If you can smell the wild onions growing in the tall Bermuda grass or the hot dogs sizzling from the concession stand, then you probably don’t have the coronavirus. It is the anecdotal “smell test” of the perilous times in which we live.
Scientists and virologists say that the loss of smell is one of the first tell-tale signs of having contracted the deadly coronavirus which has of the last count killed nearly 100,000 Americans and infected a total of 5.4 million people worldwide with 346,283 deaths so far.
The sense of smell is a precious gift. A fragrant wildflower picked for your sweetie. The aromatic smell of cornbread in a skillet on the stove. The heavenly scent of apple pie in the oven.
The French writer Marcel Proust often wrote about how the sense of smell and taste can trigger long ago memories.
Smoke from the melting wax of birthday candles — the Time Traveler will experience a milestone birthday soon — or the taste of the white frosting on a birthday cake. These are sights, scents, and memories to be savored.
But it’s also the other “losses” which are deeply troubling. The loss of intimacy‚ of sitting close and snuggling with those you love. The loss of togetherness in church and sporting events. The loss of tranquility of the mind and spirit. The loss of freedom.
None of us like any of these “losses” and we collectively are “at a loss” about what to do about it.
Cases of the disease are on the rise, due in large part to “pandemic fatigue,” or people simply tiring of having to take precautionary measures and living in quarantine or isolation, so they throw caution to the wind. Hence, the wildly reckless, crowded, and irresponsible beach parties of recent days and weeks.
None of us like the rule changes, either, in ways large and small.
Take for instance, one of the new rules in Major League Baseball. Baseball is the nation’s favorite past-time and a personal favorite past-time of mine, as well.
Officially, there is no more spitting in baseball. Call it the “coronavirus rule.”
There have always been rules in baseball, like no spitting on the ball by the pitcher or the infield fly rule which means you’re out before an opposing player catches it.
And there are such things as “bona fide slides” so as not to deliberately interfere or block a fielder with your body.
I can sort of understand the “no spitting rule,” especially if a base runner is in close proximity to say, the second or third baseman. Fear of spitting might inhibit a stolen base, or worse, you could contract the virus and lose your life.
It reminds me of my father’s own “no tobacco” rule when I played Little League baseball.
Dad had smoked Pall Mall cigarettes from the time he was 16 until he was 39. He quit when my sister flushed his cigarettes down the toilet and cried in his lap.
He never wanted me to pick up a tobacco habit. I never did. But there was a time when I attempted to flout my father’s rule about appearing to dip tobacco or “snuff” while on the baseball field.
It was my own special secret until I was found out. The small circular bulge of a tin can in my hip pocket was a Skoal can packed with Folgers coffee. All my buddies dipped snuff. I wanted to be cool.
By “dipping” Folger’s coffee instead of stuff, I reasoned that I was keeping Daddy’s rule and still fit in with the crowd.
That is until one day when a pop fly in left field caused me to tilt my head back and I swallowed that little bit of Folgers coffee in between my cheek and gum.
I promptly upchucked and Daddy could see this moment of nauseousness unfolding on the field from the stands. In those days, our field was located where the Ridgeland Police Station is now, across from the old Moon Construction site.
That was ironic because I got caught.
Daddy was just about to give me a good tongue chewing during the ride home after the game — that is until I told him I had dipped coffee instead of tobacco. “Well, you let me have coffee,” I reasoned.
He shook his head and even chuckled, saying nothing more about the incident in the four and a half decades since. “Boy, you are something else,” was all he muttered.
Swallowing the coffee grounds is similar to not wearing a mask in public today. Some people don’t want to wear a mask because they think it is “uncool” or they simply want to go along with the crowd.
I tried to flout my father’s rule against using tobacco — a rule designed to protect my health. I paid the consequences for my own disobedience, then, however benign they were.
None of us like these rules that we have to live by. None of us like practicing social distancing.
None of us like eating greasy take-out in our cars or staying indoors mostly until this plague has passed. None of us truly likes having to wear an itchy, hot mask.
But these rules save lives. My father is 92 now but still suffers from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) even though he quit smoking 50 years ago. He has a mild form of the disease, but smoking affected his lungs. He is also a candidate to succumb to the coronavirus at his advanced age. He and my stepmother have their groceries delivered to their car. They stay indoors. They practice social distancing.
But my father still takes time to smell the roses. My stepmother’s beautiful roses are the stuff of legend. He still savors the smell of chocolate cake. There is no law, thankfully, of inhaling these wonderful gifts of scent that imbue and enrich our senses and the joy of just being alive.
My advice to all of us is to take time, in these days of global pandemonium, to smell the roses and even the wild onions growing in the grass.
Such is the scent of life itself.
Robert Lee Long is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.