The leaves swirl upon the ground, crunching beneath my feet and scraping across the pavement. The bittersweet sound means bidding farewell to to the warmth of summer while welcoming the cool winds of fall.
Vibrant gold mixed with rich ruby red leaves are beginning to dot the skyline that surrounds the mill. The cider mill. A visit that serves to usher in fall. J's very first visit.
This past weekend we had our very own adventure. J wasn't too sure what to make of the crowds of people, the sounds of chatter and laughter, the aroma of apples and dewy leaves . . . he simply sat back and soaked it all in while his mama got lost in her memories.
I was only in first grade when I first visited the cider mill. Although time has left my memories a bit clouded, my subsequent visits throughout my childhood have etched the cider and cinnamon-laden experiences in my mind.
The collection of colorful leaves acts as a canopy, filtering out the light and casting a ethereal glow on the ground. The sounds of laughter dancing through the air. My fingers sticky from real caramel.
But, it is the sweet scent of apples that truly pulls me back. I am a child all over again. Enthusiasm courses through me as a smile creeps across my face. I see the plump red fruit in my hands. I hear the joyful crunch. I taste the sweetness.
Yes, images, sounds, textures all add to the verisimilitude of my memories. But, it is the scent that captures and pulls me into them, letting me live once more in their essence.
Sausage Gravy . . . I can see her reaching over the stove to retrieve the well-done sausage patties. She crumbles them, places them into an ancient iron skillet that must be older than she. She drops a tablespoon (or was it a cup?) of lard into the pan and I can hear the sizzling sound wrapping around my ears. I watch as she moves in the kitchen, her ample size betrays the finesse with which she dances around the tiny room. She looks back at me and beckons me to come over. I follow as I watch the back of her flowered house coat make its way around the corner of the stove. She pulls up a chair and she hands me a bowl of flour. She scoops it up with her hands and drops it into the skillet. She motions for me to do the same. Milk. Stir. Scrape. More milk. Stir. The aroma of sausage gravy moves throughout the house, filling every tiny room, waking every slumbering body.
I am ravenous. She senses this and pulls a warm biscuit from the basket and dips it into the skillet. Her eyes tell me that this will be our secret. And it was . . .
My aunt has been gone for years, but when that rich aroma begins to waft around me, I am back in the kitchen, examining the patterns of her house coat, watching her flitter about the kitchen, tasting gravy-dipped biscuits and loving every moment of it.
* * *
Cool Water . . . Slowly, with caution in every step, I make my way down each aisle. Shadowy clouds crawl across the skies above the Windy City. With the storm approaching, I am eager to catch the train and head back to the dorms. I begin looking for my friends and find them hovering over a magazine, giggling and sharing silent stories. I don't care to join them. Not today. I return to the aisles, walking without intent, letting my fingers linger on the items as I pass. Who goes to a drugstore on a Friday night? A lame brokenhearted college student, of course. But, I am on the road to recovery, so says my magazine-hovering friends. I am "finding my way back."
I turn the corner and spot a young couple standing at the cosmetics counter. For a brief moment my heart cracks. Deep breath. A couple. I was once a couple. BUT, I am a lonely young woman. NO, scratch that. I am a woman who is confident in her alone-ness.
I move on . . .
But then, it happens. I am assaulted by a scent the shakes me to my core. In an instant I am there. His arms, wrapped around me. His lips slowly finding the curves of my neck. My hands working through his hair. His caress forces me to catch my breath . . . and let it go as he pulls me into an embrace. My face rests against his, finding a tender comfort on his shoulder. Breathing him in . . .
I am already out of the store. Heaving. Looking out at the city lights wondering when and how the pain will finally leave. A mere spritz of a cologne and a young couple proceeded to crack open my chest and let the million tiny pieces of my heart fall to the ground.
The Cool Water rushed over me . . . and left me. Left me . . .
* * *
Baby lotion . . . If you close your eyes, you can see how baby lotion smells. Before J, baby lotion looked like rainbows and Sweet Tarts. Don't ask me why. It just did.
It was a like a poem with a perfect rhyme. The filling in a jelly donut. A clear puddle after a spring rain. A puppy rolling to its belly, begging for a rub. The final note of the perfect concerto.
But the moment I held J in my arms, the images changed.
Belly buttons. Soft cheeks. Chubby thighs. Big blue eyes. Velvety tufts of hair. The "oooo" sound he makes when I pull his small body to mine.
Baby lotion can bring my knees, my heart grateful for my gift. Make me squeal with delight when I see his little wobbly figure make its way toward me, hands in the air and laughter escaping off his tongue.
Baby lotion makes me remember who I am. Who I've become. And even where I may go . . .
Believe it or not, I have a whole other paragraph dedicated to the power of scratch-n-sniff stickers, but I will save that one for another time. You may thank me later . . .