“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.

spring florals, May 1

10 thoughts on “Senses

  1. I loved this post. So many senses to hone. On behalf, of introverts, maybe they just can’t think of anything to say, and anything they do think of seems silly and mundane, and the longer they wait to say something the worse it gets because of course if you speak few words they oughta be brilliant ones. I’ve often had people entertain me with long and detailed stories, by which I am not bored at all, but if I tell a story in return, it is very short and lacks any details…because really, why would they care? For some reason, the same concept doesn’t carry over to paper for me. Maybe because I can sit in a quiet place and think of exactly what I want to say…and in the end that turns out to be quite a lot.

    1. I would not have guessed you are an introvert. 🙂 So are you saying that it’s not necessarily that you don’t feel like talking, but more the desire to make sure your words are meaningful since you won’t be blurting them indiscriminately like extroverts do? And it’s not that you wish the talky people would let you alone? Do you ever wish someone would pursue you with more questions?

      1. I am an introvert who loves to be in a crowd of extroverts. I would rather listen than talk.

      2. I’m only an introvert sometimes. But I used to be much more so. And at least for me personally, I loved when people took the time and effort to have a conversation with me. I just wished I could talk as easily as they. But it meant a lot that they made the effort. I don’t think you can go wrong if you treat someone kindly and naturally. Not honing in on them or making them feel awkward for NOT talking more, but including them in the conversation as you are able. In due time, they just might open up, but if they don’t, it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

    2. Yes, I am definitely an extrovert on paper! I usually can’t process things by talking about them….i process in silence and pen. Which is mysterious to my extrovert husband and has brought about many opportunities to learn and grow and become more like each other 😊

  2. I just gotta say I love your posts. They are delightful and down to earth! Keep on writing, don’t stop! 🙂

  3. Okay, I think I would tend toward introvertedness, so maybe I can offer some insight. First of all, I love words, and I love hearing them used well (and with wit). Second, I really do enjoy learning about interesting people, and will gladly fire questions their way, as long as they don’t seem put off by it. Third, I’m tired. I have little excess energy, so spending it to sort laboriously through my tired brain for answers to questions is sometimes just too hard. Sometimes I resent questions, especially if the person asking either 1) doesn’t so much seem interested in hearing my answer (and won’t wait for me to answer) as in hearing herself talk, or 2) seems to be prying and digging without concern for my desire for privacy.

    But, for someone who seems genuinely interested and is willing to wait while I dig through the files in my brain (I also have trouble with word recall so that takes time . . . and laughter at my convoluted descriptions – “Go put that book on the, uh, um, flat surface with four legs”), I don’t mind answering questions.

    One other thought: sometimes I feel suddenly put on the spot when asked questions. I have a friend that LOVES questions, and always has a ready supply for anyone. I usually dread her questions, though, not because they’re not articulate and thoughtful. No, it’s because I feel that she wants some d.e.e.p. answer, and, quite frankly, I don’t always have that kind of answer. And, the older and more tired I get, the less I want to probe for a suitably deep-sounding answer to satisfy her curiosity. Recently, after a question that I didn’t care to answer, I just told her I’d not address that one. That worked for her =).

  4. I’m an introvert who loves deep, meaningful conversations with others but preferably with only one or two people and not a crowd. I appreciate when someone shows an interest in my life and asks questions but I tend to give brief answers unless I can tell they are really interested in me and my life. If they keep pursuing me in a kind, genuine way I will be happy to open up and share more. You did well with the elderly lady!

  5. From an extrovert wanna be, but still a ripened introvert (maybe I will see some longed for extrovert qualities by the time I’m 90).
    the “good” response means “I would love to be your friend and have a 101 things to say…..but right this minute I have no clue what to say. Keep asking questions. 😊

  6. Making the first move to talk to someone, especially a stranger, is about the hardest thing for me to do. So if they they drop the conversation ball, then that is the most frustrating discouraging thing to happen.
    However, I have many times sat in awkward silence frantically scrambling thru my brain trying to think of something casual to say. I do not enjoy small talk.
    However, a meaningful conversation with a friend or two and I get carried away with too much talking. If there are more than two people listening to me, then I freeze up again.
    So I don’t know the answer, but I’m always appreciative of anyone willing to make the first move to talk to me and to keep talking even if I freeze in a ‘small talk mind blank.’ 😊

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