As soon as the world starts getting light, birds begin singing. It was not this way just a few weeks ago. I can not make sense of this state of affairs. In February, I am usually hoping for snow, but the cherry trees are blooming along with the spirea, just now. As much I love snow, it would be almost sinful to wish for it now. I have paid great notice to weather, since I was very young. Journals, that are now thirty years old, have the records of all those seasons. Not once, did I record that the daffodils bloomed in February. Today, finally, I gave in and packed the cheerful little, ceramic snowman scattered throughout the old house, in a box. Maybe this year, spring will be a longer condition than previously. That is lovely to consider.
As I sit at the morning table, by an open window, I listen to a mockingbird, singing with all of his heart. He is throwing “caution to the wind” and encouraging the peach tree to do the same. “Joy, does seem to come in the morning.”
All of my children are coming home this week end. It is the first time since Christmas, that we will all be together. Tomorrow, we are having a birthday party for Mama. It is no small feat to gather five grown children under one roof. Of course, this makes me sing, like the mockingbird-with all of my heart.
Today, I have been writing in the rabbitpatch diary one year. I have written really, all of my life. When Brant was born, I took the endeavor of keeping an account of his childhood, very seriously. The same can be said of the four that came after him. When the children grew “way” up-I wrote for myself. My dear friends encouraged me to no end to take my writing seriously and pursue a path in it. Rae, may have been my biggest fan. Eventually, I felt “led” and thus the rabbitpatch diary was born, on a very stormy day. I have found, that when something comes about quite naturally, we often dismiss it as nothing of any significance. Artists of all sorts, do this. I think we have convinced ourselves that work must be “hard and taxing” to be valued. I do not believe such notions, any longer. I have often wondered if the age old question, “what is my purpose?’, could be solved easily by replacing it with “what do I love?” It is no great wonder to me, to consider, that those things we love, are given for us to find our place, joyfully.
I have clean linens on the beds, but the morning sun is bright now and showing me every speck of dust. I will clean the old house as if I am putting the Christmas tree up! It always feels like Christmas, when the children come home.
I must say “Happy Birthday Jo Dee!” Jo Dee, is the one who makes the best barbecued chicken, and is also one of my dearest friends. What a sweet difference, she makes in my life-and the lives of many others. I hope you all have a friend just like her . . . for friendship is really golden, after all.
My drive home from work, takes me by quiet pastures and large expanses of fields. Parts of the trek is wooded and there is a little bridge with a curve just beyond it. It is a favorite part of the journey for me. A bit further, along the way is an empty lot, of sorts. It is tended, but I have never seen any evidence of any one there. The entire territory is covered in daffodils. It is a lovely sight, when they bloom and I look forward to it every spring. Today, in dappled shade and tender grasses, the daffodils made their presence known. The flowers do not grow in any sort of uniformity, but are scattered about in small clusters as if they planted themselves as they saw fit. This gives the lot a “wild look”-and I like that.
It has been a custom in the south, for children in their “Easter outfits” to have their picture taken, in front of a spirea bush. The long flowing branches of tiny white flowers seem a fine expression of natures’ gracefulness-but the elegant spirea is blooming now- and so is the forsythia. My “Pop” loved the forsythia. He called them “goldenrods”. I told him every year, that goldenrods and forsythias were entirely different, but he paid me no mind , and called them goldenrods anyway-so now, I do too.
Yesterday, a small flock of redbirds descended on the rabbit patch just as I got home. They were too busy to act skittish, so I made wishes on redbirds for a while. I know a good many people believe that the cardinal commemorates a visit from a loved one, passed-but I have never taken such a notion. If that is the case, there was a family reunion here yesterday!
Strawberry farmers say this “out of the ordinary” warm weather is less than ideal for growing strawberries. That is a shame for a lot of reasons-strawberry short-cake, being the first one. Many people like to visit a farm and pick their own berries for making jam. Mama loves strawberries. I used to grow my own, but while I don’t mind sharing with the birds, I found them to be a greedy lot, and brave too. Rattling pie tins and chimes did little to spoil their appetite. Netting is a bother and several times, somehow, a bird would get trapped. Upon release, he was about too heavy to fly. I hardly ever got enough to make a pie.
I had the wonderful pleasure of spending the afternoon with Jenny, Lyla and my parents. Jenny is here early for Mamas’ birthday party, on Sunday. Once again, the day was more like April than February. I showed Lyla hyacinths, daffodils and “goldenrods”. We spent a little while under a grapevine. We disturbed some birds,and they took to scolding us for it. Lyla laughed about that. Later on, Mama sat in a rocking chair while Lyla and I sat in a swing on the front porch. There was a slight, but steady breeze blowing, that made the pines whisper. A few clouds moved across the sky and the winter wheat was growing, in the field by us. Two hawks glided above the field. Nothing around me was rushing-not the breeze, nor the clouds-not the hawks nor the field. The effect washed over me and a deep sense of peace settled in. This, I thought, is time well spent- and my heart was grateful for such things as hyacinths, old grapevines and two hawks flying.
Sunday is fading fast. The shadows made by evening light are falling in their familiar places. Sunday nights are typically still and quiet at the rabbit patch. I make a good effort to have the house in good order as the weekly routine unfolds before the dawn of Monday. Clocks end our morning dreams and we scatter from the rabbit patch, each in a different direction. Monday, shows no mercy.
Tonight, I vow to remember Saturday. It was Mama’s birthday and so Daddy and I were taking her to a restaurant in Greenville, just thirty minutes away. Mamas’ official party is scheduled for next week end. The day was spring-like. Tulip trees bloomed along the road to Greenville . A Bradford pear with its’ pure white flowers made me think of Easter. February has been quite a disorienting affair.
My sister from Raleigh, devised a plan, to meet us at the restaurant to surprise Mama. It worked out beautifully and it did me good to see Mama so happy. The meal was good and the waitress was friendly. Delores brought a small cake and we both gave mama small tokens to open. It was a happy occasion, altogether and concluded with the birthday song being sung with strangers in close proximity.
My oldest children were in Wilmington. They took Lyla to the ocean, as the weather was so pleasant. Lylas’ uncles, Tres and Brant, climbed an ancient live oak and took Lyla with them. They sent pictures to prove it. There is something so extraordinary to see your children become parents and uncles. They all take their roles very seriously. I watch my boys with Lyla and whether one is playing a guitar for her or up some tree-well, words fail to do justice, to the state of contentment such things bring about.
The contents of our days, may not seem so spectacular, when isolated from one another-but when you consider sightings of blossoms on trees, pleasant gatherings with family, and your mamas’ seventy-fifth birthday, Saturday was not a bit short of spectacular.
I like Saturday mornings. I watch the sunrise, without a sense of urgency. I can think my own thoughts and allow my mind to stray without a sense of hurry. I stay in the clothes, that I woke in, for a good while. This particular morning is warm and the sky doesn’t host a single cloud-and today, is mamas’ birthday.
Mama and daddy married very young. They married in 1958. They live where a pasture used to be on the farm, my mom grew up on, and still have the first phone number, they were ever issued. Daddy retired from a factory, he had worked at for thirty years. Mama kept the house, managed the money and raised three girls, in the process.
Tending the house, is no small matter, to me. I find it to be as noble a work as there is. Our house, was not a closet for accumulated possessions. The kitchen was not a pantry for pre-packaged foods. Laundry was done steadily and hung on a line, to dry in the sunshine. I did not ever wonder, if mama would be there, when I got off the school bus-she was, without fail. If one of us was sick, we did not go to school, hoping it would pass. She checked our homework, insisting it “was neat” as well as accurate. She taught us good manners. Manners that made us consider the needs of others. Good manners are really just that and we practiced them til they became our second nature. I believe now, that those early lessons, that became habits, have made all the difference-may be the biggest factor in my life, even now- for they were, lessons in compassion and respect, and nothing less.
Mama took us to church, every Sunday. I have the perfect attendance awards, to prove it. When we were young, mama made our dresses. I hated the measuring and trying on pinned up fabric-you were bound to get pricked, no matter how careful you were. This morning, when I remember that time, it humbles me without end.
When we went on vacation, mama packed an arsenal of snacks and little surprises for the children, as well as everything else. I am sure that all my sweet daddy had to do, was get in the car.
Sometimes, mama packed a picnic basket for us to eat outside on a blanket, by the edge of the woods, on the farm. She made cakes for special days and decorated them herself, without any formal training in that art, and did a fine job, whether they were heart shaped or looked like a rabbit. All details, belonged to mama, when I was growing up.
One Christmas, I suppose, money was scarce. As her children, we would not, have been troubled with such concerns. We were taught that waste was about sinful, in general. (I still think it is.) On Christmas morning, my sisters and I got dolls. Each doll had dozens of little dresses, bonnets and booties. We were thrilled and tried them all out that morning! We hoped for rain and snow-we hoped for cold days and nights, because our dolls had everything needed for such times. It was months later, I finally realised that the dresses our dolls wore, were of familiar fabrics. I would remember having a dress of the same cloth. I remembered an itchy fabric, I had worn now showing up in a coat for my doll. It was a Christmas miracle, I thought. How clever, Santa was this year. Mama, did not correct me. Years later, when the dolls laid motionless in boxes, under the bed-mama finally confessed, that money had been scarce that year, and so she set out on a mission, for her girls to have a Christmas, that did not tattle about that. It is one of the sweetest memories I have, and clearly indicates the “art of motherhood” done well.
Mamas’ career never ends. Her work, did not land her plaques to hang on the walls or “papers” that officially declared her competent, in some area. Mama had to know it all or learn quickly.
My mama is seventy five years old today-and as it turns out, her work, did pay off. Her daughters “rise and call her blessed”. Her promotion to “Nana” did finally happen, and now she has the daughter, of her own grand daughter that greeted this world, wrapped in a baby blanket, made by her hands. Mamas’ walls boast many awards now. Some have dark brown eyes and some have freckles. The latest has the bright blue eyes of her dad, and little baby teeth.
Of all the things this world offers, good parents, top the list, I think. Mama did not hesitate to sacrifice -nor gear up for battle, should an occasion warrant such measures. She “gave to this planet” by taking great care of “her charges” and then dismissed us to serve others, by her example. I do not believe, there is a more noble line of work.
Happy Birthday Mama!
Valentines day, at the rabbit patch, has been going on for a while now. I have bestowed all sorts of little candies to my youngest sons this past week-and let us not forget the “almost red velvet cake”, that I made on Sunday. There are a lot of ways to let someone know that you love them and I think they all count. I love good chocolate, any day of the week. I love sweet cards with sweet words-and cookies , heart shaped or not. Not all endearments, show up in tinseled paper or packages tied with ribbon-and certainly not on just one day a year. Sometimes, love shows up on dishes- with bunnies, painted on them.
Last night, my friend Rae, stopped by the rabbit patch. She came bearing gifts. I convinced her to let me warm up the remnants of our supper for her. Rae could hardly wait for me to open her gifts, so I hurried up as best I could. One gift was a plate, with a mother rabbit and a bunny painted on it. Oh!- the sweet union of dishes and rabbits, struck a most tender chord with my heart-and yet there was another box. . .a pair of salt and pepper shakers, disguised as little rabbits, was tucked inside. I almost burned Raes’ supper in light of my gifts! Rae was as cheerful a giver, as I have ever seen and it felt overwhelmingly beautiful, to call her my friend.
There was a heavy frost this morning. The sunrise was spectacular. Only a few flat clouds shared the sky with the sun. The early light looked like pure gold and lit the frost up. Oh, I thought, how good it would be to stand a few moments in those golden rays, and so I did.
The cherry trees are blooming. The trees are full of blossoms and I can not blame them-other than a few cold nights, Februarys’ mildness is convincing and has made me doubt my own notions about it still being winter. The one thing I am sure of, is that the earth shows its’ love, too , by things such as cherry trees blooming.
Love is truly a many splendored thing. It has many forms and one is no lesser than any other. Whether it is in the blooms of a cherry tree, the light on a frost or rabbits on dishes, all are expressions of love, in some fashion. Valentines Day is a good day to tell others that you love them. . . and so is every other day, as well. After all the cherry tree does not show its’ blossoms for just one day.
It is after Sunday dinner now, and I have noticed a new habit of mine. I like to write in the hours , after the gathering around the table. It may be that, I want a record of sorts, or it could be that I especially love to write when I am so content-and both may be true. I especially like to write in the morning, but a Sunday afternoon seems to work as well.
Of course, I took full advantage of having that fancy china with redbirds and ribbons, though it was seventy degrees outside. At least it is still February. I fixed Jo Dees’ chicken and made believers out of mama and daddy, as to its’ divine nature. They agreed it was worth all of my bragging. We had collards, potatoes and cornbread too. For dessert. I fixed a red velvet cake, being it was close to Valentines Day. It wasn’t nearly as red as I had hoped, but it was good. I am not fond of using food coloring, unless I am making “sea glass” out of mason jars. I thought that cherry juice would be a nice flavor addition and make the cake red as well. I should have used a lot more, and not been so stingy with it. We ate the cake anyway , though it was maroon in color. Daddy asked why it needed to be red anyway-and he was right.
Tres and Kelsey are in Rome, on vacation. They are to return this week. Tres loves to travel and has done a bit, to be so young. When he was a little boy, I called him my “wonder boy” because he was always wondering about things. He was curious and needed answers to how things worked. He grew up to have a career in research. I knew all along, he was suited for such work. I have an idea, that if we watch children closely when they are very little-and free in their thoughts, we can predict closely, a good career path for them. My own children have proven this true, at least. I told Kyle, when he was around five, that he should be a landscaper-and he is. He remembers this and we laugh about it, now. Brant and Christian are artists. They must create- and Jenny was destined to be a mother by the time she was three! They all chose play that foretold their futures, and I “kept these things, and pondered them in my heart” as mothers have been known do.
I saw the beautiful “snow moon”, this week. It was almost amber . It was especially pretty, when it hung low in the sky. The field turned shades of gold, in its’ light. Of course, I made a wish on that beautiful “Snow Moon”, for good measure.
The wind, is brisk today. The pine trees do not whisper in such conditions, but produce a roar, instead-still, the sound is lulling. The only other sound is the occasional rattle of dry leaves, being swept from the far corners of the rabbit patch.
I am grateful for the peace and quiet, after Sunday Dinner, today. I am grateful I saw the snow moon. I am glad it is almost time for Tres to come home-that it is almost Mamas’ birthday- and that we all gathered again, for a good meal with an almost red velvet cake. Sunday is a lovely time.
I saw when the light came to the world this morning. Just now, the sun is rising behind the woods . For a few brief moments, the winter trees , make the light look like stained glass. A cardinal cried out in a morning song like a joyful proclamation, just as the shine broke through. I love morning.
I am at the rabbit patch, this week-end. Cash, Christopher Robin and Moon Shine are still sleeping, while I sit at the “morning table” and plot my day. It is a good thing that I enjoy housekeeping, as the old house is full of it. I like to take my time going about chores or else they become “work”. Cash starts barking if he sees me dashing about in a hurry, because he knows that company is coming! He is always right about that and I find it so funny. The cats run for cover, at the prospect of strangers. They know that Cash is never wrong, about that order of events. Cash does not bark, when I am cooking, nor rushing to get ready for my job-only when I am hurriedly, putting things in order, does he carry on, so. It really tickles me that he quickly put it all together.
I love animals-the whole lot of them, but I especially love dogs, and especially boxers. Ironically, the first dog that ever nipped me was a boxer. The next was a chihuahua. Jo Dee has a chihuahua, named “Georgia”. Jo Dee says every one has a chihuahua story-and she may be right.
My children bought Cash for me, almost three years ago. My boxer, Gage, of fourteen years passed in June, of that year. Gage, was my friend and guardian. He served me well. He layed in the yard, while I mowed the sprawling rabbit patch, in terrible heat. He would move from one area to another, keeping his eye on me. Gage was a loyal dog. He was also well mannered and I use to brag that he could accompany me anywhere. He really could have gone to church, or the dentist or to get my taxes done. When Gage died, I missed him with my whole heart. He was my friend, after all. I knew I wanted another dog, at some point, but I wanted a boxer-and they are pricey dogs. My friends consider me extremely practical, and I am by nature, so they were amused that I had to have a boxer and only that breed would do.
My children bought Cash for me in July. I have never seen a cuter puppy. We decided on the name “Cash” as Johnny Cash had just passed. I was mourning Gage and felt ashamed that maybe I would never love this puppy as deeply as he deserved. One day I realised that a fourteen year affair, took fourteen years. My bond with Gage started with days, that turned in to what it was, because of time. Some how, this freed me to love again.
Today, as I move from room to room cleaning, Cash, Christopher Robin and Moon Shine will move along with me. As long as I behave calmly, all will go well-otherwise, Cash will spread false rumors. I am not expecting guests today.
The light has brightened as I wrote this. I have “charted my course” of duties and planned Sunday Dinner. The day seems mild enough to put the windows up-and I might dry the sheets on the line -to catch the scent of the daffodils, that bloomed in February.
I will not continue to scold the daffodils, nor the foxglove and lilies. February is “putting on airs” and acting like April. It is a well done masquerade and so how can I blame the flowers, not to just go along with it? Some of the daffodils are blooming already. Their blossoms will not hide little eggs in shades of pink and blue, this year.
I saw some bluebirds today. One of them was in a patch of dandelions and what a colorful sight that was. Bluebirds are charming little birds and are dependably cheerful. I am glad to live in a world with bluebirds.
Camellias are bloming now. They are like living valentines -especially the true red and pale pink varieties. They are a handsome lot when planted in small groves, in the corners and edges of lawns. They are hardy bushes and not threatened by cold weather.
My great grandmother had a birthday this week . “Mama Hodges” was old in my earliest memories. I never saw her wear any color but black. She only wore dresses and always had an apron-excepting on Sunday. On Sunday, she wore a black dress with a white lace collar-and a cameo, that had a crack in it, because a mule stepped on it, decades earlier. Her husband died in his forties and Mama Hodges wore black, because of that for forty more years. She grew daffodils, and as far as I know, hers bloomed in March. Mama Hodges kept her house clean and tidy-and”hot enough to cure tobacco ” in, year round. When we visited, we had to sit as still as if you were in Church. Her kitchen smelled like pound cake at all times. There was usually one on top of the “kelvinator” in a metal cake plate. Children were never allowed to ask for food at anybodys’ house, when I was young. It was considered ill-mannered, and mama Hodges’ house was no exception. When Mama Hodges often offered my sister and I some of that cake, we both looked at mama for the “look of approval”. I can remember Mama Hodges, cutting us a slice, then sending us to the back porch quickly, to eat it. There would be no crumbs in her kitchen!
I think of the changes that Mama Hodges -and all in that generation, endured in their lives. Mama Hodges got around by means of a wagon or carriage til well after her children were born. Kerosene lamps lit the house. Clothes were mostly sewn and blankets quilted-and feeding a family, was a different predicament altogether. I remember her home as a comfortable dwelling with electricity and a telephone. There was a bathroom with a claw-footed tub. She had a piano and a clock, shaped like a church, with a bell in its’ steeple, that chimed out the hours. Mama Hodges lived long enough to see her children drive fancy cars, watch “the stories” on television and to see the birth of her great-great grandchild, my Brant.
I laugh, when I hear “old people” chided because they don’t like change. They have changed all of their life and it took real substance to endure. I sympathize because, technology has greatly increased the rate of change in my own, close to six, decades. I remember getting a microwave and a refrigerator with an ice-maker. No one had cable or a computer, nor a cell phone a short while ago. When the cable company recently changed the remote, I almost cried. I still do not know what was wrong with the old one.
Things change, and like the seasons, they change when they want to. I try my best to adapt and carefully consider whether or not to discard a habit, just because it is now old-fashioned. Many modern conveniences , have proven to be wonderful and I am so very grateful for them-sometimes though, I would as soon hang clothes on a line til they smell like sunshine-and hold a book in my hand, while I read it-and I like to gather my own flowers for the table on Sunday. . . but I declare, it just ought to be in March.
Jo Dee is one of my dearest friends. She is dependable, trust-worthy and does not mind my flaws-She is also a good cook. Ever since, I bragged on her barbecue chicken, folks have asked for the recipe. I believe when you find something good, you ought to share it-and in that case, this chicken recipe should be shared. Everyone who has tried it, agrees that this is the best barbecue chicken, they know of. Thank goodness Jo Dee wrote her recipe down for a friend that we both love- so I can give the proper details on the preparation. Jo Dee used leg quarters.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Salt chicken on both sides and place in a casserole dish. With great generosity, sprinkle lemon pepper and crushed red pepper over the chicken. Jo Dee drizzles worcestershire sauce over each piece, next. Use about a 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup vinegar and pour over the chicken. Bake an hour, then turn chicken over and bake another hour.
The sauce will cook into the chicken and not “sit on it” as most sauces do. This chicken reminds me of the barbecue chicken from my childhood, when sauce did not come in a bottle. I remember eating my grandmothers’ barbecue chicken at a yellow chrome kitchen table in a small farmhouse . This recipe brings back those fond memories, in the sixties, when all I had to do was come when they called me, to eat a good meal. Jo Dee did not cover her chicken, so neither did I. It turned out moist and is fit for Sunday Dinner or anytime you are having company. Remember, that any dish, when shared with loved ones, is always better .
The day dawned clear and bright in Elizabeth City. It is cold too, as it ought to be in February. February will decide the fate of the daffodils and everything else that blooms in early spring. I saw a patch of daffodils in bloom yesterday, and though they were cheerfully surrounding a mailbox, I wished they had waited for March.
The yard was full of all sorts of birds this morning. A little chickadee was trapped in the screened porch and a robin was showing great concern about it. There were cardinals and doves -and of course blackbirds. There was quite a commotion. I saw a dove surveying an empty squirrel nest. I am not sure her intentions were honorable. The nest did seem abandoned and up for grabs. Squirrels build nests of twigs. They are big and untidy concoctions and sit perched on a branch in spite of that. A tree is more likely than a squirrel nest, to come unfastened, in a hurricane. The details of nature are quite remarkable.
By the time, the sunshine was bold, and a dog was barking while people were walking, the birds had left the yard. It was as if the birds had been telling secrets and were not inclined to share them, in ” broad daylight”. I understood completely. My sisters and I have secrets as of lately. Mama has a birthday this month.
I saw “hope” today-pure and unbridled. A young family took us on a tour of the house that they have hopes of calling their own. We toured the house and talked about paint and furniture-and how to improve the kitchen. We walked around the spacious yard and found old camellias blooming. A grove of magnolias grew by a small pond on the property. I listened to the young mother tell us what she would plant and prune. She fairly glowed as she spoke. The little boys ran hither and yonder exploring. I am sure they had plans of forts and hiding spots. I was in the presence of “hope” and it acted like a tonic.
Lyla and I took a walk in the afternoon. We fed some hungry seagulls. They came quite close to the stroller and squawked noisily the whole time. Other than that, the neighborhood was still and quiet. The winter sunshine had softened and looked like early morning light. Heart shaped wreaths adorned many doors. A redbird streaked through the sky just above us. I told Lyla that he was a special kind of a valentine and that we ought to make a wish-so we did.
We came home to a warm house and it seemed just like a happy ending to an ordinary day- unless you take count into account, that it was a day full of secrets, hopes and a wish made on a redbird.