Friday, September 9, 2011

The Act of Opening

It was a long time ago, when I was perhaps eight or nine, during a weekend visit with my father that I discovered one of the simpler joys of life, one that I still practice and have adapted and enjoy to this very day. It was a seemingly inconsequential thing, one I'm sure he does not remember, but each time I'm afforded the opportunity to do it I think of that morning in his kitchen in Blackfoot, Idaho.

I'm not sure what I was doing––maybe watching television or playing with my Star Wars action figures, or reading Beatrix Potter sprawled out on the couch––when he called me into the kitchen where he was sifting through one of the drawers in search of a can opener. On the counter before him sat a short, squat can of coffee, dark green with a bright yellow plastic lid. This was long before the days when the best coffee came in vacuum-sealed bags and cost an arm and a leg. In fact, I didn't know coffee came in anything but a can until I was in college when my best friend John scowled at me the first morning we hung out and I opened a can of MJB my mother had given me for my new coffeepot. Being raised in quiet, safe southeast Idaho occasionally had its advantages but we always seemed to be ten years behind the rest of the country. Idaho, where men are men and coffee comes in cans.

"I want to show you something," my father said in his dad voice, which is very different from the radio voice he uses to make a living. I stood next to him, thinking he was going to try to teach me to use the can opener, something I already knew how to do. But I waited while he removed the lid, set it aside and knelt before me. "Lean in close," he said. I did as I was told while he slipped the opener onto the lip of the metal can and squeezed the grips. There was a pop and a crunch as he turned the knob once and then thrust the can into my face. "Close your eyes and smell," he told me. I followed his instructions and breathed deeply through my nose, the rich scent of coffee wafting up at me, enveloping me and imprinting itself on my young brain. "That," he said with a certainty that left no room for doubt, "is the best smell in the world."

And from that moment I was in love with the smell of coffee and have made a point of relishing each moment when I unseal the bag and release its trapped fragrance. Even though I gave up coffee six years ago when I was diagnosed with my anxiety disorder and was told I needed to stay away from caffeine, I stood at Ken's side while he opened his coffee and inhaled its dark, earthy scent. It wasn't until last Spring that I finally dipped my toe back in the coffee pool and started drinking the occasional cup of decaf brewed in my under-used French press. But during those dark coffee-less years I still enjoyed its aroma and pined for the flavor dancing across my tongue, its warmth seeping down deep into my body, spreading out through my limbs and making life so much richer.

I took my father's lesson and applied it to many other things, like cans of hot cocoa or loose-leaf tea, jars of pickles, packages of cheese, candles, lotions, after-shave, the first slice of a big ball of pink grapefruit, and countless other magical and heady every day items. I am a scent junkie and live much of my life by its dictates and its close association with memory. As this blog readily attests there is not a day I am not entranced by some fragrance or other.

I have shared my passion for it with Duncan, who has learned the lesson my father taught me all those years ago, that things smell best when they are fresh or newly opened, before anyone else has had the chance to breathe them in. Each time I open a new bag of food for him, Roo runs into the kitchen and sits himself in front of me, his tail sliding manically back and forth behind him while I set the bag on the floor between us and slowly cut into its paper and pull the packaging apart, releasing the aroma of chicken or salmon or venison for his pleasure. He greedily thrusts his nose into the small opening and sniffs it up, closing his eyes and never making an attempt to sneak a bite. It has become a tradition with us, one he knows well and loves as much as I love the scent of coffee and the memory of my father teaching me about it three decades ago.


Boondocks and The Love Shack Pack said...

Coffee is WONDERFUL or so I'm told. Those silly humans say I'm hyped up enough without it... whatever that means.

And seriously dude - write a book. Your writing is poetic and draws the reader into another place. Awesome, awesome, awesome! As always.

Boondocks & The Love Shack Pack

Finn said...

My Dad used to do the same thing. I can see it crystal clear in my mind.

Traci said...

I love that smell! I do the same thing with every can of coffee I open. I buy the Kirkland brand from Costco, which still comes in a 3 pound can and is really good coffee. And let's face it, is there anything that has a better afterlife than a coffee can? I use them for saving coins, dirt, bungee cords, you name it.

I could never allow Murphy a 'first sniff' of his food though. His head would be gone in the bag in no time!