The rabbitpatch is always quiet in winter -and this year more so than ever. Of course, there is no shortage of tasks and I have a borrowed book, that I need to read. There is a small cabinet to paint and a corner of the territory hemmed a foot deep in leaves . . but I have always viewed winter, as a time to rest . . .body and soul.
This is the time, I usually pick a subject to study. I do plan to research something, but for now, I’d as soon paint the table. ( I am still muddled from the months I followed politics fervently.) In that case, I will choose something to wonder about wisely. . .after I paint the cabinet.
This is Tres’ last week of winter break, therefore his last week here. He came in early December and of course, Christian and I dread him leaving. He will be back earning his second degree. It makes me dizzy to hear the names of his classes, but he enjoys them. How handy he has been! He has done several repairs, that were needed. He is good company and cheers me on in my own endeavors. Goodness, what a difference Tres makes at the rabbitpatch- and in so many ways. Of course, my loss is Lyla and Brynns’ gain, for they have missed their uncle and look forward to his return to Elizabeth City.
I am enjoying the stark winter beauty that has at last settled in. Some days are born in brightness, some are born in fog. “Jack Frost” turns up regularly, but never stays for supper! I do not frown on winter, as many do. Even living in a drafty farmhouse, where each room varies greatly in temperature, does not diminish my enthusiasm . I love the winter landscape too. The scene is simplistic. Fields lie in wait for April, as do the flowers. In the absence of leaves, sunlight falls lighting up the dark corners of the territory and what peculiar shadows the twisted branches of the oak make! The colors of the season are muted and I find that peaceful. The silver bark of the sycamore, the gently mottled pecan seem to implore one to slow down and take a close look. How pretty the redbirds are in such a time as winter and most especially when perched on a soft ash branch .
I do not mind the longer nights nor the later mornings, either. Home and hearth are revered more than ever, under such conditions. The old house is almost cold in the mornings and I rise reluctantly from soft, warm blankets, to warm the place up and start coffee. Now, I scurry back to my “nest”, for this is where I have my “early service” in winter. A large window, is my alter, for it frames the sunrise with precision. A pile of books is within arms’ reach ,to prod me on and a cup of coffee is added to the collection. There I await, the light. . .so I do not mind the “late mornings” of winter.
Unlike the rest of the year, by six o’clock in the evening, all who call the rabbitpatch home are settled in, while supper cooks. I see the lamps shining in my neighbors’ homes and am glad they too, are home, “safe and sound”. In warmer months, folks are likely to be anywhere doing many things . . .but all hearts come home in winter. . . and earlier than usual.
There is another thing about winter. My only daughter, Jenny was given to me on a bright, cold day, in January. Hence, she is my “lovely winter bird”. Now,she is all grown up with her own nest to tend. . .and oh how well she tends it. She was born with a mothers ‘ heart. She had lots of practice with her dolls and four brothers. How deftly she practices the fine art of mothering and “homemaking”. This is as noble an endeavor as there as ever was and I couldn’t be prouder of her. A mother “wears many hats” rings true . . .but so does a daughter and Jenny is all any of us could have ever hoped for.
Many people place great stock in a new year – and most especially this particular year. I have never been any good at making resolutions,just for the sake of it, for I must truly be convicted, to change a habit, or practice a new one…and I am likely to do so in months like May! Now, during the quiet time of Christmas, I did do a lot of thinking and self reflection.
There is just no shortage of things to ponder. For a long while, I was about overwhelmed with “the current state of the union”. I am still a bit shocked and so very disappointed too. It seems everyone wants to take some sort of spectacular stance on every subject known to man. The elders used to say, “you all would argue in a pie factory!”, when my cousins and I quarreled. (instead of eating pie). I think that sentiment rings true today. To me, the world got too loud. . .and I could not bear the noise so, I finally decided to just “Be still” -as it is written.
Now being still, is not for the faint of heart. It sounds like it is such a passive event-but for me, I must muster determination to quiet myself. It is my mission to dwell on what is holy. . . .and to live peaceably and without causing harm to this world.
When the time of thinking was over, I left for the gathering, in Elizabeth City. Brant and Sydney came with little Ryan, that evening. What a happy reunion, it was. Lyla and Brynn were so glad to see their “baby brother cousin”. Watching the three of them clapping their little hands, in unbridled joy, at the sight of one another, tickled my heart. We all stayed up past our usual bedtimes., in light of all that celebrating.
The next morning, as usual, Lyla and I were up before everyone else. We are always the “early birds”. Every time, someone awoke, they were greeted cheerfully, as if the night had kept us apart too long. After breakfast, Lyla and Sydney began work on a gingerbread house. We had quite a lengthy list on our agenda. There were two kinds of candy to make and cheese straws, several special meals and a few walks in the “new neighborhood”. Since it was raining and no end in sight, the strolls had to be abandoned. Because of this, it seemed someone was always in the kitchen.
We had several days together- but, being greedy, I never get my fill. How could I tire of those lovely folks! Brynn trying to tend to Ryan. Ryan following Lyla like a shadow -even the occasional squabbles, were cherished. Brynn at two, was reluctant to hand over all that was hers’ freely to Ryan. She would put up a fight for a little while, then smile sweetly and share , for she had established her independence to her satisfaction. Ryan has learned to say “no” and uses it appropriately. Even so, he remains mild and pleasant and very loving. Lyla shut the door to the playroom on the day, that her dolls were all sick. That sent wails of protests from the little ones.
I watched the children play with great amusement . It is another way to know them and what a delightful way to do so.
It rained day and night, the whole time of our holiday. This did not hinder our happiness, though I had looked forward to some leisure strolls. Several times, Ryan and I watched it rain through the window, together. He stared intently at the large silver drops falling- in wonder . . .so did I. May neither of us ever outgrow watching rain.
Somehow, the days were quickly accomplished. Brant and Sydney left on Saturday. I left on Sunday. Though, I am satisfied with life, it does seem to lack luster, after a gathering. Regular readers know, I am likely to whine and pine every time, in the days after a reunion.
I spent the next week restoring order in the old farmhouse. I went to work and cooked supper. Headlines went from bad to worse. The discord of man is as rampant as covid and apparently just as contagious. There are more ways than one to ail.
Meanwhile, the night sky is lit up with stars the size of silver dollars. The Handiwork of God is a stark and mighty contrast to the handiwork of man. In the early morning, there is that magical time, when the day awaits light. It is another favorite time of mine. . .it is my beloved “morning service”.
How beautiful, truth is and no one is better at truth, than trees. Their bare arms, covered only on frost, bravely proclaim, broken, jagged branches and the scars of former storms. The earth rests in winter and does not harbor hidden agendas and falsehoods, nor does it plot . The earth rises to the needs of all that call it “home” without showing privilege or discrimination. Therefore, I will renew my pledge to seek peace and cause no harm. This is the way I will do battle.
I love winter mornings. They are so still. In the absence of bird song , the day is born in silence. Now, the mornings sparkle, for frost covers the territory and any sound at all seems to crack the air. The trees shine their beautiful truth, in the first light. Now they hold no secrets. The older I get, the more I value truth-good or bad -truth liberates the soul. It really does “set one free”, as it is written.
Now the time of Christmas wanes like an old moon. I will celebrate til January 6th, for I love “old Christmas” and somehow commemorating the visit of the wise men , seems a fitting and natural conclusion to such a glorious, time as Christmas. Now, like everyone else, we had a different sort of Christmas, this year. We settled for visits, instead of the usual large gathering, on Christmas night. After the trip to Raleigh, Mama and I spent a day in Elizabeth City with Will, Jenny and my beloved little girls, Brynn and Lyla.
The grandaughters were brimming with anticipation,of Sanats’ visit. Lyla was practicing her best behavior, so that the elves had nothing to tattle about. Mama and I toured their new home. It is a beautiful and sensible home-and within walking distance of the “laughing river”. How grateful I was, to see this blessing for them, first hand. What contentment welled up in my heart and I prayed for the home to be filled with goodness and mirth.
The day passed too quickly and while Brynn dozed in her mothers’ arms, Mama and I headed home.
A few short days later, my sisters and I were at Mamas’ house. We tried as best as could to divert ourselves from the great sorrow of not having Daddy with us. In some way, I had dreaded the affair altogether, Knowing we could not deny, that we all had this grief in common, the prospect of any merriment, seemed impossible . . .but I was wrong. We had a lot more in common, than grief. We had Mama and each other. We had the same elders and shared the same memories. We loved each others’ children . . .and so there was great solace in that.
I spent Christmas eve at Mamas’ house. On Christmas day, Tres, Sarah, Kyle and Christian came. Mama and I had prepared a meal and so this day was much better than Thanksgiving. It was fun cooking together and it was wonderful to wait together, for everyones’ arrival.
Outside, the coldest wind of the year blew, fiercely. The little community was quiet, other than the howling of that wind. Hardly a car drove by, for covid was in the neighborhood. Several families were in quarantine and had to cancel any prospect of celebrating together. A beloved neighbor was fighting for his life . . and losing. His wife was home alone and had to rely on phone calls from the doctors to know anything about her husband. She never got a bit of good news. Each call was worse than the one before it. The final call came on Christmas night. Our dear friend left us the next morning.
This man was but a few years, older than me and every bit as active. In the thirty years, we knew him,no one has ever had a bad thing to say about him. As far we are all concerned, he left with a “clean slate” . . .and that says volumes.
If death, does not make us think about living . .then I suppose nothing will. No matter what you believe happens after death, this life counts. What we do with it matters. In youth, man dreams big and with a lot of determination. We are often convinced then, that we will change this world and therefore leave our mark in some spectacular way. One way or another, we all end up in the same “rat race”. Some acquire more stuff than others . . .some acquire prestige . . some have some sort of power. I guess, it all comes down to whatever mission we select.
Thankfully, circumstances prevail, that allow us to reevaluate and help us define our priorities with a more seasoned precision . We continue making these wonderful discoveries, of who we are. What we truly love is out “front and center”! It comes to light and may even shock us, though it was there all along. . .likewise, our undesirable traits. Suddenly, you at last know yourself and this is the one mission, we all really share -and the one that matters most of all, I think. Our path is sacred, twisted, shadowed and how sweet those patches of light. Ever so often, a truth, our truth, leaps out, shining like a beacon or . . like an awful rock to fall over. Either way, we are the better, for the light-and the rocks, too.
I had several more revelations, during this quiet Christmas. Each one seemed like a Christmas gift, of sorts, but I will write about them at the more timely New year event, when most people do consider such things.
Mama will spend New Year in Raleigh and tomorrow, I leave for Elizabeth City. Brant and Sydney should arrive tomorrow evening. I have never been sentimental about celebrating the new year. . .but I am sentimental about seeing my children and grandchildren. . . after all. they are “my patches of light”.
Last week end in Raleigh, was”time well spent”. Mama and I arrived on Friday. It was an unseasonably warm day and so not long after getting there, I took little Ryan out for a stroll. A few trees were still celebrating autumn with bright apricot leaves-and some were golden too. How they lit up the landscape! We met an older woman hand delivering her Christmas cards. This cheered me, for it was something familiar. With Christmas so very different this year . . I found the encounter, beautiful. . . and did not take it lightly. Likewise, a simple wreath on a door, did my heart “good’. I remembered how I especially love familiar things.
I remembered a time, when folks did “hand deliver ” their Christmas cards – and how decorations were simple, but spoke volumes, anyway. Grandmama made her “fruit cocktail” cake and sat it on the “deep freeze’ and the Christmas albums were played daily. The house smelled to “high heaven” of apples and oranges at Christmas – a tradition spawned a century ago, in my family, when such things were only available at Christmas. When things changed, my elders did not. One of my sweetest memories, was Delores and I waking up to the smell of apples and oranges-and calling out to one another, “Wake up! It is Christmas!”
How fitting it was, that Ryan and I went home to Sydney and Mama in the kitchen, baking gingerbread cookies.
I lost count of the books, that Mama read to Ryan, that night. I am thrilled that Ryan dearly loves being read to-and Mama was more than willing to accommodate him. Later, Brant took Ryan for their usual before bedtime revelry while Sydney, Mama and I watched It Happened on Fifth Avenue-and ate cookies.
On Saturday, my sister, Delores and niece Dana. came for a visit. Mama would leave for a visit with them, as they live just under an hour away. This was the first of our new plan for Christmas. Visits with one another, instead of our usual large, ‘all in’ gathering. It really is a fine alternative, under the circumstances, though, it does lack the luster of the former feelings of Christmas ‘ past. . .but who knows, this altered state of Christmas, may at last force us to dwell, on the “holiness” more than the holly.
On Sunday, Brant, Sydney, Ryan and I, traveled to have lunch, at my sisters’ house -and to bring Mama back. it was another day, like late April, but it was Christmas inside. The tree was lovely, though Delores was not pleased with it initially. She is quite picky about her tree and spent the best part of two days, this year, selecting one. Surely, whatever qualms Delores had, are now dismissed. I was quite moved to see the collection of nutcrackers, that I had given my nephew, Brandon, over the years, displayed all over the downstairs. How many years, they reflected! I was glad. to have started the tradition, for they all seemed to fill the house with a proclamation of love.
After our lunch, we all went out to watch Ryan frolic about. Ryan loves sticks and acorns and leaves and he will usually have at least one of those things clinched in his little hands. He would rather be outside, in the first place, which pleases me. I love to see his fair face facing up, gazing at the sky. I carry this picture with me, to rely on, when there is distance between us.
We came back in the mid afternoon, and fell right back in to that routine of Mama reading to Ryan, and all of us eating cookies. That night we watched “The Bishops’ Wife”, which I had suggested on multiple occasions, ever since I had arrived. I do not know, if Sydney had ever watched movies that old. She was delightful company and is too well mannered to complain. . .and I think she enjoyed them!
Regular readers know, that I am hopelessly sentimental and “old fashioned” too. It is true. When I find something good , something authentic, something worthy enough to carry , I can not “leave it behind” like a burned out strand of lights, that certainly has no further use. Instead, ” I keep lovely things”. ..like souvenirs, tucked lovingly in my heart. I practice the old ways as best I can, for it is another way to” tell the story” to my grandchildren and to honor the memory of the elders. To the old ways, we add new ways and so the story grows into our unique version.
One day, the grandchildren will ask me why the house smells of apples and oranges at Christmas. . .and I will say “let me tell you a story . . .
These latter days of autumn are very akin to winter. Nights are cold now and so we rise to heavy frost that shines and sparkles in the first light. The barren fields, are covered in a dazzling luster. I woke to a strong north wind, yesterday. that stripped most of the leaves from the old trees- and carried them to their destiny, far from the rabbitpatch. Now the shade on the territory is scant, reduced to thin lines that curve and zig zag, across the territory, when the sun shines.
Recently, I don a coat and gloves in the early morning and the car must be warmed up. I do not mind cold as some do, but I will complain if there is a gusty wind, in addition.
With this being our first Thanksgiving, without Daddy, and my friend, Julie dying just before the holiday, well, it was a gloomy time. I counted my blessings, reciting them all day, for I have so many. . .but grief was ever present. I could not shake it – and to say otherwise,would be sheer falsehood. Mama and I spent the day together, with brief visits from Kyle and Christian -and Jenny, Sydney and Sarah brought the grandchildren in the afternoon. Those moments were bright spots. Our family would be gathering on Friday, so Thursday just felt hollow and so lacking. I suppose a parade could have passed by, and wouldn’t have altered our state of mind. Mama and I went to bed early.
Friday was better. It was a mild day and just right for our outside gathering. There were all sorts of tasks and that helped too. I stirred the caramel sauce and Mama decorated the garage. A turkey was roasting and Brant and Tres were frying another one. Sydney came in with a huge pan of macaroni and cheese, that took the place of the turkey, the minute it came out. Jenny had a corn pudding, my sister, Delores came in with a ham and a casserole. Delores began organizing the food and Ryan sought out little sticks and rocks, Brynn stuck close to her Mama, as she is shy. Often she will cover her face,if she is given too much attention. Lyla and Christian took a walk . .and so how soothing the hustle and bustle was. We wore masks, when we weren’t eating and took extra precautions to be safe. Those practices are habits now, for us.
Tres is out of school now and so he is at the rabbitpatch! Christian and I are thrilled. The boys have cut wood, fixed the dryer and Tres fixed two doorknobs that have not worked for a year. We have deep conversations- real content, that provokes thought. We have tackled science, government and religion, already. We have discussed documentaries and of course, what to have for supper. Conversations with Tres, always inspire me to “do better ” .
Will and Jenny moved this weekend! Wills’ mom had a home just a few miles away, in the same vicinity. It is a smaller home and so, they “downsized” before me! The new location will not hinder my walks by the”laughing river”. It is also closer to “Aunt J”, which thrills all of us. I cried with happiness when Jenny spent the first night. How good it felt to know that she was safely tucked in -as if she were six all over again. The heart of a mother does snot recognize the difference time oughtto make. This was a “milestone” to celebrate. I hope to visit in the next few weeks . By then there will be a wreath on the door!
Ryan is cutting a tooth and every little consequence of that has worried Brant, terribly. He even fed him chicken broth, one night! Sydney, is concerned, of course, but oh, how calm she remains for Ryan AND Brant!
Now, it is Monday, and with my lessons posted , my sisters and I are meeting at Mamas’ to decorate for Christmas. There is a chilly rain falling in silver drops that beckon to you to make a fire-and to serve a hearty supper.
Delores had arrived the night before. She was hanging a bow on the mailbox, as I drove up. What a sweet sight! Connie and my niece, Hayley, were right behind me. With everyone gathered and Bing Crosby singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, a sense of celebration filled the house.
Hayley had a surprise for us, right off. She had pillows for each of us, made from Daddys’ shirts. Of course we all cried, for we are missing Daddy and most especially during the holidays-but at least some of our tears were for the beauty of this gift. I was deeply moved by Hayleys’ thoughtfulness. Moments later, Connie and Delores were unpacking the Christmas china, while Dana and I gathered up the many cardinal ornaments , we would use . Mama had decided on that theme, for this particular year. We had a light lunch, and celebrated Delores’ and Hayleys’ approaching birthdays.
Everyone worked again after lunch. It got about cold and so we hurried along on the outside garland and lights. Both of my sisters are quite handy at the things that I am not, so there is never a quarrel about who does what. By the time that the world dimmed, the house was aglow with Christmas lights and Delores had put bows on most any thing that did not move. I glanced back, as I drove away and thought, what a good day.
On Friday. Mama and I will leave for Raleigh. We are doing Christmas a different way this year, due to the virus that is raging through our “neck of the woods”. We will have several small visits, with family, instead of the usual large gathering.
Being so very sentimental, I really love tradition . . .and so I am already missing the way things were. Hayley and I did not linger in a bookstore this year, while the others shopped. . .nor eat fine chocolate, because “they were taking too long”. The grandchildren will not gather to visit with Santa and Mama will not need to supplement seating in her house, on Christmas night. With the violin program, closed at school this year, I have not heard “Jingle Bells played a thousand times . . .well, on and on I could go proclaiming the woes of this creature of habit, for life has changed in general.
It makes me feel quite shallow to whine about it, when I consider that my grandparents had a Christmas meal, on ration cards. I think of the many folks, who lost their livelihoods this year and the many “empty chairs” across the entire world, this particular year.
I have come to realize a few things. Fortitude is quite under estimated and we ought to cultivate it in ourselves-and in our children, with great zeal. You can bet your life, it will be needed as surely as water. Likewise, gratitude. We must learn to recognize our blessings. We get so very used to them, that we treat them like an old beside lamp. But oh! how we like that light on a long winter night. Really, gratitude sparks joy, which is another element, we will need . . again like water. Current conditions implore us to look deeply and to see clearly, what does really matter. We all have the chance, to define our truth with precision.
I can not afford to miss this opportunity, for it is like a “baptism” . . and I so hope “this one takes” . . . “for wild and sweet, the words repeat . . . Peace on Earth, Good will to men.”
I may be the only person awake in the whole world just now, for all I know. It is pitch dark out now. The moon lights up patches of earth, here and there. The world is silent and almost cold in these hours before day. With tomorrow being Thanksgiving, I am off today. I had planned to write this morning, all along, for I am a “morning writer “.
I had many thoughts in my head, for I had visited with Ryan and then at long last, had a weekend with Lyla and Brynn. What bright days. The leaves here have finally turned golden and scarlet – and apricot and the sweet gum has splashes of plum! Some days the sky is as blue as a morning in May and other days it is a soft pewter. I can not say, which days are loveliest, for I love them all. I had intended to write my accounts of strolling with the grandchildren on a sidewalk under crimson maples -and later by an indigo river. . . but something happened that changed everything.
My dearest friend, Julie died yesterday.
I have written about Julie before and she was always pleased, when I did. The first time, I wrote about her, she was sure, that she was famous, at long last. She read every comment. Each one thrilled her and so I let Julie bask in her glory, with delight
I met Julie in that awful season of middle school. My cousin “Cookie” was Julies’ friend and that is how I came to know her. Julie had a coolness about her and it took years for me to know her. By chance, we became neighbors later on, and we were soon “as thick as molasses in January.” Our children were young then (and so were we). Our lives were so entwined that the children seemed a joint commodity. I worried over her daughter Haley, when she was having trouble with math and I was distraught when little Katelyn had headaches. Julies’ daughters attended a private school for a while, run by very religious Dutch folks. Each year, the school celebrated their heritage with a festival. Parents were to make dishes from ancient recipes. One year, Julie was to make an apple bread. She handed me the recipe, for it was as much my problem as it was hers’ after all. I read the thing and said”we will need a bushel of apples and an entire day! When I went back to help her bake, there was a case of some sort of “instant apple bread mixes” on the counter. I felt guilty about her plan, but Julie did not in the least. I will not tattle on the year she made fudge, for the whole school -and in an hour or so, of her time. I could only hope, that it was eaten fast. Julie doted on my children. . . and did so, up until her last hour.
Our friendship did not end, when the children grew up, nor when I moved to the rabbitpatch. Julie spent many weekends here and loved the country, as much as I did. We canned tomatoes together and peeled apples. We ate beets and split pea soup .We discussed books . . many books. In the winter, Julie and I would study subjects together. We studied native American culture, religions of the world and all sorts of philosophies. Julie was always an avid student of all things, and her brain was quick as lightening. She was a firm believer in speaking her truth and did so every single chance she got. Julie did not let me get by with poor judgement , whether I wanted to hear it or not. . . and was quick to call me out on matters. Oh what a craft, she had of easing into something . .and then “BOOM!” she would spew out the truth like an exploding water pipe . . then she would tenderly wipe your tears. Really, Julie was always right, when it came down to it. She always accused me of being too soft hearted and I accused her of being “salty” and “down right sassy” . . in this case we were both right.
We used to love thrift stores and some Saturdays we took off with about twenty dollars between us and came home with old china and books, somehow. It was not uncommon, for us to show up at the check out with something for each other, for we knew each others’ taste, thoroughly. One year we traded Christmas gifts wrapped in the same paper with the same fine soap inside.
Can you believe that sometimes, as we drank coffee and ate cookies, that we would pretend entire scenarios ? -like children. It would start something like, “what if . . we lived in an old house of stone, in Vermont” . . and off we went on an adventure. After we had invented grumpy neighbors and a flock of orphaned children, we’d taken in and snow and a warm hearth and a horse and sleigh . . well, we would burst into laughter at our childishness. I don’t suppose that I know any other all grown up person, who would do that.
When the grand children came along, Julie and I were as different as night and day, at grand mothering. I was putting carrots in pancakes and Julie tossed hers a bag of candy . . for lunch! I was choosing poems for Lyla to memorize, while her parents were out and in Julies own words, she ‘was just trying to keep hers’ alive till their parents got back.” Make no mistake about it, Julie loved her grandchildren and declared them, her reason to live , often.
I could never keep any secret from Julie. It seemed unnatural and somehow unholy. Besides, Julie loved me no matter what and I was confident of that. In one of my worst tantrums, Julie asked me what was wrong . . and I said with hot tears “I hate everybody!” Julie said, “me, too, . . now what is wrong?”
Julie suffered a lot in the last decade. She had one heartbreak after another. She had blood pressure problems which led to a stroke and blinded her temporarily. Then she had kidney problems and ended up on dialysis. She had her legs amputated a few years back, several more strokes- and was recovering from a recent one. . .til at last, she did-fully and whole now , on she went.
Julie never complained. It is still shocking to me, to consider that. She may have been a wild card , and she may have wielded truth with a heavy hammer, but she trusted God with her whole heart . I was constantly in awe of that and rendered speechless with her courage. Julie was an “an act of valor” Her battlefield was in her own backyard.
I wished I could say that I am so happy, that Julie and Daddy were in Heaven with great joy, . . . And yes, for goodness sakes, I know that I can still talk to them. I will always be thankful, I had them and “they are still “with me” and “time heals all’ . . .but right this minute . . . I am but a mere human. Not enough time has passed. . . . and that “bright shore of Heaven” . . . seems so very far away.
What a lovely Sunday morning, that I woke to. The sun rose with a gentle light. Birds were singing, happily. They did not sing songs of revolution, nor for their rights, nor chaos. They sang because they could. Peace washed over me like a fountain and I wished, every living soul on this planet could partake in it. I think it impossible, to witness a morning, full of a soothing splendor, and not feel grateful and hopeful. It is very humbling to know the grandness of nature and it neednt’ be an ocean , nor a mountain top, a patch of sunlight will do nicely. “Joy does come in the morning”.
I do not know the last time, that I was home for two week ends in a row. I was not sitting here void of something to do, at least. I never am. I started washing the windows, a task that I abhor. Of course, I wait til my view of the garden and the cherry tree is obscured entirely.. before I wash them. There are eighteen windows in this old house, not counting the sun room nor the laundry room! Then and almost foremost, is the territory, full of fallen leaves hemmed up in every corner and about knee deep . Gone are the days, when I accomplished such things in a single day. I would rather cook a full meal for twenty four people and wash curtains than attempt windows and leaves. . .and besides, I am just not good at washing windows. That beloved sun tattles on me every time.
I decided to cook a “Sunday Dinner”. A roast could cook slowly and so could a pot of beans. Kyle is supposed to stop by today and I will share with Mama. It will be a delightful diversion from my tainted windows. I sorely miss those Sundays, a few years back, when Mama and Daddy came. I always find it amusing, that we will go to such great lengths to orchestrate an event, we are sure is destined to become a golden memory. . . when the reality is, we are much more likely, to remember the “way” of life, mostly.
The Sundays of my childhood meant Church and Church clothes. Hard pinching patent leathers, itchy lace, sashes and if Mama got lucky, my hair would hold curl, til we got there. I did love Sunday school and it wasn’t just because of the cookies. I had the sweetest teachers . . .Miss Nellie, Miss Catherine, Miss Jo and later the dear Miss Tillie. These women made me want to be good. I learned my verses faithfully and still hum the sweet songs, I learned. These ladies, did not look mighty or powerful, but they were, for their love was sufficient and enough to last a lifetime.
Now, in those days, children attended the service, afterwards. The pianist, Miss Arahbelle , was like a quiet light. She did not bang out the old hymns, but played them reverently. The preachers were not quiet-and they always seemed mad about something. I was always sure that we were all an awful lot . . . but if you caught them on a Tuesday, they were friendly, regular folks and I loved everyone of them.
Mama tells a funny story about how one preacher saved her life. I do not know why, Mama was in Grandmamas’ china cabinet, in the first place. The doors were difficult to open, but Mama just snatched as hard as she could, til at last the whole cabinet tumbled over, shattering the cups and plates, with dainty flowers on them. The racket sent folks running and at that very moment, the preacher walked in! Wisely, he stayed long enough, for Grandmama to regain her good sense. . .and so Mama lived to tell about it. I suppose some memories are made in that kind of way.
I spend a lot of time remembering. I do not want to forget the people that loved me as a child. I do not want to forget the way of my life. It seems like an extravagant gift that is too grand not to talk about. . . and it feels selfish, not to remember. As I washed those dirty windows I recalled all sorts of details about my elders, my cousins and the little farm . I do not embellish their stories, the truth is good enough. Besides, these people in some way, belong to my children and to Lyla, Brynn and Ryan -and the ones yet to come. In a world ablaze with change, it does me good to remember, for it makes me keenly aware of what really matters, what lasts – and somehow it preserves my stamina to “act right”.
I do not only remember, when I work. I dream too. I do a lot of “wishful thinking”. I can’t help but take note of what I do have right at the moment, too. A small flock of red finches broke my trance, once. The sunshine, at a certain hour, lit up one of the old oaks til it was a spectacular blaze of scarlet. My boxer slept as peacefully in the sun as the vast field in front of the rabbitpatch. When the ladder moved, so did the boxer. I was glad to have such a faithful dog. What a comfort, he is to me. He is a handsome dog , as well and earns his keep in a lot of ways.
It didn’t matter to me which way I looked, or the direction of my gaze, this current day, I realised that God, has turned me “every which way . . .but loose”. -all of my life.
By the end of the day, I had given the windows, my best shot and a few piles of leaves , now burned cheerfully. I also cleaned up my potting and planting station and took note of other tasks that loomed ahead.
Supper was ready, when I walked in which was a good thing, for I was weary to the bone. . . but so restored in spirit.
Since, I wrote last, every window at the rabbitpatch, has been shut. I was caught completely off guard by the remnants of “Zeta” and so the thing showed up like unexpected company. Friday morning, before light, strong winds woke me. I was startled by their force and had not “battened down the hatches” nor stored a drop of water! I have got to do better about the weather reports. I have avoided the news for a long while. Sadly, I have lost faith in the accuracy of the headlines, but I did used to get a decent weather forecast.
Thankfully, the terrible wind was gone in a short while. At sunrise, those first long slanted rays, were born in stillness and revealed branches and pumpkins and porch rockers, strewn about the yard. The air was almost cold. That is why, I shut the windows. Since then, the air has stayed cool and a friendlier wind, blows constantly. I have washed every blanket in the house and taken advantage of my dear clothes line.
Since, I was home this weekend, and in the absence of my grandchildren, Halloween passed like any other day. . .unless you consider the moon. It was as bright as I have ever seen it. It drenched the territory in moonshine and transformed everything in to a thing of beauty. The cotton field behind me, seemed to glow. Saturn and Mercury were beautiful colors and always Venus shines. . . as does Mars. There was the big dipper right where I expected it to be, over the oldest barn. I stood there a while til the cares of this world dimmed.
With the clocks having been tinkered with, I was up extra early on Tuesday. I left for work and had traveled about a mile, when the car just faded ! The motor was purring, but the motion just left til at last it stopped, stranding me -and on such a lovely morning. Thankfully, I live on a rural road, but it is also “a cut through road” and like everywhere else I go, folks seem to be running late. The only way the car would go, was reverse and so I backed all the way back to the sanctuary of the rabbitpatch. Though, I didn’t have a single close call . . .I came in shattered and startled the boxer.
I called the school . . and then I called Tres. Tres is very mechanical. His personality is a carbon copy of my own dad. I knew he would guide me on my next move and what to expect. Daddy was an expert mechanic, but though I favor him and have many of his traits, I did not inherit a single bit of any mechanical ability. I did know it was the transmission.
I have always driven older cars and lawn mowers. I used to tell the boys, “there is trash in the carburetor” or “it could be the alternator” but I had no idea where such things were located. I asked Christian if he had any friend, who was a mechanic . . .any one at all? Of course, he did not, for his friends are all artists, chefs or glass blowers! Christian is a carbon copy of me.
To make this long story short, I spent all day trying to find a mechanic. Apparently, no one around here fixes a transmission, instead they just replace it. I had thought to put an old white towel under the car, and as it turned out, there was a leak. The fluid from the transmission on that towel, left me convinced of that. “Lord willing” . . .at the end of the day, I had found a mechanic, considered an expert, with Toyotas, willing to repair the transmission or replace it at half the cost of any one else.
Christian and I were both mentally exhausted, for we had spent the day way out of our comfort zone, weighing the costly decision, with little to go on. “Money does not grow on trees” at the rabbitpatch. It washes through like water and just like water, you just can’t hold it in your hands. I admit, that money has bothered me on many occasions and it sure did on this day. But, a few years ago, at the height of ” a storm” -It suddenly dawned on me, that no matter what came up, we did always come through it. . .even when it seemed impossible. . . and it was not due to the odds, or human logic, even. God does not care about the odds, it seems. nor the fallacy of human reasoning. I reminded myself of this every time a repair quote came in, that was at least a months’ wages. -and quite feebly at first, whimpering like a child. How awful it was to step into familiar traps, I thought. I reminded myself of all the earthly battles people are facing, fiercer than mine, til at last I felt ashamed and vowed to do better, As the light faded, Christian asked me if I was okay and I was able to say . . “yes, it is just a car repair, after all.”
I have never had too much interest in politics. I have little patience for the “double talking” . I do not tolerate “Silver tongues” amongst ordinary folks and I am sure politicians are born with them. . .but this is a different season. I have been an avid student for months, now of how the government works, the folks in office and those who want to be. As it turns out, just like my transmission, something is broken. Finding the truth, is like looking for that needle in the haystack. It is no wonder to me that folks are angry, for we are all feeling desperate, which is a terrible thing. We have become a suspicious nation, with good reason. The seeds of fear were planted with precision and grow as wildly as those thorned vines on the rabbitpatch. Frankly, I am bewildered at “the state of the union”.
I do not find pleasure in writing about anything ugly, but we have a “huge elephant in the house” and I can not ignore the dark shadow, he casts. “Time will tell” as it always does, what the next part of the journey holds. . .“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.
I did not have to work today, for now schools here, have an ever so often, “remote day”. I had dismantled every alarm and since rain was in the forecast, I had planned to sleep til at least dawn. I woke as usual, long before sunrise. I was wide awake right off and sprang out of bed like a rocket. The world was dark and there was a constant breeze rattling the drying leaves on the old trees. Not yet, has autumn bloomed here. The woodlands have only faded to a dull green, thus far. The days are as warm as April and only require a light sweater, in the early hours, The windows are still up at the rabbitpatch.
The time I spent with Ryan, pn my last visit, was hallowed to me. He is as delightful as ever and rarely cries. We took a few strolls and I showed him the sky, til he would point it out to me. A few of the maples were adorned in scarlet and so I ended up with a maple leaf, to press in Ryans’ journal. . .for of course I introduced him to the trees. There was also the moon, which he already knew about -and birds. I would be hard pressed to name a more delightful moment, than when Ryans’ fair face is gazing in sheer wonder at the Handiwork of God.
One day, we visited a pumpkin patch. It was the biggest pumpkin patch that i had ever seen. Rolling hills were covered with bright splashes of orange. There was a corn maze and a hay ride-all sorts of activities, but we declined all of them. Instead we walked by the corn field. Ryan loved the freedom of open air and open space to frolic in. We left with pumpkins and blackberry sauce. . . and a wonderful memory.
Now the work week went along, til it was Friday. That was the day that Mama and I left to go see my sister, Delores and niece, Dana, at their beach house. . . three hours away.
The GPS on Mamas’ car worked the first few hours, then the screen went blank and the thing started barking all sorts of bad directions. Regular readers know this was a nightmare come true, for me. Traffic was awful and convinced me everybody was late for something. . . and had nine lives. I resorted to reading signs, like we used to and at long last, with a call or two to Delores, we made it. It had taken us an hour longer, than expected. Dana presented us with gifts as soon as we were settled and that took a lot of the sting out of our harrowing trip. Dana is an artist in heart and so she made us bracelets. Mine had a honeybee on it!
On Saturday, not long after breakfast, we went to the soft sands by the mighty Atlantic. There were a few folks in the distance and the weather was perfect. The ocean waves were gentle and lapped softly on the shore. For a while we collected shells and neglected our books. I collected shells for my friend, Elaine, for she is a devoted care giver for her husband and Miss Thelma. Her outings are limited to appointments and grocery pick up. I started making “pictures” with shells for amusement and made several little birds. Then we all sat and talked, and neglected our books some more. It is not often, the ocean seems drowsy and without constant churning, the water was a pure aqua color. It was worth neglecting a book, to hear my Mama laugh by such a sea. . .and to listen to my sisters’ hopes and dreams.
Delores has a lovely house. It is spacious and furnished beautifully. If it were featured in a magazine, I would not be shocked. Every bedroom has a large balcony and so does the dining area and the living room. Meals was prepared precisely. Delores used measuring cups and spoons and timers- a far cry from my sloppy methods -and each meal was applauded.
You probably know that Mama and I dreaded the trip back. Delores had found some type of GPS on Mamas’ fancy phone and assured us it would be accurate. Still, I had her at least tell me how to get off the island. “Left, left, right, left” I chanted as we drove away. The homes there were all extravagant and painted in every pastel, I could name . . but mostly empty of people. When Mama and I got to the main roads, I kept a cautious eye on where we were, just in case -but the gps did chime in and relieved my concerns. We were home at the predicted hour, as it turned out.
For a while, the ocean was mine, and I had the sea shells to prove it. I was part of a different world, where there were no folks to ask me who I was voting for and covid was not a threat on the sandy shore. The Atlantic was singing and shining for the world, no matter our transgressions against her, for “love keeps no record of wrongs.” In these “unfamiliar days, of unfamiliar ways, nature remains as steadfast as the arms of a mother. . . and like a mother, talks to us without insincerity and without malice . Even a young pine knows that . . .and an old sparrow, does too.
There is a light rain falling this morning, from a silvery sky. It taps on the leaves, which are just sparsely scattered on the territory. The blooms of the goldenrod seems to light up the edge of the woods, on such days. Still, there is some patches of late blooming floss flower -and the grass is still green. The old barns look even older . . .when it rains. Sundays are especially quiet in our farming community. The farmers do not pick corn, unless there is threatening weather predicted-and no one can repair a barn nor mow the lawn, even if they were a might to -in rain. A rainy Sunday suits me just fine.
I am rarely home on weekends and so there are all sorts of “tasks at hand” to tend. Yesterday, I made a small fire in the garden and burned a bit of debris from the hurricane, a month ago. Half of the garden is still piled high, but I like tending small fires and therefore, may be burning in December!
Years ago, when the boys were here, burning the garden was like a celebration. A small fire is prone to make you think peaceful thoughts or to make you think of nothing at all. To be friendly, the fire should be small and burn slowly. Different woods produce different smells. When there is a tinge of pine, I am most delighted. Now, the boxer loves a fire too and races around when he sees me gathering pine cones to start one. Once there are flames, he falls asleep. The cat watches intently, as I do. I still enjoy a fire, but it was better when the boys were here.
I couldn’t help but cook today, just as I couldn’t help but write. The conditions were perfect for both. I am making dishes, with Mama in mind. So far, she has chili and biscuits. Spaghetti sauce is simmering and I am thinking to make asparagus in a creamy, buttery soup with garlic. I do hope to makes something sweet, for I have such a “sweet tooth” . . but Mama is so much more sensible than I am, when it comes down to sweets. Christian is too, so it always falls on me not to waste a cake or a cookie. As the food simmers and fills the house with enticing aromas, I hum a merry tune as I go about other business. . .and there always is “business that needs tending” when you live on a rabbitpatch.
On Monday, I was up before the crack of dawn. I had lessons for remote learning students and like everything else, the process has changed. I declare that I learn technology as slowly as “molasses pour in January” . I have lessons in my head that have to “roost” there til I can get them posted. Still, I can wash clothes or cook beans while I mull through things, so I ought not to complain. . . and the presence of the boxer is so very pleasant.
In the late afternoon, I visited with Mama and presented her with my efforts in the kitchen on Sunday. She was especially happy about the biscuits. Mama is doing as well as anybody could, with a life turned upside down. Daddy died six months ago and all of us are still apt to burst in to tears at any given moment. We sat on the porch, as it was a nice day.
It seems to me, that taking time to mourn, is quite necessary, but the odds are just against having that opportunity, in our very modern ways. We are expected to return to our routine, in a matter of days, even if your Daddy dies. I thought about this when Grandmama died. Kyle was in high school, and was told to write a paper about why he missed three days of school, without a note from a doctor. To me, it seemed like a punishment. Grandmama lived with us and died with us. . . You must know, that I helped Kyle write that paper.
I know first hand, that no matter how great the loss, no matter how vast the void imposed . . that we must find our way back to living with it. Still, I think we need more that a few days -or the day after the funeral, to even begin the processing of healing a single iota. The world is just not set up , to do so. Daddy died during the covid “lock down” . School was closed, but , there was so much business to tend to, that I remember saying over and over . . .” I will cry later”.
The days were lovely this week and perfect for dancing outside. We are working on an almost military style dance and it takes a good deal of muscle and memory. We take breaks often. This week we sat and watched clouds, on our breaks. The class of young children became silent, I noticed and when I looked around, every one of them was staring with great concentration. I wondered that day, if anything greater could have happened in music class.
Before, I knew it, it was Friday and I was packing to go to Raleigh to see my son, Brant and his family. I was up early enough, that I had completed my work for school, so I left in the early afternoon. I drove through a light rain, a heavy rain and an outright storm, as it turned out. Traffic was light, thankfully and I was soon at the home on Hamlet Green, where some folks beloved to me, live. It had been just over a month since I had seen Ryan last . . . .and that was way too long, for this Honeybee.
I spent a delightful weekend in Elizabeth City. The weather was as lovely, as I have ever seen. It is true, that I can be quite fickle about seasons, but these days, I declare that autumn is my favorite. The hateful southern humidity vanishes and the brightest days of the year are here. Evenings are chilly and so are mornings. A light soft blanket will do just fine. . . .and supper can be bit heartier, than in months like July.
The little grand daughters and I took several walks by the laughing river, during my visit. The constant breeze seemed to tickle the shining water. Lyla walks now, beside a fancy little stroller for Brynn. One day, we walked over a mile. It was too lovely a day not to do so. Lyla never complained, but she did say, when her home was in sight, “I am going to take my shoes off, as soon as we get in.” -and she did.
Another day, when we walked, the river was a deep purple. What a pretty sight that was! The sky was a royal blue and here and there were stark white, cotton clouds. Some of the dogwoods have started to turn crimson and their berries are already a bright red. We watched a small family of birds have a late breakfast of them. The birds chattered cheerfully and caused quite a commotion as they feasted on the generous bounty of October.
I tucked these things in my heart and told Lyla to do the same. I have had this practice, for decades. My idea is that if you fill your heart with gladness and beauty, there won’t be as much room for undesirable notions . Besides, it can’t do a bit of harm.
With such turbulent times, I have slipped back into the habit of keeping up, somewhat with the news. Of course, now one must sift through the many falsehoods, to find a single strand of truth. That is tiring. What truth, I do find -and I use that word loosely – is not pleasant. Everyone is full of harsh expression and folks are sorted into categories as if we were objects. I fear hearts have hardened. There are systems for everything “under the sun”, yet to me we are less civilized now, than ever.
Maybe, I have gotten old and grumpy. I will risk that and say, that a lot of things seem to “have taken a turn for the worse”. I agree with Solomon –for I too am dismayed with all the folly, but I am more determined than ever to live a meaningful life. . . so I have thought a lot lately about that.
I can not cure this virus, nor feed all the hungry people in this world. I can not clean up the planet, or make it a safe “playground” for its’ children. . oh, I do have quite a lofty “wish list”. . .but sometimes, it seems that what I am mostly doing is working to eat and keep the electricity bill paid! How shallow, I think. Lacking worldly power and influence, I have only very ordinary earthly means at my disposal. . . but I do not lack will and perseverance. I do not lack the capacity to love, either.
In light of all this “vexation”, I drew the conclusion that the contents of a meaningful life varies greatly, depending on whom you ask. For me, I will keep strolling along the banks of rivers and meandering through fields and woods. I will stand in moonshine and plant flowers. I will feed people as best I can and teach my grand children poetry. I will fill their hearts and souls with beauty and gratitude. I will try not to be wasteful and I will value the lives of strangers and sparrows, too. I will dwell on these things, for that is what I can do. . . but above all I will love . I do not suppose, my “meaningful ” life will change the world, but it may have its’moments. For all I know, that may be enough. After all, there have been many small moments, in my own life, that made a difference. . .and I can not dismiss the significance of my elders. Not a one of them could claim fame or fortunes, according to this world . . yet they left us all better off .
My paternal grandmother never had a drivers’ license. She did not hold a fancy job nor ever have fancy money, yet often we all talk about the grand legacy, she left us. Grandmama loved us with all her heart, and never made a secret of it. The way she loved impacted her children which impacted her grandchildren and all the children thereafter, which include my own grandchildren. Grandmama served God and she made no secret of that either. Grandmama ‘wore her sermons in her shoes” -and if she ever sinned, well, it was long before any of us came along. No one ever had a bad thing to say about her, and that ought to tell you something. Grandmama made a difference with her life. . .a mighty difference. So, I take heart in that and decide, to just watch the weather.
The diary of this country woman certainly is short on glamour and fanfare -but it is my own story, told in truth. . . and that ought to count for something. Maybe, if we all just try to seek whatever is pure and holy and good . . . . and love one another . . .maybe that is meaningful. . . maybe that is good enough.
I woke this morning, to a light rain falling. Since I did not have to go in to work, I laid very still and listened to the gentle splash of the raindrops on the windows and roof. How tenderly the rain fell. It would have lulled me right back to sleep, but a rainy morning entices me to wake and not a miss moment. It is my favorite time to write, after all.
It never rains, that I do not remember, the voices of my elders, saying “I love you like rain.” Tears well up as I write this now, fifty years later, remembering my maternal grandmother, for she said it the most. Of course we were a farming family, and so rain meant a lot to us. I say this to my children and grandchildren, for it is one more way to “tell the story”.
Thankfully, this week did not pass with the fanfare of the week, before it. There were not quite so many unusual details . There is always a project to be done on the rabbitpatch, but the fervor of a prospective buyer coming always evokes a sense of rush- and those that know me best, can testify, that I elude rush with practiced skill. The young man called me a few days after his visit, to say how much he loved the rabbitpatch, but could not buy it. Now, things work out as they ought to and so, I do not need consolation. What I needed, I received and that is always of great profit.
If gains are only measured financially, then it is no wonder to me that folks feel “robbed” or that they “lost out” on something, often. We conjure up outcomes, according to our desires never considering our solutions might not be brilliant or even right. I have learned this the hard way, as I have most lessons, but the liberty that results, is well worth the “hard knocks”.
“Officially” it is now Autumn, that beloved time of mine. Oh, how I love the brightest days of the year -and the silvery, grey ones too. The air is filled with chill and fog and dancing leaves and tendrils of smoke rising from small burn piles, tended by folks wearing light jackets. . .just like my “Pop” used to.
I am a sentimental sort, by nature, and for some reason autumn time never fails to awaken memories dimmed in other seasons. I have said before, that September is a time to remember -at least for me. The farm was such a happy time in early autumn. The long, hot , toiling summer days were behind us and the harvest days were like a long celebration. The elders were cheerful and laughed a lot. Grandmama made an apple pie every day, for there were several apple trees along the edge of the garden. It was the next best thing to Christmas.
After those years, my memories are of football games and realising that ” boys were cute”. I collected rain water to wash my hair in and polished my oxfords, promptly at the first sign of a scuff. I preferred a different radio station and sang the songs aloud as I walked the woods and fields – and dreamed like a “big shot”, for that is the fashion of dreams in youth. Thankfully, those shallow dreams vanished in to the thin woodland air, along with my youth, for a more beautiful life, than I could have ever imagined, unfolded. Years later, I was a mother and every autumn, after frost, we were in the woods. We walked and read books and picnicked regularly.
It seems, that I take a long stroll down “memory lane”, every autumn and this year is no exception. . . . but this year, more than any one , . . . I am remembering Daddy.
The shock of losing Daddy, has almost worn off. Now, the sorrow has settled in, at times, thicker than the blinding fog at dawn. I was looking at Christmas ornaments recently, and could not imagine, a Christmas without Daddy. I painted a table, one day, that Daddy had given me-my dear “Morning Table”. I could not wait to be done with it and the glory of the crisp white paint, was lost on me. I argued again, with a door knob, that Daddy had tried to fix and couldn’t-which had shocked me, then. Now, I know that was one of first warnings, I was given, but I missed it altogether. Everything seems to prod me to remember Daddy . . even supper, some times.
I am not crippled by the sadness and do not even see it as something peculiar. Grief can masquerade in many ways and show up at odd times. It is a natural consequence when we lose someone we loved-and someone that loved us. It is an undeniably powerful force and we just never get to be an expert at grief. I do not give an account of this, to initiate sympathy, for we have all grieved over some sort of loss. Like the rain, “it falls on the just and the unjust” – instead, maybe there is some sort of consolation, in knowing that it really is ok, to mourn while you paint a table or if “out of the blue” tears fall on Christmas ornaments.
Grief is a complicated affair. . .and not all days are created equally. Some days are bright and hopeful and others are not. . . .but really all offer some beauty, if we but examine the contents of them. I am convinced that I will not have to look far or hard or long to confirm this.
The maples will soon be scarlet and the sweetgum will don every autumn color, all at once, earning bragging rights, in the countryside. Now, the fields lie golden and beckon us to gaze upon them. They shine fairly now, in the light of early autumn. The bright plumes of the ragweed cover the ditch banks and floss flowers and wild mulberry bloom-and that sweet morning glory . . . .Daddy never did like morning glory, for they tangled up on the plows of his tractor. . . but I thought, they made the tractor beautiful.