🎋Smells Familiar🎋… by JoAnn

A mcdonald 's sign with the name of mcdonalds.

Today I went through the drive-thru at our local McDonald’s. The last time I was there, my receipt had a survey on it. If I went online, filled out the survey, and wrote down the code on my receipt, I could get a free large drink of my choice. It was only good for 30 days, and today was the last day. I love a good bargain, especially if it’s free, so I decided on McD’s for lunch.

I don’t often eat at the golden arches. It used to be one of my favorite fast-food stops in my younger years. By younger, I mean my 30s. Before that time, I could not afford fast food. It was a real treat to indulge only a few times a year. When my children came along, I knew a home-cooked meal was better for them. So I did as my mama did and made our meals at home. But when we moved to Tennessee, and I gave birth to baby #3 and had extra money, I discovered the drive-thru on a busy day was very convenient. Finally, I knew what all the hubbub was about. No wonder McDonald’s was so wildly successful. My kid’s loved it, I loved it, it tasted great, and this mama got a break a couple of times a week.

Fast forward about 15 years, and all of us were figuring out that fast food wasn’t as great as we thought. I, for one, learned that the caloric value in the food was definitely not good for my waistline, and even my children had tired of it. The food made us all sluggish. We went from fast food twice a week to maybe once a month. After watching and reading a lot of negative opinions concerning the golden arch’s menu, I came to the conclusion that the food was more like plastic than actual food. After seeing the french fries and cheeseburger left untouched for months on end and seeing NO change whatsoever in color and no mold growth, I began referring to McDonald’s as the place with plastic food.

So why on earth did I go there today? Why did I have a receipt from being there a month ago? Because I am human, which means I am weak at times. Yes, I occasionally give in to things that I know are bad for me! Today I wanted that FREE diet Coke and a $2 cheeseburger. I convinced myself I was getting such a bargain that it was okay to indulge just this one time. Did today mean the bun and cheese on that burger were now actual food and would now mold if I left it in my car for months? No, it did not.

After the bad deed was done, and the cheeseburger and Diet Coke were happy in my stomach, I felt many emotions. One, that was good! Yes, both were delicious. It satisfied my craving, hunger, and thirst in a delightful manner. Two, the feeling of stupidity. I know this so-called food is unhealthy and that I shouldn’t have eaten it. Three, I was a victim of being too sentimental.

How is a fast food place sentimental? Well, for me, there are quite a few reasons. I thought about those reasons while waiting in line at the drive-thru. I caught a whiff of how it smelled inside the McDonald’s—the smell of the burgers and french fries cooking, to be exact. No place else in the world smells the same; I guarantee it. They hook people with that smell. Once it’s programmed into your brain, you will want their burger and fries every time you smell it.

That smell also reminds me of spending time with my kids and their dad. When he and I were dating, we only sometimes had the money to eat at a sit-down restaurant. So we would go to the cheapest place in town, which was the golden arches. We always ordered the same things. Two filets of fish, fries, and vanilla shakes. Sometimes he would get a quarter-pounder if he was famished. It became a romantic little thing that was our thing. It makes me happy and filled with love for him when I think of it now. Later, after getting married and having kids, I have many memories of taking my children to McD’s for their famous Happy Meal and letting them play on the playground that every McDonald’s had back then. Somewhere along the way, the playgrounds have been phased out after being christened germ factories for kids. My kids loved going there after school or on a road trip, getting their favorite treats, and going up and down the huge slides. I am glad they got to enjoy that. But I hope they no longer crave the food there.

One whiff of that kitchen, and I was transported to all those memories. Can you believe it? I can. I know that smell has been proven as the number one sense to trigger memories in all of us. It is definitely #1 for me. The right smell can take me back 40+ years in a flash. Still determining if the smell of McD’s is such a great one, though. Geez.

We can’t pick and choose what memory will be triggered by smell. Music we can. But you never know what smell might pass your sniffer at any given moment. I will need to stop breathing whenever I pass the golden arches again and avoid their drive-thru at all costs. And if I need a clean public bathroom, I must wear a mask. Because every good mother knows, McD’s has the cleanest public restrooms.