High Meadows...Chapter 8

Welcome to ....
                          High Meadows

High Meadows is the ongoing weekly series centered on a farm perched on a high hill with views of the town below. High Meadows is the centerpiece to a collection of heartwarming stories that take place in this small New England town where good manners and treasured friendships never go out of style.                                              

March has arrived with a fury. By mid-morning the temperatures had dropped with the speed of a toboggan racing down a luge and the wind had grown so fierce that I feared the windows would be shaken right out of their sills. The dogs have all since scattered as though the apocalypse was upon us, and I fear that our calico cat may not come out of her hiding place until spring.
    Unlike non-country folks, Andrus and I knew that the storm was coming several days earlier without the aid of newscasters. As Andrus says, "If you want to know the weather, just look to nature." And he's right. He had predicted a drastic change in the weather as soon as he spied the soft, wispy clouds known as Mare's Tails skidding across the sky.
    Birds are also reliable weather forecasters.  Yesterday, I watched a tangle of these sweet, winged creatures gather around the bird feeders, greedily filling their beaks with sunflower seeds a sure sign that we were in for a big storm.
    Normally, they are both organized and very polite, allowing one species of birds to eat before making way for the next group. But that changes when a storm is coming. The larger birds such as the Cardinals and Bluejays get very aggressive and chase the smaller juncos and sparrows away. Meanwhile, the warblers greedily attack the suet cage that hangs from a pole.
    Yesterday morning as I was setting the kitchen right after breakfast, I happen to glance out the window above the sink and spied two very determined crows trying to lift it off the suet cage and snatch it away. Rapping on the window did little to deter them. Finally, I threw on a coat and stomped through layers of snow with a broom in my hand and was very impolitely spoken to as they flew away. 
    Outside, Andrus was rounding up the chickens and making certain that their water and grain bins were filled before locking them safely inside the chicken coop. Then he positioned the John Deere tractor with the plow, facing the barn door on the ready to clear the driveway and to help the city folks who inevitably drive too fast along our country road and meet with a snow bank.
    While Andrus readies the farm, I fill the fireboxes with wood while trying to keep Wolfgang from snatching a log and dragging it all over the house. Last storm, he left a trail of woodchips that I tracked upstairs to our bedroom. I found him sleeping on our bed in a pile of quilts, the log lying between his paws and hadn't the heart to wake him for admonishment.
    Candles and oil lamps are set in strategic places. I will also dig out the camp lamps that Andrus bought me one winter when I complained that the light was to dull to do my quilting. Meals, however, seldom vary since our stove is gas and in a pinch, one could always heat up a nice pot of savory stew on top of the Franklin stove.
    So, as the keening of the banshee wind howls outdoors portending the end of winter, Andrus and I honker down not at all concerned. We've weathered many storms together and it will soon pass, leaving a sapphire canopy of flawless sky and the trill of birdsong.

Funny how you can look at something for years and not really notice it.  This thought suddenly occurred to me this morning as I was clearing off the  breakfast table and noticed how worn our old kitchen table had become. But then, it had seen a lot of use down through the years.
    When the children were growing up, there were five seated here.  During the school year, breakfasts were usually a quiet affair as the children braced themselves for another day of studies. But on weekends, holidays or school vacations, they chattered away like magpies filled with plans for a day filled with exploration.
    As any farm child  can attest, there was always something new to discover. Deer tracks pressed in the dark rich loam waiting to be followed. The discovery of a small cave once used by Native American Indians where arrowheads might still be unearthed.  The bubbling stream so clear that you can count the trout as they swam by.
    But regardless of the calendar, I always prepared a substantial breakfast. A stack of fluffy, buckwheat pancakes and thick, golden maple syrup from our own sugarhouse. Bowls of warm, oatmeal laced with brown sugar and raisins, or a platter of fresh, farm eggs gathered that morning, scrambled with a touch of heavy cream and served with thick slices of bacon and homemade bread warm from the oven.
    I have since read that children who began each day with a healthy breakfast did much better in school than those who did not.  Any farmer who rises at 4am to milk cows or plant and harvest crops would concur. Food is fuel and a hearty breakfast keeps both body and mind to run smoothly.
    Supper was always my favorite meal of the day and except for canning season, my family could always count on a home cooked meal, most of which had been grown here on High Meadows.
    The youngest child had the task of ringing the supper bell affixed to a column on the back porch which they all did with gusto. Minutes later, the kitchen would flood with children and dogs, among reminders to leave muddy boots by the door and wash their hands. By now, Andrus had appeared and would begin to herd the children like so many ducks into the bathroom and then give a quick inspection before allowing them to take their place at the table.
    Andrus was a wonderful father with an easy temperament. But there was one issue that he could be very stern. He was a stickler for good manners which were religious practiced within our home. At supper time, this meant that each child was to remain standing until their father had pulled out my chair and I was seated. As soon as I was settled, Andrus would give a nod and the kitchen would fill with the sounds of chairs scraping across the linoleum floor and napkins hastily being laid across laps.
    We would then all join hands as Andrus offered a simple prayer of thanks, then each of us would state what we were thankful for. As soon as Andrus issued the final, 'Amen', small hands would reach out to grab whatever ironstone bowl was the nearest.
    Menus varied according to the season, but favorite meals were always Yankee pot roast with mushroom gravy, laced with red wine, or chicken and dumplings with thick, savory gravy. Most dishes were accompanied by bowls of fluffy, mashed potatoes and platters of vegetables that had been grown in my vegetable patch.
    It was always a noisy affair with the children vying for attention, eager to share the happenings of their day. Our daughter, Judith's contributions centered mostly around  school projects or perhaps a new idea how to increase her babysitting jobs so she could purchase that 'must have' outfit that 'everyone' was wearing.
    Our two sons, Tommy and Steven were 2 years apart and inseparable. Unlike their sister's quiet renderings, their dinner contributions were more like action movies. They recounted their day with gusto complete with excited exclamations and lots of hand motions which on occasion would send a full glass of milk hurling across the table whose contents would then drip down the sides. I attribute this as the main reason our dogs always stationed themselves beneath our feet in hopes of licking up any spills. 
    The boys told stories of new discoveries like a nest of mice by the hay barn; the exploits of the school bully, or a cave they had come upon down by the creek, and their plans to make it into their secret place. No girls allowed, they said pointedly, aiming a challenging look at their sister.
    "Like I would want to," Judith would say with contempt.
    At the word 'cave' I would throw a concerned look Andrus' way. He'd catch my eye and shake his head. It was my signal that all was safe. Andrus had grown up on this farm and knew every square inch.
     Still, I couldn't help worrying, especially since a few months ago,  the boys had discovered a bobcat's den and decided to catch it so they could put it in a cage and charge their friends a quarter to take a peek. Fortunately, their sister had gotten wind of their plans and told her dad who had rushed after them and quickly put a stop to it.

    Recently, our daughter dropped in for a dozen eggs and noticed a new dent in the leg of the kitchen table.    I explained that Wolfgang had snatched another log out of the wood box beside the living room fireplace and had hit the table leg on route to the back door.
      I tell Judith that I have thought about replacing the table, but my dear friend Wendy, who has studied interior design before opening the quilting shop in town, said our home was perfect the way it was and I was not to change a thing.
    "I agree," Judith said, running her hand over the place where she had sat when growing up.
       "But it is terribly nicked and scarred," I offer.
    "These aren't nicks and scars," she said, smiling.  "Those are memory marks."

                       Copyright©2014 Katherine Valentine

    Katherine Valentine is an Award Winning Author whose novels center on the charm of small town living. To learn more about Katherine and to be placed on her mailing list, visit:  www.katherinevalentine.com. And check out High Meadows  on  Facebook.  Do you know anyone in need of a cozy read? Then please share this charming, feel-good new series with others.

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