Juneteenth – Part the First

21 06 2010

I am an ordinary girl.  And up until last year, I thought my birthday was an ordinary day.  Usually eclipsed by Father’s Day, and somewhere near the summer solstice (today is the longest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere which is tilted toward the sun), June 19th seemed to have no distinction except for a string of parties celebrating the day my mother gave me birth.

When I was a child, school was out for the summer by June 19th.  My mom didn’t bring 30 decorated cupcakes in at the end of the day while my classmates sang Happy Birthday, and my name was never written at the top right corner of the blackboard where special holidays were written in perfect teacher-writing under the date.  Still, it was a good time of year to have a party.

In late June the sun baked the midwest air until Mom relented to our whining and took the five of us swimming in Grandma’s pool.  When our lips turned blue, Grandpa coaxed us out of the water with the promise of a bowl of the ice cream of our choice from the “deep freeze” in the cellar.  Bellies full, and body temperatures lowered, we scattered over the farm for the rest of the afternoon to our favorite spots.  I usually wound up on my back in the tire swing, miraculously keeping the ice cream down as I watched the leaves of the chestnut tree circle above my head as the unwinding tire picked up speed.

Some birthdays were more memorable than others.  On my 16th Mom was out of town, so Dad was in charge.  With teenage romantic expectation I imagined a special celebration to mark such a significant day.  That evening, when Dad finally returned home from the hardware that barely kept food on our dinner table, without ceremony he simply said, “Happy Birthday,” and placed the blue sleeping bag that had been part of a camping display earlier that day in my limp hands.

Others were more festive; like the complete surprise my husband and a friend of mine planned when I turned 40.  But in my small world, that’s all June 19th ever was-my birthday.

Until last year.  When I flipped the calendar from May to June, I noticed “Juneteenth” printed in little letters at the bottom of the 19th square.


More to come soon.  Sign up to receive an email notification (top right) when I post Part the Second.  Thanks for reading!


Leaf Music

2 12 2009

Swish, swish.  Swish, swish.  The leaves woke up, flying knee-high, while I walked through the overflowing sidewalk under a flaming pear tree as the sun snuck over the horizon.  December 1st.  Even though Thanksgiving leftovers are still in the fridge and Christmas lights are already strung along rooflines, autumn continues here in Indiana.  The leaves’ wonderfully acrid claim on                    the crisp morning air confirms it.

Sidewalk leaves

Their pungent scent and the swish, swish around my ankles always remind me of fall when I was young walking on hidden sidewalks in need of raking after school, and running across the blanketed yard toward my dad’s leaf mountain.  Swishy, swishy, swishy, swish!  In one jump his hard-earned mountain exploded leaving an ill-defined molehill.

The penalty for destroying his work?  Helping rake.  Our yard seemed to be the size of Tiger Stadium with every bit of the field concealed under the leaves from first base (a giant poplar), to third base (a small maple), and all the way ’round to home plate (one of two shag-bark hickories, which provided hickory nut snacks for baseball players and leaf rakers alike).

Swish, swish.  Swish, swish.

“Dad, do you hear the music?” I asked, raking my portion of the infield.

“Huh? What’re you talking about?”

I stopped to face him, my head cocked to one side with my rakeless hand on one hip.  “The music!  Can’t you hear it?  Listen.”  I started raking again, this time singing so he couldn’t miss the obvious tune of “The Happy Wanderer” in the rhythm of my strokes.

Single leaf

Such beauty!

This morning an early-raking gentleman already had a waist-high leaf-mountain during my early morning walk through our neighborhood.  We each smiled, nodded a “Good morning,” both enjoying the newness of the day with its invigorating air as we got in some exercise before breakfast.

I heard the music in his raking.  Swish, swish.  And in my long strides through the fallen leaves.  Swish, swish.  Swish, swish.

Approaching the corner at the end of the block, a young lady pulled her car up to the intersection, and my music stopped.  Her music carried well through the still morning air, and mine faded like the mist each breath made as I continued toward her.  She looked happy, bouncing to the beat, singing herself into a new day, her voice lost in the bassy thump-thumping.

My music gradually came back.  Swish, swish.  And I liked it better.  Swish, swish.  Swish, swish.

“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing???”  But it’s still fall!  Where did that come from??

First (and Last) Fruits

29 09 2009

LAST FRUIT (Sep 29, 2009)

The last crop of 2009

The last crop of 2009

My ears ache and my nose is running.  Last week I was wearing shorts, and all the windows in the house were wide open.  Today I wore two sweaters and jeans on my morning walk and matched the brisk weather with a crisp pace.  Fall is officially here.

Yesterday I picked what I think will be the last of the tomato crop.  Once the days are cooler and less sunny, the green ones stop ripening.  My mother-in-law picks all the green tomatoes before the last frost and somehow manages to get them to turn red in the house.  I’ve tried her method.  “Wrap them in newspaper and leave them in the cellar, then when they begin to turn yellow, put them on the kitchen window sill, and be sure to turn them daily.”  All I ever got was newspapers soaked with the juice of a couple dozen rotting green tomatoes in the basement.  I left all the green ones on the vines.

The last tomato harvest turns summer to fall for me and sets the “before winter” to-do list into motion.  Gardens must be cleaned out, overgrown perennials split up and moved, and Christmas planning begun.  The cooler temperatures are energizing, but the last tomato crop is always a wistfully sad day for me.

There will be eight months before seedlings begin to appear in the garden from last year’s drops.  Then another two filled with cultivating, thinning, tying vines to the fence, and daily watching for the first ripe fruit.

FIRST FRUIT  (Jul 26, 2009)

Ripening Tomatoes

Note quite ripe

I’ve been watching everyday for a couple of weeks now, ever since I got a photo from a friend from a warmer growing zone of her first garden harvest.  Just yesterday I looked—no ripe tomatoes yet.  Sigh.  Summer isn’t fully here until the tomatoes are ripe.

And today, I knew there be any ripe overnight, but I looked anyway from across the yard while “taking in the warshing”, as my gramma used to say.  And I saw red!  Leaving the towels draped over the edge of the basket, I had to get closer.  YES!  I had an entire cluster of cherry tomatoes turned bright red and untouched by bugs or birds (quite rare in my garden!)  I picked the two reddest, pulled off the stems, and rubbed the droplets of whatever that stuff is that makes a tomato plant smell weird and gets your hands sticky green. I paused, just briefly in full salivation mode, to wonder why the first tomato of the season taste so good, and then I more than tasted it—I put the entire fruit in my mouth and bit down.

Slightly sweet, and wonderfully tart juice burst into and out of my mouth trickling down my chin, since I couldn’t but help grin, thus breaking the first rule of cherry tomato eating: never, under any circumstances, open your mouth when biting down.  Again, I thought about why these two particular tomatoes are so special.  They really didn’t taste as good as the ones I will let stay on the vine just a little longer, testing my luck with the bugs and birds, until the sun transforms them into the sweet acidic gems in my salads.

But they are the First.  I have waited since last fall for this taste, through the barrenness of winter (surviving on grocery store imitations), the toil of spring, and the anticipation of summer.  The deliciousness, I think, is intensified by the long wait.

Some years I have given a Biblical First Fruits Offering, by taking the first luminous tomatoes to a neighbor.  The sacrifice of waiting just a couple more days for more green tomatoes to soak up the sun’s ripening power is intensely real and acute.  The recipient doesn’t even know the gift they are eating, but that’s part of the sacrifice.


Waiting is hard in America because we have the economic infrastructure to gratify our desires.  We truck in produce from warmer climes; we have express checkout lanes in grocery stores; Fed-Ex profits from our need-to-have-it-now culture; and if circumstances don’t happen quickly enough, we feel we have a right to complain.  If we don’t have the money for what we want, we buy on credit instead of building a fund from week to week until we put the last dollar in the jar.

Watching my tomatoes this summer has taught me a valuable lesson– I guess I knew it, but never thought about it consciously.  By giving in to my desires and pushing aside the waiting, I rob myself of the sweetness that can only come after the waiting.

There is a bowl of tomatoes on my kitchen counter, but I’m already longing for the taste of the sun-warmed first-fruits next July.

What do you think?  Do you enjoy waiting?  Have you experienced the greater joy of delayed gratification?  I’d really like to know.


You’ve been waiting for over a month (eagerly, I hope!) for this Ordinary Girl to post.  I promise to strive to post weekly, like I said I was going to (barring any computer crashes).  But… if you have to wait a little longer, maybe your enjoyment will be increased with the anticipation.

Happy Apple Birthday

19 06 2009

This morning after sleeping in on a luxurious day off, I had a late Birthday Breakfast.  Nothing special—two rice cakes with unsweetened peanut butter and an apple.  But in that ordinariness a blessing was waiting!

Several days ago I left a note for our son to buy milk, eggs, and a bag of apples at Aldi on his way home from work.  He did, but I’ve been so busy with work (early mornings/late nights) I hadn’t been in the fridge to see if he had remembered.  This morning as I began gathering my breakfast, I noticed the five gallons of milk and three dozen eggs.  The bag of apples was also where it should be, in the fruit drawer, and I retrieved it and set it on the counter.


As I turned to get a plate, the label caught my eye:  Chazy Orchards.  “NO WAY!” I laughed out loud!  ‘The largest MacIntosh Orchards in the World’ were just a few miles from our previous home in West Chazy, New York.  My imagination walked back to our home there, and I smiled.  Not a clear-across-my-face grin, but a wistful nod.  Troubles and heartache have continued to bombard us since moving to Indiana several years ago.  Thoughts of home in West Chazy during a simpler time surrounded me—like an ample cloak, heavy with familiar comfort.  Yet as I remembered more realistically, I realized that even after 16 years, it still hadn’t really been home.

So I asked myself where home is for me.  Working backward through the places I’ve lived, I came up empty.  Both my family growing up, and now my married family, have moved into towns and cities and not been able to become a part of the “home town” circle.  My roots go down quickly and deeply, but they have always been stunted by the clay of long-established associations.  There are places, however, which have seemed more like home than others—and it’s always been because family was nearby.

For me home=family, whether or not I have felt included in the lives of others around me.  The sadness that no place feels like home is an emotional cord that grows stronger with each heartache, tying me with growing longing to my True Home and Forever Family.  That is my home where I belong—truly belong.  That is where real family lives and loves.  That is where every good and perfect gift originates… like a bag of Chazy Orchards apples!

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