Kage Baker was much interested by time. She studied it, she speculated on it, she wrote stories about it in (I think) an attempt to corner it with sympathetic magic. She used all the resources at her command to maintain the present and corral the past. She was particularly fascinated by the passage of time.
Well, to be more accurate, she was more usually enraged by it. If it had had the courtesy to simply pass, like the wind, she could have borne the occasional blown-out candle and blown-down branch that littered her life. But it is instead a repeating tide, a relentless tidal bore that sweeps inland and bears away all the treasures of careful fields and gardens into chaos and wilderness.
Kage couldn’t bear that.
Hence her intense recreation of things she loved, in her books. If something had ever pleased her, amused her, caught her eye or her fancy or some breathless adoration from her soul – she made it immortal in a story. These additions were often so small and subtle they meant nothing special to the reader – unless the reader had also been there when whatever-it-was engrained itself on Kage’s mind. But a thousand tiny shiny bits go to make up a mosaic; when the artist is done, you don’t see the sources they used, you see what they made from them instead.
Green glass from a spring tide on a northern beach, found laid like exotic eggs in a nest of deep water-kelp. Fragments of blue enamel from an an abandoned garden bench. Red bits from some wild grass that looks like oats until it miraculously sets seeds like chips of ruby. Mirrors cut from foil chocolate wrappers, and sticks of gum, and polished chrome plucked from the gutter where someone’s fender fell off.
You don’t see those sources in the finished project, Dear Readers. Unless, like me, you were there when Kage’s gaze fixed on them and the fire in her eyes leapt up, that meant the Storyteller had woken: and then you had to find a bag or a box or donate your pockets to carry all the glittering plunder home. Those moments are part of what I am trying to share here, to keep alive the way Kage did it herself. Tell a story and hope it sinks into someone’s mind, and in the meantime take some contentment from knowing you at least wrote it all down …
Of course, memory itself – though it was her servant and playmate – was not enough for Kage. And that was why she was also a skilled and ruthless patron of EBay, Amazon, The Vermont Country Store and old book merchants. When Kage found she could buy back a lot that had vanished from her personal past … well, she didn’t go nuts, because it was all much more careful and thought-out than a mere mania. But she brought the full force of her research skills and OCD energy to the hunt.
She found amazing things. Somewhere, someone – several someones – had saved Beistle paper decorations in perfect condition for every holiday on the calendar: Kage got them all. Not just the scratch cats and pumpkins she had loved – oh no, life-sized skeletons, polychrome witches in embroidered gowns, every avatar of Thanksgiving and Christmas imaginable. New Year’s cats and foxes, in tops hats and monocles.
Books she loved and lost as a child; candies, ditto. Buying candies on EBay is, of course, insanely risky – but Kage managed to find small companies that were making old candies fresh and new! Or could be bullied into it by a determined letter campaign. The letter campaigns were especially successful in getting someone to manufacture something everyone in the world had loved. It’s why I am still able to wash my hair with cloned Herbal Essence Shampoo – the good stuff, the green one that smells like a rain-wet garden.
Following her example, I timidly reached out into the aether this week to see if I could assuage a sudden, irrational craving. Do you, Dear Readers, remember Moon Pies? Chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and banana. (But the banana was vile, and tasted like recycled Nyarlathotep.) The inside crust was made of some weirdly wonderful hybrid of shortbread and graham crackers, and the marshmallow was divine.
Sometimes you can find them, singly or as miniatures or in the loathly banana flavour. And probably stale. I despaired! But then I went hunting … What I now happily possess is 23 fresh, chocolate, full-sized double Moon Pies. There were 24 when I sat down to write this, but – you know.
Memory is sweet. And it tastes like Moon Pies …
“….tasted like recycled Nyarlathotep…”
Really. Scared the reader across from me in the library.
She gave me a look and fled for a safer not inhabited by chortling Bacchants…
Oh dear, Oh dear! I have been an occasion of mortal sin and made you laugh in the Library! I blame the Moon Pies …
May I recommend a book, “Candyfreak” by Steve Almond. Non-fiction. He is one of those execrable mutants who can eat anything and not gain weight, and he loves candy. The book is his account of a cross-country journey seeking out family-run, regional candy companies that still make the yummies that used to be found only in that region. An education on how Big Candy ruins marketing for smaller companies – and what to look for in retro, nostalgia candy.
Damn book made me gain eight pounds.
Whoo – hoo!
I’ve been going to the Vermont Country Store since I was a child. My parents knew the founder, Vrest Orton. The Ortons family still owns it and it’s a veritable Aladdin’s cave of goodies, the stocks shelved with products brought back from extinction like the original formula Herbal Essence (hello 1976!) and the shampoo made with beer and the one that smelled like lemons with the top shaped like a lemon.
No doubt the Ortons could supply their loyal fans with thylacine pups, if we beg hard enough. They’re that good.
The Vermont Country Store is one of the wonders of the modern world. The bags of ONLY black jellybeans are marvelous.
Yes! And the best gummi bears anywhere, curse them! I owe two dental fillings to their addictive, sticky goodness.
The Weston, VT, store has a collection of statuary by John Rogers. Just about any Victorian era middle class American family posessed a Rogers group. They were considered to be a badge of Good Taste. They’re quite hideous, IMHO, but the subjects they represent say a lot about that particular period in history.
Jill – I have somehow never become a gummy bear fan, but the jelly beans from Vermont Country Store – !!! I especially love the assortment that comes in spice drop flavours, but with the toothsome texture of a jelly bean.
Please could you reveal what name the faux Herbal Essence shampoo is disguised under? I loved that stuff, and the new-fangled technicolor stuff with the same name isn’t at all what I like. I went to the Vermont Country Store site and got it to search ‘shampoo’ but nothing green or likely sounding came up.
I did wonder where the bags of all-black jelly beans had gone – flew home to Vermont, apparently.
Margaret – it’s called Country Herbal Shampoo, and the item number (which I am reading off the bottle in my hand) is #53408. I just tried to re-order it, and was also unable to find it. WTF? I’ve written to Vermont Country Store just now, asking what the story is – they can’t have stopped making this! I need it! You need it! The *world* needs it!
The black jelly beans are there, though. I entered “black jelly beans” in the search, and pulled up their wonderful 2-pound bag of ’em. Man, I’ve eaten myself sick on these so many times …
Details on the shampoo as they appear. This is important.
Many thanks for your research efforts on the shampoo – getting some more, or its facsimile, would probably take me right back to the 1960s when I was first using it. If I could perhaps get my knees to go back also, I’d be very happy indeed.
A bottle of Real McCoy vintage Herbal Essence is available on eBay for $85, plus $5 shipping.
I’m tempted, but what if the contents have undergone a horrible chemical change, after stewing unopened for forty years? Still, it’s almost worth the gamble. What if, like fine wine, it actually got better as it aged?
Divinely pine-scented fountain of youth or a shampoo version of the Black Cup?
It’s a bit like The Lady or the Tiger.
Don’t do it, mzkizzle. Remember PRELL? We had a vintage bottle from the early 60s, always kept in the cool-and-dark; opened it the mid 80s and it was Vile (yes, with a capitol “V”).
No worries. Eighty-five dollars is way too much to pay for a bottle of chancy shampoo, even if several like-minded souls had a whip round to purchase a communal bottle, but I sorely miss the original Herbal Essence. Why did they have to monkey with the formula? I understand why Ayds diet candy was pulled from the shelves due to its REALLY unfortunate name but why Herbal Essence? And why did Revlon discontinue Frosted Mauve nail polish? And why did Volkswagen stop making Squareback sedans? I loved my lemon yellow Squareback. Sigh. I miss the Seventies.
Oh, and point well taken on the Lovecraftian bottle of Prell, Chris. Wasn’t that the one that had a TV commercial wherein a pearl was deposited in a bottle of the stuff for reasons I can no longer recall? I think they even had a contest where the prize was a real pearl, or maybe a pearl necklace.