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.