Grandma's Chicken Hands Were Scent from Heaven

By Johns, Marilyn Sydeski | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 31, 2014 | Go to article overview

Grandma's Chicken Hands Were Scent from Heaven


Johns, Marilyn Sydeski, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Smells pack a powerful punch, evoking instant memories.

Our computer-like brain links the smell and the memory, allowing us to savor people, places and moments in time long after they have passed - some good, some bad and some just snippets.

But all are memorable, these smells of the whos, wheres, whats and whys in life that are stored in our personal mind cloud, awaiting recall. I enjoy when that occurs. Most times, it's unexpected. I'm jolted with one whiff to a long-forgotten scent that becomes real once again, even if only briefly.

When that happens, it can be like waking up on Christmas morning or feeling the fear of that dreaded, dark, recurring nightmare. Either way, you take what you get. The nose knows what you need at those moments. And, oh, how it knows!

Today I smelled my Polish, pierogi-making, Clairton grandmother. It wasn't the scent of Chanel No. 5 that brought her back. She couldn't afford "fancy schmancy" perfumes.

It came when I was making herb-roasted chicken for dinner. Afterward, as usual, I pulled remnants of the uneaten chicken meat from the bony carcass. They would be just right for preparing chicken salad or enchiladas later in the week. (That's me, still the thrifty housewife from back in the 'Burgh.) It was a big bird, so there was a lot of chicken left.

And then it happened. After completing the carcass-cleaning, caveman-like task, I wiped my hands with a paper towel. I started to snap the lid of a plastic container to use for storing the chicken, but I could feel my nose twitching. A nasty sneeze was working its way to the surface. I got that contorted facial look, squeezed my eyes shut, hunched my shoulders and brought my hands up to my face in anticipation of the sneeze, and then ... nothing. No sneeze.

Nonetheless, there was a familiar, potent scent in the air. When I cupped my hands to my face to catch the sneeze, I recognized the lingering, hearty smell of herb-roasted chicken on my fingers. …

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