The study is quiet, and warm from the fire downstairs in the kitchen. The walls have their books floor to ceiling, the high windows have their peek of the grey sky and old tree tops, the sofa has its cushions mushed with memories of Judge. We are here waiting for spring, perched in a house that fronts on a village, that backs on a pasture gone wild. I am here writing in the house where I grew up, remembering the life with Mom and Dad and sisters here. Remembering growing up. Here. Remembering raising children. There and there and there. I have old friends here. And there and there and there.
The house makes remembering easy, because nothing ever gets thrown away. Of course the garbage gets thrown away. The magazines get recycled. Papers, though, letters, pictures, books, toys, records, all can find a place here. On my desk where I am typing is a songbook I made from scraps of songs written out for me in Portugal 50 years ago. On the magnetic board I have put a picture of our cabin in its first form, one room, taken 45 years ago. Another picture is a post card of this house, from 1905.
I am writing in the story I wrote a year ago, and shared with friends on Medium. I kept writing. In this story of a year ago I said:
When we walked in the words behind the house yesterday we were happy to see the snow drops and crocuses. Some of them got moved there (Dad and Merv) and some just moved themselves.
I cannot see those woods, or the crocuses, or the snow drops from the study, for the windows are too high. The kitchen window, though, is a good place to watch the big old trees of the back yard, and the wilding pasture behind it. Dad could not cut down a living tree. The ponies spread apple seeds. The hawthorns spread themselves. The birds spread the cherries. The crack willows spread and collapse and spread and collapse.
The pachysandra there was a bit of a surprise till Merv explained a wheelbarrow of dirt had been moved from the front yard. The deer have been busy there but especially in the side yard where the azaleas and rhododendrons are now leafless.
Side yard and the front yard have old fashioned mock oranges and slightly newer evergreens. We put in a new sidewalk in the spot the old slate sidewalk had been laid in 1871. Most visitors drive, now, though, and here in the country people always come to the back door.
I am pretty interested in the people around here, for there is a lot to deal with so close to Lake Erie and the Alleghenies. We have the cold from those Appalachian foothills and the lake effect snow from the Great Lakes. We have the shale and gravel and poor soil that the glacier left us. The farms are mostly wilding themselves, the industry the lakes and railroads brought mostly rusted out, the population moved for work or warmth. I am interested in the people that moved back, that moved in, that did not leave.
Nobody around here liked the warm winter, the lack of snow. The grapes, even the hardy concords, could develop buds too soon. The sap could stop running. When the heavy snow came neighbors reinstalled their snow plows on their pick-ups without a gripe.
This was true last year. This year, the snow came and stayed and no one took off their snow plows. We have the snow shovels still leaning against the back porch.
The kids embraced their snow days. And the sap came back, fresh and sweet! Saturday at the farmer’s market Tom handed me a sip of new made maple syrup. “It’s as sweet and clear as the early syrup of the season” he said, flushed with pleasure.
I am pretty sure people love the winter. They are proud of their survival and their toughness. I try to savor that, to capture that, in what I am writing.
I like to cook and these last few months are the first time in 50 years that cooking for two is the cooking I get to do. Kids are off and away with kitchens and recipes and skills and families of their own. I like pulling out my old recipes, though, and my mother’s and my grandmother.s’ I have their cookbooks and my cook books and a lot of old cookbooks to pull a recipe from. Merv doesn’t mind a little adventure.
I find that memory and food go together like butter and syrup. My maple syrup friend and his best grade B syrup I bought a year ago, and last week too. So I wrote:
It’s pretty clear I have to make Pancakes for breakfast. The world abounds with wonderful pancake recipes, which is as it should be. But mine has been tested on kids, grandchildren and friends for just about a half a century, so that is the one I will use. You can make them with a toddler on the hip!
1/4 cup old fashioned oatmeal
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup yogurt
Pulverize the oatmeal in a blender, then add the dry ingredients and buzz briefly. Lightly beat the egg in a bowl with the yogurt, then add the dry ingredients. Mix gently with a fork. Heat a griddle to medium high and fry in a little butter. (This recipe can be made in huge batches. Just keep the proportions the same. Feel free to subtitle any sour milk product for the yogurt, and you can dilute it by half with sweet milk if you need to.)
I am frying some bacon to serve by the side for Merv. It came from a farmer who lives just outside of town.
This morning, though, I made french toast for Merv and me. A happy breakfast. I don’t mind cooking without a toddler on the hip, which is good, because the youngest grandchild has graduated from hip bouncing and is ready for stirring and measuring. We will do that this summer.
Judge, sweet yellow lab, is back from his walk up town. He is dreaming, of food, I think, for his sighs are happy too.