Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Heading Down Memory Lane

Sunrise was at 7:05, sunset will be at 4:40. It's dark so early. The outdoor lights come on at about 4. I was on author visits yesterday and when I got back to the store the light was at that very low, pre-sunset yellow that comes only at this time of year. It was beautiful and smelled like walked on and crushed leaves - dusty and spicy. Today? COLD, WET, GRAY!

It frosted up a couple of days ago and the car windows were swirled in crystals shaped like ferns. just a fingertip's touch to the center of the glass and it melted away. I had to cover the daphne, severely damaged after a last, late frost in February, to keep it safe. It may reach into the 60s tomorrow - we've been see-sawing between clear & sunny and cloudy & rainy every other day this last couple of weeks. The trees sure are beautiful, though. I've noticed that the trees up at the store, the ones that ring the parking lot, are all in various stages of color and change. There's one tree next to a light pole, one that is on all night, that is still pretty green. The leaves on the off-side of that particular tree are turning but the light must give off enough heat to slow the change in those underneath the lamp.

It's so cool to watch the maple out the kitchen window shut down for the winter. Its leaves are outlined in yellow, mostly still green toward the stem, and they will become all yellow and then a leathery brown as the sap makes its way back toward the trunk. The leaves that are less protected by the house are much more yellow and brown , already dropping and collecting around the storm drains.

I've been spending my Tuesday and Wednesday mornings making soup and rice. There's something about this weather that says "Nest!" So, I get up early and while D gets ready for work, I see what's in the fridge and pantry. Today, we have a vegetable-bean soup in the slow cooker and a pot of rice for combining with other things later.

The soup is really pretty, lots of different beans and colors, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaf, and vegetable broth, and we'll have it with a drying out loaf of rosemary bread. Mmmm. Of course, there will be the addition of a little butter for the bread, maybe some parmesan sprinkled over the soup.

I've been purging closets and drawers, bookshelves, baskets, whole rooms of things getting a second look, the trunk of the Jeep full as we head to Goodwill with donations. I have come across forgotten photos from high school (oh, my old boyfriends...) and letters from my grandmothers, chatty little things about the ducks along the stream and the weather and horses. That must be where the fascination about the weather came from!

These letters always put me right next to those women, standing in Grandma Pearl's kitchen in Brookings, looking out to the backyard stream where she fed the ducks and got some peace from my grandfather. Making tuna fish sandwiches and talking about boys and the future. And in Grandma Vi's kitchen, sitting on the flour bins (the most uncomfortable seats EVER, even with the little round pillows as toppers) looking out at the barn, the horses cropping the pasture ever shorter, her tomatoes and grapes ripening up for the summer (this side of the family had a creek, not a stream).

Those flour bin seats were such clever storage. They were wooden, circular bins, maybe a foot across and about 3 feet high. If you pulled the pillow off the bin, you could see that there was a lid with a ring for pulling attached to it and if you could pull off the lid, there would be sugar in one, flour in the other, whatever was bought in bulk and needed to be in the kitchen would be stored in these bins. I can still, after all these years, feel in the palms of my hands the way the lids resisted coming off (the ring would tear up your fingers, so you had to use your palms) eventually sliding up and popping off leaving you stumbling and a whoosh of flour following along.

(In the photo, behind Keeli and Bo, you can see a slice of the bins.)

They were amazingly heavy when full and the kids (there were 6 of us cousins) had to put our shoulders to them to move them. The lids were really tight and we could NOT get them off. Good thing because the chance of spillage was pretty high. We'd get taken by surprise whenever there was a holiday, coming into the kitchen, expecting the bins to be heavy and they'd fly under the the table attached to the wall under the long windows and one of the adults in the other room would yell, "Hey! What're you kids doing in there? Knock it off!"

The round pillows attached to the tops were supposed to make them more comfortable- they were blue, plastic, foam-filled pillows that fit right into the little rim around the bin lids. Sitting on them when you're a kid, the rim eventually eats into the backs of your thighs, your legs dangling over, the weight of your feet causing the rim to bite deeper and deeper until you can't stand it anymore and you have to jump off and run out, the little foam pillow re-filling with air and a sigh.

The adults never sat on the bins, the kitchen would fill with adults tucked into the corners and doorways, shifting from foot to foot rather than take a chance on the bins. G'ma and G'pa had those diner chairs with the plastic seat and backs, with the s-shaped chrome frames, placed at both ends of the table where they sat. I don't think I ever saw them sit on the bins, either, and if a kid sat in Grandpa's chair, that child was scatted off as soon as he came into the room. If you were willing to wait until he got settled, sometimes he'd let you sit on his lap and get warm, wrapping your hands around his coffee cup.

This was going to be a post about the books I've unearthed in all of this cleaning but the memories of the small things that make up your life are so very compelling to turn over and review. Those seats and the grandmothers' kitchens are obviously close to the surface of my mind right now. Maybe it's because I'm the oldest child in this family, and, except for my Aunt Peggy, I am now the oldest in this particular family chain- that's a weird thing to know, that you are now, almost (and I'm willing to wait a really long time for the title), the family elder.

I have no kids, no expectations for having them, so no one to directly pass these memories to. My family all live in another state and I don't reach out to the little kids like I probably should, bringing them the few memories I have that their parents might also share. So, maybe, with the dying of the season, wanting to fill the larder and feed the birds, this investigation of memory is another way of nesting, surrounding myself with family and home and remembrances of snorting laughter and coughing sobs, sharing a bath with 5 other tiny people who, now grown, will take you in at any time, remembering that where I came from forms who I am.

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