September Calls

Summer isn’t over, but in our thinking, summer is over.  School has begun and even with no youngsters, in our minds, those yellow buses signal “Fall.”  Summer celebrations are mostly past and fall activities looming.  I quote this poem annually, so perhaps by now you can recite it from memory.  But it is perfect for September.  “The golden rod is yellow, the corn is turningbrown; the trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down.  The gentian’s bluest fringes are curling in the sun; in dusty pods, the milkweed its hidden silk has spun.  The sedges flaunt their harvest in every meadow nook; and asters by the brookside make asters in the brook.  From dewy lanes at morning the grapes sweet odors rise; at noon the roads all flutter with yellow butterflies.  By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.”

Mrs. Powers, my 4th-grade teacher asked us to recite lines of poetry for roll call.  I think many of us learned poetry that year that has remained somewhere in our memory files.  My mother read many of the childhood poems to me too — poems from Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Eugene Field and Edward Lear.  Poetry has a rhythm that children enjoy; it’s a little like dancing to words.  Currently, I get a “Poem A Day” via my computer. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of what I get, do I actually  like.   I understand that poetry expresses emotions when straight prose is inadequate, and I try to respect that, but there are some awkward and out-of-tempo poems out there. Bizarre even! I would still recommend reading a poem a day to expand the mind and brighten the moment. 

Speaking of bright moments, Kerm and I celebrated our 59th wedding anniversary just two days ago. Instead of dinner out, we made a fast trip to Pennsylvania to visit friends. It seemed a fine way to celebrate; being with people we so enjoy. In hindsight, that span of time brings a huge shower of good memories. Things that were serious worries have often given us good stories later. During the summer of 1964 — my brief Hippie stage — I urged simplicity for our wedding.n My parents should probably have received an award for super-human patience! Among other things, I insisted that we could use flowers from my mother’s gardens. Unfortunately, that August, the weather was uncooperative; we had a three-week dry spell, and when Labor Day weekend came, flowers, even in her huge gardens, were sparse.  It was late in the season for roses, early for chrysanthemums while bee balm and asters were looking dry and droopy. Fortunately, ignoring me, Mother ordered baskets of white and yellow gladiolas for the church. Then a Cornell friend, who had worked all summer for a florist, came with arms-full of chrysanthemums in gold, yellow, white and bronze. We filled bridesmaid’s baskets with those plus greenery from Mother’s gardens, and were saved from a no-flowers event. I must add here that my waltz with simplicity didn’t last past that summer, although on rare occasions, a remnant does pop up.

People often find a relationship of 59 years hard to believe. What keeps us together – Obstinacy? Habit? Tradition? Love? Certainly, marriage wasn’t/isn’t always either pain-free or effortless. We moved two states away from either of our homes almost immediately after the wedding, for Kerm was attending grad school at University of Maryland. Knowing my penchant for home-sickness, I should have been prepared for “gloom, despair and agony on me” but I wasn’t, and there were some hard days —-weeks —- months. We lived in a studio apartment, very close to D.C, in College Park. On weekends, we would drive for miles just to see green hills and farms. Kerm was probably as homesick as I, but handled it better.   Moving that far away, however, was probably wise.  We had only each other and so learned very quickly to make adjustments for living compatibly.

I think there were things that we did, mostly unwittingly, that nourished and sustained our marriage.   We never turned to family with our difficulties; they were hours away, so we handled any issues ourselves, sometimes well and sometimes not so well.  But we were stubborn about not sharing our woes. Over the years, we participated in quite a few learning experiences together so that we grew in similar directions and had mutual interests.  Marriage Encounter was one of those, and Faith At Work another. And we gave each other sufficient space for individual interests; togetherness is good, but so is doing things apart.  Kalil Gibran* says, about marriage: “Love one another, but make not a bond of love; let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.  Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup……sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each of you be alone.  Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”

Perhaps most important, was our journey into spiritual growth and understanding.  This gave us a strong foundation that didn’t crumble under irritations, misunderstandings or grief. We found ourselves part of supportive groups of friends, also growing in faith, who have made our lives richer, amazing and fun.  Kerm and I share similar goals for life, which is, I believe, quite essential to an agreeable partnership. This is not to say that marriage is an easy glide into the sunset. Even with love, there are always new problems or issues.  “What do you mean you can’t read my mind??!!” We still have “discussions” about too many meetings and what retirement means in daily living.  Any relationship, but especially marriage, takes considerable compromise, forgiveness, and a large sense of humor to still be having a good time after 59 years.  

There is mutual history too. A couple of weeks ago, PBS was doing a fund-raiser, that ended with an hour and a half folk festival. Much of it was recorded in the 60s and 70s but some few performers were called out of retirement to sing some of their old songs; I can assure you that the Chad Mitchell Trio can still put out some amazing sound!  What a wave of nostalgia! We were immediately transported to our twenties and thirties with “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “There’s a Mettin’ Here Tonight”. Not only could we sing along, but the protest songs are, unfortunately, still relevant today.  The answers to humanity’s problems and injustices, seem still to be blowing in the wind for many people.  During this programming, I experienced one of those little pop-ups of Hippie-ism 😊 and was glad to know this is still a part of me.  I’m avoiding stodgy-ism at all costs!  

September brings a change in seasons.  The actual equinox isn’t until September 23d, but flora and fauna are already subtly changing and…sigh… earlier darkness is arriving.  Summer birds are gathering on the overhead lines, plotting out journeys south; the grosbeaks are already gone.  Leaves are beginning to color around the edges and gardens are looking a bit tired.  I’m planning winter quarters for the two cats who snuggle together on the window sill, but can’t seem to share the same basket at night. As soon as the bears have traveled through (early November) we can move the bird seed back near the house.  All summer it has been, inconveniently, shut inside a shed, away from bear paws.  

It is time to harvest any herbs we want to keep for winter.  Some of the uses suggested for herbs in old books are most interesting, like dragging a bunch of rue over one’s forehead to cure a headache.  But there are many plants that really are useful for regular home use for cooking, cleaning and for healing. 

I usually dry some comfrey roots and leaves just in case of broken bones or sprains; it makes a healing poultice. One of its common names is “knit-bone” because it was said to sped up the healing of broken bones. I used it to reduce swelling when I broke an ankle.    Mullein, the tall stalk with yellow flowers and big velvety leaves is useful for respiratory problems and ear aches. Basil is dried and crushed for spaghetti sauce. I have made pesto with it too, but not this year.  Sage is dried and saved for stuffing at Thanksgiving and for a hair rinse made with sage tea. Common wide-leaf plantain, if crushed, will yield a juice that heals scratches and bites, so a bit in the freezer is good. Lemon Balm makes a soothing tea.  Chives, a mild replacement for onions and garlic chives, a tasty but mild seasoning replacing garlic, must be potted, have a few weeks of cold exposure, and then allowed to grow for use as a freshly-cut plant.  Burnet adds a cucumber taste to salads; I neglected to plant borage this year, which does the same and has lovely blue flowers too.  There are just so many plants out there that add variety to our cooking and stand as better solutions than many of the OTC drugs and panaceas.  And a handful of miscellaneous herbs in a quart of vinegar makes a fine cleanser for counter tops.

Early September is a satisfying time of the year.  “In the hazy days at summer’s end, when the air’s still warm and the green near spent, when the days grow short and the evening’s tall, you can feel the whisper—–’Fall!’” *   Surely it is a time to absorb sunshine, fresh air and outdoor aromas, indeed, the whole of these last summer days,as a buffer against the cold months to come.  It is time to relax, reflect, and be grateful.

Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at:

*Helen Hunt Jackson —American poet and writer; activist for Native Americans.  1830-1885

**Kalil Gibran — Lebanese-American writer, visual artist and poet.   1883-1931.

**Laura Jaworski —- Current American author, often found on theWeb.

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