Movers and Shakers
November 18, 2008
Turn Down the Radio
February 11, 2009

Smell’s Good

Despite the ridiculous number of holiday cookies I’ve devoured (frosted cutouts and snowballs with chocolate kisses hidden inside among the best), I’ve escaped the “Weber Hips.” This unfortunate posterior flab plagues most of the other women on my mother’s side of the family. I can, however, lay claim to inheriting the “Weber Nose.”

Distinct not only in size, it can detect the lilacs in a neighbor’s yard two doors down. With the windows closed. This sometimes-blessing has a flip side in that it also can identify a full diaper from as far away.

But I’m losing it. This baking season, the aromas have lost their strength. I barely noticed the hint of cinnamon wafting from the oven or the fresh pine of the greens on the mantel. I’ve even started to hand the milk jug to my husband and ask, “Does this smell okay?” A Weber would never have to ask; theirs were the noses that sniffed out the bad and set it right.

I’m not sure how I feel about this hyposmia, this reduced ability to smell or detect odors that is among the numerous symptoms of Parkinson’s.

A part of me can no longer identify with sisters and aunts who hold their heads high as they pass through a door. They’re not looking down on the men, they’re simply breathing in all the scents around them, from winter’s mulled cider to that first open window on an early spring day through to sensing a summer rain before the drops begin to fall.

Still unsure of how I felt about this waning that has been occurring over the past year, I happened upon an article in the New York Times science section. Surgeons at the Detroit Clinic completed a full face transplant on a woman who’d been without a nose or mouth due to a severe head trauma. She needed help breathing and could not feed herself, not to mention all else that she endured without half of her face.

When the doctors finish and the final scars heal, the woman will be able to breathe and eat on her own. She’ll even be able to smell again.

I know how I feel now. Smells can send any one of us with that active sense into a happy memory or bring us right into the moment as we identify garlic, smoke, autumn leaves. Perhaps the fact that this sense is not as keen for me anymore has made me more aware of the aromas around me.

I’ll never know what the woman in the article went through, but I’ve learned to savor the moment. I wish for her a New Year filled with moments of simply breathing in all the scents around her.

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