Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Toast!

We like to toast...or "Clink and Drink", as Levi calls it whenever his mommy fills him a glass with juice.  We are people who will toast a success, a season, a wedding, a baby, the end of harvest, the completion of a project, togetherness, even survival...
....and tomorrow, we will be celebrating a birthday...a big one, the kind with a zero.  And because our kitchen has no appliances and it's the middle of plant season, this post falls into the category of  "in lieu of".  

What I mean is: 'in lieu of ' a cake aflame with candles, a great big celebration, a super special present.....'in lieu of'...a steak dinner, a night out, a singing card'....or any of those other surprises or commemorations or decorations or ways of measuring six decades.... here's what you get.....

Here's  a slide show of lots of what you love, Blake.  Here are your grandkids, and your farm, and your kids.  Here are you and me enjoying our work and our travel and our business and our family and baseball.  Here's what you do: thinking and reading and writing and talking about life on the two lanes and the gravel roads, life in rural America in small towns and farm fields, changed from the generations that preceded us on this land, but still rooted in community and stewardship of what matters most.

Happiest of birthdays to you, even though it's just another working April 21st; enjoy good work, beautiful flowers, loving family, and some hot jazz.

A toast!  

And a few remembrances from our recent...and not so recent past.... 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Flowers of the Field

The stove is in the garage; the fridge is on the back porch; the microwave perches on a church pew.  The coffeepot still lives, parked on a plastic Rubbermaid tub with two plaster dusted mugs and a box of Starbucks pods alongside.  Our kitchen, always the heart of our house, is down to bare bones.

Forty years ago, my mother and father sold their land in Calloway county and bought a property with a limestone creek, a gabled barn, a milking parlor, some pasture ground and a couple of fields planted to milo. They had a vision and over the years they realized their plan, seeding the upland field to warm season prairie grasses, building ponds, and fences, and facilities in and around the big barn for handling cattle and storing hay.  The milo fields became a pasture, and an orchard.  The rundown outbuildings were painted red and roofed in silver, jacked up and leveled and put to use.  There was a bountiful garden with soil mellowed by well aged manure carted up a wheelbarrow at a time from the red barn floor.  Over time the rambling old home was remodeled; two greenhouses spoke to the resident green thumbs; a swing set was built for grandchildren and a telescope turned the former milking parlor into a planetarium.  Summertime and wintertime:  holidays and harvests: the farmstead was a lovely busy fruitful place.

But neither a house, nor a farm, really makes a home.  The couple who lovingly restored and improved and transformed the worn out ground and aged house are worn and aged themselves.  The gardens have gradually shrunk and the apple trees are bent and broken.  The place is still lovely; the pastures with well fed cattle, the grasslands without sprouts, the ponds fenced, the little trees planted decades ago now mature.  But there is an air of emptiness this spring as the daffodils bloom unnoticed and the early opportunistic weeds spring up unabated.

As a gardener I know only too well how quickly our most strenuous efforts at taming the land to our wishes can vanish.  It is a visual manifestation of the Biblical klaxon, a warning that:

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
         As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.

16When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
         And its place acknowledges it no longer. 
(Psalm 103:15-16)


For, "All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; 
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
(1 Peter 1:24)

Our works, our beauty, our efforts...ephemera. 

But... that is not all...  

To paraphrase St. Paul, " I will show you a still more excellent way...." (1 Corinthians 12:31)

In a desk drawer upstairs is a packet of letters tied with black twine addressed to a midshipman in the Navy from a young woman at Greenberry Road.  The bundle of letters has made many moves: from Jefferson City to Columbia to Chicago back to a farmhouse attic in Calloway county to an antique dresser on the other side of the Missouri and now safely stowed in a desk my mother's father made out of hard rock maple.  I haven't unwound the twine string, but the survival of these letters after more than a half century and many more miles attests more loudly than any words to ties that bind.

When memories fail and words won't come, but she looks for him every day; when they hold hands while watching Wheel of Fortune each evening; when my father and mother still kiss good night; these are the times I catch a glimpse of the more excellent way, a merest hint of the eternal within the mortal, a reminder of the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 13: 

 4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 These two people are not perfect, not always patient and kind, at times provoked, but they are faithful. They care for each other....even when they cannot care for themselves. This and every other long marriage testifies that love bears much and endures all.  Gardens lie fallow and houses stand empty; bodies become fragile and break.....

"for now we see in a mirror dimly...but then face to face." 

 It's a promise.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Second Time Around

Makes you think perhaps that love, like youth, is wasted on the young

Love's more comfortable the second time you fall
(Sammy Kahn, Jimmy Van Heusen)

Mr. Bustepher Jones and Mr. Mistoffelees
The theater is aquiver.  Moms and Dads crane their necks in the dark of the audience, cell phones at the ready.  The performers are so tightly wound, they practically vibrate with suppressed energy.  Thank goodness these are dancers, and all this potential will be unleashed in spins, and leaps, toe tapping and hip-hopping.  The moms and dads may be nervous, but not one child will forget a line, nor will anyone know if a move is choreographed....or ad-libbed.  No medals will be awarded...everyone will take bows....and whether a tiny tot stays on stage into the next scene...or makes her getaway to the safety of her parents, we will applaud and celebrate every moment because it has been FUN...

That's not always the case.  I am a grandma now, but Blake and I used to be the mom and dad of the kid on the stage, or at the podium, or on the court or the track or the mat....or the bench.  We held our breath, crossed our fingers, yelled at refs, bit our tongues, mouthed the words, clenched our fists, prayed, paced, and encouraged silently and out loud to hold on, keep going, and don't give up.  We rejoiced sometimes, were relieved others, and spent the rest of the time thinking of the right words to say to reassure or comfort the broken hearts or hurt feelings of our children when they felt they had failed.  Speeches and races, spelling bees and solos, free throws, at bats;  black holes of memory, dropped passes, false starts; all these bring to mind Adam Smith, if you can believe it.  "There's a lot of ruin in a nation," said he, and my application to child rearing is thus: kids are resilient. Failures will come and perspective...and a tougher hide...can only be gained by getting over it.  Kids hurt...and the moms and dads hurt more, because as parents we are forced to be adults.  

 Love is lovelier the second time around
Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground....

But... grandparents can give hugs and know they won't be rebuffed....grandparents don't have to analyze the aftermath, they can listen.  Grandmas and grandpas can simply enjoy the spirit of the endeavor, the energy and the heart and the will; we can appreciate the practice and effort....and not  bound by the skill or end result.  We aren't wiser...but we are older...and we see the parents of our grandchildren superimposed in the time/space continuum every pitch or performance. We know they survived the strain then and will live through both the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat...and the hours of bleacher butt in between.  

Meanwhile, Gabe will be investing in a first basemen's glove this spring and Aaron just played his trumpet during Junior High Performance night.  We laughed reliving Ann's exit from the county spelling bee after spelling 'raspberry' the fruit like 'razzberry' the noise.  Lee blacked out and forgot half a page of her solo at State Music contest.  Aaron showed remarkable equanimity while pitching last year, but his uncle Ben didn't bother to throw four balls; like Bob Gibson, he saved time and energy by just hitting the batter.

All the dances in CATS were delightful; shrinking the show to an hour and having adorable children, not underfed adults, dressed to the nines as felines, made it so much fun.  But  my eyes and camera were pretty well glued to the grand girls each time they took the stage.  Mr. Bustepher Jones twirled his giant spoon with élan, tripped and bounced right up before his fellow CATS could aid him.  Miss Abbie Harms, playing Mr. Jones, knew every word to every song and sang them all under her breath, at the very least, thereby proving that this particular apple hadn't fallen very far from her mama's tree.  Mr. Mistoffolees, radiated energy and joy in every move. Lizzie's smile never failed, even when her dance slippers led her astray during her song and she landed hard on her side.  She kept her place in her routine and made each subsequent pirouette and jump with confidence.  
  When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin
(Andrew Lloyd Webber)


Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Month of Wind and Taxes

Indoors or out, no one relaxes
In March, that month of wind and taxes,
The wind will presently disappear,
The taxes last us all the year.
~Ogden Nash (1902–1971), "Thar She Blows"  [Tax Day used to be March 15th from 1918 through 1954, not April 15th as we know it today. —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens (1812–1870), Great Expectations

“Only those with tenacity can march forward in March” 
― Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

The first sweet potato cuttings of the season came in looking like a wilted lettuce salad.  And this was the sweet potato that was delivered.  Another four hundred plants were ordered...and then cancelled.  Was this sudden shortfall of ornamental sweet potato due to the unanticipated bankruptcy of one of our favorite sources for cutting raised plants?  Analogous to the accordion effect one car in a thousand braking for a daredevil squirrel.has on three lanes of congested traffic.  Or is it just Nature's way of reminding me that it goes against the order of the world as created by Almighty God to expect summery plants like Marguerite and Blackie to thrive...or even grow!... before the Ides of March. What I'm saying is there is a natural order that waits for some signal from the sun and the earth even if the the man maintained environment all around seems ideal.  The tomato seeds I plant in February are a little reluctant to emerge compared to those planted when the days grow longer...even though they are all planted in a room with light twenty four hours a day!  Never ceases to amaze and mystify...

The Timehop tells of March madness past: the snow days with grandkids at play in empty greenhouse bays and at work transplanting, or watering, or even getting a haircut.  There are lists four foot long and towers ten foot high that correlate with sun rise shots before the equinox and sunset pictures after the spring forward. And water, water everywhere: an irrigation boom making its slow crawl down the bay like an April thunder shower on the western horizon, a water wand seemingly suspended in mid air while the photographer acts as deux machina. As March marches, water is the driver; a multitude of baby plants cries for water like hatchlings in a nest.  Strapping teenage transplants are drama queens, wilting under an afternoon sunspot.  The curve for water in March is an increase at an increasing rate: in math terms, exponential.

February may have set records in northern Missouri, but our truckload of potting soil apparently originated somewhere so far north that the middle of each bale was more akin to permafrost than peat-lite mix.  The guys filling pots climbed inside the bale breaker with a sharp edged spade, but the biggest chunks still lie outside like over-sized Idaho potatoes awaiting the oven.  Matt stuck his finger into one this afternoon, gauging its temperature, and declaring it 'done' and ready to be scooped back into the dirt machine. We are expecting another truckload on Monday, the fourth of the year, and hope against hope that this bunch will be thawed.

Two weeks to go in March and two greenhouse remain unopened, without heat or plants.  Blake has begun his familiar March refrain:"I don't think we are going to need all this space."..."Why did we build that new greenhouse?"....and...just for variety.."I think we can turn one of these empty greenhouses into a batting cage!"  We tolerate this humor now, but by April 1st, there will be hundreds of flats of tomatoes and the flowers for three different school fundraisers awaiting transplant and we will be deciding how narrow a walkway one can navigate with two feet and 150' of garden hose. As the tension mounts, the sense of humor shrinks...another mathematical function increasing at an increasing rate! Two in one blog post...imagine that!

When we unwrap the box from Botany Lane containing the two trays of succulents, we can't help oohing and aahing and patting the trays.  Baby succulents are like puppies; everyone loves them and no one can resist them.  The difference is that succulents remain cute and never drag the clothes off the line....

The first soybeans in Atchison county have cracked the surface.  Everyone I know is curious about the soybeans in pots we are growing for a fundraiser.  I am too.  How many soybean plants does it take to make some tofu?  Are these beans going to grace a salad?  Be a snack?  Is edamame going to become a household word?    And the same goes for the stevia cuttings...another new crop for Hurst Greenery.  So unfamiliar, we didn't recognize them when we unpacked them.  For your information, they look a lot like lobelia as a plug...

The perfume of pansies meets me at the door of the annex, a sure sign that we are on the cusp of spring.  Is any flower more lovely than a pansy face?  Be-whiskered, blushing, brilliant and bold or subtly shaded, I suppose it's just as well they flourish only in the cool season, else we should shun every other flower with a lesser palette.

“AND what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;”

No one would dream of applying James Russell Lowell's paean in praise of June to March.  And yet...and yet....on a bright and breezy Sunday afternoon when the watering is done, payroll complete, and our tummies full of another great St. Paul's Spring Dinner, it is possible to imagine Heaven leaning down to watch kids on bikes, or throwing baseballs, fathers and sons sitting in lawn chairs by their backyard campfire, golfers out for the first time, and gardeners peeking at the crabapple trees or picking up sycamore limbs. 

There might even be kids fishing with a stick for moss....and like its the first of July.

March can be rare like that.