Feeling what? I guess a bit wistful… Autumn is here and it’s my absolute favorite season. I think it goes by way too quickly. This was always the time of year my Mom and I got giddy for the upcoming winter. We’d talk about whether we’d get a lot of snow, how cold the temperatures would get…are we prepared?
That part was always fun for us…the preparation. Even though I live a half mile away from a large grocery store, I still want to be prepared – Mom and I always wanted to make sure we were stocked up with items for the winter. We actually had a lot of fun with it. (It drives my husband nuts, but my Mom and I were in our glory!)
I know for myself this stems from the years we were growing up with such a large family, and for my Mom – she was born during the Great Depression and was also from a large family. Storage and self-sufficiency was just the way of that generation. Mom didn’t drive and we lived out a ways from the nearest stores. We lived on a farm and with eleven children in the family, and with Dad being a bricklayer, there wasn’t a lot of money. To feed all of us, Mom and Dad had a large orchard, an absolutely enormous grape arbor, and large vegetable gardens. We also raised chickens, geese, ducks, goats and sometimes hogs and other “miscellaneous” animals. My uncle was a true farmer and we would get steer meat, pork, and rabbit from him to freeze.
Mom did a ton of canning every year, and Dad loved to work with the grapes. Mom would can just mountains of food. Tomatoes, tomato juice, grape juice, soups, corn relish, vegetables of all kinds, jellies of all kinds…oh my gosh…just about anything you could think of! Dad made grape wine every year…that was his baby!
We would make apple butter too. We had a huge copper kettle that we used outside. We would build a fire and the kettle was hung over that. My Dad made a huge wooden paddle stirrer – the handle was probably five feet long, that we would use to stir constantly. You had to cook the apples down and it took most of the day. You couldn’t stop stirring because the apples would stick and scald if you did. Thankfully, there were enough of us that we could take turns helping out. Dad was always trying something different. He even tapped our maple trees! Mom made dandelion wine and jelly also. Nothing went to waste. Milk was either from dry powdered milk or it was from our goats, so there was no need to store that. Mom also made yogurt and cheese from the goat milk. (My siblings and I liked to envision ourselves as the Walton family. There was a lot of “Goodnight Jim Bob” going around in the evenings!)
Mom baked her own bread from scratch. No bread machines…real homemade bread. And it was delicious and it was the best! And pancakes…oh my gosh!!! She would make the batter from scratch the night before and it would set out overnight on the stove, covered, doing its yeast thing and the next morning Mom would be up cooking mounds of pancakes! They were sooo good and we were sooo spoiled! She also made her own granola cereal back before it was ever popular! I think about how hard my Mom worked. Years of hard work and she never complained.
Mom and Dad went grocery shopping about once a month for the items that we didn’t supply for ourselves. I remember they would go shopping on a Sunday after Mass. My siblings and I would love this because it meant that for lunch they would bring back Chef Boyardee Ravioli and potato chips. Believe it or not…this was a treat!! It was actually cheaper to eat well and healthy back then, than to buy the prepared food from the store.
I remember how the house was heated during the winter. We had a wood burning fireplace in the living room, a big old Salvation Army wood cook stove off the kitchen, and a coal burning stove in the utility area of the house. We stayed fairly warm except certain areas of the house…like the bedrooms and bathrooms! In the winter you didn’t use the bathroom until you absolutely had to!! (Until I became an adult and moved out, I thought everyone’s house had frost on the inside of the windows…lots of frost!!)
Some of my siblings were more acclimated to the farming life than others. Myself…throw me in a room with a good book or the “record player” and I would be in heaven, but we were all expected to help out and rightfully so. As much as I didn’t care for a lot of that back then, I miss it now. Maybe because we no longer have Mom and Dad around. Things changed drastically after Dad died. Our lives were just thrown into a big muddled mess for a long time. We were never able to really continue with the same activities. Mom’s heart wasn’t in it and neither were ours. And without my Dad there, a lot of it was just impossible to keep up with, as lives were changing.
Anyway, Mom and I continued this idea of winter stocking over the years. I suppose it was more nostalgic than anything but it was a bonding activity that we shared. I miss her sooo much right now… There are so many things I want to talk to her about, but right now I miss the preparation. I miss canning and getting excited about what things to can for this winter. Last year I had horrible tendonitis in my left wrist and couldn’t do any canning. In fact, it was so bad I had gone over a year without playing my piano because there was so much pain involved. So this year, I can physically do the canning – but my heart isn’t in it. A couple of my sisters have been canning. I’m hoping that I can bring myself to do a little bit, just to get past the emptiness. I make my own pie filling and can that, so I am hoping to make a few quarts worth of blueberry pie filling to can. It’s just going to be weird without having Mom here to get excited about something so simple.
She would crack me up though… 🙂 She was overboard with her ideas of canning items…always ready to try something unique…that mostly only she would eat! Ha! Pickled everything, which I know isn’t that unusual but…she also tried everything jelly under the sun…onion jelly? Zucchini jelly…things that Nature just didn’t intend to be sweet…at least in my palate’s mind! 😉 But she would be so excited about it! You had to love her for that!
I know now that I’ve been getting better. Just being able to write this without feeling overwhelmed with sadness is good. I miss her…I miss her a lot, but I can look at these things, at least today, with fond memories and not really sadness. And…I went to the local discount store yesterday and bought dish soap…twelve bottles. Haha!!! I won’t have to buy dish soap until next year! But…Mom would have loved that. I miss you Mom.