Great grandma McCune always talked in a cracking, laughing voice. My five year old eyes padded her age to the neighborhood of a hundred. Mom corrected me later. We just called her Grandma or Grandma McCune, if clarification was required about which woman was being referenced. Great grandma McCune was just eighty-six when she died, a petite woman with bright eyes and red lipstick who smelled like an unidentified powder and barely stood taller than me. That’s why I liked her. Despite her age, she was almost my height, never issued the usual adult intonations, and always canned and offered the best sugar plums around.
Walking down the cracked sidewalk in front of her Pittsburgh brownstone one June day, she seized my hand without a word. Such an action alarmed me. Mom always grabbed my hand to protect me. Moving closer to Grandma McCune’s blowing white apron, I looked for the danger around the tree shaded street.
“Do you feel that?” she asked.
I didn’t know what she meant.
“Feel the air. Smell it!”
Her commands kept me lost. Beginning to think she might be the threat, I edged back.
She was smiling. I never saw her not smiling. Mom said that was an act for the children. Betsy McCune, Mom told us, was a drinker, gambler, and cardshark. She loved playing games and betting on the outcome, especially poker and pinochle, but she was known to throw dice.
Great grandma McCune bent down to me, a small effort. “This is an All Day, a day when all the seasons are there. It’s special, magical. Don’t you smell the air? Can’t you smell the winter? Doesn’t it smell like it’s about to snow? This is a special day that sometimes happens, when your mind knows it’s supposed to be summer and it’s summer sunny but the wind feels like fall and the air smells like a snowy winter but all around you are the full blossoms and greenery that only spring gives us.”
I didn’t know what she spoke of, being too young to understand her differences, but her comments marked my consciousness. Her voiced words rose in me as I walked today. “It’s a special day,” she’d said, “when all the weather is present, even if you don’t know it. That makes it magical. Close your eyes, turn in a circle and make a wish and your wish will come true.”
Back then, I did as told, wishing for her sugar plums. I told her that after I’d finished the ritual. Laughing, she seized my hand anew, tugging me forward. “Then let’s make that dream come true.”
I would’ve wished for something more then but nothing came to my young mind. I didn’t seem to have dreams. War raged around the world and Mom and Dad were separated. Protected by Mom and the family, I didn’t know those things and didn’t know I should wish for them, didn’t know that the woman with me that day would be dead a month later, didn’t know her sweet little dog, Brownie, would die a week after her, all things that I might have wished against.
Smelling the air today with its tingle of snow in my nose and fall’s feel in the wind despite the summer sun and the spring surroundings, I thought of many All Day wishes I could make. Having never heard of All Day since my great grandmother told me about it on that early summer day, I thought I’d Google it.
The words had barely been typed in when I found myself on the street. A powder fragrance teased my nose before a fall wind blew it away. Struggling with orientation, I looked up and around as fabrics moved beside me. “Did you make a wish?”
The female voice was high, old, and close. Jerking as I heard, I whirled to see great grandma McCune. She took my hand. “Yes,” I said. “I wished for sugar plums.” How did I get here? I wanted to ask.
Grandma McCune laughed. “Then let’s make that dream come true.”
A few minutes later, we finished the climb up the crumbling cement steps and across her narrow porch with its swinging chair. Brownie arfed a greeting as she scrabbled down the hall. The outside screen door creaked protest as Grandma McCune opened it and she told Brownie to get down and behave. Feet thumping on the wooden floor, we stepped into the cool front hall where the air smelled of dust. Framed photographic portraits hung on the wall above my head, photos I’d seen many times but would never see again. Her husband, who I’d never met, a police offer who died of a heart attack, was in the largest portrait, encircled by the rest.
“Let’s get you those sugar plums,” Grandma McCune said.
Excited, I ran ahead of her into her tiny sunsplashed yellow kitchen with Brownie at my heels. I knew where the glass jars were kept in the pantry but knew I was not to touch them, for Grandma McCune feared I’d drop it. Stopping at the white door, I held still and looked back at her.
“Can you get a jar for me?” she asked. “Do you think you’re big enough?”
I nodded an answer.
“Okay, then, get me a jar but please be careful. Get back, Brownie, give him some room.”
Using utmost caution, I opened the door. The handle was a reach for my short arm and the tarnished brass handle dwarfed my chubby fingers. Pulling it open was an elaborate ritual of hanging on and backing up until I achieved enough clearance to push the door further back.
Ahead were the shiny, dusty Ball jars of stewed tomatoes, green beans, bread and butter pickles and sugar plums. Finding one of the last, I hauled the quart jar carefully forward, wrapping my arms around it and bringing its cool surface into my chest to safeguard the treasure.
“Good,” my great grandmother said. “Take it over to the table.”
I did, precariously managing to push it up and onto the surface. Grandma McCune took over, opening the jar, telling me about how she’d learned to can sugar plums when she was a little girl, learning at her grandmother’s elbow. Finding spoons and bowls, she gave us each a serving. “Sit down and eat it,” she said.
I did, relishing the taste as I spooned it into my mouth —
Blinking, I looked up and around the noisy coffee shop. Jim was grinning down at me. “Where was your mind? I’ve been standing here for about three minutes.”
I looked at the Google page on m computer screen. No results found. “I was just remembering something,” I said.
“Well, whatever it was, you were deep in thought.” He touched the side of his grinning mouth. “You have a little something on your face.”
Putting my hand up, I found something wet, pulled my fingers away and stared at the little juicy fragment on my finger tip.
“What is that?” Jim asked.
Smiling, I replied, “It’s a little taste of magic.” I put it in my mouth, holding it on my tongue before swallowing. “Just some sugar plums I had earlier.”
“Sugar plums, huh? I haven’t had one of those in years. Well, see you later. Go back to your memory.”
Jim wandered off, leaving me to gaze out the window.
Some days really are magical.
– originally published June, 2014.