Category Archives: gardening

George and Walter A.

After Alice had made supper for us and Grandpa had a pipe on the porch we would head on down the old unused highway to meet up with George.

Alice was the older lady next door who had another exceedingly ancient old lady boarding with her. Alice made supper for Grandpa, the old soul who lived at her place and for me when I stayed with Grandpa. This went on for several years.

Grandpa passed away when I was about nine years old.

George was another old timer. He lived just at the edge of the old highway, down a lane that is still there. George would start out at his end of the old highway, bent over, both hands behind his back, head somewhat down, watching his feet and walk very slowly towards my Grandpa and I. We would meet up where the new road and the old road joined.

George and Grandpa were known as the two mayors of Poplar Hill. Two old farmers in their eighties walking along the road to find each other and talk over the day.Grandpa referred to this as having a” chaw” with George.

Going along on these civic duties I knew if I was well behaved I’d maybe get an ice cream cone at the corner store sooner or later. The cone wasn’t a sure thing. It was something you could imagine possibly happening and never asked about.

More often than not our return walk home would be completed in the twilight.Robie’s Store was usually closed by then and any hope of an ice cream drumstick was forgotten.

Grandpa had the cook stove fire embers stirred  low for the night. It was at this time of day that Grandpa seemed older. His walk had tired him.His steps were uncertain. His cane became his best friend.

Grandpa told one bedtime story. It was always the same one about poor little kittens  left out in the snow that were finally let in to warm up by the stove.Grandpa would add some special effects when describing how pitiful the poor kittens cried at the door while the snow and wind raged. I will never forget those crying kittens…..never.

Grandpa kept his house neat and tidy.

The parlour was kept sealed off unless there was any interest in looking at the faded green velvet picture albums of relatives or the need to entertain oneself with the stuffed turtle he kept there. He put newspapers on the floor to walk on and burned them in the stove when they were muddied up. You kept your boots on in Grandpa’s house. He kept his small pint of milk cool on the over head ledge going down into the basement root cellar. His bathroom was quite up to date with light green fixtures and kept spotless with a box of Spic and Span on the window ledge and a bar of pumice soap in the soap dish. For the most part, the bathroom was unused as an outdoor privy was preferred by Grandpa when he was on his own.  Backed right up to the large iron cook stove was a narrow cot covered with bed linens from years gone by.He kept a tiny box of generic liver pills ( Dodd’s) on the window ledge beside this cot.

Grandpa wore dark cuffed trousers with a faint pinstripe, grey and red work socks, overshoe boots that zipped up, a green cardigan with a off white pattern on the bottom edge and a black felted fedora. His long white and red striped shirt was also his nightshirt. Long johns were worn in every season as far as I know.

He kept his teeth in a mug of water at night. A handy thunder jug was under his bed. Two small old fashioned glass ornaments were on his handmade dresser. They are now on the same dresser which has been repainted in a soft blue in my guest room.A small blue and gilt top hat dish and a tiny golden pipe attached to a pink leaf. I like to think they were my grandmother’s keepsakes.

Fifty years later, I’m living in the same village not far from Grandpa’s place and just around the corner from the old highway lane.  People walk there, often with their dogs or when showing their visitors around our quaint community. The old highway has an area with a few houses and it is named after George’s ancestors. A street beside the cemetery has been named after my Grandpa’s ancestors. Alice’s house is still there. Grandpa’s house is still there. I never really knew where George lived because we always just met on the road and turned around and went home. I like to think his house is still there. It probably is there beside the old bridge at the end of the lane shaded by maple trees behind the long grass. I must ask Anna about it. Anna will know.

George and Grandpa along with about two dozen of their  male neighbour friends are in a historic picture on my mantle. It was taken the day the fellows were all together to dedicate our park . It is a memorial park. A well used, loved and safe place.

As far as I’m concerned they are still known as the mayors of Poplar Hill.

 

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The Will Must be Stronger

Such along time has passed since my last post. Why has the title appeared so bold faced when typed? I no longer know the features on this blog site so everything is new again.

Hot chocolate, made from a dark chocolate bar and hot milk( don’t try it) at hand and very late at night I settle into the chair ,  aching from an old church parking lot injury ( (don’t ask) and therefore suffering a bit for my art I decide it is now or never. I must write. Fighting off the cat from the laptop and from sticking her nose into the hot chocolate ( I’ll use milk chocolate next time) I make this feeble effort to at least open up the writing part of my quiet existence once more. I know I can do this.

It is the will that has somewhat atrophied almost to the point of disuse.

Folks in general have noticed my absence from writing. Comments, blunt and discreet are often made. The greeter at church one day mentioned it to a visiting minister. The coffeeshop staff have cleared a spot for me and reminded me of their hours of business, gently suggesting I should return to my table of soup, sandwich coffee and journal writing, people watching and listening in on conversations. Family send updates to writing events. Hints drop, suggestions are made, jabs here and there.

 

Even the winter creature that lives somewhere along the exterior wall under the radiator behind my desk has rattled on a bit with encouragement for me to return to my swivel chair, laptop and late hours. Mr. Mole or Miss Mouse or possibly worse nibbles and scratches a bit as I type keeping me alert. Nothing more arouses the will to write than the prospect of having this wee soft creature zip across my foot. It is like having a snake loose in a dark bedroom and being too petrified to confront it so the imagination must cope.

Topics to write about are overwhelming and yet some appeal to me. Reading, writing, poetry, music, theatre, family, cooking, gardening, teaching, pets are my comforting favourites. My own stories are on the surface, bubbling, waiting to be stirred. World issues, problems and general chaos are too much for me, yet provoke thoughts and  disturbing dreams. Am I reluctant to write of these things because of what they are or am I afraid that I will write?

Cat has jumped over the screen once more, the mug of wretched chocolate has been drained, the small creature behind the wall is quiet once more. The will to write has stretched a little ignoring the ache.

 

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Ever Bearing Berry Seasons

At about 9am yesterday morning I bought some wild black raspberries at our tiny farmer’s market. Gladly I paid three dollars for the large container. I know the young person selling the berries and I know she found them growing wild in this immediate area. As soon as I saw the berries I immediately thought of my mom and her berry picking excursions that usually included me very much against my will. At this point I started telling the group of neighbours gathered at the teeny market about some of the very close to the surface memories of my mom. They suggested I write about these preserved thoughts and as I have had a patch of dried up and fruitless writing lately I turned on the computer .I picked my usual late hours to produce this mixture of plucked recollections, revised a few words here and there and went by my old recipe of writing from the heart.

Throughout her youth, maturity and old age my mom was in tune with the seasons and made the very most of every available harvest. Berry picking was one of the most tedious things I could think of doing as I was not as motivated as she was by the hard work, strain, heat, exhaustion and endless boxes of berries from our own patch or from other commercial sources. I would rather read, act out stories, play with our puppies and daydream.

Despite this attitude I continued as the many years went by to  suggest to mom that if she would like to go berry picking I would go along or drive her to a local “upick” place as I knew it  would be fun for her. Once we were driven  by a farmer to the very back of a huge field and dropped off for the day so she could pick to her heart’s content. She was well over ninety years old, decked out in shorts and long sleeved shirt with a berry pail attached to her waist with a belt and jauntily wearing a sun hat and her favourite white nurse’s shoes and ankle socks. She was pretty impressive and caught the attention of several younger pickers working their way down the enormous patch. When she saw student pickers taking a break and resting she gave them a piece of her mind and told them they better get busy picking berries if they wanted to make any money. My job was to run the boxes of berries she picked to the end of the rows so they could be gathered up at the end of the day’s pickathon.That day my legs ached and I sweltered in the heat  in total sympathy with the  student pickers but she seemed  content and very proud indeed of her huge harvest. We drove around later to show the relatives what she had picked like  it was some kind of athletic achievement  to have the entire car full of  stacked flats of berries !

Another time at another upick farm and she was in awe of the size of the operation. It was almost impossible to get her to leave the place. She seemed to feel it was her responsibility to pick over the already picked rows to glean the berries missed by others. I pointed out that other rows were untouched and just hanging with ripe fruit but she was determined to give these so called picked rows another going over just for the challenge of finding berries other people, unskilled in extreme berrypicking missed entirely. She stood by our car finally with all the berries we picked and was a bit miffed at having to pay the  required full price by the owner.She had a point. These berries were the ones left by others, under the leaves and close to the ground. They had  been picked and salvaged, saved from waste by her expertise. These berries had been given the treatment her own berry patch was used to, a thorough going over, a picked patch, a job well done.

Again I was glad to finally get her out of there and home for supper. After eating a warmed up dinner of leftovers and several cups of strong tea and a soup bowl of fresh berries with sugar and milk we would face the cleaning and snuffing of the berries. I would sometimes help for a short time and then beg off to go home with excuses of lesson planning or childcare responsibilities. Mom would spend hours cleaning, snuffing, preserving and freezing the fruit, well into the night and totally pleased with her product. These berries made their way into pies and jam for the family and anyone else who would drop in for a visit.

The work she loved on the farm was like this every single day. Involved, committed, determined it was like an industrial project yet fuelled by her love of nature, gardening, farming and family. There were many such excursions and many similar experiences with home-grown fruit and vegetables . All of them are ripe memories just bursting forth at the moment, poised and ready to be simply touched, held and admired for what they are worth. They are inspired by the one box of wild black raspberries gleaned in the bushes and brambles by my young neighbour, undaunted by mosquitoes and the heat. I think I got a deal.

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Yard Work, Digging Mostly

Keeping me on my toes, the gathering of two family members, a neighbour, my librarian and  her daughters, I went ahead with my night to meet and encourage other community writers.

The sensory games and  creativity ideas were tried. Some poetry, mine and another’s ( a professional) published piece were read. A story about the influences of the neighbour attending the event, upon my writing, was pulled for my stockpile and read in it’s entirety. We ate fruit and dessert squares. Another evening, led by me, encouraging young writers was planned for the summer.

In the meantime, stories and threads of ideas were revealing themselves, The group dynamics were interesting. From the mixture of a very small gathering came ideas of reading with very young children, the trauma of  caring for elderly pets,decluttering household contents and wondering about the unforeseen future, knitting, crochet, tatting, hooked rug making, church yard sales, baking, cooking, reading cookbooks, dealing with children, throwing away blackened pots of burnt spaghetti, recalling the chores of working with father in the barn milking the cows and going to the mill and cleaning the house, despising those awful hooked rugs so heavy to drag from the upstairs bedrooms all the way downstairs to air them and clean them while sister baked, studying French and setting up a writing blog …. one that the mom , the librarian, can’t read because it will be all about her according to one of the young daughters.

At the conclusion of the evening another neighbour arrived. A young mother returning her library books, noticing us finishing up the brownies and the fruit tray, realizing we were a bit over the closing hour at the library. Familiar to me, a neighbour, we often say hello. I knew she was a fellow teaching colleague on maternity leave and an artist. Now I know she writes a blog. From just skimming through some of her blog posts I’ve also discovered that her husband is a poet.

All in all, a successful gathering . A very small community gathering of supportive people just planting the seed and nudging together the warming circle of stories, ideas and creativity.Tending a word garden takes effort and patience and with a sprinkle or two of interest it might even take root.

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Write Now

When I see a recently retired friend, neighbour or complete stranger I rarely bring up the fact that they are retired. I don’t think I’ve really ever made much of the fact that they are retired as it really isn’t my business and there are so many more things to talk about. However ,when I am out and about and run into these folks I am almost without fail asked about how I occupy my time these days in retirement.

Answers vary. Sometimes I say I do artsy things but that really confuses people. Sometimes I list things like…I go to the theatre, visit friends, read, write, putter around, cook, take care of things, pay bills and play with my sister’s grandchildren.

This really concerns some people.

They wonder if this is enough for me considering that in the years previous to retiring from teaching elementary school, I worked non stop, raised my son as a single parent, dealt with a very difficult divorce, helped my elderly mother, lead drama workshops, gardened, walked my dog, supervised a couple of cats, had a tearoom, baked pies and tea biscuits for the tearoom, did community theatre things such as organize, write, direct and perform as well as volunteer for front of house, usher, set dressing, costumes, dresser for actors and promotion of productions, taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir, exercised with friends, fixed ( as in paid for) a never ending pile of old stuff in and around my very old house including several vehicles, rented a couple  of cottages, drove up north on adventures to entertain my young son on his summer holidays, cut grass, did yard work, took dance classes, drama and professional qualifications courses, hung out with several very good friends, tried dating again with very limited success because I am a” jerk magnet”, lost a pile of weight, gained the weight back again, worked on never ending decluttering projects, scrounged and saved to put my son through university and support him in his theatrical pursuits and generally coped with stuff.

Now I continue to do theatre things with my adult son, enjoy my extended family, visit libraries “for fun”, read obsessively, blog, write a bit here and there, go to book talks, poetry nights, theatre outings with the girls, stay up late, watch foodie programs, cook a little, go to small farmer’s markets, visit a bit with my closest friends, supervise the golden years of a very old cat, provide dog babysitting for my son’s bulldog at the drop of a hat, do errands, fix things as usual, grow a few things, sit on my recliner, my porch and my yard swing watching the world go by, cope with my arthritis issues, try to be as healthy as possible and sometimes I even make it to church.

However, I don’t make a big deal out of finding out what others do in their retirement because I am a tad sensitive to the judgement of such an inquiry.

I never ask. I just write.

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Standstill

Hate the shed door.

Not really

a nice feature

keeping

garden tools in the little den

Poor cat, bipolar perhaps, but a hit and miss bird watcher like me.

Been sorting

out

some books since 2012 and still

not done

Stuff.

Watching neighbour feed the birds, a ritual everyday and the birds love it almost as much as the squirrels do, dependable creatures in a way.

The summer it will be too hot but that is when the door to the shed will get fixed

unless

it takes a few more journals over the years

to write

about how

much I hate

the broken door and how

the garden tools are still

in the little den

salvaged pots of fall plants primly sit with artificial lit ones and only a few dry leaves on the pointsettia beside the jug of bittersweet and the amaryrillis despite being too deeply planted inches up

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Late August

It’s that time of year again when everyone is either away or busy and they need me to take care of their pets. Actually, it is fun doing that. The old cat has taken over my bedroom while the visiting dog has once more taken over my recliner and I’ve moved myself into the guest room. I’m pretending I’m on holiday in there as well .
Neighbours are always dropping in just for a visit and I’m not even worrying too much about whether the dishes are done or not. The crickets are chirping, squirrels are racing around, bunnies are on the lawn and the Canadian Geese are honking overhead.
There are small piles accumulating here and there which represent projects and events that I’ve either put off during the summer or completed lately but haven’t dealt with tidying away. Books are piled on the table ready to go back to the library in a day or two. There’s no rush. Running to the local libraries is my pastime and actually, its fun doing that too.
Assorted kitchen bowls and antique platters are filled to the brim with assorted vegetables and fruits from the farmer’s market. Some garden goodies are also available from my sister’s farm so it is a time of eating what can be yanked out of the garden, washed off and sprinkled with a little salt.
My garden is feeling a little tired now because I gave up watering it but producing lots of kitchen herbs, peppers, onions and a few tomatoes. Marigolds are making a good show in the back garden along with assorted geraniums, purple petunias, blue morning glories, white and pink Rose of Sharon bushes, pink Himalayan orchids and a jaw dropping white mop headed hydrangea bush.
The side porch has a very laid back vibe with cushioned chairs, asparagus ferns, ivy and fuchsia impatiens. Here and there throughout the yard are small white concrete statues of a hen, frog, swan, horse, cat. A grey concrete squirrel sits by the side door. (Honourable mention also of a broken concrete mother duck without a head which has such sentimental value it remains, discretely placed.) A ceramic Christmas pig wearing a red toque and holding a striped candy cane jauntily looks out from under the bushes from whence he was originally placed by a family member who consistently denies doing such a thing.
Tomorrow is a day to visit with a retired colleague and another neighbour, drink tea and eat oatmeal scones. The dog will be here for another two weeks while his master is in chaotic show mode at the theatre. The old cat will just have to cope as best as she can. I’m planning on doing the dishes sometime tomorrow. The books go back maybe Tuesday. Little piles and projects will sort themselves out as they always do. The garden will fade slowly. Trips to the farmer’s market will increase.
Concrete statues remain the same, unchanged by the seasons.
Broken concrete mother duck, headless, still part of the garden, just hidden
slightly.

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