Our awkward summer of smells

PHOTO: Eric Ray, Flickr CC-BY.
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Mesabi Tribune.

We’re bracing for something unusual right now: the prospect of a normal summer. The global COVID-19 pandemic went on long enough that the weirdness of it began to feel routine. Now we each must adjust, again, back to a life similar to our old one. 

The first thing I’m noticing is smell. Wearing a mask in public, my sense of smell was limited to the olfactory spectrum of my breath. Maybe coffee. Or perhaps the general aura of a meat and cheese tray left in a sauna for a couple hours. I wouldn’t call either pleasant, but I had gotten used to them.

Now, glory. I smell lilacs, fresh-tilled garden soil, cool lake breezes, two-month-old milk spilled in the grocery store foyer, and gas station restrooms that have been cleaned by people also wearing masks for the past year.

Hey, no one promised that “normal” would always be “good.”

With more social activity, we now revisit old questions. For instance, how do you keep a pasta salad cold enough to serve to relatives after a long car trip? I mean, it’s probably fine right? It’s fine. 

Or how long does it take to assemble a new patio set from a box? The store was only going to charge $25 more for the assembled version, so it can’t be that hard. The answer is Sunday. And Sunday night. Also, people who assemble patio furniture at the store must be woefully underpaid.

Smells aren’t the only overwhelming part of this process. My conversation skills are returning far more slowly than actual conversations. 

I teach communication for a living, so I’m well aware that conversation is an act of relating to another person. Your inner self projects messages that convey meaning, creating a shared experience. It can be a beautiful thing.

Nevertheless, when I now find myself face-to-face with another human being, I say things like, “I am from basement. Long time. Much Zoom. Many heavy soups.” 

In addition the “Do I know that person?” game out in public just got a lot harder. During COVID you could walk past a blood relation, child or spouse without saying anything and just blame it on the mask. Now you have to say, “Oh hey!” and fish around until their name miraculously drops out of your brain like the birth of a giraffe.

I also found it amusing that at the first gathering of all my parents and sisters we assembled our lawn chairs in a giant oval, such that one had to shout to reach the other side. We’re all vaccinated. None of us are worried about getting sick. We just need space, apparently. 

Is it like this everywhere or is this an Upper Midwestern thing? Perhaps, granted the long held wish of total social deprivation, we’ve reverted to our final form: black holes that consume food instead of light, to which no one dares near.

By the end of the afternoon, though, we had returned to our human ways. One crazy relative was hugging people, and the rest of us tolerated it. Perhaps next time I will awkwardly pat someone on the back? We’ll see. I don’t want to overcommit. 

Meantime, my son turned 16 last week. We lit candles on his cake and sang “Happy Birthday.” Then we all stared at the cake, the flickering light, the melting wax, realizing that what came next was the big spitty blow that would put out the fire. After sincere contemplation, Henry decided to wave his hands at the candles to blow them out.

I think they call this a new normal. 

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, June 6, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.