I woke up before light, this last Sunday in January. The winter morning was cold and dark. Cash and the cats were cuddled on their blanket and did not stir when I cut the lamp on. I finished a writing project while I had coffee. It felt good to sit at the morning table without a schedule to hinder my thoughts.
When light first came to the rabbit patch, I noticed a heavy frost covered the ground. I put a pot of beans on, for Sunday Dinner and settled in to read a butterscotch pie recipe from The Farm Life Ruritannette Cookbook, one more time. Miss Sylvia, who hosts the Old Christmas parties, gave me the book, when I first moved here, a decade ago. It is my favorite cookbook. The recipes hardly ever start off with a “box of instant” something- and whipped topping does not go in every dessert. I like “old school” cooking”, besides, I had finished reading Chasing Jubal, and felt certain it was a good day to make meringue.
By mid morning, the rabbit patch kitchen had a roast in the oven and a pie on the counter, with a crown of meringue, piled high. Cash was awake and he makes sure the cats get up, when he does. Cash is a self-appointed guardian of the cats. He comes to their rescue, breaks up arguments and tattles if they get in to mischief. The cats are always hungry and beg noisily for every meal. If I doddle, Cash goes to the pantry door and barks til I go in to get their food. The ruckus started this morning when I was making the biscuits and staring out at the frost.
Kyle and Christian were home and so with mama and daddy, the kitchen table was full at twelve o’clock. Of course, I used my fancy winter china with the redbirds and ribbons. We did not get up after the pie was served, but lingered at the table. Christian got his guitar and played some old Hank Williams songs softly, while daddy told us stories about his childhood. As it turns out, he was a rascal.
And so the last Sunday in January , at the rabbit patch, passed in a beautiful fashion. When the light fell low, I thought of how my boys learned that even rascals can grow up and become noble. I thought about Christian playing Hank Williams, because he knew daddy liked it. It was beautiful to me that mama cheered daddy on with stories she remembered, that had been told, of his childhood. I felt like we had a gift bestowed upon us right there in the rabbit patch kitchen. It did not take me long to realise that of all the things, that could have happened on this day, this was surely, one of the best.
The cover of this book is quite appropriate for what lies inside. Chasing Jubal, by Bill Thompson is a story about the journey of Jubal Simpson, a young boy growing up in the rural south, in the 1950s. Jubal embarks on a journey, early in the book, to join his brother, who has just enlisted and stationed in North Carolina. Jubal, in utter brotherly devotion, takes off without a clue of where Fort Bragg is or how to get there. He is that determined to help his brother fight, for whatever enemy shows up. The adventure unfolds with every paragraph. Jubal has his fair share of companions on his journey. Rich dialogue ensures, they are everyone memorable-and the journey, is nothing short of an epic adventure.
In a bit less than 300 pages, Jubal Simpson evolves from a young and gullible boy to a noble young man while he is wandering. Nothing that happens is predictable. What does happen, influences Jubal for the rest of his life.
Jubals’ small hometown in Virginia sends out a search party , who in reality, are chasing Jubal from one strange destination to another. They don’t know where they are going either, but they do not escape getting caught up in the same sort of escapades, that Jubal experiences. Somehow, Bill Thompson, weaves all the journeys in to one exciting tale. This is a story where things unravel and then bind up again-and you won’t see it coming.
There is mystery, drama and fantasy in Chasing Jubal, and the elements combine in a seamless way. Raymond, Jubals’ best friend records, the accounts- and he can’t tell the difference either. Raymond, like everybody else, had his own encounters with all sorts of oddities, as he is chasing Jubal.
I started reading Chasing Jubal and was hooked right off. Bill Thompson is an artist with words. He paints pictures with them, and will make you choke on the dust of the back roads and smell the rain that falls on the way. If you are looking for a book that you won’t be able to put down, for love nor money, this is the one. It is a good thing to read a well-written book with a good story- and Chasing Jubal is all of that.
* Chasing Jubal is available at Amazon.com-barnesandnoble.com – the Indigo Sea Press website -or for an autographed copy, contact Bill Thompson at 3815 Sam Potts Hwy, Hallsboro NC 28442
January is more like itself today. There is a cold wind blowing, pruning the winter trees and warning the daffodils all in one breath. I saw a little sparrow puffed up twice his size, trying to make sense of this Januarys’ behavior, when I got home. He was perched on a post in the picket fence and I wondered how he stuck to the place in the fierce wind. Nature never ceases to amaze me.
I did not tarry to the back door of the old house on the rabbit patch. Christopher Robin did not even try to escape this time. Moon Shine, who used to be wild, has never attempted to brave the elements, since his civilization. When the door is open, he runs in a state of panic, to his “spot” as if he needs to claim it all over again.
I have not been at the rabbit patch, on a week-end, in a good while. There is plenty of yard work, if the cold wind stops blowing. Branches are strewn there and yonder . It will take a fair amount of time to gather them, for another fire in the garden, some still, cold evening. There is a large cabinet in the laundry room, that can stand a thorough cleaning, if the wind “stays on like a week-end guest”-so I have a variety of tasks to choose from.
I also have a new book to read. It is “Chasing Jubal” by Lylas’ paternal grandfather, Bill Thompson. I was almost late for work this morning, because of it. I was on page forty, and had lost all desire to make money . There is something so completely satisfying about holding a good book in your hand-and turning a page with great curiosity. January is as good a time as I know of to get lost in a book. A winter day with a cold wind blowing, seems to give you permission to read for hours if you are so inclined-and I often am.
Once, my mom and I were at a yard sale, when she spied an entire box of books written by an author she said her mama loved. I grew up with my maternal grandmother but she died suddenly one night when I was just ten years old- and so I bought the box without a moments’ hesitation and commenced to reading them. They were well written historical novels by Victoria Holt. Somehow I felt like I was visiting with my grandmother as I read them. We went to tea plantations in India, castles in Ireland and royal gardens in England, that summer. I imagine those books were about the only way, Grandma ever got off the farm . I still have them. They are safely stored behind glass- paned doors in an antique cabinet, in the rabbit patch library.
I plan to cook “Sunday Dinner”, this week-end. It has been a while since I have done so at the rabbit patch. It is the kind of weather to cook foods slowly and deliberately, after all. I have a roast that will work nicely and if all goes well, I may bake a pie. Pie is especially good, when mama and daddy are here -otherwise, it is just pie.
I sure hope I can finish Chasing Jubal, before the Sunday dinner. A good book has, in the past, turned my great expectations in to pipe dreams, on occasion. A good book has caused me to burn a pan of biscuits. Once I scorched a pot of beans to the point, I had to throw the pot out, all because of a good book. . . and so, I declare here and now, not to have that book anywhere near me or the rabbit patch kitchen, this coming Sunday- especially, when I attempt to make the meringue for the pie.
The rabbit patch has been full of shine, these last few days. Rain, and its’ cousin fog, seemed to have “hightailed” it off the territory and in its’ place has been bright sunlight . The days have been every bit as mild as an Easter Sunday. It seems that the daffodils and the foxglove too, have foolishly fallen for winters’ “white lies” about the season. The foxglove is well up and the daffodils around the edge of the barn have joined them. I am hoping they do not encourage the peach tree to do the same. Last year, the peach tree bloomed its’ pale pink blossoms-the day before an ice storm. The blossoms are like lovely little pink promises and I especially love them-but they had but a day of glory last year. The morning after their debut-they became brown straw-like flowers-and peaches were scarce in July.
The twilight hour comes a bit later now. The sunsets have been stunning. The world can argue all day long, but the evening sunset has the “last word” on the day. Its’ beauty, is there for the tender hearts and the cold ones too. In this way, we are allowed to agree on something.
When I was young, my family attended church services every Sunday. Mama curled our hair and we wore our “Sunday dresses” and patent leathers. I detested the itchy laces and my hair did not hold curl past the “Sunday School” hour, no matter how hard mama tried. One Sunday, I was at my Aunt Agnes’ house. She had five children and it was quite a battle for her to make sure we all were clean and properly dressed for church. I remember walking out the back door, and the horrible shock on Aunt Agnes’ face , seeing my oldest cousin in “dungarees” and walking towards a tractor. Aunt Agnes commenced to fussing with him, though he never broke his stride. Finally she started pleading and then threatening that surely the crops would dry up and die in light of his sinning. My cousin told her, that she needed to read her Bible. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust” he said smugly. Aunt Agnes let that sink in and then stammered for us to get in the car, before we were late.
My neighbor, Miss Susie, that grows flowers and shares them, tried the apple salad recipe. She used almonds and pecans in her batch. She sent some of it to the rabbit patch-and it was wonderful.
In January, I miss my sons an awful lot. It is the same every year, when Christmas is over. I know well, that children are meant to grow up and find their own way of life-but it feels dreadful at times. I think Christian has moved out, too. He doesn’t have the heart to say it, but he has been “staying” at a friends’ house for three weeks, because they work together-and “it’s just easier”. My sweet youngest son, has always felt bad, that he would be the one that “made me be alone”. Of course, that is an unfair burden and I told him so.
The rabbit patch seems bigger in January and sometimes I get the notion I am “stranded” here. Thank Goodness for sunsets and kind neighbors-for kind words and winter skies. I can only remain grateful under such conditions-and I am glad that the rain falls on the “just and unjust” because I have been both, on occasion.
A lot has happened in this past week of January. I have yet to hear a weather report that was not preceded by some sort of threatening announcements-and so, I have learned to glance quickly at the 7-day forecast, lest I hear how horrible the next story will be. I dare not linger in the produce department, even. All of those years of experience allow me to pick a cabbage quickly and I am glad of it.
On Friday, I went with a friend on an errand. While she attended her business, I opted to wait outside. There was a small patch of woods just behind the shop. On this day it was full of cardinals. The bare trees in different shades of silver helped the redbirds show up in a lovely way. I watched them in the company of a lazy cat who was nothing more than amused with the bright flashy feathers. It was a pretty cat and he did not seem to have a bit of malice in him about anything . I liked him for that.
Friday, was Jenny’s birthday. Jenny is my only daughter and my second born child. She grew up with four brothers and showed signs of a maternal instinct “early in the game”. Jenny was a bright little girl. She was friends with her shadow and on some days she needed to make 100 pies in her little kitchen. Her first doll was a black rabbit in a flowered dress, named “Lady Jane”. ( This was a long time before the “rabbit patch diary”.) She went everywhere with Jenny for many years. I still remember the first time that Jenny got in the car without her. I asked Jenny “Where is Lady Jane?” Jenny said “Oh, she got married.” – so we left Lady Jane home, from then on. That was a long while ago. Jenny has her own little girl now and it will come as no shock to me, when Lyla grows up and “calls her blessed.” While, I watched the cardinals, thought of such things.
On Saturday, Will and Jenny left for Raleigh. Lylas’ “Papi and Mimi” met them there. They took Lyla to a play, set for the youngest children and Will took Jenny out for her birthday. In light of this, I invited my friends, Rae and Jo Dee to come with me to stay with Jennys’ dog, Jada.
We set off early Saturday morning and stopped to pick up a quick breakfast. Within fifteen minutes of our trip, I, attempting to fill a cup with ice, activated a dispenser which sent some sort of bright blue beverage in all directions. Rae, promptly spilt her own drink. It is a typical scenario when we are together and only rattled us briefly.
We made it to Elizabeth City anyway, and in enough time to send Will, Jenny and Lyla off with best wishes. When we had settled in, Jo Dee decided to nap and so Rae and I took off on a long walk. We walked in fog by the river- past all of the cottages and old stately homes, admiring them all. How pleasant it was to walk with a dear, dear friend in winter, I thought and vowed to remember it always.
We went out for a late supper. Jo Dee drove while I gave her directions. For some odd reason, I am always mixed up with “right and left”-I am sure it is some sort of mental malfunction but have always managed in spite of it. Several times I pointed in one direction, but called out the other one. Rae started calling out the direction I was pointing in, so we did end up at the restaurant, after all though Jo Dee was alittle pale, I noticed. On the way back, I wanted to ride by the river and so at the last moment to turn off, I mentioned it. Jo Dee made the sharp turn, and then I realised we were on a one way street and most certainly going in the wrong direction. This seemed to shake Jo Dee up and she drove by that lovely river as if it were an establishment of ill repute. She seemed so relieved to get back to the house and I doubted she would be able to eat her cannoli, that we brought home.
Jenny and her family came in in the early afternoon on Sunday. Lyla loved her play and Will and Jenny had a nice dinner-so all went well in Raleigh. After a “short and sweet” good bye, Jo Dee pulled out of the drive . . . and entered a one way street-once again going the wrong way. It made no difference to her, that she only had to travel a 1oo feet to an exit and the community never has much traffic. She cancelled our plans for a trip to the bakery and we headed home. Even so, we all agreed that we had a grand time and would gladly do it again-and Jo Dee will probably drive.
Lately, the days have been mild and more like April than January. The snow and ice, a few weeks ago have been about the only reason to have a “winter coat” so far. Of course the bird feeders on the rabbit patch are now desolate in the absence of snow. The hearth at the rabbit patch has been cold for a while-and should stay that way for the rest of the week. Of course, there is the rain that falls on a good many days. The sun hasn’t cast a shadow for a long spell.
I made a pot of soup before I left Elizabeth City, on Monday. Will and his mom both have a cold and I think chicken soup is good for a lot of ailments. Jenny was rocking Lyla in the nursery. It is a beautiful thing to see your daughter rock her baby.
I drove home under an almost lavender sky. A flock of blackbirds, at least a mile long flew overhead just as I entered a long stretch of the highway. I noticed the winter wheat fields had greened more deeply . Snow will do that . Soft lights twinkled in the homes along the way and so time passed in a pleasant way as I made my way back to the rabbit patch.
What a commotion occurred when I walked in the back door of the old house. The cats inspected my bags thoroughly with great suspicion, while Cash pranced around and around. The boys were not home and so this was the “welcome wagon” committee-and they were all hungry. It is always the same. Cash, my boxer will run to his food bowl and gobble the food, he left from breakfast as if he were starving. The cats lift a chorus, “singing for their supper” as if they will surely perish before I can get to the pantry. Christopher Robin will sometimes “put on airs” and look at me full of judgement for a while, when I return – but on this day, he did not.
I made some coffee and sat by the morning table. The dog and cats, with their full tummies claimed their usual napping places while I looked through the window at the untidy rabbit patch territory. Novembers’leaves are still scattered about and now Decembers’ branches join them. The “Quiet Garden” lives up to its’ name, especially in January. Flowers sleep in January. The whole countryside was quiet and so I gazed out the window and dreamed “like a big shot” for an hour . . . . or maybe a year.
Winter is often a peaceful time and allows us more time for wishful thinking. We have time to gather our thoughts and decide our priorities. It is a good time to listen for what rings true for our own heart and then consider how to proceed with integrity, in that understanding. To be “true to thine own self” requires a lot of thorough contemplation, after all. The task is not for the faint of heart- nor to be taken lightly, but I take great stock in such things-and in January, while the flowers sleep, seems as good a time as any to do so.
My great Aunt Agnes could play the piano like she was born to do so. It seemed as natural to her as breathing. Her daughter, Faith can too. Aunt Agnes loved flowers and she was as pretty as any flower she grew. Her trademark smile and dangling earrings charmed everybody. My mom inherited Aunt Agnes’ good looks.
Aunt Agnes was quite a cook, too. Her recipes are about sacred in the family. I ate many good meals in her big kitchen. She fed her five children and the farmhands every day at noon. Do not think for minute, we ate sandwiches. She filled the huge table and the top of the “deep freeze” with all sorts of southern delicacies -all made from scratch. . . At Christmas she made an apple salad.
My mom had a notion for it this year at Christmas-so I attempted to concoct one like the one Aunt Agnes made. I will tell you the ingredients sounded like a terrible combination and I just knew it would spoil my own reputation as a decent cook. Still, mama wanted it-and it was Christmas, after all- so I gathered the ingredients and hoped for the best . . and let me tell you it worked.
Of course, I had to taste as I went along with it. What a pleasant surprise I had, when it was better than “fit to eat”. It was good. It was so good, that I have made it since and plan to again tonight. Of course, as always, I do not measure ingredients (unless it is a new bread). The good news is that it turns out anyway. The quantity is easily adaptable. I sent Miss Claudia a single serving and have not heard a complaint, so I suppose , measuring is not of necessity.
4 or 5 large red skinned apples one stalk of celery, diced very fine large handful of raisins-depends on your taste large handful of roasted pecans ( you could use walnuts-maybe almonds) a good dash of brown sugar
Cut unpeeled apple into bite size pieces. Mix ingredients and brace yourself. Use a heaping tablespoon or more of mayonnaise combined with about a cup of whipped cream to coat the mixture. It sounds awful, but do it anyway -you won’t be sorry. I do not make this too much ahead of time, because of the apples turning brown, and me being out of lemon juice.
I would think a number of variations could work with this salad-maybe cinnamon or maple would be a nice flavor addition-and some may try yogurt instead of mayonnaise. I think this would be a good side served with pork, especially. I also think it could be considered a light dessert.
I will tell you from experience, that dishes in general, taste better in the company of loved ones.