Clinging To Summer
Posted by Cassondra Murray Oct 20 2012, 3:52 am
What does autumn smell like?
For me, it’s the first curl of wood smoke in the neighborhood. You don’t know where it comes from, but the scent of it foretells the cold to come.
It’s the aroma of chrysanthemums, spicy and bitter-smelling when you brush up against the leaves. My mom had a bunch of loose, gangly, hardy mums that were way too tall and lanky, growing by the side of the house. There was no missing them, because when I was a little girl, we had to go outside to turn the antenna if we wanted to see a certain channel on tv. There were only three channels, and adjusting that antenna was a skill every family member needed. Every time you turned the antenna, in autumn, you brushed up against those mums.
Fall meant the smell of ripe tobacco curing in the barn, apples, and pumpkin pie in the oven. One of my favorite scents, to this day, is the pungent, acrid-rich smell of black walnuts. About this time of year, black walnuts are thick on the ground, and we picked up buckets full of them every fall. They have a thick hull with a strong fragrance that to this day is one of my favorite things about the fall season.
I remember getting off the school bus on October afternoons at my grandmother’s house (we called her MotherGrant), and finding her and DaddyMike (my grandfather) in the garden, with a pile of towels and sheets sitting by the garden gate. I’d dump my books on the porch steps, and meet them in the garden to help get ready for the cold night ahead.
On crisp fall afternoons, they were covering up the tomatoes.
The scents of fall hung heavy in the air, but they were doing what they could to hold onto summer. It would get down to 34 degrees Fahrenheit that night, according to “the weather.” “The Weather” was, of course, the weather report on the radio.
It took almost an hour to cover the rows of tomatoes in MotherGrant’s extensive garden with sheets, towels, rugs, and whatever else she had in the house. Because that night, it would frost.
But it was just for that one night, you see. The next night, accordin’ to the weather, would only get down to 43 degrees. So if you could save your tomatoes for that one night, and then have them fresh off the vine for another week, you did so, and you were grateful.
When the time came, when it would get so cold that you could not hold back the bite with the magic cotton sheet, you harvested the tomatoes, green as green could be, and brought them inside.
Some you put on the windowsill in the sun, to ripen for a hint of the taste of summer.
Some you chopped, along with the last peppers of the season, and a few onions, and made them into a relish the old timers called Green Tomato Ketchup.
And some…some you sliced, dipped in flour, and fried. And supper that night was fried green tomatoes. That’s a basket of tomatoes from my garden, on the left. See that big one? That’s perfect for fried green tomatoes.
Things haven’t changed much. Last week, it got down to 34 degrees here in southern Kentucky.
I took every spare sheet I had, and ran down to my tiny garden by the driveway. My little garden is a pale, surface effort compared to the acre-and-a-half garden that MotherGrant and DaddyMike grew. But still, I draped the sheets over my six tomato plants, each one heavy with green fruit, and my sage, cayenne peppers, basil and marigolds, and weighted the sheet corners with rocks. It was supposed to warm up the next day, and just like MotherGrant, I was hoping to hold off winter for one more night.
The next morning, I got up and poured myself a cup of coffee. I looked out my multi-paned glass front door, down toward the garden near the road, at the white sheets stretched across the plants, and the rocks holding down the corners, and I realized I had completed the circle.
I am MotherGrant. Almost two decades have passed since she died, but I carry on, just as she did.
Later that morning I took the covering off the plants, and there they were, safe and sound. Green tomatoes hung on the vines, clinging to the hope of turning ripe before the hard bite of serious winter bit them down.
Every afternoon now, just like MotherGrant, I listen to “the weather.” Although sometimes I get my weather report on the internet, I check it just the same. Just like her, I plant my garden in spring. I pray for rain–and although she did not, if the rain does not come in summer, I water.
And in the fall, when the wind turns cool and I shiver a little and reach for a jacket, I recognize that stern warning of what is to come. And I cover up the plants, holding off Jack Frost’s deathly bite with the whisper-thin veil of a magic, worn cotton sheet, hoping for one more week of summer.
I do this every year. It seems like a long time to me since MotherGrant and DaddyMike went to garden on another dimension, but just as they were, I am clinging to summer, holding on by my fingernails. If I can hold it off long enough, the dark, cold days of midwinter won’t seem so long and hopeless.
It is the stretch between the last tomato in the garden and the first hint of crocus shoots in February that a soul like mine must endure while she lives on pure faith that the light will come again. That the sun will warm the soil and seeds will sprout. That tomatoes will hang on the vines and ripen in the sweltering heat.
So I hold off winter as long as I can. Just as they did, and their parents before them.
I was driving to town a couple of weeks ago, and hadn’t heard the forecast for that night, but as I came around a curve in the road, and passed a woven wire fence, I saw the bright flash of sheets—purple and pink and plaid—stretched out across a garden on my right.
I grabbed my cell phone. I dialed Steve’s work number. “Have you heard the weather?”
“Yes,” he said. “There’s a frost advisory for tonight.”
I turned my car around. I might be late for class, but I didn’t care. Knowledge would be there later. My tomatoes would not. I had to cover them up.
And I did.
This past week they cut the soybeans in the field across from us. That’s one of the combines in the picture below, cutting the field across from my house. As long as those beans were there, I could fool myself into thinking it wasn’t quite time to pull in for the winter. As much as I love to see those combines purring along over the slope, cutting the beans and stirring up dust, and as much as I love to be a part of the agricultural cycle they represent, I know what it means.
The beans are gone. Summer is gone. Winter is almost here.
I have my own stash of old cotton sheets now, some worn and tattered. Over the years I’ve used old rugs, sheets of plastic, and cardboard boxes to put over garden plants in the fall.
I covered my tomatoes last week for the two nights it dipped below 40 degrees. And even as I clung to summer, hanging on by my fingernails, I hedged my bets.
I clipped a bunch of marigolds, just to have the scent and the summer color for a few more days. That’s a few of them on the right, in a cream pitcher that belonged to MotherGrant.
And just in case the magic sheets weren’t enough, I pulled a few green tomatoes off of the vines.
And we had Fried Green Tomatoes for supper.
Tell me Bandits and Buddies..
Do you have a garden—either flowers or veggies?
Or did you have one growing up?
Did your parents or grandparents grow a garden?
Have you ever rushed out to cover up a beloved plant, to save it from frost?
Do you listen to “the weather” each evening, for sake of the garden or just to know what to wear to work the next day?What is your favorite season?
What scent says “fall” to you?
Have you ever eaten Fried Green Tomatoes?
If you have a favorite recipe for fried green tomatoes–or any other fall food– will you share it?
I have a great one. Sven may kill me, as he does not love southern food, but I promise to load my Fried Green Tomato recipe into the Bandita Recipe file today.
Posted in Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, childhood memories, Fall, gardens, Summer, Tomatoes, winter