Peanut Butter and Other Sticky Firsts

I awoke this morning to a cloudy day. Our So. Cal. town had finally gotten some much needed rain and while I was glad for it, the gloomy mood it set was anything but bright. Pondering what to have for breakfast and needing a lift before the darkness could settle in led to a favorite first from my early childhood—peanut butter on toast. “Why, I wondered do tastes and smells linger in our memories and sometimes comfort us?”

Having this yummy treat meant generously spreading a lightly toasted piece of bread with peanut butter, preferably chunky, folding it in half and dipping it into a hot cup of sweetened and creamed coffee. It was a breakfast I’d learned the morning of my very first sleepover with my first girlfriend, JoAnne Freeman. I was only 3 or 4 years old, living in Georgia, and it was my first taste of coffee, (though heavily blended with milk and sugar) and my first taste of “chunky” peanut butter. Now, to this day, it has been my go-to breakfast for a quick pick me up and it always makes me think of my first friend—JoAnne, though I’ve long forgotten many other friends along life’s way. 

Studies I’ve read reveal that the part of the brain that stores memories is in very close proximity to the portion of our brain that recognizes taste and smell. That’s why losing your sense of smell and taste is one symptom that often occurs alongside memory loss as an early sign of dementia. But, aside from the physical reasons for those associations, I believe that our creator designed our brain that way for our comfort and help in time of trouble or sorrow. The taste and smell of good food that triggers early memories also takes us back to those good times and in turn, that encourages our heart. Maybe that’s why I still remember my first friend’s name and think about her every time I have a toasted peanut butter sandwich.  

The good Lord often used food and drink to help us remember events, especially important firsts of His integral relationship with us. Just take a quick look at stories like the Exodus when God provided Manna and quail to feed the hungry Israelites on their journey away from slavery in Egypt. Or the time right before Jesus was arrested and crucified when he used the Passover wine and bread as an iconic symbol to remind us of His sweet sacrifice. It was a moment in history, marked in our memories by food and drink, that tied the Old Covenant of the Jewish people to the New Covenant for all people—the past to the future. It was a comforting reminder of God’s love that would be stirred up over, and over again, through taste and smell as an evidential testimony that brings us comfort and affirmation of His love. He knew it was a powerful means of making a memory stick with us for thousands of generations— and it wasn’t even sticky peanut butter that did it. 

And speaking of firsts, I hope you got a chance to watch my first Zoom interview (posted right before this). Do you have a favorite holiday beverage or food memory? Hmmm, maybe when you watch my interview, you should have a cup of your favorite beverage as you watch. Then let me know if something in it sticks with you.