Likely attributed to a lengthy, July vacation in the Pacific Northwest, I have been drafting “this Harvest Moon” tale since that time. On this moon, a notable day and evening for me, it is a tribute to my Mom and Dad.
Both born and raised on working farms during the depression, my Father’s, in Southwest Virginia. The family lived as tenants, aka, sharecroppers, and planted, tilled, and harvested many backbreaking acres. 2/3 of the take went to the land owner, 1/3, to Dad’s family’s dinner table. Mom’s family farm was in Western Washington, a homestead, reward, and a future for two Norwegian immigrants and their children. Every morsel of fruit, vegetable, protein and dairy served in these family homes was raised, tended, eaten fresh, canned or salted down for the winter. Some grains, salt and sugar, baking powder, kerosene, and cloth, these were procured with cash from the “cash crops.” In my father’s case, sadly, not moonshine, which would make my lore so much more intriguing. Instead, cash came about from an alternative vice investment, tobacco, which was planted on side fields that the kids tended at night with lanterns, hand picking the cut worms from the underside of the leaves. The damaging and gaping holes these worms could cause, would lead to a Bear Market for this commodity. You see, large jagged holes in tobacco, when rolled up, creates a short and a lapse in a ‘gar’s gentle burn. Hideous chemical spray could have been substituted for the kill of the worm, but for this crop, Dad’s people were amongst the first organic farmers, and apparently, drew the best tobacco buyers for their leaves, much like my Uncle Doll. Uncle Doll, he did do moonshine for his cash. But, that’s a whole other story.
Continued farming, with flowers…
Working as hard as these families did during their childhood and early adult life during WWII, you would think that once a cash job came along for my Dad, he would have suggested that Mom fully source our meals at the local Thriftway grocer. Nope, just the opposite, for our fruits and vegetables. Picking, sorting, canning in Mason Jars (their true use) and flash freezing in Tupperware, was preceded by quite a bit of farming. Dad taught me to sprinkle carrot seeds, set potatoes in mounded hills, same with the pole beans, and place corn kernels exactly four inches apart. In my early days, I was provided a ruler. The property included about 18 fruit trees, and I had built a fort or picnic structure for me and my cats, under each of them: Kings, Romans, Jonathans, Winesaps, Gravensteins. We also had prunes, a wide variety of blackberries and tayberries, blueberries, raspberries and a ridiculously sour pie-cherry tree. Rounding things out was a coop filled with hens.
For the flowers, the season would begin in the yard and back in the woods, with wild hazelnut, trillium, flowering red currant, followed by every varietal the Burpee seed and bulb catalogs offered for the tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and crocus. Quince, forsythia, lilac, snowball (aka, bridal bouquets for our dolls), and dogwood at Easter. Mom inspired my start as a designer by providing notebook paper, a stapler and string for the crafting of May Day baskets. Unlike, my one day in a tap and a ballet class, disastrous, for the record, I had a flair for flowers, so she upped the craft supplies’ basket with construction paper, pipe cleaners, ribbons, stickers and a tub of paste for seamless basket folding and affixing. The cats accompanied me on all deliveries, and always gave me away, not knowing to run with me from the neighbor’s door, after hanging the basket and knocking. May Day was followed by a version of decoration Sunday, a Southern thing, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. A few days before our decoration Sunday, Mom, her sisters, and nieces had cleaned the family plot of weeds, fungus on the gravestones, and any rogue, winter falling limbs. Early in their days, a lunch of waffles with strawberries and whipped cream would follow, replaced in later years with a trip to the Family Pancake House. Mom was primed for her return, with me, to this family plot, and those of many more loved ones, respected ones. We had a fresh flower bouquet for each grave. By the time Mom’s health made some changes for her, I think we were up to 27 graves in two community cemeteries. Each year, we’d find yet another person we had known, not being remembered with a flower. Judy, we were always glad when you were able to step away from tablecloth duty at the Hyannisport of Hammersley Inlet to join us.
Summer brought a daily carnival of dahlias, in colors of yesteryear, much like when Crayola crayons hosted their true and original names. Heavy growth and girth of these summer sirens was prompted by all the perch and bullheads my posse and I caught on the dock in front of our home, and planted deep under the tubers, early season. So followed the swingtime fuchsias, asters, hydrangea, roses, and the frost, leading us to do it all again.
While the following song is a song for lovers, such as Andraya and Karl, this song is about love. And as we know, love always involves a dose of heartbreak. Tonight, surrounded by flowers old and new, I hum this haunting melody, on today’s Harvest Moon:
“Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon…”
10-27-1992, Mr. Neil Young