Fermented Memories

Words by
Fiona Chandler
Illustration by
Fiona Chandler
| April 28, 2014

The strongest memories are usually triggered by smell, a scent that sends you back in time.  But for some people who see the world as pictures rather than words, the trigger can be a shape or colour: a flash of red berries against dark green leaves. An empty milk bottle; one that actually costs money and isn’t left outside by the door where the magpies poke it, trying to eat the cream.

That was 30 years ago and all but forgotten until I spotted a cluster of red berries on a recent walk with my own children who were similarly attracted to them. As they rushed over to pick them and I called out a warning: “look, but don’t touch,” I recalled collecting bunches and bunches of them one year when I was still a child. I wanted enough to stuff an entire milk bottle. That’s a lot of berries, but I was determined to fill it to the top.

It took hours and lots of stuffing, but eventually it seemed that every crevice was full. I remember rushing back to my project after scoffing down a quick lunch to poke the last few in the top. And then, adding water.

It was to be a gift for my mum, a practical woman, not given to collecting or creating.  But the treasure needed to remain hidden for another week and was constantly shuttled from one hiding place to another for fear of discovery.

The school’s Mother’s Day Stall was shunned; I had it sorted and eagerly anticipated her response to this wonderful gift.

Finally, Mother’s Day arrived. It was very early, but I couldn’t wait. I can still feel her hug, see the smile she gave me. I was happy – her response was all that I hoped it would be. My mother, on the other hand, was now the proud owner of a bottle full of fermented, poisonous Daphne berries, which had no purpose. None at all.

Sometimes the understanding of a moment comes with age and it is only now that I know who was the real recipient of a gift that day. My memory revised, I feel full of gratitude.

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