Harold’s in the Hospital

Read this old post, Harold’s Cabbage, in case you need reminding who our friend Harold is. He’s such a good friend, and such a character, he has his own category.

He’s recovering by the hardest from a rare condition that strikes about one in every 200,000 people. It’s called Guillain-Barre syndrome; a condition of the nervous system that paralyzes a person from their feet up. Luckily, he got to the emergency room when he could no longer move his legs or arms, but could still breathe.

He’ll be all right. But he’s a sorry sight and Buck and I feel so bad for him we don’t know what to do.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

Harold’s Cabbage

1-IMG_7366Swear to God if this old man doesn’t get under my skin. He calls mid-morning, freezing cold outside, to tell me he’s standing in his garden and looking at “this here cabbage” that he thinks I might like to see.

What am I going to do: say no, some other time, I’ve finally gotten back into the stream and the words are tumbling over themselves like the crazy turkeys outside, laying on their backs to scratch themselves and kicking up acorns and leaf mold into the air, that I finally get it that Grace fears commitment and Jess fears loss, and that Rory wears long sleeve shirts and buttoned-up collars to hide his florid tattoos, cuttings, body modifications and the marks of suspension, and that Grace’s roommate is an architect who thinks she was a member of a Maori tribe in a past life and has a few tats of her own?

I say, come on over, Harold. Buck’s in the shower getting ready for a dental appointment, but I’ll make some fresh coffee.

Harold came to the door thirty minutes later with this Godzilla cabbage, a sack full of baby broccoli from his garden, and the last two days’ worth of newspapers he found in our drive-way.

He’s put on another ten pounds over Christmas, looks like. Got to be hell on his twin hernias.

1-IMG_7368Some cabbage. Bodacious.

Who Knew?

Who knew that bronzed sea scallops would make such a scrumptious supper when paired with fresh from the ground turnip roots, smoky collards, stone ground yellow cornbread, a rough and ready scallion, and vintage Dewars and water with lots of ice in a wine glass?

 

 

May I be the first to testify:  I know it now.

Gratitude Adjustment

Sometimes a person has to be reminded about gratitude, even a person like me who has a naturally grateful heart.

At first I was happy when our friend Harold called to say he was on his way over to bring us something. Usually at this time of year, his wife, Louise, makes huge batches of mostly chocolate candy that she artfully arranges onto a pretty platter and sends out to folks like me who hardly ever have any sweets in the house, much less bake any themselves. The tray Louise sends out is ostensibly for The Grandchildren, since she knows I might try to pass off steamed broccoli flan as cupcakes to the poor things.

However, the sordid truth is that Buck and I eat them. Not all of them, of course. Not so many that I can’t rearrange the tray so it looks like nothing is missing. But Louise’s tray of dark chocolate fudge, milk chocolate fudge, butterscotch fudge, pralines, chocolate-dipped cherries, white-chocolate pretzels, chocolate peanut clusters, and chocolate-dipped pecans, plus thin waffle cookies and garnished with the most adorable chocolate mice you will ever eat. . . well! You get the idea. Who could resist a teensy-weensy morsel or five?

So, by the time Harold arrived, my mouth was already watering, thinking of the nice afternoon I would spend at my desk with a pot of Lady Grey tea and a little saucer (kind of a variety pack) of chocolates. I peeked through the window, looking for the tell-tale large round tray.

Instead, I saw Harold wrestling one large and three small plastic bags to the door. He was pleased as punch and ready for a Christmas hug.  Just-picked collard greens from his garden were inside the big bag. The smaller ones held just dug white turnips, pungent green onions and small Irish potatoes.

On his wait out, Harold turned to say, “Louise got them pecans you sent her yesterday, and she’s got the whole kitchen turned upside down choppin’ them and puttin’ them in some of her candies. She told me if I’d wait an hour, she’d have your tray of sweets ready to go, but if I’m going to hunt this afternoon, I had to come on now with the greens. I’ll get them sweets to you before those Grandchildren are due to come over.”

After Harold left, I found a Hershey’s foil-wrapped chocolate kiss and let it dissolve in my mouth while I started the process of washing, chopping and cooking the greens Harold had brought us. I had hoped to spend the afternoon sitting at my desk, but here I was standing at the sink.

My arthritic hands were already a little sore from addressing Christmas cards and too much time at the computer keyboard. The huge sink-full of big-leaved collard greens loomed large. Each leaf has a large vein down the center. I took out my chef’s knife, freed the vein from each leaf, stacked the halves into a large pile and then chopped them into neat squares.

Gradually, the furrow that had developed in my brow began to dissolve, replaced by the steady beating of a grateful heart, and a gentle chiding from its voice.

Tonight, I’ll cast-iron-skillet bronze the scallops I picked up a couple of days ago at Joe Patti’s and serve them with velvety collard greens, boiled Irish potatoes, buttery turnip roots and crisp green onions.

Harold not only grew and hand-delivered superior nourishment to us today; he gave me something to think about, too — how so often gifts come disguised as work.

 

Darkthirty

When my Droid cell phone woke me up at 4:40 this morning with flashing lights and go-go music, I didn't know where I was, at first. The days of business meetings with their attendant dreaded hotel wake-up calls are long gone, but I had a brief post-traumatic stress moment.

Buck was already up. Already up. That man, to whom early rising is a strange and unnatural custom, was at the bathroom sink, toothbrush stuck in his mouth, buttoning up a light flannel shirt.

Thanksgiving is the opening day of the regular gun deer season.

Harold arrives at 5:10, talking quietly at the front door as if he thinks that big buck he hopes to see this morning is out in the front yard and might hear him. "You cookin' up somethin' good fer us, Miss Beth?" Harold peers into the dimly lit kitchen where he can see steam rising from a pot of boiling water.

"Of course I am, Harold. I'm cooking the yellow squash for the Hopkins Boarding House casserole right now. And I've got pecan pie and pumpkin ice cream."

"Punkin ice cream! You're kiddin' me."

"No I'm not. Want some?"

Harold chuckles. "No, I don't believe I want no punkin ice cream, but I might have some of that pecan pie when I come in from the woods."

They head out, two boys on an adventure. They'll be back to the house between 8:30 and 9, full of stories of what they saw, how many does, how many yearlings or spikes were on the plot and whether a big buck, a "shooter," showed himself. "I knowed he was there, cause I saw them big tracks on the way to the hut." I don't have fingers and toes enough to count the number of times I have heard Harold say that over the years.

Earlier this year, Harold didn't think he would get another hunting season. When the doctors found that malignant kidney tumor, he figured that was it.

Buck knows that the county and the state have about come to an agreement on the master plan that will bisect these woods and bring a new urban town this way. He knows a way of life for these two Southern boys is drawing to a close.

I wave them off into the dark morning, guns on their shoulders and an Indian River navel orange in one pocket and a few pecans in another. I turn to the kitchen to snap beans, puree squash, saute onions, and get the turkey ready for the oven.

But first, I savor my own ritual: hot coffee and a slice of pecan pie so sweet it will make my teeth hurt.

 

Lush Mush and a Post from the Outpost

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About a month ago, we were covered up in mushrooms of all sizes, sorts and descriptions. That is when we had good rain and plenty of it. The pendulum has swung, and now we are on the verge of serious drought.  I found the beauty in this photo underneath a big spreading live oak that borders the clearing and the deep woods. It is an open book, a balloon whisk, a frilly oyster, delicate and sensual.

Buck and Harold haven't been able to disk the clearing out front or the food plots yet this season. They need to have rain first, then disk, fertilize, plant seed and cover it lightly and pray for a little more rain, not too hard, please, a good, gentle, farmer's rain. Harold won't be toting fertilizer or seed or running the tractor this year, but he will have a major supervisory role. He is still recovering from his kidney cancer surgery. I'm happy to tell you that the surgeon was able to save almost 75% of Harold's right kidney, and excised the tumor with clean margins all around. No chemo needed. Harold is back to driving and came over to drink coffee and shoot the breeze with Buck and me several days ago. It was great to hear him going on about politics and the news of the day and to see that he still has a spark in his eye. 

Buck and I saw two spotted fawns and their mama out back just at dusk. This morning, I stood for what must have been 20 minutes and watched two bunny rabbits getting into a snit with each other over some overripe pears and grapes I put out for them. At one point, they looked like miniature kangaroos, up on their hind legs, sparring.

It's kind of early, but I am ready to turn out the light. I've been pretty scarce around these pages recently, but I set up a low round table near my desk in the study, (away from the computer, ahem), and am arising early, fixing a pot of Lady Grey tea, and getting into a rhythmn with some new writing. I've missed you all, but, oh Lord, this feels good.

My Daddy used to tell me that to catch a fish you have to hold your mouth right. Buck has told me that dogs turn around several times and scratch the ground (or the carpet) to get rid of any bugs or spiders before they lie down . I hope the day will come when I have sufficient discipline to just sit any old place, stay in the room, and let it roll.

Hope you are all well and enjoying September.

Take care,

Beth

Fair to Partly Cloudy

Buck and Harold are a little late this year getting their oats, wheat and rye into the ground. Click here to read about last year's planting day. There's an old saying: "It's too wet to plow." That can mean anything from "we can't get there from here" to its original meaning. We've had a lot of rain, and only a fool tries to plow a wet field.

Yesterday, Buck and I took the old black pickup truck over to Robertsdale, Alabama to pick up a full load of seed and fertilizer. Our friend, Harold, will be over shortly. He and Buck will disk in the fertilizer, then spread the seeds and lightly disk them into the ground.

My job? I'll take the truck and drive the back roads back over to Robertsdale for the rest of the seed and fertilizer.

We all just hope the weather will hold today. There's a 40% chance of rain and thunderstorms, but we're optimists. That means 60% chance of fair to partly cloudy.

 Skies over Perdido Bay 10-09

Memory Fish

It was 7:30 straight up when the phone rang. I was peeling a large red papaya, thin skin curling back over itself as I drew the short paring knife’s blade slowly down, imagining a bow drawn over a violin. Music was in the air, and the ringing phone a discordant intrusion.

“Miss Beth, you got some coffee?” Harold’s voice boomed out from the speaker of the phone, which I had punched with a papaya juice-stained finger.

“Nope, not yet,” I said. “I meant to, but I’ve been writing.”

“Running? You say you been running?” Harold sounded stunned.

“No,” I said. “Writing. Like a book. Writing.”

“Well,” he continued, “I got a little care package for you, if you and that old man are going to be around.”

“Come on,” I said. “I need some coffee, too. It’ll be ready when you get here.”

IMG_2584

Harold came in with several plastic grocery store bags and a tightly capped plastic bowl.  He grew the onions, squash and cucumbers in his garden. His wife, Louise, grew the tomatoes and bell peppers in flower pots in their yard. As we drank our coffee and talked, a pungent raw onion smell began to permeate the kitchen.

Harold had not made a move to open the plastic bowl. I’m sure he knew he could outlast my curiosity. He was right.

I pulled the bowl toward me, and asked, “What’s in here?”

“I don’t know if you two eat these,” Harold said coyly. “My boy and me caught them in Miflin Lake over in Baldwin County. Them’s Alabama fish.”

By this time, I had pulled the top off the bowl. Ten pretty little bluegills (bream) sprinkled with ice chips nestled inside. I pulled out three of them to make a picture.

IMG_2582

When my brother, Wally, and sister, Flo, see this photo, I know it will take them back to central Florida, cane pole fishing, and neighborhood cats circling the backyard table where Daddy cleaned his catch. I smell the not unpleasant fresh fish smell, remember the click sound of scales, and hear water running from a garden hose.

Tonight, we’ll dredge the bluegill in cornmeal and fry them in peanut oil. Buck hired himself out as a ten-year old fishing guide on the Escambia River long years ago. He and I will chew our memories slowly tonight, savoring every bite.

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Late at night, I read tomorrow’s headlines from The New York Times by the light of my Blackberry. When I’m driving in the car during the day, I listen to National Public Radio for the news. But when I want to plug into the visceral interpretations of rural everyman, there’s no source like Harold. If the NYT is the brain, he is the guts, and his opinions hold equal weight with me.

Supper from Harold’s Garden

Late this afternoon the phone rang. Buck checked the caller i.d., saw that it was our friend, Harold, and punched the button.

"Hey old man, it's just me," Harold said. That is his opening line anytime Buck answers the phone. Funny thing is, Harold is actually several years younger than the "old man" he is calling.

"You and Miss Beth going to be around the next thirty minutes?" he continued. "If you are, I'll bring you some beans and taters from my garden."

Buck cast an eye over in my direction. "You come on, then. We'll be here."

Sure enough, in about 25 minutes, the doorbell rang, and it was Harold, clutching two plastic grocery bags. While Buck and I oohed and ahhed over the bounty,  Harold cleared his throat. We looked up. He looked very pleased with himself, and it was clear he had come to say his piece.

"Now, Miss Beth," he began. Any farmer worth his salt is happy to let just about anybody come and pick whatever he's got out of his garden, but you got to be somebody for that farmer to go out and pick the vegetables for you." At this, Harold couldn't keep from smiling, "And you got to be somebody special for that farmer to wash and snap them beans himself and put 'em in a zip bag for you."

I couldn't do anything but burst out laughing and give old Harold a big hug. He has only been out of the hospital from his hernia surgery a few weeks. His wife, Louise, is just recovering from her second bout of walking pneumonia. And here he is, picking, washing and by God delivering tender, sweet vegetables for our supper.

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Most of those little potatoes were about the size of a big marble; tender, earth-fragrant morsels. This is a supper one can eat and then get a good night's sleep, which I intend to do – right now.

Old Hunter, Old Deer

The "Methuselah" story is going to take time to do right. I'll keep on working on it off-line, but go on to other stuff in this space.

Here is a photograph I took of Harold and Methuseleh from Monday evening.

Look at it carefully. And then just leave it on the table in quiet for awhile.

Harold and Methuselah