The dusty-pink blossoms of the Joe-Pye weed droop over the road banks and warn us of summer’s passing—very, very soon. In the meadows and along the road the fragrant blooms of wild pinks (dianthus) decorate the scene and add their perfume to the summer air. They will always remind me of blackberry season. It is the sweet scent of summer.
Their spicy fragrance always brings back the memory of those hot, weary days we spent picking blackberries when I was a kid. It was one of our summer chores to supply Mom with all the blackberries she needed to can (in half gallon jars.) She also made row after row of jams and jellies. When she got enough, we were allowed to pick and sell what we could—for fifty cents a gallon.
Those hot summer days in the blackberry field were forgotten when we sat down to a winter breakfast with hot biscuits and plenty of blackberry jam. Mom also made thickened blackberries for breakfast, which many folks called “hot jam” or “quick jam.” She poured well-sweetened berries into a cooker, and then thickened them with flour or cornstarch. Daddy called this “blackberry flummery,” and with a hunk of real cow butter melted in it, and eaten with a hot buttermilk biscuit, it was “almost heaven!”
A blanket of searing, oppressive heat has smothered our hills and hollers for the past few weeks, sending temperatures soaring near the 100-degree mark in some places. In spite of the heat, we have had several rain storms which have kept the garden producing. Some folks have reported that their squash and cucumber vines have dried up completely, but thanks to the heavy dew each night, we have plenty for the table.
The squirrel pups seek for a shady spot under the porch or outbuilding, and lie panting with pink tongues lolling out of their mouths. Occasionally, they shamble to the creek and flop down in the shallow, stagnant water. Dog days are at their peak with the mold and mildew that follows steaming humidity.
We, too, seek the cool, shady spots, in front of a fan or secluded in our air-conditioned houses. Sometimes we wonder how our pioneer mothers (and fathers) survived a heat wave such as this without the benefit of either electric fans or air conditioning, when their canning, gardening and preserving chores went on just the same.
Gardening chores have to be done early in the morning before the cruel heat drives us back indoors. I am blessed in that Criss has taken over raising and harvesting the crops, and even helps with the canning. At least we are not bothered with poisonous snakes, as we were at one time. Andy once had a dingo dog, Brownie, which hunted down and killed every snake in our vicinity. She grew old and passed away, we still miss her.
We used to have a Staffordshire terrier named Gypsy who followed me to the garden to pick green beans and came back with a grotesquely swollen jaw from a snake bite. I had just picked 21 quarts of beans with never a thought of a snake. She recovered after several doses of Benedryl. Mom told me that people used to treat snakebite in dogs (and probably humans too) with turpentine. When one of Mom’s sisters (while young) was bitten by a copperhead, her mother killed a chicken, split it open, and applied the hot carcass to the snakebite.
Long ago, I recall one of our elderly neighbors telling me about the copperheads in her garden. She said one day when she was hoeing her tomato plants, one struck at her and bit a green tomato instead. She vowed that the tomato turned as blue as can be. I took that with a grain of salt.
We were never bothered by poisonous snakes until I-79 was built through Amma and the subsequent blasting must have disturbed the copperhead population. The first one I ever saw in our area appeared on our bridge years ago. I got a hoe to dispatch it, and Chris White, who was just a little tot then, was standing nearby and said, “I’ll till it for you, Audice.” (Chrissy couldn’t talk plain—he was such a sweet child and almost a member of our family. The family moved to South Carolina, and we all missed him—especially Andy. To our sorrow, we learned that he had passed away some time ago.)
Childhood memories are sweet.
Let me do my work each day;
And if the darkened hours of despair overcome me,
May I not forget the strength that comforted me
In the desolation of other times.
May I still remember the bright hours that found me
Walking over the silent hills of my childhood,
Or dreaming on the margin of the quiet river,
When a light glowed within me,
And I promised my early God to have courage
Amid the tempests of the changing years.
Spare me from bitterness
And from the sharp passions of unguarded moments.
May I not forget that poverty and riches are of the spirit.
Though the world know me not,
May my thoughts and actions be such
As shall keep me friendly with myself.
Lift my eyes from the earth,
And let me not forget the uses of the stars.
Forbid that I should judge others,
Lest I condemn myself.
Let me not walk in the clamor of the world,
But walk calmly in my path.
Give me a few friends who will love me for what I am;
And ever keep burning before my vagrant steps
The kindly light of hope.
And though age and infirmity overtake me,
And I come not within sight of the castle of my dreams.
Teach me still to be thankful for life,
And for time’s olden memories that are good and sweet;
And may the evening’s twilight find me gentle still.
By Max Ehrmann
I feel that this poem was written especially for me.
Joyce Burdette Paxton, of Elkview, (who is a cousin of mine,) writes to inquire about a scripture verse in the Bible which deals with taking away the pain from a burn. Her mother mentioned it, calling it “blowing out the fire.” Is anyone familiar with it?
She went on to relate how her brother Keith, who was in the first grade at that time, loved my Aunt Addie. She was the cook at his grade school, and he aimed to marry her when he grew up—said she was a “good cooker!”