It’s incredible the way one breath of wind can bring back the colours of my history. All those things that I thought were stored deep in the vaults of my mind can come flooding back so easily.
Currently, I work at a grocery store. I’ve got to wear a mask because, you know, Covid, but my sense of smell isn’t hindered by it as much I thought it would be. And there are so many things there to smell! Okay, that sounds weird, but hear me out. I don’t go around sniffing loudly; scents just kind of come and are gone, and I try not to be too obvious while it takes me down memory lane.
Cilantro is a big thing. I often have to open the plastic bag to get a look at the leaves, and the spicy, green essence floats out. It’s only there for a moment.
“Mmm… do you smell that?” My mom crushes a leaf between her fingers and holds it to her nose.
My younger self leans forwards and sniffs the green bits on her fingers. “That is good. Is it parsley?”
“No, this is cilantro.” She pinches off a few stems. We walk inside, and she ties a string around them.
I press my finger down on the first knot, trying to ignore the irrational fear that she will tie the second knot with my finger in it. Then what would happen? Would I have to stand beside the pot and hold my finger close enough to the hot water for it to cook? I need to distract myself. “How do you tell them apart? Parsley smells good too.”
Mom pulls the second knot tight, without my finger in it, and drops the little bundle into the pot. “Not like this. Cilantro smells like soup.”
I have to ignore my stomach growling and keep working, but it’s usually not long before something else comes along to distract me. One time, the door opened as a warm wind was blowing, and it carried the scent of skunk to my nostrils. I’ve never hit a skunk. Neither have my parents, at least not that I remember. I know the smell from something else.
“Keri, come back. Its all muddy there.”
I look back at my friends, who stand on high ground in their homemade jumpers. I had begged to wear pants today because I knew we would be going adventuring.
The ravine has steep slopes, but there are multitude of trees to hold onto or run into to prevent a full dive. Slipping and sliding on the leaves is part of the fun. However, my friends are still up on the wooden bridge.
“You’ll get your shoes all wet.”
I look down at my shoes, then farther down the ravine where, just across the creek, is a little island with the most beautiful yellow flowers I have ever seen. A little break in the trees above allows the sun to make a halo around them. Their charm is enough.
I keep going, skidding to the bottom of the hill, and arrest myself on a root. The girls are right. The creek does not hold all the water. I hold onto a young tree and tentatively place one foot on the ground. The mud gives way. I retract my foot and move a few yards to the right. Here the ground looks drier, and what do you know? There are a whole bunch of plants here, with nice, thick leaves that I can step on. There are not any trees in my vicinity, so I hop towards the most solid-looking place.
My feet descend into the “solid-looking place” very rapidly. The large leaf now has two punctures through which my legs are stuck. The mud closes over my ankles, and what is that smell? My nose wrinkles and I manage to pull my right foot free of the slurping muck, but my left foot is only farther in.
Later on, when I do manage get out, I am informed that the plants are called skunk cabbage, and I get regaled by stories of tomato juice and sleeping outside for days until I develop a fear of ever stepping on that plant again.
Little do my customers know what is going through my mind while I ring through their groceries and ask for their points cards!
I hear a smash and several gasps. A red-faced woman comes up to me and says sheepishly that she has dropped a jar of salsa. I try to ease her embarrassment by being very nice, then call for a cleanup and tell her she can go grab another jar. The boy who cleans it up walks past me with a cardboard box holding the red clumps and glass shards. It smells like summer, like Mexico, like… like the kitchen island.
It always takes so long to make salsa; all day, at least, and I have no friends that came over to play with while the moms work. My siblings can go run around in the bak yard or play in the cool basement, but I am stuck here with Mom and Margo and garlic.
I take my little knife and separate one clove from the bulb. I cut off the bottom and pull off as much of the papery shell as will come with it, then put the knife down and pick at it with my fingernails. One finger touches the cut end. The sticky residue collects the little flakes until that finger is rendered useless. Every couple cloves I have to go wash my hands. I think about asking Mom to switch jobs, but she might make me do onions and that would be just as bad. The peppers would burn my hands because I do not like to wear gloves, and the tomatoes are mushy and hard to cut nicely. I resign myself to peeling garlic.
Suppertime has almost come and there has been no supper made, but the ingredients have all been dumped into a pot. I am allowed to go play, but I come back to watch Mom ladle the steaming, colourful concoction into mason jars. Margo tightens the lids and lines up the jars.
The bottom of the last pot does not have enough for a whole jar, so Mom takes a spatula and scrapes it out into a bowl. I pull a stool to the cupboard, climb up, and take out the bag of Tostitos. We gather around the bowl and dip in our chips.
Flavour explodes in our mouths. Oh, it is all worth it.
I smile and greet my next customer, then allow the lady who got her new jar of salsa to walk behind my till and out the door. My mind is drawn back to the present when my current customer wants to price match, but what fun would life be without memories?