Childhood Rituals

A few years ago, a small mob of us had converged on Greenwood’s on Green Street in Roswell for a Thursday evening dinner. It’s a down-home place, noted for being the home of (among other things) an infamously rich chocolate pie. Normally, dinner at Greenwood’s involved a considerable wait, but with the economy being what it was at the time we had no trouble getting a table for our party of twelve.

It was after dinner, as we waddled with leaden bellies back to our car, that I noticed a powerful flowery scent, a scent that enveloped us like a cloud. Honeysuckle! There were honeysuckle bushes surrounding the parking area, and their distinctive aroma transported me back to my childhood. For back then, we had honeysuckle aplenty growing around our house, as well as adjacent to our neighbor’s garage.

Honeysuckle: Harvesting the Sweet Nectar - Instructables.com
Honeysuckle: Harvesting the Sweet Nectar
Instructables.com

One of the Childhood Rituals I remember was plucking honeysuckle flowers, pinching off the bases of the flowers, and drawing the styles out through the bottoms of the little yellow and white blossoms. The styles would pick up a few precious drops of sweet nectar, nectar imbued with that indefinable honey-like scent, and these we would touch to our tongues in order to taste that evanescent sweetness. The taste of honeysuckle is a sense-memory that I can still recall with perfect clarity – even after fifty-plus years.

I was reminded of other Childhood Rituals this weekend just past.  Last Sunday was mostly sunny, warm but not ridiculously so, the perfect sort of day for a riverside walk.  And so She Who Must Be Obeyed and I took a lengthy stroll along the banks of the mighty Chattahoochee.

Buttercups reflecting yellow on chins<br>(© Silvia Vignolini via Cambridge CC)
Buttercups reflecting yellow on chins
© Silvia Vignolini via Cambridge (CC)

Buttercups – the popular name for the bright yellow ranunculus flower – grow in profusion along the path that runs between the end of Columns Drive and I-285.  I picked one up and held it out to SWMBO.

“Stand still and let me hold this under your chin.”

The Missus looked at me like I had two heads.  “Whatever for?”

When we were young snot-noses, you’d hold a buttercup under someone’s chin.  If you saw a yellowish reflection, that meant the chin-owner liked butter.  (Of course, that meant that pretty much everyone liked butter.)  But SWMBO had never heard of this peculiar Childhood Ritual.

Seed pods of the Japanese red maple (Steve Krodman)
Seed pods of the Japanese red maple (Steve Krodman)

Another recollection came back to me as I was pruning our Japanese red maples. Maples have distinctive seedpods – samaras, they’re called – with a papery wing that extends out from the seed, causing the seed to whirl like a helicopter as it falls.

Back in the day, every kid knew what to do with these mapleseeds. You would crack them in half (like the one in the lower left of the picture above), split the thick end of the pod open, and affix the pod to your nose. The pod’s end, when split, exuded a sticky substance that acted as a natural adhesive… as if the pods had been designed with exactly that purpose in mind.

I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a single child anywhere in the northeastern U.S. who hadn’t worn a Pollynose at one time or another. It was another Childhood Ritual, a nutty tradition that had been passed down through untold generations.

She Who Must Be Obeyed was unfamiliar with this part of growing up, perhaps because she was raised in Texas. Mesquite trees just don’t have the right kind of seeds, I expect.

Do you remember buttercups, pollynoses, and tasting sweet honeysuckle nectar? I do. And I wonder what today’s kids will remember fifty years down the road.

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Editor's Note: Variations of this posts have also appeared at the author's blog, Blog d'Elisson.
Steve Krodman

Steve Krodman

Steve Krodman, AKA the Bard of Affliction, lives in the steaming suburbs of Atlanta with his wife and two cats. He is partial to good food, fine wine, tasteful literature, and Ridiculous Poetry. Most significantly, he has translated the Mr. Ed theme song into four languages.