It is now late summer at the rabbit patch. I haven’t seen fireflies for several nights. The sun sets a bit earlier day by day and the apples are starting to fall. Soon, I will not be able to tell the time in this fashion and will resort to clocks that count every minute and urge me to hurry with alarms and flashing lights but until then, I will gather apples.
Apple trees have marked the last days of summer for as long as I can remember. My grandparents had several that grew along the pasture and next to the garden. Mama and grandmama spent many summer mornings in that garden. My little sister and I would work with them for a short while, before being banished to the shade of the apple trees. Sometimes, they said it was too hot for us but I suspect now, that they were telling secrets to one another.
Delores and I did not mind as we had friends in that pasture. There was a small herd of ponies and a small herd of goats. There was always a mean cow and in my earliest memories a huge, but kind mule. Delores and I would throw apples to them for a while. We were only allowed to throw the apples that were going bad. A “bad apple” was soft and mushy and usually had yellow jackets buzzing around it-so the process was a tricky one. We made sure that everybody got something in that pasture-and even if it meant throwing one that should have gone in a pie. We threw them at each other too on occasion which would break up the soft conversation in the garden. I still remember the spicy amber smell of the fallen apples, with great fondness.
There was one summer, that the apple trees bore enough fruit to feed three counties. It was good fun at first. We had apple pie twice a day-and fresh applesauce too. If we needed a snack, we were handed an apple. My grandmother used to sometimes say “you get tired of potatoes if you eat them three times a day.” That phrase came up at the oddest times, I thought, as a child. People would laugh but it made no sense to me. I started understanding some of what she meant, that summer. I figured the same could be said of apples.
One year, a while back the apple trees at the rabbit patch pulled the same stunt. My other grandmother was living here at that time-and Tres too. Grandmama had taken a bad fall and was in the bed because of it. Uncles, aunts and cousins visited the rabbit patch all summer on account of that. It was wonderful, but busy. Cooking and laundry had tripled. My aunt Carolyn who was prone to ramble around the yard and start small fires, noticed the apple trees in all their glory . She rushed in the kitchen and wanted to know what I was going to do about it. We neither one believed in wasting anything-but that year, I was willing to do so. She was horror struck and took to delivering buckets of apples to the kitchen door. I came in from the clothesline to find my mom and every other woman in the house, peeling apples. I am quite sure that some of them had not done so for years, but no one wanted to be sinful-so I ended up with enough apples for the winter because of that.
There aren’t too many apples this year at the rabbit patch, but I can not complain. The apple tree is the only fruit tree that did anything this year. The peach, fig and pear trees did not participate in summer this year because of late spring ice. I will not have apples to put up for winter, but I will have enough for a cobbler and a few pies.
The soft pink apple blossoms of an apple tree herald the spring and the apples themselves declare the late summer. In the winter, the apple tree bears its’ soul, gracefully, providing a lovely place for the moon to shine through. An apple tree is not a “fair weather friend” but gives year round in one way or another.
Last night I went out, as always to say good night. The night air had a slight touch of coolness. In the sky, I saw the milky way. This is rarely visible, so of course I went out to the field to get the best view. There were more than a million stars out and I made a lot of wishes. The familiar scent of apples in various stages filled the air. I stood amongst the fallen apples and under a trail of stars for a good while. . . . and when I was able – I said good night with a grateful heart.
Pimento cheese is well known in the south, though it’s origin is in New York. It seems that Georgia started a large canning facility for the sweet red pimentos in the 1920’s and the south took full advantage of that. All I really know for sure is that the rabbit patch loves it-and pimento cheese is as easy to make as it is to eat. There are many variations-and you can add what you see fit. Bacon bits and pickles are commonly used add ins, but we like the basic recipe below-
16 oz. of sharp shredded cheese
8 oz. diced pimentos ( you can lessen or add more as you prefer)
mayonnaise, salt, pepper, garlic-all your preference on quantity
a dash of mustard
This spread is great on crackers for a snack or in a sandwich, it makes a meal. If there’s a chill in the air , serve it like a grilled cheese-you won’t be sorry. At one time, before occasions got so fancy, little pimento cheese sandwiches were served at every bridal or baby shower I ever went to-including my own. And beware-store bought is not the same thing.
The rabbit patch serves this when good friends come by-and it’s always better that way.. . of course, it is great for a picnic too.
I will not soon forget the summer. I have been on the rabbit patch a bit more than a decade now and have never seen a summer the likes of this one. Yesterday, the weatherman claimed that this location was the hottest in the state-and I believe it with all my heart. It was reported that it had been 116 degrees with the heat index . I hope the burrows in the rabbit patch are deep where the earth is cool.
I have spent the best part of the last few days inside. This is not my habit by nature, but it is as of lately. I have worked in heat all of my life, but this summer is “a horse of a different color” . It is quite helpful that my interests are many and vary greatly. The confinement of the last few days has led me to do the things I usually do in January. I have been reading and painting old furniture. An old table and a dresser are now “sitting pretty” with a fresh coat of white paint. I am also working on a wooden tray. It is white too, but I intend to paint flowers and a rabbit on it-if the heat doesn’t let up, tomorrow.
I also decided to wash a small collection of glass that I have. I find washing pretty pieces of glass quite therapeutic. Only the summer allows me to spend a Tuesday morning doing such things. There are only a few pieces and they are in shades of turquoise, blue, periwinkle and aqua. There is an old bottle, a bird and even a small antique oil lamp in the collection. One piece came from Egypt and the piece beside it, from an old barn. I washed them all and took great satisfaction in the way they sparkled in the sun that spilt in the window. The sunshine through the glass made a watery rainbow of blues and greens-this I thought is the color of summer.
The latter days of summer are a good time to wash the heavy linens used in winter. A clothes line is quite handy for this. I have a line full of soft blankets now, that were hung in the early morning , when the day was new and the scent of the mimosa filled the air up. The practice of using a clothes line is fading fast-and with it will go the pleasure of sleeping on line dried sheets. Hanging clothes out is a peaceful task-and you are liable to solve a problem or say a prayer while doing so. I have done both.
I will make pimento cheese today . Summer is an especially good time for that. It is a simple process and I may think about Christmas while making it. Cash and Christopher Robin will lay in front of the window fan hoping that I will cook chicken in some form next-and if I do it will be in the morning, only requiring warming up later. The only exception is if it is fried. When I was a child, my grandmother and every other woman in the county cooked on summer mornings. We had a big dinner and a good rest in the middle of the day. When dinner was over, a table cloth was spread over the entire table til supper when a fresh pan of biscuits and dessert was added to the meal. We did not have an air conditioner in those days-of course it wasn’t as hot then. Food was mainly fresh without preservatives also, but we stayed alive anyway.
I find that sometimes processes themselves can be of great value. I have never said a prayer when putting clothes in a dryer. Soon enough, summer will end and the details of life will increase at the rabbit patch . Then and always, I will be glad for the memory of a Tuesday morning spent washing little glass objects in shades of blue and seeing the color of summer because of it.
Yesterday was not the day to pick roses or the lovely black-eyed susans that were blooming. I did not feel the least bit inclined to sit in the shade either. I found out in the first part of the day when I was hanging sheets on the line, that the heat was already hateful. I glanced at the garden and hurried back to the house . Today was the day for housekeeping, I thought.
Somehow, I got on a mission to declutter-again. The older I get, the more I realize the folly of using the home as a closet. I think back to possessions I have had over the years. I think of the many things that I paid good money for and I don’t even know where they are now, and don’t even care! I have never been a trendy person. I am not enticed by “popular at the moment” things. Still, I have ended up having more than I needed at times.
I collected a box of things to give to a local church for their annual yard sale. I read some poetry by Keats and then I decided to paint. I have not done so all summer, so my roses ended up looking like peonies. Painting is like writing. The picture, like a story unfolds like it has a life all its’ own. I often feel like I had very little to do with either effort at the conclusion .. . but I really did want to paint roses this day.
The thought of cooking supper did not cheer me as it usually does-but I did any way with more of the “food bought by the road” from my trip home with Jo Dee and Joehn. I went out after supper and stayed a very few minutes as the air was hot and heavy as sin. I sat down to write and realised the battery needed charging on the computer. I plugged it in-and the whole world went dark and silent. I looked out and could not see “Miss Susie’s light either so I knew the power was out all around me. All of my tidying up came in handy as I remembered that I had put a candle on the “morning table”. I sat , hopefully thinking it would come back on in moments. The house got hot quickly, so feeling like Florence Nightingale, I walked to the back door with the candle, looking for fresh air. There were plenty of stars but little light. I regretted not picking sticks up earlier. I stood there admiring the stars and a breeze stirred up! It was actually cool and very constant. I heard Christian playing his guitar and found him on the front porch. I sat with him and listened to his magic. The next thing I knew, I was stumbling through the house to get my violin. We played for a long while on the porch with the cool wind blowing. It was pitch dark and I had to “get my bearings” straight on the violin. It was quite a good practice for me, I thought, and found myself enjoying it. Ever so often we would stop and talk. Christian is my youngest son. He is a young man now, and I knew to tuck this memory in my heart, for safe keeping. I was just as disappointed when the lights came back on, as I was when they went out. We played a while longer. It was midnight when we finally came in.
Sometimes, the best part of the day takes its’ own sweet time showing up. Keats wrote “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”. I read that today and at midnight, I found it to be every bit as true as it sounds-right there on the front porch of the rabbit patch , singing a song at midnight while a cool breeze was blowing.
I came home on Friday evening just in time to see the sun set on the rabbit patch. The sun was in its’ glory . It lit the field up for a while before it slipped behind the pines, and took the day with it.
“Over the rivers and through the woods ” is a fairly accurate account of the way home, from Elizabeth City. My car was being repaired so my dear friend Jo Dee and her son, Joehn picked me up. I was in good company and it made leaving more bearable-still I knew I would need to go to the quiet garden when I got home, to sort things out.
I wanted to show Jo Dee all of the charm of Elizabeth City and the beautiful river that runs through it, so we took a drive. As it turns out, Joehn has an uncanny sense of direction and we never got lost because of it. He took us places that I didn’t know about! Joehn is a well mannered young man with a beautiful heart and apparently brilliant too. When he was a toddler, I remember he knew the names of all the tractors-and the names are complicated and numerous. We made jokes that he may have to drive us “Miss Daisys” around in the future.
Jo Dee had seen a roadside stand selling vegetables on the way and wanted to stop. Joehn, did not. He did not think it wise to buy food sold by the roadside, by total strangers! No amount of explaining the process convinced him that it was normal and we laughed about it a lot. We did stop but Joehn still thought it was peculiar altogether and I wondered if he would eat the sweet corn she bought.
Cash came out to greet me when we pulled in the drive at the rabbit patch. He is a happy and forgiving boxer, and I expected that. Christopher Robin , in the last of his “kitten” days , is a different story. The last time I had left, he put on airs for days ! We had just got back on good terms, when I left this time. He came out and watched from a distance as Joehn and Christian unloaded my things.
I found the rabbit patch in good order and praised Kyle and Christian for it. Christopher Robin had not broken anything. The grass needed mowing and so I knew what to do on Saturday after my time at the “morning table”.
Saturday dawned and with little coolness. When the dew dried, I got started mowing. It takes a good part of the day to mow the rabbit patch. I do a lot of thinking while I mow. The rose of sharon bushes are blooming and I noticed that. My aunt Carolyn had given me those seeds when I moved in and had more work to do than imaginable. I had hastily tossed them in a pot and hoped for the best. Months later they were transplanted just as carelessly. I had the house to paint and the barns too. They grew anyway. Aunt Carolyn passed a few years back . Her rose of sharons are doing great justice to her memory. I am ashamed now that I planted them without ceremony, for their value is noteworthy now.
Saturdays are the eve of Sunday dinners, so I planned a good dinner while I mowed. I am going to cook food sold by the road. Mama and daddy are coming and I am glad of that.
It is getting to be “late summer” and just weeks before I go back to work. I thought about that too. I still have cousins to see and Rae’s little grandson-and Janet’s new house! There are roses to be painted on a barn door! It seems a calendar can act like a clock at times, making you feel the need to rush. Not one clock works in my house now, so I am never late for anything-but a calendar does not require batteries and keeps a record of time whether I like it or not. Sometimes, you “can’t win for losing”.
I have great plans of making the last part of summer count. There are important things I need to do, so I can be comforted when the nights of winter fall early. Things like sitting under the mimosa tree and smelling its’ pink, feathery blossoms -and listening to the sound of the world singing on a summer night. I will watch the rabbits stealing the fallen apples when the first star comes out and I will sit in the shade of an old tree for a good long while and write about how wonderful it is to live life on a rabbit patch.
There is something about moonshine-something magical, something enchanting-something beautiful that nothing else can claim. When the moonshine falls on roses, it will make you glad to see it and if there is a rabbit under the rosebush-well, you are in “high cotton”.
Yesterday , even the morning was a miserable affair. I found out early, while hanging diapers on a line, that I would not be strolling by the river for a good while. It was a disappointment, as I would be leaving the next day, so I decided, I will walk in moonlight and that consoled me.
Jenny, wanted to fix supper for a friend , a few doors down. We started rambling through the kitchen to come up with a menu. We found just enough of everything we needed-down to the last bit of sugar-3/4 of a cup to make ice-cream, for dessert. Every time, we thought something couldn’t be done, we would find the missing ingredient. It was almost peculiar . Jenny brought up all of the nice things her friend had done for her, while we cooked. She took great pains to make every dish just right. We packed the food in a basket, making sure the fresh bread was at the top. She carried the ice cream and took off at a quick pace, so it would’t melt. I watched her and realised how glad I was at that moment. Children give us many reasons to feel “proud” of them. They excel in some fashion and Jenny has done her fair share of that. I will not list her virtues, but they are many. She is devoted to her husband Will and their Lyla -that alone is so touching and does wonders for my spirit, but as I saw her carrying that basket to her friend, a peace came over me. I felt as proud as a mom has a right to-and if Lyla hadn’t been crying for her mommy, the entire time-I would have cried too at the beauty of that moment.
Lyla and I took out the trimmings from some vegetables for the rabbits. We watched them come out to eat. The rabbits in Elizabeth City are social for wild rabbits. Some one had just told us that he had seen a mother rabbit nursing her bunnies in his yard! Lyla could get pretty close to the ones we were feeding. When the sun was making slanted shadows, we set out in search of the moon.
We walked down to the river and counted rabbits the whole way. A cool breeze was blowing by the time Jenny joined us and so we walked for a long time. We kept looking for the moon over the river til finally darkness started falling-and Lyla started fussing. We headed for home. I was in disbelief that we couldn’t find the moon! I had heard it was extraordinary the night before-and I set great store by such things.
The stars were appearing right before my eyes and I was taking notice of that when Jenny’s house came into view. Jenny took Lyla in and I went out in the backyard. Over the top of an old oak, I saw the moon rising. Soon there was moonshine falling on the roses and some young rabbits playing beneath them. The house that sheltered my daughter and her family, was quiet and the moonshine fell over it, too.
I stood in the night and considered the day . It was good, I remembered and my heart was grateful – most especially for the Hand that casts the moonshine on roses, rabbits and the people I love.
July was a bit kinder yesterday morning. Lyla and I got an early start and set out on our familiar route by the river. We walked under old trees that shade the yards of old houses. The houses boast of the charm that belongs to yesterday. They are numerous and seem to unite to paint a lovely portrait .
There is a long stretch of the walk that affords a grand view of the Pasquotank River, thanks to the forethought of the residents decades before. There is a little bridge in a curve and yesterday wild geese were swimming by it. We stopped to watch them for a good long while. I was careful not to speak as her gaze was steadfast, and she was content. The geese seemed in on it, as they glided around without any chatter either. For a while, the world and its’ chaos had no bearing on us. I think such moments could help heal a lot of what ails us. It is hard to feel harshly, while you are watching wild geese swim by.
On the way back, I kept smelling something faintly sweet in the slight breeze. I kept looking around and eventually noticed that every time I took account, I was in the midst of crepe myrtles. I have known about these trees all of my life, and never considered them fragrant-I have been wrong. Of course we took to smelling the flowers on the low branches. The white variety has the most scent. It smells like clean cotton with a bit of sweetness. The lavender is a close second and then the darker pinks are very faint. It was a good thing to know, I thought-a beautiful thing to learn, really.
The sun grew bolder, so we headed home thinking about things like wild geese swimming and the way the crepe myrtles sweeten the breeze.
Today my youngest sister, Connie, has a birthday! I am eleven years older, so Connie was like a living doll to me when she was born. She was an especially pretty child, too. I loved her dearly though she told secrets about boys, I thought were cute and took bubble baths with my expensive shampoos that promised to change my life. I think, that I quit playing with dolls when Connie was born. Though they behaved in a nicer manner-the dolls could not compare to my little sister, whom I was sure for at least a short while , was heaven sent. Now, I know for sure she is.
My friend, Rae is a very new grandmother! As it turns out, her little grandson will share my sisters’ special day. It is nice to think that Rae and I may take strolls together in the near future, with our grandchildren.
It is half past the summer anyway you look at it. The bunnies born in the spring move swiftly now. Young squirrels leap with ease in trees-quite fearlessly and young birds are learning to use their wings. Tomatoes are turning red and black-eyed susans are blooming. The summer is at its’ peak so the mockingbirds sing songs of glory for it.. and a baby was born- while the wild geese were swimming. The beauty of summer is endless.