The other morning when I was leaving for work, I had the sensation that Fall was already in the air, hard to believe when the rest of this country is baking in heat and drought.
But where I live it has been unseasonably cool, with only a few days of any sort of heat, but that morning as I left my home I looked up to the sky and saw so far up, little puffs of clouds like tiny sheep being herded by an unseen shepherd.
There was a soft dampness of breeze that caressed my skin and tickled my nose with the slightest hint of autumn chill and dead leaves and I realized that the next day was the Ides of August, the time closing in for the next to final reaping of the growing crops and the eventual pressing of the new wine, dark flowing like blood, blood of the vine.
In the next few months to follow, the fall crops of apples, pears and fall vegetables would be harvested.
With all that recollection I’ll make plans to take a week or two off in September, and plan to go North to the Napa Wine Country, or (Heaven Forbid!!!) Lodi, (“oh lord, stuck in Lodi again”) it will be for more than just wines, and Lodi is excellent for Zinfandel, it will be perfect to get freshly preserved fruits and vegetables to add to the stock in my kitchen pantry.
One tree that I have in my garden is a Bay Tree and the beauty about Bay leaves is that they keep the small insects out and add a wonderful aroma to the panty area. I remember my Mother and Grandmother doing that to their pantry areas; I cannot smell bay leaves without that wonderful aroma.
I remember those Summer and Fall seasons from many years ago, those hot days and my Mother and Granny sterilizing bottles and the lids, those large pots boiling with hot water, the timing had to be just right, spare tables brought up from the basement that ordinarily were used to fold laundry, doing double duty, now covered with freshly laundered cotton towels, not the fluffy kind for bathrooms, the plain flat kind for kitchens in plain sterilized white, the stove also doing double duty cooking the fruits and vegetables and sterilizing bottles at the same time.
Mother and Granny with their hair tied up and under bandanas to keep hair out of the food, wearing gloves and the heat on hot days, the beads of sweat on their faces, and me with a damp cool face cloth, constantly wiping their faces, peeling, cutting the things to be put up, carefully measuring sugar or something that they needed, washing any utensils, later with careful handwriting the names of what was canned and the date taping it to the jars.
And all with a careful surgical precision to both sanitation and food preparation, then moving the spare tables over to hold the finished products to allow them to cool slowly before being put away like precious jewels to be revealed later in the year as needed. Admiring the hard work, the feeling of accomplishment, then when they were cool enough opening the pantry door to the dark cave of Aladdin’s food, to be discovered later.
Peaches, apple sauce, apple butter, jams, jellies, filling for pumpkin pie, cherries, string beans, apricots slices or jam, pear jam, orange marmalade, lemon curd, potatoes in sawdust, parsnips, turnips, tomatoes either sauce or chunks, pickles, pickled cabbage, picked onions, beets, carrots, corn, and other goodies.
Mother would always go over the list of things she’d always cook for lunch and dinner and she’d know what needed to be put up and if it was more than what was needed she’d trade with someone else who had something wonderful to try.
I’d always wondered why we put them up when we could get them at the grocery store, I asked my Dad one time and he said, “If you knew what the folks at home had to do without while the soldiers were fighting the war (World War II) you’d understand, they grew their own food, put them up, so the soldiers would have plenty of food, women gave up nylons, clothing and food was rationed, Mac and Cheese became a main dish, Jell-O was dessert, or would stretch out foods.
Why do you think your Mom saves buttons and thread on old wooden spools, why do you think that when a sweater is worn out and has holes she carefully unravels it and saves the yarn, sometimes if you ran out of toothpaste you had to brush your teeth with either salt or baking soda until you were allowed to buy your next tube and you had to turn in your empty tube.
If your shoes had holes in the soles or the heels wore down you’d re-heel and resole it, lots of times women and men would have those little metal taps put on their shoes to not wear down the heels.
You walked or car pooled or took the bus, if you were not a doctor or police officer you only got 4 gallons of gas a week, and you could forget about tires, you were lucky if there were any to be had, more than once your grandfather had to drive on bald tires. If a tire blew out you saved it and turned it in, the rubber could be reused.
There were no un-necessary trips, everything had to be carefully planned, the children that are growing up after the war will never know the depravations children and adults had during the war, for example ice cream was a luxury enjoyed rarely if at all.”
Dad looked at me and said “The motto was ‘Fix it up, Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do or Do without.’ And save, save, save, bones, cooking grease, paper, glass, metal, rubber, worn out cloth. Everything was re-cycled nothing was thrown away.”
“Your Mom got recipes for the least used parts of the animal, ox tail bones for soup, tripe, stews made with the very tough cuts of meat, anything to make meat stretch farther. We had ‘Meatless Tuesdays’ and wheatless Mondays and Wednesdays. On Fridays even if you were not Catholic you had fish. Even now I encourage her to do those recipes, so she would not forget and I would not forget her sacrifice” and he was right, how I remember those meals, and for some reason my Mom seemed happy making them.
For some reason around those meals my parents would reminisce about things and I listened carefully while my younger siblings would moan about it being ox-tail soup, and Mom giving them all the saltines they could eat.
I remembered how Mother would dye faded bedspreads and curtains in this old bath tub that had legs in the farthest area of the back yard, instead of spending money to buy new, and if something got a stain she would dye it another color after removing as much of the stain as possible, it’s no wonder most of her clothes were dark blue and purple as well as Granny’s.
I also remembered how for a long time instead of a modern refrigerator we had an old fashioned ice box, Mother would only buy meat for a day or two, at the small market across the street or send me down to it with a note for two pounds of ground beef, and milk was delivered fresh every day and kept in it.
There was a huge block of ice that would chill the whole thing and a man, who seemed huge to me, but then I was a small 5 year old, would come in through the back door with a huge block of ice on his shoulder that was covered with a large thick pad of leather to protect him and he would carefully swing it into the ice box with these heavy metal tongs. For some reason I remember him wearing a bowler hat which made me think of the comic team of Laurel and Hardy.
I remember he’d always apologize to Mom for dripping water on her kitchen floor and she would say “That’s alright, I was planning to mop today” and she did. It wasn’t until I was 7 that Mom and Dad bought a refrigerator, the Frigidaire. We had that for ages and ages before we were finally forced to sucumb to buying a frost free model.
I remember how if there was something to purchase it would be planned on days when we’d be running other errands “to save gas”. After 15 years of doing without or making do from the Depression and the War with the more prosperous 1950’s it was hard to break a thrifty habit and be foolish even just once.
When I think back on those days I realize how lucky we are now and how young people really don’t know what it’s like to do without.
Perhaps with the increase in Gasoline prices, young people will get the idea to be thrifty and careful, but I think it will need something even far more drastic to get that message across.
I went out earlier in the evening and plucked the Bay leaves off of the tree, washed the dust off of them and let the leaves dry, in a few days I’ll put them into the pantry, since it’s only myself and my little Belladonna I don’t need much, but still it’s a nice scent.
I remember also smelling eucalyptus and lavender all throughout my parents home as well as at my Granny’s and lemon polish from polishing the furniture and I’d smell the same scents when I visited my Great Aunt, it wasn’t until I took up the large carpet in the hall (one of the first to be cleaned) that I saw and remembered what my Mother and Granny use to do to keep Moths and Fleas out of the house, eucalyptus leaves and lavender would be sandwiched between the carpet and the carpet pad. Something which I will do again; I have a friend who has eucalyptus growing on her property as a wind barrier, and lavender I will grow a plenty in my front yard, but for now I’ll get the rich scented kind from a nursery that I know.
I found myself last night sitting in my comfortable overstuffed chair with my feet elevated, little Belladonna snuggled in my lap, one hand is stroking her and the other holding a cup of tea, looking out my window at the slowly growing darkness that twilight brings and with it its own form of peace and I think and plan and one of things I think I’ll do is have herbs growing in the garden, besides the lavender for moths, I’ll include thyme, marjoram, rosemary, spearmint and peppermint for teas and basil for cooking. I’ll make use of the large pantry in my Great Aunt’s kitchen; there is space for a freezer with a nice heavy duty outlet, which I think would be good for some things that are worth stocking up on, provided I put a date on it. In fact I’m planning on taking a couple of days off this week to shop for a freezer.
Considering the increase in fuel prices and the corn shortage our food prices will skyrocket, and one can already see the increases in gasoline and some food products.
Right now there is a bargain on pork cuts, because pigs eat corn, now is the time to weed down the herds, soon beef and chicken. So now is the time to look for bargains in meats and poultry.
So although I’m planning a trip in September I know my gas costs will be high, but then for the rest of the year I’ll be using public transportation or going out with friends. And planning on shopping the way my parents did during the war. Hmmm I think I’ll use my vintage car for that.
In a way I’ll be budgeting for a different type of war, a war of economics, for we are heading into dark times my Darklings, these promises of these presidential candidates are just that --- empty promises, so just as my parents and grandparents faced the Depression and the War so too must we face a time of doing without, of a sort of emptiness and we must fill it with purpose.
Yesterday early afternoon, as I drove over to a church were a funeral service that was being held for a relative of a friend of mine (a sad business), I saw the sycamore trees lining the streets, their leaves turning from green to brown, dusty and slowly drying up, Fall is approaching I thought, remembering how my parents and grandparents really gauged the calendar by the scent of the seasons in the air, and then only to confirm any special dates by using the calendar..
I think that now is the time to start preparing.
We must remember “FIX IT UP, USE IT UP, WEAR IT OUT, MAKE IT DO OR DO WITHOUT”-----And one other thing my parents did “SAVE UP FOR IT”, avoid indebtedness if at all possible.