Sunday, November 23, 2014

November - using what you gather

It is a cold and rainy and very dismal Sunday afternoon here in Georgia.  I went to church and made it through until the minister said at the end, "Let's take a few seconds of silence to think about the joy of Thanksgiving and all the people who've been around our Thanksgiving tables of the past," or at least that's what I understood him to say.

Well, that's a killer for me, as with great joy, I remember all those Thanksgivings of my childhood and later in my adulthood when my children and my husband and I would head down to Mother and Daddy's for a feast (all cooked by Mother, except when I was older, I did do the scalloped oysters for a few years).

I've written about this before, so I won't elaborate here.  It's just that I no longer celebrate with my brother and his children and their families.  They all have their places to go now.  And, of course, Mother and Daddy and my husband, who loved my mother's cooking so much, are all gone.  That's who I thought of, of course.

Every Thanksgiving since my husband's sudden death in 1999 has been different.  By 2002, my parents, then in their 90's, could no longer put on the spread they had done for years.  My sister-in-law and I tried to cobble together something at their house.  It was the first time I'd ever had pieces of chicken in the dressing.  She'd brought it from Louisiana, and it's not that it wasn't good.  It just wasn't my mother's cornbread dressing, with the hint of celery and onion.

I guess the worst Thanksgiving of my life, though, was the November after Mother had to go into a nursing home.  I cooked all week, and my husband's sister and her family all came.  I had to leave and drive 50 miles to get Mother.  When we arrived back at my house, I realized I'd forgotten her wheel chair.  So, I improvised.  I got my rolling desk chair from my office upstairs, and she was helped into the house and sat down.  We wheeled her into the dining room.

That was the mistake, I think, that set her off.  My mother, the warmest, most gracious and cheerful woman in the world, scowled at everything.  Not only would she not touch one morsel of food, she would not even take a sip of water.  Seeing it was a lost cause, I left before dessert was served and drove her back to Newnan.

But, that's not the Thanksgiving table I thought of today.  I concentrated on Chip and Mother and Daddy and saw us all sitting there at the big table, Mother's two cornucopias spilling fake grapes and gourds onto the linen tablecloth, our plates laden with green beans, creamed corn, lima beans (the three latter from their summer garden), turkey, dressing, scalloped oysters, sweet potatoes, cranberry salad and Mama's homemade rolls.  I saw the relish tray sitting there untouched.

This is not what I had intended to talk about!  I wanted to describe how the scene above, which I did for the St. Luke's Park Board's November meeting, didn't cost me a cent.  I took everything from the yard or from the farm, except the striped pumpkin-looking gourds, which my friend Benjie had given me.

Here are the elements.  You may have to look closely to pick them out:  Beech leaves, nandina foliage and berries, china berries, moss I'd had in my basement for years,  the fruit of Poncirus trifoliata (hardy orange) from my yard, and a strip of bark from the wood pile.

I am wrong about the money.  Those were oranges, apples and mangoes I'd bought to eat (you can't see that my dog had bitten the mangoes and decided against them - he has separation anxiety and does things like that), and it looks like I threw in some key limes.  I always buy them when I see them, intending to make a pie, which I never do (I end up using them in iced tea instead).  All this was centered around pieces from my husband's decoy collection:  a goose, a shore bird and a mallard. The setting was a beautiful dining room in the venerable St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Peachtree Street.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The ginkgo leaves this year

Several people have sent me before-and-after photos of their ginkgo trees this year.  When I received them, I realized the leaves had all turned and fallen early, according to my photo library.

But, this year was different for some of the ginkgoes around town. The ones at church never turned completely yellow before they fell.  Matter of fact, I went to church on Sunday, ready to take my annual photo looking up through the golden-yellow leaves at the blue sky and the steeple, only to find the trees completely bare.  I looked on the ground, and most all of the leaves were green.

I called 98-year-old Margaret Moseley, and she said this is the first year the leaves have fallen before they turned.  She estimates she planted her tree in the 1980's.  Every year, she would monitor the tree and have her chair ready to watch the glowing yellow leaves rain down in one day.

"I would sit on the porch and watch them fall," she said.  "This is the first year the leaves have failed to turn yellow.  I looked out today, and there wasn't a leaf on the tree.  There were only green leaves on the ground.  This has never happened this way in all the years I've had the tree."

So, who knows what happened this year?  I have dozens of pictures taken in the past of ginkgo trees putting on their spectacular fall show.  I'm sure this is an anomaly, but one wonders why.

One more thought:  Margaret has a female tree (not a pleasant odor, although I've never noticed it).  What I did see the other day were seedling ginkgoes coming up in some of her beds.  I am wondering.  Liz Tedder wrote to say she retrieved a seedling this way years ago.  I know that unless I live to the age of Margaret, I wouldn't see a ginkgo tree in very mature form.

But should I take some of these seedlings and plant them for future generations?  There was a woman in Wisconsin - now deceased - who, in her 80's was planting small oak trees like crazy.  She said she wanted the trees so that someone way after she was gone would be able to have shade on her blistering sunny hilltop.  Maybe I'll try this at the farm.  American elm trees keep coming up and succumbing to disease.  Perhaps some ginkgoes would thrill whoever occupies the land decades from now.  I like that idea.

Above:  A photo taken three years ago of ginkgo leaves in Margaret Moseley's iron bird bath garden.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stopped by glowing colors

I've gotten much better about stopping on streets to look at trees or flowers or shrubs.  It used to be that I would go around a block several times to see something extraordinary if I had no place to park. It's a wonder I never had a wreck rubber-necking (not looking at wrecks, but flowers).

On Sunday as I was heading home from church, I passed these trees, and because my street is not very busy, I pulled over, backed up and got out.  Every week I take my camera to church to record the flowers, so I thought I might as well capture these colors.  They were absolutely blinding on a very gray day.

A lot of the original houses on my sparsely populated street (it dead ends into an estate overlooking the Chattahoochee River) have been replaced by newer, bigger houses.  The woman who lives here was on the street when I moved here in 1973.  Her home looks modern with a Japanese feel, although I've never been inside.  I've only talked to her a couple of times on the phone (our neighborhood is so spread out; I can hardly see another house from mine, even in the winter).

Anyway, I do recall now that these Japanese maples have caught my eye before.  On Sunday, I needed some "brightening up", so this did the trick.  The owner never knew I stopped and walked up  her driveway.  I don't often do things like that, but I figured if she had something this eye-catching, she wouldn't mind if I shared the beauty with others.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chrysanthemums and a cold November long ago

These chrysanthemums look like the ones we would find at a wholesale florist - ones that had come from South America perhaps.  That's where a lot of today's flowers are grown.

But the blooms you see here were growing in a long row near my home town in south Fulton County.  True, the grower is a native of Bulgaria and found the inspiration for growing different chrysanthemums from his grandmother back home.  But, it's a flower I think we can all identify with.

I look at these flowers, and I am reminded of cold nights and high school football games - of arriving at the stadium with my parents and hearing the band already playing and the roar of the crowd.  My heart would beat with anticipation, especially if our team was in contention for a championship.

Actually, though, such flowers were sold on the street outside college games.  Made into corsages with pipe cleaner letters attached, men would buy their dates or wives a big flower to wear.  In those years, we wore suits to college games.  I remember my daddy buying me a football mum as we were walking to a Georgia Tech game.  I had on a tweed suit that had the exact colors you see above.  If I were offered that outfit today, I would reject it.  I look terrible in burnt orange and mustard yellow.

Still, though, the scent of chrysanthemums takes me back to other days and good memories - first of being cold, huddled under a stadium blanket,  and then later arriving home to a hot meal my mother had cooked.

I wanted to add something about today's date.  Who can remember November 18, 1975?  For some reason I do.  I had been married for two years.  The previous May I had ended my five-year teaching career (which had been interrupted by a year off as a ski bum, followed by a year working in Paris).  For the holiday season, I had taken a job in the downtown Rich's silver department.  It was a gleaming area, near an entrance, and my mother had often stopped in there to buy a bride a piece of sterling flatware.

I loved working there, looking at all the patterns.  Once, a friend of mine's father came in.  He was an oilman from Midland, Texas.  He bought all the silver jiggers we had.  They had coins on the bottom and one ridge around the middle.  They were the perfect present for his business acquaintances, he said.

But, I'm rambling now.  My husband's law firm was located a couple of blocks away, so he came by to walk me to the car after work.  Back then, there was a beautiful train station a level below the street near Rich's. I remember saying that it was November 18th, and it should not be so freezing cold.  We were talking about what a handsome building it was, and we were shivering against the cold.  It was already dark, and like this morning, it was unusually frigid with a stiff wind, made worse by being downtown.

It was one of those moments, though, that I felt completely happy.  I had the right husband, the best parents, a tiny cottage in the woods, and life seemed full of possibilities.

I just saw on television a man talking about the happiness curve.  It dips in your forties, and then starts back up in your fifties.  That line did not veer that way for me.  My husband was struck down suddenly just after his 56th birthday.  I had just turned 54, and our girls were 22 and 15, and the years that followed were not good.

But, the TV interview ended on a promising note.  Apparently, you reach the peak of your happiness in your 70's.  I have always been a hopeful person, thinking that something better is always around the next corner.

The old Rich's is long gone, as is that beautiful train station.  The thrill of shopping in downtown Atlanta is only a memory.  But I like thinking of Novembers past, of chrysanthemums and cold spells and the simple happiness of walking in the frigid darkness along an Atlanta street.  I still feel inside like that 19-year-old whose daddy stopped and bought her that big yellow mum.

So, now that I've learned that life begins at 70, I'm actually looking forward to the years ahead.  I honestly believe there will be some more good Novembers down the road.  That's a comforting thought on this cold morning, remembering this same date almost four decades ago.