Posted by Cassondra Murray Oct 20 2012, 3:52 am in Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, childhood memories, Fall, gardens, Summer, Tomatoes, winter
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 by Cassondra Murray Feb 16 2012, 4:49 am in Amish People, Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, gardens, spring, winter
The crocuses are blooming.
About three miles down the crooked, one-lane road from me, an Amish family built a house just last year.
There are lots of Amish people around here. But this Amish family is different.
The Amish folks around here are known for the cedar lawn furniture they build, their fabulous sourdough bread, and the produce they sell during the spring, summer and fall.
I used to carry mail, and I had several Amish, and some Mennonite, families on my rural mail route. I came to know and respect them, understand some of the differences in their faiths, and understand their ways of life. And I came to realize that I am grateful I was not born an Amish woman. Hard life, that.
For you who don’t know, Amish people are the ones who ride in horse-drawn buggies, don’t drive cars, have no electricity in their houses, and have, at least in the home, no modern conveniences that most of us think are essential.
I think it varies by region, but around here, Amish folks are different from Mennonites. Mennonites in this region also eschew stylish clothing, their women wear only dresses, and also wear head coverings. But the Mennonites drive cars. Many of them work in trades like masonry and carpentry, and those Mennonites often drive a Mercedes or a BMW. Not second hand ones, either. They earn good livings, use high-end power equipment, and have indoor plumbing and electricity.
A Mennonite woman wears only dresses, and a little white cap, with her hair twisted up underneath it. She can wear almost any color dress, although, come to think of it, I’ve never seen a Mennonite woman wear red.
Hmmm…must be the color of sin or something.
But no large prints. No matter the color, the dress is always very plain, with long sleeves, and always one solid color or a very small, discrete print. Mennonite men…well, they look pretty much like any other man, usually, though most have beards and they do not wear printed fabric either.
Amish women, on the other hand—they wear dresses made of cotton or wool, and always blue or black. Around here, they wear no other colors. They wear heavy bonnets, so none of their hair shows. Amish men wear wide-brimmed, roundish hats of straw or felt, have raggedy untrimmed beards, no moustache, and somber black pants with blue shirts.
And they never smile. Never. Even if their eyes smile, their faces remain somber when they speak with you. They will speak when necessary to conduct business, but they do not wish to be social with those who are not like them–who do not believe as they do.
Oh, and if the men are around, the Amish women don’t smile either. If the men are not around, the Amish women will often smile and wave at passersby, then glance around as thought they might get caught failing to “come ye out and be separate” from all of us heathen folk and our worldly ways.
And that’s how this new Amish family is different.
What does that have to do with crocuses blooming? Hold on. I’ll get to that.
This Amish family down the road…they built their house last spring, moved in, promptly began work on a new barn, and…the thing I was waiting for….they planted a garden.
About the first of May last year, they hung out a sign by the road. It was made of wood and painted white, and had two little hooks on the bottom, and depending on the day, other little signs would be linked up to it, one hanging just below the other in a string of offerings lettered in coarse black hand.
Tomatoes. This one hanging just below the one for corn. Each vegetable had its own set of little hooks, you see.
Grean Beans. Yep, that’s the way it was spelled. Whatever they had available on a given day, they could add that particular sign.
So when the sign for tomatoes appeared, I stopped.
I drove my shiny, inferno-red van into their gravel driveway, easing through a flock of chickens, and pulled over to the side. I sat there for a minute in my cushy leather seat before I shut off the radio and the air conditioner, then dug into my Fossil bag for my Fossil wallet, stalling a bit so I could look around.
Several strapping young Amish men, all dressed exactly alike, used a team of horses to haul loads of dirt across the lot in the back, building a steep ramp up to the fabulous new two-story barn. I saw them all pause and glance my way as I got out of the van, clad in tight jeans and a tank top with skinny straps. More exposed female skin than they’d see in a lifetime of sneaking around to peep in the windows at the Amish girls.
The boy handling the team of four big Belgians looked to be about 12, and clearly knew what he was doing. The barn, incidentally, was more solidly constructed than my house.
I pushed the button to roll down the power windows and stood by my gleaming, hot-red sin machine, scoping out the lay of the land. I shut the van door and headed toward the house. The front porch was veggie central, lined with tables, and there was a big, white baby scale front and center. Non-digital, of course.
A turkey gobbled in the barnyard as I walked across the driveway. No sign of the farmer or his wife. Two steps up, and I was on the porch. I peered through the screen door at the dark, cool front room. Four straight chairs sat facing the center of the room, one roughly in each corner. One small table held an oil lamp. No rugs. None of what I would call necessary comforts. Simple and clean.
I started picking out tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. I’d filled a plastic sack with produce when around the corner walked the proprietor.
And that’s when I knew he was different.
He smiled at me. A full, broad, welcoming smile. A genuine, glad-to-meet-you smile. As though I had not just arrived borne on the inferno-red wings of motorized iniquity, and were not dressed like the harlot Jezebel, poised to betray any available saint into the bowels of hell.
He might, I thought, even be glad I was there, and not just for the money in my wallet.
His hair and beard were white, but his skin was flush and ruddy. He was slender and spry. His eyes were pale, pale blue. And he twinkled at me.
Had there been a chimney, and had he been more round, I’d have expected him to lay his finger aside of his nose. I admit that I glanced around, just to be sure there were no reindeer. The twinkle was that pronounced.
It’s an Amish elf, I thought.
He introduced himself as John, and told me about his wife, Rebekkah, for whom he was building a set of shelves. They’d moved from Pennsylvania to be near their sons, who’d all married girls from a local Amish family. I knew that family—they were from my old mail route. Those girls used to sneak smiles at me when the men were not looking.
Maybe those girls were lucky enough to marry pale-eyed Amish boys who would twinkle at them, and smile at strangers. Even worldly female strangers in flashy red vans.
We chatted for a bit, the Amish Elf John and I, I paid for my produce, and then I climbed back into my blasphemous chariot of debauchery, pushed the button to roll up the windows, and drove out the other side of the gravel circle, dodging geese, turkeys and a guinea or three. I waved at the young Amish men working on the new barn. They all nodded somberly in my general direction, made no eye contact, and did not smile.
Three weeks ago—about the last week of January, I was driving down that one-lane road again. It was a warm day for January. And still, the land was depressing. Shades of murky brown and gray.
The fields have lain fallow since late summer, and though it hasn’t been so cold this year, and we’ve had almost no snow, even the stubble of corn and wheat has been worn down by the relentless, wet, winter blah.
I crossed the small creek, rounded the steep curve and climbed the rise.
And there was John, the Amish elf.
I didn’t see his face. His wide-brimmed straw hat was low over his forehead and eyes. The kind of hat the Amish usually wear in summer.
I recognized him by his posture, more than anything. He walked through the field that had been his garden. He strode across the ground, focused on it as though he were measuring it with his steps. I slowed as he paused to look up at the sky. I thought about honking my horn at him, but in the end I didn’t do it. He seemed a man alone with the land and with his God, and my noise had no place in it.
Two days ago I drove by again, and the ground was broken. Turned over in perfect red-brown rows of piled earth, ready to be worked and planted. No sign of John, but my heart beat faster, seeing that earth, turned by a plow dragged by a team of Belgian horses and a man with a twinkle in his eye. Soon there will be a garden there again, God willing.
This morning I got up, dragged myself to the kitchen and poured the Cup of Life from my fancy stainless steel Cuisinart thermal carafe—the one that had brewed itself on a timed schedule I programmed in last night– after I ground the beans in the fancy electric grinder and set the timer. The timer I’ve come to need as I’ve become dependent on technology for comfort.
I stood at the window and gazed out at my back yard. It’s still half mud, and half dead, smooshed grass. I watched the endless gray drizzle fall from the winter sky.
And that’s when I saw it.
Just a small, tight yellow clump beside the gray stones in the flower bed outside my kitchen window. Crocuses. I stared, almost breathing them in, as though if I took them into my body I could hasten the coming of spring.
Even as I was drinking in the color, my central heating unit kicked on to drive away the chill of 40 degrees outside. Yup, it’s still winter.
But spring is coming. I know because the days are getting longer. The flowers are poking their heads out of the ground.
And John, the Amish elf, has broken his ground for this year’s garden. Maybe he’s standing by the warmth of the wood-burning cook stove in his kitchen, with his wife Rebekkah bustling about. Maybe he’s sipping his cup of coffee brewed in an old-fashioned coffee pot, gazing out at his fields and seeing the first signs of spring.
I think we are not so different, he and I. John in his plain clothes and straw hat, walking his ground and oiling his harness. Me in my jeans and baggy sweatshirt, slaving away at my computer and driving the roads in my comfortable red machine.
Both looking up at the sky, waiting for spring. He may not have yellow crocuses blooming, but I bet he’s smiling, just like I am.
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Are there Amish people who live near you? And if so, have they broken their gardens for the season? Do you know them?
Any signs of spring where you are? (Or fall, for our friends Down Under).
What do you wait for, to signal the changing of the seasons?
Has it been a long winter for you? Has it been a hard one, or like us, have you had an easy winter so far? (I am crossing my fingers and toes that we don’t have a late winter here.)
Do you see any flowers blooming? If your seasons are opposite, are the leaves turning colors yet?
What is your signal to start thinking about spring? Easter? April Fool’s Day? What is your end-of summer holiday if your season is opposite mine?
Do you have any early spring traditions you keep? When does spring cleaning happen for you?
Are you like me…hankering for balmy breezes and flowers bustin’ out everywhere?