Thursday, July 11, 2013

I'd Have to Shut My Eyes, Pinch My Nose and Plug My Ears to Forget You

Nostalgia has been hitting me hard lately, slapping me in the face every once in a while and sending residual tingles to the tips of my fingers and toes. It courses through my blood and pulls on my heart strings, causing me to crinkle my eyes and jut out my lower lip. It's as though nostalgia has become a foe of mine, one that pops up when I least want it to.

It came last weekend when I attempted my first (successful!) batch of homemade strawberry jam. Washing, smashing, and smelling the berries as they boiled pulled me back to my childhood, to when my mother would can hundreds upon hundreds of jars. She'd bring me along with her to the Pickin' Patch down the road in Avon to pick our own berries: strawberries in the early summer months, blueberries in the later. We would try to get there in the early morning to escape the heat and humidity of a Connecticut summer day and would pick berries for hours under a hazy morning sky.

After we had filled enough baskets to satisfy my mother's jam making needs, we'd weigh in at the front counter. I liked the weighing in almost as much as the picking, for I was left to peruse the candy jars. A gangly girl with a sweet heart and doting mother, I always left the Pickin' Patch with quite the bounty of rainbow swirl lollipops and candy cane sticks. My heart aches for those gray mornings spent between rows of lush green plants, those afternoons when the aroma of berries filled the house, for those moments when life was utterly simple.

Photo taken from The Pickin' Patch Online

In passing stalls of fresh peaches at the Pasadena Farmers' Market last Saturday, I was reminded of driving through the Connecticut country as a child with my parents to Roger's Orchards. We would make the trek out to the Southington farm usually at least once every fall to stock up on brown bags of peaches and apples, of which my mother would make (could you guess?) peach jam, peach pies, apple pies, and apple cobblers. While my parents picked out the best bags of fruit, I headed over to the bakery section. I'd slug a gallon of apple cider from the shelf and grab a couple of bags of apple cider donuts, drop them off to my dad to pay, and head outside to my favorite part of Roger's Orchards: the bunny hatch. My father was always kind enough to remember carrots for the bunnies, so I always had a one-up on the other kids sticking their fingers through the wiring, calling for the bunnies to come. I'd remain there, outside of the hatch scratching bunny ears, until my parents collected me to leave. 

We would each take a peach from the bag on the way home, using the backs of our hands to wipe the juice from our chins and tossing the pits out the windows onto white-fenced farmland. What I would give to be transported back to Roger's Orchards, to spend a happy day highlighted by sticky peach faces and fluffy bunny tails.  I wouldn't mind a dozen of those apple cider donuts, either.

Photo taken from Roger's Orchards website

A breeze recently pushed the sweet smell of a Linden Tree into my nostrils and instantly brought me back to River Farms, the horse barn of my childhood. I remember smelling that sweet scent for the first time as I trekked up the driveway hill to visit a new horse that was being quarantined at the upper barn. To me, that smell belonged to her; it never crossed my mind that it might be a blooming tree. Though I may be wrong, I remember her being called Luna. She was a big, black mare with a white blaze down her face. She was the sweetest-smelling horse I'd ever known and I loved her instantly.

The upper barn at River Farms always held an air of mystery: it was where new horses moved into, where ponies that were to be birthday surprises for children were hidden, where sick horses were kept to be separated from the herd. To visit the upper barn, you had to be given a task: go turn that colt out, go get that saddle, or go strip and lime the stalls. I loved those assignments and always spent a fair share of extra time exploring the ins and outs of that dark, small barn, meeting all of the horses that I wasn't familiar with. Now, in my more cautious self, I wouldn't dare to perform any act beyond my instruction. I miss that innocent curiosity of a child, when the fruits of exploration paid off more than the possible repercussions. River Farms was the foundation of my childhood happiness; when I was there, it was as though everything in the world was right. I'd love to be able to go back and explore that upper barn, take a few of the cross country jumps, and make a fort out of hay bales. The barn changed ownership years ago and just isn't the same, so I'll forever rely on my memories to bring me back.

Turning Hopi, the Paint pony that I leased, out to graze (circa 1999).

These bouts of nostalgia shouldn't pain me, but they do. They're happy memories, after all. And if you know anything about me, you know that I like getting older. I don't miss being a kid or a teenager one bit. Neither do I miss or long for Connecticut; I have no future plans to return soon and I'm fine with that. Maybe it is the sense of family, the feeling of security, the simplicity of life that I yearn for. And it doesn't take much to awaken those yearnings: the stirring of strawberries, the sight of peaches, and the smell of a Linden Tree are few of the triggers that set me off. Though each wave of nostalgia brings a wave of sadness, I'm happy for the memories. I cherish them. My heart may droop in the remembrance, but only because it is full.

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