Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Little Herb Woman

When my grandchildren come to visit, I have a limited repertory of amusements to offer. I am a country grandmother, as my own grandmother was, and don't have much in the way of movies and electronic games and what-all.

But I do have snails galore, and lettuce to feed them in their little plastic prisons, and teeny frogs that colonize the kiddie pool overnight. I have goats that turn the maple branches you feed them today into the milk you drink tomorrow. I have chickens who lay warm eggs, and dogs who won't let you out of their sight.

I have fields and sloppy gardens full of all the flowers you can pick. I have a vegetable garden to be raided before supper. And I have herbs.

Herbs became a peri-menopausal interest of mine some years ago, and they have evolved into an obsession that I keep mostly to myself. But one day recently, when the visiting grandchildren had had all they could take of goats and chickens and frogs, I suggested to six-year-old Violette that we do an herb-tasting.

She thought it was a good idea. I led her around the garden and plucked leaves for her to crush ad sniff and chew. “Here be apple-mint,” I said, “spearmint and sage. This is thyme, and lavender (too strong to eat, but good to smell), and this is lemon balm—another kind of mint—and orange mint, and rose/lemon geranium.”

We walked to the front of the house and plucked leaves of oregano, rosemary, and bergamot. Long after I had anticipated losing her interest, Violette followed me, tasting, sniffing, declaring apple mint her favorite.

I taught her how to pick chamomile—no stems, just the flowers—for chamomile liqueur, and her little fingers half-filled a bowl with the fragrant golden blossoms as the bumble bees buzzed around us and the shy Shubunkin gold fish rose to the surface of the tub garden to nibble their lunch.

I gave her a pair of scissors and she helped me cut basketfuls of roses, then stood under the patio umbrella and pulled the petals for drying. She worked so long and so well that I gave her my last year's rose-petal necklace for her very own.

When her parents returned from a weekend away, she gave her mother a sniff-and-taste tour of the herbs in the garden.

I can see it already: Violette, fifty years from now, accidentally stepping on a patch of mint and being suddenly transported to a cool, rainy Vermont summer, where goats galloped and grownups beamed and a long-gone grandmother handed her herbs to smell, and said their names.

12 comments :

  1. Oh you are going to make me cry...I so try to be this for my grandchildren...my youngest is 6 year old Alivia...we share similar outings...thank you for your touching post!

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  2. Wanda, do you ever wonder what OUR grandmothers hoped we'd remember?

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  3. This gave me goosebumps. I remember spending summers with MY grandmother in Wisconsin where we'd feed the birds and fish from the lakeside or short dock (she didn't like the long dock because she was afraid of deep water). I also remember her pulling cooking utensils out of the drawer, one-by-one as she told me what use it had been put to in the "Ladies of the Moose" Kitchen Band that she used to belong to.

    I'm not sure she did any of that and wondered what I'd remember -- I think she just liked doing it.

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  4. Dona, that's probably why you remember it--because she enjoyed it.

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  5. or better yet, violette 50 years hence leading her grandchildren through an herb garden ....

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  6. Laurie, I can see it now, a chain of herb women stretching out to infinity....

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  7. This is wonderful, Lali! There is so much for young children in the country that is "new" to those who are plugged in or over-scheduled. Thank goodness for long, lazy summer days, and grandmothers like you!

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  8. Margaret, you mean long, lazy grandmothers like me?

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  9. Hey, I'm back from Portland and can at last comment. All I'll say is this: Violette looks like you.

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  10. IB, welcome back! It's so weird--all I can see in Violette is Pierre.

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  11. Violette has good taste- apple mint is my favorite, too.

    My Grandma Nellie passed away when I was 13, but every time I smell marigolds or mimosas (the tree, not the alcoholic beverage) I'm transported to summer days playing with my cousin Brannon in her dusty yard.

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  12. Joya, summers and grandmothers seem universally associated. I guess that's when parents get a break.

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