Cotton tales

Cotton in the fields
reminds me of Granddaddy,
his recollections…

farm community
in friendly competition
out picking all day

he would pick the most,
winning proud recognition
when his load was weighed

the landowners then
permitted his returning
after the harvest

to strip the remnants
for himself, gleaning enough
to buy shotgun shells

Cotton fields abound this season in eastern Virginia and North Carolina

Modern cotton bales, waiting to be ginned

Harvested cotton field, with remaining bits my grandfather would gather to afford his shotgun shells. He called this “scripping.” When listening to his stories, I could envision him in his youth, strong and determined, never complaining of the laboriousness. His words only radiated nostalgic warmth and pride that he was able. Eventually, he said, the boll weevil forced out cotton and tobacco replaced it as the community’s cash crop. In the Depression, Granddaddy was a sharecropper; my father was born in a tenant farmer house. Eventually my grandfather “couldn’t make a go of it” and would find work in the shipyard three hours away, staying in a boarding house all week and returning to his family on weekends…for ten years, until the oldest children graduated from high school and he moved the family. Farming remained his love, however, for the remainder of his days. After retiring, he and Grandma moved back home where he planted glorious vegetable gardens, one of my own most-loved memories.

The funnies

I bought Sunday’s paper, first time in years. As in an actual paper paper. Saw it on the rack while checking out groceries, a giant headline about the state’s plans for moving forward with education in light of pandemic setbacks. As educators themselves (particularly those in the trenches in actual schools) are often the last to know, I thought perhaps I should read it…

Opened it up in the car only to have my attention captured by the comics.

How could I have forgotten?

All those childhood Sundays of sifting through the heftiness of sections and fliers to pull them out, that colorful layer beckoning amid the grayness of the world’s ponderous deeds and opinions.

The poring over every one, the laughter, the ink-smell… a preschool recollection of my grandmother showing me how to flatten Silly Putty over a panel to peel it up and find the image lifted, then stretching poor Charlie Brown’s round head every which way…understanding later, in school, what “newsprint” paper really was when blank sheets were distributed for drawing… often sketching pretty good replications of Snoopy and especially Woodstock in margins of random notebook pages… a fleeting recollection of two strips I cut out and taped to my bedroom door (one, I think, was Shoe and the other eludes me now; I can only remember loving it for its hilarious rhyme).

All this in one nostalgic flash, just finding the funnies in my hands again after so long.

For just that moment, I am child again, and everything is all right.

*Update: Finally remembered the other strip taped to my bedroom door: The Briny Deep.

Flavor of fall

Someone I love just gave me this “Brew” cup and infuser ball along with loose black tea leaves mingled with cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, milk chocolate curls, and calendula petals what’s not to love?
I am sipping liquid Autumn.

In my online writing voyage, I’ve just come to a new port of call—Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.

Those words, stories and magic, are all the passport I need to disembark and discover…

Today’s open invitation is writing about a favorite fall food, or one loved as a child.

My mind goes immediately to the breakfast cereal Count Chocula. I look for it at the beginning of every autumn now, but, if I recall correctly, it used to be available all year round when I was a child. I could be wrong. At any rate, I hadn’t seen it in decades when, maybe three years ago, it reappeared on grocery shelves as if by magic—poof! Voilà! —catapulting me, wide-eyed, open-jawed, straight back into childhood, to age 8? 9? 10?, hunkered over the cereal bowl, immersed in a book (for one cannot eat a bowl of cereal without a book, right? Isn’t it some unwritten law?). I wouldn’t stop at one bowl, see. Usually it was two. Maybe even three… suddenly my father is walking through the kitchen again, scowling: “First ketchup! You use way more than you should. Now this. Nobody needs to eat this much cereal…I’m buying three gallons of milk a week! For only two kids!”

What would he say if he could see how many boxes of Count Chocula I have, at this very moment, squirreled away my cabinet? Yikes!

Once this prompt got me walking around in Long Ago, savoring my Count Chocula, I began tasting other things… my mother’s peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses on top, slightly melted from the fresh-baked warmth. She made them when neighborhood kids gathered at our house to watch the annual airing of The Wizard of Oz on TV, in those pre-cable days. I think this was in fall… there was a chill outside. The grainy-crunch cookies with their soft-bottom chocolate caps, Dorothy, her comrades, her red ruby slippers (which I later went to see numerous times in the Smithsonian), dear Toto, Glinda in her iridescent bubble, the Emerald City, the music… all magic, all warmth… there’s no place like home in the living room with friends and family, taking a trip down the yellow brick road once a year.

I do not know why memory leads from that scene to school carnivals, the caramel apples and Crackerjacks that I did NOT like, the scent of hot buttery popcorn in the air, the delicious excitement of reaching my arm into a giant clown face with a cut-out mouth for a grab-bag full of little treasures…and onto Halloween, the shivery joy of putting on a costume and going out into the cold dark night with friends who looked funny, creepy, and spooky but never really scary, in a time and place where it was safe to go trick-or-treating from house to house to house…oh, and I never did like candy corn, although it’s pretty and fun to use as decorations, like for turkey beaks or tail feathers on tabletop arrangements at Thanksgiving.

—Thanksgiving.

My mother’s carrot cake.

Locally famous, the only carrot cake I’ve ever really liked. Everyone loved it. I have her recipe. I make it every Thanksgiving and again at Christmas. Her secret: carrots finely-grated to pulp and extra cinnamon.

—And there it is.

My favorite flavor of fall.

Cinnamon isn’t exactly a food in itself, but to me, it’s the essence of celebration in my mother’s cake, the aromatic allure of my new autumn spice latte tea, the crowning glory of hot apple cider, the thing behind my longing for pumpkin spice coffee at the first hint of coolness in the air, just as reds and golds begin tinging the leaves… interesting, isn’t it, this tree-connection. Cinnamon is, after all, bark. The dying of the leaves, the dying of the year, going out in a blaze of glory, cinnamon their royal embalming spice, rich, fragrant, preserving like memory, like immortality, like being a child at home, face pressed again the window soon to reflect candlelight, the holiness in holidays, flickering bright with hope and promise when the days grow short and dark…

My best-loved taste of fall.

Well, and Count Chocula.

—Yum.

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I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

On cicada wings

Cicada wing. Kristine Paulus. CC BY

A hymn, of sorts, on hearing one of my favorite sounds for the last time this year—it echoes from idyllic childhood summers and the country roads of my ancestral homeplace. A strangely sacred sound, it always lifts my spirits and aches in my soul at the same time.

High in the oaks

against the bluest of skies

the rattling swells

as its season dies.

An oxymoron

this buzzing call

from amid the leaves

soon to fall.

This song of my childhood

lingering still

in the last of the light

before the chill.

Full force, the cicada sings

—doesn’t it know?—

summer’s gone on the wings

of a song long ago.

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