Sunday, November 30, 2008

Essence of Autumn

All this week my thoughts keep turning to a day last October which I remember largely, I am sure, because I wrote it down:

Oct 19, 2007 – Friday

Yesterday an interlude of sweet comfort. It had been a good day: workout, volunteer, phone calls, paper work. Then turned my attention to the grapes in boxes out on the covered porch.

In the background:  kitchen orderly,  laundry almost all done and folded, front room tidy, swept.  Sunlight shining on my made bed.

I set up the big mesh drainer over one side of the scrubbed sink, set juicer on the stove, the bottom pan filled with water beginning to heat. Washed the 5-gallon water cooler and set it on a stool beneath the out-spout of the juicer. Mom called and we talked, trading our best wisdom and laughing while I carried in the first box of grapes and set it on the kitchen chair near the sink and began picking over the grapes and cleaning them, plucking the good ones off the stem to fill the top pan of the juicer.

Our talk came to a natural and pleasant end, the water in the bottom pan came to a boil, ready for the filled top pan of grapes to be placed over it. I turned to filling a big metal bowl with more cleaned grapes. The kitchen filled with the smell of grapes—musky and golden and easeful. The wind blew hard outside. My boy ran across the yard, home from the bus. “Yay! You're doing grapes!” He got the last tray of pears out of the fruit dryer for me.

"I love that sound,” son said as the wind whistled in the chimney, and then went outside to play in the wind. I could see him running and jumping down from the rock terrace, talking to unseen companions.

The kitchen pleasantly warm. The cleaned grapes rounding up in the metal bowl. The sweet juice of cold grapes on my tongue. I propped up Dorothy Sayer’s The 9 Tailors in the kitchen window as I cleaned grapes—transporting myself back and forth between snowy fenland of East Anglia (land my people come from, land of Julian of Norwich) and then back again here—yellow leaves flying and the warm kitchen with the wind moaning in the chimney to make it cozier and the bowl of grapes mounding up and juice beginning to trickle into the 5-gal jug.

Then back to the clean writing, the cultured voices of Lord Peter Wimsey and his man Bunter and the kindly fly-away pastor Mr. Venable and his sensible wife and the sound of bells ringing through their changes and then back to my boy racing with the wind outside and the first cup of warm juice—musky & complex, returning again to cleaning the grapes—a second box now and the delight of being at the same moment useless bookworm & provident housekeeper while my son ran down the rock steps to meet his oldest sister coming from her bus - both with their arms out for a big hug.

That’s happiness. . . Mind alive, fingers busy — the essence of autumn.

I could pour you out a glass of that grape juice. There are still some bottles in the basement. But I'm more grateful I preserved the day in writing.

I'm still sipping at that memory a year later. So that even when I'm spray painting the frame of the aluminum sliding glass door white, cleaning the bathroom, driving to collect Mom & Dad at the airport, staying up late to burn some more rolls, washing dishes, waiting at the stoplight - some part of me is still standing in that moment of happiness.

And when I'm chopping up carrots for Grandma's Thanksgiving Dressing, putting away sacks of fresh walnuts from the farmer's market and small fragrant satsumas still with their green leaves on them in readiness for Orange-Cranberry Relish, rolling out pie crust for Ginger Pear Pie (or Scandinavian Cherry or Ohio Lemon), or directing the setting of the table with the good plates and silverware, playing WhooNu afterwards with niece, nephew, son and daughter, admiring my brother's new baby, standing outside looking at the sky - that golden afternoon seems to cast a wider light, broadening gratitude's claim inside me: that no matter what the next days bring I've been given at least these days of peace and order and enough.

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