Sunday, January 5, 2014

NEW ENGLAND STATE OF MIND






How much art there can be in all the small ways of living. Sometimes we get lazy, but I think the effort spent in putting an ironstone bowl of pine branches on the table is well spent.   And getting out the fragile grandmother china is worth it too.   Often we do not bother to use the small gracious touches, and it is a pity.  For no matter what Heaven may be like, there is no use just waiting for it.   I’ll take mine now, with an open fire and apples toasting on a stick and good friends gathered around the hearth. 

 
Bowls of popcorn, and nuts to crack while the talk is merry.   Gladys Taber

 Stillmeadow Seasons  1950

When Gladys Taber wrote this, I was seven years old, with a heart for the fireside, a longing for the toasting apples, an Understood Betsy frame of mind kindled by those writings and that one little book for the great New England Winters and sublime Autumns, both coloured with the taste of not-quite-home.  Those places must have had different AIR to breathe, and a different slant to the sun.  I don’t know if I’d have felt THERE there, but I knew I’d feel at home.

My DEEP-South upbringing, the long hot days of unending Summer, the drying grass and the moist air settling like warm fog onto your skin, and the slow sun-drenched ticking of the calendar went lacking, somehow, in the loons calling on a lake and the crisp colours of October hillsides stretching far, far, with a tiny white steeple gleaming in the midst. 
And I thought Heaven might be like  Summer Camp in Maine.  Any mention of it could take me far from the smothering embrace of the big old pecan tree I was hiding in to read, to a dive into a cold lake before breakfast, and hikes through fragrant pines to a cliff-top picnic seemed the absolute pinnacle of childhood pleasure.   I WANTED to go to Maine to walk the woods and stand high on that windswept bluff and look out over the Atlantic. I needed, just once, the Paradise of sleeping on a cot on a ten-girl sleeping porch beneath the pines, to wake to the smell of bacon and hot cakes from the cook-tent, and a long day canoeing and crafting and then songs around the campfire.





I fervently imagined Connecticut on one of those flag-flying, orations-on-the- square, apple-pies-in-a-basket Fourth of Julys, or Vermont for Maple-Sugaring-on-the-Snow---I could feel and taste that cold sweet tooth-sticking surge in my mouth as I sweated in the viburnums, hiding my book from Mother’s don’t-waste-daylight eye.
The simple, quiet calm of anything New England just Called To Me---still does.

And Gladys Taber.   Bless her---I lived through her homey writing for YEARS---in my childhood, from our tiny school library.   Her cooking and flowers and dogs were a great source of entertainment, and I’m sure if I saw my “book card” today, it would be quite repetitive of the cool-weather settings and hearth and home tales that she wrote.  And later in my life, I would turn immediately to Butternut Wisdom on the last page of Family Circle, for I waited avidly for that small glimpse of where-I-wanted-to-be, and repeated the stories as I squatted in that inferno of a garden, telling them to my children as we picked.
 Most of the articles centered around Winter or Fall activities and enjoyments, a cooling thought as we labored in the sun, and even the fireside scenes were laced with the joys of having just come in pink-cheeked from snow-rolling and sledding and ice-skating. 






I’ve thought of Gladys Taber many times as I reminisce here about old times where I come from---the cooking and the living and the farming and all the folks I’ve known, and think that maybe I’m setting down a small memoir of my own---a meager, thin thing in comparison to that rich tableau she sent out into the world, but perhaps one of our yee-haw pots of pintos just MIGHT compare to that perfect crock of beans-baked-overnight with the deep sugars and the little hand of pork snugged deep into the middle.  I've never forgotten her line, "I think beans are elegant in any form."   And a crusty pan of black-skillet cornbread, redolent of toasty meal and butter, just might could compete with a rich, molasses-tinged can of hearth-cooked Boston Brown Bread on a snowy Saturday night. 



I DO know my blessings, and know where they come from.  She was one of them, and I remember her fondly-never-met, but oh, so familiar.  She’d be 115 this year, four years younger than my Mammaw, and if I could wish to have had two people together in that old front-porch SWANG, talking and telling stories, it would definitely be those two ladies of disparate places and infinite talents.


Old times there are NOT forgotten, but neither are the ones I’ve lived mostly through Gladys Taber’s writing.


6 comments:

Kathy said...

Wow! I've never read any of her writings, but now I want to. You write so beautifully and I feel I know you a little more now. I have that same "New England" feeling. There is just something about it. I'm glad I have been able to visit it so often. I think it's about time for another visit this summer.

mississippi artist said...

I could have written this. I grew up loving Gladys Tabor-and reading everything of hers-over and over again. I am going to check my bookcases, for surely I still have a book or two to get lost in during this horrible cold weather we are having in the South.

racheld said...

Now, THAT's a lovely thought to wake to---other folks who'd love to read some Butternut Wisdom on this frozen-shut day.

Thank you for dropping in today---it just feels so SILENT here, though everything in the house is humming and clicking and ticking as usual. There's a foot at least in the yard, way more up against the fences, a huge bunch of limbs still attached to the tree, but draped all the way down to cover Caro's car completely with their burden of snow.

Wish you were here---it's messy from our lazy holiday and this weekend, but we're making egg-drop soup with lots of Sam's chicken, and have good music and LOTS of good conversation to go with all these endless cups from the Keurig.

Justabeachkat said...

Oh sweet friend, just reading ANYTHING you write makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Oh how I would love one day to sit on your front porch "swang" and listen to you talk about your memories.

So happy to be back in the blogging world!

Hugs,
Kat

A Super Dilettante said...

My dear Rachel,

I want to read books by Gladys Taber right away simply because you recommend it. Your writing, comes from your deep rooted love of Southern literature in which the writers write when they have something to say...you take your time to evoke atmosphere or imagery like an impressionist artist who takes his time to apply his paint brush onto the canvas until he finds the right tonality. Whatever you write, there is a sense of yearning to capture the cultural drift or movement of life in arresting phrases in these sweetened memories of the past.

With warm wishes, ASD

Kim S. said...

Oooooh! Miss Gladys is one of the blessings of my life, along with you! I, too, discovered her at the library when I was young (more blessings - libraries and librarians)and I was enchanted. I wanted the life she lived. Writing, cooking, raising children and dogs and cats in a centuries old home. Heaven. Thank you so much, Rachel!