In that era the game of Halt! was played in which one froze at the word in whatever posture one was in and I do not remember the rest of it, how the Halt was lifted and why and what forfeits were involved. Things get so lost, so very lost. Like the test for butter, which was no test at all (for who does not like butter?), in which a buttercup was held to the chin, the underside of the chin, and of course pollen was left, which meant that you liked butter. Of course if you had been running, your face was muzzy with sweat and your chin took a great deal of pollen, which meant you really were the king of butter lovers. And then there was weigela-nectar sucked from a plucked blossom and on a hot day delicious. Of course the first cigarette of a dried weed stalk (meadow grass the best) and oh the coughing and the assertive swagger as one talked grown-up mostly borrowed from the movies: I say there, Jeeves, you may serve Lady Amelia. . . . My horse is deplorably lame. . . . And you, sir, are scoundrel!
And then maple seeds, pods split to stick to the bridge of the nose. And chains, of course, of daisies when on land, seaweed when at the beach. Crowns figured just about everywhere out of anything twinable open to bending and wreathing. In autumn bouncing ones of bittersweet, in summer wild green grapes. There were serious games of Cups and Saucers with acorns.
When one was small and even later, impossible bouquets of autumn foliage smashed scarlet, orange, and gold by frost. Blown dandelion clocks and pods of milkweed. Strange whittles of various seedpods. The game of love with daisy petals. Impossible sappy, wilting, crushed bouquets called tussy-mussies, none so pure as a gathering of those, at times all leaves (poison ivy included). Infant wonder at all greens, flowers second, the important thing was the gift of them and the exclamation and the putting of the bunch in a big heavy book later to be opened for the pattern of the sap stains, all the rest become powder.
Those few twigs of horsemint, spearmint, peppermint harvested for tea. Rosemary, thyme, and the mints would be put in the ice-cube trays for grown-up drinks but oh so often turned black and nasty and so the experiments were ended just about the time we discovered sassafras roots and boiled and boiled them for root beer but never got it remotely right however much the odor perfumed the house. Dandelion and elderberry were said to make wine. We roasted dandelion roots for coffee but they wouldn’t grind.
I was told that a dye could be made from onion skins and started steeping anything at all with a covering . . . the things one did when a child come back in other, similar forms: jams, jellies, syrups, marmalades, dried bouquets, and fresh fascicles of herbs upside down pinned to kitchen walls, potpourris, autumn bowls of hardy oranges good only for scenting or strewing in an attic. Great bouquets of leek and garlic blossoms. Stunning harvest baskets of shallots and hot peppers sometimes strung for riatas, adult life aping the child’s. Curiosity was greater then. Just about everything was picked and nibbled, mashed and sniffed, worms as marvelous as apples, all tadpoles prince frogs in disguise. We made a nice cool drink out of sumac fruit too, changing the water three times, thrice being the magic formula for everything.
And all of the early experiments with this and that, out of the garden or from the wood, with twigs and bulbs and herbs and buds, flowers even, and a peapod or two would end in the pot to make a soup, a strange and thrilling soup that was a disaster and had to be pitched and the pot scrubbed over and over. “Maybe you boiled it too much,” said my mother. “Boiled instead of simmered. Still, it had a nice smell, so you were halfway there.” We felt proud.