The Smell at Coney Islander

“Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”


Recently, when walking by the Coney Islander here in Shawnee, I caught the smell of hot dogs, and a memory came flooding back into my mind. I remembered that roughly four times a year my mother hosted a church Bunco group at our house. Despite the cleaning of rooms that was required, it was a fun evening for us kids because on Bunco night my Dad took us out to eat and to see a movie.


My Dad always took us to the Coney Islander in Tulsa on Admiral. My regular order was two Coneys with everything, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, a Hostess Blueberry Pie (baked in the Hostess factory only two blocks away), and a Root Beer. Afterwards we went to the movies. I only remember seeing Star Trek movies or the ‘Ernest,’ movies, of which my favorite was Ernest Goes to Camp.[1] If we still needed to kill time after the movie, my Dad would take us to Ruth’s Tasty Freeze (which was also on Admiral) for a dessert of chocolate dipped ice cream cones.


I write all this to you because there was a time in my life when good memories like these brought me pain. I lost my parents at a relatively young age and my brothers and their families are spread across the country. Dwelling on good memories just reminded me of what I had lost and could not recover. The grief was too new and raw.


Things have changed. Today I cherish these memories, and they bring a smile to my face whenever I recall them. Especially during the holiday season. Especially when I find myself missing my parents. As I get older, these surprising trips down memory lane get more precious. Anger at the loss has been replaced by gratitude for the time I had.[2]


I am focused on memory today because of a passage of scripture in the Gospel of Luke that, because of the season, many of us will soon hear in worship. In this passage, a young Mary is listening to the Shepherds tell her about their encounter with the angels in the field. The Gospel writer then recounts that, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”[3]


This verse always gives me pause because, rightly or wrongly, I hear familiarity in the words. It sounds like the writer knows Mary.[4] It sounds like stories have been shared. I wonder if Mary told stories to those early followers of Jesus? If that is so, I also think about the pain and the loss Mary eventually faced, and that despite that loss, she treasured her memories.


I wonder what sounds, smells, or songs made up these treasured memories in Mary’s mind? Was it the smell of sheep? I hope it wasn’t the smell of shepherds. Did Mary remember this night hearing the Shepherds’ story the same way I remember trips to Coney Islander? The holiday season that will soon be upon us can be a time of strong recollection. The cool night air and the sights, sounds, songs, and smells of the season can bring back vivid memories.


If you are reading this and you are avoiding good memories that bring you pain, I hope that you know this won’t last forever. It may take time, but it is possible that your good memories will one day fill you with joy. I hope that when the time is right, the right smell (like hot dogs) or the right song will waft that joy to the front of your mind.


See you in Church!


Fr. Tom +

[1] Ernest movies were usually “Goes To.” Camp, Jail, School, maybe some more. I think he only ever saved Christmas. [2] “One day they will bring a smile to your face instead of a tear to your eye.” – Joe Biden [3] You will search a long time to find anything in the Gospels with this kind of music. ἡ δὲ Μαριὰμ πάντα συνετήρει τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα συμβάλλουσα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς. “But Mariam … all this … She guarded these memories. Within her own heart, she contemplated all of this.” Translation by George Wright [4] Maybe it is just because only this group of writers undertook any effort to characterize Mary.

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