Phantom smells trigger real memories

After the flour, salt and baking powder have been mixed together, and you’ve mixed in the manteca, and you’ve added in the water, and the dough has come together as you knead it with your hands, there’s a slight but unmistakable scent. La masa.

It was the smell of wet dough that caught my attention. I swear I could smell its stickiness.

I was sitting in my living room when the smell of slightly damp tortilla dough hit me. It was so real, so present. I turned around, half-expecting to see someone making flour tortillas in my kitchen. My heart was hoping to see my mom.  

It wasn’t the smell of flour tortillas on the comal (griddle). It was la masa, the dough. And it reminded me of my mom and grandmother, Nana Carmen.

Suddenly, I was five years old again, standing on a kitchen chair, making tortillas in my Nana’s tiny house on Taylor Street in Tolleson, Arizona. In fact, I can still smell it. As I sit here, typing these words, the aroma is so real that I keep looking back into my kitchen.

I’d give anything to look back and see my mom. Anything in the world.

These phantom smells trigger real memories, and they play tricks on me… on my heart.

For a moment, you think it’s real. For a moment, you forget your mom is gone. For a moment, you turn around, expecting to see her in your kitchen, but she’s not there, and she never will be, ever again.

Maybe someday, these phantom smells, these memories will be received with open arms, even a smile. For now, it just feels like a cruel, cruel joke.

Soy hija de Gloria. Hija de guerrera. Esta es la historia de mi mamá. Y también mi terapia.

I’m Gloria’s daughter. Daughter of a warrior. This is my mom’s story. And my therapy.

2014: My mom took this pic as she watched three of her five granddaughters (center) make tortillas for the first time.

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