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A Sniff of Cooked Cabbage Brings Sweet Recollections

Ican't stand boiled cabbage. The pungent smell burns my eyes and sends my thoughts racing back to childhood days.

When I was nine years old, our family moved into a red brick house on Beckley Avenue in Dallas, Texas. Perkins Grocery Store was across the street, and there I spent many afternoons visiting with Mr. Perkins and his friend, Uncle Bill.

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Mr. Perkins was not much taller than I, and when he laughed his round belly shook. It was a laugh that came rolling from deep inside. His soft blue eyes twinkled behind gold-rimmed spectacles, and sometimes he looked over them with a quizzical expression that made me laugh, too.

Mr. Perkins's and Uncle Bill's living quarters were in the back of the store behind a doorway with a blue checkered curtain across it.

Every day, it seemed to me, the store was clouded with the odor of boiling cabbage, which was Uncle Bill's favorite food. I marveled at his constant good humor.

When they invariably offered me a serving of the cabbage, I'd screw up my nose and politely say, ''No, thank you.''

They urged me to take some anyway, knowing I didn't like it. Then they'd glance at each other and laugh as if it was a secret joke they shared.

Those were the Depression years, and occasionally Mother would say, ''Take a jar of preserves over to Mr. Perkins and see if he'll give us a loaf of bread and some bologna for them.''

Bartering felt strange to me, and I was embarrassed, but Mr. Perkins always gave us what we needed.

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One afternoon, Mr. Perkins caught me swiping a piece of penny candy from the front counter. He smiled in a gentle no-no way, coiled his big soft arm around my drooping shoulders, and said: ''Have another piece, Marceline. I know you must be hungry after such a long day at school.'' I loved him with all my heart for his kindness, and never took candy or anything else from him again.

Now, when I sniff that obnoxious odor of boiled cabbage, instead of offending me, it acts as a catalyst, flooding my thought with endearing memories of my friend and the love he showed me so long ago.