By the time the sun was up long enough, to cast its’ first slanted rays of the day, a pot of chili was simmering in the rabbit patch kitchen-so was a large pot of navy beans. I couldn’t look forward to a “Queens’ Ball” anymore than I do to the simple backyard picnic, we are having today at my parents’ house. It doesn’t seem so long ago, that, it was a common practice, for my children and my parents to all be together. Now, a gathering of this sort is limited to rare occasions-such as today.
I grew up on a small farm. In those days, there were a lot of small farms. Few young people left the farm. I had first, second and third cousins that I grew up with as if we were brothers and sisters. Everyday was a “family reunion”. When someone grew up and got married, they often bought an acre or so-and stayed on. I also had, great aunts, uncles, great grandmothers and grown up cousins-most within a five mile radius. It was very hard to have a secret, back then. Somehow, all things came to light by supper. If I had played by the farm pond or someone said an ugly word, the adults knew. I knew what my cousins got on their report cards, because such things were of great importance and the adults sought counsel of one another,if need be. I knew everytime, that Faith needed stitches, not long after she knew herself- and if Aunt Josie burned a pot of sweet corn, I knew that too. It seemed stifling at times, but it kept me from all sorts of troubles- I had “the village” to answer to, after all. This “way” of life did not prepare me for children growing up and ” moving off”. So today, when we are all together, for a picnic, it is nothing less than a beautiful act of God, to me.
By noon, the home of my parents, was full of family-and hotdogs were cooking! Several tables were adorned with tablecloths, blowing in the constant breeze. The mighty sycamores shaded a good deal of the back yard. Lyla sat contentedly with a slice of watermelon watching all of us scurrying in and out with all the necessary accessories for a picnic. At some point, we all settled on a place to sit. It was not uncommon, for us to move about from one table to another, if we got up for more iced tea. In that way, we all visited with one another. I like to watch them all conversing. I like the chatter. I like to see the affectionate looks given to one another.
Mama made Tres, the only cake that he likes, for his birthday. It is a orange and pineapple cake with a whipped cream frosting. Lyla was especially happy about the cake. Not long after that she was tired of everything.
Departure , from a family gathering, takes a while. There is food packed up and sent with folks, and pictures . . . and the good byes are heartfelt and personal. and very unhurried. I start missing everyone as soon as they leave. “Out of sight, out of mind” does not ring true, for mothers, when it comes to their children.
After the Picnic
I came home full of good intentions to continue where I left off with the mowing, and then planned on cleaning up a small barn. I came in and put things away and Kyle said we ought to rest. I thought he was right. I sat down and within minutes-was asleep. I roused an hour later and took off on the mower minutes later, I mowed til I couldn’t see. The barn remains as it was.
As I walked to the house, I remembered the night before. Kelsey had wanted to stay out long enough to see the “lightening bugs” come out. We stood at the sage fields and then walked by the edge of the woods finding the first blossoms of the wild honey suckle and the last blossoms of the privets. We saw the sunset turn the sky a shocking pink and orange -and finally the “lightening bugs” appeared. Tres caught one for Kelsey and she held it briefly. He was like a “diamond that flew away”, I thought. When I was a child, it was a common practice, for children to catch fireflies. One time I collected a small mason jar, full of them, thinking I would have a living nightlight. I was too young to know to punch holes in the lid. The next morning, to my horror, all of them were dead. I felt awful and ashamed that I had killed such a beautiful thing. I never did so again, believing that the world needs lightening bugs-I still believe that .
Dear Diary, The children came home while the sage was blooming. Four generations gathered under mighty sycamores, planted by the first generation. it was a merry time, and one to remember. “Blest be the the tie that binds”.
Today, the children will start arriving at the rabbit patch. It feels like Christmas Eve, but it looks like May. The sun is not yet over the barn, but already Christian and I have loaded a pick up truck with things like old lamps and broken chairs. He is on the way now, to dispose of them at a landfill, twenty minutes from here. I got at least two acres mowed after work, yesterday-so there is that to finish, and linens to wash.
The refrigerator is bumping full of things for the picnic on Monday-so is the top of the freezer. There are many tasks at hand, besides the mowing, but today, I feel propelled to accomplish them . . .because the children will be gathered around the same table, once again.
There are five of them. I have four sons, one daughter and one grandchild, Lyla. All of my adult life, I have been raising children. Brant, my oldest is thirty-five and Christian my youngest, is twenty-four (as of recently). It has taken me a long time to get used to the fact, that they all “grew and flew”. I mourned pitifully for a good while. The farmhouse got bigger, all of a sudden- and the clothes were always folded. I did not know how to cook or even shop at the grocery store, anymore, as there was less than an army to feed.. Friends said that a grandchild, would make a difference . . .and as it turns out, they were right. Lyla is just two . . .and she has made a wonderful difference.
I find it notable, that all of the work that is necessary, today, does not cause me to grumble. Instead, I find myself humming as I go about the chores. I know it is due to the arrival of my family-but I think I ought to adopt this practice under lesser circumstances, as well. Humming is certainly better for the spirit than grumbling. This inspires me to remember that I can perform the same chores , on any given day, in the state of mind, that I choose. Today is surely easier than most, to consider that.
I have always believed that the heart and the mind are so closely entwined- and that is why, we must often search, to distinguish their separate contributions in situations. “As a man thinks in his heart…” comes to mind and proves to be true. It is beneficial to have a happy heart . I always teach young children this concept. I say that when you are troubled about something, to try quickly to remember something you are glad about. A few years back, I had an awful knee injury. It was painful and took a long while to heal. As I was walking between buildings at school, the pain became about unbearable. I stopped, wondering how to proceed, when two little children seeing my despair, came running. I did not want to alarm them. Children have such compassionate hearts. I fought tears just to remain standing there. I just could not take a step. I explained to them, that I was waiting for the hurt to go away, when one of them piped up and said-“Quick! think of something you are glad about!” This was no small task at that particular moment. But, I said- “I am glad it is not raining.”- and I was.
Today does not require such lofty effort. I will hang the sheets on the line and be glad of sunshine. I will scrub floors and give the animals a bath. I will mow where roses abide . . and beside the fields of sage and I will probably sing an out-of -season rendition of “Joy to the World”, as I do so.
There has been a lot of “rain and shine” on the rabbit patch as of lately. It is not the time to plan a picnic or hang clothes on the line.
I love rain. Some folks declare the event of rain, a gloomy affair causing a sense of melancholy. I find it calming-of course there is the leaking roof. The hallway is still a horrid mess. The leak was an insignificant repair, but the entire ceiling was effected. The old farmhouse was built almost a century ago with materials that are hard to match and so replacement is never an easy task. Thank goodness, Kyle has progressed enough, that at least, it does not “rain in the house.”
There ought to be more than a few four-leaf clovers, on the rabbit patch territory, just now, as the whole land here, is covered in mounds of the sweet smelling flowers. The daily showers have put us in quite a predicament. It is just too wet to mow. It wouldn’t be of any consequence, except the yard is close to four acres. Hence, I smell the clover blossoms in the night air and think I should enjoy the time when the world is full of clover. Besides, I have seen the first young bunnies. They are finding the world, beyond their burrows and how nice that they are greeted with every rabbits’ fancy- endless tufts of clover.
The holiday week end affords me the delightful pleasure of having all of my children home for a visit. Not since Christmas, has this transpired -and to say I am thrilled, would be quite an understatement. Gathering five grown children is no small task. We will also celebrate Tres’ birthday, which is actually tomorrow. I do not know when he grew up-but like the rest of my children, he did. I think mothers, may be the last to know such things.
Tres went from one of the fairest children, the world has ever seen, to a very handsome young man, over six foot tall. I did notice my son was tall. Not even, when he started shaving, did I have a clue, that Tres had grown up. When he moved out of the home, in my mind he was “just staying” somewhere else. Tres grew up right before my eyes, and it seemed when I realised it, I was shocked. It seemed like an entire decade had passed swiftly . . . and in a sly manner. It seemed to me, that he was collecting rocks and plowing fields with little tractors, a short while ago. It had been just a few years back, that he had seen the only kangaroo in eastern North Carolina, on the way to the mailbox.
When Tres is home this week end, I will ask his advice about down sizing. He will survey the old house and make a check list of priorities of repairs, after all, Tres did grow up, even if it was in “a twinkling”.
Dear Diary, I am glad for seasons of “rain and shine.” I am glad when the world is full of clover. I am so glad for a holiday when the family can gather . . .but most of all, I am glad for a little boy that grew up and became a noble man . . . and calls me “Mom”.
Cousin Dotsie ‘s family reunion took place yesterday at a little house in Windsor, a small town about twenty minutes north of the rabbit patch. Reunions seem to be the sole purpose of the old house, as Cousin Dotsie has another residence in Windsor, as well. All of her last minute details unfolded as if she had labored over them a fortnight. It was a lovely occasion, to say the least.
Somehow, there was barbecue, chicken, many sides and a sideboard full of desserts. I arrived a bit after twelve, straight from the woods. I had been cutting elder flowers, mint and other such things, to take to Elizabeth City. I used coolers to transport them and had wanted to wait to the last minute, to cut them.
Cousin Alice was there from New York. I met her a little over a year ago but, it was as if we had know each other a very long time. Her mother, my great Aunt Astor, died when Alice was just a little girl. Alice grew up in New York, where her father was from. I greeted her yesterday, with band aids from battling briers and I suspect leaves in my hair. It didn’t matter to her or anyone else there, I have never known a one of them to ever “put on airs” in all of my life. They are a genuine lot, altogether and it makes me glad that they belong to me. I often say, that when you are born into a loving family, you are truly “born with a silver spoon in your mouth”.
I arrived in Elizabeth City in mid afternoon. There was a very cool wind churning up the laughing river. Thankfully, I had brought a light jacket. There was a festival in the downtown commons which is just a few blocks from Jenny’s house. Will and Jenny went to hear a band , so Lyla and I spent the evening together-Dear Diary, what a sweet day!
I got up early on Sunday, but not earlier than Lyla. Unlike me, Lyla does not wake up addle. She does not need coffee, to form a thought. Upon waking, Lyla is ready for her day and she is hungry. She wakes up happy and hugs everyone as if she is glad to see them again.
I did not spend a great deal of time in “communion” this Sunday morning. I noticed the cedar tree was lovely and was wearing its’ tender spring boughs. Birds love the cedar . Cedar branches are dense and can keep secrets-still, I know where a pair of Robins are building. I watched a male robin struggle a good while with an object. He dropped it several times as he attempted to fly. Whatever it was, it was bigger than he was. With valor and persistence, he made it to the nest to present to his companion. She took it from him, and immediately tossed it away. She did not do this in a friendly fashion, either. The male robin flew off unhindered by the whole affair, on a mission to do better. “There is my sermon”, I thought. Apparently, robins do not hold grudges.
Not long after a light breakfast, we all took off for the little fair, downtown. The day was overcast, so Lyla saw the colorful lights a good ways off. The streets smelled of cotton candy and funnel cakes. Lyla rode a little train-and later a pony. We had ice cream by the river, after that. We walked around for a while. Lyla had a blue balloon and a small stuffed toy, Jenny had won, in the first five minutes of our arrival. Later we saw a man, with a stuffed bear. It was huge and we wondered what amazing thing he had done, for that! I did not feel my years while at the fair-of course I had worn sensible shoes.
The little playground at the end of the street, was completely empty. We stopped, so Lyla could take full advantage, and she did. We heard the music and watched the fair go on-and we still smelled the cotton candy, while Lyla practiced climbing and sliding.
Being, it was Sunday, Jenny and I started working on a nice evening dinner, while Will worked in the yard. Wills’ mom, Miss Claudia came and what a nice visit we had. When darkness fell, the little fair said its’ farewell to Elizabeth City with a display of fireworks. We watched from the front porch as the night sky sparkled with all sorts of colors. In the little village dogs were barking and children could be heard squealing in delight , while the sky snapped into colorful ribbons of light.
Dearest Diary, I am so glad for the family I came from. I am glad for robins and small town fairs. I am thankful for sweet elder flowers and for the Cedar, that keeps secrets. I will collect such things in my heart, til at last I have a storehouse of what I love . . .and little room for else.
The “crack of dawn” comes a lot earlier than it used too. I wake with light, by nature, and unless it is raining, I am ready to “find my day.” It is early now, and the light is still soft at the rabbit patch. The old trees are full of new leaves now so I watch the shade and sunlight duel for territory. The effect is charming and I remember that I love light and shadow too.
Today, I will stop by the town of Windsor, on the way to Elizabeth City. It is a small town, about twenty minutes from here. A cousin “threw a family reunion together”- at the last minute. Her daughter says “it is her nature to do such things”. Cousin Dotsie, will not bother herself with mighty plans and details-but I expect it to turn out as if she did. I have a cousin from New York that is down and I think that inspired Cousin Dotsie’ idea.
I have not been to Elizabeth City in three weeks. I have missed strolling the historical river village with Lyla. I know that the mock orange is surely done blooming, but I bet the cocky mockingbird is still singing. We may see young bunnies. Elizabeth City helped inspire the name ‘Rabbit Patch”. I have never seen so many rabbits in any one town. They are not at all skittish, like their country cousins. Some one dear to me there, claims a mother rabbit was nursing babies in his yard last year-and I believe him. Lyla and I get practically close enough to the rabbits to introduce ourselves properly as we walk in the evening! I have never heard any of the residents of Riverside speak a word against the rabbit community-but I notice, they do not grow strawberries there.
I am packing light today, as this is a short visit. Usually, I cook meals ahead of time for Kyle and Christian, but this time they are left to their own primative devices. They will probably scramble eggs. I will leave the house in good order as usual, excepting the wide hall, where the roof is being repaired. There is a hammer and a crowbar on the shelf beside my books and plant-and a large pile of debris in the floor. The yard needs mowing too, but I am “throwing caution to the wind”, and spending time with loved ones, instead , this week end. I am older now, and would rather watch rabbits with Lyla, than most things.
Life has a way of helping us define, without great effort, what we truly love. There really is a “time for every season” as Solomon wrote. I am at a place, never imagined in my youth. I thought “old people grew flowers, because that is about all they could do”. Now I know, old people grow flowers because it is beautiful to do so. In youth, we gather, and in time we “cast away” what doesn’t matter-we “break down” what we once thought was good and we “build up” what we found was of value. Now we “laugh and dance” in authentic joy -and “we heal” as we need to. We have learned full well, that “all that glitters is not gold.” The other day, I remembered a fancy stereo system, that I had actually made payments on. I do not know what became of it . . . however I know which book has pressed violets and sweet gum leaves in it, gathered when Brant and I walked in the woods, now decades ago. I have a basket of rocks and twigs that Tres collected -they did not get “cast out” as I moved about.
And so, in light of this . . the grass can grow as it pleases, this weekend. It is the “season to love”, after all, as well.
By mid week, at the rabbit patch, routine has “set in” comfortably. Thankfully, for me, variations are few and far between. I just love familiar. It does not make for a dull life for me. I have never been anything but a “homebody”. Of course, the one exception, is when I visit my children. In that case, I am ready “at the drop of a hat”. Otherwise, after work and an errand or so at times, I generally come home in great spirits and hum while I fix supper. My grown up sons come in and smell supper cooking, and I am happy.
There is a little country store, just a few miles from the school, that I stop at several times a week. Yesterday, as I was leaving, upon opening the door, a tiny ,little, baby sparrow tried to hop in. He was so curious, it seemed and hardly afraid. I considered it a pleasant surprise. I convinced him to go in another direction and wished him well. I thought of the old hymn, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and it gave me great comfort, for the little bird-and me.
Kyle and Christian,have finally started repairing the leaky roof. As it turns out, the repair is not nearly as complex as they first thought. Kyle called me to come see something and so I prepared myself for the awful mess it was making. There was a heap of debris-and it was awful, but what a treasure lurked beneath the paneled ceiling. . .there was beadboard in a pleasing, pale , shade of turquoise. It was preserved beautifully and perfectly. This was another pleasant surprise, that day. Suddenly the leaking roof did not seem the tragedy, that I had deemed it. The wide hall, painted white should make for a pretty thoroughfare into the living room-and I just happen to have a turquoise bird to sit on the shelf that adorns the wall.
As happy, as I am to find a pretty ceiling, I remain steadfast on my mission to downsize. Of course, spring is an especially beautiful season here and I remind myself, that I will have a lot more time to visit with my children and only grandchild, Lyla. This spurs me on to lofty notions of a little cottage somewhere, that will probably need to be painted- and flowers will need to be planted. I have a great deal of peace about the whole affair. It has taken me two years to get in this state. First, I kept looking at other big old houses as I am so drawn to them. The children would not even slow down, when I pointed one out. Then there was the concept of a smaller yard, to grasp. There just has to be room for roses and Sweet Williams. I so hope for at least one old tree, too. I can safely say that “hope springs eternal” in my heart for all of this to come to pass, though I do not know the hour.
Last night, when the world fell silent, I went out. I find such conditions quite favorable for my spirit. The stars reminded me of strands of diamonds. Everywhere I looked, it seemed silver garlands were strewn about the night sky. Somewhere, far away a dog was barking. The only other sound was the occasional breeze whispering in the pines. Such moments bring me to my knees and make me sorry for any doubt I may have ever harbored, for any unkind thought I may have ever entertained. Such conditions make me want to sing, sometimes. And so, I joined up with whispering pines and the far away barking dog and sang what ” a little bird told me” . . .