Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Visiting Fiddler

Our New Hampshire homestead experience was rich with the everyday happenings that never happen anymore. This was the last time I experienced a true country lifestyle. 

We always entered the house at the side, through the kitchen door. I didn't know there was a front door, or even a front porch for a while, because it was never used.  The kitchen was small and had a big white sink next to a  hand pump to bring up the well water. This is not as easy as having modern indoor plumbing, but was much easier than having to lug buckets of water from an outside well.

 In the dining room, large windows with many panes stretched along one side of the house. The glass was old and appeared to have melted to the point where it was twice as thick at the bottom as the top. All the floors in the house were wooden, but I only distinctly remember the dining room floor. I spent a lot of time under the table in there, taking every advantage of being small and flexible. The old wooden floors were painted grey, and walking across them made the most satisfying clomping and creaking sounds. 

At night, for a brief time between sundown and bed time, our old farmhouse was lit with hurricane lamps placed here and there. We had no television or radio, or even electricity. We entertained ourselves and each other. This was the same for most people around those parts, so it was quite common for people to stop by unannounced. It was the country way.

One cold evening, before the snow, a man with a fiddle came to visit.

No one can tell me who the man was. This was the only visit I remember from him. He could have been a complete stranger who was passing through and saw our lights. Who would turn down the company of a man with a fiddle?

He was a nice man.  ( I say this because I believe I was a good judge of character at age four. With all the people coming and going from my life by then, I had more than the good and evil detector of youth, I also had a little experience.) 

The fiddler was a nice man. I watched with great anticipation as he took his fiddle from the case. He showed me the instrument and allowed me to pluck the strings as he tightened the hair of his bow. Somebody said something about cat guts that I didn't understand.  I was warned to be very careful! but I didn't need to be told this. This instrument came out of a velvet lined box, so of course I knew to be careful. 

I took my favorite spot under the table. I didn't want to push my luck and get sent to bed early because I was in the way. Through the legs of those standing around the room I saw the fiddler raise his bow.

Immediately my hands shot up to cover my ears when he started to play. It was pure reflex to the intensity of the sound that burst forth from the instrument. The sound filled the room. It bounced off the wooden floors and sagging glass windows and found me in my hiding spot.

After the initial shock was over, my ears adjusted, and I began to hear that the sound was actually the most delightful music. It must have been a jig. Jigs have a driving, irresistible beat that even the shyest people find they must force themselves to NOT clap.

 I watched in amazement as the adults who always seemed so stern, began to clap and tap their feet. After a "whoop" or two was let loose, I knew it was safe to come out from under the table. 
Quickly, the music took over and I began to DANCE! I didn't know how to dance, but the music taught me, right then, right there. I remember my shear delight looking down at my legs as I hopped rhythmically back and forth. The brown corduroy pants I wore swished and swiped while my hard shoes kept beat with the music  The adults clapped to the beat with smiling faces, making it all too irresistible. 

The visiting fiddler left sometime after I had gone to bed. Naturally, he hadn't come to see me, but I was forever changed by his jig.

Desert Highway

     We often travel to Phoenix "the back way."  We love this less-used highway because the desert scenery never disappoints. In the spring there is a profusion of wildflowers along with the many textures of cacti and desert trees. Here we stopped to give the boys a break from the three hour drive home from Grandma & Grandpa's house. 

Kurt holds a freshly diapered Jess.

Marshall tries not to look like coyote bait... 

and I enjoy another beautiful drink of the high desert. 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Jane's Clean Dirt Floor

On our way to Jane's, we passed Barkley coming toward us. Barkley was the funniest animal I had ever seen. He was the neighbor's friendly Basset Hound. I could not suppress my giggles at his droopy eyes and drunken walk. He sat on the side of the road, clearly torn between following us and continuing his original direction. Once decided, he left us with the wag of his tail and a "Bar-Rooh!"

Outside of Jane's place was a fenced area containing animals. I watched with bossy disapproval as Walter teased a ram. Walter is my older brother and I usually disapproved of everything he did. The ram did what rams do and rammed the wire fence to try to get to Walter. This was terrifying to me. The fence kept stretching with each attack, but fortunately, it held. 

Jane was a friend of mom's. Her picture in my memory is a pleasant one. She wears a long heavy dark skirt and long brown hair passed her full hips. She is smiling, her chocolate colored eyes twinkle with warmth and kindness. She laughs easily. 

How old was the one room cabin that Jane lived in? It must have been one of the first homes in the quiet area of Warner, New Hampshire.  Herbs were hanging from the ceiling to dry and there was a cast iron wood stove where she did her cooking.  I can vaguely see a patchwork quilt on her rumply (probably feather) bed. It was quite dark, lit with only kerosene lamps, and had a dirt floor. Jane would sweep the floor. This took some explaining for my four-year-old self to understand. Apparently, the dirt compacts into an almost cement like surface, and it can be swept clean.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fieldstones and Chipmunks

A lot of time was spent in my childhood riding in the car, looking out the window. A slight bend or dip in the road would make my stomach feel sour with nausea. I hated car rides. Mom always told me to look to the farthest green I could see to help curb the sick feeling.

The view was a green blur driving in New Hampshire. Occasionally, the leaves would part enough for a glimpse of the thick stone walls outlining most properties in our area. These were old, old walls. I don't know who built them, but I was told they were stacked with the rocks plucked from the surrounding fields. The once jagged stones had been softened by the years and years of seasonal changes. Many were green with moss or spotted with lichens. 

I could always count on the chipmunks for a race. The sound of our old car would send them scurrying along the top of the walls until one would dart out of sight and another would appear. It was a relay race. Little striped twitchy competitors bolted into action. I have no doubt their noisy chattering was filled with boasts of victory.

where is everyone?