The very next day, after Miss J, accepted my offer- her real estate agent called me. She talked very fast, as if she was late for something, but I heard her say, that I was required to make a $10,000 dollar down payment to proceed. I apologized, for I had not even counted on that. “Oh dear!” I said. “I have an amount saved, but it will take all of it, to just make it livable” and I apologized for wasting her time. Then she asked, what I had planned on . . .and I said, without a bit of thought . .”Nothing.” Now she was shocked. We hung up and I did feel sorry to have been so ignorant of the business of buying a house.
In my defense, I had never bought a house, by myself. I must learn the business of buying a house, I thought . . and then I ate my lunch.
“Lo and behold!” The agent called that evening to say, the down payment was waived and that Miss J would finance the house for two years, while repairs were made, so I could then finance it through a bank,( like a “normal person” would, I thought, later). This time, I would have a contract, protecting me from calamity.
For weeks, I worked on the old farmhouse, after work. Mama and Daddy lived just fifteen minutes away, and they helped me, Daddy had to work on the water pump, right off. The boys gathered tires, tin, bricks and car batteries for days, for the territory was littered with such things.
One day, a lady came and introduced herself as “Miss Sylvia” She gifted me with a cookbook from the ladies in the community. I liked Miss Sylvia right off. She was my first friend in “Farm Life” and the cookbook is now, my favorite one. Another time, a truck with four men came. My boxer was raising cane about it. The driver asked me if I were going to “call him off” and I said “I don’t know just yet.” The driver, then introduced himself and the other men, as neighbors who were there to help, should a need arise. I called the dog off and thanked them. The driver said, “you have a bad dog, but he is handsome.” I said “Tell everybody, you know!”
For several weeks, folks came to welcome us. Everyone of them asked me how in the world, I bought the place, for as it turns out, many of them had tried to buy the house or knew somebody that did, over the years, but Miss J wouldn’t hear of it.
For the next two years, we worked every hour afforded . We tackled the barns and the territory. One winter, we made the wooded path. We had no machinery and so it took a long time. One Saturday, I had worked til about dark. I was dirty and so tired, I walked in the back door, threw a sheet on the couch, and laid right there-dirt and all. I was asleep in minutes. The phone rang and I did not care. I could hardly move. The phone rang and rang, but I was too tired to even go answer it. Suddenly my neighbor Molly, burst in screaming “Your barn is on fire!!!” I sprang up like a rocket and ran like I was young . . .it wasn’t the barn, but a burn pile, had ignited right by an old barn. -Never build a fire on peat soil, for it will spread underground and pop up anywhere. We worked til almost midnight.
I planted flowers and bushes, that second year. The whole place became one big garden. We also made a vegetable garden. I would not even allow fertilizer in it-we used our compost, instead. I have never used any chemical where our food grew. I made an herb garden, too. I painted flowers on some of the barns and verses and hung wreaths, till at long last, the man from the bank came.
On that day, you could have eaten off every floor in the house. He walked around and looked at every part of the house. He was a likable man and we chatted easily. When the tour was done, he began writing on his papers and assured me that all was well. I said “but you need to see the land and the barns . . .” He smiled and said, “no, I have what I need.” . ..and I said “You are going to see the barns.” He chuckled and agreed, to appease me. Goodness, we had spent every day of that winter working and somebody needed to know that! So we walked and he looked at the barns. The biggest barn had been converted to a a rustic dining room and I had tables with gingham cloths draped over them . .and curtains to match. There was an old china cabinet and upstairs, there was old iron beds with clean sheets . . .and a balcony. ( And yes, we did camp out in that barn, on occasion) He walked the wooded path, too for he was that good natured.
He left, applauding my efforts and assuring me, that I had met the criteria to get the loan. The boys were so anxious to know if we had made it. I said joyfully . .” .Yes! ” They asked “well, what are we going to do now? ” I said “go play”. . .and they did.
That is how it happened. I named the place the “rabbitpatch” for several reasons . . .one being my maiden name is “Warren”, which means basically, where rabbits live. There is a large community of rabbits here, that love apples and strawberries, well gardens too. Then, my Lyla was born on Easter Sunday and so the name just fit.
More than a decade, has passed since all that happened. The years were filled with picnics, family reunions, egg hunts, tea parties, Sunday dinners and Jenny and Wills’ engagement party. Grandmama spent her last years here. The boys became young men and I got older, and so did the house and the barns.
Miss Sylvia was my friend, a dear one, to the day she died. The truck full of farmers, were as dependable as they had said. They removed fallen trees here, when hurricanes hit, fixed the lawn mower, hung chandeliers and the year my garden drowned, they brought produce by the truck loads, here. One neighbor , Susan, now mows my yard when my mower doesn’t work-which was most of last summer. “Uncle Donnie and his wife, “princess Leyta”, and Jamie at the horse farm, well, there are a lot of good folks, in Farm Life.
I am not sorry for any of it, for there have been some golden years at the rabbitpatch. One day, I will move to a little house, on a little rabbitpatch and I will plant flowers and an apple tree, at least. I will certainly not leave empty handed though for I have tucked the memories deep in my heart. Just maybe, you really can “live off love.” and if you can, then I am a “big shot”who hit the “jack pot”!
Most of my regular readers know that I almost sold the rabbitpatch, not once, but twice in the last two years. It is a grand place, in many ways and awful in other ways. The farmhouse is a big one and mighty old. The rooms are all a nice size and for an old house, there is nice lay out. I loved it, the minute I saw it . . love at first sight. . .but it is old.
The territory around it has bragging rights. There are peach, apple, pear, pecan and cherry . .and fig trees. There is an old grape vine too. All of them are so very generous, too. Old oak trees surround the house like warriors, ready to defend its’ honor – and a grove of pine trees whisper , in the slightest breeze. There are friendly neighbors on either side and across the road and a huge plot of fields behind it. The sky is so big at the rabbitpatch . . .and full of birds. There is also a patch of young woods -and everywhere you look , there is a barn or shed of some sort.
This is the story of how I “landed on the rabbitpatch” . . .It happened like this. . .
In the spring of 2005, I was looking for a house. I found a small, quaint house in the oldest town in North Carolina, Bath-just twenty minutes from the school, where I still work. The lot was nice and of course, the little house was old. I knew the lady, that owned the house. She had inherited it and said she didn’t need it. In that case we made a deal and so I began cleaning it up, which was no small task, as it had been empty, for two years. Every weekend, the boys and I worked, til at last, lights were on and the kitchen was stock piled. A few days, before the weekend we would move . . the owner called and said casually, “I just sold the house.”
I was speechless. She went on and said, “Now, don’t worry-something better will come along.”, as if we were talking about a rained out picnic. I was so hurt, that I couldn’t feel angry. . . but my Mama sure could! I was too shocked and dreaded telling the children.
Weeks passed, and the disappointment faded. I am not sure why, but I never did get angry, instead I was sullen. I no longer, had the same regard for the lady, but it wasn’t because of my righteousness . . . I was weary and also, I had been praying a long time about things, so if I had an argument, it was with God, after all.
One rainy day, Mama and I went house hunting. This time, in the neighboring county of the one my parents, still live in. We met with an agent, at another old house. He was a friendly man and since, I wasn’t interested in the deal on the house we were looking at, he suggested another house, near by.
This time, I felt a spark, but I also felt cautious. I did not want to go through another broken heart, anytime soon . . but the place was lovely. The old trees were like the icing on my cake, for I care more for the land, than most folks. The house was open, and so I went in. Mama was sure that we were breaking the law and just glanced nervously around.
We saw someone next door working in flowers and decided to ask her about the property. As it turned out, she was the owner. She did not want to sell, but instead wanted to rent it. I wanted to buy and so we exchnged phone numbers as she had another house for sale, and I knew of someone who might be interested.
Several weeks passed, and then I got a call from the owner, “Miss J”. She asked me had I considered renting anymore, but I assured her that I wanted to own my next home. She made me an offer, but it was much more than I could afford. The next day she called again and told me to make an offer and so I did and she accepted! Well, we will see, I thought. I was not about to jump on another “high horse”. . .but I remembered the wild irises, fondly.
Back at the rabbitpatch, all was well. The boxer did his “homecoming dance” and Christopher Robin “sang for his supper” as he always does, the minute I arrive. It was almost chilly and a slight rain was falling. I had thoroughly enjoyed the fair days of the past week, but this was the March , that I grew up with.
Typically, the time of Match was chilly and rainy. Winter wheat became an emerald green and daffodils bloomed . . .and there was wind, dependably. Daddy made kites, in March, for us to fly right after supper. Up and up they sailed over the fields, not yet planted. When the string broke, on occasion, we found them a mile away! Oh, those kites could fly . . .but they were not much to look at. Daddy did not care about the looks of a kite. In those days, children did not have stickers, save the “gold stars” you got in school. One year, Delores and I saved the “funny pages” that came in the Sunday “paper and talked Daddy in to using that, though he did not find it sensible. Mama did her part, too, finding scraps of fabric for the tail. Delores and I sat on the fresh grass, watching our kite soar and feeling smug about us having the best kite in the neighborhood.
For the last couple of years, the daffodils have bloomed in February, here – and spirea that was always blooming on Easter Sunday, has been in bloom for weeks. Azaleas and dogwoods are starting to blossom, too, instead of waiting for Easter. I doubt children will hunt for eggs this year, with the stipulations in place. ( Schools were closed here yesterday, til May 15th! ) When I was young. Easter egg hunts were a hallmark of spring. People like, “Miss Jo”, one of my first Sunday school teachers always had one. I remember her lessons to this day. She was as sweet a person as ever lived, with a most pleasant smile and a gentle nature. Later, “Miss Judy” always hosted them. Miss Judy hosted them when my own children were little.
The Easter Egg hunts were grand events, though I was awful at finding the eggs. I think I was too busy watching the other children but for whatever reason, I came up with three or four eggs at best.
I spent most of Monday at Mama and Daddys’. On Tuesday, I went out to gather necessities. I was there as soon as the store opened. I wore gloves and stood my distance, for though we have not had a case of the virus in our rural county, yet-an ounce of prevention is worth its’ weight in gold, these days. I did get milk and bread. I had thought to make my own bread, but there wasn’t any flour, nor was there tissue, nor was there much of anything. I stood in line for a bottle of alcohol. I hoped for peroxide too, but that was a far fetched notion.
I do not like to “go out” these days,and I try to make it count when I do, but with food and necessities so scarce, the best I can do, is very limited. I am realising how spoiled I am. . . for I have taken so much for granted. I have done a fair share of chiding the younger population for the very thing that I am guilty of! I really worried for the younger generation, when the thing started, for I thought how many of them lived in a state of “getting what they wanted, the minute they wanted it. ” I thought how hard it would be on them to have to adapt to this new state of being. . .let me be the first to say, I see now that clearly, I was living that same way. I had what I wanted for supper most every night. I came and went, as I pleased and I had less worries a month ago, that I do now. It seems to me that when I cast a judgement, I am always eating humbled pie, shortly thereafter. I do not know if I am a slow learner or “hard headed” , but I want to do better. . .and to think, an empty grocery, was what it took, to convert my heart!
It is a practical time to do a deep “spring cleaning”. I always do one, for Mama always did. Curtains are washed and scatter rugs shampooed. Everything not nailed down, is aired out . Furniture is moved and on and on it goes, til at last the house smells like sunshine and lavender. Usually, I am hard pressed for time to attempt this project, but now I have no excuses.
“Work” has always healed a lot of whatever ails me. I moved to the rabbitpatch in a bewildering season, of my life. My life had changed and I felt like I had been “turned every which way but loose.” Every where I looked, something needed scrubbing and painting . .but there were wild irises blooming around the edge of the woods, for I moved in May. I worked all waking hours. Everything was done the hard way. I think I spent most of June on a ladder. Dull moments were seldom, and sometimes, I would think, when I finish this . . then, I will cry. . . but I never did. Instead, I chose the color of a bedroom or tended small fires of branches, fallen long ago. By the time school started, I was covered with scratches and bruises and bug bites. , ,but somehow, and I do not when, hope had replaced fear and fortitude had taken the place of despair. Along the way, I had met the killdeer and the floss flower and the magic lilies . . .and eaten from the apple and peach trees and the very old grapevine. . .and I had plans for a rose garden.
Back then the house was not so big, for all five of the bedrooms were occupied. The territory was just the right size, too. There were chickens, rabbits, goats and a miniature horse, in those days. . .and I was younger. We all were. Christian, was just a boy then and used to climb on the old barn and survey the landscape, for long whiles -and he and Kyle had a fort in the woods. We had a garden that fed us all year. At Christmas, we strung lights everywhere. Maybe forging the wooded path, was the hardest work of all , and the roof was a close second. Looking back, brings a lot of happiness to mind .
How odd that the very attributes of the rabbitpatch, so necessary , in that season, are now the same attributes that cause me to want to sell it, now.
Now, this is the first time in twenty years, that I have had the liberty to take full advantage of a spring. . .hence the idea to start the deep cleaning now. . . Kyle is especially sorry that he is quarantined here and has immediately starting cleaning the yard, in light of that.
At this chaotic and fearful time, when things seem “up in the air” . . .spring came early , like an old friend showing up in the “nick of time.” The lovely season may not cure all the woes of our world, but it certainly does no harm.
The weather here, has been delightful. The days have been mild and bright and beckon all to come and see. “The time of the singing of birds, has come.” I have a met a young cardinal that calls to me like clockwork, in the first hours. I whistle back in her language and though my attempts are feeble, she answers me every time. She sits in the same branch each morning and I declare one morning, as I was having coffee, I heard her chattering and went out to find her there on the cypress branch, as if she was waiting for me to say “good morning”. I went out and after a brief conversation, she flew off . She is the friendliest bird I have ever known.
A pair of mockingbirds are building their nest in a young tree just beside the deck. They are as busy as can be. Yesterday the male carried a twig as big as he was, but he disappeared into the mass of leaves and appeared again without it. I supposed his mate approved it.
Besides the birds, now “Flowers appear on the earth.” Currently, here, we are all still permitted to take walks. One day, Jenny and I took the girls to the laughing river. Hardly ever, is anyone there save a dog walker passing through. For a while, we were the only ones in the world. Lyla has always been cautious of danger but Brynn is not tempered the same, and so we spent a good deal of time chasing her from the banks of that very blue river. We smelled jasmine on the way back and walked down the sidewalk where those dainty confederate violets covered the lawns.
St Patricks” day was a quiet affair, this year. The house was decorated and we had a corned beef and cabbage for supper. Lyla and I played some Irish fiddle music, but otherwise, the evening was quite tame.
One day, after a picnic, Brynn and I went for a walk. Lyla was playing with a dollhouse and was glad to have time alone so she could play properly, for Brynn is a “home wrecker” it seems. I walked a little further than usual, to see if the cherry trees were blooming. Rounding the curve, by the old bridge, there they were. The palest pink blossoms I know of, were a mass of floral beauty. I greeted two of them with open arms and lifted Brynn so she could smell their delicate, clean scent. I love cherry trees and told Brynn, that she ought to, as well. Of course, I began reciting “Lovliest of Trees” (Housman). It has been a favorite of mine, since the first time I read it, which was a long time ago.
On another day, while Brynn napped, Lyla and I got a blanket and read “Charlottes’ Web”, in the greening grass of the back yard. It was a beautiful hour.
Tres is the only one that comes in the back door at Jennys’ house.. Rest assured, that he, of all people takes strict precautions. Tres has a background in the medical field, after all and has the brain of a scientist. . . and -he is our own. None of us go anywhere-other than a grocery, and that is rare. The last time I went, I wore gloves and a smock that served as a lab coat. I stayed as clear of folks, as I could. Some folks are not so serious about going to such measures . . .I had rather be safe than sorry and most especially for my loved ones. . .and looking odd bothers me less now, than ever. Jenny and I treated the items as if they were contaminated. Afterwards, I sanitized the car.
This is a different time. I read and stay up on current findings. The tragedy in Italy, haunts me. A lot of the stories in the news is unsettling. Loss of loved ones is not a hoax. Shortages for supplies, isn’t either. Casting blame, does not solve a thing. In light of the circumstances, I observe and proceed with caution. I pray a lot. I am concerned deeply, but I m not yet in a panic, driven by desperate thoughts, however, I am not so prideful as to think, it could never come to that, being I am so very human. For now, I must do what I can, I must be a serious student, and I must-AGAIN, “walk by faith, and not by sight.”
Until further notice, I will watch the dogwoods go from little jade blossoms to snow white flowers. I will listen to the morning chatter of the birds and speak with the cardinal. I will let the sunshine fall on my face. I will wonder about many subjects and I will day dream as I please. I will do what I can, to cause no harm to myself and others. I will be thankful for the shelter of an old house and having my needs met. Mostly, I will be thankful for my Faith, for we are all going through this thing and we are none alone, whether we acknowledge it or not . . .but knowing, is of great comfort –
For the first weekend in a while, I am at the rabbitpatch. We have big plans for Sunday -Daddys’ -eighty fifth birthday party. Today, I have a lot of cooking to do, for everyone is coming . . . even little Ryan, who I have not seen since Christmas!
The windows are up in the old house, for the morning is mild. The song birds are back in full force and the air is filled with the sound of spring. The air smells green and sweet. The yard is greening in patches . . .and it looks scrappy, for besides the violets, all sorts of wild flowers are popping up hither and yonder. There are wild hyacinths and dandelions and many of the lilies are up, plotting their dazzling future . If this continues, young folks will surely fall in love, as they have through the centuries. . . and I can not blame them.
Before noon, I had a large pot of brunswick stew ready and a huge pot of chicken and stock ready for pastry. Since the day was ideal for line drying, I was doing laundry, too. I am sure the boxer was in shock at my tending to housework, after weeks of neglect.
Sometime, in the afternoon, an announcement was made, that the governor had closed all NC schools for the next two weeks. I am not sure what this means for teachers. I do know that the groceries have been nothing short of “mad” the last week and many items are scarce. Churches are even closed, tomorrow. All gatherings of ” a hundred or more” are to be postponed. Many folks will be working from home. Well, Daddy can still have his party, but great precautions are even in place for that.
I am old and have never seen the likes of this. I am a bit stunned at “the state of the union.” Whether the panic is justified or not, the climate is full of fear and that fear is every bit as contagious as the virus. This is a time to pay special attention to all the conditions.
Sunday was born with a chill . The sky was a steel blue and there wasn’t a bit of shine anywhere. In the absence of song birds, the morning was a silent affair. With the weather as it was, Mama would have a full house today.
The only thing that I had left to do was to make cole slaw. In light of that, I read while I drank coffee. The boxer slept like a contented child and for a little while, there was “peace in the valley”.
Kyle and Christian woke, and the phone started ringing, an hour or so later. I started chopping cabbage. I put the boys to work . . . housekeeping, mainly. They neither one like housekeeping and would have preferred mending the picket fence to dusting, but someone has to dust . . .and I was chopping cabbage.
Just after noon, we drove up to my parents’ house and I was right . . . there was a full house.
By the time all the food was put out, there wasn’t a square inch of counter space left. Folks were everywhere, for everyone showed up. When Brant and Sydney arrived with little Ryan, several of us made a beeline to their car. Jenny ended up with Ryan, right off. Somehow, she usually does. Jenny adores Ryan and I take great joy seeing my children, loving one another . Few things mean as much to me.
Daddy was having a good day, and he smiled and laughed a lot to our delight.. My cousin, Faith showed up and how glad I was to see her. She hadn’t seen Chuck and Chris and what a sweet thing it was to see my cousins reuniting after many years, for life has a way of separating us. For a moment the wildness of our childhood came back to me. We were always full of unbridled something, joy, chaos, adventure and on occasion, fierce opposition-when we were untamed children. Who knew, that left to our own devices, we would learn the things that mattered to get along in the world. The adults rarely stepped in to plan an agenda for us or settle our arguments, after all. Tattling was highly discouraged, unless there was danger involved. Truthfully, looking back, there often was, but somehow, we all lived to grow up anyway.
After the gifts and a pineapple birthday cake, after my cousin Chris’ homemade ice cream and after Aino and my sisters had the kitchen in order . . .we all packed up and most of us left with some sort of remnant from the menu. It had been one happy day.
With stores empty of mostly everything and schools closed and everyone that can, working from home, this week will be out of the ordinary. I am going to Elizabeth City on Monday and hopefully, will make a trip to Wake Forest not long after that. I hope to see my parents . . .well there is little chance of boredom.
It is early morning now and pitch dark at the rabbitpatch. I seldom let an opportunity to complain about “changing the clocks” go by. I always dread it and have never thought it made good sense. I was in Elizabeth City this weekend, when the awful thing happened. I was up quite early on Sunday morning , cooking beans for Miss Thelma and making several dishes to leave for Jenny and Tres too. I made the mistake of relying on the clock on the stove, thinking that like every other clock in the house, it had automatically “set itself”. I was wrong. Jenny came in and reset the stove, and so I knew then, that I didn’t have quite the head start on the day as I had imagined. Then, on that beautiful clear morning – the power went out! Of course, I had muffins in the oven. I have no idea how long the power was out, but I guessed it to be around thirty minutes. When the power came back, the stove flashed and had no more idea of the time, than I did. If it had all happened on Saturday, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but I leave on Sundays, and so there is some loose schedule to adhere to.
Will, Jenny, Tres and Sarah were going out for brunch, so I was determined to get all my cooking done, before they left, for I was watching the girls. Lyla, at four is easy as pie, but Brynn is likely to do anything at any given moment and requires your full attention. In the midst of all that, Miss Thelma called and needed a ride to Church. I asked her when she needed to leave and she said”right now, but take your time.” I would have laughed, but I was still in pajamas. I stopped everything and threw the first things on that I found. I picked her up and she looked so beautiful, neat as a pin, in her fancy clothes. I looked like a gardener, beside her. I walked her in the Church as the congregation was singing, a holy song. I did my best, not to make eye contact with anyone, for I realised that I had not even combed my hair!
It was mid afternoon, before I knew the correct time . The muffins turned out fine, though they did not brown.
When the dust had settled, I took Lyla and Brynn outside for a walk. Jenny has a double stroller for them and pushing it, is not for the faint of heart . . literally. The “laughing river” rolled cheerfully along and was as blue as could be. All sorts of birds were singing . . .and confederate violets were everywhere. We stopped on the way back, for Lyla to gather a few. Her little hands are always full of wilted flowers, when we arrive home.
Not long, after we returned, Will, Jenny, Tres and Sarah returned, as well. They all sat in the kitchen, while I attempted to make “caramel dumplings”. It was a recipe, that Sarahs’ “North Dakota” grandmother used to make for her and goodness, I was nervous . First it was something new for me, and it required a recipe-and Sarah really loved her grandmothers’ dish. I had already followed one recipe this day, when I made the muffins! Some people love a recipe and will not cook without one-I on the other hand, do not even know where my measuring spoons are. You can believe that I used Jennys’ spoons and cups, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, for I wanted it to be just like the dish that Sarah remembered.
I left shortly after they came out of the oven. Sarah approved them and so I happily promised to make them again.
The ride home went quickly and safely, thankfully. I always feel melancholy on the way home, but at the same time I miss Christian and the boxer and the gray cat. I miss the old oaks, for they are dependable friends and have been for more than a decade now. I consoled myself, that next weekend, everyone is coming on Sunday, for Daddys’ eighty-fifth birthday party.
Last week, was not a good week for Daddy. . . so it was not a good week for any of us, either. Now, not one of us will be completely spared of trials, but that is of little comfort, when you are in the midst of them.
We all travel a “valley” in some season and in our own fashion. I walk quietly and prayerfully. I do not utter a word for long stretches and just observe where I am. It is a heart wrenching and sorrowful place, and oh, how I miss “yesterdays’ “, familiar, happy hilltops, but I am not alone in that valley, for the presence of God seems to hover all around me. Without “sight”, I am forced to walk by “faith” . . . and beyond my wildest imagination, I finally realise there is such liberation in that,. I do not need to see the answer, nor create an order for the jumbled up thoughts. I just need to walk and I find out, that the valley is a “holy place” .
It certainly seems like an early spring has come to the rabbitpatch. The snow is long gone, but the stalwart daffodils remain. Tulip trees, with their fleeting beauty, are blooming and the bees have made their presence known. The first of the wild violets peek out shyly, along the footpath to the garden. Now and then, it rains, which is the way of spring.
The calendar proclaims that spring is a few weeks away, but the earth says differently. Whatever, this time is called. . . all kinds of violets are blooming . . . and the days are so lovely.