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by [?]

I have just purchased a little bag of peppermints, and returned with them to my rooms above the Square. I did not purchase them at the promptings of a sweet tooth, but of a hungry heart. They take me back into the forgotten Aprils of my life, where I often love to loiter, not from any resentment that I have been unable to emulate Peter Pan and remain a boy forever, but because this great town is drab and dusty and imprisoning, and it is sweet to escape down the green lanes of April, even if only in a memory. A physical sensation–the sound of a voice, a hand patting us to the rhythm of “Tell Aunt Rhody”, an odor–can plunge us deeper and swifter down to the buried places of our memory than any process of deliberate recollection. No robin sings against my window of a morning here–only the noisy sparrows twitter and quarrel, reminding me of the curb market. No lilac sheds its perfume on the still air. I am perforce reduced to peppermints. The taste of peppermints on my tongue, the pungent fragrance of them in my nostrils, have the power, however, to transport me far from this maze of mortared canyons, back across the years, to a land where the robins sang against the spacious sky and a little boy dreamed great dreams.

So now I am sitting high up above the Square, with my little bag of peppermints before me (somewhat diminished in quantity already), and think, between slow, sipping nibbles, of that little boy.

In his day, in the land where he came from, peppermints were almost a symbol of life’s best things–of grandmothers and other dear old ladies who kept cookies in cool stone crocks in sweet-smelling “butt’ries” (sometimes foolishly called pantries by those who put on airs); of Christmastides when to the joy of peppermint sticks was added the unspeakable delight of sucking barley toys,–red dogs, golden camels that lost their humps and elephants that lost their trunks as the tongue went succulently ’round and ’round them; of the wonderful village “notion” store, presided over by a terrible female person with a deep bass voice, who asked you over the counter as you entered, “Which side, young man?” It was bad enough to be called “Bubbie”, but to be called “young man” in this ironic bass was almost insufferable. Yet you bore it nobly, for the sake of the pound of shot for your air-gun or the blood-alley or the great pink and white peppermints, two for a cent, that reposed in a glass jar on the left side of the shop. Was Miss Emily so terrible a person, I wonder now? She was always looked upon a little askance by the ladies of our village because she was “so masculine”. But if she did not conceal a softness for children under her stern exterior why did she keep a stock of so many things dear to the childish heart, from paper soldiers (purchased by the yard) to sleds and shot? Perhaps that fantastic stock of hers was her curious expression of the Eternal Motherly. After she died, every year on the 30th of May the “Vet’rans,” as they marched two by two in annually dwindling lines about the cemetery, placed a fresh print flag and a basket of geraniums on her grave, because she had sent a substitute to the War. To us youngsters this substitute used to explain why she kept shot for sale; she was by nature a bellicose person, and, we were sure, her great grief was her sex.

In my own family peppermints were directly connected, by legend, with feminine attractiveness. A great grandmother on my mother’s side had been in her day a famous beauty. And when asked the secret of her charm, as she frequently was (to my infant imagination she appeared as a superhumanly radiant vision who walked about the streets in a hoop-skirt with an admiring throng in her wake, constantly being forced to explain why she was beautiful), she did not utter testimonials for anybody’s soap, nor for a patent dietary system, nor even for outdoor exercise. She replied simply, “Peppermints”. Great grandmamma died when my mother was a girl, and to mother fell the task of going through the old lady’s possessions. She says it was a task; probably it was a privilege. At any rate, my mother records that she found peppermints everywhere, in every kind of wrapper, stowed in the different receptacles, in boxes, bags, trunks, in bureau drawers and writing desks and “secretaries”. They were among letters and laces, in the folds of silk gowns and even the table linen. Some of the peppermints had crumbled and almost evaporated. Some had “ossified”, as mother says. “And,” she used to add, telling the tale to large-eyed, hungry-mouthed little me, “I have not seen so many peppermints outside a candy shop since that day.”