When my grandchildren come to visit, I have a limited repertory of amusements to offer. I am a country grandmother, as my own grandmother was, and don\’t have much in the way of movies and electronic games and what-all.
But I do have snails galore, and lettuce to feed them in their little plastic prisons, and teeny frogs that colonize the kiddie pool overnight. I have goats that turn the maple branches you feed them today into the milk you drink tomorrow. I have chickens who lay warm eggs, and dogs who won\’t let you out of their sight.
I have fields and sloppy gardens full of all the flowers you can pick. I have a vegetable garden to be raided before supper. And I have herbs.
Herbs became a peri-menopausal interest of mine some years ago, and they have evolved into an obsession that I keep mostly to myself. But one day recently, when the visiting grandchildren had had all they could take of goats and chickens and frogs, I suggested to six-year-old Violette that we do an herb-tasting.
She thought it was a good idea. I led her around the garden and plucked leaves for her to crush ad sniff and chew. “Here be apple-mint,” I said, “spearmint and sage. This is thyme, and lavender (too strong to eat, but good to smell), and this is lemon balm—another kind of mint—and orange mint, and rose/lemon geranium.”
We walked to the front of the house and plucked leaves of oregano, rosemary, and bergamot. Long after I had anticipated losing her interest, Violette followed me, tasting, sniffing, declaring apple mint her favorite.
I taught her how to pick chamomile—no stems, just the flowers—for chamomile liqueur, and her little fingers half-filled a bowl with the fragrant golden blossoms as the bumble bees buzzed around us and the shy Shubunkin gold fish rose to the surface of the tub garden to nibble their lunch.
I gave her a pair of scissors and she helped me cut basketfuls of roses, then stood under the patio umbrella and pulled the petals for drying. She worked so long and so well that I gave her my last year\’s rose-petal necklace for her very own.
When her parents returned from a weekend away, she gave her mother a sniff-and-taste tour of the herbs in the garden.
I can see it already: Violette, fifty years from now, accidentally stepping on a patch of mint and being suddenly transported to a cool, rainy Vermont summer, where goats galloped and grownups beamed and a long-gone grandmother handed her herbs to smell, and said their names.