I can hear the chimes of the grandfather clock in the salon as it signals 1am. I am up. I am sat on a park bench in my front yard with Barnaby by my side, a pillow on my lap and the laptop nested comfortably atop it. There is silence now, the pregnant night pools around me – a warm security blanket, heavy laden with the careless dreams of neighbours and children and – pets – if Barnaby is any indication. There is a comfort in this quiet. The night Jasmine transports me like a gentle lullaby to the days of my childhood.
Memories are a funny thing, they pop up at odd times when you least expect them. Some, tickle your insides others pull your heart strings and still others make you wonder What The Hell! My first memories are of my mother’s voice, she read to me all day, all night. Oh how, she loved to read me into a land of dreams; long before my wicked mind could manage the journey on its own. We sailed with the Lost Boys, laughed at poor Bredda Tukuma as Anancy tricked him again. We took picnics with Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny. We danced at the Ugly Bug Ball; we always had the best seats in the house and when all that was done Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle did our laundry!
In fact it is The Brothers Grimm fairy tale Snow White & Rose Red that is responsible for the Night Jasmine currently perfuming my thoughts. You see my mother’s second love is flowers. She talks to them, commiserates with their losses and rejoices in their triumphs. Another lifetime ago when she worked as a nurse, her monthly salary was dedicated to three things, all to be had in a trip downtown. Mummy would bundle me up into a taxi “I not driving through that traffic, you must be crazy!” she would say. With that, off to town we would go. First stop on the daylight express: Times Store, where she would purchase six packets of seeds, not five, not seven but six, her favourites were Hollyhocks, and though extremely beautiful flowers, she rarely to this day has any luck with them but, she never gives up.
Next stop: Woolworth for embroidery thread and crochet spools. Now you see her third love [in those days] was crocheting, she could spend hours when not reading or gardening, crocheting runners for tables and dressers and strange doilies which we never would use. I didn’t get the knack for crocheting but, that’s why we got the embroidery thread! You see by the time I was seven I was the only person I knew in school who could do the stem stitch and had mastered the chain stitch. [Side note: The trick dear reader to a wicked chain stitch, is really just patience and care. If you remember to keep your stitches even and neat, and only about one and a half times larger than a small stem stitch loop, you are in business. By the time you’ve finished you have this complicated looking piece that wasn’t in the least bit difficult to do, you look like a real professional.]
While I do know how to embroider, the reason I loved Woolworth was bigger than mere thread! Woolworth was a jewel in the middle of Kingston. I must stop here to point out that, some of you young folk may never have even heard of Woolworth but, in its day Woolworth was the one stop shop for all your heart’s desires. Indeed you might not even know or, remember it but, the Singer headquarters in Cross Roads used to be a Woolworth. Listen man anything you wanted, school supplies, sweeties, lollipops, nighties, records, what did I say? Anything you wanted, you could get there; they even had a cafeteria! I am usually a strictly hot dog kind of girl but, – again for the youngsters – there was a time when the only place you could get a hamburger was Uncle Sam’s country because, fast food chains did not exist this side of the tropics. I certainly don’t remember any and, Woolworth had hamburgers! In fact remember when King Burger first opened? Yes King Burger not Burger King now “dat did sell of.” But I digress.
I loved Woolworth because of what you could find on the second floor – books! And not just any books either Lady Bird books remember them? Yes, the ones with the ladybug as their logo. No where else in Kingston had as many, and if I made it my mission to one day read all of them, you better believe mum made it her mission to one day have shared them all with me. We could literally spend hours in the store, if we had the choice to stay and discuss which two we would purchase and the merit of one story over another. But, we had to be judicious with our time after all we still had one more stop to make before heading home.
Ladybird books were / are great; the largest collection was indeed at Woolworth but, if Woolworth was the place to go for everything, then when you wanted books, [specifically children’s books] Kingston Bookshop Downtown was Mecca. I am not speaking of the ridiculous double stores they have now, two stores around the corner from each other. Oh no, I am talking of one massive jumbo store with a whole section dedicated to children. And within that an entire aisle dedicated to the virtuoso that was [I type softly to indicate the hushed and reverent tones with which you should speak her name] Enid Blyton.
Don’t get me wrong ladybird books are great if you want a sweet ten minute read, condensed tales of the Brothers Grimm etc. If you wanted juicier fare, tales of magic and faerie dust, gollywogs and brownies, then Blyton was for you. I was merely her humble servant. Every month’s end taking my religious pilgrimage, salivating the whole time, wondering just which one I could devour, before heading to school Monday. Then, hardly able to breathe until biscuit break, I would exchange with Laura for one of hers, still the only person I have ever met to own more Blytons than me.
One fateful Saturday, the heavens opened their angry mouths and Kingston retreated into herself for protection against the deluge. On days such as these you have no choice but to adjust old routines. As usual my mum washed my hair, and combed it while I watched the Muppets, Fraggle Rock and Anne of Green Gables, back then I could sit on my hair so needless to say it took a long, painful while. By the time we were done the choices were: watch Gene Autry singing round the camp fire yet again or, read. We chose the latter, mum chose Snow White and Rose Red.
As the day progressed and the skies cleared, my mother asked, what it was I most enjoyed about the tale of the two sisters. I thought about it and said, “Well if you live in a cottage surrounded by red and white rose bushes and have a bear for a best friend, what’s there to be miserable about?” My mother laughed, “So all you need to be a happy girl is to grow up in a house surrounded by flowers?” “And have a bear for a best friend.” I giggled. “I can’t do anything about the bear, Tim will have to suffice” [Tim was her favourite of our German Shepherds, scared the crap out of me but, to each her own I guess.] She continued “Hmm, we already have Rose bushes in the garden however, your aunt Joan brought us a Jasmine plant yesterday, what say we plant it for good luck by the apple tree?”
Maybe it was the rain or, the comfort of strained Gungu Peas soup that evening [don’t judge, I like my soup strained deal with it]. Maybe it was the two sisters living in a Glen but, something about that day has stayed with me all these years. As a teenager my favourite rainy day read became Pride and Prejudice but, every once in a while I still grab Snow White and Rose Red, have a little cuddle with Lord B and enjoy the dream of a prince and a bear and a castle and a cottage completely surrounded by rose bushes.
Anyway, the apple tree has long since been felled but, the Jasmine remains for nights like these – to remind me of the tale of two sisters and Jasmine, three.
Image 1 Mrs. Tiggy-winkle: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15137/15137-h/15137-h.htm
Image 2 The magic far away tree: http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/book-details.php?id=216
Image 3 Snow white & Rose red: http://www.steinerbooks.org/detail.html?id=9780863157264