An excerpt from Flavors
Today, lounging here in my easy chair, eyes closed, with television tuned to Sirius 40s and 50s Pop Hits, I listen to a familiar old song by the Nat King Cole Trio. “Paper Moon” lulls me and trips a button deep, deep down inside me, dredging up long dormant images from the past.
Funny thing. Nowadays, I am challenged to remember last week’s happenings. Even yesterday’s. But – there’s something about musings of past youth. They’re perched right there on the periphery of my brain, ready-set-go to dive in. And once one gains entrance, it sends out this telepathic signal to all the others, announcing a grand reunion.
I sigh as Jimmy Dorsey’s band accompanies Helen O’Connell’s vocal rendition of “Embraceable You,” and my mind snatches and wraps around that bittersweet, pivotal 1950 summer.
The burst of memories catapults me into contemplation. This meditation stirs up a thick emotional-spectrum that gallops from ecstasy to slushing, visceral melancholy.
It makes me wonder … why has life changed so? Its seasons, in a retrospective, backward glance, do a kaleidoscopic-strobe that leaves me reeling, both physically and emotionally.
I prop my aching bare feet on a leather ottoman and sigh, bombarded by the swirling cerebral-smorgasbord, one flavored with infinite tastes and fragrances.
Truth be known, of all life’s slices, adolescence is the most poignant. The abrupt transition from childhood – a magical time when emotions are sterling, distinct and spontaneous – to puberty (when nothing is defined and everything postured) is both brash and mystical.
One day, I was a snaggletoothed little girl who considered no question too stupid to ask, over and over, if necessary, to find out why, what, who, where and how. Never mind the endless “Shut-ups” along the way, or “you ask too many questions,” they simply did not register in my innocent quest for enlightenment.
Vanity did not yet exist. Hair bows sli-i-id slowly down my fine, stringy hair until snared by split ends. There they dangled until rescued by Mama. Dear, dear Mama – I still wonder if I’d have realized a bath’s significance or put on a stitch beyond underwear had it not been for her, at least until my eighth or ninth year.
Somewhere between years eleven and twelve, she introduced me to Tussy deodorant. Thank God for good mamas.
Then came that summer. Ahhh, that magical season of new horizons. I had occasionally, all through my childhood years, been dropped off at the Melton farm for weekend visits with my Aunt Nellie Jane, who was only a year older than me. Those fun times are rock-chiseled into my recall.
But that summer was a time set apart, filled with epiphanies that divided time.
Then on its heels – seems overnight I was a young woman with squeaky clean, nightly roller-curled hair, who moved demurely amid swirls of Prince Matchabelli or Avon Wild Rose fragrances, wearing freshly pressed coordinated skirts and sweaters, snow white bobbie socks and spit-polished penny loafers.
Adolescence was angst and/or ecstasy, depending upon the moment’s situation. Angst when pimples appeared and ecstasy when that cute guy in homeroom asked me for a date. It was angst when I realized it was chemical, that surging of hormones that agitated my emotions into goulash – and I couldn’t do doodly squat about it, except ride it out.
The ecstasy was when that hormone-surge spit out romance.
Ah, but I digress as I sit here ruminating about all the whens. Focusing on childhood stretches that something inside me that gauges changes from then to now. Startling transformations. Makes me realize just how far I am from then.
Could it be there have actually been two of me? One then and one now?
Now casts me so far from then that I’m convinced a distinct time-warp thing is at play here. Why can’t the two times be more converged? Why does my middle-age atmosphere differ so from my childhood one? Going outside now makes me sneeze, wheeze and freeze, while up until I was twelve, being outdoors was an adventure, when temperature and humidity had no bearing on fun.
Exploring an old hay baler at Grandpa and Grandma Melton's farm set my senses abuzz. I can close my eyes and still smell the damp earth and sweet hay and see, from three-and-a-half foot stature, the baler's rusty square trunk, whose platform struck me about chest level and instantly became my stage. I clamored aboard and – kazaam! – I was Jo Stafford, belting out “Shrimp Boats are Comin’” or Betty Grable, arms thrust wide, tap-dancing the length of the stage. Nearby cornstalks, rustling in summer's warm breeze, became my adoring, applauding audience.
Other times, I ventured into forest's wonderland, where a tree stump became my table, or stove, or throne. Birdsong, warbled by robin, sparrow or bluebird, harmonized to serenade me.
Ahhh, and the meadowland … I'd sprawl flat of my back on lush, watermelon-scented grass, happily chewing nectary sugarcane and watching a small plane pass slowly overhead, lulled by her drone and with 20/20 perception, sight its passengers' pinpoint heads. I just knew, with a child's 14k trust, that they returned my eager wave.
The cricket's chirrupp, the fly's bzzzz and the wind's every nuance tickled and teased my ears. Honeysuckled and gardenia breezes tantalized my nose. I tingled with discovery and being. Appetite and energy abounded. A five-cent BB Bat gave my tongue a diphthong-range of heavenly tastes. Youth's vibrancy buoyed me.
Life's flavor was sharp and tangy, lemony. Colors jumped and danced and shimmered, while sounds lifted me to soar and spin and fly …
To float …
Today, a half century later, I am at ease sitting here, immersed in the vibrant when, and I think, I’m not so old. It’s all in the mind. Heck, you’re only as old as you feel. I’m psyched out and young again. Until I move. In an instant, the illusion shatters. Like a cement Frankenstein, I shift my bifocals, turn up the television volume to catch a song's lyrics, stiffly arise and painfully shuffle to watch the neighbor's kids through my den window, romping outside on their lawn. I experience yet another piercing, longing, backward glance to when.
And, again, reality jolts.
Even though my body has betrayed me yet again and my short-term memory has gone south, back when zooms in like when I donned those 3D glasses at the movies and screen images leaped out at me.
My husband swears that canned pork and beans – which he once relished – don’t taste the same as when he was a kid. “They don’t make ‘em the same anymore,” he laments.
“They don’t make them different,” I counter. “Your taste buds just changed, is all.”
That revelation leads to yet another eye-opener and it occurs to me that just like pork and beans, the atmosphere hasn't changed. Not at all.
When exactly did the change begin?
But I know.
It was during that summer.