My cookbooks now live in a different room, 600 miles south of the mountains they called home for so many years. Their old shelves still cradle them, though.
And the odor of fresh Benjamin Moore paint, christened for some reason Acadia White, permeates the air around them. Every day for a week I’ve dragged the paint roller across the stuccoed walls, erasing the revolting blue chosen by the previous owner of my new house. As I dip the roller into the paint tray, I wonder who plucks names from the air to bestow on the color samples, rows and rows of them snuggling in minuscule slots in the store, the tantalizing beauty of hundreds of hues luring me again and again until I finally made my choice.
The man in the paint store, the one who sold me the Acadia White, the one who mixed it in a five-gallon bucket too heavy for me to lift because of my bad back, the one who never told me that there were three types of eggshell paint, he assumed I was a stupid person because I am not twenty years old any more. It’s a small house, but it takes about 8 gallons of paint to cover all the walls, low ceilings not withstanding and of course the blue so beloved of the previous owner, if you count the kitchen and bath paint, too. I ran out of paint. And I dreaded having to go back for the extra two gallons of paint to finish the job. The paint man did not disappoint. He berated me for not knowing what paint I’d bought, which one of the three types of eggshell. Condescending and impatient. I left with three cans of the right paint, for they kept a record of what I’d bought. But he’d not offered that information until he’d taken his tongue and lashed me with it.
I swore to myself as I drove home that I’d always try to be kind to people, even if they cut me off in traffic or worse. Everyone has a story, everyone carries demons digging their claws into the soft and tender spots.
The next morning, after my negative encounter with the paint man, I’d opened the door to a blast of heat and humidity that struck me like the atmosphere in a well-primed sauna. I discovered a pot of night-blooming jasmine on my front porch. A postcard lay close to the plant, a painting of a butterfly and a full moon, all rendered in flat, dark forest greens and brick reds, with a touch of golden yellow. “Welcome to the neighborhood,” began the note. Thick rubbery leaves and a dozen white blossoms embellished a small branch of bent and pliable willow, imitating an arched garden gate.
The plant came from my neighbors “straight across the street.” Such a welcome gesture, so deeply appreciated., so kind in a world that seems daily to become less and less kind.
I put the pot of jasmine on the dining room table, welcoming it to the place where community is made, the place where cultures meet and mingle, much as do those who have eaten there. And those who will eat there.
As I closed the Venetian blinds that night, the plant released its essence almost immediately and perfumed the air in the room with the aroma of a tropical night, letting loose as well many memories of many tropical nights. I took it as a sign that I should wreathe the pergola outside my back door with more of this plant.
Soon I will open up some of my cookbooks and invite the neighbors over for dinner, with dishes brought to Florida by the many, many others who’ve trekked here, many far greater distances than 600 miles. I’ll prepare the menu by re-reading one of the cookbooks I bought when I lived in Florida before: Jeanne Voltz and Caroline Stuart’s The Florida Cookbook (1993).
And the aroma of jasmine will cover that of the paint.
© 2017 C. Bertelsen