It is Sunday and almost late afternoon. It was raining before sunrise,and it is still raining now. The rain is falling steadily, as it has all day. No one in these parts ought to complain as it has been a long while since we have had a rainy day-and besides, rain makes the loveliest sound.
I remember the older folks saying that when “rain fell straight. it was set in”-it always rings true, it seems. I knew early on, that I would cook today. I went to the grocery as everyone agreed with my decision. Of course, we started out with Lylas’ favorite “honey cakes”-which are pancakes with a good dose of vanilla, served with honey. I am cooking a peach cobbler now in the oven. Wills’ mom, Miss Claudia loves peaches and so she will have her peaches tonight in a golden crust, dusted with brown sugar. Turnips and potatoes are simmering in a pot, to be creamed later, then smothered in gravy. Peas and stringbeans are cooking as well. Later, I will fry chicken. I have always cooked on rainy days.
To country dwellers, rain means rest. When I first moved to the rabbit patch, we worked from dawn til dusk. We did not have a TV for a while and it didn’t matter one iota, as we wouldn’t have had the fortitude to watch it . We moved just before summer vacation, and there was a lot to do. The first day, we gathered fallen limbs and burned all day long. Then there were scattered bricks, tires and tin piles made. We started a collection of batteries. On and on it went til the territory could be mowed. It was a hard summer, and I went back to school with scratches and bites that year. It did not rain but an hour or so here and there. . .not enough to rest the weary.
In the autumn, there were leaves-a lot of leaves. Ten years ago, we raked-most every day, in the autumn. I would come home, sit my pocketbook on a stump near the drive, and we raked til dark. . .unless it rained. Now, the stump is gone and we mulch the leaves with the mower.
Growing up, in the country on a small farm, the event of rain changed things. Men would take to the tractor shelter to fix things. It is hard for me to know, just what went on, as I avoided the place like a plague. Nothing good ever came from me visiting that place. I was likely to knock something over or the dogs would. Several times, we children were blamed for losing a bolt or screw, that must have been the last one left in the world like it. We were bound to lose the farm on account of it-and there was always the grime that dependably got on shoes to be tracked in the house or ruin a perfectly good outfit. The tractor shelter, best remain a mystery, I thought. Besides, Mama and Grandmama did much more pleasant things when it rained. Often, they cooked a cake or pie. They also opened the chest in the “front bedroom” which was full of discarded clothes, shoes and pocketbooks. Delores and I played for hours pretending we were all grown up . . with children. Our dolls were sick, naughty and had birthdays, depending on our agenda. We went through the button box and sorted them. Back then, buttons were shaped like roses and violets-or they looked like real pearls. There was a lot of variety in the details and so I understand what “cute as a button” means. There was an old photograph box to go through and catalogs from places like Sears & Roebuck and Spiegel. . .and the World Book Encyclopedias, my favorites. If the rains lasted a few days, Grandmama made up stories to tell-many were tragedies that somehow ended miraculously, well. Mama, who is a very clear soprano, taught us songs. . .and I still remember them, today. It is no wonder, that I love rain.
Lyla watched it rain yesterday, from the porch. She painted pictures, til she needed a bath. We watched several ballet classes for three year olds, which Lyla loved. She did a fairly good job of mimicking-and eventually donned a tutu and held a wand, while she did so.
It was still raining at supper time, and with more force. It was windy and the temperature dropped til it was almost cold. Lyla fell asleep early.
Lyla was up before the morning broke. When the sun came up, it shone brilliantly over the village by the river. Today, for the first time in a long while, it is cold. What a clamor came from the yard! Robins and blue jays were every where and ever so often, a squirrel would scamper through with a large acorn in its’ mouth. It was a fantastic show and Lyla loved it!
After Lyla had her “honey cakes” we all gathered our warm clothing. We plan to visit Miss Claudia and will probably take a “Halloween Eve” stroll. I hope to see Miss Thelma and then I will return to the “rabbit patch” . . . over three rivers and past wood and field, through several small towns . . .under a very blue sky, while a cold wind blows.
I have at long last, attended another “early service”. Week days do not afford such luxury. There is too much commotion on days like Tuesday, at the rabbit patch. Animals need to go out and then fed-and everybody has somewhere to be. Alarms ring out warnings and coffee is brewing. No matter how early I rise, at some point, it comes down to a commotion.
This morning was a sharp contrast to all of that-at least for me. I am in Elizabeth City, for the first time in three weeks-yes, I have counted the days. The “early service”, I attended this morning, was in Jennys’ backyard. My morning came peacefully, but I witnessed all sorts of frantic activity under the oldest tree in the yard. Some doves were grazing peacefully and did not seem to have a bit of quarrel in them-til the squirrels showed up. The doves took off in great haste crying out in distress. This is the habit of doves-they always are “quiet as church mice” til they take to the air. Many a dove has startled me on my walks by field and wood. The squirrels took no notice but went straight away to the business of the task at hand-gathering nuts and acorns, to hoard up for the barren days of winter. Some robins were curious about the racket and came to join in. It made me wonder if the first frost is not so far away.
Jenny had a late morning appointment and Will took Lyla out, so I put on a pot of chicken and broccoli soup. I busied myself with some light housekeeping and writing, while they were away. The chatter in the back yard had been settled by the time I went out again-and just in time to see a small flock of blackbirds peppering up the sky in a poetic fashion. Thick white clouds filtered the light allowing slight shadows. One day I will have a good camera and capture such moments. I was sorry when the blackbirds left-they are so very lovely. Blackbirds flying trigger a memory for me, that I hope to always remember.
I was much younger then. I had been left alone-stranded, it felt. My young husband had died. I was hurt and very scared. I was also so very disappointed as I had prayed fervently for a miracle. What I wanted seemed best for everybody. I made a meager income, intended to supplement the household. I had five precious children to raise-and one morning, I told God how I felt about it. I was out behind a garden shed, right about this time of year. I pleaded my case and concluded that everything I had hoped for was lost. Surely I would not find any beauty to life again-God had taken from me, I thought . . .just about that time, a very large flock of blackbirds flew overhead. They swirled in to one pattern after another and I stopped complaining as I watched them. I thought how beautiful they were-and suddenly I laughed . I do not worry that the moment may seem insignificant-for me it was not. I never see a flock of blackbirds, that I do not remember that morning, now many years ago, when blackbirds were on the wing.
By noon, all had safely gathered in. The soup was ready and we all thought it was especially good. The thick clouds of the morning parted and sunlight dappled in the little lane beside the house. The patches of sky that the clouds revealed, were a brilliant shade of blue-the shade only seen in October. It was the perfect day for a long walk.
I took Lyla the longest way around the village, before ending up at the river. On the way, we collected yellow leaves and red ones too. We found a confederate jasmine blooming like it was June, and so we picked a few blossoms. We also took a sprig from a cedar tree, because it smelled like Christmas. We came across some elaborate Halloween decorations. Lyla said the ghosts, which were swaying in the light breeze, were spooky. There was a life size witch in one yard and Lyla did not want to tarry near there. Lyla did like the bright jack-o-lanterns with friendly faces that we met on the way.
The river was as blue as I have ever seen it. The sun was almost bright and the clouds were the cumulus kind. They were a stark white and floated lazily above us. Lyla was freed from the confinement of her stroller to run as she pleased on the large grassy lot by the “river that laughs”. She walked on the wide timbers that are used to mark the parking area, for a good while. She has certainly improved on her sense of balance, I noticed. We met a friendly lady with a friendly dog, named “Boo”. He looked like a toy. We walked a short ways together until we reached the home of the friendly lady. Lyla and I walked just a few minutes more and then we were back where we started. We went in and Lyla wasted no time showing off our souvenirs. Lyla told the story of our afternoon as she presented each one to Jenny.
We are all collecting souvenirs, on our journey, I thought. Sometimes they are things like leaves-sometimes they are the smell of hyacinths or wood smoke . . . and sometimes they are things like a sky full of blackbirds.
Fried cornbread is a staple in the south. It may be elsewhere too -and masquerading by some other name, for all I know. If you serve barbecue, you have to fry cornbread, too. It also pairs well with cabbage and collards. . .and ham. Many readers asked what fried cornbread was. The rabbit patch does it this way.
The recipe is quite simple, but cooking cornbread is not for the “faint of heart”. Do not even think about leaving the stove once you start-and you can not make this ahead of time, either. Cornbread does not keep. I I have yet to find any use for left over fried cornbread. Do not think this particular cornbread is ideal for stiffing a turkey. . . it is not. It does not crumble and is likely to toughen.
I do not know that cornbread is healthy, but I do know it has never killed anybody. It is a comfort food and sometimes that is the biggest benefit of a meal.
I will go ahead and state, I rarely measure anything-unless I am baking bread. . .so good luck. In a skillet pour vegetable oil so that it covers the bottom graciously. There should be enough oil so that some of it will rise above the batter. While the oil is heating, mix about a cup of corn meal-I like stone ground, but have even used self rising. Thin cornbread is very desirable and most likely to occur using stone ground. Some of you will be in a bind right now, as I hear this product is not found every where. I add a good bit of salt, as cornmeal is bland, and a generous amount of black pepper. You should be able to see the pepper when you have mixed these dry ingredients. Now you add hot water and stir as you do so. The consistensy should be more loose than cake batter and fluid enough to easily pour. Do not concern yourself with doubt about this-Whatever the appearance, the batter will fry. I usually add an egg now, so the concoction binds and does not shatter into pieces when cooked. The oil should be hot, to the point it about worries you, when you pour the batter. I make mine like the size of small pancakes. I look for bubbles to form, to know when to turn it, just as if it really were pancakes. This should be a quick process -and do not answer the phone, while you are cooking. Drain on paper towels and call everybody to the table.
My mama can bake cornbread that turns out about as crispy as the fried. I can not, though I aim to learn. Mamas’ turns out thin and full of flavor and gosh it is probably easier on the nerves. When I do I will let you know . . .you just have to find cornmeal. In October, when it is dark by supper, and the air is chilled . . corn bread is especially good.
Of all the Octobers, I have ever known, this one may be “the fairest of them all”. The days have been mostly bright and the nights have been cool and very dark. Of course, there was the beautiful “harvest moon” and since then the sky has been splattered with shining silver stars. For a few nights, stars dashed across the sky, though I never saw one. I have seen the “morning star”- and made wishes on it, too.
The countryside fairly glows in the light of October. The air is crisp and sweet and makes it feel sinful, not to take notice. Fields are silent places, for now the soil gets a well deserved rest. I grew up on a small farm. Sadly, small farms are “few and far between” now. My maternal grandfather, known as “Pop” had a few tractors and a huge barn. There were shelters for the tractors and tools. He had a smokehouse and pastures, too. Along with the fields and woods, this was my playground. . . with the exception of the tractor shelter. It was dirty and I could not so much as walk through it, without getting something on my clothes, which Mama declared “would never come out”. Another reason, I steered clear, was there was always a commotion of some sort, which I believe Pop would often start. Something was always broken, it seemed. Pop had a short fuse under such circumstances and was liable to cuss. If my sister and I were underfoot, so were the dogs. If Pop couldn’t find something, he was sure we had messed with it. This was never true, as neither Delores nor I cared for the grime and grease of the tools. We did use the vice to crack pecans and walnuts, occasionally-especially if Pop was on a tractor in a distant field. We were long gone, if we heard the tractor coming. October, was a different affair, though.
The garden was plowed up and the pantry was full, in October. The tobacco had been sold at the warehouse. School had started back and so I had to act civilized on a regular basis. I wore dresses with matching sweaters and shoes not fit to climb in. After school, while Mama was cooking supper, I would visit with Pop and Grandmama. School seemed a very artificial life compared to my “home-life.” I was homesick every day. Grandmama looked at magazines in October-and Pop “piddled”. He was most often in what we called “the lot”. The lot was the territory encircled by all the barns and shelters. A small grove of silver maples grew in the center of it and the edge of the pastures ran around it. While the tractor engines were cold, Pop sharpened axes and fixed kitchen table chairs. He had a burn pile to burn limbs. Pop did not show any signs of a temper- in October.
Pop was born in October-on the twenty-sixth in 1913. He was one of ten children. He went to school til sixth grade, which wasn’t all that unusual for a farmers’ child, in those days. He did all sorts of complicated math “in his head” and was always quicker than those who used paper. I remember him calculating how much fertilizer he needed per acre quickly. He read the “Progressive Farmer” faithfully and listened to country music by people like Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. He ate “gingersnaps” and dropped peanuts in cokes. He rode spirited horses and had a guitar he played around with. He was proud of that guitar and didn’t allow me to hardly touch it. . .but I did every chance I got.
Pop lived long enough to see my first three children. He was in his seventies. Grandmama had passed more than a decade earlier. He died on a frosty morning in March. . . He was in his yard . . .just piddling. In October, when the dogwoods turn shades of red and fields are quiet . . . I always remember Pop.
Sunday is another time I love-especially the morning, when “Sunday Dinner” is cooking. I did not plan to write in the diary this morning, but when I had put the ham in the oven and stringbeans on the stove, all sorts of thoughts came to me. I realised it is just second nature for me, to write while I am cooking. Of course, it must be slow cooked food. I dare not cook bacon or biscuits, as such things are liable to burn, while I am “finding my words”. Christian has learned to keep vigil over the stove, if I am writing. It is the same with music. Once, I was learning a new piece on the violin while supper cooked. My husband came in with a look of sheer panic. The house was filled with smoke and I had not even noticed! After that, he always said I would “fiddle, while Rome burned. ” Jamie died in his thirties. Had he lived, there would have never been loose tin on the barns at the rabbit patch.
I waited to fry the cornbread til Mama called and said they were on the way. Cornbread does not keep. I was putting it on the table when they came in. I made the pineapple dessert I had eaten at “Homecoming”. I had guessed at the recipe, and it turned out anyway.
Mama and Daddy left to go listen to music, played in a barn. One day, am going, too-but today, I cleared the table and decided I would mow. The grass has dramatically slowed down, but the weather was perfect and when I heard a neighbor start their mower, well that cinched it.
When I went out, I would have sworn it was late March. The grass was tender and so green, beneath the leaves. The air was a little damp and cool. I saw a patch of clover by the stable and then caught a whiff of something familiar, but out of place. It was the wild honeysuckle. A few blossomed here and there- and I felt young again and drank the scent in, as if I was perished. I was really surprised to see a few apple blossoms, when I mowed in the little orchard – It seemed that there was quite a masquerade, on this day, at the rabbit patch.
The french mulberry is dull now with muted berries and the autumn joy has stopped boasting altogether. I frightened the rabbit community when I took to mowing the wooded path. They scattered hither and yonder . How they run straight away into briers and bracken, at break neck speed is beyond me. The country rabbits are not friendly like their cousins in Elizabeth City, I thought
I made good time mowing today. At last, a belt came off, and being almost finished, I didn’t even try to repair it. As Cash and I walked back to the house, I made mental notes of things to be done before cold weather sets in. This is a lovely place I thought, as I looked around. It is hard not to feel a great affection, for a place you have tended for more than a decade. It is some sort of relationship. Is it because I have worked the soil- and I know where the wild violets will grow? The trees that give shade for the weary in July, are like old friends, now. The land has fed us too, and that makes a difference. Whatever was on my mind, the garden knew about it-and the “Quiet Garden” knows my secrets.
Cash was so glad I was finished and he was “off duty”. No rabbit got me this day! He ran and jumped around. I loved him for being so loyal, all over again.
Tomorrow is Monday and that changes everything. I will drive past pasture and field, through the woods and into the small town, where I work. . .and at the end of the day, I will go back to the place I call home-an old house in the country, where rabbits run wild and an apple tree blooms out of season.
It is morning and the sun is proclaiming it brightly. I love weekend mornings for they are born without haste. I do not consult the clock on days like Saturday. I like these moments when time does not try to “escape” from me and I live as I please, for a while. For now, I am content to drink coffee at the morning table while Cash and Christopher Robin doze. I listen to a bird sing, and though I listen intently, I cannot identify the species . . and I plan Sunday dinner. I think about Christmas. . .and I wonder about a lot of things-and before I know it, I realize I ought to turn the lamp off.
I never did rush one iota. Breakfast time passed, so we had a brunch, instead. I went about my tasks as”if I had all day”, because for “once in a blue moon”, had come,- and I did. Clothes washed while I swept floors. I like housekeeping and derive great satisfaction from clean floors and fresh linens. It is a lot more pleasant to do chores without the desperation that so often accompanies them.
The farmhouse seems so much bigger now than it did when I bought it. I scrubbed the bedroom that was my grandmothers. Mostly,the room is vacant except for the holidays. I tried to work quickly as I am so prone to becoming overly sentimental. The room is now a cheerful shade of periwinkle, with an adorable white sleigh bed. I battled cobwebs and dust while Christopher Robin slept peacefully, in the den. At random intervals, I had coffee laced with cinnamon and table cream. Through the windows I saw a leaf flutter by occasionally. Not one was in any sort of hurry, so we had that in common. On top of everything else, I noticed the windows needed washing.
By later in the afternoon, I was washing the blankets and bedding for the animals. Christian took a few pictures for the realtor, as each room was tidied. Supper would be light tonight, but I would make up for that with Sunday dinner.
As daylight faded, I was pleased with what had been accomplished. Tonight, I plan to make sense of the Christmas Closet, and record an account of what has been bought thus far. I think waiting for Christmas and Thanksgiving, is half the fun.
At long last, I turned the lamp on as evening had turned to night. In the absence of moonlight, the countryside is “pitch dark”. If it were a tad cooler, I would be tempted to start a small fire in the little fireplace, in the den. Instead, I will wait til the weather warrants a cheerful fire.
It has been a good day, I think. I have not solved a mystery, nor made any grand discovery . It was just an ordinary day, full of ordinary events. .. but it is nothing less than beautiful to be able to write, that “all is well at the rabbit patch.”
Dear Diary, I am glad for unfamiliar bird songs sung at first light. I am glad for the beauty of ordinary days and the soft way they fade, until at last they become dark, autumn nights . . .and a little light burning, makes all the difference.
These are the kind of days that made October famous. From the early hours til dusk, it has just been lovely. Typically, October is a flashy month, by all accounts. Not yet has it reached its’ peak here, but today my faith in October was restored. Last night, was especially cool-so much that I put the windows down. . .and the fan was put back in the closet. I kept a substantial sweater on all day, though remember , I have spent my life in the south-and the sixties are chilly, to me.
The arrival of the first frost remains a mystery, but we are nearer to it than we were just a short while ago. When the frost comes, it fades the rose and puts a halt on tender sprouts. Frost tames the wild southern vines, which does not make me sorry. Frost also gives the countryside a sparkle-and makes me want to build a fire in the garden. When the time comes to burn a small fire, I will call Rae, as she loves a fire so. While, I am waiting for frost, I will gather roses.
As autumn chills the territory around the rabbit patch, my thoughts turn to home and hearth. The old farmhouse is hardly a glamorous dwelling, but its’ charm “covers a multitude of sins”. . . and especially in October. Books and china teacups grace the morning table. Soft blankets are draped on chairs and sofas-and lamps are turned on before supper. Sauces simmer, that will smother foods like slow roasted chicken. Pots of dried beans and hearty chowders are staples at the rabbit patch, starting in October. I know of few things better, than coming in from the cold, to a warm kitchen that smells like supper.
The sky reflects the season, along with the field and woodland. Stars are sparsely scattered, now and the constellations make their presence known. They are unhindered by the millions of stars, the sky hosts in the summer. Before sunrise, now, Venus is directly below the crescent moon. It is as bright as I have ever seen it and truly, even out stages the moon.
Brant is Home!
Brant came home today! This made Thursday, a holiday for me. He and Sydney are on the way to a wedding in Virginia. Mama and Daddys’ house is almost “on the way” and so we all met up at my parents for an evening meal. Afterwards, Christian played the piano, Sydney worked on a portrait of Lyla, she is drawing and I wrote a bit in the diary. We sat in the living room while we we worked on our “art” and hardly spoke, but later agreed we had loved those moments. Sidney and I eventually sang along with Christian as he played . Kyle and Christian left after the singing, but I spent the night, again, where I grew up. . .and I was late for work, the next morning.
First, I woke up late. The room I slept in did not allow the light of morning to stream through the window, heralding the new day. The house was silent as no one was going anywhere-and there wasn’t a cat or dog, that needed to go out. All seemed fine, til I looked at a clock. . .full of judgement, I add. I could not find my hairbrush nor my keys. I just quit rushing. Late is late, and so what did it matter if it were ten minutes or twenty? Besides, the time with my family would not allow me any regrets. I was with my children, and I saw my parents happy . . . I must remember, from here on out, that October is a lovely time for a “holiday “. The weather is lovely and the landscape seems set to celebrate, on any given day.
Dear Diary, I am glad for bright days and dark, cool evenings when stars are sparsely scattered. I am glad for times when loved ones gather. . . to share a meal-and then to sing. I am especially glad that Brant came home.
Sunday dawned fair. I was driving to the grocery store, not long after the day was born. I was having company for breakfast! Will and Jenny stopped by on the their way home, after being out of town for several days. I had stayed up til two am, finishing that floor and of course cleaning up the mess I had strewn in the process. I had almost enough eggs, almost enough bacon,no milk and no juice. So armed with a coffee, I drove to the nearest town and shopped in record time-at least for me.
Somehow, breakfast was ready and the house was mostly tidy, when they got here. Lyla was so glad to see me, and I was certainly glad to see her. I had not seen her in two weeks . I am convinced that painting that floor had kept me just busy enough, not to cry about it. Growing up on a farm, you get used to having family close by. I grew up with first, second, third and fourth cousins, all within a few miles. Of course, there were all the “great” grandmothers, aunts and uncles too. You could go anywhere, and you were “home” back then. There were no “play-dates” -you played with your cousins. You wore their “hand-me-downs” and knew their secrets. If you got sick at school, any of them could show up to get you. Many times, we cousins, would take off to the woods and play for hours , uninterrupted. We had forts complete with governments and trials . We could tell suppertime by the shadows and you can best believe we went home, when the sunlight slanted at some certain degree. No one worried about getting kidnapped . . with the exception of attending the county fair. We had to stick close at the fair, as apparently Grandmama had heard of such a thing. It was a different and beautiful time to grow up in. I am thankful that Will has all sorts of family in Elizabeth City-and I am not that far away, either. When Jenny told me that they were moving to Elizabeth City, now three years back, I knew Will had some family there. Then I found out not only his mom, but aunts and uncles-and a slew of cousins, too-well, I knew right then that Jenny had an army of folks behind her and I did not worry in the least. As it turns out, I was right.
After breakfast, we all went out and strolled around the rabbit patch. We usually get our first frost about this time, but this year we are still at eighty degrees most days, and so it was muggy out. When a slight breeze loosed some leaves, Lyla said “look, Honeybee! It’s raining leaves!” She smelled all the flowers and said “I love flowers.” , in such a soft voice. I told Lyla, that her great grandmother did too . . and so did I. You tell the family stories, in moments like these. My own mama was always good at that. She told us things about those before us, til I could have sworn I knew them, though they had passed long before my birth.
Sunday afternoon slipped by like a lullaby-soft and easy. I did take a nap, but I managed to clean the car out and put away laundry, also. The Farmlife community is a quiet one, but on Sunday it is about silent. When you can hear a leaf fall- you are in a peaceful place.
Dear Diary, I am so glad for slight wind that loosens autumn leaves and wildflowers growing, where tomatoes used to. I am glad for quiet afternoons and most of all . . .Sunday mornings that begin with my loved ones sitting at the same table.
It is early evening on Friday the thirteenth, at the rabbit patch. Will and Jenny are out of town, so I am staying home for the second weekend. There is no shortage of things to occupy my time, though I miss Lyla already. I did get the chair from the barn, painted. Tomorrow, I will pot a few chrysanthemums. It will soon be cool enough to place pumpkins on the porch, without fear of them spoiling. Today was much cooler than the past few. The first hours were especially cool and fog was well settled over the countryside. It made leaving the rabbit patch especially difficult. Then, I thought, spring mornings have the same effect on me . . and so do winter mornings when the pines are laden with ice.
Though, it was the thirteenth on a Friday, I had a good day. Tonight, it feels good to have a light blanket. It is very dark at the rabbit patch, as there isn’t a single star to wish on. I love a quiet night. It is a good time to sort things out. Peace and quiet are conducive to restoration, also.
I did not rise as early as is my usual custom. The morning light was faint and it could have been anytime when I awoke. Cash and Christopher Robin were curled up together on their bed. During the week, they are both up when I am rushing about. They follow me from one room to another, til finally we all end up at the back door. Cash did stir, when I went to the closet. When he saw the bucket of paint, he went back to his bed.
There is a mist like rain falling, but I painted a lamp post anyway, before eight o’clock. When it dries, I will add some autumn leaves and a bow. When the chrysanthemums are potted and on the porch, only pumpkins will be left to add to the autumn celebration. Even the old oaks are doing their part, casting off their leaves and scattering them hither and yonder over the territory.
I came back in and poured another cup of coffee with a heaping amount of table cream. I moved the morning table and sofa, as I am painting the den floor. It is an old wood floor that was painted when I bought the house. I am painting it to look a weathered gray so it is a two tone job-really three, if you count the poly shine that comes last. It all started, because I painted the chair, and noticed then how shabby the floor looked. When I asked Christian to help me move the furniture, his face went to that familiar look of “here we go again”. I reassured him that one day, I would have a little cottage, that didn’t require my life spent on doing such things-and we laughed. Looking back. I do not know what I was thinking when I bought the rabbit patch. I was a single woman with two young sons, still at home. I had vision, but very little skill. I saw the beautiful territory, and never once thought about mowing it and tending to vines and weeds. I saw the big old rambling house, and did not consider the keep up or cleaning it! I never thought about loose tins on the barns and doors that would just fall off! I never even thought about the boys growing up, as the rest had done, before them!
At one time, the house was full. Brant, Tres and my grandmother lived under one roof, with Kyle, Christian and I. The barns had chickens, miniature goats and horses-and a lot of rabbits. It was a happy season and the rabbit patch served us well, in those days. Grandmama passed, and the oldest boys left, first one, and then the other. I mourned the end of that season in the years that followed. Thankfully, Lyla was born and with her came a new season.
While the floor was drying, I started a pot of soup. I decided on spinach and potato, as Kyle is not here. He does not like spinach.
By early afternoon, I had potted the bright yellow chrysanthemums. As always, I regretted not buying more, for they brought such cheer to the rabbit patch. I cleaned out more beds of spent flowers . There are just enough leaves in the yard to proclaim, it is autumn. The sun never did shine brightly today, but it did not feel gloomy in the least to me. When light is faint, it brings a feeling of calmness and serenity in the countryside. The little lamp on the morning table was a soft glow through the window, beckoning me to come in- still I continued working, determined to make the most of my time. I liked the coolness of the very still air. I liked watching Christopher Robin playing with a captured leaf. I liked knowing the territory was drowsy, and soon to have a well-deserved rest . . .and I remembered how much I like to plant flowers.
Dear Diary, I am glad for quiet times and soft light. I am glad for work-and I am glad for rest. I am glad for ” a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which has been planted”. . . But, I am more glad for a time to plant.
Slowly, but surely the prelude to autumn glory is making its’ presence known. Even the ragweed is pretty enough to write about. It fills the ditches and acts like a garland around the woodlands. Ragweed does not have a good reputation, as many folks are allergic to it and are apt to get headaches, because of it-but the bright, deep yellow plumes are truly beautiful. I do not know of anyone who cultivates the ragweed. Ragweed, like wild violets, grow where they please. I have some uninvited ones in a corner of the “Quiet Garden” growing with the roses. The two are unlikely companions, but they are a striking pair, so I haven’t the heart to disturb them.
The landscape is the only proof that it is autumn. It is so hot at the rabbit patch, that I drug the window fan back out of storage. Thunderstorms form in the afternoons, just as they do in summer, and bring relief to the hot and very humid afternoons. This morning, I left my sweater home.
I am at last, catching a “second wind” in my plight to fix the old farmhouse up. I have a long list of projects-most involve paint . . .and muscle. Christian and I rearranged some furniture this past weekend and discarded a shabby daybed in the process. I found a chair in my “barn collection” to bring in the house, too. The chair needs painting and so if I am buying paint, I may as well make it worth my while. It is hard to complete big projects, when you have a job and “run the roads” on the weekends, as my daddy always said.
Daddy did not believe in “carrying on” in such ways, when I was young-and “could” “run the roads”. How many times he accused me of “using the house as a hotel”. I laugh at that now, as I never did that-he didn’t allow it. I had the earliest curfews of any of my friends and excursions were limited to weekends. Looking back, he saved me a lot of grief, in all likelihood. I did a lot of complaining at my “pitiful lot” in life, back then. Now, I thank God for it. I truly was born “with a silver spoon in my mouth” on account of my parents. . .and their love for me has never wavered but abides today.
Another list, on my mind, as of lately is the “Christmas list”. I have already bought several presents. They are stored in the trustworthy “Christmas Closet” at the rabbit patch -which has never given up one secret. I have always bought “along the way” for Christmas. It helps my budget and avoids a last minute quandary in December. I love to shop at Christmas, but not in desperation. Thankfully, my children have never really ask for anything. We are as ” as happy as larks” to drink fine coffee after a good meal. We always watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” too. I like to think about Christmas, when the house smells like pine.
I continue to work on the cello. I lose all track of time when I am practicing. At last, the cello feels at least, familiar to me now. I played a song for the kindergarten classes and they applauded . . . as if they had never heard “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.
Children spend a good deal of time celebrating, I thought. They celebrate pretty rocks and dandelions quite naturally, without being taught to do so. In October, children collect pretty leaves and share them with one another. The youngest children live life authentically and do not waste precious moments “putting on airs”. They are too busy gathering acorns and feathers . . .in October. I hope I never get too sophisticated to do such things. How dreary life would be, to lose all sense of wonder.
Dear Diary, I am glad for the early autumn landscape . I am glad for the wisdom of those before me-and the ones after me too. . .and I am glad for simple tunes and old chairs to rest in.
Daybreak was especially beautiful this morning . . I know because I was there, at the “early service” on the rabbit patch. The sky was a deep apricot color and seemed to light the fields. I am always hopeful at sunrise.
Against all the odds, according to the weatherman, it rained yesterday. I was mowing, when it did. I knew the sky looked like rain when I stepped out of the back door. I thought I smelled it, but the weatherman surely knew what he was talking about, especially with all of that fancy technology-so I started mowing. The orchard was in an awful state and it does take a good part of the day to mow the territory. I have been gone the past two weekends and I needed to do three days work, in two . . so when it started sprinkling, I kept on mowing. The drops got bigger, but certainly it would pass. I looked up and across the field I saw a white wall of rain coming my way. In the country, you can see rain coming. I was drenched by the time I put the mower up and was disappointed that the yard was only half done.
I did see the french mulberry and the butterfly bush, that now, gives good shade-blooming all along the young woods. I also found a young rose of Sharon had planted itself along the picket fence. I made a mental note to pot it for whenever I move, along with many other flowers. Last but not least, there is still the “autumn joy” to brag about. It is a rich shade of warm burgundy, now. I love the way the color of the blooms change as the season progresses.
I came in and changed clothes and then dried my loyal dog off. Cash had stayed right with me in that downpour, though he does not like to get wet. I started washing linens and regretted they couldn’t line dry. I washed blankets too and one load of clothes. I washed all afternoon. The bedspreads take so very long to dry that Christian and I had a frozen pizza for supper. We couldn’t even eat it at the kitchen table as the whole thing was covered in folded laundry.
After the lovely dawn today, I made the pastry to add to the chicken and stock . It is “Homecoming” at the church I attended as a child. I remembered watching my grandmama making pastry, more than forty years ago. She rolled the dough as thin as paper and cut it in neat little triangles. I am always surprised how some of the most ordinary things get etched in our hearts. I do know for sure-at least in my case, that I remember events more than any thing , that was bought-unless you count ponies.
It does not look like rain, so when I get home, I have “my work cut out for me”.
I came home from church full in every way. Tables were laden with everything you can imagine. I saw a potato dish, brown and buttery. I placed a heap of it beside my chicken and barbecue-only to find out later it was a pineapple dish! That was a wonderful mistake. I was able to track down the cook, and got the recipe. It is very similar to a bread pudding and I plan to try it shortly.
I did get to see the twins, Martha and Marsha. We ate together along with my parents, sister and niece. I have a lot of good memories with the twins. They are hard workers and will tackle any sort of job-from installing ceiling fans to tearing down small barns. . . and they are “cute as a button” still. (Buttons used to be cute.) I saw Beth who gave me the chocolate cinnamon cake recipe, when we were young mothers. I felt like I had seen her yesterday and could have told her a secret, if I had any. And Brenda. . . Brenda is dear to me. She is just a few years older than me, and gave me very good advice, when I was so very inexperience at motherhood. When Brant, my oldest son was an only child, we would take bike rides together down winding country roads. I still remember them and consider them precious memories. I had a nice visit with Enid too, whom I have always admired, such a kind spirit. Love is a mighty and powerful force, I am reminded when I see those from seasons long ago. Authentic friendship is not “corrupted by moth nor rust” nor does it tarnish though years have passed.
I came home fully determined to finish the mowing-and there was still some housekeeping left to do. Thankfully, Christian was home-and in the mood to work. He decided to work outside and so I felt hopeful that the rabbit patch would be in order , before work on Monday. Of course, I decided to move furniture and discard a very heavy old daybed, that had seen better days. This required extra scrubbing and cleaning, but once done, Christian and I agreed, it was a good decision. Whenever, I do move to a quaint cottage somewhere, there will be less to move than before. I am already practicing minimal habits in possessions and spending, and it feels very liberating, oddly. I am sure Jo Dee would laugh at this, as she has seen me price mustard! I have never been a “big spender”.
By the time of twilight, the rabbit patch was in fairly good order. A lot can happen in two days. Sometimes the contents of a few days are as simple as clean linens and french mulberry. Sometimes it is running with your dog, in the rain-and sometimes, you stand in the shadow of those you love and remember the gifts they brought to your life. . “in good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over”.
It has been a lovely week at the rabbit patch. October has been fair and mild. The mornings have been misty and chilly-enough so that I have donned light sweaters. I drive to work as the sun is rising. I declare that watching light change is a favorite practice of mine. Whether it is coming or going, I find light to be very beautiful. At nightfall, the “Harvest Moon” rose over the field and made the territory glow. I went out to watch the October moon appear, intending to lift all sorts of salutations, thoughts of gratitude . . .and requests. Instead I stood silently. Somehow I knew Heaven understood.
On the way back to the farmhouse, I smelled the first fallen autumn leaves. I have always been quite partial to this particular scent. The fragrance of fallen leaves evokes all sorts of memories, for me-some go back as far as my childhood. I remember being a few minutes late for supper one evening and mama wanted to know why. I explained that I didn’t want to come in from the “brisk wind blowing the leaves around”. Mama said that “brisk” was a fancy word, as she continued putting supper on the table. Even as a young adolescent, I was apt to take long solitary walks to the back of the fields and then through the woods, once it was autumn time. When my own children were young, I remember smelling the scent of autumn leaves in their hair. I have journals, I wrote for each of them that was started on the day they were born- a collection of letters I wrote to them, really. There are pressed leaves in some of the pages, now decades old. These are some of my most tender memories. . .and I recall them every year, in October.
It has been just short of a week, since I attended the “early service”, otherwise, known as daybreak. This morning a light breeze was blowing and birds were singing-as if it were April. Thick clouds muted the light and reduced the view of the sun to a faint golden patch, over the oldest barn. Morning broke quietly on this day. Cash, my boxer, still bounded around the yard, as is his habit. Christopher Robin, a young gray cat, surveyed the property with caution. I am quite sure he noticed, that the grass needs mowing. . .and he is right.
I came in and started a large pot of chicken cooking. I will add pastry tomorrow morning, for it is “homecoming” at the church I grew up in. My mother did too, and so did her mother. My parents remain faithful and attend most every Sunday. “Homecoming” is always in October. Now the church has a huge facility for such occasions. No one will worry about rain . . or ants. This was not the case for many years.
Homecoming used to be held under a canopy of old oaks on the front lawn of the church. The Saturday before, men would show up and string large rolls of wire from one tree to the next, creating a very long table. On Sunday, the women spread tablecloths which would be held in place by large bowls of potato salad and platters of fried chicken, barbecue and deviled eggs. There were all sorts of cakes and pies. People cooked for days and carried their best wares. The grounds were mowed and trimmed in the days before. After the service on Sunday, folks put chairs and blankets out under the trees and we ate , right there under the oaks. Women traded recipes. I just fixed a cake this week, from a recipe given to me over twenty five years ago. Young couples walked through the crowd showing off new babies. Children kicked off their “Sunday shoes” after the meal, and played football. If a child could walk, they played. Toddlers and teenagers together. By mid afternoon, little shoes and hair ribbons, scattered about the lawn were collected and dishes were packed up in baskets for the ride home. The next day, was spent getting grass stains out of trousers and socks.
Tomorrow will be a much more civilized event. There will not be a single leaf in a bowl of chicken salad, nor adorning a twelve layer cake. Not one biscuit will be lost to ants and children will not soil their clothes with dirt and grass stains. We will be seated at tables instead of the shade of old trees . . .and if it rains, oh well! Still, I miss the former ways of homecoming. I feel like we lost something beautiful. . but I am sentimental in heart and old fashion, by nature.
My former “Sunday School” students are now mothers and fathers and I will see them tomorrow. I will see my twin cousins, Martha and Marsha. Marsha married into the family and since they are inseparable, we gained Martha too. I will see some dear friends from my youth-and their grandchildren. My sister, Delores is coming too and so is my niece, Dana. Mama and Daddy will be there-I am sure Mama is cooking, as I write this.
I will remember people like Miss Tillie. Miss Nellie, Miss Catherine and Miss Jo-my own Sunday School teachers. I will remember Miss Dallas, who was famous for her macaroni and cheese and Mr. Styons, the pastor there, for many years. There are many others and every bit as precious, that were part of that very beautiful time, when I was growing up.
October makes me remember and I do not pretend to know why this is so, but it seems, in October, I go through my collection of memories . I “never come up short”, but instead, I feel inspired to love this world, the way I have been loved. Truly “my cup has always run over” -and it still does.
Dear Diary, I am glad for the love that I have known since I was born, for it has made the difference. I am glad for woodland and field -and the light that shines on both. I am glad for October . . . the time . . .when I remember.