Friday, August 6, 2010

SCENT FROM THE PAST


We brushed by a dusty old evergreen border the other day on our way to lunch, and just the heat of the noon and the scent of those camphorous-resin-almost-cat-pee needles gave me a pang of remembrance for the Summer days at Miss Kitty Abernathy’s house. She was a nice married lady, with a whole gaggle of fists-and-elbows sons, whose shouts and whoops punctuated the long slow days of our neighborhood.

Those Abernathy boys were quite a bunch, along with the Masons down the block, and the Blackwoods and the Langfords---all houses bursting with loud, boisterous preposterone-brimming young guys whose lives were lived fast-track and whose bare feet and skinned knees were forever in motion. And I was the only girl for blocks, save for a really pretty girl next door, whose languid life was spent in attractive outfits from Goldsmith's and Lowenstein's and from trips to Neiman Marcus that she and her Mama took with her Aunt Co-Lette. She sat swinging one-footed in the big swing on her screen-porch, with fashion magazines and a whole pitcher of fresh-made lemonade on the little green wicker side-table, with a steady supply of glass straws from her Daddy's hospital.

I did my share of tree-climbing, ball-playing, knife-throwing and yelling of my own, refusing to be any female but Dale Evans, who was a bit of a hero in her own right, and I always got to be Sheena-by-default. I could throw a knife and spear with weird accuracy, and my lasso skills got downright dangerous on occasion, subduing signposts, tree limbs, lawn furniture, and a grumpy cat or two.

But Miss Kitty’s house---now THERE was a paradise---she had BOOKS. We had the BOMC, which I was forbidden to touch in their pristine jackets, and the RDCB, whose “leather” bindings with those gold-plated letters were things of beauty even before you turned the magical page. I’d walk across and step up onto her small porch, brushing past those odorous shrubs, their already-dull green dinged even more by the heavy coat of Summer dust, and as I waited for her to answer the bell, the heat of the sun on my back and the scent of that unmistakable musky evergreen have been eternally imprinted as harbingers of pleasant moments.

Miss Kitty had taught me to read when I was four, in that incongruous green-velvet living room with the dust of a thousand days swirling in the sun-cracks between the heavy drapes, and the smoke of her Kools rising around our heads. And I didn't mind the smoke, somehow---I sucked in great greedy lungsful, just as I looked my eyes full of all the knowledge and entertainment and sheer fun those books supplied. She opened the whole world to me, right there in that book-circled room, with great stacks of them around the walls, on tables, clumped every-which-way in the shelves---the whole room rich with paper-must, teeming with stories and adventures and colorful places and people I devoured with my eyes and still remember.

Penrod and Sam and Jim Hawkins and Cap’n Ahab and Hester Prynne and the Bobbsey twins---the Hardy boys and Doc Savage and Jean Valjean; Emma and the Dashwoods and Uncle Wiggily and Uncle Remus and all his critters. The South Seas and the depths of Africa; the parlors of England and the slums of Paree.

And when Aladdin lit the lamp and saw all the treasures in that cave---the pictures were in black and white, with one peachy-gold image punctuating the page, and I remember the huge diamonds and pearls, all lying strewn in abundant glow on the dirt floor. And the words had more color than the evening sky.

She had Godey’s Ladies’ Book and Harpers from the turn of the century, for her Mother had been a Great Beauty, spoken in the hushed tones reserved for awesome feats. The lady DID look down from the wall portraits in regal authority, her tiny waist and expanse of hip giving her the true hour-glass figure in those gorgeous clothes. HOW I longed to cut out those fashionable magazine-ladies in the plumed hats (or just the hats) for my paper dolls. Once a friend and I spent weeks drawing and coloring and cutting out our own set of fashion dolls, with fanciful outfits and furs and delicious hats, all exactly of a size to fit into kitchen matchboxes, which we also decorated with fancy slipcovers of wrapping paper.

Oh, my---I’ve gone from a hot, dusty scent in a parking lot to whole Summers of magic, and that's kinda how Miss Kitty transmuted my life; I owe that sweet woman inestimable gratitude, and I could never thank her enough.

8 comments:

sandy said...

Aww I love your blog that somehow I just found. I especially loved the Wal-Mart Social Club story !

racheld said...

Sandy, you're just SO welcome, and I thank you for your kind words.

Please come back anytime!

rachel

Southern Lady said...

I loved this post, Rachel ... and your memories of Miss Kitty. I hope she knows what an impression she made on you and your life.

By the way ... I was always DALE, too!

joven said...

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Maggie McArthur said...

I can't tell you how much I love this post. Miss Kitty would be so proud of you.

Kouign Aman said...

That magic Miss Kitty gave you, and the magic you give us. Thank you!

Kat said...

I sure do love how you write! Your stories conjure up vivid images in my mind and transport me there. Thank you!

Hugs,
Kat

Kim Shook said...

I am stealing a little time on this all alone for a coupla hours evening to catch up with you and our Maggie. I don't know if you'll even SEE this message this far back, but I have to say how much this post touched me. Books!!! Magic. I, too, was taught to read at age four - not by a sweet neighbor lady, but by the 4 years old tyrant of a girl who was the daughter of my babysitter. She would come home from school and teach us all she'd learned that day. I don't know how I ever learned to love to read, but I did and do. I love that you also read everything that came to you. Not discriminating, just absorbing. I let Jessica have her head when she started reading, too. I figured that anything she was too young for would just go over her head. Beautiful post!