Love songs

 

Becky, Kelly, and Ruth (playing peek-a-boo) on her third birthday

Sunrise is lonesome these autumnal mornings. Birds now feed on what seed is left in neighboring fields, the chorus of mating and fledgling songbirds gone from our treetops. Why don’t flocks drop in our wildflower meadow for a feast?

     And they’ve yet to notice the crabapples hanging from branches above my perennial island. I hope to watch their wings descend when they at last return for their windfall.

     Robins, cardinals, and jays seldom visit the backyard birdbath in September. Perhaps they’ve wearied of our cats, Mittens and Cuddles, and losing their young to our predator’s paws.

     Mitty and Cuds seem bored to tears, eat and sleep the shorter days away to roam the longer nights like tigers in an African savanna. My husband loses sleep over our prowlers—Mitty gone one way, Cuddles the other.

     The neighbors across the road love Mittens, a frequent visitor who helps herself to their cats’ food. “Mittens has the most beautiful blue eyes,” the mother of the house says about our Siamese-tortoise shell mix.

     Truly, I worry about losing another mouser on our country road. Yet, Mel and I cannot deny our pets their independence and friends as we couldn’t refuse our children appropriate freedoms. 

    When young people of our generation, we sang songs like “Baby I Need Your Lovin’” with the Four Tops, and “I Heard It through the Grapevine” with Marvin Gaye. Two of many innocent mating songs Motown Record Company released in the Sixties, little did we know how fast they’d fall from fashion in the music industry.

     By the time our three fledglings left the nest in the Eighties and Nineties, love songs like The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” had submitted to music videos, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” leading the pack.

     Enough to make parents of three young women nervous.

     Nonetheless, in faith and trust we released our firstborn to college in the fall of 1988 to gain an education and realize her dreams. She returned ten months later addicted to various substances.

     In 1996, while our second daughter studied on a different college campus, and the third attended our local university, our firstborn perished from a toxic reaction to alcohol and cocaine.  

    This long and silent season without birdsong is reminiscent of the years following Becky’s death. For in fall 1997, our middle daughter drove all her earthly belongings to San Francisco to pursue her teaching career. Several years later, our third daughter said she “had to leave this house of pain to thrive.”

     One reason why I left my broken home as a young woman.

     Dear Reader, obviously, birds behave according to their genome. They’ve no will to exercise. No eternal spirit to nurture. No capacity for compassion. Yet, I am grateful God created them to sing love songs during mating season.

     Meanwhile, I anticipate another fall and winter season, listen for the voice of my Comforter in the hour before sunrise. For His love song is everlasting, tender, and trustworthy in this world of pain.


The influence of Queen Elizabeth II upon the world

 

My pink hibiscus and Sweet Autumn clematis bloom in honor of Queen Elizabeth II

September 8 brought sad news to our world. Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom and British Commonwealths left her charges. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve not known an equal to Her Majesty’s enduring integrity toward those within her realm. Most remarkably, England’s Sovereign remained on her feet until days before her death.

     As most American students of my generation, I learned the history of our independence from the tyranny of King George III. I also came to recognize Queen Elizabeth’s face while watching our black and white television. Contemporaries, the young queen’s dark eyes, hair, and full smile resembled my mother’s.

     While Sadie O’Brien’s coiffure gradually turned gray, so did Queen Elizabeth’s. Considering the extraordinary burdens she bore, I find it notable that the queen survived my mother by eleven years. While recent news reports alerted every tribe and nation of Her Majesty’s failing health, I at last allowed that England’s Queen is mortal.

     This afternoon, September 10, two days after her death, I stepped into my perennial island for some solace. There’s no better way and place to mourn a beloved departed than to tend a garden.

     I considered the weight of preparations upon the royal family and staff, civilizations bereft of Queen Elizabeth’s wisdom, love, and faith, and prayed—Lord Jesus, grant peace to her family and closest friends.

     I pruned lilies in view of a pink hibiscus before two tall structures bearing sweet autumn clematis. The Clematis terniflora, also known as virgin’s bower, now bloom masses of white stars on the sunny side of the towers laden with vines. Within a week in the night, the scent of sweet clematis will reach my study window.

     This timely gift symbolizes the lives of those who perished in New York City on the tragic day of September 11, 2001. Then, with fellow Americans safe in our homes, we watched the horror of suicide terrorists fly passenger jets into the towers of our World Trade Center.   

    How the heart and mind meditate when alone amongst flowering hibiscus and sweet autumn clematis!

     I’ve plenty more pruning to do and vegetables to freeze before September 19, the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.

     Meanwhile, of Scots-Irish ancestry, I’m curious. What established the late monarch’s affection for Scotland? What achievements did Queen Elizabeth leave behind for her homeland and the world’s posterity?

     Although I know little about Queen Elizabeth II’s life and times, I’m well familiar with the tasty Queen Cake, baked in Jinja town, Uganda, a British protectorate from 1894-1962.

     While I visited my daughter, her husband, and adopted son in Uganda, December 2010, we purchased Queen Cakes from the local bakery down the street from their house.

     Dear Reader, next Monday morning, in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, I shall bake Queen Cakes and brew English Breakfast Tea. Joining millions around this marvelous earth, I will observe her funeral—the lasting influence of her genteel life upon humankind.   

    Someday, we shall meet at the Supper of the Lamb, our eternal Sovereign and Lord Jesus Christ.      


Prized food traditions

Lisa Jaroch (L) and me, Labor Day weekend 
When the peach mecca of Michigan celebrates the fruit in downtown Romeo Labor Day weekend, the taste for pie and ice cream comes naturally. Alone for the holiday, I left laundry on the clothesline Saturday morning in pursuit of my slice a la mode.

In route, I turned south on Campground to Cold Frame Farm, making the most of my time and petro. Every Friday and Saturday morning, Lisa Jaroch, co-owner and operator, blends a bread recipe handed down from an elderly gentleman that she’s perfected with rosemary. Be advised; she’s prone to sell out before noon.

Lisa also kneads a garlic-parmesan version for the cheese and garlic lover, and an onion poppy baguette. She keeps the bread warm on a tray under a tea towel.

Our little vegetable garden produces our favorites, however, Lisa offers a host of tomatoes, squash, and greens I find deliciously different. She also sells sunflowers and mixed bouquets including gorgeous dahlias. I regret there’s not one dahlia blooming in my gardens.

Lisa and her husband Matt also keep beehives and sell their raw honey. They include other artisan foods such as coffee and natural body products to support small, local businesses—one branch of their vision as farmers.

The couple also established a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) whereby folk sign up and pay in advance for their weekly orders throughout the harvest season. While I admired Lisa’s dahlias, a mother and her three little girls walked single file into the back of the barn.

“They’ve come to pick up their CSA order,” Lisa said. “They’re the sweetest children.”

You never know. Someday, one of those little girls might find herself behind Cold Frame Farm’s beautiful service counter.

After a pose for a picture with Lisa for old times’ sake, I drove into Romeo, found a parking spot, and walked into Starkweather Arts Center. Their gift shop never fails to tempt me with small pieces of handmade artwork perfect for gifts. A bonus is the annual Thumb Area Artist Exhibition now on show in the lower and upper galleries.

With my purchase in hand, I browsed several shops on Main Street and searched for pie and ice cream and an available bench or chair without success. Why not drive to Verellen’s Orchard on Monday after the parade instead?

This afternoon at 1:30 I waited for the drumbeat of Romeo High’s marching band. Families lined the curbs on both sides of Main Street. If ever you doubt that children love candy, show up for the Romeo Peach Festival parade and see for yourself.

 At last, the large, perfectly synchronized band I remember from the mid 1990’s led the several marching bands from surrounding communities. The lovely Peach Festival Queen, Madison Janabet, waved like the Queen of England.

Dear Reader, it’s impossible to feel alone when you belong to a community that adores sweet little children—and sustains a tradition that prizes peaches with an annual parade.

By the way, Verellen’s pie and ice cream were well worth the wait. 


Light of a mother's life

 

My daughter Kelly on the lookout of the oldest lighthouse in Michigan, Port Huron

During my annual dental checkup May 12 in Imlay City, the dentist referred me to a periodontist in Port Huron. An unsightly white growth had emerged under the gum above my right front tooth and needed his expert evaluation.

Having chipped my front left tooth at nine-years old, teenage orthodontics, and every molar in my mouth crowned, I’m no stranger to pain.

May 31 I drove north to I-69 to Port Huron where the GPS directed me in circles around downtown until I called the doctor’s office for directions.

I completed my new patient papers as a young woman wearing a white tee shirt, short bib-overalls, and sandals walked in. She signed in and sat before a window.

The sun highlighted her abundant roll of auburn hair secured on the top of her head. I recalled the young assistant with a topknot of black hair who works for our family doctor in Romeo, and couldn’t restrain my inquisitive nature. “Pardon me.”

“Yes?”

“May I ask how you perfectly roll your hair on top of your head?”

She kicked her long, slender leg crossed over the other and smiled. “Oh, I’ve worn it like this so long I don’t think about it. My son loves to play with it. He calls it Slinky, like the boys did in high school, because of the way my hair separates and moves when I turn my head.”

“You have a son?” I asked incredulous.

“Yes. He’s two years old and the light of my life.”

I remembered that feeling with my firstborn. Second. Third.

The receptionist called my name. Within half an hour I left the surgical chair in minor discomfort and holding gauze under my lip. The young woman with the Slinky hair had left the waiting room.

Weeks later the periodontist called with good and unusual news. “The pathology examination of the gum tissue indicates tooth matter. I’ve never seen this before,” he said. “This should not happen again, but let me know if it does.”

Last Monday, August 8, I waited in Detroit Metro’s Delta arrivals terminal for my middle, California daughter. At last, she appeared with her beautiful smile. Orthodontics straightened her teeth as a teen, yet there’s not one crown in her mouth.

“Kelly, I’ve never seen your hair so long,” I said, and couldn’t help but touch her thick, wavy auburn strands.

We stopped at Ridley’s Bakery CafĂ© in Troy for a late lunch.

“Mom, are you still available for a Port Huron trip tomorrow?”

“Certainly. You must have your fresh water swim in Lake Huron.”

Kelly laughed when I told her about meeting the young mother with the Slinky hairdo in the periodontist office.

Dear Reader, my daughter didn’t brave the lake’s rowdy waves last Tuesday. Rather, we found several heart-shaped rocks along the beach for my collection. We visited the Thomas Edison Museum and climbed the ninety-two steps of Michigan’s oldest lighthouse.

Oh yes, no matter how old, children remain the light of their mother’s life.


The aroma of reunion

 

Lowell (Augie) Johnson, me, Marty Halaas

When April 2022 appeared on my calendar four months ago, I thought this a fine summer for another Lincoln High class reunion. The 55th, specifically.

            I emailed Marty, a neighbor I grew up with on Wagner Street in Warren. A retired teacher and assistant principal of the city’s Lincoln Junior High School, Marty masterfully directed our 50th class reunion in 2017. The event included a picnic at Stoney Creek a Friday in July, and a dinner dance the following night.

“Are you up to organizing a simple class reunion this summer? Perhaps a BYO food and drinks picnic?” I wrote Marty. 

            “We’re out west right now. I’ll get back to you in a few days,” he replied.

            Our 50th reunion’s attendance numbered in the eighties, many spouses joining our classmates. With over three hundred fellow graduates in 1967, we had fun identifying the matured faces compared to our 25th class reunion.

            Yet, I instantly recognized Al Newman’s smile in the picnic crowd. Al, my senior-year sweetheart, hit it off with my husband. Al’s wife answered my questions about his ongoing battle with Agent Orange consuming his body.

            “We could drive from Cheboygan to Detroit’s VA Medical Center and back on auto pilot,” she jested.

            We met the following morning for breakfast in Lake Orion before Al and Denise drove back home. “You’re welcome to come visit us in Cheboygan anytime, but I recommend the fall. It’s beautiful,” Al said.

Sadly, Mel and I attended Al’s funeral early last September before the colors emerged.

Perhaps Al’s passing prompted me to propose another class reunion to Marty. Or, did our mutual need to gather at picnic tables compel about thirty-five of our classmates and spouses to share the afternoon of August 4 together?

During the first boisterous thunderstorm of this summer in North Oakland County and Macomb Township, two by two and one by one, the hardy LHS folk found the Ridgewood campground. Exclamations, greetings, and bursts of laughter echoed under umbrellas and the pavilion.

Jane and me

Jane, also a friend from my Warren neighborhood, and her husband Michael, joined our table. Reminiscent of the 2017 picnic, we mentioned our missing classmate. “We have no guarantees for a long life,” Jane said.

Marty lit the grill for the gang who ordered hot dogs and hamburgers. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my chicken salad sandwich and Michigan’s fresh fruit, there’s nothing like the aroma of a charcoal barbeque to authorize a picnic.

And you would’ve thought the laughter and decibel level declined while we consumed our meal. Not so. Perhaps due to those amongst us who spent a small fortune on hearing aids refuse to wear them.

Dear Reader, as the sun broke through the clouds, a group of women formed a semi-circle of lawn chairs on the edge of the pavilion. A mix of spouses and LHS graduates, they caught up on life between class reunions.

“My wife and the other girls decided they want to repeat this every summer,” Marty said.

            “Count me in.”               


The patience of a Blackberry lily

 

The first Blackberry lily bloom in my garden. 

As Mel and I walked the Polly Ann Trail, Char and Dan Sutherby relaxed in lawn chairs by their home in downtown Leonard. Char waved. “Stop for a visit on your way back,” she hollered.

            I’d met Char several times during events sponsored by the Friends of the Addison Township Library. However, I didn’t know Char’s home was the green, block cement house I admired on our walks. And I’d never met her husband.

            Now was my chance for an up-close look of their two-story farmhouse and spacious gardens. The cool, sunny fall day offered the perfect climate for congenial conversation.

            At last, Char announced, “The house and gardens have become too much for us. We’ll be moving up north within the year.”

            “Well, I’m happy for you two, but sad for us,” I replied.

            “Before we leave, I’ll give you some Blackberry lily seeds. The roots are prolific, so plant the seed where you want the flowers to steal the show. They’re small, but mighty,” Char said.

            When the Sutherbys moved, Char handed a bag of dried Blackberry lily stems to a friend who relayed them to me. The black seeds clustered on the stem’s end resembled blackberries, thus the common name for Iris domestica.

            Following “full sun” directions, I invested twenty-some seeds in the garden along the southern side of our garage. I also toyed with chance and sowed ten seeds in the backyard lower garden in part shade.

            I offered the remaining seeds to friends and forgot the Blackberry lily until springtime when I scouted for sprouts. 

            Nada. My fellow gardeners who planted Char’s seeds reported the same disappointing news.

            Another quick search on the internet recalled Blackberry lily seeds sometimes take three years to germinate. Flora must possess an independent spirit to find her place in my gardens. If this wee, orange blossom with red spots also known as “leopard lily” refused to bloom, so be it.

            Two summers later in the midst of a sustained drought, I turned the southern corner of the garage. There, a darling dark orange bloom lifted her little, red speckled face upward. A Blackberry lily! No, two blooms and several buds!

            Now, my eyes and hands know every inch of that little garden, what blooms in spring, summer, and fall. What I’d guessed a dropped and sprouted gladioli bulb had formed perfectly fanned flags unlike that of a glad.

         

            My solitary Blackberry lily is a member of the Iris family. This endears Char’s gift to me as another friend’s hand-me down purple irises do in the same garden. Successive bloom cheers a gardener’s heart.

            And more good news. These little freckled petals need no fertilization or winter protection, and are drought tolerant.

            Oh, what a pleasure to find a self-sufficient guest in my garden!

Dear Reader, the architecture of the spent bloom forms a perfect spiral, which later develops into a seed pod.

Patiently, I wait to observe this miracle. To harvest and share Blackberry lily seeds as Char did.


Eyes for beauty

 

A beautiful spider in my perennial island circa summer 2004

I first beheld beauty in my mother’s dark eyes. I grew to recognize and trust her voice, smile, and touch. Her scent. She satisfied my hunger, and one remarkable day, she opened her arms and said, “Come to Mommy, Iris. You can do it!”

            And I did, surrounded by a loving father and young uncles who lived with us in the McCoy Homeplace. There, nestled in a lowland Appalachians call a “bottom” sheltered by lush, green mountains, I played with my two sisters.

My father and uncles harnessed Old Jim, our mule, plowed and planted the corn fields. Straight rows of corn grew with my sisters and me. We ran to the barn and back while red bud, rhododendron, and mountain laurel bloomed above us.

One winter night Old Jim died. We cried tears of sorrow for we loved Grandpa’s old mule because our mother and uncles did. They told us stories about Grandpa Floyd following sure-footed Old Jim up and down the hill they planted with corn.

My mother looked upon that hillside as if it was the loveliest place in the world. On the other hand, our father set his eyes upon a barbershop in Detroit, Michigan.

Thus, in the summer of 1954, Sadie and Warren O’Brien left the McCoy farm with their three daughters and earthly possessions. Dad drove winding roads through the mountains and what seemed hundreds of little towns to Yacama Street where not one mountain or hill rose up to shade us.

Mom’s dinner table and spare bed became the harbor for relatives looking for work with Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and Michigan Bell. And so it was with the Italian, Polish, and German immigrants who also had left what they looked upon as their loveliest place in the world.

The saving grace of Yacama Street that summer was the magnificent Brown’s Creamery soda fountain nearby on Seven Mile Road. The window gave view to a counter where people sat on stools dipping long-handled spoons into tall ice cream dishes. The wonderful thought of scooping a spoon into one of those dishes produced a desire that my mother eventually fulfilled.

Yet, neither she nor I had anticipated my fright when my first day of kindergarten arrived. My older sister who suffered with asthma had entered her Open Window classroom with no hesitation. However, I feared getting lost on my way to school alone. Much worse, I’d never entered the huge doors of the two-story Gabriel Richard Elementary School. Who would find me if I got lost?

No matter how much I trusted and loved my mother, I couldn’t walk to school without her. Rather, I hid behind the large tree in the front yard and fell asleep. I woke with bird doo-doo on my head which provoked a knuckle rubbing from my mother.

Dear Reader, almost a lifetime later, I observe male and female cardinals feeding upon lavender shrubs gone to seed in my backyard.

One of the most beautiful places in the world, as is the perennial island in the front yard.


In the good old summertime

 

Red currants for compote

“See you in September,” a friend said as our Bible study group parted last week.

            “What? Only two months left of summer!” I replied.

            A hot, humid afternoon, I drove to Cook’s Farm Dairy in Ortonville. There, I filled two coolers with 25 containers of my “special order” Lavender Lemon Honey Ice Cream and packed them in my freezer. My guests anticipate this annual, refreshing treat come July and August.

Unlike many Michiganders who escape suburbia for their lakeside home, I prefer to avoid the Zilwaukee Bridge traffic. Born a fair-skinned Appalachian, the rural landscape with a swing under a shade tree appeals to me.

I almost learned to swim as a high-school sophomore when a friend invited me to join the synchronized swim team. My mother never knew my fellow teammates saved my life several times during those three years as a student of Warren Lincoln High School.

Although my front crawl, backstroke, and breaststroke remain pathetic, I carry watering cans and pull hoses to flower beds and pots like a pro. Yes, it’s a solitary sport, yet nonetheless engaging when I observe birds splashing in their backyard bath—robins the #1 bully.

We’re presently in a drought here in north Addison Township. If sustained, my bathroom scale may fall below 130 pounds for the first time in forty-five years. All I can say is praise God for my golf cart!

Yes, Betsy, my inseparable gardening companion, waits by my side to carry garbage cans of weeds and deadheaded plants to the back forty dump yard. My husband Mel replaces Betsy’s spark plugs and fills her gas tank to keep us going and my gardens growing.

Ah…my window’s open to birdsong and blooming daylilies. Eighty one degrees and thirty-three percent humidity. Wind five miles per hour in this good old summertime.

Hmm…I hear another song in the atmosphere.

            Indeed, this month in 1949, MGM released their romantic musical The Good Old Summertime, the leading stars Judy Garland and Van Johnson.

Five months old then, I now wonder if my father, a film fan, drove my mother to the theater in Williamson, West Virginia, to see and hear Judy sing.

            Wikipedia says MGM’s Technicolor production is a “musical adaptation of the 1940 film, The Shop Around the Corner, starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.” The plot of a mail romance returned in the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

            I, amongst millions, ran to the theater to see Tom and Meg perform in another artistic rendition of the 1937 play Parfumerie written by Miklos Laszlo. I would set down money for a movie back then.

Dear Reader, I foresee devoting a few winter evenings in 2023 to Jimmy and Margaret in The Shop Around the Corner, and Judy singing, “In the good old summertime, In the good old summertime, Strollin' through the shady lanes…”

Meanwhile, the larkspur need deadheading, the roses and peonies pant for another dose of foliar spray, and I’ve currants to compote.


The gift of floxglove

 

The first foxglove to ever grace my gardens

Our California daughter emailed at 1:47 a.m. this morning while my husband and I slept. “Just wanted to let you know we arrived safely in Uganda late last night. It’s the middle of the night there, so I will wait to call. I enjoyed some of the finest passion fruit juice on the planet with breakfast this morning.”

            Kelly knows I’m fond of Uganda’s passion fruit juice from the month of December 2010 I spent with her new family of three along the Nile. Twelve years later, in celebration of his high school graduation, Jinja Town, Uganda, is their first destination while visiting their adopted son’s family.

            I opened another transcontinental email received at 4:30 a.m. “I am in Australia right now visiting family and making new friends as you can see by the photo I've attached.” My friend Marilyn B posed with a kangaroo.

            Our group of fellow art lovers named her Marilyn B for “Battiste” so we won’t confuse her with Marilyn Smith. We also know Marilyn B as Smiley because she always is.

            Pondering Kelly’s and Marilyn’s wanderlust, I rolled back my writing chair, gazed out my study window and thought, “So, what’s my breaking news?”

            On cue, the first foxglove to bloom in my gardens waved three feet from my nose. Every day this spring I’ve watched the tall, slim stem grow, the buds develop and pink petals open their black speckled upside-down blossoms.

Eleven months after my friend Connie placed four Styrofoam cups containing a foxglove seedling into my care, I witnessed a hummingbird flit from flower to flower.

Alas, winter claimed two of Connie’s gifts, and the other survivor languishes under the crabapple tree on the south end of the perennial island. The seedling grew tall and lush last summer and fall, so I’m perplexed. I’ll keep weeding and feeding her and see what happens.

These challenges make my one blooming Digitalis purpurea more precious, even though I sighted more robust clusters of her kind on the fabulous 22nd Annual Rochester Garden Walk two days ago.

I confess, my one foxglove paled compared to the thick stems and layers of blossoms full of themselves and growing in a mat of thick mulch. Yet, every gardener deserves their success and praise for their labor. Akin to raising daughters, it’s vain to compare one’s foxglove to another’s.

As this is my first and only foxglove, I will leave her be. I’ve plenty perennials to cut for my tables and hostess gifts.

For larkspur is blooming! Imagine her blue with the native yellow Lanceleaf Coreopsis from our west wildflower field where lavender once grew.

When Marilyn B and our companions arrive in July for another garden potluck, I hope there’s enough daylilies and Asian lilies left for bouquets. And the hibiscus should be beautiful when Kelly, our son-in-law, and grandson visit us in August.

Dear Reader, perhaps the shoot emerging from the blooming foxglove will flourish to welcome home our West Coast family.

Now, that’s breaking news.                 


Adoration of spring

 

My rhubarb in sunrise

On a clear morning, the first rays of sunrise alight the stems of my Ruby red rhubarb. For weeks now, I’ve admired the flirtatious florescence of twenty-one plants.

I had no clue how beautiful this sour food could be when I planted the crowns well over a decade ago. Yes, the word “crown” suits this queenly spring perennial. She may reign up to thirty years when well fed. I use chicken manure water for her roots and a natural foliar spray for her large, heart-shaped leaves.

You may think I’m overrating this old-fashioned favorite sometimes found on abandoned farms nearby lilac shrubs. Farmers chose these companions with purpose, which you’ll know by the conclusion of my praises for this hybrid of Rheum in the family Polygonaceae.

I have a long, steadfast relationship with Ruby. If you’d tasted my mother’s fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a warm, spring day, you’d also be smitten.

Now, considering I gather fresh, brown eggs every day to carry uphill to my kitchen, why wait for local strawberries? Why not add sliced rhubarb to my favored custard pie?

Chess Pie, a Southern tradition mixing one half cup butter, 2 cups sugar, one tablespoon all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon cornmeal, five eggs, one cup milk, one teaspoon vanilla, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice, the baked result defies description. Two to three cups sliced rhubarb sparkle like jewels in the golden surface of toasted cornmeal.

Oh, I add one tablespoon of culinary lavender to the Rich Pie Crust recipe that accompanies the Chess Pie on page 247 of my lovingly abused Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. The flavor of Lavandula angustifolia blends exquisitely with the crust, custard, and rhubarb.

This in mind, seriously consider to whom you serve this luscious dessert. Will your companion(s) mutually admire the pie’s beauty? Will they widen their eyes in surprise as they savor the scents of dairy, vegetable, grain, and herb?

Then adorn your table with a bouquet of lilacs. Later in spring when the peonies bloom, arrange them with poppies, roses, iris, and whatever spring flowers grace your gardens.

Go ahead, snip those compelling blooms that stop you, cause you to bow your face to their stamens. If you happen to grow Beauty Bushes, a few small blooming stems will infuse any room with her heavenly fragrance.

On a fine day, you may brew a pot of coffee or steep a teapot of Earl Gray to enjoy outdoors with your pie. Preferably in the company of a lilac and Beauty Bush.

Rhubarb Chess Pie is most delicious warm. Some pie lovers insist a dollop of real whipping cream necessary to complete the experience. Not I.

Yesterday I enjoyed the last piece of the Rhubarb Custard Pie I baked Monday morning for my Bible study group. The chilled custard tasted like rhubarb ice cream in a cone.

Dear Reader, the lowing sun beamed on my rhubarb stems this evening.

The close of spring’s admiration draws nigh.


Bone-tired

Top shelf of my bookcase inherited from my mother. Photo of Mom and my two younger daughters.

My young mother almost broke into a gallop when she walked. I heard her footfall throughout our small, ranch house, up and down the basement stairs and room to room. Seamlessly, she raced against time to complete one task, then another.

Until her seventies, seldom did I witness the prized moment when Mom put up her feet. I cannot remember a book in her hands while she raised my four sisters and me.

Was there such a thing as book clubs for mothers of Baby Boomers?

Rather, when Mom relaxed, she held a threaded needle in her right hand, and the hem of a skirt or dress in her left. She “never stopped until her head hit the pillow,” as she’d say.

Before Webster’s Dictionary endorsed the term, Sadie O’Brien’s accomplishments included the first “cottage industry” in the growing city of Warren. Her business began with sewing for women. Then baking and decorating wedding cakes. When our family doctor got wind of her culinary reputation, he hired Mom to cater his dinner parties.

In her fifties she found time and finances to build her dream home in Kentucky surrounded by flowering trees and gardens. However, sewing matching Christmas dresses for her five granddaughters became her favorite creative pastime. And a lure to gather her family around the expanded table for her famous light rolls hot out of the oven.

Meanwhile, Mom established a personal library. Her younger brothers built two large bookshelves for the literature she’d never had time to devour.

In the extending shadow of this remarkable history, the day arrived when Mom could no longer remember where she put her book-in-progress. Her footfall no longer bounced from room to room and up the stairs to the “dormitory” she designed and furnished for her granddaughters.

At last, under great distress and opposition, this strong, gifted woman submitted to her children’s care. After many medical tests, doctors confirmed our mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “Make the most of the time you have left,” a doctor advised.

Upon one conversation with my mother, I asked how she was feeling.

She sighed. “Like I just hoed a cornfield.”

Perplexed, I replied, “You hoed cornfields?”

She blinked hard. “Why, yeah. Everybody who could hold a hoe had to help. I hated it. I’d rather make supper on the cook stove any day than hoe under the blazing sun. Nothing makes you bone-tired like hoeing a cornfield.”

At the time, I could only imagine, for I had yet to begin clearing and plowing land, and planting lavender fields. Later, I carried my harvest in baskets to the kitchen table for Mom to help bundle.

“Iris, what do you call this?”

“Lavender.”

“What do you do with it?”

“I infused it in our iced tea. You’re drinking it,” I’d say.

Dear Reader, my mother could no longer taste to understand lavender, an herb, flavored our tea.

And I soon learned nothing makes you bone-tired like hoeing a lavender field under a blazing sun.


What we carry home

 

Dennis uses a hot knife to melt wax off a frame of capped honey 

After several delays due to disagreeable weather, Dennis and I assembled my honey extractor yesterday afternoon. Well, let’s say I leaned heavily upon my neighbor’s mechanical experience with wingnuts, bolts, and washers.

Many moons had passed since I’d successfully found the right place for each part enclosed in the Ziploc baggie inside the stainless steel bin. Other than the spout that pours the golden honey into bottles, there’s nothing friendly about the machine. The name makes my teeth ache.

                 Since Dennis doesn’t own a honey extractor, months ago I’d offered to host a honey party in my pavilion. The more hands the merrier when it comes to handling sticky honey frames and cleaning up afterward. Before you know it, you’ve spent the day in congenial conversation.

“I don’t know why my colony collapsed last summer,” Dennis said. “They left some good honey.”

“And I don’t why my bees died this past winter,” I replied. “I couldn’t believe my eyes this spring when I counted thirteen frames of capped honey.”

“Then, let’s get you started,” he said.

After a refresher course with the electric, hot knife for melting the wax from the capped honey, I was on my own.

“Hey! Slow down with that knife,” Dennis said while he illustrated the proper method. “And don’t saw the honey. It’s not wood.”

                Within half an hour we had inserted six of my medium frames into the extractor and pressed the “on” button. The noise began as the machine and its stand shimmied, although we’d stabilized the foundation with a cinderblock and rocks.

 Dennis stopped the motor. “The weight of the frames must be unbalanced,” he said, lifted the lid, and rearranged the six frames. Repeatedly. Still, the extractor rattled the two chains that connected it to the stand.

Meanwhile, I leaned my weight upon the lid until we’d spun my thirteen frames.

“Now your honey,” I said.

We discovered his frames heavy with capped honey were too large for my extractor designed for medium frames.

“I thought this might be the case,” Dennis said.

 Well-advised to use the smaller sized frame due to the weight of a box of capped honey, I purchased the medium frame extractor years ago. “After all your help, I’m sorry you’re not taking home a bucket of honey.”

“That’s okay. Let’s do the medium box I brought.”

Simultaneously, we uncapped his honey and talked about our childhoods. “Where’d you grow up?” I asked Dennis.

“Dearborn. One of my buddies introduced me to Rhonda.”

I’ve known Rhonda for forty years. We met in the church we attended in Detroit where I also met Gina, one of Rhonda’s younger sisters. Gina and I were neighbors and often exchanged recipes. She left us her delicious apple cake as her legacy.

“Rhonda’s a gourmet cook,” Dennis said. “I’m the luckiest man in the world. She’ll have a delicious meal ready when I get home.”

“Do you two like asparagus?”

“We love it!”

Dear Reader, Dennis didn’t spin off much honey. Rather, he carried home several pounds of my homegrown asparagus.


It's a beautiful morning

 

Dwarf iris in my lower backyard garden

My sunrise exercise, I fill two water jugs in the basement washtub, pull on my red chicken boots, and open the sliding door-wall. The hens will be good and thirsty.

Stepping into a sunny, newborn day robust with birdsong, the first white dwarf iris to bloom nestled between boulders, greets me. She’s a luscious contrast before the green and flowering landscape—a gardener’s joyful surprise for accidentally planting her rhizomes in the right place.

            I smile and sing, “It’s a beautiful morning, ooh-ahh,” as I walk downhill to the henhouse.

That’s all I remember of the lyrics and determine to find them on the internet after breakfast. And who wrote and sang this soulful ode to daybreak? The tune vaguely relates to the troubled times of my late teens.

The Isa Browns huddle before the closed chute, squawking for liberation into their pen. “I’d be hollering too,” I say. “It’s a beautiful morning!”

            I sing while turning their straw, refreshing their grain bin and waterer in their roosting room. They’ve left me five eggs in the straw, one in the grain feeder—our first flock in fifteen years to manage such a strange thing.

The seventh hen, a retired Isa Brown, hasn’t produced for months. Yet, the matron’s a good influence on her housemates. And I prefer the number seven to six.

            They’ve tipped their waterer again and wet the straw. I head for the pavilion’s storage room for a low stool to stabilize the waterer and minimize my work.

A mother robin flies from a nest built years ago in a wreath hung on a pavilion post. I see two mouths wide open begging for bugs, and their undeveloped eyes. “It’s a beautiful morning, babies. Mama will be back soon.”

When I enter to the hens’ pen and refill their second waterer, those silly girls drink water I spilled on the ground while cleaning the container’s trough! Why bother? 

Later, after a fresh scrambled egg and asparagus meal, I discover Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, wrote the song. Both members of the American rock band they dubbed The Rascals, they claim the inspiration for the lyrics came the morning after a successful performance in Honolulu, Hawaii, in June 1968.

Well, isn’t every morning beautiful morning in Hawaii?

According to Wikipedia, personal interviews, and Facebook, Cavliere and Brigati, my seniors, remain active musicians. Perhaps it’s taking in all that fresh air, and “children with robins and flowers, sunshine caresses each new waking hour,” that keeps them ticking.


 In conclusion, dear Reader, “I think I’ll go outside a while and just smile. It’s my chance to wake up and plan another brand new day. Either way, it’s a beautiful morning.”

“Each bird keeps singing his own song. So long, I’ve got to be on my way, now. I’ve got to cover ground.” There’s my first bleeding heart blooms to welcome.

And there’s Cuddles my cat, drinking from the birdbath again.          

Ahh...what a beautiful morning!

             

Cuddles our cat drinks from the birdbath in the lower garden

           


Ain't got time to die

 

Lapeer County Concert Choir presents their 53rd. Season Spring Concert, May 6, 2022

Erna parked in my driveway at 5:45 p.m., fifteen minutes earlier than our take-off time. A good friend who resides in Romeo with her husband, I appreciate Erna’s punctuality.

She wore a pink jacket and black pants, a floral scarf swathed gracefully around her neck. I chose my yellow-flowered spring coat over a blue floral blouse and black pants. Our love of flowers abides within and upon us.

My guest brought a bag of cookies. “From the freezer,” Erna said. Her freezer’s famous in these parts.

                No, that’s not why I offered her the ticket my husband declined for the 53rd Season Spring Concert by the Lapeer County Concert Choir. Erna would’ve been content in her flower and vegetable gardens, so I was grateful she granted me the last few hours of Friday’s daylight. Companionship makes the concert experience more meaningful.

I’d earlier warned Erna of the embarrassing condition of my perennial island, the focal point of our circle drive. Garlic chives invade the garden again. After fighting that hideous plant for years, I’ve not stepped a foot into the ring this spring. Could it be post-traumatic weed syndrome?

Erna shook her head at the troublesome mess. She knows the labor I face.

Sometimes it comes down to this during growing season: a writer has to choose between glorious, colorful blooms, or submitted stories. I don’t have time for both.

Erna drove. I directed. We admired the landscape going north into Metamora—green as I remembered Ireland.

“How old were you when you left Romania for America?” I asked.

“Thirteen.”

“A tender age for such a journey,” I thought out loud.

Erna’s blue eyes sparkled. “I’ll never forget it.”

“How long did it take to cross the Atlantic?”

“Ten days. I was sea-sick seven days.”

“That’s fast for a transcontinental trip,” I said.

“It was war ship.”

“You weren’t frightened?”

“No. We were so thankful to have a family in America sponsor us.”

“What do you remember most about the voyage?”

                “The food. It was delicious. We all ate in a big hall where the sailors ate.” She says discreetly, “And the stench of the latrines.”

I could imagine.

                Erna parked in the Hunters Creek Community Church lot in time to greet my two favorite Lapeer Concert Choir sopranos, Marilyn Buchman and Anne Roszczewski.

Erna and I claimed our programs and seats. The choir proceeded up the aisle to the platform and opened their books in unison. The director lifted his baton.

Throughout the program of Bluegrass gospel songs, Erna and I glanced to one another in agreement, moved by the American spirituals.

The choir concluded with Hall Johnson’s “Ain’t Got Time to Die”, a credo that reminds me to consider whom I serve.

Lord, I keep so busy servin my Master

Keep so busy servin my Master

Ain’t got time to die

Cause when I’m given my all

I’m servin my Master

Ain’t got time to die

Dear Reader, I keep so busy writin my stories, ain’t got time to weed.