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Strawberry Cordial
by Sharmagne Leland - St John

I was reading a story that Susan Stallings-Dobson wrote about her sadness during her childhood at finding spiders trapped or marooned in an empty, cold, white porcelain sink. I have always felt akin to Grandmother spider and set her free whenever I have come upon her. This story takes me whistling back to my own childhood and evokes memories of my own long, brown, slender arms up to the elbows in hot soapy suds as I had the arduous and hated task of washing the dishes. I remember singing "Peg O' My Heart" and "My Wild Irish Rose" on those hot, sultry summer evenings while my sister dried the plates and cups and bowls and sang harmony. There was nothing more distressing to me than to be trapped, a tiny prisoner in the enormous kitchen on Olive Drive where we lived in an old converted church, wearing an oversized apron doubled over and tied at the waist, washing or drying dishes when the only place on earth I wanted to be, longed to be, was outside with my best friend Lark Nixon playing "Kick The Can" with the other neighbourhood children in the mounting dusk of a summer evening. Only too soon summer would end and it would be time to return to school. Darkness would fall earlier and I would be too busy with homework to be able to play outside in the autumn evenings. It was one such evening when I discovered the bottle of strawberry cordial up in the cupboard above the ironing board closet. It was my turn to dry that night. My sister having washed the dishes very quickly and sadistically rinsed them in cold water so they would be harder to dry was already out in the avocado orchards behind the house with the other children calling out "Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free" in her high staccato voice. But there I was with a mountain of dishes to dry and put away. I was feeling increasingly sorry for myself when I climbed up onto a metal kitchen chair to put away a heavy white, green and pink dogwood patterned platter and discovered a little bit of heaven in a brown bottle. I took the bottle down, unscrewed the black plastic cap and smelled it to see if I recognised the scent of the pinky coloured liquid, swirling inside the bottle. It held a sweet familiar scent but I couldn't quite place it, so being a somewhat adventurous child I took a small sip and like Alice entered a world I had never known nor dreamed of. It wasn't an unpleasant taste but I still couldn't quite place it. So I took another sip and then another. I knew it was some sort of fruit but what was that other stingy sort of taste? The one that made me feel funny when I inhaled? I couldn't quite put my finger on it so I placed the bottle back up in what I instinctively knew was its hiding place. I went back to drying the dishes but that sweet sticky taste haunted me as it lingered somewhere around the roof of my mouth. So after a few minutes I climbed on those spindly, scrawny, wobbly legs back up that red and white metal stepping stool chair and took another tiny sip from that brown slender necked bottle. I believe it was then that I first invented the "game of rewards," which I still use to this day to get chores done around my house. For every 10 dishes I dried I got to climb up those red metal steps and take a wee rewarding sip from the brown bottle with the black plastic screw on cap. Nowadays for every 20 pieces of clothing I put away I get to go on line, or make a phone call, or play a half hour of my favourite video game. But in those days it was strawberry cordial. I began to hate the days when it was my turn to wash the dishes but I would dawdle long enough scouring out the sink with Babbo or Dutch Cleanser until my sister had hung up her ill fitting apron and the embroidered linen dish towel that one or the other of us had been forced to painstakingly "sew" the day of the week onto and had gone outside to join the other children in the summer twilight as they played their childish games. One night I discovered that I had sampled more than half of the bottle and I knew I would get caught so I began to refill the bottle a little at a time with watered down cranberry juice. Boy did that ever taste good! Finally I had the bottle back up to the level it was when I started so I never was discovered imbibing but I always wondered what my elderly, widowed Aunt Mary thought when she was offered strawberry cordial and served watered down cranberry juice instead. Ollie Ollie Oxen Free! Hiccup!


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