Dear young one, once upon a time, a tall, strapping “city boy” from Chimney Rock named Dave, who had a belly laugh and eyes as blue as cornflower, clumsily held hands with a shy, German country girl named Evie, who had soft, cottony, dark hair and a kind, lovely smile that could make even a nun feel ashamed of herself, for she was so good. These two, oh, these two. Sigh… they were in love, and they dreamed of the good life that is not often pursued by the youth of this day and age… a life of faith, of family, of farming, and of building a future, home, and a legacy.
My own memories of our grandparents’ home are of lush, green mountains with thick grass and ancient walnut, oak, and elm trees rolling over them like a lullaby… the luxurious meadows and woody hills on a quiet countryside in Western Pennsylvania. I picture a haze hanging low and bluish-purple underneath the summer sun that warms the backs of our grandparents hunched over in an overgrown garden of red, orange, and green tomatoes and golden-yellow snap beans. And there are whispers… the whir of a breeze through hickory and maple branches, the slapdash swaying of cow tails, the flutter, plucking, and clucking of chickens, and the snip-snaps, chitter-chatter, and whine of rusty chains as my mother and aunts pinch beans on the porch swing. There is a quieting aura of love and protection in this refuge, this McIntyre Hollow, and it is the place our people gathered after a hard day of work, a busy week, or at the end of a broken dream.
The McIntyre Farm was in Duncansville, Pennsylvania, a rural area west of Harrisburg, and all of life in our family sprang from it. Food and family were intertwined. We grew, harvested, and prepared food together, always together. The culmination of all of these activities was eating (yea!). A large painting of Christ’s Last Supper hung above the main table, so that as we laughed, told stories, and ate, we would always remember that the ultimate feast was not without sacrifice, and that it was by the Grace of Christ that we could work, eat, and live.
Farm life revolved around the seasons, and in the Spring, it brimmed with new life as we watched calves being born, mares protectively nursing new colts, chicks cracking out of their shells, and baby bunnies snuggling together against their mamas. Spring was also a time for planting, and the boys rode the tractor with Pap-Pap as he plowed and planted corn, potato, tomato, onion, red beet and cucumber fields. Grandma and her girls would start cleaning jars to get ready for canning, as there were hundreds of them. The canning shelves would be wiped and cleaned to prepare for new storage, and the boys would sweep the barn to make room for new hay.
Summertime was hot in that part of the country, with temperatures reaching 90-100 degrees, often with 100 percent humidity. But from the clumsy two-year-old with a plastic sandbox rake to the strapping, muscular teenager, to the oldest hunch-backed woman with a shovel, our family worked and sweated together to hoe and weed the fields. In the evening, there was Supper, with fresh strawberies for weeks… the first of the Summer Harvest.
Mid-July was Berry-Picking Time. We braved the thickets of Pap-Pap’s woods in groups of four dressed in long pants and shirts (and often boots and winter hats) to avoid being cut by thorns or stung by hornets. Even the little children filled their cleaned-out and “worshed” butter tubs, making berry picking a game of hide-and-seek, as they lifted barbed branches to find clusters of juicy raspberries or blackberries.
Of course, with all of those berries, there was jelly to be made. As with every harvest, this was an event! All of the relatives came to Grandma’s and sat on the porch, in the cellar, and in the kitchen to prepare strawberries or berries for jelly making. The women told stories to the girls about when they were young and the men would laugh and tell jokes and stories about eachother. Meanwhile, we children ran in and out of the house sneaking handfuls of berries, staining our faces and clothes, proof that we were redneck and purple-fingered little thieves!
Indian Summer was Big Harvest Time. Our uncles would ride on the back of the hay wagon and buck hay while Pap-Pap drove the tractor. Back at the farmhouse, our aunties were busy with the vegetables and fruit. The potatoes and onions were stored in “the cave,” which was a room at the back of the house that was built into the side of a hill. It kept foods (like potatoes and beets) cool and dry, and was also the place where Grandma stored the hundreds of jars of canned foods, which, even we children would help to prepare.
It took weeks of non-stop picking, cutting, and pressure-cooking to pickle, pack and freeze all of the farm’s produce. This required the hands of all of our Grandparents’ children, children-in-law, grandchildren, 2nd cousins twice-removed, and innocent by-standers. The entire months of August and September were spent on Grandma’s porch sorting produce, paring flaws of fruits and vegetables, and snapping beans from the time morning chores were over to well after the first star twinkled. We drank lemon Kool-Aid with ice out of Mason jars, listened to stories, and were together as a family, as a unit, and as our own culture, believing that the way we lived was the ONLY way to… to really… live.
Copyright 2013, by Christine M. Snow