|This street scene in Fairbury, Nebraska, looks a lot like the town I remember driving into one dawn in the 1960s.|
Twice this week as I drove to work - past Matt's Big Breakfast in downtown Phoenix - I smelled a smell from childhood. This smell was not like remembering Pixie Sticks or Sugar Daddy's or mom's meatloaf. I smelled something that took me back to one particular day on one particular family road trip.
As I cruised by Matt's Big Breakfast, the air was filled with what I can only describe as the smell of burnt coffee mixed with maple syrup.
When we were little, my brothers and I had a 5-year stint in Bellevue, Nebraska, a suburb of Omaha right next to Offutt Air Force Base, aka SAC Headquarters, where my dad spent his days. We spent our days running wild, playing in a big open field at the end of the runway, riding bikes, going to school and listening to The Beatles and The Supremes.
There we would sit in the kitchen listening to stories about the family, my aunt smoking Kents, playing a fast game of solitaire. Or we'd sit on the back porch, shelling peas. My aunt and uncle were transplanted farmers who had the biggest, bestest vegetable garden in this suburb.
But that smell... that smell came much earlier.
On the morning of our drives to Colorado, my mom woke us up way before daylight. She'd hustle us into the car, pile us into the big back seat and hand us a box of donuts. The donuts were not necessary; we fell fast asleep, the car and the world were still dark and we knew there were pancakes in our future.
That smell... On this one trip, in this one small Nebraska farm town that has stayed so vividly in my mind, I was already awake as we pulled in. It was daylight, but only just. We were quiet in the backseat; we hadn't started any competitions yet; counting windmills, spotting cows, thumb wrestling.
As we pulled in, my chest was filled with the excitement of an adventure ahead, the comfort of being in Mom's big boat of a car and heading to see family. We'd hit the road and now we were stopping for breakfast. All was right with my world.
And the air was filled with the smell of burnt coffee mixed with maple syrup.
To this day I have no idea what the smell really is. It doesn't matter. That smell is love.