Powerful memories

Paul over at quoteflections posted today about Clementines.  He’s got me thinking and remembering.

In South Dakota in the 1960s foods were good and the measure of a cook was how well she (usually) could capture summer in the freezer bag, the canning jar, the jam pot, and the pickle pail.  Fresh fruits in the winter were apples, oranges, pucker inducing grapefruit, and grapes.

Except at Christmas.

At Christmas there were myriad delights, but chief among them was the tangerine in the heel of my hand-knit Christmas stocking.  Having little extra money, our family stockings were filled mostly with fruit, some pieces as big as your head, but the best was the little, deep orange package – the tangerine.  It was the smell of the tangerine peel that I remember most strongly.  It takes me  back to a living room with golden oak floors, and stockings tacked to the archway to the dining room.  It takes me to my grandmother’s house in Madison, where the smell of tangerine peel mixed with the smell of eucalyptus.

Never mind the seeds

It was a tangerine with seeds, but we didn’t mind.  They cracked open easily, and the oil from the peel flew into the air and clung to our fingers.  Their sweet flavor always had a tart bite.  When I eat clementines today they are both seedless and sweet, like the mandarin oranges that came in a small can.  But the smell of the peel is the same.


This is my Proust moment, stronger than almost every other scent, and as elusive for a while in my life as the eucalyptus that only came out at the holidays as a part of a non-specific ornament.  I was never able to pinpoint which piece of holiday decor carried the eucalyptus scent, and it was high school before I knew its origins, but although that is evocative, the tangerine is stronger.

But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.
– Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way. (You can find the entire text at Project Gutenberg)

There is so much to memory, but also so much captured in a Clementine. I must go get a box and eat my fill and remember.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul C says:

    ‘All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea,..’

    You’re making me nostalgic for the distant holidays.

    I remember the giant brown bag of Christmas goodies that we got after the Christmas Eve service. Certain familiar candy jumped out at me in glee…

  2. Kate Tabor says:

    Dylan Thomas! Thanks for bringing “A Child’s Christmas” back to me! The holidays are more complicated now (my husband is Jewish) but all that does is extend the magic. Now, where can I find a crumcaca iron?

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