Monday, June 20, 2005

Time is Fleeting...Wear Purple Now!

Time is Fleeting - Wear Purple Now!

"Time is fleeting and I'm not waiting to wear purple
Or red or kiwi or orange or magenta or any other color

I'll spend my time sitting under the sunflowers while the mares snuffle my hair and kittens play in my lap

Today I'll take my knitting to the pasture and chance a wet bottom when I sit on the ground
Samuel and Carly will nuzzle my pockets for treats of corn while the other sheep bleat at their boldness

My needles will lie quietly as I watch birds float on unseen columns of wind
The barn swallows and goldfinches and robins and even the buzzards will bring me joy on their outstretched wings

Tonight at midnight, the dogs and I will walk in the pasture
I'll whisper secrets to the horses and sheep
I'll look for falling stars and the big and little dipper and will nail Orion's belt with the north star

I'll drink good wine and strong beer and sweet water
I'll eat chocolate for breakfast and pastry for lunch
mix cream in my flavored coffee and turn up my nose at powdered milk and ill mannered people

Tomorrow I'll give compliments to perfect strangers and speak to people on the street just to watch their reactions as I grin at my silly self

I've worn hats for over thirty years and see no need to stop
I'll not waste happiness on tomorrow but spend it willy nilly today
Time is fleeting and I'm wearing purple now"

Sandra Bennett, copyright 2004

Friday, June 03, 2005

Cat Head Biscuits

How many hundreds of times have I watched my Grandmothers, Aunts and Mother’s hands deftly turn raw flour, shortening and buttermilk into biscuits? With the addition of a little sugar and vanilla that same mixture would turn into melt in my mouth sugar cookies.

In my earliest memories of Grandmother Hattie Gay’s kitchen I am seated on the 6’ long bench hand carved by Granddaddy, my elbows propped on the table, drinking in the sights and smells of Grandmother’s bustling endeavors. Grandmother made cat head biscuits...the kind of biscuits that would see a man through a day of cutting timber or laying railroad line. Her biscuits were huge, more like tomcat head size, and for a little girl of 3 or 4, required both hands just to lift them from plate to mouth.

She always had a churn of butter going so when those biscuits made their way out of the wood fired oven there was a mound of butter waiting to be slid between bottom and top. On special occasions she would have some black strap molasses heated on the stove, into which a pinch of baking soda had been whipped. Once the 'lasses foamed, the biscuits were torn apart and that hot ‘lasses poured over both sides. It was only when I was an adult that I heard the phrase that fit, “to die for”.

Aunt Bonnie’s hands could turn out a pan of cathead biscuits as well. She, like her mother, would use fresh ingredients, a wood fired oven and make the same miracle. Aunt Bonnie had the rolling pin that her Grandpa Samp had carved for his wife using a solid piece of poplar wood. Even so, Aunt Bonnie never actually rolled out the dough, but rather patted them into a round shape and took her tin can and cut out the biscuits. She said the more you worked the dough, the tougher the biscuit. The little leftover bits she would pull into a longish shape, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and tuck in the bread pan alongside the biscuits.

Mother doesn’t make cat head biscuits. She likes her biscuits a little less doughy and a little smaller. They taste just as good but, somehow, my eye and my mind are at war with each other. It just seems like such a waste of effort to butter and ‘lasses what should rightly, to my mind, be a ham biscuit biscuit. You know, one of those cute little biscuits made by beating the dough 300 or 400 times.

I, as you might imagine, make cat head biscuits. When Mother and Daddy visit, I do try to remember to make a couple of ham biscuit size biscuits but my hands reject the betrayal. It is always an argument to get my hands to pat out thinner dough in smaller sizes. Too often my hands are the victors and the loss is my mothers. When I bring the biscuits to the table, I see in her eyes a slight disappointment. Once again, I have failed her and we are each reminded of the differences between us.

My parents have a snapshot taken of me when I was 6. I stare defiantly into the camera and am wearing a cowgirl outfit complete with hat, boots and twin six shooters. I’m seated on a pony attached to a carousel and the owner had interrupted my daydreaming long enough for whom – Mother or Daddy? – to take my picture.

I always wanted to be a cowboy and live on a farm (never a ranch). I wanted to tend to animals, fix fences, work a garden but never hang curtains, vacuum rugs or wash dishes. On top of the betrayal of not wanting to be a “girly” girl I also made cat head biscuits.

My mother has often despaired of me over the years; but she and I are also alike in many ways. I share her tender heart toward animals, children and old people, her love of books (especially the Bible), putting up (canning) the garden every year and her dislike of wasting anything.

As importantly, I share her hands. Side by side the older and younger hands speak silently to decades of honest work, of loving play, of making a life for our families and ourselves. In her case, she tries to keep her nails manicured; I simply try to keep mine trimmed and clean. In the years I’ve lived on our farm, I’ve had nail polish on exactly one time but I do wear good gloves and that helps. Working with the sheep also helps as the lanolin works its way into my hands and, eventually, softens them somewhat.

I don’t think Mother understands my love of the farm, the mountains, my horses and sheep. She questions why I do the physical labor necessary to keep the farm going. My lifestyle puzzles her much, I imagine, as I did when she was trying to tame an unruly tomboy into a ribbon and lace little girl.

It is not in our physical looks that we are alike either. She is dark haired, brown-eyed and turns a lovely golden brown in the sun. I am her exact opposite; I am blond, green-eyed and sallow skinned. Rather it is in what lies below the surface that bonds us more tightly than death could separate. We are both strong women with strong opinions, strong likes and dislikes, strong love and hatreds. It is in our strengths that I find I am, after all, my Mother’s daughter. I look at our hands, Mom...our hands and our hearts.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Blackberry Winter

In the second chapter of the Song of Soloman, verses 11 & 12 it says, "For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

Around here it's more the voice of the peepers at night while birds, sheep, horses, cattle, cats and dogs vie for attention during the day. Blackberry winter seems later this year but, at last, summer has arrived. We've seen the last of the cold until September and sheep have taken to the shade of the few trees located in the back pasture.

Blackberry winter is the cold snap/spell that comes after the warm spell that comes, usually, in May. It's sort of like Easter, doncha know? Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox. At any rate, summer has arrived and to be dealt with by dipping my straw hat in the horse trough and then placing it, still dripping, atop my head. The bandana gets the same treatment and then tied, still dripping, around my neck. Thus, making a farm fashion statement, I trudge through the heat of the day *if* I don't decide to take to the lounge chair on the back porch first.

After all attempts to save it, the lamb died and was buried here on the farm and the other sheep continue on, healthy and convinced they are being starved. It would be funny if some of them didn't waddle when they ran.

Memorial Weekend was spent in the company of family and friends where Dad was born and raised in WV. My family settled the Appalachian Mountains of, what is now West VA, in the mid 1700's and established themselves as farmers and shepherds. The Appalachian Mountains are home for me; I enjoy their age and beauty and the history and tradition that so many of us share. Mountain and country folk have a special talent for porch sitting and savoring the niceness of food, fellowship and story telling. Many a pleasant hour has been spent listening to the stories that bind us one to another as well as to these mountains.

This family story is a bit fuzzy with the events having occured in the late 1800's. Granddaddy's daddy (this would be the Bennett side) had decided to move and, some say, uproot his family to travel, by foot, horseback and wagon, to a new homestead, some many miles and several counties, distant. Granddaddy's mother, his sisters and infant brother all traveled by horse drawn wagon, in the company of other folks in wagons. Most of the rest of the men and older boys (including Granddaddy who was a youngster) went by horseback and foot. Because the men could travel faster than a wagon, they went a longer route in order to buy supplies of sugar, salt, bolts of cloth, etc.

The wagon train had to cross a river that was swollen by flood waters. Usually, it was crossed at a safe place by locating a tree that had been uprooted and then lodged in a lower lying area. Great Grandmother found the tree and began the river crossing but didn't realize the tree had, again, been uprooted and moved further downstream. The wagon overturned and most cargo and all lives were lost.

When Granddaddy and Great Grandfather arrived at their new homestead it was to find seven coffins laid out with his mother, sisters and infant brother prepared for burial. Family lore also has it that Granddaddy's Grandmother was a Cherokee American Native, even a Chief's Daughter, but that knowledge, for certain, has been lost to time.

So many have gone on before; so great a cloud of witnesses. So many who have lived and loved and died in these mountains. We were cut off for so long by the very mountains we love and we've lost sight of so much knowledge and wisdom. So few of us pick ramps or branch lettuce in the spring or 'sang in the autumn. So much knowledge has been lost to us and, I believe, we're the poorer for the loss.

So, I plant a small kitchen garden, a few fruit trees and maybe a nut tree or two. I plant because I believe in a future where God's people will not only endure but triumph. I plant because I believe in a future where the stories will still matter and still be told.
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