A Childhood Mini-Memoir


To me, vanilla is equal parts smell and taste.  There are tastes and smells that have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, yet I can’t recall the particular moment that I became aware of them.  Not so with vanilla.  I was five years old and plagued with freckles.  They sat on my nose and cheeks, peppered my arms, and splattered my back. They were a constant source of irritation for me, as they gave my two older (and blemish-free) sisters endless ammunition with which to tease me.   One afternoon my sisters, ages seven and ten, called me into the kitchen with a surprise.  They had benevolently created a special medicine which would help to rid me of my unwanted freckles.  They kept the ingredients a secret, waving off my needing to know, but promised it would taste good.  It certainly smelled wonderful.  It smelled like warm cookies and reminded me of my mother.  They poured me a generous spoonful and I trustingly opened my mouth.  I can still remember my utter surprise when what I expected to taste like liquid cookies ended up tasting like liquid fire.  My mouth and I exploded simultaneously.  I went screaming and crying in what I hoped would be the direction of my mother.  I don’t know how I got there, but eventually I was in the arms of my mom and she was soothing me with words and drinks of cold water.  Between sobs and gulps, I managed to expose my sisters for the fiendish mad scientists they were. It wasn’t long before my sisters were found, questioned, and made to reveal the medicinal properties of their concoction. Their remedy turned out to be made primarily of vanilla extract, not the imitation kind, but the real deal.  I can recall my mother showing some relief with that news, telling me I would be fine.  In retrospect, the slight concern lingering in my mother’s eyes was probably due more to the cost of vanilla than my fiery mouth. I cannot recall what punishment, if any, my sisters received for their part in my misery.  

Over the years my sisters and I have retold the story and laughed a good deal, but oddly the subject of their retribution has never come up.  My suspicion is that they manipulated my mother’s gentle, trusting, and forgiving nature—avoiding any consequence at all.  Parenting was a little less vigilant back then and childhood a little more perilous.  I think my mother was just glad they hadn’t decided on Drano for a cure.  I would have to agree that, although it felt like it was eating my tongue, vanilla was a benign choice.  And, in the end, no permanent damage was done to either my body or my fondness of vanilla.