April has been a mostly cold month-the early service, on this day is proof of that. The farmhouse is chilly and there are little patches of frost, on the territory, but the songbirds sing anyway. There have been just enough mild days, to declare it is spring . . . and the dogwoods are still blooming. The first rose of the season has bloomed and I saw a fire fly, just the other night, There is the pollen too, which makes us all sneeze , Sometimes, great clouds of it appear when the wind blows through the pines. Certainly, it is spring, but warmth has been scarce.
The past week, was a busy one and passed with great speed, til now, suddenly, it is Saturday. I am especially busy at work, as we are working on the dances, classes will perform at our annual celebration in May. Each class performs a folk dance from the country they have studied throughout the year. This not a small work. I am also putting the house back on the market, which requires a great deal of preparation. The ladder sits ready at all times, in the den and paintbrushes are at hand, for when “the spirit moves within me”. I still need to buy geraniums and meanwhile, the grass grows. I also had a birthday, this week.
Now, that I am older ( I turned 59) birthdays are reflective events and very holy to me. I do not like a lot of fanfare, but Mama did make a cake, and I was glad of that. Kyle brought me flowers and someone tied balloons on the lamp post. I have been known to forget my birthday altogether, but am soon reminded, by loved ones.
Mama really wanted to do something special and I was not much help, as to what. I thought about my birthday this year and realised that my birthday really did not only belong to just me-and I felt I was being selfish. I thought of my parents, who were so very young, when I was born. I am their first child, and I remembered how exciting and overwhelming that time is for parents. I imagined the ruckus it must have caused. I thought of my dear, great Aunt Virginia sewing the last stitches of the delicate gown, I would come home in. I imagined “Pop and Grandmama” being in a state, as I was the first grandchild, born at the farm. (my older cousins were born in Texas, and lived there). The April morning, that I was born, I am quite sure, meant folks were stopping by to find out the news. I bet Aunt Agnes brought a cake and I am certain Grandmama was hanging clean linens on the line. Thinking of all this, it is no wonder, I felt selfish. So I was glad to see my parents on my birthday. It was a lovely sight to see Mama appear with a cake quite full of candles, as she sang “Happy Birthday”. I tucked that picture in my heart.
As it turns out, I had another celebration, which just sprang up. Jenny was returning from Wilmington, and would be passing through this ” neck of the woods”. The next thing I knew Mama was cooking our lunch. Lyla wanted me to have balloons and more flowers- and so I enjoyed a “surprise party” of sorts, just a few days after my birthday.
Today, there was yet another birthday to celebrate. My Uncle Randy, daddys’ oldest brother turned 85 yesterday! Mama, Daddy and I rode with “Miss Edie” to the home of Uncle Randy, an hour away. My cousin Sheila, lives a “door down” from Uncle Randy and tends to all his needs. She is a loyal daughter, and I admire that. She is also apt to laugh-and I like that too. Miss Edie brought a cake and we stopped to buy ice cream. After our arrival, we all chipped in for lunch. First, second and little third cousins came in. I noticed, that Uncle Randys’ great grandson, favored him quite a bit. Oh I hoped he would have the same kind of heart, as Uncle Randy, too, for Uncle Randy is a tender and gentle uncle.
We all came home around mid afternoon. Within minutes of me walking in the back door of the old farmhouse, I was up on the ladder, trying to finish the ceiling, I started a long while back. On breaks, I straightened the pantry and then the closet in my bedroom. Some how, I have a few more things to donate and another collection of trash. I think seeing Uncle Randys’ success at downsizing, inspired me.
It has been a lovely day, mild and bright, though Miss Edie, said it would rain soon-her arthritis is never wrong, she says.
The “early service” on Sundays, feels different, for me. It seems a bit more holy. I am not sure why. The same choir, sings the same songs. The sun is just as generous as it was on any given Tuesday and rain too falls when it will. .still there is “Something About A Sunday”.
Maybe, growing up in the “Bible Belt” has something to do with this notion of mine. I did have perfect attendance in the Sunday School, the first ten years of my life. I think the chicken pox ruined that for me. On Sundays, we got still and said “thank you” . . and it just seemed right, to do so.
What a big production, Sundays were. I slept in curlers, for no apparent reason, as my hair was”straight as a stick” by ten am. Delores had perfect curls all day long. No amount of prayer, ensured curls in my hair. We dressed in our best attire, which meant lace and patent leathers. There was some rule that you wore black patent leathers after Labor day til Easter, when you switched to white. It mattered little if you had a growth spurt during a season, we each got one pair a season. The shoes were especially pretty and would shine, but you had to be careful not to scuff them. Even the under garments were fancy. Everything had lace-that itched awfully bad. It is no wonder, we were able to sit still for the longest hour of the week-the sermon.
Even with tight shoes and scratchy dresses, I loved Sunday School. We sang sweet little songs and memorized Bible verses. We were told a Bible story and then colored a picture about it. I loved the teachers, and thought the sweetest women in the church got selected to teach. I just taught Lyla a song that I remember learning in the three year old class, from “Miss Jo”. By the time, you were in the four and five year olds, “Miss Linda” was the teacher and I learned “This Little Light of Mine”. We memorized the books of the Bible and the “Ten Commandments”. Later, there was “Miss Tillie”and “Miss Faye”. All beloved, to this day. I am not sorry for one minute of Sunday School, for many times now, in hours of need, one of those verses or songs, will spring in my head at just the right moment.
Sundays were observed fully, in my childhood. You best not lose a button on Sunday-if you did you had to put it up in a safe place til Monday. No one would have sewn on a Sunday. Likewise, the washing machine sat silently, as did the fields. it was considered sinful, to farm on Sundays. I do remember, once, my older cousin Harvey did not get dressed for Church, for he had decided to plow. My Aunt Agnes was horribly shocked and threatened him the God would surely withhold rain because of it. Harvey told Aunt Agnes she needed to read her Bible. He said “the rainfalls on the just and the unjust.” I did not laugh then as I was expecting lightening to strike Harvey-what with plowing on Sunday and sassing too. . .now I laugh at this memory, whole heartedly. That was a quiet drive to Church that day.
I do not know why cooking was allowed on Sunday, but I m glad it was. All stores and restaurants were closed., maybe that is why. Grandmama took to staying home from Church, just to cook Sunday dinner for the rest of us. I bet it was the only way she could get a moment of peace. We none dared criticize her as she made things like chicken & pastry, and banana pudding.
In warm seasons, Pop made homemade ice cream. Aunt Christine and Uncle Gene would come. My cousins and I would make quite a ruckus til it was ready. We were accused of “disturbing the peace” often and “God help you” if you ran through where the adults were sitting. If a ball found its’ way there, the bravest one would sneak in “like a thief in the night” to retrieve it. We were also expected to settle our own disputes. Tattling was frowned upon, unless it involved someone being hurt-or property damage. Occasionally, there was property damage.
Those memories are old now, but their impression has served me as a “favor” , all of my life. I knew my people . . . and they knew me. That alone has meant the world, in life. I think of those days, now as the ham is cooked and the potato salad is chilling. Ham tastes better on Sundays . . . and so does cornbread. There is just “Something About A Sunday”.
The birds sang at the “early service” this morning-not just the steadfast mocking bird, but all of them, that call the rabbit patch, “home”. What an occasion, it turned out to be. The air was mild and had a sweet fragrance, known only to spring. The breeze was slight and just enough to stir the tiny, new leaves of the sycamores. . .and in the meantime, the gentle light of the morning sun rose over the old barn. I lingered a while, sorting through my thoughts . . . sifting out the unfavorable ones. Depending on the day, this can take a while.
A clear conscience is invaluable. I find, that the older I get, the more I realise this. It may be the most significant thing to strive for, after all. Of course, “letting your conscience be your guide” demands that we examine our heart, first and foremost. It is a vexing mystery sometimes, without proper dedication. I have sifted out some less than honorable notions, from my own heart and been utterly surprised to have housed such things. It is one of the reasons, I attend the “early service” and walk by rivers . . .and frequent fields and woodlands. These institutions do not allow me “to put on airs” nor harbor falsehoods, but instead seem to wield the sword of truth, somehow lovingly. For this reason I “take to the woods” frequently, like a “repeat offender”, ought to.
I am at the rabbitpatch this weekend. This means housekeeping-which includes the territory-and Sunday dinner. For me, this is a delightful agenda. I may try to find some more geraniums for the porch, but circumstances (like weeds and laundry) may not allow such an indulgence. I always have “high hopes” in the morning, however.
Later in the Day . . .
It will not come as any surprise to loyal readers, that I ended up painting. First, I painted the “welcome lantern” at the back door and then a birdhouse. I remembered how dingy a small cabinet, in the den was looking, so I moved it out from the corner, to work on that. The cabinet is especially dear to me, because it was a gift from Julie-a dear friend. It had belonged to her grandmother and was used in the kitchen. I use it as a book cabinet. When I moved it, I was greeted with cobwebs and dust. I set out to remedy that and ended up on a ladder. One thing of turns into another at the rabbit patch-but it feels good that the den is at least cleaner and brighter than it was yesterday.
While the paint dried, I worked a bit in the “Quiet Garden”. The rabbit patch is starting to come in to its’ glory, I noticed. The roses are laden with new leaves and the young dogwood, that bloomed for the first time, the day Lyla was born, is full of promises. I tied a new ribbon on the lamp post, and there by the lamp, a single pale pink tulip was blooming. After a very long winter, suddenly it is spring!
It seems “time really does fly, when you are having fun”. It is a mystery to me how an entire week has already passed, in what seems like three days.
A lot of good things happened. I whiled away some time by the river. I smelled the fragrant flowers at the “Nobles’ house” and watched a robin build his nest. Lyla and I sat on the flat rock, by the little bridge and the cherry trees bloomed in the village. We dined out-and we cooked in. I had several good visits with Miss Thelma . I may have heard Lylas’ first prayer, on Wednesday.
I was up early as usual . . .at the early service. Lyla often finds me there in the back yard. She joined me and after a moment, she said “Honeybee, you need to go in the house.” I asked if she wanted to be by herself and she answered “yes”. I walked in the back door, but kept it ajar and listened. She said “I love girls and I love my baby sister. You need to find her and hurry. I am big sister Lyla.” Well, I was struck in awe and could barely say anything when she waltzed in just seconds later. Mere words still fail to describe what I felt, but an overwhelming sense of peace seemed to settle in my bones . . . all was well, I thought.
I cooked honey cakes for her birthday breakfast, on Thursday. We sang “Happy Birthday” through out the day and Lyla painted on her first canvas. I could not wait to give Lyla her present. It seemed I had been waiting her entire three years and so I made quite a ceremony about the whole thing. I gave Lyla a violin.
It is a real instrument and tiny enough to be just her size. I have been enticing her since birth, by playing for her. Oh, how happy I felt to see her happiness and eagerness to get started. I remembered her own mother -who did not want to start with “Twinkle, Twinkle”, but an allegro, her brother was playing, many years ago. Right after Lylas’ first lesson, Will’s dad drove up. He lives five hours away . There was a lot to celebrate in those moments.
On Friday, there was an “art walk” in Elizabeth City. This is a monthly event in warm seasons, that is held downtown, featuring artists of all sorts. Mandy, of Pansy & Ivy, is recognized for her flower arrangements, at the “art walks.” Wills’s dad, Bill Thompson is a bonafide author. He has published a sizable collection of books and is also a public speaker. He was the featured artist at the local bookstore, making us all feel honored and proud. A young musician played his guitar and sang outside . . .and I missed my son, Christian.
Saturday started with a big breakfast for “Grandaddy Bill” to be sent off properly. He left with good memories . . .and biscuits. Will and Jenny had a birthday party for Lyla, after lunch, at a local facililty used for such gatherings. It was a sweet affair and a very busy time.
I woke up Sunday in disbelief at the date. Surely, one more day would make such a difference, but tomorrow was Monday, and that would change everything. Just after the breakfast dishes were put away, I started “Sunday Dinner”. I did not invite Lyla to help with making the pastry for the pot of chicken that was beginning to simmer. She was tired from all of the weeks’ ruckus-and I was too. Miss Claudia came and I fixed a pineapple cheesecake because of it. When the kitchen was at last, tidy again, Lyla climbed in my lap and went soundly to sleep.
The ride home was peaceful. Dogwoods bloomed in most every yard and along the edges of fields. Azaleas paired with dogwoods is is a sight to behold The last mile to the rabbit patch was streaked with the bright yellow buttercups, along the ditch banks. It would have been the perfect route for a parade, I thought. The woods are donning new leaves in pale shades of green that remind me of water colors.
I was glad to see Kyle and Christian. Cash, my boxer and Christopher Robin, my gray cat, made quite a big production of my arrival. Christopher Robin did not even “put on airs” as he often does after I am gone a long while.
I noticed the grass was greener, than it was a week ago, and so was the peach tree. The house was tidy, and the boys did not starve, after all.
The Easter dinner on Sunday was lovely. Mama and Daddy came a little later than usual, because of all days . . .I over slept. This is not a good thing, when you are cooking a turkey. I felt the same dreadful way as I do when it is a work day. I do not like to start any day in a hurry, but this day demanded I did so. The first thirty minutes are like a blur now, that resulted in the turkey being put in the oven, and a cake being mixed to be topped with strawberries , later. I did not linger over coffee, but drank it in gulps . Some time or another, I ate a piece of buttered toast. By the time I was peeling potatoes and turnips, I realised it was not going to be as late as I had expected . . . .and so I whipped the cream with a bit of strawberry extract, with a lighter heart.
By mid afternoon, I was on the way to Elizabeth City, for a week. . .something I have looked forward to for a while.
The morning was mild and Lyla and I were on the porch by eight am. We sat in the swing in our pajamas, and sang morning songs. What a lovely feeling washed over me. The day was unfolding and it belonged to us. We came in and I hastened to complete a few chores . Jenny had to log some hours with her internship and Will had gone to work. . .so we set off the “laughing river”. The beautiful Pasquotank river bank is less than five minutes from Jennys’ back door. . .of course we took the long way. When we turned the first corner, the street was lined with dog tooth violets. Lyla and I both sighed aloud at the sight. It was like walking through a sea of flowers. Buttercups came up where they could, but the violets were thick and left little room for things like buttercups. There were trees blooming in shades of lavender and white to complete a fairy like landscape. This was my idea of spring and it filled my heart with hope and joy. Lyla wanted flowers for her mama, so we collected a small bouquet, which she clutched in her little hand as we went along.
We arrived at edge of the river shortly after. The banks were green and dotted with dandelions. Lyla did not want any dandelions in her bouquet, which amused me. We did make a good deal of wishes. We took turns, and I realised my wishes are little prayers. Lyla listened intently and followed suit. After the “Sweet Hour of Prayer”, Lyla began her “balancing act” on the railway ties, meant to mark the parking area. Thankfully, there is hrdly ever any one parking. Mostof the visitors are pushing strollers, walking dogs or biking. Lyla walked the ties for close to an hour, with only a few mishaps. Meanwhile the river rolled along merrily and the sun shone bright, lighting up the dandelions til they seemed to glow. To sit by a river, is a wonderful thing. Somehow, you end up tossing “what ails you” in the water without thinking about it.
On the way home, things changed. The wind was cool enough to make me hurry and it fell on us in spurts of heavy gusts. By evening, it was cold. The way of spring, I thought. To me it was just the sort of day I loved.
I expected the “early service” to be cold, based on the chill in the night, but it was not. It was a somber service, in the absence of sunlight, but pleasant enough. The birds were as busy as ever. The squirrels were too. The air carried the faint smell of young blossoms. I love the peace of mornings.
Lyla and I were soon off for a picnic by the river, which was as “quiet as a church mouse”, on this day. It looked like a sheet of glass and made both Lyla and I get quiet too. We ate and then blew bubbles. how lovely the bubbles looked floating over the river. At long last the sun came out strong enough to cast dappled shadows. We decided to head for the playground, in the opposite direction. We passed the house of the Nobles family, on the way and stopped to smell a large bed of hyacinths and lily of the valley flowers. I remembered them from last year and had intended to visit them, this week. The playground was not too busy and Lyla had the place to herself at intervals. I sat on the bench and felt overwhelmed with a feeling of contentment. What a grand life, I thought.
We walked back under canopies of white, pink and lavender flowers-and amidst wild flowers springing up along the side walk. Lyla asked me to pick a few more for her bouquet. She pointed out several robins and called them by name. I am confident now that she can identify the cardinal and the robin by sight,-and the mockingbird by song. I did have the chance to introduce her to some noisy crows who spent the afternoon quarreling with some sea gulls, at the park.
Jenny cooked supper on the grill and we ate outside. Such a nice conclusion to a happy day. It did not seem the least bit odd to hum the words of “Joy to the World” . . .even if it is April.
Today is the first day, of spring break. Beyond me lies a whole week to meander through and do what I deem fit. I pray there are no surprises, unless they are pleasant, to hinder my lofty notions. Today, I want to tidy the rabbit patch . I am already painting a chandelier and intend to wash curtains next. The territory will get some attention too and I suspect, I will find more wild violets when I do so. Tomorrow, I am cooking a turkey and all that goes with it. I will have a strawberry cake . . .and I will not put ice cream on Mamas’. After Easter dinner, I will leave for Elizabeth City .
My notions remain lofty, for the week. If the weather is fair, as is predicted, then you will most likely find me and Lyla, picnicing on the shores of the “laughing river”-or strolling through the Riverside village. We could be at “The Flour Girls’ Bakery” or at Miss Claudias’. We could be on the flat rock , we have claimed, by the little bridge, sitting in silence. The truth is we could be anywhere and doing just what we please . . . if all goes well.
Lyla has a birthday on Thursday-her third. It is a “red letter day” on the rabbit patch calendar. Lyla, for now, is my only grandchild and thankfully, lives but an hour away. This will be our fifth celebration in less than a fortnight. To me, birthdays are holy days. . . though, I do not see a bit of harm in having cake, as well.
The Eve of Easter, in the Afternoon
Just after the noon hour, I went out and gathered more sticks for the burn pile. It is still too breezy, to have a fire now and besides Kyle would be so disappointed if we had a fire, without him. I noticed some areas of the yard could use a mowing . . but alas, the mower was “dead” and out of gas. Mowers and water hoses plague me in the warm seasons. Instead, I went around the yard and checked on the azaleas. One of them had little blossoms burned by the cold. The gardenias (cape Jasmines) are all in awful shape. I have heard, that I should wait til June for the verdict on whether or not to remove them. All of the roses are alive and well and the tulips are up. The running vinca is slowly recovering and may bloom after all. I made a pile of pine cones. They are hateful things to gather, but the best thing I know of to start a fire.
I came in and saw that the little chandelier had dried to the perfect shade of a very pale, blue lilac. It looks quite dainty over the white kitchen table in the mostly white kitchen. The whole farm house is mostly white- with splashes of pastels in the lightest shades of pink, lavender and aqua in various rooms. The exception is Kyles’ and Christians’ bedrooms which are ivory and without pastels.
Inspired by my success with the chandelier, I painted some candlesticks for the mantle . . and then a flower pot. Christian hung the curtains while I cut fresh strawberries. I recited “Lovliest of Trees” by Housman, as I do every year, at Easter. I am especially nostalgic in the spring. Out of the kitchen window, I saw the sky blue flowers of”thrift” blooming and remembered my Aunt Agnes. As the sun sank low, I remembered playing with my cousins, Christine and Ruby, late into spring evenings that looked very much like this one. I thought of the dog tooth violets that bloom in the town, where I work and remembered how they seem to glow in moonlight. . .in months like April. Thankfully, the air at the kitchen window became chilled and I was thrust back to the “here and now” and the “tasks at hand”. I do not know why, spring makes me remember, but it never fails to do so.
By the time, the moon had risen over the field, my thoughts had shifted. I stood in the cool night air, full of gladness for what is yet to come . . .the season when new life is celebrated . . . the time when “flowers appear on the earth” and robins nest-and the soil gives up its’ secrets . Children will search for brightly colored eggs in tufts of tender grass. . .and kittens will be found in garden sheds. Every pasture will be full of new offspring who are likely to kick their heels, at the “drop of a hat”. . .
“For behold, the winter is past . . .and the voice of the turtledove, is heard in our land.”