Twilight trails dusky fingers across the land tonight, cooling the edges of the sun-scorched day and bringing night to the hills once more. There is a definite note of fall felt in the air now, reflected in the cooler nights and seen in the more flamboyant wildflowers that bloom in the meadows and fields. The black-eyed Susan’s are closing their black eyes for the season and giving their place to the flashy orange pleurisy weed and purple ironweed. Bright yellow flashes of goldenrod appear now along the roadside and banks, contrasting with the clear blue of the chicory blossoms. At night, the strident call of the katydids warn over and over that summer is fast fleeing.
The jar fly sounds its queer, metallic drone above the hum of the bumblebee as it flits from flower to flower. In the cornfield, the wild morning glories run rampant; deep purple, pale blue and crimson flashes of velvet. The June bug flashed bright green today; its wings glistened in the hot sunshine. Remember how we used to tie a sewing thread on one of its legs and let it zoom over our heads? Like most country kids, we were fascinated by insects.
We would catch a Granddaddy Longlegs and chant, “Granddaddy Longlegs, would you show us which way your cows have gone?” Then we would wait until the insect put out one long, thin leg and pointed. In the sandy soil underneath the Virginian Office porch, the doodlebug built traps. (Of course, they were really called “ant lions” but we called them doodlebugs.) They made traps like smooth funnels in the fine sand to catch unwary ants. We would crawl close to the trap and croon softly, “doodle bug, doodle bug.” We would inevitably dislodge a grain of sand and a minor earthquake would erupt in the funnel as the doodlebug investigated the disturbance.
We would never kill a ladybug. We would catch and throw them in the air while saying, “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home, your house is on fire, and your children will burn.” Now, I wonder where we learned such things. Was it from our parents? I doubt if today’s children learn anything much about the world around them unless it is on the phones that they keep clutched in their hands.
Dog days have departed, but still summer lingers—we have had the hottest days of the season this week, which makes us anxious for the cooler days of autumn. The sun shines down hotly on the mauve Joe-Pye weed that hovers over the wild yellow Tsunflowers and paler evening primrose blossoms in the meadows. Small butterflies of a soft, yellow hue visit the fragrant sweet William blossoms, and green pokeberries are beginning to ripen on purple poke stalks. There was green pokeberries hanging thick outside my window above the computer, but now they are gone. I wonder if a hungry bird did away with them.
I have always thought that ripe pokeberries were poison, but my husband met an old man once in the backwoods of another county who made jelly with them. Criss said that it was a beautiful purple color, but he didn’t sample it. All we used it for when we were kids was to make ink with them. It mad a lovely lavender color, but would fade with time.
Mom found another use for it however. My brother Ronnie was sort of a rascal, and he sneaked some of Mom’s canned blackberries out to the barn and made him some wine. She discovered the jug hidden under the hay in the barn loft, and proceeded to make some of her own. She poured out Ronnie’s wine, filled the jug with water from the pond nearby, and colored it with pokeberries. She said the only thing that she regretted was that she didn’t get to see his face when he sampled his wine!
I remember Grandpa O’Dell telling about the time that one (or maybe more) of his sons did the same thing. I guess the barn was the handiest place to hide such things, but Grandma found their stash there. She took the product and poured it in the pig’s trough. Grandpa would slap his leg and wheeze with laughter as he shared this episode with us. “You should have seen them pigs,” he said. “They ran around and squealed, staggered and fell over in the muddy pigpen.” Come to think about it, they acted a whole lot as some men do when they imbibe the same thing.
If my memory serves me right, I think that our son Michael made a little experiment of his own when he was in high school. We didn’t know anything about it at the time, but in later years, someone confessed. It seems that a lot of country boys have done the same thing.
Apples will be ripening soon in orchards here and there. It will be time to think about applesauce and apple butter, apple pies and bags of frozen slices in the freezer. My sister Susie is so generous at this time. She likes to have a sibling dinner (once there was seven, and now there are five) and share her apple orchard with us. I am so thankful that we and our spouses can get together each time to share our love and memories. Time passes so fast, and one of my sisters today repeated what Mom used to say, “We are going down the valley one by one.” Yes, soon the summer will be ended, and the harvest will be o’er; soon the day of offered mercy will be past forevermore.