Problems with One’s Nose: It Just Doesn’t Make Scents

I think we can all agree—that whether you’ve experienced it firsthand or not—having Covid is no fun.

I can’t think of any illness that would actually fit into the “fun” category, so perhaps the above statement is a bit of a no-brainer declaration.

Still … there is an aspect of this affliction that is forcing me to do something I do find to be pleasurable—research­­—as I (along with millions of other humans) are desperate to determine when, if ever, our sense of smell will return to our bodies.

The symptoms of SARS-CoV–2 are dizzying, to be sure—one of them including experiencing dizziness. That evidentiary concurrence aside, other symptoms include the typical sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can’t rest for lack of medicine annoyances. Some of these ailments arising to the level of not just vexing irritations but life-threatening pathologies.

The non-life-threatening, but definitely life-depressing disorder of anosmia—or smell blindness—is a fairly reliable indicator for the Average Joe lacking an at home Covid test to determine if they have been infected with this miserable and unrelenting virus. As an individual whose job relies upon her sense of smell, I long ago created a list of all maladies of the disease that I knew might reliably express themselves and highlighted in yellow and then orange and then pink the one that I absolutely, under no circumstances could tolerate. And then promptly began agonizing over its possible appearance until, I’m guessing, my brain finally took to heart all those self-help, yogi meditations I spent years fostering and “manifested” my thoughts into intentions.

Here you go. You think it, you become it.

The loss of smell for most people is dispiriting—especially if you’re a human who likes to eat.

The loss of smell for a person who is surrounded by hundreds of small alcoholic vials filled with aromatic compounds that are no longer aromatic is panic-inducing, terrorizing, and humbling in a collapse into a puddling heap on the floor type of way.

What now? Is the question of the day, although it really wasn’t a daily query as much as it became an hourly one.

So much of my life’s work is dedicated to identifying odorants—the good the bad and the ugly. They’re all incredibly fascinating to me and important to the labors I’ve been employed to pursue. I have never taken my ability to smell for granted—in fact, I’ve protected its presence and fostered my olfactory skills like a zealot chasing after the title of “Olympic medalist” in that category.

I walk into a room and the first things I notice are the odorants—the primary, the secondary, the tertiary. Has someone burnt toast? Has a dog passed gas? Is that woman wearing the same scarf from yesterday when she slipped outside into the alley to have a quick cigarette?

I walk into a patch of someone else’s presence and can oftentimes flesh out a rhinal history. The cologne they wear, the detergent they use, the curry they ate. It’s a Sherlockian mystery that unfolds itself one odorant at a time.

And now it’s gone. Poof.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago, I noticed a side-effect to a new medication I’m on which revealed that I may experience hyperosmia—an increased sensitivity to odorants. Hot diggity, I thought. A dream come true, right? Until I’d been stuck in a car with a person who, whenever speaking, gave off the exhalating perfume of someone who had perhaps dined on the soup made from the sewer on a hot August day. It wasn’t their fault. Their stomach was appropriately breaking down breakfast with the human chemicals assigned to that job—it’s just that it felt like I was in that organ with them.

Being on the opposite ends of the scent spectrum in such a short period of time provides—along with a bit of whiplash—an opportunity to experience the edges, to assess this bodily sense with the effect of a volume dial. Too much and you whirl with nausea, too little and life becomes monochrome—a dull gray, monotony that snatches away all color, absconds with your anticipation, and tosses you into a steeply descending pit of “why bother?” (Or, at least, for me it did.)

I have a phrase—a formula—I use to describe a concept when teaching on developing the skills of nosing and tasting: scent + taste = flavor.

Scent involves our olfactory epithelium—a small patch of tissue high in the nasal cavity that houses around 400 of our body’s olfactory receptors. When aroma molecules attach themselves to the receptors—either singularly or in combination with others—we can identify somewhere between 100 million to 1 trillion different odorants.

Taste is defining sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami compounds.

Putting the two together is how we experience flavor. Strip one away and the pow and wow factor of food is crippled. Hamstring both and you’re left with … what??

If I allow my freaked out, blubbering inner doomsayer to answer that question, it would be search for a cliff tall enough to leap from. If I am to respond more appropriately, more hopefully, more like an individual who gravitates toward solid science than pointless hysteria, I would say, a not unsubstantial amount.

I am forced to hunt for the other. To seek out what else contributes to the sensory experience of flavor, as there are a few more things than one might expect to include.

  1. Viscosity – a measure of thickness, glossiness, syrupiness, adhesion.
  2. Chemesthesis – this occurs when the receptors on the skin react with a chemical placed upon them—where your mouth and nose are concerned, we have the examples of:
    • Menthol (a cooling sensation—your toothpaste, gum, or minty herbs)
    • Capsaicin (a thermal impression—your hot sauce, spicy peppers, or chili powders)
    • Carbonation (a tingling of the receptors—think soda, sparkling water, fizzy champagne)
    • Alcohol (a prickling phenomenon—might as well go for the gold and make it high proof)
  3. Sounds – the oral and sonic experience that comes from the crunch of your sugar snap peas, the squeak of your cheese curds, the crackle of your potato chips, the smacking stickiness of your peanut butter, the effervescence of those Pop Rocks.
  4. Temperature – No need to explain, you know the scale.
  5. Mindfulness—It has been studied and believed that “expectation” contributes to flavor as well, as scent and taste stimulate the limbic system and ultimately stir up memories.

I cling to the fact that the nuances of what contributes to flavor is fairly rich with examples. And paying particular attention to the extra sensory “we’ve always been here, but you’ve just ignored us” elements highlights their contribution to an experience rich with stimuli.

Is it the same?

Nope. Not even close. For me, anyway.

Will it suffice?

It will have to. At least until biology rights itself, a stem cell transplant program is offered up by my GP, or Mark Zuckerberg finds a way to “meta” my olfactory receptors back into reality. But for now, I will sniff, sip, slurp, and swirl everything I find—to invite back into my brain, to welcome back into my realm, to appreciate with renewed vigor the one thing my mental health hinges upon.

Until all returns, I will remain annoyingly and worrisomely … scent-o-mental.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

How to Keep a Bridge Quiet When in the Car

There is nothing like writing a book to illuminate just how awful a communicator you are.

I think everyone should do it. Not only for the (eventual) resounding joy of completing such an accomplishment, but also to recalibrate your ego—bring it down to a more palatable level.

Like bug height.

And it’s only at such a degree that you will see the crucial minutia—the details, the complexities, the nuances that exist beneath the large umbrella encompassing the process of conveying information. Yes, the granular level is critical; the grammar that contains all the basic linguistic units that make up our parts of speech, but there is so much more than the study of the classes of words, their inflections, and their functions and relations in each sentence.

Of course, to see that “so much more” collection, one must pull back the lens to include a big, broad perspective. One must don the panoramic glasses of an omniscient deity, let’s say, providing you the opportunity to view your work from every angle and from great heights.

I’m not so sure I’ve ever met a human who embodies the ability to do all of the above, for if you ever have the chance to experience publishing a book in a traditional manner, you begin to see that there should be countless names given credit as author, and not just one boldly inked above the title.

Let me explain. I think writing a book is a metaphor for factory work. Rarely, do we find one person who wears every hat. Creating something—for instance, a widget—typically requires an interconnected tapestry of relationships. Even if you hang your own shingle stating you’re a one-man band baker, it’s doubtful you’re also the grain farmer, the mill grinder, and the manufacturer of the oven, right?

The last box I tick off on the completion list of “book writing” is to craft an acknowledgement page. Over the years, I have learned to keep a checklist, as there is nothing more worrisome than coming to that moment when this write-up is due, and you’re wracking your brain for Who else? Who else? Oh fudge, there are surely more!

There are. I’m not kidding when I state that I would like to include some grade school English teachers who taught me the basics, and also highlight others whom I hold at fault for not drilling more into my brain. I suppose one could lasso in any individual who aided you whilst learning language, but it’s mostly considered a slight not to include one’s parents, so we’re mostly covered there.

The factory work of book writing is where we could state that our earliest teachers are the manufacturers of the raw ingredients. They provide the schooling that leads to the recognition of a collection of sounds, which are assigned to various letters. Placed together and in dictated order, they form a syntactic unit.

I see myself as the widget maker—utilizing all those syntactic units. Once possessed of all those units—or words—I churn them out and pray they have a functional purpose. Whether to educate or entertain, the person who soon purchases those words will, optimistically speaking, find them worth the expense.

That widget is then inspected by upper management for design flaws, operational errors, and defects of any nature. Upper management includes editors, proofreaders, and interior designers. The widget gets sent back to the production room floor a lot. A LOT.

Then that widget is enrobed in fashionable, eye-catchy wrapping. Photographers, graphic artists, models, and designers first all huddle in some stylish conference room and bemoan the fact that it will be near impossible to convey the “idea” of the widget, unless upper management can make the “idea” a better one. Upper management sends the widget back to the production room floor.

The floor operator (that’s me) has no one to complain to, as she is not unionized and really just hopes for a paycheck and therefore, straps on her elfin cap once more and gets to work.

Eventually, either the widget is acceptable to upper management and the creatives, or someone shoves it through inspection as they can’t stand to look at it one second longer.

The larger point is that we’re all involved in trying to communicate something to others. Something we feel is worth the slight distraction from whatever other activity those others may be engrossed in.

Us: “HEY!” (Now, someone holds up the widget)

Others: “Huh?” … “Oh, I get it.”

Us: “Our work is done.”

But getting to the “done” part is arduous—and, oftentimes, sadly unsuccessful.

Communicating is hard. Telling people what you think, how you feel, what you see and believe should not be that difficult with all the tools at our disposal, and yet, because of inflection or syntax, those threads are open to interpretation.

Every proofreader (but mostly those having worked on my books) will tell you that we give meaning and emphasis to words and phrases where we absolutely shouldn’t. I am at an Olympian level when it comes to misplaced modifiers.

Example: Being a lover of bridges, this one was gorgeously swoopy.

There. I just made a bridge a lover of bridges. (facepalm)

Back to the larger, larger point—I trust my readers to know what I mean, not what I say. And I ask them for forgiveness and also not to laugh at the parts that I did not intend to be hilarious, like making bridges anthropomorphic.

I think, as humans, we all have ample experiences to point to where we’re finding dialogue, and communication writ large, to be more challenging than ever. Whether attempting to pair the perfect emoji to replace words (often fails), sifting through media opinions hiding as facts (often succeeds), or trying to decipher what code level color the CDC has stamped as today’s mask needs (usually epic blunders), time is an important element one must employ on both ends for success.

Well, maybe time to communicate, time to interpret, and time for a stiff drink if we manage to botch up the babel.

I stand by my suggestion that everyone gives it a shot though—a shot at writing a book. It will flood you with a sense of thoughtfulness as you spend countless months and years attempting to craft content that will be unforgettable. It will highlight the value of cooperation as the team of factory workers by your side pour their souls into attempting to re-craft your content so that it will be readable, enjoyable, and all errors will be “forgettable.” And lastly, it will provide you with an opportunity to say something without being interrupted—as this always happens to me whenever I’m in a car with a bridge and they just blurt out their enthusiasm for overpass architecture.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert bur...

January 25th marked the birth of Robert Burns. The Ploughman Poet. The Bard of Ayrshire. Scotland’s favorite son. Sadly, most people only admit knowledge of the catchy tune he penned that they drunkenly mumble along to come New Year’s Eve at midnight: Auld Lang Syne.

He wrote poems and lyrics, collected and improved folk songs and fathered as many children with as many women who would have him. No wonder so many people claim him as their ancestor. The guy was a rogue—and a quick one too. He died at the age of thirty seven, making a remarkable attempt to populate half of Scotland.

Regardless, numerous individuals, whether of Scottish decent, whisky aficionados, or enthusiasts of poetry, annually plan to commemorate this man’s existence and accomplishments (both bardic and bedroom) with an evening of debauchery and boredom.

Scotish dirk

The whisky I love, but somewhere during the third hour of monotonic homemade poetry, I’m looking for anything I can surreptitiously light on fire so we can all leave the building. Consequently, I appreciate the whisky with more enthusiasm than I probably should. Of course, this is what everyone else is doing and why they believe they’re channeling Laurence Olivier.

A typical Burns Night, or Burns Supper, as it is both commonly known, used to be (and I’m sure remains in some stuffy circles) a “boys only” getup held on the anniversary of Rabbie’s birth (or in many cases the Saturday night closest to it, as no one is getting up for work when the sun rises next). Gathering that Burns himself likely preferred the company of women and wouldn’t have missed the chance to gaze upon the legs of a lovely lassie, a few welcome mats have been placed at the feet of the fairer sex. It seems to have spiced up the evening for many a current soirée and is gaining popularity, as more women begin to view whisky as something more pleasurable than a root canal.

The supper components make or break any Burns celebration. Sadly, I have attended too many events where I’ve found countless guests sleeping with their eyes open at the table, making frequent lavatory trips, or curled up in a fetal position in the cloak room, arms cradling a depleted Lagavulin bottle.

Assembling your own Burns supper should not be undertaken lightly; get it wrong and you will find attendees plotting your grisly death and funeral. One must consider the key factors needed: the proper guests, the right food, the liquor, and the entertainment.

The guest list is key to success. Have a gathering of bashful introverts or pontifical windbags and your evening feels like watching the “next up for service” numbers at the DMV slowly tick by would be a treat. Be sure to invite a thespian or two and maybe throw in a fire eater or sword swallower in case the evening plummets.

If you find the menu is reminiscent of something even Fido would shake his head at, do not blame it on the Scots. Just because folklore wishes us to believe all Highlanders were once scrap cloth clad savages does not mean they couldn’t wield a torch with just enough finesse in order to perfectly caramelize the tops of their Crème Brule.

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

The main course, haggis, (aka sheep pluck), is a dish whose preparation and success requires deft skill in the kitchen. Try to find a large animal vet who moonlights as a Michelin rated chef to construct yours. Avoid the kind sold in a tin can.

The liquor is straightforward. Buy booze people will drink. Scotch is the typical liquid in hand, but feel free to branch out with any of the globe’s magnificent whiskies.

When it comes to entertainment, people are coming for the piper. Don’t believe all the old bagpiper slights like If you took all the bagpipers in the world and laid them end to end…it would be a good idea, as all you need do is watch the faces of people as they stand wholly stunned by the power and potency of a piper bellowing out a tune. But also look behind them because this is typically when warring Scots of past would sneak up behind their enemies and practice a few solid broadsword techniques.

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

I have attended other peoples’ Burns Supper and I have thrown a couple of my own. Let me be honest. It is much easier to have a “babysitting emergency” in the midst of someone else’s grand Gaelic failure than in your own living room, among fifty hungry guests, who can clearly see your children alive and well, and currently working as unpaid wait staff.

My suggestions for you? Start small.

Gather your children, your parents, your partner or spouse—anyone you trust not to post damning TikToks about you the next day, and ask them to come to dinner prepared to recite a short poem, quote, or best yet, a bawdy limerick.

Check out a couple of the easier recipes offered by the BBC (click here).

Then head on over to the nearest (and reputable) liquor store and purchase yourself a good bottle of uisge bathea. Do not skimp and buy something that can double as mouthwash or battlefield disinfectant. If you’re new to whisky, look for a spirit that isn’t heavy with peat or smoke.

Finally, toast with abandonment. The more frequently you do, the quicker everyone becomes pithy, handsome, and hungry enough to eat sheep pluck.

Slàinte!

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Winter On … and On and On and On

I grew up in a house where the winters were long, the springs were greatly anticipated, and the summers were scheduled for one week somewhere around the middle of August. Fall was lovely, but it really was just “introductory winter,” if I’m speaking frankly.

Heat was a commodity no one took for granted. You needed it for a good solid nine months of the year, and it had to be reliable. The thermometer was a device you trusted not just to tell you how to dress for the day, rather we used it to determine whether you should even step outside the front door.

One January morning, when I was seven or eight years old, my family piled into the car to head to church services. It wasn’t an unusual day per se, as despite it being incredibly cold with a nose-numbing ice fog sparkling all around us, one was never encouraged to indulge with the obvious complaint existing within everyone’s head as to just how unhappy one was. My dad had drummed one phrase into us: Your being cold is not a personal experience, therefore, suck it up.

This particular morning, we arrived in the church parking lot and pulled a standard move—something that was considered fairly normal for this time of year—we kept the car running.

It was only once we’d finished the service and loaded back into that car that we heard the radio announcer report that as of today, our little town was the coldest one in America, registering a balmy sixty degrees below zero.

Apart from the obvious danger to skin, other more unusual things begin to happen at temperatures that frosty.

Cars’ tires will freeze to the road surface in a somewhat flattened shape, and now it will be like driving with square wheels.

Heating oil turns into jelly.

Storm windows shatter, and nails pop right out of house siding, whizzing like bullets.

And of course, there are a few extra children’s tongues tethered to flagpoles. *shrug*

For most of us, that was just another day growing up in Wisconsin. And those long, cold winters meant time to chop and haul wood. If you heated your house with a wood stove, like we did, it meant you’d be chopping and hauling at least four cords of timber. You take on a special appreciation for trees at the beginning of the season when you cast your eyes across the tremendous sacrifice they contribute toward one family’s wellbeing, or maybe more accurately, survival.

And although I no longer endure those formidable winters having moved to Virginia, I do currently live in a log cabin and rely upon a large fireplace for mostly the physical sound and visual tease of heat. My wood needs have shrunken considerably, but each year I dutifully have a cord of hard oak delivered, and I stack my treasured logs in a way so they will be seasoned, and I will have access.

Except this year I noticed I still had several layers of split logs filling the bottom third of my main wood rack. It was agreed by me and the well-seasoned logs that moving them to any other location would simply be an exothermic exercise and a waste of precious heat, therefore, the newly dumped truck full of split wood would have to find a home somewhere else.

I eyed available space and assessed my resources. Oftentimes, once you run out of room in your ideal location, you simply look for cooperating trees—solid trunks that will stand as sentries on either side of your neatly stacked row. But mine stood on hills and a good way from the house, and most folks tend to disappear when the general question of “who wants to fetch more wood” is asked, and they see it will require hiring a Sherpa for assistance.

Reaching back into my brain for any latent engineering skills that may have been deposited there via a freak of genetics, I remembered occasionally seeing an oddly-shaped wood pile during my youth in Wisconsin—a state liberally sprinkled with Scandinavians looking for weather just as cold, but a language less annoyingly mimicked.

With renewed vigor, I went about planning my new wood stacking design—the Norwegian Roundhouse. I know this sounds like some sort of kickboxing move, but in truth, if it’s made well, it looks a bit more like a giant wooden gumdrop. And no one has ever had to defend themselves against pectin.

I took apart an old whiskey barrel and used the metal rings as a base, then I placed a layer of thick metal lattice on top to create the “circulation” layer. If there is one thing I have gleaned from my youth, it is that being just cold is much more survivable than being both cold and wet. And everyone who has ever gone camping in the rain knows just how soul-satisfying cryogenically preserved baked beans eaten out of a tin can be.

Wood must not get wet and stay that way.

The whole point of the Norwegian Roundhouse is to build a wood stack that wind can whistle through, mice can scramble through, and no eight-year-old boy can kick down. Breezy, yet sturdy, like the Titanic if it simply encountered an eight-year-old boy.

Layering the wood is a process of intense focus with choice, placing every log facing inward in a large circle the size of a four-person hot tub—or an amateur Florida sinkhole. Each piece of wood is a puzzle that must fit perfectly into its slot. The sides, as you build, must never bulge, never move outward and overlap the piece beneath it. Instead, each one must lay the tiniest bit farther into the center, eventually creating the appearance of a beehive, or a gumdrop, or a pyramid built by a guy following directions provided by IKEA.

As I did not know these last bits of direction before getting about chest high, I spent the next several hours hammering pieces into place. After two full days of choosing the perfect logs, hammering them into their ideal spaces, wedging in supporting structures, and bandaging the hammered and wedged fingers that got in the way, I was finally finished.

It looked awesome. It looked perfect. It looked like a mix of true engineering and art. It looked like I was going to need to call the lumberjack back for another load of wood because ABSOLUTELY NO ONE WAS GOING TO BE ALLOWED TO TAKE WOOD FROM MY “ART IN PLACE” PROJECT.

And so it begins again. The constant pursuit of warmth … and perhaps a small dose of sanity.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Kindness Costs Nothing, but Tomatoes are a King’s Ransom

I am a procrastinator.

Although my explanations for delaying any decision or activity are crammed with reasonable details, I am also fraught with unreasonable guilt for the pile up of decisions left unmade and activities left undone.

One day I’ll get to that bucket list which is now a barrel list.

One day I’ll see to that niggling pain I’m hoping will disappear (obviously, it’ll definitely disappear by the time of my funeral, so I’m kinda covered on this one).

One day I will discover how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

For the last couple of years, on my one hour and fifteen-minute route into work, winding through farm fields, cow pastures, and five-house towns, I have passed a little wooden shack—a farm stand selling vegetables. I remember thinking, One day. One day I’ll stop and check it out.

Finally, the excuses of I need to get home, or I need to get to work were put aside because one of those John Deere combines that claimed 620 horsepower but only 6 mph speed stopped traffic on my tight and twisty farm road. Coincidentally, in front of that farm stand. I now had absolutely no excuse not to investigate that which has been a colorful blur out my window. Countless bountiful months—those spring through fall harvest seasons—simply whizzed by for years where my only excuse was “not enough time.”

Farmers have a way of putting the advice of “stop and smell the roses” (or the newly mown hay, or the freshly dropped cowpie patties) into crisp and unignorable perspective. It is not so much advice as it is a forced bit of guidance.

I pulled off onto the semi-circular dirt road that advertised the large hut with a few wooden shelves full of tomatoes, green beans, shallots, and corn, okra and peppers, potatoes, and beets. Each bin held a price, and I stared dumbly at them for a full two minutes. I glanced up to see a dry erase whiteboard with an entire menu and coordinating costs that matched the bins’ prices.

Ten cents for any tomato larger than your fist. Five cents if it’s one you can shove wholly in your gob.

No way, I thought. That’s got to be wrong. Or maybe they all tasted like they should sell at a K-Mart Blue Light Special event.

I found a five-center to test, overestimated the size of my mouth as I crammed it in, and then experienced the delayed response of one who realizes just how determined tomato innards are to gush past the house of their skin and any other boundary one feebly tries to embrace them within. Juice, seeds, and an exclamation of surprise came flying out my mouth.

But this is a farm stand in the middle of nowhere. Who’s watching, right? Who saw me splatter the wall and the front of my shirt, and the whole whiteboard menu?

Umm … maybe the fifteen cars idling on the road waiting for the great green beast to give them passage around him. Apparently, my faux pas was entertaining enough to produce a couple of honks and one “Nice work!” from the audience.

I trudged back to my car and found an oil rag, hoping I could erase some of the whiteboard’s woes I’d crafted. Word by word, and price by price, I replaced the tomato splattered menu with fresh listings, thanks to the dry erase marker on a ledge beneath it. I was mid-way through my work when I stopped to marvel at the taste of something so magnificent and a price so unmatched. I can’t believe I’d been missing out for years on this vegetal treasure chest.

Returning to my work, I’d turned to hear the squeaky hinges on a truck door slam. An elderly man in grass-stained overalls tottered toward me on legs so bowed they looked like parentheses rather than appendages.

“You changing the prices, young lady?”

“No, sir,” I answered as he stared at the marker and rag in my had.

He snorted and pointed to the vegetables, “You city folk come by here lookin’ for a bargain and still aren’t happy with what you find. I’ve told Beatrice that her prices are too low anyway, but she’s just a good-hearted woman easily taken advantage of.”

“I’m not city folk, and I promise I’m not changing the prices. I’m just redoing the whiteboard because I accidentally splattered tomato all over it. I was trying to do the right thing.”

He pointed toward the empty see-thru plastic bin with the sign above it displaying the words Money Box – Honor System. “The right thing round here is to pay before you consume, and most people—city or farm folks would know that.”

I felt like I was back in school, chastised by the principal for some second-grade misdeed. And I also felt a little bit miffed that I’d been unfairly accused of said misdeed, but I knew what it must look like to this guy, so I unzipped my purse and searched for my nickel.

Of course, I had no change. Of course, I had no dollar bills—no fives or tens.

I pulled out a twenty. “Do you by chance have change?”

The farmer slapped a hand to his thigh and cackled. “Do I look like an ATM machine to you?” He shook his head and moved back toward his truck, mumbling, “You city folk.”

Except I wasn’t whatever negative version of city folk he had in mind. And I was about to shout that out when I saw the old guy returning. He held up a silver coin, dropped it into the plastic box, and then said, “This one’s on me.”

I nodded with my humble thanks. “Please tell Beatrice her tomatoes are amazing.”

He shrugged and snorted. “I have no idea whose farm stand this is actually. I was a couple cars behind you in the line and was getting grouchy with the wait. I saw what happened and just had some fun while stretchin’ my legs. You drive safe now.” He got in his truck and pulled back onto the road, the traffic now cleared.

With a face likely as red as the tomato I’d mostly eaten, I finished off repairing “Beatrice’s” whiteboard.

When I was done, I pulled out my $20 bill and dropped it into the “Honor Box.” The way I looked at it, I was half paying a fine for all the wasted time of never stopping by and purchasing the best tomatoes ever, and I was half paying for that exceptional fruit.

Some life lessons are a little pricier than others, and somehow, I felt like it made sense to purchase a twenty dollar five-cent tomato.

Next time I’d bring a pocketful of change.

And a change of clothes.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.