I walked back through the little village to the gate. I turned and looked at it again. A sudden image came to view: some anonymous children and I playing here in the fairy tale village, imagining tiny fanciful creatures behind the flower pots, our imagination coming to life, a unicorn coming out of the willow tr…
“Pitou.” I could hear Aunt Chin shouting for me from somewhere. “Is that you behind that gate?”
I peeked around and saw her already out by the peach trees. “How did you know it was me?” I hollered back.
“Well cher, t’wern’t hard. You are the only one here today shorter than that gate who would be carrying a broom sticking up above it.”
I smiled walking over to her. Chin had a basket and was eyeing the peaches carefully picking the best ones. “You want me to help you now,” I began, “…or go put the broom away first?”
“Lay the broom down well get it later.” She beckoned. She showed me a peach from the basket. “You see the best ripe ones have a little more than half a side covered in red. But this one is too much red all around, and then you see that then the burds peck out a place down the side.” The very red peach had a trench cut right down the crease on the side. “We can still use this, and cut off the bad place there from the burds, but it’s really too ripe for pies, almost too ripe for eatin. Now you find me two more good ones. That’s what we need left.”
I looked up at her with her nose up in the tree. “Dis has been Chin’s big sadness in life.” Uncle Gus’ words came back to me and I felt my eyes well up. I blinked it away. “Aunt Chin…,” I addressed her. What I was going to ask I don’t know.
“What is it child?” she asked
“Umm…,” I searched and then found something to say looking down at the bird besmirched peach. “Uncle Gus wants you to pick some figs too before the birds get’em.” I decided to start concentrating on finding the two peaches left.
“Why thank you for the message Pitou. I will do just that.”
Just then I saw right in front of me on a low branch a great red peach. I turned it over and it was yellow on the other side. “I found one!” I broadcast. I was going to wait for her to inspect it before I picked it but the twisting I did had broken it off and it was in my hand. ‘Gosh,’ I thought. ‘I sure hope this is a good one since it seems I’ve already picked it.’
Chin reached down her hand and I gave it to her. She turned it around. “Excellent!” was her evaluation. I felt like big stuff indeed. “here.” she said giving it back to me. “put it in the basket. And look down by your shoulder there. Is that another good one.” I turned and saw another peach half red and half yellow on this side. Without touching it this time I bent and looked at the underside. It matched only with the a tad more red.
“I think this one’s perfect.” I announced to her still careful not to touch it.
“Then pick it t-man, I truss your judgment.” I reached over and barely twisted it in my hand and it came off. “When they are ripe, they come off easy you see” she explained. I was a little disappointed as I knew that the peach picking was done. “How ‘bout you carry that basket for Chin eh.” And off she walked to the fig trees.
She was slightly squeezing the darker ones mumbling yes… no… “Just a few here.” And before I knew it she had about five figs in her hand motioning for me to lift the basket up to her.
I was disappointed that she did it all without showing me. “The picking’s done?” I whined. Then I remembered the herbs and turned around to look at the green plot. “Should we pick some herbs?” I hoped she would see that I still wanted to do more.
She did,“I’m sorry cher,” she apologized, “But herbs is cut in the early morning while dew is on them, and I already got all I needed before yall come today.” There was a moment of silence while I was standing disappointed. “But come see” she said. And with no small labor she went over to the fresh green mounds and maneuvered into a position where she sat down on the lawn beside them.
I joined her on the ground, and secretly worried… ‘What if she can’t get up?’ but in the mean time we examined all the herbs.
“Brush your hand across this one,” she would demonstrate, “…now smell the fragrance.” We smelled sage, and oregano, lavender and savory, we crushed coriander leaves, and she broke off parsley for me to smell and taste, and did the same with mint. “We have a rosemary bush by the gate in the vegetable garden.” She pointed to a fenced in place on the opposite side of the yard from the peach trees. “Well smell that later…it’s the very best one. And while we are there later lets just pick some vegetables for supper.” I was excited over that prospect. “BUT…,” she added, “two more things. This that looks like grass is chives and I do need some for potatoes. Would you like to break me off a little handful.”
I did and the smell rose up instantly. “It’s onions.” I proclaimed.
“Pretty similar,” she agreed. “Now for the second thing.” I waited …and she said with a sigh “…how are we gonna get this big ole woman off the ground?”
She was half teasing but I jumped to her aid in suggestion. “Oh MY! do you want me to run and get Uncle Gus?!” I said like Lassie trying to save the day, to which Aunt Chin burst into laughter.
“No sweetie,” she giggled, “I really can do it but it will take a minute. Why don’t you take the fruit and your handful of chives and the broom back into the house, and I is coming.”
I gathered up everything and started tentatively toward the house, watching to see if she still needed help. She laid on her back then rolled over on her stomach with a grunt. Then she maneuvered slowly onto her hands and knees, and from there she began to pull her legs under herself sticking her very broad hips in the air. The back of her dress was way up above her slip line, and her posterior was facing my way. At that moment I realized that the point of me going ahead was to give her some privacy. I felt embarrassed and turned my eyes quickly away slipping into the screen door, and just in time as when I glanced back through the screen she was up and turning around, straightening her dress.
I went over to the counter away from the door so she didn’t know I saw. As I went to put the basket on the counter it was already crowded with various and sundry items. So I turned and put the basket on the table, the chives were still in my hand, and broom in the other, but I wanted to wait till she got to the door before I put up the broom away back by the door. As I waited for what seemed a while standing with these items in my hands. I really didn’t know where to put the chives. I was looking at the counter. There were two bowls, a very large blue one and less large pink glass bowl with flowers around the top. There was a dusty flour sifter so I stood on my toes and realized the bowls each contained just sifted flower. There was a glass bowl with five eggs in it, a whisk, a can of lard, a little bowl with lard in it plus what looked like cut up tiny bits of butter on top, some lemons, and a clear glass measuring cup with I guessed just water in it.
About this time Chin walked in. “Whew.” She exclaimed sitting down on a kitchen chair just inside the door. “It is already getting hot in here.” Pointing over to a sideboard across the kitchen she instructed, “See there baby, is one of aunties fans, by the dining room doors, can you fetch it for me.” I looked and on the end was a round paper fan, the kind you fold the handles and clasp them around to open it. It said “Acadia County Fair” on it. I grabbed it in the same hand as the chives, and brought it to her. As she fanned herself she told me to lay the chives by the sink. I did and then hung up the broom. “Now…” she said fanning herself, “go back to the bureau, and in the middle drawer is some hankies. Bring me one please.” I did as she instructed and sure enough there was some neat clean folded handkerchiefs of various lady like designs. I grabbed the one on top and brought it to her. She used it to wipe her face and forehead. Then she squinched her nose and giggled. I looked her way “It smells like chives from your hand.” she said. “here smell.” She held it out to me and I sniffed. It was the smell of clean, maybe perfumed fabric, and onions. I laughed too, and sat down at the table with her. “You want a glass of waughtta (water)?” she said suddenly, and started to get up.
“I can get it.” I wanted to be helpful.
“Sugar, I don’t think you can reach the glasses.” She pointed to one of the two glass door cabinets on either side of the sink. She was now on her feet.
Very quickly I pulled my chair over to the cabinet with the glasses “Now I can! I’ll get them.” I felt clever with my solution.
Chin sat back down, “OK…” she said, “But be careful. Your momma didn’t leave you in my care to fall and bust your head.”
I got the glasses down and set them by the sink. Then I returned my chair to the table, and went back to the sink turning on the water.
“No, no cher,” came from Chin. “…there’s ice waughtta in the frigerater.”
I turned off the water and went to the frig. Just inside was a large glass round pitcher full of cool clear water. I carefully with both hands carried it to the table. It was cold and heavy and I didn’t think I could pour it, mush less it was immediately sweaty and would be slippery. I turned to get the glasses and bring them to the table and when I got back Aunt Chin already had the pitcher handle in her hand. “Thank you baby,” she intervened, “I’ll pour, it’s heavy.” I put the glasses by her and she poured us each a glassful and handed me the pitcher to return to the frig. It was considerably lighter.
I returned to the table “Water break!” she said in a silly way wiggling her hands in the air, and with a little giggle. And we sat down and each took a drink of water. I don’t know why but it felt so very refreshing and cold going down that I closed my eyes for a moment. “Good huh?” she added, and I nodded.
“So tell me something good.” Piped Chin
“What do you mean?”
“Tell me a good story, or tell me something that makes you happy.”
“You make me happy.” I answered
“Oh… you ARE a little doll aren’t you, you charmer.” Aunt Chin had the biggest grin on her face. Some of her top knot hairdo had fallen down into ringlets around her forehead, and with the light behind her from the door, her chubby pretty face looked like a smiling cherub.
It made me smile too. “Well you know what,” she continued. “you make me happy too.” And I knew I did. And that made an even bigger smile pop out on my face. I couldn’t have held it in for anything. We each took another sip and smiled more.
We sat in quiet for a moment. Chin was in thought, drumming her fingers nails on the table, click, click, click. They were well manicured and painted crimson, which matched her dress, that now had some flour dusted across the bosom. Her lipstick had been red too but it was traveling away on the cheeks of everyone she saw that morning. I still saw her as pretty. She had very long curling eyelashes that hovered over two golden brown Cleary glass marbles. Then she roused from her daydream rousing me from mine. She finished her water, took her glass, and she was up and going again.
“And now to move on, it won’t be getting any cooler today.” Aunt Chin walked over to a window by the stove. There was a box fan in it and she turned it around. Pretty soon the breeze was coming in that window. She explained, “We’ll have to turn it around again later when baking pies to push out the heat, but for now it blows right on us while we prepare, see?.” She walked over to the sink and started washing the chives. Then she bound them with a little rubber band that she took off of the pantry door knob. I thought that odd only because my mom did the same thing with spare rubber bands. if you ever needed one just check out the door knobs of our house. There would be one somewhere. And you know, decades later, yours truly still stores his rubber bands on the doorknobs. I came to find it’s practical. Where ever I am in my house, if I remove a rubber band off, say a newspaper or anything, there’s always a doorknob around. And there the band will stay until I need one.
Chin continued to wash the peaches and figs and set them in the drain board on top of a towel. After this she walked over and hugged my shoulders. “You finish your water, and enjoy the fan, Pitou, while Aunt Chin goes and puts on some work clothes. Then we will bake up some yumm, eh.”
Note to Readers
4 weeks ago