Tuesday, February 28, 2012


All pictures from Internet

Some time after we built our first house, way back when the children were very young, we brought a great bucket of rose cuttings from the huge, floppy-armed grasping old floribunda by Mammaw’s back porch.   The next morning, the kids and I went out and started digging holes around the two walls of the house not already gussied up with a row of boxwoods.

About 8 inches or so down, we struck a layer of gummy white stick-to-the-shovel stuff.   We proceeded to trace it sideways and out into a circle, and it was about 14/16 inches wide, and ran N/S as far as we cared to dig. It was a very pale gray, and we figured it went down several feet below that section of the yard.   If it had been a foot wider, I imagine it would have probably been discovered when they dug the foundation. 

The kids got out great bucketfuls of the clear, clean clay, and modeled and sculpted and smeared it on the outside of flowerpots and the birdbath and lots of lawn stuff.   It was just the most malleable, wonderful material (except, of course for the odd little hunk of dirt or rock, brought up in the excavating).

We bagged up some and they kept it moist and took it to school for other kids to see.  It didn’t have the distinctive smell of schoolroom clay---that one of several ingredients which make up the unmistakable scent of learning:  that blackboard and chalk and mint and rubber erasers and little children fresh in from a run in the cold, and maybe strawberry lifesavers and apples.   Occasionally perhaps there’s the lost fragrance of the cheapest toilet water the kids waveringly chose for Teacher's Christmas present---the kind that comes in bottles with a little maelstrom of glitter or a faded plastic daisy inside.

We kept digging that clay up for years, and as far as I know, it still stretches on forever, from way out at the barns on the South, far and away to the woods a half mile north across our fields.  It also may flow for miles in both directions, and might account for the hundreds of pot-shards that the boys found all in the fields over the years---as soon as the first rain after First Turning, they’d walk and look for hours of the day, finding bits and pieces of past lives---some with scribbles and incisings, some with little corners or swoops of patterns and pictures, mostly indecipherable from such small samples, but occasionally recognizable as a bird’s wing, a snake, or the arc of a moon. 

 The finding had been so long ago, that I didn’t think to mention it when we sold the house after moving here, but I don’t suppose the young man would have had any use for it, or would even care to know.

So it was privately, exclusively ours, and lent a little aura of cachet to the children’s standing at school---their own CLAY MINE.   I have no idea why I thought that stray thought early this morning, but there it is.   Memories, no matter how insignificant or fleeting, are the WE of us.

And the roses---they still flourish.  Last time I was there, the immense brambly arms with their blood-red burden reached up and up, scraping the eaves and barricading the windows like Sleeping Beauty’s hedge.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel:
We are certainly not surprised to read that the Roses have thrived in the clay. In all our gardening experience we found that Roses simply loved clay even though it would hold the wet and crack when dry. Strange!

Patsy said...

Loved the story, that was some adventure having your own white clay mine. Here we have black clay call gumbo but roses grow well in it.

racheld said...

HMMMM, HATTATS! Perhaps if I'd known that years ago, we might have had a thriving mine! The women of our area "worked" their rose gardens just like they worked the bean rows and cucumber patches. (And the Dowager Countess Grantham had not a patch on the pride and envy of those Southern Ladies at Garden Show).

Our roses were four-times descendants from the Old Home Place in the Hills, by dint of having been taken from my Great Grandmother's childhood home when she married, a clipping or two from those to the family cemetery, whence Mammaw got the clips which grew into that immense bush by her porch.

And the same day, we planted a little row of the same sticks WAY back at the field-line---all of which turned out PINK.

PATSY---ALL our acres were solid GUMBO. If it rained hard, you could lose your shoes just going to the mailbox.

Southern Lady said...

Loved your story, as always, Rachel.

The subject of "clay" was very timely. Just yesterday, our landscape guy told us the reason our Lorapetalums look sick is because they are planted in clay. Guess we should have planted roses!

Tonja said...

What a sweet memory! I can remember discovering things in the yard I grew up in and thinking no one else on the planet was as lucky as me! Perhaps it was put there years and years and eons and eons ago just so the youngsters who lived there would find it. I wonder how many other treasures there are in this world that we just don't dig deep enough to find.


jeanne said...

Funny about your clay story Rachel. I know for a fact it was a great source of fun for all who played with it as the years went by.

I have a memory much like yours on the farm in MI. When we were 8 on down our father had a trench dug across the back pasture to drain rain water from the field. It wasn't good for our cows to have wet feet all the time. At the bottom of the trench was white clay much like you described. We never removed any of it but we would jump in the trench and run and play on the rubber like clay. It bounced when we jumped on the wonderful stuff. We knew it was clay although no one told us. We were forbidden to get in that ditch so we kept it a secret. I have tried to tell our grandkids this story as they constantly want me to tell stories about the farm. They grew up in Fl. sand. Clay just didn't connect as to how much fun it was. HA!

Thanks for the memory.
Love, Jeanne

Kim Shook said...

Country kids have the MOST fun! Hmmm...maybe I need a load of clay? I have a climber that shoots huge stalks over the little porch over the side door. Big bare stalks at the bottom and maybe 3 blooms all season long. And I have two of those miracle roses that everyone has (can't remember the real name) - they bloom like crazy all season long and you hardly have to plant them. Not mine. A few measley little blooms and then nothing. I am garden-challenged.

Beverly said...

The only clay memories I have are of falling down in the red, mucky clay found in parts of the south. I was a priss, and I didn't like messing up my outfits.