Archive for February, 2011

Candy Dish *or The Great Peppermint That Surpassed All Others

February 24, 2011

I don’t usually take pictures of our home furniture, but a golden slant of morning light lent my everyday still life here a sort of holy ambiance, so I decided it was worth capturing. All three items pictured here have special significance in my life, but for now, I’ll just tell you about the candy dish.

I wrote a bit in my two previously posted persimmon pudding posts about my Grandma’s and Grandpa’s farm in Greensboro and what it meant to me growing up. Our family moved about every two years, so their farm was the one place I could go that gave me a sense of permanence, home, and belonging.

It’s ironic that the land where their house stood and where I used to roam through the wild woods now accommodates an upscale subdivision of huge, fancy houses, because Grandma’s house was a humble abode—some would even call it a shack. Grandma and Grandpa slept in the front room where the woodstove was, which was also the room where we all hung out because it was the only really warm place there in the winter. The room where I usually slept was right next to that one, almost filled by two double beds. I usually slept with my Aunt Ellen, who never married and often stayed at the farm. I loved Aunt Ellen fiercely, but I hated sleeping with her because her snoring was earsplitting—enough to wake the dead. I’d often lie there for hours, with the covers pulled over my head, trying to muffle the deafening thunder of her snores.

Although Aunt Ellen had her own apartment in Winston-Salem, we all called this room Aunt Ellen’s room. She stayed there often enough that the room was full of her things, including her clothes in the tall wardrobe—so tall that it almost touched the ceiling. On top of that wardrobe, for my entire childhood, sat a candy dish. It was a lovely, cut-glass candy dish, but when I was small, I scarcely noticed the beauty of it. Rather, it was the peppermints inside that held my interest.

I seldom got candy growing up, so when I’d go to people’s houses as a child, I’d often gaze longingly at their candy dishes. In fact, I learned early on that sometimes, gazing with unmitigated yearning at a candy dish resulted in the candy dish proprietor saying, “Beth, honey, would you like a candy?” Yes, yes, it’s true—when it came to candy, I was not above a little minor manipulation. If staring didn’t work, then I’d move on to Plan B., which involved saying something subtle like, “My… that candy certainly looks delicious!” For the candy holdouts, that usually did the trick.

But Aunt Ellen was no ordinary candy dish proprietor. First of all, she was an extremely frugal sort of person who believed in saving everything for a rainy day. Including candy. Secondly, she thought that candy should be a rare treat for children. Very rare. So, of course, I quickly learned that, with her, Plan A was completely ineffective—she would just ignore me. So, on to Plan B. Every time she’d come in the room, I’d gaze up at the candy dish and say loudly, “My, Aunt Ellen, those peppermints sure do look delicious!” Frequently, she’d still ignore me, so I’d say it again, so loud that I was almost shouting. Finally, Aunt Ellen would sigh, roll her eyes, and look at me and smile. “Why yes, Beth…yes, indeed they do!” Then she would leave the room.

This same scenario played out for my entire childhood. That candy dish full of peppermints seemed to taunt me every time I went to Grandma’s. The same candy dish…and yes, the same peppermints. A mere candy dish full of peppermints became something much larger in its unattainability. I was certain that those peppermints must surely be the sweetest peppermints in all the world. But it would be years before I found out;  years before the unattainable was attained.

I was a teenager when Grandma passed away. Because the farm was to be sold, I was there helping my mama and aunts to clean things out. Aunt Essie and I were in Aunt Ellen’s room, sorting through the things there for family pieces to be rescued from the coming auction. Casually, I mentioned to Aunt Essie that I was sure Aunt Ellen would want to keep the candy dish on top of the wardrobe. Happily, Aunt Essie agreed, so I stood on a chair, reached up, and at last grasped the object of my desire. Holding it close to my heart, I got down from the chair, sat on the bed, and reverently removed the lid. There they were, after all these years—the sweetest peppermints in the world.

Aunt Essie eyed them dubiously. “Uhh…I think those might be kind of old—you shouldn’t eat them.”

“Oh yes…they’re quite old,” I said. “Ancient, in fact.” I picked one up—the cellophane wrapping was yellow. I unwrapped it. Not so easy,  as the cellophane was glued to the peppermint.

“Umm…don’t eat those, Beth. Honestly, I think I remember those from MY childhood,” said Aunt Essie.

“Me, too,” I said, as I popped it into my mouth.

You may be wondering how it tasted. Well, I’ll tell you—better than you’d think, but not as good as I had imagined all those years. Surprisingly, the cool pepperminty essence was intact, but it was curiously chewy. Still, somehow, I thought it was the best peppermint I’d ever had up to that point.

I’ve told this story to my children many times. They never knew my grandparents, of course, though they do faintly remember my dear Aunt Ellen, whom they visited as toddlers. It was then that she gave me the candy dish (surely there was no one who could appreciate it more than me). They never knew my mama, either, so many of the things I have around the house that are so dear to me because they hold memories, mean little to my children. So my stories are a way to give meaning to these totems of the extended family that my children never knew, these little monuments to my past.

And I guess some of my stories paid off, as Ariel chose to paint the candy dish (in pastels) for her Advanced Placement Art class in high school. She painted it with the morning light streaming in, illuminating the cut glass and filling the dish with rainbows. Not surprisingly, it’s one of my favorites of her paintings (and won her a $500 art supply gift certificate in an art show).

(Ariel’s painting)

I hope that someday, perhaps after we are gone or maybe before, Ariel or Benjamin will take the beloved candy dish and put it in a place of honor in their home. Not high up, where no one can reach, but low, where the morning sun will always illuminate it. And I hope they will fill it with peppermints or some other delights, so that eager little hands can always open it and pack their pockets full of their heart’s desire.


The Great Persimmon That Surpassed All Others

February 17, 2011

(Not a robin.  A bluebird in the persimmon tree)

It’s been sunny and spring-like here at the Doublewide Ranch—the kind of weather that makes me want to do little but dream and drowse in the sun. So it seems a bit wrong to post dark pictures taken during one of the countless snows we’ve had this winter, but I was amused watching this robin (pictured below) in our persimmon tree, so perhaps you will be, too.

(I do apologize for the poor quality of the shots—the lighting was terrible and the robin was well beyond the reach of my limited-distance lens, but I decided to share it anyway.)

We’re happy that we ended up leaving so many persimmons on the tree this fall because during the snowstorm, it was alive with birds—cedar waxwings, robins, woodpeckers, bluebirds, and mockingbirds—all glad to find the sweet fruit at a time when such was scarce. I watched one particular robin, who drew my attention because he was jumping up and down. Although there were persimmons within easy reach (right in front of him!) he was utterly focused on just one persimmon—the one hanging well above his head. It was at least four inches above him (it looks closer in the photo), so he had to leap up to reach it. And leap he did, over and over.

I laughed out loud and said to him (well, yes, I do talk to birds), “Hey, Mr. Robin, why don’t you just eat the ones you can reach more easily?? Look—right in front of you!”  But he didn’t listen—he never took his eyes off The Great Persimmon That Surpassed All Others.

Although I laughed at Mr. Robin, I couldn’t help but realize that there have been times that I was guilty of the same narrow vision. You might remember my post about looking for meteors. Nothing wrong with looking up, of course, but it’s important to remember what my friend, ClairZ so wisely said in the comments:

“…even while we are waiting for that one perfect moment–the meteor streaking through the sky–we are surrounded by the blessings of loving family and wondrous nature. If only we remember to look around and see.”

Indeed. I’m going to remember that—to not get so focused on what I don’t have that I lose sight of what I do. Let’s hope my friend, Mr. Robin somehow discovers that, too. 🙂

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. ~~ Henry David Thoreau

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.  ~~Epictetus

Cheep Therapy

February 10, 2011

“I realized that if I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”

Charles Lindbergh

When I recently expressed regret at my paucity of posts, Benjamin asked why I couldn’t just post pictures. “Don’t you think your readers would like that?” he said.

Good question. After all, when I resumed writing on my blog after my recent hiatus, I promised to write shorter posts. A quick scroll down the page reveals just how well I’ve lived up to that promise. Yep, I’m as long-winded as ever.

It seems I still struggle with believing that my more modest writing efforts are worth posting. Sure, I’ve written stuff, but I couldn’t bring myself to post it. Same thing with posting just pictures. I do okay with my point-and-shoot, I reckon, but anyone that reads blogs regularly knows just how many blog photographers out there are professional level. I am often in awe of the photos I see on blogs, so I start feeling shy about posting nothing but my sometimes comparatively blurry pictures.

Why is it so hard not to compare yourself with others?

Last week, something happened that knocked us all for a loop. I don’t want to get into it here, but suffice to say, it brought back memories that we thought were long buried. Heartbreaking, hurtful memories.

I did what I always do when I’m sad—I went outside. When I stepped out on the porch, our yard was full of robins. Probably at least a hundred or more. I love robins. Sure, maybe they’re not the brightest birds in the biosphere, but I love the way they hop. Hop. Hophophophop. Peck ground for worm. Hop.

So I sat on the porch and watched them hop for a while. Hop. Hop. Peck. Hophophop. Peck. Hop. Hophophop. Pretty soon, my fists unclenched, my breathing slowed, and I wasn’t thinking of a thing but the hophophop of the robins in my yard. And I realized just how therapeutic birds are for me. They calm me—whether I’m watching them hop, admiring the grace of their flight, or laughing at the way they splash with abandon in our birdbath.

So, thank you, my avian friends. Thank you, hophophopping robins. Thank you, little sparrows splashing so happily in puddles on the porch. Thank you, bluebird, who left me that pretty feather by the back fence. Thank you, goldfinches, for the way you perch on my coneflowers to eat seeds, steady even after the coneflower bends with your weight. I promise to plant even more flowers and shrubs next year, so all of you will have seeds and berries to eat in the leaner months.

It’s the least I can do for friends like you.

“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

Henry Van Dyke