Winter in a Gulf coast forest setting is subtle, but I find a certain bracing clarity in this scene of gray asphalt driveway circle, curved swath of dead-looking grass, and shocking green of planted oats, wheat and rye. I am standing on a small third story open deck immersed in an unfolding sunset.
It’s a bright, comfortable room with a wall of windows to bring in light. We see whitetail deer, wild turkeys, flocks of fat robins and swooping hawks from this room in the forest clearing.
The table is set for tomorrow's Thanksgiving mid-day meal, and I will be off shortly to the grocery store and farmer's market to gather provisions. I'll be blogging-while-cooking tomorrow, with short, on-the-fly posts as I've done in some past years. And, as always, I will start my day before dawn with my own personal tradition: strong coffee and pecan pie. There's just no telling what a sugar-fuelled, fully-caffeinated woman might do.
My heart is full and so grateful to all of you, my virtual companions. You enliven, enlighten, and encourage me all year long. Thank you!
Just before lights out every night, Buck takes Maggie for a walk outside. He jogs around the concrete pool deck while she ruffles up her fur and pretends to protect us from the deer just on the other side of the fence. That excitement usually stimulates her kidneys, producing the desired result.
They come back in the house. He stands at attention. She sits close by his left side. "Are you ready for your cookie?" he asks. Maggie sidles closer, presses against his leg. "Okay, then," he says.
"Heel!" And they're off, briskly walking from our bedroom through the hall, the bar, the living room, the old part of the house that we call "the lodge," with its office work area, den, bedroom, bathroom and what used to be a one-car garage and is now Maggie's bedroom and our treadmill and weights space. It's actually a pretty long walk.
Then, Buck gives Maggie her "cookie," which is a Milk Bone treat.
A few days ago, Buck came running back into the bedroom after taking Maggie to the garage. "There's been a disaster! Maggie's cookie jar is empty."
"Uhm," I thought, and who is it who has the best handle on the Milk Bone inventory?
"How about a cracker instead?" I said to the back of Buck's navy blue T-shirt as he disappeared out the door.
"I have an idea," he said.
He returned shortly and flipped a strip of paper with words printed on it onto the bed covers in front of me. It was from a Fortune Cookie. I remembered I had accumulated several in a bowl in the pantry leftover from the occasional Chinese take-out supper.
Your bright outlook
avoids small worries.
Maggie's bright outlook also makes her a hit at dinner parties. She enjoyed the attentions of Ivy (at the piano), and James and Jane at a gathering of our Christ Church Parish Supper Club last night. Not in the picture are Bob, Gail and John, Buck and that silly brunette photographer.
Maggie was unfazed by all the mess and noise of construction. Subs with their blaring boom boxes on five different radio stations didn't bother her a bit. The more distractions the better — made it easier for her to slip and around and steal half-eaten bags of salted pumpkin seed snacks and quench her thirst with a half-drunk Mountain Dew.
In this photo, she is sitting amidst the sawdust on the red-painted concrete floor of what was the old screened porch and is in the process of becoming dining room and foyer. This is where the old part of the house connects with the new.
I ran across this photo, from September 9, 2005, in my Picasa archives. Maggie said "post it. They want more pictures of me."
"Okay, okay. Now, will you get off my foot?"
Sometime last year, I started re-entering old posts that had been lost to the archives when I impetuously shut down this blog and canceled my Typepad account back in 2005. I recently found a printed copy of most of the posts relating to the building of our home here. I want to have a complete archive of that project, so when you begin to see a bunch of old posts all relating to house building, that's why. Buck and I lived in the original part of the house, the one we called "The Cabin in the Woods," the whole time the new part was being constructed. Quite an experience.
We moved from Pensacola to the mountains of North Carolina in 1997 when Buck retired from corporate life. I had sold my business a few years earlier, so we were free to light out for seven years of exhilarating mountain living among the good folks of Rice Cove, Beaverdam community, in Canton, North Carolina. We would probably still be there if I hadn't developed severe allergies to the hay our neighbors grew and the ash and elm trees that ringed the house. That, and a desire to be closer to our family in Pensacola while the grandchildren were still little, drew us back to the flatland piney woods.
We lived in the one-bedroom cottage we had built in 2000 on land Buck had owned since the late 1970's, long before we met. He designed a remarkable addition, a true original by a true original. Construction was delayed by Hurricane Ivan in September of 2004, but began in earnest early in 2005.
I took hundreds of pictures and wrote thousands of words, beginning with the first step of tearing off the sweet screened porch so the new portion of the house could attach to the old, and land clearing. After awhile, the sheer enormity of the project, of having scads of subcontractors crawling all over the place, got to me, and the writing slowed, then stopped. And then, when my 45 year old step-son, Darryl, died of a heart attack one bright October afternoon while he was sitting out on a concrete patio at his apartment, enjoying the sun and a smoke after lunch, even my picture-taking stopped for a while. Darryl was a building contractor, and he had wanted to help his Dad with the project.
The morning Darryl died, he had done some work blocking the walls prior to the insulation and sheetrock work. We were right in the middle of construction. I wasn't sure we would be able to continue. I wasn't sure we would ever be able to live here. I have written about this before.
We did complete the project. Our furniture that had been in storage in North Carolina since June of 2004 was delivered on April 15, 2006, and we moved into this remarkable place, so new, and yet so full of happy and sad memories, and ghosts, like a very old house might be. There were no interior designers here. Everything, from a particular dark red metal lamp that looks like an Aladdin's lamp, to a collected snake skin, is a bright thread connecting our lives.
The easy part of this reconstruction effort is to re-enter the old posts into the blog archive under "The Sanctuary at Longleaf Preserve" category. The tough part will be chronologically matching photos and that time of no photos with a chronological record to connect the missing link.
Buck and Darryl
A friend who has observed Buck and me together at various times over the years
took me aside recently, unshed tears needing only a blink to spill. "I would kill to have someone look at me the way he looks at you," she said.
Another quiet New Year's Eve together: West Indies blue crab salad, smoked salmon with cream fraiche, red onion and capers on whole grain baguette slices, chocolate ice cream and Bailey's Irish Cream, and old songs played on the piano while Maggie moves silently in the darkened room to lay her chocolate and cream whiskered chin on my knee. Buck croons"For you are beautiful, and I have loved you dearly, more dearly than the spoken word can tell," as he turns off Christmas tree lights, sconces and the candles in the window.
An antique clock ticks loudly in the study while I type. Black-eyed peas simmer on a back burner in the kitchen and the smell of pulled pork loin barbecue is beginning to escape from the big crock pot with its cracked handle. It's a dark day, with a cold front bringing freezing temperatures here in the panhandle. But we are together. We are warm. We have a history. We have reality that can never be undone. And, as I've said so many times in this space, the rest is gravy.
The three-cheese chicken with marinara sauce and whole grain baby penne is assembled and resting in the refrigerator until 5:30 , when it will bake in the oven and fill the house with a primal, comforting, smell of garlic, red wine, fresh basil, and tomatoes. It is one of the scents of well-being; of fortitude. It builds us up.
Family cooks are lucky. We get an early infusion of the raw ingredients. They are stronger than sadness, sweeter than sunshine, amulets and taslisman for the mountain climb. I feared the challenge of climbing a mountain until the first time I made it, panting, sweating and bleeding, to a ridgetop. Then, I knew joy beyond joy.
I plan to blog on the fly today, streaming consciousness while chopping garlic. No editing. No worries. Here's the first walk-by thought at the all-you-can-eat buffet of Christmas.
Christmas Eve morning finds me unprepared, up in the air, down on my knees, exhausted and exhilarated. It is dark outside. I hear the steady thrum of a farmer's rain.
Eleven kids and grandkids will be around the table tonight for our traditional Christmas Eve pasta supper. I walk from bedroom to kitchen, turning on lights as I go.
As a young girl, I loved to braid pine needles, skate on the sidewalk, and play jacks and pick-up sticks. There was a mysterious trick with the pick-up sticks that fascinated me. If you piled six of those sharp sticks together on a hard, flat surface and carefully added one drop of water, the broken-looking pile of disparate sticks would rearrange itself into a star.