This is a short guest post from my New England friend Jeanne Verity. She writes so beautifully about the United States I dreamed of as a child in 1950’s Tasmania. Aah, America, here was a place where autumn was ‘fall’ and where ripening pumpkins heralded Halloween, a magical festival totally outside my own experience. Jeanne grew up in the small town of Pascoag, Rhode Island.
When I was about six or seven my father built a bench for my mother. It was away from the house, down near the woodland that our neighbor, a dairy farmer, owned. Our property was separated from that land by a stone wall, stretching as far as the woods themselves, probably built during the Great Depression. The large stones formed the back of the bench. One side was supported by a big, beautiful maple tree that my mother loved, and the other side was supported by two lengths of pipe. The bench was formed from two rough four-by-fours, and it was all painted a light gray,
Sometimes my mother would go down there and sit by herself. I can remember that I was not pleased when she went down there alone. I could not imagine her wanting to go down there to be alone, not at that age anyway. I know now that her life could be hard at times, as she was a long way from home, in a strange environment, among some Yankee folks who were not as friendly and welcoming as one could want. (Jeanne’s mother was from Kentucky, in the South).
I’m sure she sat on the bench almost all year round, but my memories of her sitting there always seem to be of her sitting there in the fall. Autumn was my mother’s favorite time of year, and maybe that’s why I enjoy autumn in New England so much. She would teach me the identity of various trees, and the glorious colors of their respective leaves.
We would check on the pumpkins in the patch, the dried corn stalks tied in sheaves, and the gold of the hay as it lay in the fields, waiting for the final cut. We always had some barn cats, and they would often accompany her to the bench. They knew her gentle touch, as she was the one who fed and cared for them.
We enjoyed much of the bounty of the earth on our land and she explained how autumn was the time of reaping, when we could pick our crops and preserve their goodness for the coming winter.. This is how a little girl from Pascoag learned about autumn in New England, and about the time of resting and replenishing that we all need, with a bench and some solitude.
Thanks Jeanne. Reading this I was reminded of my own mother, who also faced difficulties in her life.. Jeanne’s emotional response to her mother retreating to the bench struck a chord. Coming home to our farmhouse from school each day, the first impulse for me and my siblings was to call for our Mum. Any delay in her answering would send a sharp pang of longing straight to my heart. As with Jeanne, it was our darling mother who passed her deep love of nature on to us, something which has been a solace and a special joy all my life.
NOTE – I FINALLY MADE IT TO THE UNITED STATES – AS AN ADULT, BUT STILL A CHILD AT HEART.