knew how to fix food fast. As her daughters, she expected our help in the kitchen as soon as we could reach the counter.

Let’s take a drive and go for a picnic.” Dad told Mom before he went to milk the cows at 4 a.m. 

We woke up to the wonderful smell of chocolate cake mix poured into a loaf pan. If time ran out before the cake cooled, Mom mixed the margarine, milk and vanilla with a box of confectionery sugar and spread the frosting over the warm cake. The frosting seeped into the warm cake, glazing and sealing in the richness of Betty Crocker’s best.

On the surprise picnic lunch days Mom fussed about all the things she had to do before we left. She fussed, but she did it. She had to. She did not have today’s plethora of options in fast food restaurants, diners or even grocery stores open on Sunday, let alone the cash to feed seven people in a restaurant. With a well stocked kitchen and freezer, she had no problem boiling eggs and macaroni for a salad and fixing tuna fish sandwiches.

Her well packed picnic basket included either paper plates or a stack of melamine plates and Tupperware cups from the cupboard that we had to repack, carry back home and wash. With five children, Mom always said, “fill up that Tupperware dish with water and put a clean wash cloth in it.” Mom knew five children guaranteed sticky fingers and messy faces. She did not have the option of packaged wet wipes.

Dinner out did not mean less kitchen work. It did mean we left very little to add to the landfill. Not even pop bottles or cans because Mom filled a jug with ice and water. For planned picnics she bought lemons and oranges to squeeze and mix with water and sugar yielding a gallon of delightful citrus drink.

When shopping days went longer than expected, Mom whipped up simplified picnics. She left us in the car (yes, folks actually used to do that sort of thing) while she ran into the grocery store for a few minutes and came out with a loaf of white bread and stack of thick cut baloney. 

She would put baloney between a couple slices of bread and that was lunch,” I once told my husband.

With some salad dressing,” he helpfully added.

No, just the bread and baloney.” 

He could not comprehend a dry sandwich.

It was a fast picnic. We were hungry. We ate.

Occasionally the parents planned picnics with cousins. No one packed toys, we had the forest. The boys built the forts.

The girls whined, “They have a fort. We want one. Daddy, will you make one for us?” So the men built the girls’ fort. Mom and the aunts spread cakes, salads, baked beans and casseroles on the plank picnic table covered with a real table cloth.

That’s how it happened while I was at home. Then three of us married and only my younger sister and brother remained. When they visited one day my sister whispered in a shocked voice, “Dad stops and we eat at the restaurant.” 

From then on Dad could whip up a picnic lunch in the blink of an eye. 

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I will always write back: penpals

Change happens when we look through a window into another person’s life. The authors of the auto-biography “I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives” tells the tale of teenagers discovering diverse worlds through their letters as penpals.

The name Zimbabwe caught the attention of typical suburban junior high student Caitlin Alifirenka when choosing a pen pal. Her letter went to Martin Ganda, the brightest, most promising student in his school district. His school paid to send his first letter, then the head master said, “we cannot afford anymore stamps.”

Neither could Martin’s family afford a stamp. They lived in a one-roomed house with a dirt floor and struggled to pay for his tuition in a country that did not have mandatory free education. Still, his mother found money for a stamp. When his dad’s job of 18 years ended, Martin carried suitcases at the train station to earn stamp money.

At first Caitlin wrote basic information about her life as a teenager, sent her picture and a dollar bill so Martin could see her and a sample of American money. His mother placed the money on a shelf.

“It stayed there for two weeks and then we had eaten sadza for days on end, no beans or even collard greens and our mealie meal was running low,” Martin wrote.

So Martin gave the dollar to his mother for food. With it she bought two weeks worth of groceries. He wrote to thank Caitlin for the dollar, but did not promise to send her a bill from his country. It would rob their table of the scant food they had. He did promise however that he “would always write back, no matter what.”

They both wrote. When she learned that he had to drop out of school because his family lacked the money for the fees, Caitlin looked at the $20 she earned for babysitting. “I was just going to buy another pair of stupid earrings.” she said and sent it to Martin. It paid for his semester of school and provided the first meat his family had eaten in months. Eventually monetary shortages forced Martin to write letters on garbage.

“After he sent the letter on the ice-cream wrapper, Martin started to open up to me in a way that made me realize how different our lives were. Until that moment I did not realize how privileged I was,” Caitlin recalled.

A part time job for most American girls pays for fun. Caitlin found a job so she could buy tarps, boots and rain clothes for the rainy season in Zimbabwe. Martin thanked her, “now I don’t have to sleep on a wet floor.”

Caitlin’s family joined her quest to keep the family alive, safe and in school during the country’s depression and political uprisings. As high school graduation neared, Caitlin’s mother began contacting colleges seeking a full scholarship for Martin.

Caitlin saw through another window when her family invited a German exchange student into their home for a couple of months. As the child of extremely wealthy parents, the visitor assumed Caitlin’s mom would bring her breakfast in bed and complained when she had to go to school. When her visit ended, Caitlin wrote, “I did a victory dance as soon as (she left).”

Through Caitlin’s mother persistence and prayerful pleas, one American college offered Martin a full scholarship. Caitlin’s family lavishly welcomed him to America. He worked hard in college and at part times jobs to have money to provide for his family. Everything he did, he said, “I did it for my family.”

Both families gained a broader view of the world thanks to their children’s letters from abroad.

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Visiting the snowbirds


Each winter, Florida’s warmth beckons baseball teams and snowbirds. We went south to visit my snowbird brother and cousins. Approaching my brother’s RV park, I texted an explanation for our late arrival, “Hitting noonday traffic.”

They call it snowbird traffic down here.” he replied. Passing one full RV park after another, I could only imagine the population difference between January and July. Last year Mel and Deanna spent a month in Florida renewing acquaintances with folks they knew from New York. This year they will stay and play for three months when Florida is hopping. The popular restaurant we visited at 2 p.m. had a waiting time of 10 minutes. By the time we left, a line had formed.

We hit the slow time,” Mel winked.

Two days later, we watched the professional snowbirds play during a spring training baseball game. “Looks like it won’t rain after all,” we said thinking of the day’s forecast of thunderstorms.

We spoke too soon. The game ended in the seventh inning due to rain.

For meals and migration snowbirds fly together. As March wanes, my brother will push in his RV slides and join the migration back to New York. Cousin Sheila and her husband Butch leave before Thanksgiving and stay until April.

Sheila and I strolled around their mobile park. I listened as she pointed to trailers, “He comes from Canada every winter.” and “They live here year round.” “She has been in the hospital a lot this year.”

At the restaurant, folks from her home town spotted her and stopped at our table to catch up on the news. This year she talks about her growing collection of figurines reflecting life back home. Little porcelain dogs and people line their trailer windows, tables and shelves. Some will stay in Florida, others she will take to New York.

And then there are the snowbirds who came and stayed. My cousin Donna left New York years ago to settle in Florida. She and Bob had settled happily into their retirement home when a friend asked them to look at a house about to go on the market.

We aren’t looking. We like it here,” they protested.

Just come and look at it.”

They went.

We walked in and through the living room I could see the view on the lanai and I said, ‘I want it,’” Bob recalled. The house had been built half a dozen years before for other snowbirds who rarely returned, “I think the microwave had been used once,” Donna said.

I loved their lanai with its collection of colorful toucans, Bird of Paradise floral arrangements and live plants just outside the screen. Their other collectibles fill the shelves and neatly line high ledges. “Our collection of world globes began with this little metal bank,” Donna pointed up at the long ledge filled with carefully arranged and dusted classroom sized globes and banks in every color and size.

Bob pointed out his complete collections of favorite authors and said, “I read six books a month.”

I guess that included the books in his Marilyn Monroe collection that he began many years ago. I doubt that Donna counts it as a collection, but near her completely furnished doll houses she showed me six fat notebooks filled with pages of pictures taken through the years with people identified and events noted. We enjoyed seeing their collections and visiting them after so many years.

Hours later, we left this last snowbird’s home having added one more memory to our collection of visits with family.

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GPS girl speaks

The flight of the Snowbirds called me to visit family in Florida. El Dorado falls far short of having a true winter, so I called it a vacation and packed suitcases and the GPS. Hubby prefers the assistance of the GPS over my map reading. Plus, I think he has a crush on the GPS girl. She definitely anticipates and responds to him faster than I do.

As we wear away the miles, he casually asked me, “how far is it until we turn?”

I started to reach for the GPS to check and she blurted out, “In 600 feet turn right at Exit 45.”

We laughed at the coincidence.

Twenty minutes later he puzzled, “I wonder where that place is?” I shrugged he would figure it out when we get there.

“Turn left and your destination will be on the left,” she insisted on telling him.

All very helpful until GPS girl told us to turn off our route to a store in a new community.

“I thought we were almost there,” I said.

“She said turn here,” hubby swung the car around several turns before I said, “this looks exactly where we just were.”

“It is,” he pointed at stores we had just passed before five minutes of unnecessary detour.

A minute later GPS girl announced, “Your destination is on the right.”

A time or two, I yanked her monitor off the dash, found recent addresses, chose and set our destination again. She straightened up and gave us accurate instructions for a while.

A few flukes we could excuse. Then as we left my cousin’s house, GPS girl said, “Turn right.”

“I thought we would be going left here.” hubby said. Like a child running away from home, that girl took us up and down some back roads left and right until she giggled and brought us back to the same highway dictating, “Turn left.”

“I thought that was where we should go in the first place,” one frustrated, tired driver said.

He looked at the traffic flowing back and forth on the divided four lane highway with a knoll to his left where cars appeared from nowhere. We needed to turn left across it. As he started across the four lane highwy a car on the other side stopped in the turning lane in front of us.

Two vehicles can not occupy the same space. “You can’t turn.” I gasped. He started to turn away. A black sporty car came over the knoll, saw our white van, hit the brakes and slammed our front side. We felt the impact of that car’s passenger side hitting our van’s driver’s side. Our van moved to the right, his car bounced to the left. A curtain of air bags exploded on the driver side of the van.

Silence and shock followed.

I unlatched my safety belt and tried to open the door. It barely moved. The front end had warped up and sideways. The flat tire with crushed rim sagged beneath the ruined grill exposing the car guts hanging out and dripping.

“Are you okay? Do you need an ambulance?” someone asked us.

We did a quick review. Just a couple bruises on my shins. We walked away from the wreck as did the other driver. The GPS girl went silent. She did not recalculate, let alone apologize for her frustrating instructions.

She offered no directions, reminders, or suggestions as folks called 911 and we answered first responders’ questions, canceled reservations and contacted the insurance. GPS girl silently waited until we bought a vehicle and headed off to visit my cousin before she said another word.

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The man carrying a cross

Each day Steve Epp, 66, picks up the two beams forming a cross and walks down the road. He does not have time for retirement hobbies, sports or TV. Steve has a mission to tell others about God’s love. His mission began in 2015. At the time Epp had planned to start a new church in another community as he had done before with his wife Saundra.

Instead, Steve felt God leading him to carry a cross and walk across the country. With his wife’s agreement he bought a tiny travel trailer. They locked up their comfortable home in Oklahoma and headed down the road away from their five grown children and nine grandchildren to talk with folks about God’s love.

The Epps return home every three months. They could stop, sit down and stay there now that Steve is retirement age, but Steve feels compelled to walk along the road, talking with folks, praying with them and showing them the love of Christ. He is known as The Cross Man. Each day folks notice him and pull over to talk. Steve greets folks with 14 words, “Jesus loves you and so do I. What can I pray with you about?”

Answers vary. For instance, a truck driver parked behind a Walmart, planned to end his life that day until he saw a man carrying a cross and went over to talk with him. Steve looked him in the face, and said, the 14 words, “and I could see the tears well up in him, just knowing that he was loved.”

In Arkansas, Steve has had more folks stopping to talk. “Somedays I meet a dozen carloads of folks and get in several miles.” Other days are slower and the road is quiet for lengthy periods of time. In Arkansas, Steve observed, “This state has been amazing. At least 10 to 20 people have stopped about everyday. Rarely do they turn down prayer. They are friendly, but I’m feeling a hunger more than anything. They are looking for someone to bring them hope.

As a fellow believer. Epp welcomes their prayers and visits. Other days he meets those with hurting hearts like the man who hopped out of his car to snap a picture. “He had been a hard core drug addict for 37 years,” Steve said he learned before they prayed together.

In 2015, Steve walked from North Carolina to California. Since then he has walked other directions and states. He said, “I have walked in 19 states. I hope to eventually hit all 50 carrying the cross and talking with anyone who stops.”

Steve walks. Saundra drives. Every day she takes him from their small travel trailer to the road where he stopped the day before. Then she waits at a nearby library for him to call for lunch or to finish for the day.

Instead of planting another church, he plants the love of Christ in one individual after another. “I think it is about being there. We are being The Gospel. We just want to let people know we love them. Everyone needs prayer for something: a physical thing, a family, a job… Some do not see fulfillment in the church; we point them to Christ.”

With that in mind, Steve plans to be in Washington D.C. this spring, to walk in from Virginia carrying the cross, praying with whomever he meets along the way. He will go on praying for individuals and the nation because he is The Man with The Cross bringing the love of Jesus to one person at a time wherever he meets them.

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Aunt Millie and The Diamond Ring


The will said “share and share alike.”

Does that include The Diamond Ring?” my parents, aunts and uncles asked.

What diamond ring?” my sister and I asked.

My dad settled in to tell the story, “There was this gypsy ..”

It was a French man!” my mother interrupted.

My dad looked at her. “There was this gypsy …”

He was a French man!”

There was this French gypsy who came to America with diamonds hidden in his boot’s heels.”

Andre settled in New York. Aunt Millie, a country girl, went to the big city to work. The two met. Andre gave Millie The Diamond Ring. They married. “Then the French Gypsy disappeared and was never heard from again,” my dad concluded.

My aunt’s began the story differently, “Aunt Millie had three diamonds. Two in earrings and The Ring. Aunt Millie were not married very long when we children were told she was coming home to ‘help Aunt Belle with her three children.’ Belle’s husband, a railroad worker, had fallen off the caboose and died. There had been so many railroad worker accidents back then that we had an Engineer’s Room for the injured when I worked at the hospital.”

No one said divorce. Millie moved in with Aunt Belle, sold magazines and they lived together until Aunt Belle died. Neither remarried. “When we went to Hornell to visit the aunts, there were no men there.” my aunt recalled.

After Aunt Belle’s death, mother looked at Aunt Millie and said, ‘You can come live with us.’”

So she did and stayed even when dementia took over her mind. Family history includes the day she accompanied a young adult to town wearing three dresses. Left in the car alone for a few minutes, Milllie slipped out of the car and began pulling off her top dress to the amazement of nearby folks.

Belle’s daughter Gladys asked to buy the diamond earrings with regular payments. When the payments stopped. Millie said, “Write to Gladys and tell her I’m not dead yet.” Payments resumed, according to my aunt.

Before her death, Millie gave The Diamond Ring to my grandmother who cared for her. Grandma went about her life as a farmer’s wife. Grandpa retired. The ring sparkled on Grandma’s hand as she knitted and sewed. Grandpa’s health failed. When he passed no one asked about the ring. Grandma gave the ring to her daughter, my aunt.. Grandma asked to have it back and later handed it back to my aunt. When Grandma died, my aunt had The Ring. That’s when her brothers began asking, who owned the ring? Their sister or the estate?

As executor for the estate my uncle insisted my aunt give him the ring. The next day my father teased his brother into letting him hold the ring then he refused to return it. The Diamond Ring became a bone of contention, the focus of the family’s pain from their loss of Grandma. It took months before they agreed that my father inherited The Ring and the other two inherited other unique items.

My mother put it away. When Mom died, Dad offered the ring to my sister. She took it. Dad asked for it back. He gave it to her again and took it back again.

The next time my sister had the ring she gave it to my brother. He put the ring in a safe deposit box. Many years later the ring went on another finger as an engagement ring. The fiancee never heard about the French gypsy who brought the diamond to America. And that’s the way we will leave it.

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Phantosmia


I looked up from my book and sniffed. Something smelled medicinal. Turning to my husband working behind me in the kitchen, I asked, “Are you doing something with medicine?”

Crushing pills, measuring out drops of Nervestra to stop the sciatic nerve pain,” he said. 

I shook my head. No, that wasn’t it. Nervestra smells like the daily vitamins my mother gave all of her children. We took the red coated pills obediently and faithfully until one of us asked, “I wonder what’s inside?”

Here’s a knife. Let’s cut one open,” my sister said. We cut open the pill and wrinkled our noses, at the smell emanating from the yellow-brown substance. “Ewww! It smells like ca-nure!” As farm kids, ca-nure was our code for cow manure.

That ended the daily vitamin ritual for both of us. That smell so seared our brains that even as new mothers we both struggled to remember to give our own children drops from the brown bottle filled with those disgusting yellow drops of health. My sister taped a large sign “Vitamins!” to her son’s high chair to remind her to add them to his cereal and still forgot.

So I knew the smell of Nervestra did not match the medicinal whiff akin to rubbing alcohol that filled my nostrils. I sniffed again.

Definitely medicinal but not the smell of medicine that I associated with old Doctor McDonald’s who treated me as a child. Dr. McDonald held office hours in the parlor and office of his home in the village of Woodhull, N.Y. The waiting room smelled of tobacco and rubbing alcohol. Tobacco because McDonald took cigarette breaks between patients.

No, I detected a modern medicinal smell. Not finding the source, I gave up and went to bed. Next morning, with my husband sound asleep in the bedroom, I again sat on the couch and the smell returned. Curious, I reached for the source of all knowledge: the Internet. I googled, “smelling something that is not there” and learned a new word: Phantosmia: a phantom smell. Or cacosmia if it smells really disgusting. I posted my new word on Facebook. Friends replied with their personal experiences with phantosmia.

It can be linked to autoimmune disorders like fibromyalgia or lupus.” a local woman wrote speaking from personal experience.

One elderly woman suffered from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and already was the cleanest person ever when she began smelling an intolerable stench. “She was getting up twice nightly to wash and dry bed sheets. We printed all the information about phantosmia for her, but she never believed. She actually smelled like beautiful flowers, but could not be convinced. It also did not help that her regular doctor was less than sympathetic or informative.” her daughter-in-law said.

Before one woman realized the smell originated from a sinus infection, she made her husband “tear out a bathroom wall because I could smell something rotten. Bless his sweet heart. Now, I have a wonderful immunologist, allergist who treats me for this. I am so glad I found a good doctor and found my problem. Before that I cleaned, sprayed and threw away. It takes a good specialist to keep you out of the nut house with this,” she concluded.

Thank goodness my experience with phantosmia came and went in a 24 hour period and did not send me into a cleaning frenzy. For all my friends who suffered longer and more miserably with cacosmia, please accept my sympathy. I enjoyed learning a new word, but I would not care to share the experiences you have described beyond that passing medicinal smell.

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