Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write something AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL (10/02/14)
TITLE: Aromas of Time
By Yvonne Blake
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ADD TO MY FAVORITES
½ cup pickling salt (Bring to a boil.)
Fill: 8 sterilized pint jars with
a clove of garlic
1-2 heads of fresh dill
fresh green beans
Being alone set my mind to remembering – Mama canning and gardening and cooking. When I forced a dill weed stem into the jar, its fragrance tickled my nose. Suddenly my mind swished back more than fifty years ago to a little settlement in Cat Island, called Devil’s Point.
I could see a small hut, made with concrete walls and shuttered windows. I didn’t live here, but not far away in our own similar house. Our house had a kitchen; this one had a thatched hut with an open fire to cook their beans and rice. I don’t remember dill in this place, but it must have been around here – for this is where my memory took me.
Other scents have tossed me back to these former years. It doesn’t take much. I don’t even have to see the source of the scent – like a certain bug-repellent.
The mosquitoes were fierce on Cat Island. The screens were sometimes black with hundreds of buzzing bugs. For me to venture outside, my mother would splash the clear liquid from the glass bottle into her hand and rub it over my arms and legs. She’d tell me to close my eyes so she could smear it over my forehead and cheeks. Its strong scent would make me cough, but I knew it would keep me from itching all night. The village kids never used it, and their dark skin showed white lines where they had scratched the dozen or so irritating spots. They often huddled close to their smudge pots – tin cans, in which burned old rags, causing their hair and clothes to reek of the stinky smoke.
It’s strange, but many times it will be aromas in my kitchen that send me on these excursions. Everyone thinks of freshly baked bread coming out of the oven, but it is the smell of yeast that reminds me of my mother baking. Other odors cause me to cringe – like evaporated milk.
Daddy’s school was filled with scrawny, little kids. He had offered to help the older children with their reading and arithmetic, but the villagers sent their toddlers – those not old enough to attend the government schools. These little ones often brought only a hunk of black bread for lunch, so we provided a glass of milk each day. There were no local stores or even a dairy cow nearby. We had canned milk, and I hated it. I held my breath and gulped down my share, like an obedient girl should do.
As I stirred my vinegar and salt mixture to pour over my dilly beans, I thought of how luxuriously I live now, compared to our life on Cat Island. We didn’t always live in the primitive ways of Devil’s Point. For a while, we lived in another house on Cat Island that had better accommodations. The scent of alcohol reminds me of that place.
Mama was the only medical person on the island, so we lived at the clinic – a pink house with glass windows and running water. Alcohol was her primary tool for disinfecting everything. I suppose it was cheap and easy to order from the mainland. I can still feel its sting on my cuts and taste it on the thermometer beneath my tongue.
Now, I’ve become accustomed to daily conveniences: such as driving to the store for a few groceries. On Cat Island, we ordered almost everything to come by boat. The road from the clinic to the dock went past a mangrove swamp.
The mangrove swamp had its own stench. I’ve never smelled it again, but just thinking of those tangled roots in the stagnant waters triggers the memory of its pungent smell.
There were so many smells of those years – some repulsive, some sweet. The best aromas were those of sitting on my daddy’s lap, still dusty with woodchips, and listening to him read the pages of a very old book by the flickering flame of the kerosene lamp… years and miles away.
“It's surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.”
- Barbara Kingsolver
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