Verbosity21's Blog
Short Stories by Ralph Proenza– mostly Fiction, but some based on true events

*AROMAS OF FIRST HOME


AROMAS  OF  FIRST  HOME

By Ralph Proenza

 

The old white two-story dwelling, in need of painting, is where I spent the first five years of my life.  It was considered to be inside the city limits, if indeed such a boundary existed in the small town of Banes, Oriente province, nestled within the lush Northeast mountains of Cuba.  The town sat off a well-traveled dirt road the color of  café-con-leche, coffee with milk, unless it rained of course, then it was espresso.

Since cars were a rarity here in the late 1940′s, access to the town, and thus to the house, was either by foot or on horseback.  My family had a friend who would lend us a horse or two to ride on occasion.  Now as an adult, if I close my eyes I can see, hear and smell it all – the hooves of my borrowed horse, an American Morgan, making muffled thuds against the packed dirt road.  A mixture of saddle leather and horse perspiration hovered about me, alternating with that of the tilled rich black fields nearby.  An ocean of green sugarcane surrounded the snaking road leading to the house, waving in unison with the hot air currents coming off the turquoise Caribbean waters to the north.  A scattering of campesinos or farm people could be seen, their heads popping out throughout the fields as I passed them.

I tethered the horse to the worn hitching post in front of the house.  Inside, the white lacy window curtains of the upper floor were stirring, allowing entrance to the fragrances of sweet yellow papaya and sapodilla fruit, green coconuts, and very faintly, horse droppings.

The upper floor where we lived, consisted of a vast dining and living area with a worn bare wood floor.  Encircling it were bedrooms with high ceilings, that housed all the aunts and uncles of the nuclear family, a large common single bathroom and ample kitchen, the latter two floored with white and black ceramic tile.  The huge dining table, dark mahogany and glistening from use and polish, was the common meeting place for the large family at every meal time.  This was the house in which my mother grew up.  She was one of twelve brothers and sisters, some now married and with children, and filling up the entire upper floor.

Out on the veranda my shoes tapped on the hard brown-and-white Cuban tile, as I looked onto the street below.  Sitting down on the tile I could feel the it’s coolness on my hand, a refreshing contrast from the tropical heat of the day.  Idle street chatter of passers-by mixed with the sounds of horses drifted near by in the warm breeze.

Now the aroma of fresh yeast bread coming out of the oven swept past me along with that of fresh limes and garlic.  It made my mouth water even though I wasn’t hungry.  From outside, the sicky-sweet smell of ripe red guava fruit cut through the yeast and hung heavy in the air.  The guava tree was now heavy with fruit.

A wide stairway from inside the living area went down into the lower floor, my uncle Quique’s  farmacia, the drugstore.  The banister that bordered the stairs was dark brown and well worn, polished smooth by years and many hands.  If you looked you could find areas of the banister with interesting patterns of wood grain coming through that would draw my attention as a child.

I remember odd medicinal pharmacy smells floating upstairs.  Cautiously descending the broad worn steps, I entered into the back of the drugstore, suddenly getting flooded with the scents of alcohol and chloroform, oil of clove, anise, and camphor.  Clean and empty apothecary bottles and jars were neatly lined up on the shelves like miniature soldiers at attention.

Turning, I darted out the backdoor into a fenced-in dirt yard where chickens, ducks, and a few goats could be heard busily cavorting.  A massive beehive had taken hold in the space between floors.  The saccharine scent of the hive was unmistakable.  Honey could be seen sluggishly oozing on the outside wall, occasionally dripping onto the ground.

 

The sounds and smells of that wonderful old house incredibly still linger in my mind after all these years, buried under a mountain of life experiences, and of memories of people and places, dimmed by time, yet strangely vivid to this day…

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