I am wandering down this unfamiliar street, bathing in the sunshine, a soft breeze blowing on my face. Then I begin to notice something familiar, a sweet scent blowing with the wind. I look down to the street and discover that it is covered with pure snow. The snow is sweet-scented, and in an instant, a current of wind comes, and it begin to snow again when I look up to the sky. Two rows of osmanthus trees grow along the streets in straight lines like soldiers in parade formation; the sweet-scented snowflakes are not snow, they are the fragrant flowers of the osmanthus trees. I am comforted by the sweet petals, and I travel back to the age of five, and fall into the sweet memory of my special day together with my grandparents in that beautiful season of osmanthus.
When I was five, I was sent away during summer time to the countryside where my grandparents lived. The town was called Guihuacun, “Osmanthus Flowers Village,” famous for its flowers. The flowers bloomed among the green leaves like snow, and I wondered for a long time about the presence of snow on the trees on hot summer days. People who lived in that town celebrated the Osmanthus Festival, held every year during the season, and I remembered that all of us gathered together and shared the delicious food that each family made with the flowers. My grandparents were good at making cake; this was not only the best part of the osmanthus festival, but also the best memory of my childhood.
We started making the cake by collecting the flowers. The trees grow really tall, and my grandparents had a bamboo stick that was as tall as the trees, and we used the stick to hit the leaves so that the flowers would fall to the ground. My grandma walked slowly,with her back bent, to the back of the house and grabbed me a wooden basket, smiling at me. She said, “Mengmeng, are you ready to collect the flower in the basket for me?” I was amused by the fact that I could get a basket to collect the flowers, and I couldn’t wait. I ran around under the tree growing in the big yard in my grandparents’ house, waiting for the snow to fall. My grandpa came with his extra long bamboo stick, asking me, “Are you ready?” and I said “YES!” because I knew I was always ready. I watched him swinging the stick in his hands like a superhero, and suddenly the flowers began to fall.
“Wow, it is snowing! The snow is sweet! ” I picked up one flower and put it into my basket, and looked at it with great satisfaction. The flower had a yummy and fascinating scent.
“Silly girl, ” said my grandpa. “This is not snow, this is osmanthus flower.”
“I know, I know. Grandpa, give it more hits and I want to see it snow again.”
My grandpa then took a few steps toward the tree, reaching to the canopy, and swung again. He was my hero back then because he could always make the tree snow. When my grandpa was reaching out for the flowers, he always walked with faltering steps, and I enjoyed sitting there watching my hero with his funny steps. A few more flowers dropped from the air, and I ran to get them and put them into my basket. I turned back to look to the house, and found my grandma working in the summer kitchen with her apron on. She was setting up the fire for the cake, and I saw sweat coming down her forehead. Although she was busy with her work, I could see her beautiful smile. I turned back to the tree and began to count the flowers in my basket. “One, two, three...twelve,” I jumped around with great excitement and said, “Grandpa, we already collected twelve flowers, and we only need three more!” My grandpa then gave his last hit, and our work was done. I carried the basket to the kitchen with great care because I felt like that I was holding my own babies.
We began making the dough, the most important part of making osmanthus cake. My grandma cut the flowers into pieces without rinsing or washing them because we did not want to lose any of the sweet smell. My grandpa and I took out the glutinous rice, which is a kind of rice that is stickier and turns transparent after cooking, and we took it to the traditional stone mill. We put the rice into the mill, then pushed it, walking together, side by side in a circle, and when we were pushing, my grandpa would began to sing. I saw the rice turned into powder after our hard work, and we then brought the rice powder back to my grandma. She already had the flowers ready, and she began to mix up the powder and the flowers with flour. She also made the cake extra sweet and tasty by adding osmanthus sugar and osmanthus oil. When she was mixing the sugar in the dough, I snuck into the kitchen and put my finger into the osmanthus sugar, and then licked my finger. It was the best “candy” I have ever tasted, and I was never caught because my grandma was so focused on making cake for us. Then I sat down with both my grandma and grandpa, and we began to mould the dough.
The cake was usually made into squares, but I begged my grandma to make one special for me. She made me a rose-shaped cake, and I was astonished by her amazing work. I made a star-shaped one for myself, as well, and we then put them all into steamers made of bamboos. My grandma put the steamer on the fire, and in just a few minutes, I found my grandma hiding in the steam, and she waved to me with her smile. “They will be ready in twenty minutes-- can you wait?” I said no because I was so hungry, and the smell made me drool. I snuck into the kitchen again and stole more osmanthus sugar from the sugar bag.
Finally the cakes came out from the steamer. They had become transparent from its white color, and we put them on the table in the yard. It was already evening, and I saw moonlight shine through the cakes, and thought it made the cake extra delicious. I grabbed the star-shaped one with my tiny hand and dropped it on the plate because it was so hot. My grandparents both laughed at me for being so careless, and said that I acted like a small and crazy monkey. Then my grandpa picked the cake up with chopsticks and blew it to cool it down a bit, and then gave it to me. I bit into the cake, and it was so good that my whole body began to dance with it. The sweet scent of the osmanthus flower made the cake taste special, totally different from all the other cakes I had ever had. I looked up to the sky, and the flowers began to fall. One fell on my shoulder, and I picked it up and let my grandparents smell it. They both looked at me with their warm smiles, and that became the most loving moment of my day.
I was able to go back to that town only once after that summer, and then my grandparents moved to my city when I began to go to school. They sold their house in Guihuacun, and I didn’t get a chance to go back to see the osmanthus flowers before they moved. My grandma tried to make the osmanthus cake for me in my city, but she only found the dried flowers, not as good as the fresh. It was frustrating because I would never have a chance to experience the same taste, or smell the same scent again. I gradually gave up my obsession with the osmanthus flower when I grew up, until one day......
One day that I came to this unfamiliar city, and now walk on this unfamiliar street. I smell the sweet scents that I have missed for more than eight years and watch the beautiful summer snow falling down from the leaves. I walk to the trunk and feel the texture of the bark, and suddenly I see the long stick, the steam, and the delicious cake again. I pick up a flower from the ground, and I lick my finger to taste the best “candy” again, one more time, on this beautiful street. I put the flower into my pocket. I stop and close my eyes. All the beautiful memories of the sweet-scented osmanthus are pulling me back.
Xinyi Sun ‘14