Sunday, July 31, 2011

July with Gladys and Rachel

To learn more about this yearlong adventure with Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, I have made a 'letter topic' called A Year with Gladys and Rachel, where you may read all the postings.

It has been said by many, including myself, that Gladys Taber would have been a great blogger. In essence her topics are like blog entries - some long, some short, some light, some serious. Her mind moves from one thing to another, and her subjects sometimes connect and other times stand on their own.

Gladys' July chapter in Stillmeadow Daybook was especially so. She runs the gamut from the frustrations of having to replace her lost driver's license to the rich and famous who have moved to her area to the deep joys of poetry, particularly her beloved John Keats. And the wonder of her writing for me is that it is so current. Though published in 1955, her thoughts are familiar and easily understood by a reader fifty-six years later.
We no longer live in an age of poetry, that is certain. I suspect the roar of the big guns in our day has muffled its rhythms. But there will always be people who find a quickening in poetry that nothing else gives, for poetry is a more direct communication than prose. …
Having been raised with poetry, I am astounded at the lack of it in young people nowadays. … recently a young man asked me, "just what is a sonnet anyway?"
When she explains she sees that he isn't really listening. But still this doesn't discourage Gladys Taber because she feels that
Dante is still Dante and Shakepeare is still Shakespeare and always someone - as long as we are on this odd little planet - someone will read "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone bewail my outcast state." Or "Life has not friend; her converts late or soon, Slide back to feed the dragon with the moon."
Her words about July are so perfect and so true in my part of the world.
Hot still days come now, with heat simmering over the fields, crackling in the long corn rows.
The sky is wonderful in July, it seems deeper and farther off someway than at any other time, a silken, burning blue. The thermometer jumps like a jumping mouse, and the beans ripen like mad.
This is the dry month in New England, so when it rains, we are grateful. It is the only time we are grateful for rain, rain being our chief product come summer, come winter. But in July how sweetly sounds the patter on the old roof, and how grateful is the lawn.
The Farmer's Almanac says, "Days are hot, nights are not." This about sums up July in New England for it is hot and humid and you can feel the corn growing and the cherries ripening, and yet at night a cooling air blows in from woods and streams. If we sit by the pond, we need sweaters and as far as I am concerned, I never take the winter blankets off my bed all summer long.
Summer is so brief, so packed with living, I hate to see each day end.
She delights in her dog's love of ice cubes, and bemoans the dreaded Japanese beetle. She writes about the 'end of seasonal food' now that there are home freezers. This is Gladys Taber in a nutshell. She writes of the profound and the simple, and the profundity which lies within the apparent simple. If you have not read her, please pick up a book and see if she doesn't speak to the modern person as well as the person in her time. I know she speaks to me, and feels like a great friend. All I have to do is open a book, read a few words, and I am happily in her wise and comfortable presence.

In quite a few Julys here on the blog, I have either posted the song or the lyrics or just the one pertinent line from the song, You Go To My Head: 'like a summer with a thousand Julys.' You must know by now that I am a cool weather, winter loving person, but oh, I do love July. There is none of the anticipation of June or the sadness of August. In July we simply are. We live. We take great pleasure in each day.

Rachel Peden expresses this at the end of her July chapter of Rural Free.
I cannot bear to give up summer yet. I am glad sultry August is yet to come.
But she begins the month by calling this wonderful July:
A mellow, generous, middle-aged, productive month with a thought for the past in its misty blue mornings and a thought for the future in the first tentative creakings of cricket and barfly - July has a thorough, gusty enjoyment of the present moment.
I'll bet she loved You Go To My Head, too.

She writes of the abundance of the garden
lavish with green beans, hints of roasting ears, cantaloupe, cucumbers to be sliced as thin as paper and crisp as a new five-dollar bill. The smell of new beets cooking in the kitchen fills the farmhouse. The first ripe tomato this week was an event [as it was in my house a few days ago!], but two weeks from now the planters will "eat them as common things" as the book of Jeremiah says, describing abundance.
From the annual fireworks display on the Fourth to the death of a beetle she had vainly tried to save, Rachel writes with the soul of a poet. After telling about some of her farming neighbors, she says:
Dear Lord, let farming continue to improve forever, but let the neighbors never change.
She describes perfectly the kind of fellow who loves to talk and tell the 'news.' And if you ask him a question, he can be off on a long-lasting tale of explanation. She tells how picking blackberries can be a little vacation for the farm wife. In the midst of a thorny blackberry patch is not a popular place for most people so it is there she can be 'blissfully alone' and nobody could find her to 'ask a single question.' But then of course, her dear husband and children appear
"How're you making out?" Dick asked from the fence at the edge of the woods. He smiled lovingly, his face beaming like a full sun, and on either side of him, like bright moons, beamed two small, beloved faces.
"How did you know where to look for me?" I asked.
"Why," explained Dick, pleased with himself and them, "we saw the sun shining on your bucket." The vacation was over and not one single "having a wonderful time, wish you were here" card had I sent to anybody.
How I would love to have known this woman. To have cooked together in her kitchen or walked together in her fields. Across all these years since Rural Free was published fifty years ago, I feel I have a friend.


  1. Oh, Nan, what a wonderful post. I've loved all of your Gladys and Rachel posts, but, this one really hit a chord with me, not only for their words, but, yours as well. I'd never though of July as being middle-aged, but, it is and I shall forevermore think of it as such. Thank you for giving this ol' gal some smart words to ponder on this last day of July.

  2. I love these books. I can't get enough of them. They write about life experiences that make sense to me. I feel I belong on a farm at the end of a long empty road where I can hear God and hear myself. Where I can hear the birds and the insects humming about. Do most people feel this way? I wonder if the busy noisy world is too much for all of us and we should all be on a farm at the end of a long empty road.

  3. Such a lovely post, Nan. Coincidentally, I am currently rereading one of my Gladys Taber books -- Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge. GT is always a delight and a comfort, no matter what the season. Enjoy the summer.
    Canadian Chickadee

  4. That's such a good post Nan. Your quotes from each of these wonderful writers remind me of you -- your joy in the seasons and family and your garden.

    Don't you wish they could really be at your table sharing lunch?

  5. Oh so nice to read the words of someone who appreciates my dear Gladys Taber writings, as much as I do. I dip into her books frequently, as if they are a refreshing breeze during a hot summers day. You write so beautifully. Thank you

  6. Both ladies seem to have been your sisters in spirit!
    As for the "hot, still days of July" - well, we've been badly let down by the month this year. Some mornings were so cold I had the heating on, and one could hardly leave the house without taking an umbrella.
    Hopefully, August will be better.

  7. Gladys Taber sounds like an amazing woman. I suspect these books are pretty rare. Have to jot down the name.

    Love the new summer header photo Nan. Can you believe it's August 1st?

  8. Oh, Nan. What a wonderful post! You know that summer is my favorite season and I loved reading the excerpts from both of these books. I, too, would have liked to have known these woman, but I DO know you and love to read about your farm life. Perhaps you should publish YOUR farm letters. :)

  9. Nan,
    I love how you were able to convey your love of these two writers in your carefully chosen words.

  10. Does anyone write like this anymore for books? You're right that they would have been great bloggers. Gladys' dogs' love of ice cubes reminds me of one hot evening recently when I put a few ice cubes into the cats' water. Miss Emily went to drink and a cube bumped into her nose. You should have seen her jump. But pretty soon they were all playing with the ice cubes, a new toy.

  11. Thank you, Penny! These books, and these women are so wonderful.

    Susan, such an interesting thought. So many people seem to want to live in cities. I couldn't bear it, but I know there are those who couldn't live the way I do, either. Thanks - you've got me thinking.

    Canadian Chickadee, I really love that book. I think I have more quotes in my quote book from it than any of Gladys' books.

    Sallie, such a wonderful thing to say!! And yes, I'd so love to spend time with them.

    boyznonna, thank you for your kind words. I feel the same way about Gladys; and now, Rachel as well!

    Absolutely, Librarian! Sorry for your cool, dark weather. I'm sure August will be sunny and hot. Ha! You didn't know I was a weather predictor, did you? :<)

    Diane, I can't believe it is August. Her books aren't all that rare. Ebay and used bookstores offer quite a few. The day I took the photo of the yellow pole beans, I ate them for the first time this summer.

    Thank you, Les! I suppose in a way that's what the blog is.

    Thank you, Kay. The books are both so wonderful.

    Barbara, great ice cube story!

  12. Nan, I'm a winter person too, especially this summer. I'm always glad to see the summer end and the glorious autumn begin. But, maybe if our nights cooled off like Gladys's, I would like it better.

    You're right -- Gladys Taber's writing is comforting. I'd love to see Stillmeadow. Does anyone know if it still exists?

  13. I had never heard of Gladys Taber until I joined Vickie and Joanne's Yahoo lists. That is also how I met you. :-) I have only ever found one book my Gladys. I have never heard of Rachel Peden and am off now to look her up.

    I have a new blog while I still have my others. I hope you will stop in and have a look as well as come by my garden at TheCranberryChronicle. I have been doing a number of blog posts about the work we are doing in the new garden.

    Hugs from Holland ~

  14. I'm reading Gladys Taber's Daybook one month at a time with you. I agree that she would have made a great blogger. Her writing is so much like a letter from a friend. I especially like when she talks about the simple things like the weather and so forth. I agree with Sallie. Reading Gladys is similar to reading Nan. This is going to be a great year going through these books with you.

  15. Thanks for the review-Gladys and Rachel sound like women I would have loved to know too!

  16. Jill, it absolutely exists! And her granddaughter, Anne Colby now owns the house. Have I already mentioned that there is a Friends of Gladys Taber group which sends out a quarterly newsletter with recipes, old magazine articles, photographs, current news, and information on get-togethers? If you are interested, please send an email to:

    Heidi, I have visited TCC several times!! If you buy books online, there are old copies of Gladys' books on ebay and amazon and probably abebooks and alibis, too.

    Margot, how sweet of you to say this!! There's no higher compliment!! And I am so delighted you are doing this, too. I'd love you to write about it as the months go along.

    Sherri, they were both wonderful women and writers.

  17. One of the many pleasures gained from being your blogfriend has been an introduction to Gladys Taber whose writings always make me feel like I am listening to (and nodding in agreement) to a dear family member or a best gal pal. Love the quote about poetry - the "quickening". Absolutely.

  18. Nan, I see that you mentioned that you liked Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge perhaps more than any other of Gladys Taber's books. If you don't own a copy and would like to have one, please email me. I will be happy to mail one to you free of charge. Happiness should be shared, and we Tabert-ites must stick together! :0)
    Canadian Chickadee

  19. Susan, I so love what you wrote. Thank you.

    Canadian Chickadee, what a great, kind offer! I'll write to you.


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