There was a candy factory in the town where I spent my early twenties. When you sat out on somebody’s soft dusty tar-covered rooftop, when you looked out over all the other rooftops in the city and into the bright dinning windows, with a million questions on your mind, the air would be hot and sugary and full of promise.
The town I live in now is teeming with elderflowers and linden and honeysuckle, and on a June day when you step out of your front door you’re met with a wave of warm sweet air, air you could swim in, air you could eat. Many of the questions are answered now, but of course every answer spawns a million new questions, which pester you in the middle of the night like needy children.
The other morning after breakfast the boys set out to bring me an early birthday present, with much whispering in code words, much laughing and conspiring. I expected them to come home before too long with a rock or a stick or a feather. Maybe with a toad peeing through their fingers. But an hour passed, and then another, and they weren’t back. So I went to look for them. Onto the magical dog island. Past the house where I think nobody lives, past the place that smells like some weed not sweet at all, but savory and sharp with a hint of scent-of-wet-dog; that smells like memories of childhood places we weren’t quite allowed to be. Behind garages, between buildings, by train tracks and at the edge of parking lots at the edge of town. Uncultivated.
Past all of that, onto paths that rise and fall and rise again, that twist this way and that. It occurred to me that I almost never take a walk alone. I always have a boy or a dog with me. It felt strange, like I’d forgotten something, like I should go back and start again. I passed a man walking with a tiny boy, and I wanted to ask if he’d seen my giant boys, but I didn’t. And then it got very quiet. No people, no dogs, just woodthrushes, who always sound like they’re trying to remind you of what is important, always quietly to tell you to Pay Attention. I listened for my boys, and I could almost imagine hearing them around every corner. But being a mother means almost-always nearly-hearing your child calling for you, from day one.
Finally I found them, bright and laughing, on the train bridge over the canal. They didn’t seem surprised to see me, they almost seemed to be expecting me, which made it all feel like a dream. They had a secret—they had something hidden under the bridge. But it didn’t take them long to tell me: they were collecting honeysuckle nectar in a little bottle. Well! It’s something I had done when I was a child, a story I had told them many times. We want to bring back memories, they said. Did we bring back memories? My god, yes, but the memories you’re stirring aren’t nearly as powerful as the memories you’re making. Memories gathered drop-by-drop in a small bottle.
A few days later Isaac and I sat on a bench in a park on a summer evening, with the clouds seeming to spread in bright soft circles over our heads, and he informed me that he knows what he wants to be when he grows up–he wants to be an animator. He also said it makes him a little sad to know what he wants to be. I tried to cheer him up by saying that an animator can go anywhere and do all different kinds of work, can create any sort of world imaginable (and I can’t wait to see the worlds in his head!). But I also told him it was ok to feel sad about it, that I understood feeling sad about it, and he looked at me with an expression that only Isaac can make, and said, “I know you do.” And I tell you it makes your heart ache a little to look into the sweet serious face of the best possible answer to a question you didn’t even know you were asking, and think about all of the other best possible answers you couldn’t have dreamed of, and all of the millions of new questions they make you ask every day, and all of the questions your answers will ask, and the answers they’ll be surprised by and on and on forever.
There’s no actual recipe for this. We haven’t even made it yet. The boys asked what I did with the honeysuckle I collected when I was little, and I barely remember. And the first bottle they collected sat on a hot table till it turned to vinegar, and not the kind of vinegar you want to imbibe. I told them it was fine: all things, and this gesture more than most, are about the idea rather than the fact, the process rather than the product. But they washed the bottle out and set out to collect more. And on my birthday we’ll add it to vanilla ice-cream. I wonder how that will taste, and I’m looking forward to it.
Claire, I have the same childhood memory. I must have been 5 years old. It was a sticky hot summer on Long Island. Someone, I think my sister, showed me the giant honeysuckle bushes that grew over a 3′ chain link fence in our backyard. She pulled the pistol out of a flower, told me to stick out my tongue, and planted the tiny sweet droplet on my taste buds. “Wow!,” I thought, and then kept pulling out more sweet little droplets to enjoy. A few days later (I think), my mother asked what she should make for dessert, “jello or pudding?” I asked if I could fill up a shrimp cocktail glass with honersuckle and have that instead. “Of course, sweetheart,” and I remember sitting there at the giant picnic table we had in the kitchen, eating little droplets of honeysuckle, one by one, as my mom, dad and 5 brothers and sisters sat there eating chocolate pudding from the same recycled shrimp cocktail glasses, looking at me like there was something not quite right about me!
Glad you are back. Have missed your sweet and thoughtful musings about life and love and motherhood. Hope to see you at CMP in August!
How well your words describe the spirit of our Junes! A week or so ago, CT and I saw your tall boys in front of Blue Raccoon deep in conversation. They didn’t notice us as they passed by and turned to walk along the old train tracks. Perhaps, it was that Honeysuckle Day.