My apartment currently smells like Kraft mac and cheese and hot dogs.
While I’m not 100% sure where this smell is coming from, I can only assume it’s from my neighbor’s apartment. Unfortunately, due to being gluten free, Kraft mac and cheese and hot dogs are a comfort food of the past, like many of my comfort foods now are. However, it’s amazing how easily a scent memory can take you back to a different place.
Before I smelled this wonderful, nostalgic smell, I was sitting on my bed, content to sip cheap red wine, eat dark chocolate, and read a trashy VC Andrews novel (inspired by this article). I was firmly entranced in a world of Gossip Girl-esque Mean Girl shenanigans and drama when I was suddenly yanked out of this world of wealth and privilege and sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, with three pots on the stove: one boiling hot dogs (Oscar Meyer, of course), one making mac and cheese, and the third simmering with baked beans (which to this day I have still never tried).
I assume everyone can sing this song as easily as I can. I also assume Kraft mac and cheese was the 6th food group in your childhood diet.
In this world, I sit in the chair nearest to the door, just to the left of my sister and the right of my mom. Dad’s probably cooking, as this meal is one he is an expert at. On nights like tonight we help ourselves, using the silver tongs to pull our hot dogs out of the hot water and onto a bun, then scooping a heap of mac and cheese next to it on the paper plate. And it had to be a paper plate – paper plates were designed for meals like this. After putting more ketchup than probably necessary on my hot dog, I sit back down in my spot at the table, where someone (possibly me) had earlier been tasked to set the table, setting out napkins, forks, and glasses of water. The table cloth is a dark red, closer to a cranberry than a burgundy or maroon. Though not all of us have our food, Dad announces that it’s time to pray, so each one of us stops what we’re doing, closes our eyes, and swiftly follows along.
The actual prayer is
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and may these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.
In true Puza spirit, however, it comes out in one breath, almost as one word:
I guarantee you anyone in my immediate family could say it faster than you.
After we are all settled in at the table, we begin our usual dinner discussion, consisting of stories from our day, questions of happenings in our life, and the usual banter, often times all of us more or less ganging up on the other, but only in good-hearted fun. If anything, family dinners taught us to take it as good as we can give it, because whatever you gave was coming back to you tenfold.
Family dinners taught us a lot more, however. They taught us to appreciate each other’s company and take an interest in everyone’s lives. They taught us that “zinging” one’s fork against one’s teeth was a crime punishable by death. They taught us the importance of taking the time to turn off the TV and listen to someone. They taught us how to be good dinner companions. They taught us the importance of family and taking the time for people you love.
It’s amazing how easily a scent memory can take you back to a different place. Right now, I’m sitting on my couch, still with a glass of wind in hand. The scent of mac and cheese and hot dogs has faded away, but the warmth of my memory of home hasn’t. I still feel the comfort and warmth of my parents’ kitchen; the coziness that evades every inch of space. I know that I’m lucky because my apartment right now is just as cozy. It makes remembering easier and happier, because where I am reminds me a lot of where I was. Tomorrow morning when I wake up it will be cold, and a little lonely, and there will be a lot of snow on the ground, and I’ll remember that I’m in Colorado, hundreds of miles away from my family and where I grew up, but for now they’re just a sniff away, and that’s worth all the boxes of mac and cheese in the world.