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The sun is shining brightly on our hills today, although a wayward wind is laced through the sunshine. The cardinals are squabbling over the bird feeder, but it seems to be the females that are doing the fussing. I heard them singing early this morning, their “purty-purty-purty” ringing out in the chilly air. Though they sing at any time of the year, it seemed to me that they were practicing their spring song.

They are beautiful birds and make a showy picture when perched on a green pine bough, especially against a snowy background. They are named after the red robes worn by the Roman Catholic cardinals, and are cheerful visitors all year around.

We have had a mild winter so far, and January is on the way out. I’ve heard that birds mate in February and begin nesting in March, so it’s not too soon to begin looking for spring. Underground, little woodland plants are putting forth rootlets, waiting for the call of spring and warm sunshine to make their way above ground.

Buds are forming on shrubs and bushes; the azalea and the hydrangea bush both are setting tightly curled buds that are waiting–and so are we. It is a resting time for us to do the projects that get shelved during the busy spring and summer months. Files need to be sorted, accumulated papers need to be filed or discarded, and mountains of clippings are waiting to be re-read.

The family calls me a pack-rat (but not a hoarder!) and it’s true that I have trouble discarding anything, especially any kind of paperwork or records. I’m glad that I am not alone in this. My friend Betty Banks of Charleston has been sorting through papers. She inherited her mother’s papers and cards, just as I did, and has held on to them. She found letters that her great-grandfather Burdick wrote to her mother, Leona. I have letters that my father wrote to his mother (my grandmother) before he married Mom. So, I suppose that Mom kept her mother-in-law’s papers, too.

There ought to be a stopping place somewhere. I have several boxes of things in the cellar that I have accumulated through the years–things people have given me and I can’t bear to discard. They don’t mean a thing to anyone except me, and my daughter Patty has already informed me that as soon as I leave this world, she is going to back a dump truck up to the cellar door and take all my stuff to the landfill. Shucks, I won’t know it!
I’ve been thinking of how we filled in the winter days when we were kids. This was an era before TV, computers, hand-held games and all the electronic gimmicks of today. A lot of winter days found us playing in the barn, where the sweet-scented hay provided hours of fun. We were shielded from the bitter wind and snow and ice, and our imaginations knew no bounds. Sometimes we were on a pirate ship sailing through dangerous waters, and other times we buried back in the hay and told ghost stories.

The hay was never baled at that time, but piled up to the ceiling where we could make caves and hideouts. Daddy would warn us sternly not to tromp on the hay for the cows wouldn’t eat it. The temptation was too much; we not only walked on it but wallowed in it. Who needed a TV?

On a milder winter day, we ran through the meadow playing hide-and-seek in the broomsage. Chapped hands and faces didn’t seem to bother us too much and we got plenty of exercise. We had outdoor chores to do anyway, no matter what the weather. My brother Larry had to feed the young steers up in the bottom where we had the hay stacked.

When Criss and I were first married, he would go with Larry to help feed the steers. Every day Criss would urge him to mount and ride one of the steers, and every day the steer would buck him off in the mud. The next day Criss would say, “I believe you can ride that steer today!” Larry would climb back on and the steer would throw him off again. Now I wonder why Criss didn’t take a turn at it.

Sometimes nighttime would find us shelling corn for the livestock. Daddy would bring in a No.3 washtub and a big basket of ears of dried corn. It was fun, racing to see who could shell theirs the fastest, or who would find a red cob. Daddy read to us a lot, and sometimes Mom would be urged to tell us some “Big Laurel tales.” There was a lot more togetherness than nowadays, when kids sit around with their cell phones, oblivious to everyone around them. Yes, that was some good old times.

We had an answer to a request by Mrs. Frances Woods of Charleston, who was looking for a recipe called “Brown Cake.” Judy Hamilton wasn’t sure this is what she wanted, but she sent this:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup hot water.
Preheat oven to 375, and grease a square 9X9 baking pan. Sift together flour, soda, and salt in a small bowl; set aside. Beat egg, melted butter, molasses and water in a large bowl until combined. Add flour mixture to liquid mixture and beat until smooth. Pour into greased baking pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center. Cut into squares and serve while hot.
Judy also suggested adding spices (cinnamon, ginger, etc,) if desired.
While we are in the cooking mood, we have a request from Shirley Boggess of Charleston who is looking for a recipe for salmon croquettes. She used to get them at the Rose City Cafeteria on the West side. She commented that they were shaped like a pear, and so good.
Let us keep waiting patiently, until we can say, “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle (dove) is heard in our land; (Song of Solomon 2:11-12)

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Alyce Faye Bragg

She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer