The “Great Lessons”

Yesterday, much was accomplished at the rabbitpatch. It was the kind of day, that assured good sleep would follow. I like to work. If a task does not present itself, then I seek one out. So far, I rarely have to search long. This day, I decided to unload a small trailer of shingles and old wood. I should have done it, a long time ago. I had to wonder, as I worked, if any other soul in the county, had to do such a thing today.
This was not the kind of work, that I fancy. It was dirty and only God knew what I would find as I lifted each piece of debris. There were also mosquitoes to battle. It did feel good to see the trailer, that belonged to my grandaddy, “Pop” being relieved of its’ overdue burden.
I did not like chores, as a child. Mama laid out the plans for the day and that was that. We never “sassed” for first, sass was considered unholy and there would be swift consequences, as well. Poor Mama. She had to manage three girls. She did not change her expectations because we grew and became teenagers either. If we wanted to be sullen, then we had to do that after chores. We could not make faces that revealed our rebellious thoughts. That was considered a language, as well. While picking beans, in late summer, Mama, once heard me “praying for frost” as I picked beans from those scratchy vines, that green snakes loved to hide in. It was a sin, to be ungrateful apparently, and I got a lecture on that.
Looking back, I got a lot of the “great lessons” in the garden -and at the clothes line. . .or snapping beans. Mama was very good at hard questions. She gave just enough truth to satisfy our curiosity at the moment, without disturbing our innocence.
She taught sweetly and we daughters, hung on every word. Because of that, I was always able to bear my heart to Mama, when it was injured – or to confess when I did something shameful. It is still that way.
It seems to me, that childhood is all its’ cracked up to be. It matters for the rest of our lives, after all. Luckily, I was blessed with parents that did the best that they could. . . and to me, that is enough.
Of course, childhood was revered in those days. We were not exposed to the complicated business of adults. We were allowed instead, that sweet liberty of just being a child.
Now, we were not immune to calamity. We learned about death and grief. We also learned about birth. We were taught to be thrifty, but not selfish. We had to learn self control. Weekly visits to “Mama Hodges” and hour long sermons on Sunday, ensured that lesson. Manners were very important. Good manners indicated two things. First, it let folks know, that you were respectful of them. We wouldn’t have run in a house for love or money and never would an adult stand, while a child sat. We didn’t dare interrupt, while others were speaking . . unless there was immediate danger. (like a fire ) and we would be sure to use kind words, like “please and thank you”. Second, and so beautiful, was good manners meant someone loved you enough, to teach you such things. We practiced good manners right there at home and the elders modeled til at last it was “our nature” to be courteous and thoughtful. . . but maybe the greatest lesson we learned, was the art of being satisfied.
Somehow, my parents were always able to convince us, that we should be content. When I set my heart on some doll or carriage, in that “Sears & Roebuck” catalog . . .well it was fun to dream then, just as it still is now. The only harm in it, is if we base our happiness on acquiring something. In that way, we have declared some “thing”, a remedy, of sorts. I often think now, that if my parents had been indulgent, I would have wound up with some collection of dolls, and never learned to love a one of them.
The more I remembered, the harder I worked, til at last the little trailer was tucked safely under a barn.
Later, I talked to Julie, a dear friend, and told her how I had been recalling my childhood, in every possible moment. She said that she had been doing the same thing. Julie had been “walking through” the old homes of her family, in that endless mind of hers, trying to remember every detail. I thought, I was the only one who did such things. I should have known better for I have never done a thing or had a single thought, that someone has not done or thought before. Julie and I concluded that, all of the change and uncertainty, of the present times, may be what is beckoning us to remember, a gentler time, where things were familiar and dependable. Julie has good sense and is often right.
The cotton fields are blooming. Past the oldest barn, is a small orchard. Beyond that are vast fields of cotton and finally a strip of woodland. It is a lovely view, for the sky is big and in no direction do you see anything made by man. This is where the moon rises and the deer play. It may be my favorite place on the rabbitpatch.
I have adapted to the new way of school. It is hot on that basketball court and I sleep deeply after a day of dancing in the sun, but the children have been wonderful, and what a good job they do, in adhering to all of the rules. I do miss seeing the littlest girls hold hands as they walk to the playground and the boys playing ball. (We are not allowed to use any equipment for play . . .not even a ball.) Now, the boys have organised races and they are quite detailed games. There is also the fort building, in the wooded playground. It has happened every year for as long as I can remember. Children gather every stick they can find and build structures, that soon become kingdoms with occupations and laws.
 I come home and I notice that the rabbitpatch is fairly glowing, these days. It is as tidy as it has been in years, though I do still have several small jobs to complete. . . .and of course, the leaves have not even started to fall. A bed of bright yellow calla lilies in full bloom, at the entrance, seem to welcome me.home.  In moments, supper will be simmering and Kyle will call to see how my day was, while the boxer sleeps close by.  Coming home, is as beautiful, as it sounds.


August Then . . and Now

All I wanted to do was write in my diary this morning. I am working from home on Fridays, this year, and this was the first one of those Fridays, at home.

I rose early enough to see the first light of day. Fog was hanging in silvery ribbons- like remnants from a midnight celebration, over the fields. I love foggy mornings . . if I am at home. Driving in it is another story.

It wasn’t long, before I was at the “morning table” with a cup of coffee, ready to write what has transpired in the ordinary life of a country woman, these last few days. Thankfully, there was nothing of any urgency to report, for there before me was a “new way” of writing on my blog. Is nothing sacred? I wondered. Must everything be complicated? Or am I really that old? I suppose I am.

I had to get a new cell phone last week, as my other one drowned. I can barely answer the new one. School is a whole different ballgame too. It was all so much nicer, when I used to use a phone with ease, and work in my familiar way . . and write from that dreamy place that writers slip in to. I miss “old hat”.

Gradual changes are one thing, but being shocked in to change is about as pleasant as having a bucket of cold water tossed on you. . . and these days, change has ramped up and is constant.

I accept change much more gracefully, when it is necessary. I understand with all of my heart, the altered ways of life with covid. I practice my safety and the safety of others with diligence and I do not complain. I have learned how to shop on line for groceries. . . but my writing . . for goodness sakes that ought not to have been tampered with, as well.

I am adjusting to the new way of teaching music. My classes are outside, unless it rains. In that case, we head to the gym. The heat is awful, but being outside is the safest place to be. I work from home on Mondays and Fridays. That is why, I was on the territory at the slowly cracking dawn.

Here and there the purple loosestrife is just starting to open and the floss flowers are donning a tiny flower occasionally. The cherry tree is almost bare of leaves. The stalwart phlox and likewise, the rose-of-Sharon still bloom . the rudbekia is in its’ glory. The roses are not.

I went out to hang clothes on the line, and was greeted by a female cardinal. She perched on the line and seemed startled to see me. Off she went in to the late August sky without a proper good bye. . .a flash of red in the gray sky, like a parting prize, I thought.

I was always melancholy, as a child, in August. Back then, school opened just after labor day and continued til just before Memorial Day. My sister and I always got new shoes, a book bag and a new coat. We got several new dresses and school supplies. Nothing would cheer me. I never wanted to go back. I loved the farm and the folks I had to leave. School seemed artificial-detached from real life. I was a good student and had a lot of friends, but town smelled funny to me and there was hardly a tree on the grounds. The playground did not perk me up a bit, for it was an uninteresting place, full of tame equipment. It lacked the luster of huge shady grapevines, to play under and the cafeteria did not smell like Grandmas’ kitchen.

There wasn’t a dog lying around anywhere-nor any animal . . .and why would there be, without a barn in sight. I was “homesick”, I realise now.

In the afternoon, I was sure that schoolbus took the longest way home.

Oh how good to run in the door of “home”- where Mama was starting supper. The country air smelled like tobacco drying, mingling with scent of slightly over ripe apples. The ponies were in the pasture and a dog waited faithfully for us to change in to play clothes. This world made good sense to me. Within a short while, the cousins came and the neighbors , the Purvis boys too. We played til dusk, when Aunt Josie would call Chuck and Chris in for supper and homework. Mama would chime in from our own door, “Suppers’ ready!” Often, Aunt Agnes would call looking for Faith, about that time. Faith would always say ” I am not doing my homework,” and I bet she didn’t! Ruby, Christine and Cookie mounted bikes and the Purvis boys, walked as they lived just beyond the curve, which wasn’t far.

Well those evenings were many moons ago, but the memories of them always flash in my mind, in late summer, when the world is drowsy, and only the dragonflies are not.

I have just never been good at saying good bye to something beautiful.

A Sweet Reunion and Some Sorrow


With school starting on Monday, I had a nice long visit planned to Elizabeth City.  I left on Thursday.  It had seemed like “a month of Sundays” since I had been last. 
Before I knew it, I was in the  quiet village by the laughing river. The crepe myrtles were blooming along the streets and the magnolias  still had blooms, though they were sparse.  I was sad to see the place by the old bridge where the  “lemonade stand” used to be, was vacant – but of course, things are different now.   
 Lyla and Brynn danced around for ten minutes. when I came in.  . . I did too.  Lyla told me her heart had “nearly cracked” due to my long absence.


 Every day was sultry with showers that popped up  in the blink of an eye.  One day, Lyla and I made brownies.  One day, Lyla asked to listen to Andrea Bocelli  and that made my heart fill with gladness. . . and one day, Lyla and I took a walk.   It was hot in the sunshine, but there was a good breeze, and in the shade, it was delightful.  We stopped to visit with Tres and later ended up at our rock.  Several little boys were fishing for “snakes and sharks” there, so we  did not dare interrupt that business.   Lyla said the river was happy, that day .  .. and  she was right.  Oh, how good  such golden moments  are. 
Now little Brynn, is a lovely, cherub like child.  She too, loves dolls and her kitchen.  Besides that, she is as busy as can be discovering all sorts of things.  She scampers by at an endearing trot ,with curls bouncing, on some mission or another  -and quite merrily.  She is liable to be anywhere, but if the gate to the stairs is unlocked. . . well, she heads north!   and so  there is , a wild scramble amongst us and vows are made to do better with that gate.  When Brynn says “Honeybee”. . .  in that little tinkling voice . . I fall hopelessly, head over heels -again.  
Little Ryan is walking!  Sydney sent us videos, so we could see for ourselves.  Jenny and I were both moved to tears.  We could not decide, who was cuter Ryan or Brant, for the look on Brants’ face, was pure joy, when Ryan walked in to his arms.   How beautiful  it was to see . . and to share it with Jenny . . .and Tres was coming for supper.  What beauty, I have in life.
 I have heard that kings count their money in a storehouse.  I  would just as soon count my wealth, strolling by a “happy river” , for that is how I measure riches.  On paper. I may be a pauper . . . . but that is the only place.



Now, school starts on Monday, and I do have a job to return to.  My schedule is altered, so I will work from home some-and on campus other days too.  Most of my work will be outside, for I will do the usually end of the year dance semester, at the beginning.  This is the safest way to teach, I think.  I have been ransacking my closet for the coolest clothes to wear, as the August heat can be brutal.   I still need to look professional as I am quite old fashioned, on that subject, so what a quandary! 


Our beloved Champ died on Tuesday.  We knew he wasn’t well and would pass soon.  Tres and Christian, “Champs’ boys” were with him.  They buried him in the rose garden, (that I call the “Quiet Garden” , in memory of a favorite author of mine, Gladys Taber).  It was a somber day for all of us.  Champ finished his season, on this earth, leaving us all better off than we were, before him.  He was as loyal a dog as I have ever known. 
Christian has a makeshift studio in the oldest barn, and would practice at night, often quite late.  Champ would not come in the house, til Christian did . . .even if it were raining.  When Tres came home, Champ was beside himself with sheer happiness.  No matter, if Tres was engaged in conversation, or changing the oil in a truck, Champ would sit faithfully, with his eyes on my son. 
 We are a dog loving lot  and  so every one of us mourns along with Tres and Christian. 
True, faithful friends come to us, more seldom than we think.  Time has a way of teaching us this sad truth.  Champ never compromised one iota on his faithfulness.  If we failed him in any way, he did not hold it against us.  He loved in a  truly unconditional way, something  humans can rarely do, honestly.  Champ did a lot more than just being a “companion”. . .Champ was our friend.
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Before and After a Hurricane


On Monday. we spent the whole day, preparing for bad weather.  The kitchen table was laden with candles, water, snacks and flashlights.  Over the years, we adopted this habit of supplies being in one place.  I had made cookies on a whim and cooked a big supper . . .just in case.
Things liable to fly, were all secured ourside.  Whether Isias was a tropical storm or a hurricane, when it arrived, we were prepared.  I was especially glad that Tres was here. 
It was midnight when a powerful wind showed up.  It had rained off and on, earlier.  The air had cooled, but it was the wind that changed everything.  None of us could sleep once that wind blew.  It was mighty and relentless and reminded you that , though some like to think it, humans are not in control of everything.  We will and always have been at the mercy of nature. 
There were so many sounds that night.  Thuds and snapping and cracking-you had to wonder.  I know well, the sound of a tree falling.  I did not hear that, but the roaring of the wind muffled the world outside.  The power went out around four am.    I armed with a flashlight and my devoted dog, opened the back door to peer out.  All I saw were branches, huge ones that blocked the view.  I could make out that that the sycamores were upright.  That was something.  I heard generators starting up and regretted, again, that I didn’t have one. 
The wind died down within the hour, and so at last, we all slept.
When light came, I woke as usual.  I was really tired, but my curiosity spurred me on to rise.  Two large limbs about blocked the back door .  The territory was strewn with  branches, but every tree stood proudly.   . .and wonder of wonders , , so did the oldest barn.  
I started picking up debris, shortly after.  Pecan branches, full of young green nuts, and the sweetgum branches, robbed of  autumn glory were everywhere.  Tres came next and got the massive sycamore limbs removed.  Christian came next and carried the sick dog, “Champ” out to watch.  It seemed to perk him up a bit.   The last vet visit, confirmed what I had feared.  Further testing revealed, that Champ was in his last weeks of life.  
One Christmas eve, as it sleeted, Tres came in the door with a tiny pup, peeking out from under his coat.  I said immediately, “Please, tell me this is not your puppy.”  But it was.  Tres said “Mom, I will be responsible.”  That never crossed my mind, for I KNEW, I would be the one, that would fall on.  Tres went on to say, that he had rescued the pup from a neglectful breeder.  The puppy was the runt of a litter, and shivering in the sleet.  Tres was upset and mildly,  but sternly admonished the young breeder.  Tres was told that if he was so worried, then to take the puppy. . . .and so he did.  
Champ was adorable.  He looked like “the Buster Brown dog” and had such a quirky personality.  If a stranger (o him) came in, he would gather his toys, carry them to his bed and lay on them!  
True to his word, Tres was responsible. Champ was entirely devoted to Tres and cried if he were left with me.  Years passed,  Tres   had trained Champ with diligence and it showed up.  When Tres moved to Wilmington, he could not take Champ.  Champ pined, but eventually, loved Christian too.  Champ settles for me,  if need be, but he loves his boys.  
I did not do my fair share of work, that day.  I lacked the vitality, the task called for and the lack of sleep, did not help. The weather was beautiful, but there was no way of knowing, how anyone else fared.  I knew my family was all fine, but Mama did not have power either.  
By mid afternoon, the place was almost tidy.  We kept expecting the power to come back on, but it never did.  We cleaned up with baby wipes, which was the only option.  I do not know how, Abraham Lincoln read by oil lamps and candle light, for I couldn’t make out a thing!  Christian played the piano for a long while . . in the dark!   The sound, wafted throughout the old farmhouse and I imagined all sorts of things as he played.  That was nice.
663cadedff2bf635aaef95766472cabc (1)On Wednesday morning, the territory was covered in a fine mist.  I woke early and drank yesterdays’ coffee.  Other than, the power rendering the window fan silent and still, there was no sign a hurricane had been through,  
 When the power came on around mid morning, I rejoiced!  The refrigerator came on, the window fan came on and now we had water!!   It is the same every time.  . .such a celebration ensues, when the power is restored.


I did not grow up with hurricanes . . .I grew up hearing about a particular one, named “Hazel”, from hearing the elders talk about it.  Some folks would argue and plead now, that there were hurricanes, in the past, just not labeled as such, but not according to the history of North Carolina.  I know that we never went without power, nor were schools closed.   The first hurricane I ever experienced was  as a young newlywed .   . .nearly forty years ago.  These days, I expect several a season.   I thought of this as I returned everything we had  left, to the supply shelf.  
Mama finally got power in the afternoon, but I heard many folks were still waiting.  
School starts in just a few weeks.  Our school will offer remote learning but, those who wish, may attend.  It seems now, that I will return to work.  With that in mind, I must make the most of the remainder of my time.  I plan to spend some more time with the grandchildren, for I can never get enough.  Lyla will not be attending kindergarten this year, and thankfully so.  
When I am not galavanting down the highways, I will spend my time, listening to  the morning song of the cicadas.   . . and watching the time when the territory becomes all shades of purple.  It seems everything that blooms in August,  on the rabbitpatch is some hue of purple, from violet to fuchsia to periwinkle.  Clumps of floss flower are claiming every corner they can find and how spectacular it will be in due time.    August is a hot month, but it is more than just a stepping stone to September . . .and it is always full of butterflies.




To Raleigh and Back


It is said, that “All good things must come to an end”.  That was certainly my sentiment on Tuesday, when I watched Jenny pack up her familys’ things .  All sorts of pictures from the last four days flashed in my head . . . Jenny and Sydney with Brynn and Ryan, sitting on a quilt in the shade of a maple . . . Will working from the kitchen table, oblivious to the commotion of three little ones, big meals, bathtime and early mornings, watching one by one, as folks came down stairs to find their day.  It does not matter how long we are together, I am just never satisfied.  I always wish for one more day.  
I came home on Wednesday.  Oh how quiet the house was that day, as I gathered my own things.  It was a bright day and a bit cooler than the days before it.  The last ten days had been miserably hot.  The drive is much easier for me, now and within a few hours, I was back at the rabbitpatch.  Christian and Tres were there, and so I started supper right away.  The boxer was happy to see me and I was glad to see him.  While supper cooked, I sat in the den surrounded by my plants and books.  The morning table stood faithfully waiting, by the window with the old oak peaking in.  I felt like I was in the midst of friends, and that was comforting . . . and beautiful, really.  
I called Mama, to let her know I had arrived safely.  As old, as I am, she still wants to know. There are some. very few things that   do remain the same, in life.   Mama is making the best of the situation.  She misses Daddy deeply-and how could she not?  Her neighbors do all sorts of things to help out.  My cousins, have taken charge of all the yard work-and then there are her friends. Sadly, three of them are widowed now, all in the last year or so.  What a comfort they are.  No matter what anyone does, Mama has had to adjust to a new way of life and of course, that in itself is at times, overwhelming.  Nothing is as it was . . .or easy.  The good news is, Mama is doing what she can to “stay the course”.    . .We all are.


Tres has been with me a few days now.  He is on a break from school, til the next semester starts.  His dog has lived at the rabbitpatch, a few years and is sadly not doing well.  Tres had a trip planned  to the coast, to visit his best friend  and Sarah -but now there is a hurricane expected to come through in a few days!  I just found out a day ago and so I have taken inventory of the supply shelf.  We are fine, but will need to secure, everything outside that is not nailed down.  It is quite early for a hurricane, but it has felt like September, the last few days, as the air has been cooler and dryer – and the floss flowers are trying to bloom, too! 
This year has thoroughly disoriented me!  School closed in March and the pandemic descended, Daddy died in April, there was a frost in May!!  The way we do things have been altered drastically, – the unrest of society . . .and an early hurricane too! – And the subjects we must ponder . . .a cashless society?  for example.  “Old people” have always been accused of “not keeping up with change”.    I “wear that same hat”  now , for I am most certainly, one of  them. 


The days before a hurricane are full of anticipation.  We all listen to the many updates and track the storm fervently.  We go over supplies repeatedly.  We  must anticipate losing power and roads being closed.  Country folks worry about such things especially, for there are trees every where likely to tumble.  . .andwe are always last on the list of assistance from the county.   It will be the farmers that clear our roads.   We do not usually have to worry about major flooding, for though creeks may rise, they do not  cause the same predicament that rivers do.  
Once “Farm Life” went without power about two weeks.  A lot of folks have generators . . .but of course, the rabbitpatch does not.  I hung a water  hose, in the “Quiet Garden”, for there is a fence around it covered in roses, deeming it private.  We showered there.  Food was cooked on a grill, twice a day.  I set up a place to wash clothes.  I had a tub for soaking, one for washing and one for rinsing.  It took all day for them to dry for I could never wring them out efficiently.  I will never forget the day the power company trucks rode by,  A lot of us were working in our yards and we all cheered at the sight of them.  
Other times, hurricanes passed without too much ado.  . . A few days of wind and rain.  If heavy rains come first, then the chances of downed trees increases dramatically.  I always  pray for my trees, in their presence , before a hurricane.  
A leaning pine was here, when I first moved to the rabbitpatch.  It was growing on the edge of the young woods.  It was dreadful to see.  Everyone that came here, encouraged me to cut it down.  I can’t even cut a Christmas tree and so the thing remained.  It was a tall tree and there was a stable and a chicken coop, that were dangerously close.  Everyone said I would lose one or the other, when it fell.  It was very likely.  There was one place the pine could fall, which would spare both-just a sliver of open space.  I talked to God about it.  I asked Him, “why couldn’t I be a normal person, instead of caring about an unsightly leaning pine.”  Certainly, life would be so much easier, if my heart were not so soft, I thought.  I do not have a bit of mercy for poison vines, nor the awful thorned ones, but the pine had yet to harm a living soul.
  As a storm approached, one year, I had an idea, that the pine would not make it.  I was right.  The pine fell neatly between the two structures, again not harming a soul.  You can draw your own conclusions, but that is exactly what happened.
I have also entertained the thought, that one of the old warriors will land smack on the house.  How God works, is His business, after all.  Faith does not spare any of us from tragedy.  If it did, you could sell it like hotcakes-but instead, Faith is a comfort, you have in spite of hard times.  It is knowing,  that we are not in this alone.  I have had my fair share of calamity.  Even now, I do not understand what I was supposed to glean from some of them.  My mind is either too dull, or very slow, probably . . .and sometimes, I think . .”maybe it was not about me!”  Someone else may have gained some value from the whole affair -and I just happened to be there, as well.  
For now, this morning is bright and slightly cooler.  All of the sheets are line drying.  The sick dog is not any better.  I have made chicken and rice-and scrambled eggs, but he fancied neither. The good, local veterinarian  prescribed more medicine, yesterday, so maybe “Champ” will  show improvement, shortly.  
Since, it is a fruitless time to do any yard work, I will concentrate on housekeeping, for the next day or so.   . . and just like Mama . . “Stay the course.

Remembrances from Raleigh . . ..

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