During her tenure as our 2021 Writer-in-Residence, noted author and beloved storyteller Jan Karon invites readers into recollections of her own life. In her essay “The Eternal Adventure,” published in our September issue, she prompted us to similarly share our own stories with her and, ultimately, with one another: “Remember as far back as you can. … What do you see or hear or taste or smell or feel?” In 100 words or less, our readers answered her call.
The scene is bathed in the hazy glow of that magical marge where the elements embrace: the seashore. Endless sky, pale blue beyond the haze. Endless beach, perfectly flat, hot with sunshine, but soothingly damp and cool underfoot here at the water’s edge.
Then the sea, exponentially endless in its unplumbed depth, frolicking—a good, big friend ready to play—stretching away in glittering swells. Blue sea, blue sky; good beach day.
Moist, salty breeze pulls gently at my wispy hair. The little waves pull at my feet. “Come play!” they say to the tiny toddler that I was.
Gilford, New Hampshire
I remember the haystack. Bales—the rectangular kind—stacked to the rafters of our barn. I inched my way back on hands and knees through the maze of prickly yellow to a secret hiding spot, just big enough for me to sit with 6-year-old knees curled to my chest. I remember the way the light poured through the knotholes in the ancient gray wood. I remember the cooing of the birds that fluttered in through the larger holes to their nests in the corners. The heady scent of alfalfa wrapped around me like a blanket.
The air hung heavy with humidity early that July morning, the cement of our stoop cool where we sat at the front door, waiting. Our new baby sister was coming home. The scent of bacon cooking slipped through the screen.
Dressed in yellow pinafores, ruffled anklets, and buckled shoes, we tasted the salty water beaded on our upper lips; legs swayed, knees bumped, excitement grew.
Being five, I was impatient. Giving my little sister strict instructions not to move, I ran down the block to the avenue. I heard it, the powder blue convertible. Racing back, I shouted, “They’re coming!”
It was always a good day when the canning jars appeared. Our expectant peach trees, pregnant with fruit, were ready to deliver. I was only a child, yet aware of this ritual. Peaches were the essence of summer—their redolent fragrance gave promise of a glistening transformation in Ball jars. Mother and Grandmother would industriously start the canning process as I waited for the “pop” of the canning lid. The best part: Today, I can still taste that first bite of a still-warm peach as I contentedly continued to consume those luscious fruits until their warmth was no more.
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
I hear the mysterious but familiar booms of the military base fifteen miles away, and they interrupt my singing. I flop down under the perfect sun onto soft green grass that moths fly out of when startled by Dad’s mower. Breezes come up our hill carrying a hint of the saltwater below. But it’s what I see—white clouds moving in a blue summer sky. And then it’s what I know—that God is up there.
It was the East Bronx in the 1950s, when the streets were lined with ethnic eateries. A crackle of thunder gave way to a downpour of rain, but the clamor did not deter my grandpa from pulling his trusty Ford Falcon out of the garage. As we motored up Tremont Avenue and pulled to a stop in front of the bakery, the tantalizing aroma of fresh pastries wafted through the air. As a four-year-old, I felt as if we were on a great adventure!
DEBRA MAE WHITE STEPHENS
My best vacation memories occurred along shady ribbon roads following mountain streams of North Carolina. Daddy loved mountain air, windows rolled down, frequently stopping for Mama’s picnic lunches.
Pullover spots hugged those welcoming streams. At one of those places, Daddy chose to make a memory. Wide-eyed little girls climbed down the banks, greeted by the mossy scent of wooded slopes and babbling icy water flowing over rocks, creating an atmosphere and breeze of its own. With shrieks of delight and laughter, sticks and leaves were pushed aside, creating our own mountain swimming hole: owned in memory forever.
Raleigh, North Carolina
We thank Jan Karon for leading us through a wonderful year as our Writer-in-Residence. She graciously brings to mind so many beautiful memories and the joy of writing about them with this prompt. To read the essay in which it was born, see “The Eternal Adventure” in the September 2021 issue, available at victoriamag.com.