“Hmmm,” he mused as he sipped the tea he had just poured from the puddle left over in the teapot early this morning. “It tastes a little like Earl Grey or Vanilla Caramel, but with a sort of fruit flavor.” I looked at Gregory, my jaw dropping. He had no way of knowing that Gabe had adulterated our pot of Earl Grey last night with some butter rum and green apple flavor. I knew he messed with the tea, but I didn’t know what he had done. It was experimental, a joke on me, because I will never live down a funny mistake I made soon after our marriage.
Some of Gabe’s aunts and their families had gotten together for a picnic, bringing their specialty dishes to share. They are all fabulous cooks, and the fare was topped with homemade ice cream that had traveled 1 1/2 hours packed in ice. Everyone was having conniptions about the ice cream, so even though I was avoiding sugar because I was pregnant, I had to have some. It was smooth, creamy, better than anything Ben and Jerry’s produces. It was a light brown. I savored a dainty bite, then turned to ask the ice cream making aunt, “Wow, how do you get the caramel flavor? Do you use brown sugar?” She looked at me blankly, then chirped, “It’s COFFEE!”
Later that night I related the story to Gabe and we howled at the newly-wed niece making polite and clueless conversation with the artist-in-the-kitchen aunt. To this day, Gabe likes to fix flavored coffees at the gas station, then get me to guess the flavors. I have been around long enough to know his is creme brulee and mine is preferably French vanilla, but he thinks it is so fun to mix it up and stump me. Then I say, “It’s COFFEE!” And I am always right.
I can’t differentiate smells so well, either. He has about five favorite scents that he wears, and while they are all “my man” to me, I can’t tell which is which. If I guess right, it’s just because I got lucky. I don’t wear perfume unless I want to sneeze all day. There was a time, though, when I smelled an electrical fire and he didn’t. I insisted something stank. Sure enough, the hot water heater was putting out an awful fume of burnt elements down in the basement. At least I know if something stinks or smells good.
In blink, Malcolm Gladwell describes the work that professional tasters put into their craft. They spend years and years honing their expertise so that they can break down an Oreo cookie into ninety attributes of flavor, texture, and appearance. They can tell the Nabisco company exactly what happens when they change their cookie recipe. What’s more, they are so highly skilled that their assessments appear to be nearly effortless, like first impressions.
While I find that fascinating, I don’t aspire to anything more than tasty food, the right amount of salt, no lumps in the gravy, cookies that don’t crumble all over the floor, etc.
I have other senses, though. There’s a finely tuned sense of humor. Sometimes it gives me giggles at a funeral, which is highly inappropriate, but stress relieving. I can have the worst day and lie in bed in tears, when suddenly I find myself laughing because all the craziness in the day piling up is just too funny for words. I would rather be able to laugh at myself than taste 45 differences between Coke and Pepsi.
I can tell when a child has a burdened conscience or a wounded spirit. Sometimes I just know and carry the burden and pray for clarity so that they don’t have to live under a cloud. It’s a sense I want to hone, especially with teens in the house. I would love some input into the process, because I am really green here.
I can sense when people don’t like me. That sounds childish, but I mean it in an objective way. It’s something I read in their faces, some micro-expression that can’t be masked by a smile. Recently we changed to a different family practice because the doctors and nurses were so snobbish and unhelpful at the one where we were taking our children. Whether or not they liked us, they didn’t act that way. And I didn’t like them talking to me as if I could barely understand English, much less why we should give our children every vaccination that was ever developed. It’s easy in that sort of situation. You can quietly move on. Most cases where I feel someone doesn’t like me, it is best just to assume they do, but try to stay a little out of their space. As an oversharing someone who likes (almost) everyone, this is hard to do sometimes. I don’t take this sense too seriously, but I have it, no doubt about it. Probably most people do.
There is one more thing that I would like discussion on. I love conversation. With anybody. Exploring ideas and cultures is so much fun; everybody has a story to tell and I would genuinely like to hear it, especially if it has an accent. It bugs me when I am trying to be friendly to someone and they just drop the ball repeatedly. I know conversation is a sort of learned art, much easier for some than others. Listening is the same way. When I ask someone, “So how was your day?” I am making a sincere effort to hone my listening sense. If they say, “Good,” and stand there waiting for me to ask the next question, I start to feel scrambled and like they really wish I would just bug off. Can someone, preferably an introvert, tell me what is best in this situation? Does this mean, “I don’t want to talk to you; leave me alone.” Or maybe it means, “Please find the topic that sets me going. Then I will tell you all.”
Last night at our annual widow’s dinner I sat opposite a sprightly little lady with a gorgeous silver pompadour. I had never met her and made small talk about where she lives, whether she has family nearby, etc. She answered with a bare minimum of syllables and I soon decided she didn’t want to converse, leaving her in peace during the main course. About dessert time, something she said to her friend about reading on her patio gave me an idea. “So what books do you like to read?” It was like I pushed the button that lights her up and for the rest of the evening she talked and talked and talked. She told me all about her book collection and a lot of family history as well as her philosophy on cooking and housework. As we were leaving, I told her how beautiful her hair was and she said, “I hope I sit opposite you again next year.”
That just warmed my heart to the cockles and goes to show that the “doesn’t like me” vibe can be very wrong.
And now, my windowsill on this glorious May 1. I have no words, only a heart of thanks for every single bloom.