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She used it to kill ants. She was the only one I knew to ever slice open a bag and spread it over our counters and, when the ants multiplied, she dumped a few pounds in the center of every exit of our home. I suppose using cinnamon to eliminate pests is an old wives tale. She had a book chalk full of them.
I remember my sister having a wart on her toe. She would squirm and giggle while momma rubbed a raw potato over the skin. Poison ivy, skin rash, sore throat, broken limb… It could all be cured with the help of momma’s faith in wives tales.
“Ants.” Momma would cringe with frustration.” They get into everything.” I would just stare wide-eyed atop of the washer while she sprinkled a few drops here and there. The sweet aroma would rise and fill the house never trying to escape through cracked doors or opened windows. The spice lived in our home and defended us from the horror and annoyance that usually accompanies most insects that creep and crawl into your walls unwelcomed. It has even met us at the door, awaiting our arrival, embracing us individually for a taste of appeal and tranquility.
I remember my stomach would roll with disgust when dad cooked his famous un-cooked cinnamon rolls for breakfast. He would add extra cinnamon to the batch and drown them with thick, white icing. Though I have a gnarly sweet tooth, I refused to eat the gooey dough entirely laced with my cinnamon. The smell was delicious and I was sure the taste would be even better, but I couldn’t make myself waste the crumbs of my protector.
I was one of the main reasons momma wanted –needed- to get rid of the ants in the first place. We had mounds of anthills in our front yard where my sister and I would play. I made the mistake of accepting the challenge of Tag-Your-It and stopped to pant bare-footed directly in the center of a mansion-sized colony. I remember that moment. Of terror and repulsion. Though now I don’t see it in the eyes of a child anymore, I see it as I would a dream. I can see the ants instantly covering both of my short and childishly rounded legs in a matter of seconds. They traveled to my arms, my neck. Some even made it underneath my clothes, marching frantically over bare skin. The thought still makes me shiver.
But dad came to my rescue, sweeping me up and slapping most of them away. Momma hurried to fill the bathtub up with water while dad lowered me into it. The hundreds of ants that still remained died at that moment. They drowned and floated to the surface of the water that was too hot for comfort. Bites covered my feet and arms and chest and there was even one right behind my ear. They were my battle scars. And I wore them for weeks.
As an adult, you look back at your earliest memories and the only ones that truly stand out are the bad. But then when you think of the bad, a good fades in from black. Ants’ terrorized my house and momma fought them with the help of the old wives. Though momma was my home, cinnamon was my childhood ally, standing up to the bullies and sending them away.
I look down at my feet, barefooted with calluses at the curve of each big toe. A few scars are still stamped across the tops of my feet and around my ankles. It’s a reminder of my childhood and that my worst memory is something as simple as a few bug bites.
Shay walked into the living room, lit by a single lamp and only a few cinnamon-scented candles. Her small feet hardly made a sound against the carpet. Her hair was wild with curly Q’s; every strand weaving through another making it impossible to brush out within thirty minutes time. Her silk pajama top was crooked revealing one shoulder. She cringed before yawning and rubbed her eyes while she spoke in that sleepy, cranky child voice. “My throat hurts, momma.”
I smiled, wanting to wink at my thoughts if that were possible. I took Shay’s hand in mine and led her to the kitchen sink. I poured her a glass of water and added a few sprinkles of sea-salt. She took the cup and shot the drink in her mouth gargling it at the base of her throat. After a couple of minutes, when the water turned warm, Shay spit out the liquid and nodded with satisfaction. She wiped the remnants of water from her mouth with her forearm and, without another word, headed off to bed.
Shay has a sore throat every night. She has her own, personal warden just like I had mine.
I guess I could thank the old wives for my childhood and the fondness of those memories. But sea-salt only numbs the throat for a moment
And cinnamon never helped kill off the ants.