Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's Blueberry Time!!

I’ve been watching and waiting for the “Blueberries” sign to go up at the corner of Spring and Hightower in Social Circle, pointing the way to Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm. The date has been circled on my calendar for at least two months – June 26 – so I knew that the farm was scheduled to open this past week-end. Seeing the sign was all the assurance I needed that the day had finally arrived!

I couldn’t go on opening day, and it just about killed me knowing that other people were getting my blueberries. I wasn’t generous at all in my thoughts, even though I knew there would be plenty of blueberries for everyone, as well as for all of the birds and deer. I thought about blueberries all day long.

“They’re as big as grapefruits!” proclaimed a friend when I asked her if she’d been to the farm yet. Her husband quickly corrected her exaggeration, stating, “There are some the size of quarters – big, juicy, and sweet.”

O.K. I had to wait, and without a lot of patience. The farm is closed on Sundays, so I spent the next day dreaming about blueberries ripening in the summer sun, waiting, like me, for Monday morning.

I awakened early Monday before dawn, with you-know-what on my mind. I waited as long as I possibly could, at least until sunrise, since the farm opens at dawn. I watched the sky brighten with the new day, and at 7:30 am, I was in my car driving the six miles to the blueberry farm.

I wasn’t the first person there. Two cars ware already parked in the field. I hopped out of my car, grabbed a couple of buckets, selected the row I wanted to pick from, and began my blueberry quest. The birds chirped their welcome (or was it a warning?) from the trees as I meandered my way down the row picking my berries. It was quiet and peaceful, and my thoughts drifted as I made my way from tree to tree selecting the most beautiful blueberries I was sure I'd ever seen. Grapefruit-sized berries eluded me - but I found lots and lots of luscious berries, ranging from pea-sized to the size of a big shooter marble. I was a happy girl, picking blueberries, listening to the birds, and dreaming of bowls of fresh berries and homemade preserves to feast on all summer long.

With my two buckets filled to the brim, I reluctantly left the blueberry field to pay for my morning’s bounty. By this time, I was excited about getting home, dividing out my berries to give some away, making preserves and syrup, and nibbling on fresh berries the rest of the day.

Let’s see – when will I go back? As soon as I have a couple of hours to spare. There are still more blueberries out there waiting for me!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Memory of My Daddy

From my book, "A Collection of Days", this chapter is appropriate for Father's Day as I remember my father.

Two Phone Calls

It was a hot, summer, Florida evening. Mama, Daddy, and I had finished supper and were clearing up the dishes when the phone rang. It was my roommate from Mount Union College, Jackie. She was calling to tell me that she was in Fort Lauderdale visiting her grandmother, and would love it if I could drive over to spend a couple of days with her. Of course, I was delighted with the prospect of a little adventure on my own- driving my baby blue ’64 Cutlass across the state to have some beach time with my good friend. I saw no reason why I couldn’t go, but when I asked permission, Daddy stolidly said no. After I hung up the phone, I lashed into Daddy about all the reasons why I should be able to make this trip, but he had as many reasons why I could not go. Our argument culminated with my screaming at him, running to my bedroom, slamming the door, and flopping onto my bed in angry tears.

I lay there crying, feeling sorry for myself, and otherwise despising my father for being such a stick in the mud. I felt like I was an adult, and he was treating me like a child. It wasn’t fair, and I was angry and hurt.

While I was in the midst of my temper tantrum, the phone rang again. Several minutes later, there was a knock on my bedroom door. Thinking the phone call was for me, and that Mama was on the other side of the door, I sobbingly responded, “Come in.” To my surprise, it was Daddy who walked over to my bed and sat down. Tears were streaming down his face. It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry, and I knew that something terrible had happened as my stomach turned a flip in anticipation of what I was about to hear. Daddy wrapped his arms around me and told me that my cousin, Madeline, who was nine months pregnant, had died suddenly. What about the baby? was the question that popped out of my mouth first. The baby, a little boy, was dead, too. My tears instantly turned from tears of a selfish teenager to those of grief, as the news sunk in deeper and deeper. Daddy didn’t know the details, only that she was gone. As I cried in my daddy’s arms, and felt his strong arms around me, I felt the love he had for me, and his thankfulness that I was alive and healthy. He was only looking out for my safety and well-being by prohibiting me from driving across Florida by myself, and maybe being a little selfish himself in an attempt to protect me from some unknown harm lurking out there on the Florida highways.

I have often thought back to that night. My emotions ran the gamut within about an hour’s time, and changed me forever. I never felt closer to my dad than I did that night, within a moment’s passing after thinking terrible and hateful thoughts about him. I never saw him shed tears again the way he did that night, and we never spoke again of that time we shared, wrapped in each other’s arms on the edge of my bed. We would continue to have our arguments and disagreements until the day he died, but we had a deep understanding of one another, which brought a more intimate daughter-father relationship, still alive even years after his death.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Little Gardening Basket

I don’t remember when Mama first began picking fruit and vegetables and placing them into her little brown gardening basket. I’m sure she must have had other baskets, but I don’t remember any except this one. During the growing season every year it either sat on her kitchen counter or was swinging from her arm as she went to and fro from her garden. She would come into the house with the little basket laden with strawberries, blackberries, beans, squash - whatever was in season at the time.

The last summer of Mama’s life, the basket sat idle on the counter collecting dust, used recipes, and assorted pens and pencils. Like her garden that summer, the basket looked forlorn and lonely. It waited patiently for Mama to get well and swing its little handle over her arm and head outdoors.

Mama didn’t get well. After her death, my brothers and sister and I went through all of her belongings, choosing what we’d like to keep and what we would let go. It was a heart-wrenching job, consisting of many shared tears and memories. Somehow, the little basket was overlooked and found itself in the pile of left-overs bound for the Salvation Army. Before I gave my final o.k. to call for the truck to come and pick up the remnants of my parents’ lives, I went through them one last time. I couldn’t let the basket go, even though I had more than enough baskets of my own at home. I picked it up, placed a few odds-and-ends into it and reluctantly gave my blessing for the dispersal of the rest of the pile.

This was almost fifteen years ago. Since that day, the little basket has been my summertime companion, carrying my own berries and vegetables and flowers. It has also been my connection to my mother every spring and summer, as I’ve followed in her gardening footsteps and think about her as I fill it up with the bounties of my garden.

This morning while I was picking beans, the basket fell unexpectedly to the ground, its handle still hanging from my arm. Upon examination, I saw that on one side of the basket the handle had slipped out of the woven reeds holding it, and the weight of the full basket broke the reeds on the other side. In tears, I scooped up the fallen beans and okra I had been picking, and placed them all back into the basket. Carrying it like an infant in my arms, I slowly walked back to the house crying over the little basket’s seemingly mortal injuries.

Back in my kitchen, I unloaded my morning’s harvest onto the counter and examined the basket more closely. Determining that it was beyond my expertise to try to repair it, I gently placed the handle inside the basket and placed it on a shelf where I could always see and touch it. I selected another basket from my collection – this one much bigger and sturdier – and silently anointed it for its new job.

I’m going to miss carrying my little brown basket to the garden every morning, as well as the bond it provided to my mother and memories of her. But maybe it’s time for it to rest from its labors and enjoy the pleasures of my kitchen. I’ve decided to use it to hold dried herbs and spices.

I’m sure Mama would be pleased.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Friendship Chain

It’s funny how an assortment of random occurrences will weave themselves together to become something meaningful in my life. Let me share this with you.

Recently, while looking for a new knitting pattern for a wash cloth to take with me to my Tuesday night knitting group, I found a pattern for a “Friendship Chain” pattern online. I saved it on my Favorites list, made a couple of copies, and began knitting a new wash cloth. It was an easy pattern, one that flowed smoothly as my knitting needles clicked against each other, and within two hours, I had a completed project that I was casting off from my knitting needles. Then I made another one, and another one. There was something about the pattern that I loved – it was symmetrical in its design, and the stitch count was easy to remember, making knitting rhythmic and musical. It reminded me of singing a familiar song, one in which I knew all the words. I was pleased with the end results, and added my Friendship Chain wash cloths to my growing bundle that I hope to sell and give away.

While knitting this interesting pattern, my mind wandered as the words “friendship chain” tumbled around in my mind like a song that hangs on repeating itself over and over as a type of mantra in my brain. Memories began to emerge.

I pictured summer camp at Camp Fire Girls’ Camp Toccoa, where I spent several weeks each summer as a child and teen-ager. In my mind I saw us girls standing in a friendship circle around the evening camp fire, our arms crossed, always right over left, holding hands in a circle, singing the camp’s signature song, “Beneath the Pine Trees,” and then “Taps”, before squeezing hands in release and heading to our cabins for the night. As a Camp Fire Girl, this was a familiar ritual. After each weekly meeting our small group would form a friendship circle with our arms crossed, singing “Make new friends, but keep the old – One is silver and the other gold” followed by “Sing your way home at the end of the day.” This was our friendship chain, and the pattern I was knitting strangely reminded me of our crossed arms, standing in our friendship circle. Singing, always singing.

Yesterday, Phil and I met our childhood friend, Luci, for lunch in Decatur. Luci’s mother has recently died, and we invited Luci to meet us to express our support and friendship. Our invisible friendship chain materialized as we talked, shared common experiences, and enjoyed being back in our childhood hometown for a few hours. The links of our friendship chain were strong as we relived childhood memories, walked down familiar streets, and laughed and cried together. As Phil and I drove home, I thought about Luci and the history of our friendship, remembering our MYF group at the Decatur Methodist Church, remembering similar friendship circles with arms crossed, as we helped each other through adolescence and along our individual faith journeys.

Last night, the final thread in this emerging tapestry completed the picture as I happened upon a PBS program on television on the folk singing group, Peter, Paul, and Mary. As I listened to their songs, I was a teen-ager,back at Camp Toccoa with my baritone ukulele, sitting on a top bunk with my cabin-mates strumming and singing folk songs, including “If I had a Hammer”, “Blowing in the Wind,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, and others that this group and other folk singers had brought into our lives through the magic of radio and long-play record albums. I also listened to these artists as they shared their experiences of singing during our turbulent teen-age years when Martin Luther King was teaching us about peaceful resistance, equal rights, and dreams of a racially unified America. In one of the video clips from a performance in the ‘60s, I saw Peter, Paul, and Mary standing shoulder –to-shoulder on stage with a group of singers and equal rights leaders, their arms crossed, holding hands in a friendship chain. I began to cry as I listened to their song and realized how folk music has been a vital link in my personal friendship chain throughout my life. I also heard an old, old message that had begun with the Camp Fire Girls’ friendship circles, and hadn’t left me, even though it had been buried until the day I found the knitting pattern for the Friendship Chain.

I plan to knit many Friendship Chain wash cloths. They remind me of the importance of my friends, the bonds that the friendship chain symbolizes, the strength of holding hands with friends in an eternal circle of love, and the importance of keeping a song in my heart.