The Endless Days of Summer

This has been the perfect summer.

After last year’s drought, I had decided that the perfect summers of my childhood were over, forever lost to global warming. I still believe that mankind has done more damage to this Earth than it can handle. But this post isn’t about polar bears or melting icecaps.

As I said, this has been the perfect summer. There have been plenty of sunshiny days. I have longed to take one of my great-grandmother’s quilts outside and just lay in the sun watching the big fluffy clouds slowly make their way across the sky. The rain, which was plentiful during early May and June, has dissipated into temporary downpours. The temperatures have been manageable; it’s supposed to be hot in July, just not hell-on-Earth hot.

We’ve reached the endless days of summer where my teacher friends and family have stopped posting on Facebook about their glorious and well-deserved summer breaks and are now trying to spend every last sunshiny day off on adventures with their own children before they head back into their classrooms.

Handfull of Blackberries

Four cups of whole blackberries are enough for our favorite blackberry crumble.

We’ve reached the endless days of summer where I’ve stopped using measuring cups. By now, I’ve learned that my hands can easily hold two cups of berries. Four big handfuls is the perfect amount for preserves. Or two big handfuls are enough for a cobbler. I used to be amazed that my grandmother never used a measuring cup. She instinctively knew how much there was by how it felt in her hands or looked in her mixing bowl. Pinch, dash, teaspoon, quarter-cup, half-cup, or cup, it didn’t matter. She didn’t measure any of it using the tools that Julia Child did. I often quizzed her about it. She couldn’t convince her youngest grandchild that measuring devices weren’t necessary, that when used meant that she had more things to wash. Or rather, I had more things to wash, as she didn’t have a dishwasher. After making preserves for two months now, I completely understand her. Don’t use what isn’t necessary.

We’ve reached the endless days of summer when children have slowed down. Kids who ride their bikes around our neighborhood are making their way lazily down the street, zig-zagging their way to a friend’s house or slowly creeping back home in the twilight. The eagerness they demonstrated in May has disappeared as if they know that soon they’ll be dragged into stores for new sneakers and new notebooks, that their sun-streaked blonde locks will soon be snipped into classic haircuts ready for back-to-school photos.

Endless Days

Life is good when its balanced.

We’ve reached the endless days of summer where everyone, including me, has a tan. I’ve never been a sunworshipper. My fair skin and the sun have always battled one another. But this year, we’ve spent lots of time on our boat, swimming around Blood River. We bought the boat last summer, in the height of Tomatopalooza, my annual tomato-canning festival. Much to the disappointment of my Beloved, we didn’t get to spend much time on the boat. I couldn’t balance canning, blogging, gardening, cleaning, and mowing with boating. This year, I think I’ve done a better job balancing life, and we’ve all been rewarded for it. There are lots of things I ought to be doing, but the time we’ve spent out there has been been better for us than any canned vegetable or gardening achievement. So instead of laying on one of my great-grandmother’s quilts watching the fluffy clouds slowly float by, I’ve watched them from the water, swimming around in a ski jacket.

We’ve reached the endless days of summer where every meal is coming from somebody’s garden or the farmer’s market. Even the offspring, who declared war on “leaves” and vegetables earlier in the spring, had no complaints when breakfast was a BLT on a biscuit. Matter of fact, he ate four biscuits packed in “leaves” and tomatoes with the tiniest sliver of thick-cut bacon. I only cooked four pieces of bacon, but when it was cut into thirds, it appeared that it was a lot more than it actually was – and I wasn’t surprised when there were two tiny pieces of bacon leftover. I knew that we all had packed our biscuits full of lettuce and tomatoes.

Girlfriends

Aren’t we fashionistas with our hats?

We’ve reached the endless days of summer where I don’t care if my preserves are “fair-worthy.” The cabinets are full of potential blue-ribbon winners. The time has come when I’ll shift from making fruit preserves to Tomatopalooza or PickleMania. As I write this post, there is a half-bushel of cucumbers ready to be processed into dill pickles. My last batch of blackberry preserves is on the stove bubbling away. Yesterday, I took two of my dear friends out to the blackberry u-pick. We had a blast. Unlike other trips to the patch, where I slipped into my own thoughts as I picked fruit either on my own or with a crew, yesterday, amongst the bursts of laughter and the secrets shared between girlfriends, we managed to pick just enough berries for preserves and pies.

Blood River

Who needs Kentucky Lake when the Blood River is so beautiful?

We’ve reached the point where the sun seems like it will shine forever. And the fluffy clouds will always drift across the sky. Until the wind shifts and the mercury in my thermostat refuses to rise, I’ll hold close these endless days of summer as long as I can.

When the Blackberries Ripen

Cheyenne's robin eggs

Photo: Cheyenne Medlock
Our niece Cheyenne found a robin’s nest while blackberry picking. To me its a perfect summer photo.

I love measuring the summer by what’s in season.

To me, fruit tells the story of summer. Strawberries introduce us to warm days, followed by blueberries at summer solstice. When the blackberries ripen, summer is at its peak with its long days and heat. Followed by the dripping sweetness of peaches and watermelons until crisp days when the apples begin to fall.

When I was a child I hated picking blackberries. The weeds, the heat, and the total discomfort of chiggers bites meant that I was completely miserable. Being the youngest of the bunch, I loudly proclaimed my discomfort and annoyed everyone. The louder I complained, the more angelic my siblings became. Finally, my mother stopped taking me along on their adventures. I thought I had won the lottery when she made declared me an unfit laborer.

I gladly marched across the road to be babysat by my grandparents or my great aunt and uncle who shook their heads at my rude behavior. I am sure my mother instructed them to keep the good times at a minimum while she and my siblings were off picking blackberries–hoping that I’d realize I was missing out on the fun. But I was strong-willed and determined not to ever pick another blackberry again. So when it was announced there were green beans to snap, weeds to pull, or a basement that needed cleaning out, I would take on whatever challenge they presented like it was the best thing ever.

Thus began my dislike of blackberries. Until I was 40 years old, my inner child declared them – yucky and gross. I avoided them like the plague. Then, a few of summers ago one of the vendors at the farmers market had organic blackberries for sale. I bought a quart thinking I’d surprise my poor, blackberry-deprived husband with his favorite cobbler. You would have thought that I had given him the moon – he was a happy fellow. So happy in fact, that I broke down and tried a bite. I was completely unprepared for the delicious nectar. My taste buds went wild and my Beloved had to pry the cobbler from my hands before I ate the rest of his favorite dessert. Over the next few days, I filled our freezer with blackberries from the farmers market so that I could make a cobbler whenever we wanted.

When I started making preserves, it was the blackberries that I found to be the easiest and the most delicious. The night I made my first perfect batch of preserves, Vince was sound asleep in bed. Sometime after midnight, I woke him up with a spoon in my hand demanding he eat. Bless his heart, I think I scared him with my insistence because he wasn’t exactly sure he wanted to eat whatever I was cramming down his throat. But then, he woke up enough to taste what was on the spoon. He sat straight up and declared my preserves the best he had ever eaten. A perfect recipe was born.

My blackberry preserves are simple – which is why I think they are so good. Its literally 8 cups of fruit to 4 cups of sugar. But not just any fruit or any sugar. I still insist on purchasing those organic blackberries I first found at the farmers market and I use organic sugar. The combination is glorious. And unlike fickle strawberries, blackberries have plenty of pectin. So all you have to do is simply cook them down enough until they set.

Last year, I completely missed the blackberries. I was obsessed with Tomatopalooza when the berries arrived at market. Then the next week, they were gone. When I realized that I had missed the blackberries, my heart was broken as there weren’t any berries in the freezer and only three or four jars of preserves in the pantry. My brother loves my preserves, as does Vince’s Uncle Gene. I love giving them jars of preserves whenever we see them. Obviously, their wives can buy blackberry preserves from the grocery, but its not the same.

Determined not to miss blackberry season again, I’ve been watching the roadsides for wild berries. I’ve discovered that my grandmother’s blackberry bush still produces, so I’ve been texting my brother for ripeness updates. I told Vince that if we missed the berries again this year, I was heading back to the fields and ditches where my mother took us to see if they were still there. Living in Murray, we’re about a week or two ahead of the growing season than that of my beloved Brown Road, where I grew up. Then a few days ago, we saw a sign for a You-Pick Blackberry Patch. We weren’t able to stop, so I declared that we’d go back while we were both off for Independance Day.

For the three days I was giddy with the thoughts of going blackberry picking.

The horrid memories of blackberry picking now forgotten, I focused only on the good memories. The memories of my mother in her summer dresses leading the three of us off for an adventure. Feeling the warmth of her hand in mine as she talked about the secret places she had always gone to find blackberries. In my mind, the now paved roads were once again dirt and gravel. The creeks we crossed were wide and clear. My heart and head were full of her memories.

With our niece Cheyenne home for the holiday and our sweet neighbor Peggy joining us for the adventure, we headed off to look for blackberries. Peggy told us of another you-pick that she visited every year. We headed there first but unfortunately struck out, as their patch was ending their season. All remaining berries had been pre-purchased. So, we headed to where we had seen the sign just days before.

As we drove up the grass path from the highway, we were amazed by the farm. Rows upon rows of blackberries were planted, some of the rows had been there for years. Some were newly planted. A sign was posted on the rusted tin barn barn – “organic farm, do not spray.” We had found the farm where the berries I had once bought at the farmers market where now available as a you-pick farm. We grabbed our buckets and each wandered off to find a row to ourselves.

group photo

Together we picked nearly 18 pounds of blackberries.

Most of the berries weren’t ready yet, but if you looked closely you could find berries perfect for picking. With the morning sun shining on my back and the birds singing, I quickly got to work. With each berry I picked, the world easily slipped away. At one point, I stood and watched each of my fellow pickers advance across their rows. Each deep in their own thoughts and memories. My heart exploded with love for them: the neighbor we adore. The precious niece that has filled my heart with pride and joy. And my dear Beloved who attracts swarms of bugs and chiggers by simply going outdoors – were there because I didn’t want to miss blackberry season.

While we were there, a young mother and her two daughters arrived. As they approached the rows, the mother softly told the girls that they only wanted to pick the berries that were black. Don’t pick the red ones as they aren’t ready yet. Her voice echoing the instructions my mother often gave me decades ago. Their voices carried across the field mingling with the voices of my mother and siblings. Not long into their efforts, the youngest began to complain. None of the berries she could reach were black, her shoes were wet, and a bug had landed on her leg. Her distress refused to be comforted. I understood her and smiled. Sooner than they wanted, they ended picking, and  left the field.

This summer has gone by so quickly. Now that blackberries are beginning to ripen, its as if Mother Nature is saying enjoy these remaining summer days. Because soon they’ll be gone.

My Very Non-Scientific Berry Preserves
You can use blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries with this recipe.

8 cups of blackberries
4 cups or 1 box Sugar in the Raw

In a large saucepan, combine berries and sugar over medium heat. Stir until sugar melts. Bring up heat to achieve a hard boil stirring frequently until mixture thickens to a splatty boil. Check for gel stage by dipping a spoon into the mixture. If the mixture drips off the back of the spoon, continue cooking. If the mixture slips or falls off the back of the spoon – then its done.

Ladle mixture into clean jars, leaving a 1/4 headspace at the top. Remove any air bubbles by stirring the mixture around with a knife or chopstick. Clean the top of the jar put on lid and twist ring until finger tight. Place jars into boiling hot-water bath canner, making sure jars are covered in water. Put on canner lid. Boil for 10 minutes, then turn off heat. Wait 5 minutes, remove lid, wait another 5 minutes, then remove jars from canner, letting cool on counter overnight.

A Birthday Cake for Kelsey

Kelsey Birthday

Our son has great friends, including Kelsey who turned 18 years old today. He’s a truly talented young man who will be glad to sell you a plaque or trophy, should you need one. Give him a call at The Trophy Case.

There is a reason friends bring desserts to our house: I just don’t have the magic dessert touch. But I couldn’t tell Kelsey that on Tuesday. We were making plans for a group of Sam’s friends to come over and play Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game that from my perspective is kind of like a well-mannered game of Cowboys and Indians. As Dungeon Master, Kelsey is the ringleader of the adventure. Before we hung up, he mentioned that Saturday would also be his 18th birthday. Naturally, I asked him what his favorite cake was.

“Have you ever heard of Heath Bar Cake?” he asked.

“Of course! How about I make one?”

Tentatively and very sweetly he said,”Oh you don’t have to bake me a cake.”

“Kelsey, it’s your 18th birthday. You’ll be at our house. Of course I want to make you a cake.”

“Then that would be awesome!”

On Saturday morning, after breakfast I asked Vince if he would run to Food Giant and buy a German chocolate cake mix while I stripped beds and started doing laundry. I explained that I needed to bake the cake while we were working around the house, then as it cooled we could run to Kroger and get groceries. If I waited until after we did the weekly shopping, it would be too late. The cake would be too hot to put the whipped cream on it.

So he went to Food Giant and bought two boxes of German chocolate cake.

“Hmm. Why did you buy two boxes? I only need one.”

“Well, you know. Teenagers.”

Then he went to walk the dog and I prepared the two boxes of cake mix. They returned just as I was licking the beater clean.

“Did you put both boxes in the same pan?” he asked.

“Yes, you told me to.”

“Hmm. I meant you might want to make two cakes.”

“Well, that’s not what you implied.”

I went on about my business cleaning the house and doing laundry. About the time the cake was ready to come out of the oven, I remembered that the sweetened condensed milk and the caramel sauce needed to be poured over the cake while it was still hot. Otherwise, it wouldn’t soak in. So I went to the pantry and got a can of Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. As I was looking for the caramel sauce, Vince made the mistake of wandering back into the kitchen.

“We’re out of caramel sauce. Would you run back to Food Giant and get some?”

I don’t believe that he actually gave me an answer. He just walked right out the back door and got into the truck. A few minutes later, he returned with four jars of caramel sauce. Well, you know. Teenagers.

I poked holes in the cake with a chopstick then blended the sweetened condensed milk and caramel sauce together and poured it over the cake. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed more holes, so I told Vince to grab the chopstick and start poking. Eventually, the mixture started soaking in, but the center of cake had definitely deflated under the weight of the caramel goo. We stood there looking at the sunken center.

“You could fill it with the whipped cream,” said Vince.

“There isn’t enough whipped cream in this world to fill that hole. We’ll just have to cut down the sides,” I said. “Let’s go to the grocery and just let it soak in. I’ll fix it later.”

On Saturdays, we have a ritual. We deal with the recycling, then we do the weekly grocery shopping. Sometimes, we divide and conquer Kroger. Sometimes, we shop together. It just depends on what happens while we’re in the produce department. Most of our basket gets filled from the produce department, which means it will take me a while to find the perfect veggies. If we’re just picking up a few things, then we’re in and out of produce in a few minutes. Today was one of those quick veggie trips, so it didn’t take us long to complete our shopping.

As we were unloading our cart at the checkout, I realized that we hadn’t bought any whipping cream. I must have had a panicked look on my face because Vince told me to go on. He’d finish checking out and then pay for the cream separately. So I crossed the store and headed for the dairy case. Surely by now, dear readers, you know that I wasn’t about to buy Cool Whip. After all, it’s processed. I had already sacrificed my “no processed food” rule by buying a cake mix. Excuse me, two cake mixes. The frosting was going to be made from real whipping cream. As I stood there considering whipping cream or heavy whipping cream, another customer came along. She couldn’t have cared less about my need to read labels. So I grabbed a single pint of whipping cream and headed back to the checkout. At this point, who cares if it had more than four ingredients. Right?

As the cashier was handing me change, I realized we hadn’t bought any Heath candy bars with which to garnish the whipped cream. So I quickly turned around and bought four bars. We laughed that it only took three check-outs to complete our shopping. Then Vince reminded me that he had already made two trips to Food Giant before we came to Kroger. Ha Ha.

When we got home, I declared the cake cool enough for the whipped cream. I asked Vince to level the cake by trimming down the sides to match the sunken center, and I began making the cream. It ended up perfectly peaked and a rich, creamy white. I was very proud of myself. I began spooning it on top of the now levelled cake and realized that I didn’t have enough. Then Vince tasted it.

“Did you put any sugar in this?”

“No. Why would I do that?”

“Because you’re supposed to? Have you tasted this yet?”

Crap.

So I took the whipped cream off, very carefully, so as not to disturb the cake itself or get crumbs in the cream.

“Want to go with me to Food Giant?” I asked.

“Sure. It’s not like I haven’t already been there twice today.”

So off we went to Food Giant to buy another carton of whipping cream. When we got back, Vince once again took Alex for a walk, and I read the instructions on the back of the carton — after I had poured the contents on top of the previously whipped cream. And after the mixer had started whipping the mixture into a frenzy.

“Fold in two tablespoons of sugar and one teaspoon of vanilla to two cups of cream,” it said.

Hmmm. That can’t be good, as I hadn’t measured.

But it looked okay, so I left it running while I folded the load of laundry I had left in the dryer. You see, our bedsheets were waiting in the washer. You will never know how many nights I’ve forgotten to move our sheets into the dryer. I was quite pleased that I had remembered them. After I finished folding, I pitched the sheets in the dryer and went to check on the whipped cream.

It was no longer whipped cream. It had become butter instead. I wish you could have seen the look on Vince’s face when I showed him what I had done. The stunned look, the bemused laugh, the frustrated “Guess I’m going back to Food Giant?”

Now do you know why I love this man so much? He didn’t make me go.

When he got home, I suggested that he make the whipped cream. After all, I had ruined enough cream and Kelsey would be here at any minute to set up. And I hadn’t started dinner yet.

After I scooped the last of Vince’s perfectly-prepared whipped cream onto the cake, I suddenly panicked. Again.

“Do we have any birthday candles?”

Thank goodness we did. We even had enough blue and green candles. I didn’t have to add any pink ones or use any emergency candles (which, yes, we’ve done before). When Kelsey saw the cake, the joy on his face was priceless. He may be 18, but he and the rest of the guys will always be sweet babies to me. No matter how long they grow their beards or how tall they get.

Happy Birthday, Kelsey. You’re one in a million.

2012 In Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 10 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Demise of Heavenly Salad

Heavenly Salad was my mother’s go-to dish.

It was a concoction of fluff, cherries, pineapple bits, nuts, and minature marshmallows. The recipe was straight out of the sixties. At our house, no formal meal was complete until the Heavenly Salad was lovingly arranged in its own crystal bowl, just left of the main dish, tucked in next to a candlestick. We ate it like it was ambrosia. I can’t remember a single holiday meal that it wasn’t on the menu. Even after we married, Heavenly Salad became a part of our holiday meals alongside my mother-in-law’s orange salad. It always amused me that my Tennessee in-law’s favorite fluff salad was UT orange. Coincendence? I think not.

This year, my family will gather for Thanksgiving at my sister’s house. Her menu will feature the same traditional dishes that have always graced our table. There will be a gigantic bird, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans (from her garden), deviled eggs, and macaroni and cheese. We’ll have that Rockwell moment, where we all look at the food before us and give thanks. When I called her to ask what I should bring, she said, “You make the Heavenly Salad.”

Great. The sister that has all but eliminated processed food and processed sugar is supposed to buy the crap that makes up this so-called salad? But I agreed and mentioned that perhaps I could sneak in some turnip greens. She chose to overlook my suggestion; after all, turnip greens aren’t a traditional Hailey Thanksgiving dish. Ever since that phone call, I’ve pondered just how I was going to tell her that this year, it’s time we ditch the Heavenly Salad. I know when I suggest it, it will send her off her rocker. Great wails of despair will come from kids who devour it. Everyone will feel deprived.  Well, almost.

So what do I do? Do I make it so that everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving and a sugar coma? Or do I use this moment establish new traditions? It won’t be easy. More than likely, I’ll cave in and make the darn stuff. After all, my sister is under enough stress already with tackling this holiday feast. And does it really matter? Probably not. And I certainly don’t have to eat it.

I wonder what a little bit of kale will do for it?

Heavenly Salad by Marcella Griffin
Featured in Countryside Recipes
Printed in 1962 by the Providence Rural United Methodist Women

3 eggs
2T vinegar
2T sugar
2T lemon juice

Cook and stir completely. Will be lumpy. Place in bowl. Fold in the following ingredients and chill.

1 lg can of crushed pineapple
1 package of mini marshmellows
1 c pecans pieces
1 pt whipped cream

Growing Up on a Farm

October 2008: A few days before our mother died, the three of us gathered our families on the farm and spent the afternoon taking pictures.

I loved growing up on a farm.

Even though our father was a coal miner by trade, he was a farmer at heart. He used to tease that he was a miner with a farming habit, as the farm spent more money than it earned. He would quickly tell you that the words “hobby” and “farmer” didn’t go together. There were years I watched our father pace the fences, wondering if we’d lose the farm. Only by the sweat of his brow and financial brilliance of our mother did we survive ruined crops, recessions, and whatever else came our way.

My favorite time of year was the fall. I loved going with Daddy out to the fields.  I spent hours watching him operate the combine. Back in the 70’s, there wasn’t room for two people to sit in the cab, even if one was a small girl. So I would wait in the grain truck. For hours, I played among the corn stalks. I read Nancy Drew mysteries. I napped. I’d stay for the whole day if he’d let me, watching and waiting for him.

When he would drive the combine up to the truck and start dumping, I loved jumping into the mounds of freshly harvested grain. (To me that was more fun than jumping into a pile of leaves.) I would walk the grain down, leveling it across the truck so that it was equally distributed. As my feet sank, first I’d feel the scorching heat of the grain that had been exposed to the sun. Then there would be the rush of cooler seeds underneath. In some ways, it was like playing hot potato, except I used my feet rather than my hands.  Once the truck was loaded, we’d drive to the grain elevator with grand hopes. While he parked on the scales, I’d jump out and head into the office and get us a couple of Grape Nehi’s out of the vending machine.

We met other farmers waiting to empty their trucks. They’d talk about prices and the weather. I was an expert on commodity futures by the time I was 10 years old. I knew every farmer in Hopkins County by name. And they knew that I loved a cold Grape Nehi on a hot afternoon. If Daddy was going to be making a return trip within a couple hours, he’d leave me there. I’d hang out in the office and would watch in wonder as they processed each truck. I would have given my whole allowance for a chance to test a load’s moisture content — but my arms weren’t long enough to reach into the backs of the trucks with the tester.

I longed for the time when I would be old enough to truly help around the farm. I watched Mother take over and drive the tractor (or combine) when Daddy headed in so he could go to work at the mines. I watched my siblings do their part with the livestock or driving the tractors or grain trucks.

Although they had fancy registered names, we gave them sweet loving nicknames. Baby, the grand dame of our herd, was my sister’s first heifer.

Over the years we raised a few horses and had a few pigs. But our primary livestock were the polled herefords that each had grand registered names which were dropped in favor of loving nicknames. The matriarchal heifer “Baby” ruled our herd. In the late 70’s, Daddy bought a sire bull that came from John Wayne’s ranch. I’m surprised he didn’t name the gentle giant “Duke,” but “Biggin” seemed appropriate considering he was the size of a Plymouth.

Our cattle knew we loved them. They would hang out with Daddy whenever he was out at the barn and would swing their tails in time to the country music blasting from the tractor’s radio. In the spring, calves were born in the woods across the main meadow. The mother would stand just outside the tree line and bawl until Daddy or my brother Bill would collect her and her newborn calf. One year, two sets of twins were born. Daddy was as proud as any “father” could be. Our little herd was successful and it grew.

When we’d head out on family vacations, the cattle would try and follow us. They’d break down a fence and start walking up Brown Road. Now any other time, we could literally leave the gate open and they’d never walk out. But as soon as we left town, they’d tear a fence down. Finally, my parents suggested that our neighbor park Daddy’s truck in the barn lot, with the radio on and the gate open–as usual. Sure enough the cows stayed by the truck, swinging their tails. They never even glanced at that open gate. They must have missed Conway Twitty more than they missed us.

My great aunt Jo Nell, my grandmother Anna Mae, Mother, and my sister Rita are with my great-grandfather, whom we called Papa Rudd.

Our parents bought the farm in the early 1960’s and for them, it was a dream come true. Both my great grandfathers had large farms on Brown Road. When my great grandfather, Papa Rudd, was in his 80’s, he bought 25 acres as a retirement project and then proceeded to clear it by hand. He was one tough dude who lived an austere life well into his 90’s. When the rest of his farm was sold, my grandmother and great-aunt didn’t sell that parcel. Every time I visit it, I ponder his legacy. Would he recognize himself in me? Am I as strong in character and determination? What would he think about the way I live my life? Would he respect it and call it worthy? I hope so. I think about him a lot and wish I could sit with him on his front porch again. I have so many questions I’d love to ask him. He wouldn’t answer them in the grand detail I’d love to hear, but I think he would try.

Despite Great-Grandfather Rudd’s puritanical personality, I loved him. After all, I was a child. I loved everybody. I would often push my way onto his lap and have a one-sided conversation about butterflies or the fairies I believed lived down by the creek. In some ways, we were pals simply because he was the oldest and I was the youngest. We were, after all the two extremes of our family.

One Sunday, the family was having lunch at my grandparents’ house. Everybody was talking and having a big time. But Papa Rudd and I were bored, so he suggested that we go walk around the yard together. Halfway around the house, he lost his balance. When his 6’4″ frame started falling, it seemed like a mighty oak was tumbling toward the earth in slow motion. I ran to the house and started banging on the metal storm door screaming like a banshee, “Papa!! Papa!! Papa!!” to alert the adults inside. When they got to him, he was already sitting up. He was rattled but amused by my reaction.

By the time I was old enough to help on our farm, Daddy had suffered two heart attacks and he wasn’t renting additional acres to till. Others began working our fields. My chores became more associated with housework than farm work and our little herd was sold. Daddy told me that it was for the best. After all I wasn’t going to be a tomgirl all my life. I needed to learn how to be a lady.

A green-eyed boy from Paris Tennessee swept me off my feet.

Growing up, I assumed I’d marry a farmer and settle down somewhere on Brown Road. After all, nearly my entire family lives there. I expected to raise cattle as pets and take heavy-laden hampers to the fields for impromptu picnics during spring planting and fall harvest. I never imagined that I wouldn’t live my life along the country roads of Hopkins County. But then, I never imagined a green-eyed boy from Paris, Tennessee, would sweep me off my feet and that we’d settle down and build our lives in an adopted town.

I find it ironic that, as much as I loved living on a farm, we’ve lived nearly our entire marriage in town. When we married, we rented a charming cottage among the cornfields of Calloway County. I love it. Every chance I could, I’d fling open the windows and breathe in the fresh country air. My Beloved hated it. In the end, we bought our first house just a couple of blocks from the university. A couple of years ago when we were looking for a larger house, I suggested we look for a farm. But we never found anything that we wanted. I appreciated that my Beloved was willing to look, but I knew he didn’t really want one. In the end, we found the perfect house, in the perfect neighborhood, surrounded by farms. At night, I often open our bedroom window so that I can hear the horses next door and the donkey on the other side of the patch of woods. Sometimes, when the wind is blowing just right, I can smell freshly-cut hay. In the spring, I can smell the tilled earth. It’s enough.

My siblings and I still own our farm. We’ve made decisions about its future.  Some of it will be kept. Other parts will be sold as none of us are farmers. Our parents always told us that it was their dream, that they knew it wasn’t ours. They didn’t expect us to keep it, but they expected us to love and appreciate what it provided us: an idyllic childhood filled with life lessons and memories of love to last a lifetime. Or least a few chapters of a blog.

If You Really Knew Me

I’ve seen lots of these posts floating about the blogosphere for awhile now. At first, I resisted the urge to participate. After all, I’m pretty open. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of blog inspiration, but I’m here and I’m ready to spill.

If you really knew me…

-you’d know that I own several pairs of shoes, but I only wear two pair.

-you’d know that the same thing goes for earrings, necklaces, purses, jackets, and scarves.

-you’d know that I can’t read directions. Rooted in dyslexia and reading comprehension problems, its why I never follow a recipe or assembly directions.

-you’d know that I hate it when other people pack my dishwasher. ANYONE is welcomed to unload it, but leave the packing to me.

-you’d know that my new guilty pleasure is the WWE thanks to my son. My favorite superstars? Triple H and CMPunk.

-you’d know that I never return unwanted merchandise. It will go to Angels Attic before I ask for my money back, even from Wal-mart.

-you’d know that I have music always playing, unless I’m in the car. Then I want my local NPR station – WKMS.

-you’d know that my oven always needs to be cleaned.

-you’d know that I hate my new haircut despite that fact that everybody thinks its more becoming.

-you’d know that I tear up whenever I hear Racer Band play 2001 Space Odyssey. Every. Single. Time.

-you’d know that I’d wear a turtleneck everyday, but Steve Jobs ruined it.

-you’d know that while I love canning tomatoes, I don’t actually eat them.

-you’d know that I hum to my dog. And he hums back.

-you’d know that I buy whisks despite the fact I already own several.

-you’d know that I don’t collect anything. But I have exceeded the acceptable number of roosters and rabbits in my house.

-you’d know that I love movies with subtitles.

-you’d know that I can’t do anything without Vince.

-you’d know that I am completely blown away that you are reading this.