Leaves

Sweet Memories

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It’s been a long time since I have been to this unusual place, a place so different from others, where time stands still and the modern world has no influence. It’s the place where my sweetest memories were born.

It’s twilight. Another beautiful autumn day is coming to an end. Foliage covers the ground like a warm golden blanket. It feels as though I stepped into a fairy tale and I can feel the magic, it’s all around me. I can’t resist running through the piles of leaves on the side of the road. They are like miniature mountains of gold, cherry red and deep yellow, and I make them crunch and fly under my feet, as I gush through them. The sun touches the roofs of the houses on the horizon, playing on the tree tops with its fiery orange light. It almost blinds me. I glimpse it shimmering on the water of the river Tabol running close by. I recognize every one of these houses. Every corner and every tree in this place is familiar to me. The people that live here are my neighbors, I know them all. We all have roots here, for more than one generation. Only a few of us will ever leave this place. Here is all most of us will know of the world and its wildness.

I walk down the dirt street to my home, by-passing cows making their way to theirs. Some of them are slowing down, stopping to enjoy the taste of the still fresh grass on the side of the road. They are in no hurry to get back to their barns. Some will wander off from their path and will be looked for by their families soon. Kids with dirty hands and smiling faces covered with dust and mud are running around, enjoying their last minutes outside. They are joyful and their laughter fills the evening air. It won’t be long before they are aware of the struggles their parents are facing in communist Russia. An old dog, running down the street, is looking for mates. They will build a pack and go on sniffing the grounds for delicious treats that might have been dropped or lost by villagers. The dogs and I, we all know each other; we were born and raised here. This is our home, and we are a family.

No sound of engines interrupts this evening stillness. Not very many of us have the funds for the luxury of a car. It is very peaceful. I am just around the corner from m y house now. The old, wooden fence around it lets me see through to the orchard in the back of our house. I see our big, aged apple trees. Only a few weeks ago, they were filled with the sweetest juicy, red apples I ever tasted. We used them to make jam for the winter to come. I can’t picture my life without those trees. My dog Tobik runs out to meet me. He greets me with his jumps and shows me his excitement to see me by wiggling his curly, short tail. He is my old, best friend. I can’t remember him ever not being there, waiting for me to come home.

As I walk through the gate of the front yard, an unusually sugary smell awakens my senses. It’s the smell of the mysterious, tiny flowers growing right by the gate. They are very unusual. When everything and everyone is ready to end their long day, they unwrap their miniature, purple blossoms and fill the air with their aroma. It is as if someone has covered the ground with a light purple carpet, which smells so syrupy, it makes me want to taste the sugariness of it. There is nothing sweeter than the memory of that scent; it is the scent of happiness and the scent of harmony.

I know, as I walk through the gate, that I don’t have much time to spare; it is early evening, and very soon I have to fulfill my chores and duties around the house and the farm for the night. I decide that it is enough and make a turn for the old barn behind the newer ones, which were built a couple of years ago. I love this place; it is my favorite, my hiding spot. Almost without noticing, my feet start to move faster as I am approaching the old structure. The barn is very old, rusty, and almost falling apart; nevertheless, it is my little heaven and I don’t see any faultiness in it. Here is where I get away from everyone and disappear from the world around me. Without the need of looking, I know where to set my foot and grab my hands to lift myself up into the hole in the roof. I know where to grip and push the heavy metal piece, which covers it, to the side. Only then do I pull myself up and emerge on top of the old roof. This is it! This is where I feel free! This is where I can be myself, no pretending. Away from the world’s challenges and troubles of a teenage girl. This is where I go into faraway places when reading books I get from our little library, or the ones I borrow from friends. Books let me fly away into the imaginary world with no limits.

I reach into the hidden compartment between two timeworn logs and take my treasure out. It’s the book I’ve read so many times before, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I know this book in and out. I know Jane as though she is one of my best friends. I have been with her in her darkest moments and in her happiest, too. I saw the school she went to and experienced the loss of her best friend. I was with her when she taught the little girl and when she fell in love with her master. I cried with her when her dreams were crushed, and when she decided to leave everything she learned to love. I was with her through it all. This book took me places I’ve never been and showed me feelings I never felt before.

Here I was, even if just for a few minutes, skimming through the lines and escaping this evening and this place. Once again I join my friend Jane, and forget about reality. I read a chapter and some before I know it is time to get back to life. The sun has almost disappeared behind the houses. I hurry to my chores of milking cows and feeding the animals for the night.

After my chores, I wash my face, hands, and feet in a little rusty tub of ice-cold water, right outside our house. The tasty, simple supper of boiled meat and baked potatoes, topped with homemade cheese from our cow Zorka, prepared by my beloved, elderly grandmother, fills the tiny house with delicious aroma. My grandma Vera-Mutja, as we call her-comes to visit us once in a while from the big city Rudny, and spoils us with her baked goodies, such as pierogi filled with cabbage, boiled eggs with chives, or chopped meat with special white sauce that only she knows how to make. Sometimes she makes one of my favorites, pishki, which are fried, thin strips of dough with a hole in the middle. One of those dipped in a mixture of homemade sour cream and homemade jam is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.

The smell of dinner reminds me that I am hungry. The delicious aroma doesn’t disappoint, and I fill my empty stomach. To my disappointment, there aren’t any baked goodies tonight, perhaps because my grandma arrived too late in the day for that. My mom takes out a black loaf of bread, cuts it carefully, spreads each piece with butter, and then sprinkles sugar over slices for me and my sister. Black tea is served to finish the supper. That’ll do for tonight. After washing the dishes and some play time, my parents tell me and my sister it’s time for bed, and shortly after all lights go off.

Lying in my squeaky, small bed, I listen to the sounds of the night. Crickets, some night birds, and the slightly whistling wind are like a lullaby, coming in through my bedroom window as I drift into the dream world.

Even now, as a grown woman, I still think of those times often. I go back in time in my memories to visit that strange place called Beregowoje and feel the harmony and excitement I experienced as a child. The emotions, hopes, and dreams it taught me have been an inspiration to me ever since. Sometimes, when times are tough, I drift into the world of books, just like I did when I was a child. I stick my nose in one and forget about reality, and at times I swear I can even smell the sweet, sugary scent of the mysterious flowers, the scent of childhood.