Mornings in June, are especially lovely. The air is cool and thick with some of the years’ most beloved fragrances. The magnolia and cape jessamine-honeysuckle and mimosa persuade one to breathe deeply. If you are in the presence of even one of these, you are not likely to forget it, in your lifetime. Dappled shade and light playfully fall on the lawn while the sky changes from pewter to silver and at last to a gentle blue. Song birds sing as if their life depended on it . The whole affair of a morning in June really is especially lovely.
With the mower, out of commission and the barns clean, my dog, Cash and I sat outside long after the “early service”. After a week of awful heat, today has a cool breeze stirring through the territory- enough to make the pines whisper. I read for a little while, in the shade of an old tree and remembered doing the same thing as a child. In those days, children read the classics. Books were not based on cartoons or centered around toys. The rich vocabulary of “Louisa Mae Alcott” and “Beatrix Potter” sounded like music to me, as I read the words, now many years ago. I still remember reading “Anne of Green Gables” and wondering if I was “impertinent”. I became quite a snob about what books I deemed worthy, as a child-and remain so today. I was quite particular about the books my own children read. I am the same way about Lyla and will “turn my nose up” quickly at books meant to support television programs or that promote the purchase of “toys”.
Today, I was reading ” The Best of Still Meadow” by “Gladys Taber”. Cash laid beside me, in the overgrown grass. He perked up, when the rabbits came out to graze. A dog is good company. I love boxers, especially. They are loyal and protective and their face is almost human at times, with expression. Boxers want to please and so are very trainable. They are however, “eternal puppies” and require diligence on the part of the owner. It could be a nightmare, otherwise, as the breed is energetic and muscular.
I did need to go to the grocery today, for “the cupboards were bare” in the rabbit patch kitchen. Reluctantly, I closed my book and left the sweet country air to go inside and change in to “town clothes” .
Since, I am contemplating going to Elizabeth City, again, I bought plenty of groceries. I am always certain that my sons and animals will starve while I am meandering by the river, therefore, I take great precautions. When everything was put in place, I went out to pick up branches- the aftermath of a recent storm. The air had become humid. The coolness of the morning had vanished. The sky was thick with clouds. They were the color of a very pale blue pearl and muted the shine of the sun. Even the morning breeze had ceased so that the pines no longer whispered.
When the branches were gathered and tossed in the burn pile, I returned to the farmhouse. The fan whirled with the familiar hum I am so fond of. Not yet has the farmhouse been uncomfortable, though it came close at the last Sunday dinner. I always dread starting the air conditioner, for then the house is shut up like a dungeon. You can not smell the fresh cut grass of summer nor hear the rain showers. Last summer, I never did have to resort to such measures, but last summer was not as hot as the most of them. The year before was awful and I felt every bit as confined in July as I did in January. I was glad for air conditioning that year.
Sometime in the afternoon, as I was doing laundry . . .or reading by the fan, I decided I would go for a quick visit to Elizabeth City. After all, the next few days are forecasted to be cooler – and Lyla is growing up at an alarming rate of speed. I will not squander any possible moment with her. I’d as soon sit on our rock with her, than do most things. I found out recently, that the little bridge, by the rock is about 100 years old. I wonder whom, besides Lyla and I , has sat on that rock and watch the river tumble by, while thinking great thoughts. There is no telling how old the flat rock is, after all. Lyla always gets sleepy as we sit there and wants to curl up like a kitten and nap. I do too, but the thought of her toppling in the water, keeps me awake.
Mama and Daddy will be celebrating their sixtieth anniversary on Saturday, and so we plan to mark the occasion with a family gathering. I am reserving Friday for cooking and other lose ends. I cannot divulge any thing more at this time, as Mama reads the “rabbit patch diary” faithfully . . .and encourages friends and strangers alike, to do the same. She is as “steady as that rock”, in that way.
As it turns out, I will not need to mow this week as my neighbor Susan, showed up on her fancy mower, while I was cooking supper. She has a full time job and still mowed my yard. I was thrilled at the sight of her mowing so carefully around the herb garden. What relief I felt, as it is no small task to mow your neighbors yard when it is at least several acres. I am already plotting how to return the favor.
Dear rabbit patch diary, I am glad for good books and good neighbors. I am glad for cool mornings to sit with a loyal dog under an old tree. I am glad for rocks and rivers . . .and the lovely month of June.
There is a rabbit family that lives in the “Quiet Garden”. This morning three of the bunnies attended the “early service”. They were quite serious about their breakfast, when light was faint. As soon as the first rays of morning streaked the territory, however, the bunnies began to play. This disturbed a robin, who was still in his plight for breakfast. The robin scolded the young rabbits and flapped his wings in a threatening manner, which made them dash in all directions. It was the first “early service” I had attended at the rabbit patch, in almost a week and I wondered if some sort of feud had developed in my absence-or if the robin was just grouchy.
Brant and I got back around noon yesterday, from Elizabeth City. It had been a wonderful and very productive week. We managed to have a lot of fun, as well. I think, we all were sorry to see it end. So many projects had been completed. There were special meals. We watched a thunderstorm, one evening and ate ice cream at odd hours. Lyla said “I am glad we are all together.” I agreed whole heartedly, for there was some sort of beautiful and familiar feeling that was present, while we were all together.
On the way home, Brant noticed from some sticker, I never knew about, that I was long over due for an oil change and was adamant it should be done within the hour or else the car would likely fail me- and at any given moment. Out of fear, I relented and had it done before I got back to the rabbit patch. I am awful at such things and usually need conversations embellished with stern warnings to do any business of that sort.
The rabbit patch seemed more sprawling than ever, after being in the village by the laughing river, for a while. Of course the grass needed mowing, but otherwise, it was mostly tidy. My boxer, “Cash” ran several laps in unbridled joy at my return. My cat, “Christopher Robin” sauntered by, seeming only slightly interested in my return – but I heard him purring.
I had high hopes of mowing today after the early service. Within the first fifteen, minutes, the newly replaced bolt, that holds the deck up, broke. Not to be out done, I found some wire and rigged it successfully. It would not start back, so I played with the connections to the battery. The heat was about unbearable, but I was determined and eventually got it started. In the next fifteen minutes I hit a root, and bent the deck in so the blades could not turn. I tinkered with the thing, for most of the afternoon-and to no avail. I didn’t care one iota when it started raining. I was hot, filthy and had to battle “yellow flies” while lying in the dirt. I had not made a bit of progress. I was discouraged and cranky. In such circumstances, I call Mama and complain to my hearts’ content. Then, I collect myself and start putting things in perspective. So while it rained, I began to think of all the wonderful gifts in my life-my loved ones especially, and suddenly it seemed foolish to get so worked up over a lawn mower. I had laughed at the robin this morning for acting like he would surely starve just because the bunnies were kicking up a fuss . . .and now, I had followed suit and acted like I would surely perish, all because of a lawn mower.
The rain fell steadily and the sound of it had the same affect as listening to poetry. It did cool things off, thankfully, too. I am not fond of the souths’ hot, humid weather. . .nor the biting insects. But, summer does offer me sweet liberty and magnolia trees with their fragrant blooms. . .and there are nights with a million twinkling stars. There is the wild honeysuckle and Miss Claudias’ beloved peaches. . . . Summer, like every season, comes bearing gifts.
The “early service” this morning, was a gentle affair. Light fell across the territory in rays just bright enough to cast faint shadows. Certainly, I was thinking of my father, on this day and thought how he too, rose from a poor little boy on a back road to a noble man . . .quietly, without fanfare . .yet with a mighty impact. No one wants to disappoint “Grandaddy”. I think that is a high level of respect, for loyalty out of fear is a temporary state . . . but loyalty out of love has a fortitude, that endures.
Sunday dinner was in the making, just after the mockingbird sang. A pot of beans simmered and a large bowl of raisins were soaking for a cake. There was no rush to this morning. I had the pork smothered in gravy cooking slowly and thought I could afford another cup of coffee . . . and so I was sitting under an old tree, watching the morning, when Tres came in. What a sweet surprise that was!
The meal was especially nice. Mama brought the first fresh summer squash of the season and they paired well with the butterbeans and creamed turnips. I fried cornbread at the last minute, as I always do, for cornbread is best that way, served hot and straight a-way, from the skillet.
The afternoon was quiet and peaceful, a far cry from most days at the rabbit patch. How good it felt to pack leisurely, for my trip the next day to Elizabeth City. I was especially happy about this particular trip, as this time Brant was going, too.
Each night, I have practiced my “fair-weather” habit of going out to bid the world good night. The sky is filling up with stars as of lately and planets also. Now we clearly see Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The crescent moon hangs over the field like a magnificent charm, casting a spell of peace, hope and a sense of well being.
It was mid morning, when I turned in to the “Riverside Village” nestled by the “laughing” river. It felt like a holiday for of course we had planned special meals. Will and Brant had a list of projects to accomplish. One task was restoring a dresser for all the little dresses Jenny will need the first of September.
Lyla made a “big production” about my arrival. For a few moments, the kitchen was filled with dancing and clapping for I joined in the celebration in the same manner as Lyla. Oh, to be a “Honeybee”is a wonderful thing.
In the afternoon, Lyla and I made Brant a birthday cake, while Brant and Jenny painted the dresser. It was a “banana split” cake and did not require baking. We listened to the Brandenburg Concertos, which are my favorites. Lyla is now convinced that you must listen to music when you make a cake, for we always do.
Brant chose rutabagas for his belated birthday supper. He also chose pork chops and parslied potatoes. Lyla has no interest in cooking such things and abandoned me in that pursuit.
Rutabagas are a root crop that are the most difficult thing I know of to peel and cut. They were a staple, when I was growing up. Now, the vegetable hardly ever shows up on a menu . . .or a kitchen table. I suspect this is due to the tedious preparation and the length of time they must cook. Despite, the process, rutabagas are worth the trouble. They taste like a cross between a carrot and potato, but a bit sweeter in flavor and as it turns out very nutritious.
Will came home early from work, which added to the “holiday” atmosphere. The evening meal was a huge success, and Lyla presented her cake with great ceremony-while she sang “Happy Birthday” to her Uncle Brant.
Tuesday was hot. Brant cleaned out the shed and Will mowed the yard. This delighted Lyla and she was eager to help. She swept the little shed and carried branches for a good while. Jenny did laundry and I kept an eye on Lyla, besides relaying messages and assisting everyone at some time or another.
All of the activity reminded me of my childhood, on the farm. Everyone busy and working together “for the greater good” of the family. I still remember those days vividly and with great fondness. I doubt that Mama and Grandmama knew that I would remember them picking squash, for decades . . nor that the memories of Pop and Daddy bantering, while repairing a tractor, would strike me so tenderly, now a half century later. The contents of a life are never a collection of things acquired, for new cars get old and even the grandest wardrobe is discarded piece by piece, due to to tatters and frays. Gadgets break or get lost altogether . . . no, the contents of life are comprised of deeds done and who we share our seasons with, I think . . . and do not decline in worth. Even the bittersweet memories, can offer us some advantage.
Shortly after noon, the heat was unpleasant enough, so that everyone pushed to complete their chores. Brant went back to work on the dresser, on the shaded porch, that faces the river. Lyla gave some dolls a bath and Will went shopping for supplies for more projects.
As is likely to happen on sultry southern days, a thunderstorm popped up in the evening and cooled the air. I sat on the porch while everyone caught up on the World Cup, feeling quite content.
Dear Diary, I am glad for crescent moons and birthday cakes. I am glad for memories sweet enough to make you cry and keep your heart tender -and I am glad for cooling showers in June . . .and dances in the kitchen.
Dear “rabbitpatch diary, Today is not just any other day. . .it is Brants’ birthday . Brant is my first born, the child that made me a mother.
The mimosa blooms today as it did, years ago, when I was just twenty two years old. I remember sitting under a mimosa, the day before Brant was born. The feathery blossoms have the sweetest scent and I was so content, sitting there. Brant was born on a fair, Sunday afternoon. . . .and that day, a part of me was born too. It was as if I had “awaken”. I had an understanding-and all of a sudden, it seemed. One of my first thoughts, was to show him the dear mimosa- and I did, before I stepped foot in the house, upon bringing him home. My grandmother loved the mimosas and so does Jenny. Lyla napped under a mimosa, as an infant on more than one occasion.
Oh what sweet days are those of young motherhood. Of course, I knew right off that I had the most beautiful baby in the world. He was a “divine gift ” and nothing less. I am as sure of this now, as I was then. As a child, I noticed that he had an uncanny knack with animals from wild birds to dogs. He still does. He also has a tremendous sense of compassion. He buys shoes from a company that sends a pair to Africa, when he purchases. His generous heart is always showing up.
Once, not too long ago, we were all at the beach. Brant had brought a football to toss with his brothers. Three little boys watched and so Brant invited them to join in. The little ones were so happy to be included. We left hours later . . without the football. Brant had given it to the children.
No matter where Brant lives, the senior citizens seem to know. It is not at all unlikely for one of them to knock on his door. He carries their groceries in and moves potted plants, on a regular basis.
Such things do wonders for a mothers’ heart. . . Happy Birthday, Brant.
Brant came early enough for a hearty breakfast. He lives much closer to the rabbit patch now and that is delightful, for me. (We set another place at the table now, as often as we can.) His very significant “Sydney” was with him. Sydney had her own birthday recently and so we celebrated the both of their birthdays. After breakfast, Brant gave Sydney a tour of the rabbit patch. Sydney had gotten a modern version of the Polaroid camera and so we had great fun with that.
I had returned from Elizabeth City, the evening before. It had rained most every day that I was there and so Lyla and I did not sit on our rock, even once. Jenny and I got two closets cleaned out , while Lyla played “dress up”. She was especially good at being “Queen Lyla” and we had to curtsy multiple times , because of that . It mattered little to Lyla, that we carried heavy bundles, at times and were likely to topple over. When the chores were done, Jenny and I had gathered quite a collection to donate and also had an assortment of items for the grand event in early September, when the second baby is expected. The entire nursery was put in order as well. Circumstances were now favorable for baking. Lyla and I made a lemon dump cake. I do not think, I have ever made a dump cake before, but Jenny had been wanting some type of lemon dessert . . .and so “Queen Lyla” gave up her throne to cook. Lyla is becoming quite a little baker, and says things like “let it rest three minutes, Honeybee.” in between steps. We have made a fair share of cakes and cookies . Lyla was thrilled that she could do so much of the recipe on her own. When we put it in the oven, I told Lyla, she would soon learn to cook potatoes . . .to which Lyla said, “no thanks!” and skipped merrily back to the orderly nursery.
I started mowing today, when Brant left for his next celebration. I got tangled up in a grapevine, ran out of gas and managed to lose an important bolt on the deck, of the mower. That missing bolt stopped any possibility of further progress. A least most of the territory got mowed. . .and at least, it is summer break when schedules are not so rigid.
I came in the back door of the farmhouse, with moments to spare, that I had not planned on. Brant had been reading one of the diaries, I had kept while he was growing up, during his visit. He had intended to carry it with him today, but there it sat on a table in the den. I started reading it, but became so sentimental, I had to stop.
For the first time, in a long while, I was late for the early service. The clouds were so thick, that it was almost a secret, that the sun was up. Time seems very still without the sunshine. I am quite good at telling time by the sun, but on cloudy days, it can be any time all day long.
Now, today is not like any other day, either-for today, is my cousin, Faiths’ birthday. Faith was born when the mimosa blooms, too. Faith and I spent our childhoods together. We got in all sorts of mischief. (anything was likely to happen when Faith was around.) Faith got bit by a snake, hit by a car and sassed adults on occasion . . and still lived to grow up. She never passed up an opportunity to fight, even with boys. Not even a catholic school could tame Faith. Faith got “C s ” on her report cards and was as happy as a lark about it. . .but she played the piano beautifully, as her mother, my great aunt Agnes did and I figured that “covered a multitude of sins”. . .I sure hoped so. In church, when a young and very menacing boy, was being “baptized by water”- Faith yelled out “Drown him!” at that holy moment. I sure was glad she could play the piano, on that Sunday.
It is good to report that Faith is alive and well, by some miracle. She is a loving grandmother now and remains my dear friend as well as a special cousin.
Friday was the last day of school and so I am now officially at liberty to “do mostly, as I please” for a good while. I was in Elizabeth City within a few hours of dismissal.
The last weeks have been full of all sorts of business. There was the end of the year dance performance, graduation and closing ceremonies. . .besides the regular routine . . .and the tremendous spring cleaning of the rabbit patch territory. There was “Mothers’ Day” and “Memorial Day”. . . and Tres had a birthday, too. The last fortnight slipped by me like a falling star . . .beautiful and quick.
Jennys’ husband, Will had a birthday , the same day I arrived. I call Will, my “son-in-heart”. I always say, I could not have hand picked a better husband for my only daughter. Will is as kind to me as I could have ever hoped for. He also offers assistance readily for whatever pops up. He is a good father to Lyla and I love his family, which feels like mine, now. It doesn’t hurt a bit that Will is “tall, dark and handsome”, either.
The season is not only busy for people, for young rabbits abound. Nests are full of hungry hatchlings. Most birds are frantic in general just now, trying to keep their families satisfied. Squirrels are in the same state of mind. The trees shake with all of the scurrying. Blooms are found in well manicured yards and fragrant vines cascade from the edge of the woodlands. Even the roadside ditches are thick with the common day lilies and Queen Annes’ Lace. They are a cheerful sight and a handsome pair, too. The last days of spring are upon us and everything tells us so.
Folks always ask, what I am doing this summer. Many people have exciting plans to visit some island . Resorts are popular too. . .as are cruises and theme parks. I, on the other hand declare myself a home body and do not entertain such notions. I am perfectly content to have picnics with my dear friends, in the shade of an old tree. I love strolling by the laughing river with Lyla and sitting on the rock, by the little bridge, which always makes us drowsy. I hope to have some “Sunday Dinners” on days like Tuesday, with Mama and Daddy. I want to visit with my son Tres, and listen to his dreams without a sense of hurry -and cook his supper. These are the things that matter to me.
I will spend a fair amount of time daydreaming, which many frown upon. If I so much as glanced out of the window in elementary school, my name was yelled out, snatching me back to the confines of the classroom with the “Modern Math” books in the corner. Really, daydreaming is “wondering”. It didn’t seem sinful to me then, . . and it doesn’t now, either. With all the calculations a brain must work daily, it seems sensible, that we ought to allow some unhindered “play time” for the mind, as well.
I always choose a few subjects to study in summer and I hope to write more. I plan to read the “Ladies of Convington” and “Gift From the Sea” again. Besides that I will tend the “rabbit patch” and do battle with the hateful vines. I will watch the stars shine over the laughing river and fireflies twinkle in the young woods. The apples and peaches will swell on the faithful trees and the mimosa trees will sweeten the air . . . .all because it is summer.
The grass is greener at the “rabbit patch” these days. Part of it may be due to the drenching rains in May. There is something about rain water. I collect it for my house plants now, but when I was young, I used to set out a large bowl to catch the rain in, to rinse my hair . Rain water softens hair- and greens the grass.
On the days it didn’t rain, I worked on the territory. It was hard going work, but rewarding. There were fires in the garden to tend on a regular basis. I tamed all sorts of vines . . .temporarily, at least. On breaks, I went to my “Church in the wild wood” which is really, what used to be my grandmothers’ front porch. It sits at the back of the property by the edge of a field – and where the pecan trees grow. It is my favorite place on the rabbit patch. I have watched the sun and the moon, rise over the field, from the “chapel”, by the little pasture. I have laid down my burdens there and sang praises. I have mourned there . . and celebrated. I have watched the rain fall and the blackbirds fly. I have stood by the little gate . . .where my grandmother did . . . and remembered her. I suppose, this is why the “Church in the Wild Wood” is my favorite place on the territory.
Something odd happened yesterday. I was admiring the results of my recent endeavors and showing off the rabbit patch to a prospective buyer, when a huge raccoon lumbered out of the azaleas and within a foot of my cat, Christopher Robin. This frightened me to no end, as I was sure a horrid tragedy was about to unfold before my eyes. The breath left my body and rendered me speechless. I took off in the fastest gallop I could muster to the backdoor and let my dog, Cash out. Cash ran straight-a-way to the problem without a word from me. The raccoon ran off and the whole ordeal was over. When I could speak, I asked the shocked guests, if they were scared of dogs, between shallow breaths. Thankfully, they were huge fans of dogs . . .and cats. The only thing I could say next was “I am not at my best and need a minute to recover.” Ironically, the first place we had planned to explore was the wooded path. Somehow, I managed the trek, though my heart raced wildly for a good while. Cash, being quite proud of himself pranced along proudly on the hike. When we were back in the yard, Christopher Robin was sun bathing in the “Quiet Garden”. I suppose he was not at all concerned, as his “nine lives” was still intact.
The rest of the tour was uneventful and went well. The folks said they were quite interested and so, when it was all over, I went to the “Church in the Wild Wood” and said a prayer for all of us.
It was a sweet and unfamiliar feeling to wake up, this morning, without an agenda of any sort. There was no dreaded task awaiting, this day. The barns and yard were in good order. The house was tidy too. I do not remember the last time I had such liberty. For a few minutes, I did not stir, but let the feeling wash over me. The morning air was cool and fragrant, perfumed with the smell of late spring.
I did not tarry long for I am never one to linger , after waking. Rae, one of my oldest and dearest friends, called just before mid morning, and said she could visit. That was wonderful news. Rae is a dependable breath of fresh air. We talk freely and have no secrets. She increases my Faith with wise words and is full of encouragement for me. I love Rae like rain.
Quickly, I set up a table and chairs outside, under the cool canopy of the sycamore trees. I gathered bunches of apple mint and made a light tea. My kitchen was bare, as I have hardly had time to shop – but I did manage to make a salad. I was finishing as Rae came in. We sat outside and bragged on our children and grandchildren. We talked about how blessed we were. We talked about the grace of God and flowers. We also talked about our old houses and photography – and ice cream and soap. We meandered around the rabbit patch and down the wooded path. What a lovely time we had. How glad I am to have a friend like Rae.
Rae left and so I decided to get a head start on cooking “Sunday Dinner” . Christian went to the grocery store and brought back the fixings for fried chicken, cabbage and brunswick stew. The cabbage and stew can be made ahead of time, so two pots were soon simmering.
Tending this rabbit patch, is no small task. I have been weary on occasion, from it. I have done a a fair share of complaining about it too. I have felt “stranded” and I have felt overwhelmed. Today, though with the roses and “Queen Annes’ Lace” blooming together and the songs of birds ringing out . . .when the air was sweet and the peace of the countryside made you drowsy . . . . The grass was greener at the rabbit patch today.