A Word about Elements
Ah, the lime and green-tomato taste of Kristiansand on my toast. I am slowly working my way through the jars of marmalade in the cellar. We don’t have a cellar, but it seems like the word one wants to say about jams and jellies that have been put up… is that the right word? It seems “put up some jam” is a phrase from summer on the farms with Aunt Barbara or Lucille. Although with Barbara it was “put up some pickles.” Lucille made strawberry jam, the kind with a layer of white wax underneath the lid to make it seal. To be the one that opened the jar first meant sticking your finger down the side of the wax and scooping it out so that you got to lick jam from both the bottom of the wax seal and your finger. The strawberries were from Lucille’s back yard, a fact that impressed me as nothing short of a miracle. That, and the bouquets of flowers she put in vases and set around the house, flowers that grew in her “flower patch.” Setting the table for lunch might include getting silverware out of the drawer and flowers from the garden. It awed me more than anything either of my own parents ever did. Except maybe when I was even younger and my dad would make balloons stick to the ceiling by rubbing them on his head first.
Now I have more flower gardens than most people could ever dream of, especially on a small house lot. The bit of grass that we have to mow is about the dimension of a good sized living room throw rug. Everything else is flowers, thanks to Veronica. And she put up the jam too, which is why it tastes of Kristiansand. A fragrance of that year, that windy dark autumn of southern balm.
It isn’t quite autumn here yet, but today I saw the sun rise on the mountain face and that is a sign of the coming darkness. For months now we haven’t seen the sun rise because it is just always there in the sky, circling overhead. The sun rising is a sign of the coming dark time, and so is the start of school, which was yesterday for me, meaning when my first classes met.
I was very apprehensive, nervous about the first year class which contained a fair number of Bia’s former classmates, including her childhood best friend. Suddenly I could not just swoop into the classroom on the first day and blow them away by the novelty of my approach. These kids knew me, knew of me at least, and my daughter would be implicated in my impending ineptness. I simply did not want to teach first year, but the administration couldn’t honor that request. I got two first year classes, one in letters & science and one in health & social services.
The hour of reckoning came yesterday at 10 o’clock. I had prepared as best I could, but felt no more confident for that. Yet when I got into the classroom something clicked and it seemed for a moment that I was in water, aware that this is what swimming felt like… I remembered I knew how when I saw that I was doing it. This is what being in one’s element means, I thought, and it was a sentient understanding of that phrase. As my former pupil Aksel was fond of saying: it went swimmingly.
It went swimmingly, my first day of school with the students. Now to finish my tea (chai rather, strong and black, brewed with cardamom, ginger and cloves) and toast that tastes of another place, another element, a time when having flower gardens and a basement full of homemade jam was only a wish. Today, there is nothing left to wish for. It’s all here. I am submerged in it. This thing called life.
Sure it’s a cliché. But sometimes you get to experience a fleeting encounter with the extraordinary moment that gave birth to the cliché.