Appalachian Thursday – Remembering Miss Anne

May QueenIt’s funny how something can be wonderful and deeply sad at the same time.

One of Appalachia’s sweet ladies is at home in heaven today. Earlier this year I wrote about my friend Anne–Queen of the May. Her 96th birthday was on May 1 and last night she slipped into forever.

A child of Kentucky, Anne would tell stories about growing up on a farm, attending a one-room school, spending time with her grandparents, briefly working in New York City, and raising her girls. She was a bit of a muse for me. And she still is.

I’m happy for Anne today. And I’m sad for her family who loved her so. I’m sad for all of us who knew Anne and will miss her and I’m sad for those who never got to meet this sprite of a lady with dancing eyes who loved nothing so much as a good book.

That was the thing about Anne–books. I think that as soon as she learned to read she picked up a book and only put that one down long enough to pick up the next. When visiting her she was always surrounded by stacks of books. If you checked out books from our church library, odds were excellent that Anne’s name would be on the card already. She read everything and was happy to tell you what she thought.

She read my first novel while I was still shaping it. She read each book as it released and her stamp of approval meant so much to me.

I hope there are books in heaven. I can’t wait to hear which ones Miss Anne will recommend when I get there.

Appalachian Thursday – Take Two (the summer that wasn’t)

creek snowMan friends, I’m so crazy right now that I basically gave you a repost of one of June’s blogs today. Shoot. I even used the same picture!

Well, that simply won’t do. So here’s something new.

It’s been hot lately even in the often refreshingly cool mountains of Appalachia. But before you complain about the heat, let me tell you about the summer of 1816–the summer that wasn’t.

The first hint of something off came on May 12, 1816. Now, the final frost date for my area in NC is May 15, but it’s a pretty rare occurrence. In 1816, the twelfth brought a heavy frost deep into the region. After a brief warm-up, the first week of June brought more cold. A traveler in Pennsylvania wrote,  “This morning was very frosty and ice covered the water ¼ inch thick. We had a brisk breeze from the northeast.” On June 6, it snowed in Albany, NY.

In July and August folks saw river and lake ice in Pennsylvania. On August 20 and 21 frost formed as far south as Virginia. A newspaper in Virginia reported, “It is now the middle of July, and we have not yet had what could properly be called summer. Easterly winds have prevailed for nearly three months past . . . the sun during that time has generally been obscured and the sky overcast with clouds; the air has been damp and uncomfortable, and frequently so chilling as to render the fireside a desirable retreat.”

Crops failed, food prices climbed, and there wasn’t enough hay for the coming winter (the real one).

So what caused the year without a summer? The most accepted theory is volcanic activity. In April of 1815 Mount Tambora in Indonesia saw the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. Estimates suggest that the eruption lifted around 36 cubic MILES of material into the atmosphere. At least 10,000 islanders were killed outright and the global temperature dropped about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

And on the other side of the world Appalachia didn’t have a summer.

Hmmmm, sounds like a great plot for a historical novel . . .

Mother’s Day in WV

dish washing

That’s mom on the right doing dishes with Aunt Pat.

I’m at home in West Virginia this week to spend Mother’s Day with my mom and visit with my dad. Which means you’re getting a re-post related to mother’s and daughters . . . Maybe mom and I will tackle a couple of these!

I was winding down the other evening and came across an article link on Facebook with 40 things every mother and daughter should do together. Cool. I clicked. I got about 12 deep and gave it up. Several activities included drinking wine (Mom doesn’t drink). Most were expensive–spa visit, trip to the big city. And some just made me laugh. My mom is SO not doing yoga with me.

So, here’s a list for Appalachian mothers & daughters. Ten things (cause who has TIME for 40?!?) they should do together.

  1. Snap beans or pare apples on the back porch. Ideally, you should have a metal bowl or a dented pie tin for the leavings. And Mom should peel her apples with a paring knife while Daughter uses a vegetable peeler because she’s “modern.”
  2. Make grape jelly. This will begin with picking Concord grapes from the vine and will proceed to a hot stove, a jelly bag, and finally to Mason jar lids happily pinging away. If your fingers aren’t purple, you didn’t do it right.
  3. Pick wildflowers in a meadow. Well, okay, in the edge of the meadow because Dad will holler if you mash down the hay he’s going to cut to feed the cows this coming winter. Arrange your flowers in a Mason jar.
  4. Make a quilt. Warning–this takes a looooong time even if you machine quilt. If you get all Romantic and decided to set up a frame and quilt by hand–hoo boy–we’re talking some serious bonding time for Mother & Daughter.
  5. Go to the swimmin’ hole. You’ll probably have to take the boys with you, too. They can’t resist splashing around in the creek. Take soap (Ivory floats) and shampoo to kill two birds with one stone.
  6. Prepare wild game. My mom taught me how to parboil and fry squirrel, then to make gravy out of the drippings. Yours should, too. If neither of you knows how, find someone who does and learn together!
  7. Go to church. Preferably the same church your grandmother and great-grandmother went to. Sit close to each other and hold hands during the prayers.
  8. Churn butter. They have all kinds of fancy butter churns these days. Mom had a glass one with a crank that turned wooden dashers. After she made the butter she’d spread some on a piece of bread and sprinkle it with sugar for us kids. Soooo good!
  9. Go for a walk. People call it hiking now, but really it’s just tromping around in the woods looking at the trees and the streams and the plants and maybe even the critters. Moms have a knack for finding and pointing out interesting stuff.
  10. Porch sit with a glass of lemonade. This is the time to hash out the meaning of life because mothers and daughters can totally do that. Do this one more than once. Way more. And if you want a glass of wine instead . . . fine by me.

Appalachian Thursday – Which Winter is This?

redbud

A sure sign of redbud winter.

We’ve been complaining lately about the weather.

I know, I know, everyone does that ALL the time. But spring this year has really been a roller coaster ride. Windows open. Windows closed. Coats off. Coats, hats, and gloves back on.

I was thinking the weather really is getting crazier. Then, this past weekend, I noticed that the redbud trees had bloomed almost overnight. Suddenly there were all these gorgeous sprays of deep pink in the edges of fields and neighbors’ yards.

Which reminded me. This warm, cold, hot joy ride is nothing new. As a matter of fact, it’s so not new, there are several old-time names for the various bouts of cold that crop up after that first taste of spring.

Like redbud winter. Which is what we had last weekend.

Now, let’s see. There’s also dogwood winter, locust winter, blackberry winter, britches winter, and whippoorwill winter.

Some of these are pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a primer:

  • Redbud winter – When the redbud trees bloom
  • Dogwood winter – When the dogwood trees bloom
  • Locust winter – When the locust trees bloom (see a pattern?)
  • Blackberry winter – When the blackberry brambles bloom
  • Britches winter – Wait. What? This one is more fun. The full name is linsey-woolsey britches winter which means it’s the last time it’ll be cold enough to wear your long underwear
  • Whipporwill winter – (I smell a book title) This one is barely cold enough to call winter, but it’s when the whippoorwills migrate north from Mexico

So, turns out the now-warm-now-cold craziness we call spring in Appalachia really isn’t anything new. It’s been around at least as long as long underwear.

Appalachian Thursday – Lion or Lamb?

Family photo

Grandma Burla would be telling me March is coming in like a lion!

My grandmother loved talking about whether March came in like a lion or lamb. The idea being that if the month roars in on March 1 with wind and heavy weather, then the last day of the month will be calm and pleasant.

I was worried earlier today, with mild temperatures and a light drizzle–hardly lionish weather. But the day has taken a turn and we’re now under a high wind warning and the temperatures are dropping.

Normally, I wouldn’t be altogether pleased, but since I long for the weather to improve throughout the month, this is a welcome turn of events. My grandmother would be snuggled under a crocheted afghan telling us not to worry, “in like a lion, out like a lamb.”

The weather will only improve from here on out!

There are a few other March sayings–probably because March is the first time all winter we’ve dared hope spring really is nearly upon us.

  • A dry March and a wet May? Fill barns with corn and hay.
  • As it rains in March, so it rains in June.
  • March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.
  • So many mists in March you see, so many frosts in May will be.

So I guess we’d better start counting rains and mists so we’ll know what’s going to happen in May and June. Today was a rainy, misty day (until the wind blew it all away). So maybe that’s one each for a frost in May and rain in June.

Best not start planting the garden until after Mother’s Day . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Burning the Trash

IMG_0094I suppose it’s odd to feel sentimental about trash.

Even so, I caught a whiff of burning paper the other day and was transported back to childhood days and the chore of burning the household trash.

There wasn’t a trash pick-up service for a farm way out in the country. And if there had been, we probably wouldn’t have paid for it. So what did we do with our trash? Well, for starters, we didn’t make that much of it. When you harvest a fair amount of your food, there’s a whole lot less packaging to mess with.

If it was glass, we washed it and reused it. If it was paper or cardboard it went in a paper grocery sack in the kitchen trash can. If it was foodstuffs, it went in a big bowl and either the dog ate it or it went in the garden for compost. Anything else went in the metal garbage can that was emptied just a few times a year. I won’t tell you where (NOT environmentally friendly).

Back to that bag in the kitchen . . . that was the burn bag. Typically, my older brother got to be in charge of burning the trash. There was a cinder block trash burner beside the garden–tall in the back, mid-height on the sides, low in the front. I’m pretty sure the ashes were scattered over the garden periodically.

We loved burning the trash. We’d find bits of paper, dry grasses, or sticks to make it last longer. We’d poke and prod to make sure every bit was consumed. There was something magical about watching flames eat a page of newsprint with a whoosh. Or watching the slow lick of flames up the side of a cereal box.

I kind of wish we burned our trash even now. I realize burning isn’t automatically better than burying trash in a landfill. But I do maintain it’s pleasanter. And much nicer for toasting a marshmallow.

Plus, it reminds me of being a kid.

What IS the Reason for the Season?

nativityI keep hearing folks admonish the world to stop focusing on presents and holiday trappings. Rather, focus on the reason for the season. Which is Jesus, right?

Except I think we get mixed up about the reason for the season. I mean, what would Christmas look like if it really were just about Jesus? Sit with that a minute.

There’s a lot more than presents and fancy Christmas dinners that would go out the window if the season really were all about Christ and him crucified (because crucified is the whole point!). Maybe even some good things like time with family and church programs and nativity scenes.

I think our biggest Christian holidays boil down to two things:

  1. He is come!
  2. He is risen!

To take that a bit further. He came to die for YOU and for ME, but he’s not dead. And really, there’s only one way to celebrate that–tell someone.

So, today, I’m telling you. You who are having a remarkably perfect Christmas. And you who’s Christmas is just awful. You who don’t have enough fingers and toes to count your blessings and you sitting alone, steeped in sadness.

Christ came as a vulnerable baby, lived a perfect life without sin, and then sacrificed himself for YOU. And if you want, you can live forever with him. It really is the perfect gift and this Christmas my wish is that we’ll get to spend eternity together.

Jesus loves you. That, I think, is the reason for the season.