I’ve spent a lot of time at home these last two weeks. Yes, I went and overdid it with all the book stuff and landed myself in bed — again. But, hey – I’ve got a bed. And I’m safe at home. These days, that’s something to be VERY thankful for.
I asked a few writers to be guest-bloggers – to contribute very short stories, which I’ll post every so often. Here’s the question each had to answer: “What does home/belonging mean to you?”
Georgeina Knapp sent this lovely story:
THE ESSENCE OF HOME
The word is a floodgate that releases memories and emotions — at the most unexpected moments. Sometimes, all it takes is a sound, a smell, a sensation, a sentence, or even the sight of a simple household item.
And before you know it, you’re swept back. Home.
Home is an image. The image of the blue and white mixing bowl and the brown pitcher embossed in a basket- weave pattern, passed down from my grandmother. The sight of these objects brings me straight back home.
Home to my childhood, and to my mother making pastry. I’d watch her measure the flour and lard into the bowl. Beside it, the pitcher held the ice-cold water that she slowly added, creating the basis of delicious pies of every kind.
The building that held the essence of home was an old farm house, its exterior covered in cream clapboard with green trim. It stood apart from neighbouring houses and faced open fields across the street, giving it a feeling of country although it was at the edge of the village. On the front lawn, there was a swing on each of the two large maple trees, a place for happy summer hours. In the back, there was a huge garden where my mother grew the vegetables she would preserve for us to eat all winter.
Home is sound. The sounds from our small barn. The white Leghorn chickens, the pigs and the cows.
The cows mooed softly as though having a conversation with each other, and called more loudly to get our attention when they decided it was time to be fed or milked. The pigs sounded like someone with a bad cold. They snuffled and snorted until one offended the other; then there was a loud squeal of protest. The sounds from the chicken coop ranged from the gentle clucking and chirping of contentment to the loud squawk of excitement.
Home is smell. The outdoor smell of animals, the damp earthy smell of the garden after a rain, and the sweet smell of flowers growing around the house.
The inside of our house was fragrant with the vegetables, fruit, jam and pickles my mother preserved during the summer, or food cooking in the oven on cold winter days. In the dark cellar downstairs, there was a different, but no less distinctive smell: a somewhat damp, musty odour which filled my nose whenever I ventured down there for coal or a jar of the preserves crowded on the concrete bench along one wall.
At Christmas the house was filled with the spicy aroma of special cookies baking and the fresh pine scent of the real Christmas tree we brought home from my uncle’s farm.
Home is sensation. The warmth of family and friends who gather for a cozy evening, and the warmth of the big kitchen range that burned coal and wood.
In winter, we loved the heat from that big range. We put our wet mittens to dry on the open oven door and set our boots under the stove.
In summer that same heat could be unwelcome: even on the hottest days, the fire would have to be lit to cook our meals.
On summer nights when the upstairs bedrooms were too hot to sleep in, my mother would spread some quilts on our front lawn and we would sleep there for a few hours until the house cooled down enough for us to return to our beds.
Home is a single sentence: words from my father.
I’ll always remember how my father summed up the feeling of home one winter evening. He and I were coming back to the house from the barn and he lifted me up to look through the kitchen window. He asked me what I saw. I told him I saw mom taking something out of the oven. And that the table was set for supper and a freshly made pie was on the cupboard.
My father said, “That’s the best thing of all: coming home and there’s somebody there”.
I was just a small child, but I knew what my father meant, and I agreed.
It’s just days before Thanksgiving here in Ontario and the harvest is in.
So much to give thanks for, once you think about it. From having a family and a home to having food to eat.
At this time of year, I’m reminded of something my mother used to say: “You don’t have to be rich to plant a garden.” No matter how little money our families had, my mother and my husband’s mother always planted a garden. (My mother-in-law still does.) And I have lovely memories of their abundant produce that sometimes came from just a small plot.
Our own vegetable garden has yielded abundantly this summer and fall: eggplants, beans, peppers, onions, zucchini, cucumber and raspberry. And a profusion of tomatoes.
In a fit of late-day ambition, the pumpkin vine has even flowered again and put out several perfect tiny pumpkins.
It’s a Jamaican pumpkin, grown from a seedling that came from neighbours Paddy and Jacqui. Only one of its pumpkins made it to maturity this summer, and now, in early October, this intrepid vine is trying again. I thank it for the effort, but warn that it’s indulging in a lost cause.
“You’re in Canada now,” I tell it – one of the foolish ‘conversations’ I tend to have with plants and shrubs when I walk through the garden. “Cold weather is just around the corner.”
But last time I checked, the vine had sent out yet another flower, atop yet another tiny pumpkin.
We’re thankful for the one mature pumpkin it gave us, and decide to treat it as if it’s a whole crop. So we call Paddy and Jacqui to come get their share of “the pumpkin harvest”.
“What about the bird pepper I gave you?” asks Jacqui soon after she comes through the kitchen door.
“It got overshadowed by the asparagus and raspberry bushes”, my husband says. “We realized it too late. It’s just blooming now.”
“But the raspberry bushes you gave us a few years ago are on their second or third yield this summer,” I chime in, wanting to atone for our inept treatment of the bird pepper plant and our failure to get more than one mature pumpkin.
Along with a half of the pumpkin, we give Jacqui and Paddy tomatoes, herbs and garlic. They’re happy with their share of the harvest.
The garlic bulbs were yanked out of the soil in late summer, and left to dry in baskets and boxes. The biggest ones are given to family and friends like Paddy and Jacqui, the smaller ones left behind for our own use. These garlic bulbs have grown by themselves each year. Untended, even unplanted, offspring of the seeds of a single garlic plant my mother-in-law gave us years ago. Who was to know that garlic is so easy to grow?
Before the harvesting of the garlic, there was the red currant. For years the birds got to the currant bushes first, picking them clean before we got to them. So now we get to them first, leaving behind about a third of the crop for the birds. The result of that harvest is beautiful red jelly, a surprising taste of sweet and tart. It’s perfect with cheese, crackers, toast, ham or even as a baste for roast pork or chicken. Or Thanksgiving turkey.
Here’s my question to you: What are you harvesting from your garden, if you have one? And what will you be giving thanks for this Thanksgiving (whether it’s the Canadian one in a few days, the American one next month or wherever you are?) I’d love to hear from you.