2017.05.10 Old: From cat food to diapers

From cat food to diapers—strange things passed through my mind 20 years ago, and continue to do so today.


I don’t know how it happened, but standing at the sink last week I was transported back in time more than 30 years. It wasn’t a particularly good trip, but it was a very curious one.

As I walked over to the kitchen sink to rinse a bowl, the smell of Puss ‘n Boots cat food came to mind. I hadn’t smelled that since a cat named Midnight was alive back in the early 1960s.

I hated the smell of that stuff. I probably hated it just as strongly as Midnight loved it. It was the worst part of having a family cat. Open the refrigerator, bring out the can, take off the piece of foil on top and dig in. Oh, I forgot one step: Hold your breath.

I think the Puss ‘n Boots experience kept me from eating fish for 20 years. I thought all fish smelled like cat food.

Now it’s so simple to feed a cat. Dig into a bag of dried, comparatively odorless pellets and be done with it. Cats seem to enjoy it just as much as the fish guts of the past.

No stinking cans, no fishy spoon in the sink. That’s the key to the smell memory that hit me last week. We never rinsed the spoon very well after feeding Midnight. We’d hold it under the faucet, but no one actually wanted to touch the stuff to wipe it off.

So after a while, there was a tinge of Puss ‘n Boots in the vicinity of the sink, unless, of course, my mother cleaned up after us. The kids took care of the cat; she tried to keep up with the kids.

At my 1997 kitchen sink, there was no Puss ‘n Boots. There was no fish. There wasn’t anything I could see that should have smelled like those old spoons. And all the more puzzling, it was gone an hour later. Just one of those phantom odors that bring back the past.

It happened again just recently. I can’t remember where we were when my wife said, “That smells like a baby’s diaper.” And she was absolutely right.

There were no diapers in sight. There weren’t even any babies around. It must have been something else. It wasn’t a bad smell. We’re talking newborn here. A very characteristic odor that I haven’t encountered for eight years.

Someone was in the Observer office recently for the first time in a long time. He commented on how it smelled like it always used to. It has a very definite odor, but it does change from time to time.

Some days it has the overpowering smell of a solvent used to wash ink off press rollers. Some days the dank smell of the basement rises upward. When the freshly printed papers are brought in on Tuesday night, it smells like someone else’s newspaper office for a couple of hours.

But there is a characteristic odor behind it all that many people have recognized when they walk in, especially those who have worked in a newspaper office. Former Congressman Carl Purcell loved the familiar smell of a newspaper office. When he came to Morenci, he even got to sit down at our dusty Linotype machine to see if he could remember how it worked.

It’s funny how a smell can trigger memories. In cases like this it makes me think that my brain must have better things to do. There has to be a more efficient use of gray matter than storing this old stuff up there.

The smell of canned cat food, the odor of baby diapers—it’s taking up valuable space. If only I operated like a computer: simply drag stuff to the trash and empty it into digital oblivion.

Instead Puss ‘n Boots will be up there getting in the way forever. I should be using my brain for something important…like figuring out an ending to this column.