Instinctive Scientist

I didn’t bring the poinsettia plant in from the deck one night when we had frost. It lost every single leaf. Knowing it would try to make a comeback, I put it in an upstairs bedroom and watered it. When the first leaves came out, I was very happy. It seems to be happy, too. It has decided to blossom for me in February.

Mom opened the oven door and placed a pan of raw cookies inside. I felt the oven breathe heat into the room. I was sitting nearby at the head of the kitchen table. I reached into a bowl on the table and pulled out a handful of peanuts in the shell. As I shelled them, I popped the pale-colored peanuts into my mouth. They were unsalted.

I stated, “I want salt.” Mom turned from cleaning the cupboard and handed me a salt shaker. Shelling more nuts, I discovered the salt refused to stick to the dry peanuts. I licked them and tried again. This time the salt stuck. An idea popped into my mind. I would shell a bunch of nuts, wet them with water, put them on a small pan and shake salt over them. Then, I’d ask Mom to put the pan in the oven. She wouldn’t let me do it myself, because I was only six-years-old.

Mom agreed to my request and placed the nuts on a small, metal syrup-can lid that she used to test cookies. A few minutes later when she took them out, she instructed, “Wait until they’re cool.”

I grabbed a hot peanut when she wasn’t looking. To my dismay, it was chewy. As if knowing what I’d done, Mom chuckled, “When the nuts are cool, they’ll be crunchy again.” She was right. My roasted, salted peanuts were delicious and I felt clever.

Figuring out on my own how to salt and roast peanuts was the start of my life-long career as an instinctive scientist.

One day when I was eight, I opened my brother Casper’s bedside table drawer to look at the fascinating things he kept in there. There were springs, sprockets, batteries, tubes of industrial strength bubble material, bulbs, coins, bits of wire and string. I began to put the things that fascinated me the most on the table top, end to end. When I placed a wire against the end of a battery and a small bulb against the other end of the wire, I saw a flash of light in the bulb. Flashlights had already been invented, but I was excited to realize I was a re-inventor.

Daddy had built a miniature kitchen cupboard for my older sisters. I’m sure they played with it as most little girls would. Make believe tea parties wasn’t my sort of play. When I was ten, I wanted to be a scientist, so I filled every small jar lid, bottle cap and cup I could find with “lab” ingredients that I’d found in Mom’s kitchen. Using empty paint-by-number paint capsules as test tubes, I sat at the cupboard mixing small amounts of things like Kool Aide powder, flour, salt, pepper, vinegar.

My lab closed down after my most successful experiment. Who knew that red Kool Aide powder, buffered by flour and topped with vinegar would make a sealed capsule explode when shaken?

Although I am now an adult, the instinctive scientist still lives within me. I love to experiment with recipes. My daughter Tammie questioned, “Mom, How do you manage changing recipes the way you do, and yet have things turn out.”

She didn’t know about my many past disasters. I sagely informed her, “You have to know the rules before you can break them.”

In the garden, my instinctive scientist persona insists I try new plants, layouts and ways to do things. During the winter, my garden experiments extend into the warm, upstairs bedrooms of my house.

I’ve learned that a craggy, dead-looking, frost-killed poinsettia can come back to life and blossom in February. I’ve discovered that a pale pink poinsettia will come back in a red color. I had a poinsettia with curled leaves. Its blossoms looked like roses. When I cut off these dying red leaves, it rebloomed with flat leaves.

As a child I invented a small capsule that exploded red stain. Now that I am an adult, I make green poinsettias rebloom with splashes of red leaves.

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