In a time of simplicity and quiet, which can be that moment when the lucky child, alone to explore and imagine, finds again and again that magic can happen, I took a journey. My travel to that special land began on an early wartime morning in late 1944 in my grandmother’s Ternure Avenue, Spring Valley, home when I was very young and the family was temporarily staying there.
I was wandering about, probably 6 a.m. or so, out of sleep and morning hungry, remembering that my grandmother, whom I called Nana, kept the corn flakes, raisin bran and Wheaties in a five-foot-high metal cabinet at the top of the basement stairs.
I continued tip-toeing until I managed to get to the basement door, reached for the 1915 doorknob and used two hands to turn it. There was the cabinet, in faded yellow, its own door held closed by a flip-up shiny chrome latch that seemed out of reach for a little guy. But stretch I did, also quietly, until the door swung open, aided by its tilt on lopsided, old stairs.
There was the cereal, all right, but something else, too, boxes of wonderfully smelling things, which later I learned were spices like ginger, cloves, cinnamon. Some of those boxes must have been in that airless metal cabinet for years, held tight, too by the latched door. What a wonderful collection of smells that brought, a gathering that I have never been able to duplicate in several spice cabinets I have bought or built.
I knocked my raisin bran box out of the cabinet and took it to the table, putting it next to where I sat, to await breakfast, which came just a short time later (maybe I had awakened the house).
Over my many years, getting a whiff of this spice or that, I am instantly taken back to my Nana’s cabinet, that early morning exploration, my pride at achieving success. I can smell the real fragrance of that cabinet if I deeply concentrate, and its memory has gotten me through more than enough less-pleasant times.
That 1944 exploration on a quiet morning offered a lifelong lesson -- that we need so little to make us happy.