Far Away Places And Long Ago Homes

Happy Birthday to Kerm tomorrow! And, of course, strawberry shortcake to celebrate the occasion.  I used to make him a strawberry pie, but biscuits and whipped cream are much less labor-intensive, and every bit as good.   

The two of us have not traveled this Fall, as we often do, but others will be bringing us stories from afar. One daughter-in-law and one niece visited Kenya in October. Both sons run up and down the East Coast for work; Toronto, Plattsburg, Long Island, Tennessee, Georgia. Happily, I am connected to many of you who live far from my cozy nook in the Finger Lakes. I enjoy hearing about your travels, and what is happening where you live too.  Far- away places aren’t really so distant anymore with phones, Email, Face Time and texting.

Depending on how cold lingers, if long enough to freeze ponds and lakes, geese may be flying south this month. We have “local geese”, that return to the community pond after raiding local corn fields, and then other geese journeying south to warmer waters.  The travelers often fly at night —- safer then. There is something haunting about the sound of geese traveling through the darkness, racing ahead of the coming storm or freeze.  Their calls arouse an odd wander-lust in humans and we think (briefly) about leaving our warm living rooms, for the adventures. Kerm and I sometimes hear owls calling in the evening now too; perhaps because there are fewer leaves to mute the sound, or maybe there is an carrying quality about chillier air. When I used to walk our Airedale, I would hear owls nightly.  For all I know, they flew along with us on those walks. But, having no dog demanding an evening walk, my night time forays are now limited. Occasionally though, even with windows closed, we can hear a deep “Hoo-Hoo” of the Great Horned owl on the hill behind the house.  

November is a month of nostalgia, for me. I’m not sure why; perhaps the change in the weather triggers thoughts of those far-away places and long-ago homes.  After living in just one home while growing up, and then in dorm rooms, Kerm and I began life together in an “efficiency” apartment just outside Washington, D.C.  An efficiency apartment means that it has a miniscule kitchen, a tiny bathroom and one larger room that serves for both living room and bedroom.  One advantage – little housekeeping required! We lived in a couple of other apartments before progressing to a half house in Pennsylvania. The couple in the other half of that house became dear friends, and we are connected still. With two children, we needed more space, so we moved into a nice, old farmhouse near Mifflinburg, PA., then to a house on a mountain, in the Catskills, and finally, to our home here in Spencer. These are a lot of places to recall. We had some difficult times and some wonderful times in each, but the years have been very good years no matter where we lived. When I remember the teen overnights and kitchen square dance rehearsals in Pennsylvania, the split-level, gabled attic in Livingston Manor (great for Halloween parties), evenings of creating skits, and noisy games of D&D or Risk here in Spencer, I know that we’ve been blessed.

I’ve always been a “nester”.  Back in the 19th century, “nester” was a derogatory term in the west; it referred to a small farmer, who settled on a piece of some large rancher’s grazing land; a nester was considered bothersome and in the way.  But today it means someone who is comfortable in their home, and who delights in collecting and putting together art, dishes, pillows, books; things that make a house especially theirs.  Even as a kid, I moved furniture in my own room regularly, and always had a bouquet of fresh flowers.  With hand-crafts, auctions, family pieces and ingenuity, Kerm and I have managed to turn each place we’ve lived into our place. This nesting tendency has landed us in our current situation of too many things!  However, the laborious down-sizing before us is worth it, to have created places that speak HOME to us – where others have felt welcomed and loved also.

Speaking of love, agape love, yesterday was All Saints’ Day.  In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the process for becoming a saint is quite rigorous.  However, in Protestant churches, “saints” is the distinguishing term for believers.  With this definition, I’ve been surrounded by “saints” all my life.  (This does not necessarily mean everyone had saintly behavior! 😊) Yesterday was a good time for remembering.  It was scrapbook-perusing time and memorabilia time.  I looked through an old chest that held fragile and dainty baby clothes from my great-grandmother’s stash; items made of thin dimity or soft wool, and embroidered beautifully.  They are a far cry from the terry cloth onesies we now buy.   Ours are practical; theirs were beautiful!  There is a Civil War Army hat and a ruffled satin bonnet from the same era.  The chest itself, ornate metal and wood with domed top, belonged to an ancestor, several “greats” back.  My bedspread is of knitted thread lace, in an intricate design, created by a great-grandmother’s skillful fingers. These items are my history, and they inspire hope for the future: “Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.  Be still, they say.  Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”* And that love continues on for those who come after meCarrying on and trying to do our best and being there for each other, are things passed down as expectations.

 Emphatic frost this week, has diminished flowers in the gardens, so now my arranging “skills” for church altar bouquets are being tested. Spring and summer flowers sort of arrange themselves; with a little tweak here and there, they just fall into place in a vase or basket.  But dried grasses, cattails, dried hydrangea or evergreens take more thought and coaxing into position. I think that altar bouquets should not only feature nice arrangements, but should create wonder in us at the variety of beautiful things, or odd and unique things, that we find in this world-whether they be called weeds or cultivated blossoms. But I will be glad when flowers bloom again.  

In November, we start thinking of the coming holidays. Our family celebrations have become simpler compared to those years before we became older and tired-er. 😊  We often traveled several hours, when the boys were small, to celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family; there would be tons of food and a rather loud euchre game amid the conversing and laughter. In another house there was a football game on TV, and maybe a Monopoly game in progress. That was then! Now, we have a good dinner (with sometimes a little help from Wegmans) with immediate family, here at home.  No traveling required —– for us!

Christmas could be even more congested. I made our small boys new pajamas for every Christmas.  I sewed gifts for family too, and was often stitching away on Christmas Eve.  We made several different batches of candy, from pulled taffy to chocolate fudge, and — of course —- cookies. Then, on Christmas Eve, after church, we traveled from mid-Pennsylvania to NY’s Southern Tier, and late on Christmas Day, to the Rochester area, regardless of potentially bad roads. Too often the boys were ill with colds, and we were exhausted.  In later years, even though we were at home, we embellished the season with an Advent brunch for friends, and, for many years, a 12th Night party. 

Our social gatherings are much smaller now, and, in the spirit of simplification, we have even spoken of a – gasp -small table tree.  Admittedly, at the time we were weary from cleaning up fir needles last January, so we probably didn’t mean it, but the large tree of tradition does take up a lot of room that could instead be used for people and dogs.    Eight of us plus a couple of dogs fill our living room to overflowing.  But it is fun, and whatever we do or do not do, we have a very good time.   

One rather new activity is making fruitcakes.  For many years, we were gifted with a delicious, pecan-filled fruitcake.  That is no longer possible, so I began making my own, mostly for my own pleasure, since neither husband nor sons like the candied fruit therein.  (Weird them!!)  But I have two or three friends who enjoy those cakes with me and this makes the time and muscle needed to mix that huge bowl of heavy dough very worthwhile.  A slice of fruit cake with a cup of tea, on a cold afternoon —– heavenly!

November and December really should not be a time of exhaustion.  I haven’t always practiced what I preach, but in recent years, I am more determined to not over-extend myself.  It has taken me a lot of years to realize that everyone enjoys time together without so many sweets, new pajamas or the perfect Christmas decorations. (Although I can’t imagine not having Swedish Tea ring for Christmas morning!) There is something wonderful about the Thanksgiving/ Christmas/Chanukah seasons; we need to quietly, enjoy the days, and absorb them. 

Meanwhile, we are only beginning November.  We have time!  Lots of leaves have fallen from the trees after last week’s rain and wind.  Our huge oak tree clings to its bronze leaves though, often until spring.  Bears have, we hope, gone into hibernation (though one came through earlier this week) so we can once again put suet out for the birds.  And it is good to: “Listen……..With faint dry sound, like steps of passing ghosts, the leaves frost-crisped, break from the trees, and fall.” **

Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.  

*Linda Hogan—not sure but has a number of quotes on Wikipedia.

**Adelaide Crapsey – from poem “November”.    – American poet, born in Brooklyn and raised in Rochester.  1878-1914.

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