Monday, September 26, 2016

The smell of fall

Fall. The morning air is fresher, crisper somehow. Leaves are turning (very slowly here) and pear and apple trees are just about finished for the season. Screens come down and storm door windows go up. Farmers are harvesting while the women are pulling the blankets and winter clothing from storage. Fall.

Corn mazes and petting farms were not part of our growing up. There were no pumpkin patches or petting farms. We could walk into the corn field, get lost and find our own way home. We grew our own pumpkins. And, we could walk across the yard to pet a farm animal. No autumn bells and whistles for the farm kids. My favorite fall recreation belonged to trees and leaves.

Emma and Nolan attend preK on a nature reserve which is part of our Tualatin Park and Recreation District (THPRD). Every day, rain or shine, they hike in the woods. Nolan saw a deer on the first day and was quite happy with his new school. Ecology is used in all aspects of the teaching. Fall. A perfect time and place to learn.

THPRD covers 50 square miles and serves 240,000 people. 2,500 acres of parks are owned/maintained. This is in Washington County where I live west of Portland which is in Multnomah County. There are 51 paved trails and 17 unpaved. There are 27 miles of streams/waterways and three lakes. The area contains 162 natural areas covering 1,491 acres.  Fall turns this area into a colorful wonderland where migrating birds rest and hikers enjoy the cool weather. My dad would have loved it. This would have been his fall retreat.

Dad was between crop-seasons in the fall. Tobacco was drying out in the shed. Grain and corn had been brought in. Hay and straw was baled. Barns were cleaned and fresh bedding put down for the livestock. Dad had more time on his hands. More times for a little girl.

This was quality time for us. A last fishing trip by the pond. Walks through the woods. Small animals skittered or slowed down with the cooling weather, giving a father a chance to show his daughter more mysteries of nature. Firewood was in place and anticipation was high knowing that soon the fireplace would be blazing and hot dogs roasting once more. Mom made hot chocolate and filled the freezer with pies. She rolled out dough, cutting it into thin noodles to add to our winter favorites. It was fall.

My parents have been gone for many years, yet fall brings them to mind more and more often. Perhaps it is because that was the time of year that we all interacted more. No one was exhausted at the end of the day. We looked at the stars and listened for migrating geese. We lingered by the window with coffee in hand, watching the birds at the feeder. Neighbors dropped in and stayed longer. We all had more time....more time for each other.

It is fall. I do not need the calendar to show me. I can smell it in the air. It is the smell of nature, the smell of clean, the smell of home.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Just bobbing along

The round red and white bobber just sat there. It rolled with the ripples and the wind. Occasionally, a dragon fly would use it for a resting spot. It rarely had any activity so just sat there doing what it was named for. It bobbed. If fishing was slow, Dad replaced the red and white bobber with an elongated white and yellow bobber. They bobbed the same. The dragon fly had little sit on. And, usually the fishing was no better than before.

I grew up with a fishing pole in my hands. Initially, I just sat holding the pole and looking at the water, the trees, the bugs and most everything else. My bobber just sat there....bobbing. I grew a little older and was allowed to get the worm out of the bait bucket. The slimy thing twisted and curled, and in all my little girlness, I said 'yuk'. With age came more freedom. I graduated to putting the worm onto the hook. I found that if I whapped it with my shoe first, I could stun it then put it onto the hook with absolutely no resistance. Once I was adept at this task, my father allowed me to remove the hook from the fish. Yes, I grew up with a fishing pole in my hands, watching the red and white bobber.

I watched the bobber. It was on the end of the line hooked to my old cane pole. When we sold the farm, I saw my pole in the corner of the barn. I really wanted it, but what was I to do with? I hadn't fished since I was a child. Then I realized that this pole represented so much more. It held memories of a little girl getting attention from her dad who seemed to work most of the time and never played with his daughters. Dad and I had something in common as I watched that red and white bobber. We talked and laughed. With each fish I caught, I gained his praise. When I caught none, I received his support. We relived the day of fishing as we dined on that same fish at dinner. It was in those times that I learned old stories of when as a boy Dad fished in the same fishing holes. That old pole beaconed to me that day in the barn....not to take it home. No. It called to me to remember.

As I watched that red and white bobber, I learned about nature. I learned patience. I learned the excitement of the tug on the line and of landing the fish. I learned what it was to be quiet. I learned to listen to the earth. Most of all, I learned to know my father.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Putting on the feedsack

On the kitchen wall, just inside the door, was a row of hooks. Coats, hats and colorful aprons and bonnets hung there just waiting. A vivid memory of Mom and Pop Johnson's kitchen. Mom put a little blue flowered bonnet on my head, tying it beneath my tiny chin. We were off to the chicken house where I looked for the glass egg that supposedly encouraged the chickens to lay. But this is not about eggs or chickens. Nope, it is about the fabric in that little bonnet that resided in readiness on the hook in the kitchen.

That sweet bonnet was made out of feedsack cloth. Quilts sewn by that older generation are made from that same type of cloth. Small prints, floral pieces, pieces of children's clothes, old aprons, men's shirts and mother's dresses. Pieces of history that came from feedsacks.

My children and grandchildren will have trouble understanding how people could use these pieces of cloth for clothing, but times were hard and store-bought fabric was a luxury. Buying clothing in stores was impossible for the farmer. Articles of clothing were handed down until they were frayed. It was a generation of recycling, before we even had the word in our vocabulary. Nothing went to waste. Creativity and invention were used in a time when life was simple, when necessity required ingenuity.

In the time of my great great grandparents, farm and food products were shipped in barrels and tins. Eventually, food products were shipped in bags. In 1846 Elias Howe patented the lockstitch sewing machine and made cloth bags that could be reused. The bags were white with the company name stamped on them or the farmer's name was placed on the bag, so it could be refilled. Women removed the stamp with a mixture of lard and lye soap. Even with over the counter products the labels were difficult to completely remove from the white fabric.

Eventually flour and feedsack manufacturers realized that they could make these bags more attractive and appealing. Stamped labels were replaced with paper labels. Patterns were designed to appeal to the womenfolk. By the 1930's manufacturers were competing to design attractive patterns. The fabric weight was determined by the contents of the bag. Flour required a tight weave, while animal feed used a looser weave. Sometimes a farmer might find that he had more bags then he used, hence he sold them back to the store. Peddlers even began peddling empty bags. Women went to the store with their men to pick out the design of the bags he purchased, looking for a new dress on the shelves of the grocery store.

During WWII, it became patriotic to use feedsacks for clothing, bedding, just about anything that required fabric. Manufacturers began producing yardage of the cloth. I was surprised to discover that feedsack material was still partially in use in the early 1960's.

My sister June and I were having one of our daily conversations. The subject of quilts came up. Each of the Loxley girls have a quilt made by Great Grandmother Hollinger. We have treasured these since we were little girls. I was probably about two or three when she died. Still that quilt means the world to me. "You know that some of that fabric is probably from the feedsack clothes were wore," June said. Suddenly I was not only looking at a quilt made by a great grandmother's hands, but I was looking at my past in the clothing my family wore. A fabric that had a rich history in the life of a farmer and his wife.

This last thought is for my children: It is not the riches we leave behind. It is not the tangible dishes, furniture, other items that have been with you throughout your lives. The wealth of our family has been in the simplicity of the times in which our ancestors made do. In the work of their hands, in the love by which they created. It lies in the struggles they suffered to make our lives better. I am able to give you more because those before me they gave their best.