Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘summer’

It’s hot-hot-hot in Lexington, Massachusetts, and my mind has been wandering, as I think of other places where I’ve spent hot summer days in a pleasurable way.  The place where my head keeps going is my grandparents’ farm, in Cuddebackville, New York.  When I was a kid, we’d get in the DeSoto, with a pillow in the back seat for me, and off we’d go to the farm.  When we lived in Ohio the trip took a really long time – I can’t remember us staying overnight on the way, but I remember being cooped up in the car for hours – and it was always great to be freed at our final destination.

We’d drive down Route 209, the last part of the trip, and I’d smell the manure on the fields and watch the lightning bugs flying as the day died.  When we finally drove down the bumpy gravel driveway, I’d look for my grandmother, coming out of the house to greet us.  She always had a clean but plain housedress on, with her corset underneath, stockings rolled up at the thighs, and orthopedic shoes, hair freshly done for our arrival.  My grandfather would be sitting inside, in his overstuffed chair with the antimacassars on the arms and back, reading the paper or watching Walter Cronkite.  The cats, Taffy and Fluffy, would be hanging around, waiting for us as well.

We’d have a farm dinner (almost always including a huge plate of corn on the cob, boiled red potatoes, fried green tomatoes), plus homemade rolls, sliced red tomatoes, and a chicken my grandfather had dispatched earlier in the day.  There was unpasteurized fresh milk to drink with the cream floating on top — from the cows in the barn – and fresh strawberries or blueberries on vanilla ice cream.  Later on, there might be sitting in the living room while the grown-ups watched Lawrence Welk and I played with the dollhouse and dolls that were kept in the attic for my visits, or we’d get to see my cousins, Linda and Brenda, and their parents, my Aunt Edith and Uncle Fred.

Life was simple and good.  The next morning I’d get out of my rollaway cot with the quilt on it that Gram had made, and go to the kitchen where Gram was making a first breakfast for Gramp before he went out to milk the cows.  Second breakfast came when my parents were up, after the milking was done…and that was followed by Gramp’s retreat to “his” sitting area, in the cellar, near the coal furnace, where an old sofa was.  In the summer, Gram would sometimes go into the cellar to make jam, using the summer kitchen where it was cooler, to work her magic on peaches, strawberries, cherries, cucumbers for pickles, or to crank out her fantastic chili sauce or corn relish.  This is where I first got interested in cooking, and I paid a lot of attention to what she was doing.

My cousins and I would pick wild berries, walk down to the kill and sit with a fishing pole (I never remember us catching anything, but the cold water of the kill was wonderful on a hot day), or play in the corn crib up on a rise.  Later in the day we’d go to the old bus where Gramp weighed the eggs he collected from the chicken coop, or run alongside Gramp, his hired man, and Barney the dog, to bring the cows out to the night pasture near the end of the property.

I wanted nothing more than to explore the farm with my cousins or spend time with my grandfather.  Life was not fancy in this part of the world, and as I grew older, I got pretty bored with life on the farm.  It wasn’t till much later that I began to realize what a gift I had received from my grandparents and the rest of my family.  I really wanted to garden, and I started to seek out spaces where I could dig in the dirt and plant scallions or potatoes or carrots.  I realized that, when I was selecting corn on the cob, I had learned how fresh corn smells — and that smell is the only way I know to find the really good stuff.  I made jars and jars of jams, relish, pickles, and they were my Gram’s recipes.  One of the recipes even was featured in Yankee Magazine, when they ran their “Recipe With a History” feature.

When I think of home on hot summer days, my mind goes to the farm.  My cousin Linda lives there still, and the corn crib, though rickety, is still there, along with the barn.  When Judy Collins wrote the song, “Secret Gardens of the Heart,” she must have had such a memory in her head:

“…I still see the ghosts
Of the people I knew long ago
Inside the old kitchen
They bend and sigh
My life passed them up
And the world passed them by

Secret Gardens of the heart
Where the old stay young forever
I see you shining through the night
In the ice and snow of winter…”
(Words and Music by Judy Collins. Universal Music Corp. (ASCAP)/ Rocky Mountain National Park Music, Inc. (ASCAP)

I see the farm shining in the sun and in my memory I’m eight again.  Tomorrow, on  another hot day, I’ll remember my grandmother’s iced tea (loose tea, fresh lemons, sugar, mint), the breeze that came from sitting under the catalpa trees, and my heart will once more travel home.

Read Full Post »