Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The 4th of July after...

On July 4 1976 Boston had a big celebration. And then suddenly we found ourselves again on July 4, but a year later.

On July 4 1976 we had thought we'd take the kids into Boston to join the crowds and wish our country a happy 200th birthday. We had thought to hop on the MTA and let the subway drop us off at Park or Boylston and walk the rest of the way to the Harvard bridge, whence we could watch the fireworks that were discharged out over the Charles River.

But Kay Ferguson's son David had gone in ahead of us and found a pay phone and called and warned us off. He said that there were several million people squeezed between the highways leading to Boston and Boston Harbor, and while everyone was behaving it would be way too easy for a small child to get separated or maybe even trampled. And we had three to watch out for.

So we had stayed home. We had local fireworks to enjoy, and we were ok about it. 

And now a year later we decided to have some friends from MIT over to enjoy a store-bought watermelon filled with berries, peaches and more melon. And we decided to include homemade ice cream. Made with store-bought milk and cream.

The day was of course hot and sticky as 4ths of July always are, and we hung out in the coolest room of the house and talked. We were the only ones with kids, so the comings and goings of small humans were met with puzzlement, which amused me because it seemed so normal to me.

After the watermelon gave out, we worked on the ice cream. It wouldn't freeze. A half dozen chemists sat around trying to get the mix to harden, and nothing happened. Then someone remembered the salt, and we were soon divvying up the lovely slurry and covering the servings with strawberries. Very yummy, but too soon gone!

Everyone went in different directions before dark, and we had chores to do and never did make it to the fireworks. 

We enjoyed the fireflies instead, which flashed in syncopation with distant booms, whether heat lightning or fireworks we never knew.

With the 4th behind us, we were in the full intensity of summer. We dreaded the exuberant and abundant flies by day and the clouds of mosquitoes by night, but otherwise we enjoyed our existence: the freshest possible, purest possible, food from the garden, cold hours-old milk from the ladies in the barn, and the companionship of each other without the stress of meeting any schedule but milking and chores.

It was tranquil. Until mid-month, when peace went away never to return in quite the same way again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lunches supreme

When we finally had our first ripe tomatoes, in mid-July after a month of steam and sweat, we discovered a remarkable way to eat them. Only on the farm could we have indulged our urgent cravings for this treat!

We took our homemade bread and cut it thick, and toasted it in the toaster oven, then covered it with butter. 

We then cut a fresh wheel of goat cheese into 1/4 inch slices, and laid them on the bread, as soon as possible so they would soften from the warmth left over from the toasting operation.

On top of the goat cheese went one or two huge, thick, incandescent tomato slices, usually still warm from the garden and filled with that glorious earthy smell. They were red all the way through and juicy.

Then we added the lettuce, fistfuls from the later planting and already in danger of bolting before it could all be eaten. 

And then, maybe some good mayonnaise, or maybe not. And then on top, another slice of that good coarse deep brown whole wheat bread.

And then a diagonal cut, because Nana always cut things diagonally and it seemed respectful to do it her way. (She said a diagonal cut is a way of keeping your face clean because you can eat the point first intead of having to dig in sloppily on the side.)

And then the first bite, pure heaven - creamy tangy cheese with bright tomato with crunchy, slightly bitter green with the deep roundness of the whole wheat. 

A glass of cold goat milk or water stood by, and did a pile of napkins to handle the tomato-y drip. 

When the green peppers were ripe, a slice might be added to The Sandwich, but no other adulterants were tolerated or desired. It was already Perfect.


Sewing seemed to go along with the whole homestead theme. If we were going to do everything else ourselves, why not make our own clothes?

I had sewed from a young age, stitching my finger in the old treadle sewing machine my grandmother had left to my mother when I was only 3 - and supposed to be napping.

I had an aunt, Mar by name and actually my mother's aunt, who sewed, and when I was turning 7 she sent me a package full of scraps of lace and buttons. I made doll clothes from my mother's leftovers and added those things. It gave me great delight to make skirts for my doll and little tops.

Then when I was 9 I started some serious sewing. I had been knitting and weaving potholders to sell by then, but I felt it was time to start making clothes for me.

I don't remember the first article, but by the time our things came out of storage after our year in Kentucky in 1951-52 and then our year in a rented house, 1952-53, I had access to a sewing machine and began to make skirts.

I made pleated skirts with elaborate calculations instead of a pattern - just so much for the length and so many pleats to take up the width at the waist, a plain waistband, and a zipper. Some fabrics were designed to be used in reversible skirts: one side plain, the other plaid. I had to do my calculations just right to make sure only the plain showed on one side, and only plaid on the other, and make the waistband so it looked good whichever way I wore the skirt.

I also made a few gathered skirts out of fabrics with a border print. 

I continued to make skirts, also pajamas and an apron, a two-piece dress, and then in high school two formals and a madra men's jacket for my boy friend and a matching skirt for me .

The two formals I made out of the same pattern, a year apart, because the design was so interesting. Following the directions, I lined up the strangely shaped pieces in seemingly random fashion and couldn't imagine, the first time, how it would turn into anything resembling a dress. Then, with one final alignment, the whole strange mess slipped together and I had an elegant formal before me. I made the second one only to have that great experience again!

In college it was not easy to sew so I just knitted. I couldn't afford the wool so I knitted up for other people what they bought for me to work on. It satisfied my desire to work with my hands.

I made my maternity clothes, once we were married, simple tops and skirts with a cheap machine ($39!). And I made costumes for the resulting children for Halloween and for dress-up: a boy astronaut suit and a girl one, and then later Indian outfits. I also sewed for my nephews.

And then life got in the way for a while. I was working at the TM center, we went to Switzerland, and sewing was left behind. 

Usually when I sewed in was in great gulps. I couldn't make just one thing. When the passion hit me, it hit full-force, and I bought patterns and fabric and established a one-person assembly line. And I'd fizzle out after three or four garments.

Then, there on the farm, as the frantic activities of spring were subdued by the hazy, overheated days of early summer, I was suddenly overtaken by another urge to sew.

Notice that none of the items I had sewn had anything to do with fashion. I was sewing for the sake of doing it, and for clothing my body, or those of my children, or I was looking for the satisfaction of having made something useful. But making something to be stylish wasn't part of it.

So as I set about making clothes for my children, I was looking for an inward satisfaction but not with an eye toward what might help a child fit in.

In fact, even back in 1977, it was hard for a child to fit in with home-made clothes, as I found out when they all went back to school.

But by then the sewing urge had left me once again, and I had unfinished items sitting in a drawer, the pins still holding the patterns to the cut-out fabric.

My daughter was 9 1/2 and I did make her a few cute things. The real sewing fun was ahead of us, but I knew that if I had to make clothing for our family I could. With that sense of accomplishment I put it all away for another day.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Our evening meal was fufarah, which was anything the garden handed us.

We dug early potatoes and cut them and sauteed them in the big frying pan. Baby beans also went in, cut once or not at all. By July the peas were dying, and the brown vines had mostly gone to the goats, but a few peas were left for the pot. 

The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants were growing but were not yet ready.

But small squashes began to appear, and by the next day they were no longer small. So we learned to pick several each night, and they too went into the pot.

It was all sauteed, then served on brown rice or noodles or eaten with bread.

But just before serving, we topped the mixture in the pot with crumbled goat cheese in great quantity. This was a rather dry cheese from our constant production that used up the excess milk we had in mid-summer.  The wheels sat salted on the counter for a few days, and it was a contest to see whether we could eat as much as we made.

Not that we wanted to. We hoped to make it through the winter months with summer's bounty. 

So every few days a wheel of cheese about 6 inches across and an inch deep went into a plastic bag and then into the freezer.

The cheese softened when tossed onto hot fufarah and added a zesty flavor and a nice touch of protein. With rice and all those garden veggies we ate well, and no two meals were the same. But they were all fufarah, all summer long.

Dog days

The heat of July was upon us. It was steamy from morning to night and through to the next morning. The sun was high in the sky and cooked any creature that ventured out. The goats lay prostrate in the shade of the barn, moving from the west side in the morning to the east side in the afternoon. 

And the dogs and cats lay as flat as they could on the kitchen floor, or under the shade of an apple tree if they were one of the outdoor cats.

The people hid in dark corners with their library books and drank gallons of water, or they sat on the basement steps where somewhat cooler air could be found.

The mosquitos filled the twilight evening and stirred up the steam with their buzzing. We had to put winter jackets on to milk so we wouldn't be eaten alive and drained of every drop of our overheated blood. Only our hands stuck out into the buggy air - there was no other way to milk. The goats' tender udders were covered with bites, and as soon as their heads were freed from the milk stand headholder, they whipped around and bit at the new welts.

By the next morning, with the overnight temperatures finally lowering to the high 80s and the sun rising early and sizzling, a new generation of flies was out waiting for us in the barn. We had to cover the milk pail with a paper towel to keep them out, and while we milked they buzzed our ears and bit our necks. We had hung fly tape above the milk room and in several other places in the barn, and each strip was soon blackened with fly bodies, but with no breeze - and there was no breeze - a black cloud hung stationary and nastily around us.

We waited through the days and hoped for a thunder storm that might signal a change of weather but at least would cool us a bit. Heat lightning flashed above the trees from some distant luckier town but never came closer no matter how long we looked at it and longed for it.

Day after day the heat hung on us, unstoppable in its flow from the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of Maine. No mountains rose in between to stop it.

But two young creatures roused themselves at the end of each day, even in the persistant heat, and shook off their lethargy. The beagle boys were ready for their nightly hunt, and who knew what raccoon or neighbor cat was waiting for them! Their eager noses began to twitch at sunset, and by dark, when we were all dashing in from the barn with our itchy hands and full buckets, they were ready for their nightly run.

Off they went, only the white tips of their tails visible, and then only their yodels audible. 

When they came back, called in at the last minute before we went to bed, their bellies heaving and their tongues heavy, we made sure they had a bucketload of water each. They flopped down and went to sleep, their legs still running the woods. 

And we flopped down on top of the sheets and spreadeagled and tried to think comfortable thoughts. Soon the sun was up again, the buzzing began, and we searched the sky for clouds. And there were none. The dogs slept...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Surprise request

I was still smarting from the neighbors' attack by rocks, and feeling like an idiot for not knowing what if anything to say to them or do about it, when I got a surprise visit from Nancy, the mom.

I felt that unpleasant adrenalin burst and braced myself for the unpleasant encounter that was only seconds away. I wanted to avoid a confrontation at all costs as always. I didn't want to find myself telling her in angry-frustrated-tearfilled fashion just what I thought of a man who would drive his children into a neighbor's yard and have them attack the neighbor's garden with rocks. 

I probably was still holding my breath when she walked up to me - I was on our porch - and said, 
we need to be gone for a few days, can you take care of the goats?

After we talked about the details, I said yes. 

In the back of my mind I wondered if she even knew about the rock attack. And whether I should tell her in case she didn't.

We went over to her barn so I could see her set-up and learn what needed to be done: feeding both goats and chickens, milking goats, clean-up, bottling milk...

I agreed to do it, and said not a word about the incident.