August heat suffocates our hills; heat that seems to rise in waves from the earth itself. Cooler nights and hot days are bringing the sweet corn to fruition, as the corn tassels top the stalks. Honeybees work busily to gather the pollen, and pollinate the corn silks with their labor.
Housewives are busy harvesting and preserving the garden’s abundance as green beans hang heavy on the vines and are ready to be picked. Freezing, canning and pickling fill the summer days as we walk in our grandmother’s footsteps in preparing food for wintertime.
Raising a garden and preserving vegetables is a hard task, but so rewarding. There is a feeling of satisfaction when the cellar shelves begin to fill with glass jars of summer’s goodness and you can see the fruit of your labor. It must be a tiny part of what our pioneer ancestors felt when they stocked food for the winter. With only their labor and resources to rely upon, gathering and preserving food was a dire necessity.
Without deep freezers and modern canning equipment, meat had to be salted down or dried. Vegetables were put in root cellars, or “holed up.” Cabbage was made into sauerkraut, and corn was pickled in stone jars. Their very existence was dependent upon the food they stored for winter.
Coming on down another generation or so, my own mother put in much hard labor as she “put away” the produce from the huge garden we raised each year. Corn had to be canned as we had no deep freezer. That was the messiest job on the farm. We cut it raw off the cob, and it would spatter on your face, eyeglasses and surroundings.
Green beans had to be processed for four hours, and when she used half gallon canning jars, she would cook it outside. Out came the old black washtub to be filled with jars of beans, water poured in to come up to the necks of the jars, and a fire built under the tub. Someone had to keep the fire burning the entire four hours. She used one-piece zinc lids with a glass liner, and red rubber jar rings. It is amazing that anything kept.
My heart hurts when I think of all the hard work that Mom did. Sometimes it would be late in the night when the beans “came off” and she could go to bed. Still, she was up bright and early the next morning fixing breakfast for her large brood.
I have been asked about Mom, and she is in a personal care home now. It broke my heart to have to do this, but after I broke my leg I wasn’t able to care for her. After taking care of her for over three years, it was a wrench to let her go. My health was going down hill, and I have been hospitalized three times since the first of the year.
First was the broken leg, and before that healed I was sick for weeks with my gall bladder. After that was diagnosed and surgery performed, I thought I was on the road to recovery. A couple of weeks ago I was admitted again with bleeding ulcers, and I am now fighting that battle. I am better.
It is so easy to judge another person. I remember when we were younger, we would say that we’d never let our parents go to a nursing home. You can never tell what life has in store for you. Never again will I make a careless comment about decisions families have to make concerning their aged members. There is heartache involved here that no one knows except those who have walked this path.
I had it fixed in my mind that I would keep Mom here in my home until she passed away. There is a certain amount of guilt that I feel, although there was no other choice. My sister Jeannie has to work full time because of their medical insurance, Mary Ellen is severely handicapped with fibromyalgia, and Susie has never recovered from the automobile accident she had several years ago.
On the bright side, Mom is content where she is. She receives loving, compassionate care in a home-like atmosphere. Alzheimer’s disease is slowly deteriorating her mind, and she lives in the past more than in the present. Sometimes she speaks of wanting to go home, and when I ask her where, she answers, “Why, Big Laurel, of course!”
We all visit her often, but soon after we leave she has forgotten we were there. There is one other patient there, another lady with Alzheimer’s, and they are great buddies. It is comforting to know that she is well taken care of, and content. Still, there is an empty place here.
Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease, ravaging the mind and eventually the body. When I visited Mom last week, the first thing she asked me was, “I’ve been trying to think—who was I married to?” It stunned me to think that after 46 years of marriage, the memory had been wiped out. It is like our retired family physician, Dr. Duling, said in an interview, “People’s bodies are outliving their minds.”
My greatest consolation is that someday Mom will go home. There with her Dad and Mommy, her brothers and sisters, she will go to her heavenly home. I am sure God has a place for her, and maybe it will be like Big Laurel Creek. Who knows?