The (Very) Deep State by
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When I first saw this prompt I thought, “yeah, good one.  I’ve got a whole bunch.”  But now?  Can’t think of one.  The prompt mentions that perhaps even the thought of a particular aroma might trigger a memory.  Not for me.  Nada.  Zilch.  I’m still sure that I do have several specific aromas that I associate with events and people and places.  But I’ll be damned if I can remember even one of them.  And it dawns on me: there is something about the association, within me, that keeps it locked away in some inaccessible recess of my mind.  And it will take actually experiencing that aroma again to summon it forward.  So be it.

But getting back to fragrant flashbacks, while no such aromas come to mind, I can conjure tastes. 

It makes me think about touch-tone phones.  And telephone numbers.  Nowadays with our various devices most of us have numbers in our contacts app.  Open the app, scroll to the right entry and “connect”.  Or tell Siri to call Barbara.  Same result.  Even on landlines, many if not most phones have the capability for storing at least a handful of frequently called numbers.  But it was not too long ago that, generally speaking, one had to rely on one’s memory, or a directory, to get the number.  Not me.  Not necessarily.  If you asked me, “what’s Stan’s number?” I wouldn’t be able to tell you.  But I could punch it into the keys every time.  There was something in “sense memory” that made it happen.  I just tried it again and I punched in a number I’m sure was right.  Of course, Stan is no longer at that number.  But I knew it was right.  So much for what our lizard brains can do.

But getting back to fragrant flashbacks, while no such aromas come to mind, I can conjure tastes.  Doesn’t seem to follow that I could do one but not the other, but there it is.  And two come to mind immediately.

In grade school the PTA sponsored an ice cream social each spring.  Each student was issued a small portion of vanilla ice cream in the familiar Dixie cup container.  With a small wooden “paddle” of a spoon.  The memory of the taste of that ice cream mingling with the “taste” of the wooden paddle is vivid.  So, too, another taste that I’ll admit sounds peculiar.

At about the same time as the annual ice cream social our family used to join with close family friends for picnics.  My mom frequently made an out-of-this world sour cream chocolate cake with buttercream frosting.  The picnic version would be a sheet cake, not a layer cake, but no matter.  This was a picnic, of course, so we ate on paper plates.  With wooden implements.  The paper plates of the time were a bit more substantial than those available now, I think, and they stood up well to all manner of foodstuffs.  While these picnics featured customary picnic food, ours also included tossed salads dressed in oil and vinegar.  Mom had a kinda heavy hand with the vinegar.  So, the paper plate would absorb a bit, and there it would sit.  And with no substitution of plate, the cake portion would follow, right on top.  Now the thought of the melding of a vinegar taste and a chocolate cake taste might seem, well, revolting, but trust me: it is divine.  Especially with a wooden picnic spork.  I can taste it now.



Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    It is a fact that taste and smell are related, Tom, so thanks for sharing those vivid taste memories. Yes, those little wooden paddles to go with ice cream tasting (we had Dixie Cups in Detroit, but here in New England, they are called Hoodsies, because the company that made them was Hoods). YUM!

    The chocolate cake sounds divine, but I’ll take your word about the vinegar soak. Can’t quite imagine that, but I haven’t experienced it.

    • Thanks, Betsy. It is indeed strange to me, given the relationship between taste and smell, why one but not both are “available” to me. And as to the cake-and-vinegar, well, that’s fine. More for me.

  2. I like the term “sense memory,” Tom — it’s a fascinating phenomenon, isn’t it? Similar to what you said about phone numbers, if you asked me my digital password for one thing or another, I probably couldn’t tell you, but once I’m on the keyboard I can type it in without even thinking.

    As far as scents, night blooming jasmine gets me every time, takes me right back to evenings on my front porch growing up, maybe because the plant is still around so I’m able to catch a whiff now and then. Other of the scents some of us have written about are long gone, and maybe that’s why they’re long forgotten. Of course that doesn’t explain why you can “remember” the taste of vinegar and chocolate cake…or why you’d want to. 🙂

  3. Suzy says:

    Tom, you rebel, you did the same thing I did! We both found that we couldn’t evoke any memories from scents, so you went with tastes and I went with sounds. Great minds think alike!

    Thanks for reminding me of those wooden spoons that we used to eat the Dixie cups, they did affect the way the ice cream tasted. Oh for the days before everything was made of plastic! And I am salivating for that chocolate cake with vinegar, it sounds wonderful to me! I don’t understand why it didn’t appeal to the other commenters. I just found a recipe for a Chocolate Vinegar Cake, and I might have to make it! I’ll send you a piece if I do.

  4. Yep, I can taste that little wooden paddle-spoon that came with those ice cream cups! It’s a wonder we all didn’t get splinters in our tongues

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I like how you turned this prompt to taste and sensory memories, Tom. As my long time friends and family abandon their landlines, I am mourning the loss of those numbers I could so easily remember. Now, I’m totally at the mercy of my iPhone. When we move next week, I will sadly bid farewell to the landline number that was mine for over 45 years.

    • I know what you mean, Laurie. I’ve never lived anywhere near that long in any one place. When I first moved to the Hudson Valley ten years ago I got new, local numbers. After three years I moved a bit farther south, to a new town, that happened to be beyond the county line. While it was technically possible for me to keep my numbers the so-called “E 911” system – they identify landlines with addresses for the benefit of emergency personnel – wouldn’t permit it. What pain.

  6. Marian says:

    Those wooden paddles in the Dixie cups had their own taste and feeling on the tongue. Thanks for that memory, Tom. And, what an intriguing combination for chocolate cake and vinegar. I’ll remember that one!

    • Thanks, Marian. And in terms of “strange tongue fellows” the vanilla ice cream reminds me of using our ice cream maker to make wonderful vanilla ice cream when I was growing up. And enjoying it with saltines.

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