I am quite convinced that some of the most important wisdom in life is passed from one child to the next. Not from generation to generation, and without any adults involved even as go-betweens. These are the things that are best passed along in an unbroken line, from childhood to childhood, imagination to imagination, memory to memory.
As children, we teach each other how to climb the surest tangled branches of old welcoming trees, and how to slip unseen within cavelike hideouts beneath bushes and vines that arch just right. In childhood, we learn from one another how to pinky-swear and cross our hearts over the most sacred of secrets, and how to create magical whistles from thick blades of green summer grass.
Small hands tie the best clover stalks into slender decorative chains. Young minds see the cleverest pictures among the curves and shadows of clouds. Skipping stones is an art best learned crouched barefoot on sandy water banks. And summer days are never counted. They are only lived morning to morning. Firefly to firefly. Street lamp to street lamp.
While children everywhere make small caps for their thumbs and fingers from acorn tops (thus transforming said digits into instant puppets), only Northern children pass along the art of making snowballs the perfect size and shape to reach optimum distance and momentum. Southern young, on the other hand, learn from each other how to reach optimum distance and momentum sliding down winter hills of exposed kudzu vines.
I was a Northern child. Perhaps that’s why I missed out on one timeless childhood lesson that seems to flourish at least in the south: Releasing the sweet golden drop of honeysuckle nectar onto your tongue. I beat the odds and was taught this art just recently, regardless of my chronological age. But everyone I’ve asked about it since assures me that they learned it long ago – a childhood ritual, often enjoyed hidden in the tops of trees or beneath cave branches of wisteria vines.
A friend of mine – who spent her childhood in the south – showed me how to pick the blossom, find the exact spot at the base from which to pull the center threadlike stem out and away from the pedals (probably done much more efficiently with young, practiced hands), and then letting the tiny transparent-gold drop that appears at the tip touch your tongue, releasing its unmistakable taste of pure honeysuckle sweetness. How such a small droplet can produce such a full flavor is rather astounding. And imagined on young lips, the taste must be even that much more rewarding.
But as my first experience with this childhood delight, I found it incredibly intriguing – to my eyes and imagination as well as my taste buds. It somehow brought back all the sweet memories of being a child – in a world when it was safe and good to be a child.
And it reminded me to relive the remembrances. It nudged my consciousness to enjoy the summer sun and stars and not count the days. To look up at a tree and chart the path I would choose to climb that particular one. To walk barefoot in cool grass. To skip a rock across a silent pond. To uncover images among the clouds.
Perhaps we should all take a drop of honeysuckle on our tongues once in a while – to sip from the taste of childhood. Perhaps it would make us remember how to be wise and good again. And how to share our wisdom and goodness one with another.
Marti Healy is a local writer, author of the books “The God-Dog Connection,” “The Rhythm of Selby,” “The Secret Child,” and a collection of her columns: “Yes, Barbara, There is an Aiken.”