Monday, August 29, 2011

August with Gladys and Rachel

To learn more about this yearlong adventure with Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, you may scroll down to the 'letter topics' and click A Year with Gladys and Rachel.

It occurs to me that what I love best about Gladys Taber's writing are her digressions. Her chapter may be called 'August' but her thoughts are not confined in any way to that topic. She fully enjoys the month but it is a jumping off place for the rest of her ruminations. It is a very conversational style which is most appealing. She could easily be sitting in a cozy room with the reader.

She mentions a postcard 'from the young man who was to come and clean up the yard.'
"Tried to call," he wrote, "line busy. Company stayed late. Car refused to start, and ducks caused accident. Will be over Thursday. Joe."
Trying to decide how the ducks caused an accident took our minds right off the state of the yard. It is probably a mystery that we shall never clear up, a kind of James Thurber situation.
Isn't that delightful? Her sense of humor is light and subtle, and ever pleasant to me.

The beans in the vegetable garden cause her to ponder Yeats' famous words:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for every bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

… if he were to live alone in the bee-loud glade, I wonder what he would do with nine bean rows? Maybe they were very short rows? Or maybe the faery folk would gather in the bright of the moon to pick and eat beans? Otherwise, I think Mr. Yeats would have had little time for his golden singing, at least in summer. He would just pick beans!
And as a yellow pole bean grower, I know how true this is. I'm the only one who eats them and I simply cannot keep up. I finally say uncle, and let them grow to huge sizes and admire their bright yellow color as I might a flower.

And I feel like Gladys is telling my own thoughts when she says:
What someone has called my gentle philosophy of living comes from the warm sense of good there is around me. I can read the direst news in the papers and then go down the road and find some man or woman doing a very fine sacrificial deed for someone else. I think of George with a twenty-four hour day, taking on the chores of a neighbor who has illness in his family and thinking nothing at all of so doing.
She offers cheering words that resonate in our time as well as hers.
Democracy always seems to move ahead crabwise which is backward and yet goes ahead, too. The little crabs I see on the beach when we go to Cape Cod seem always to go in the wrong direction and then suddenly there they are. I think we operate in much the same way, scuttling back and then sidling forward, and in the end, we are a little ahead of where we were before.
And I so love hearing what the women of Stillmeadow are reading:
Jill takes up the latest Josephine Tey book, and I pop off with a glass of milk and Dylan Thomas' Quite Early In The Morning.
A great part of Rachel Peden's August entry is to do with fairs.
This is his [her husband's] idea of the farmer's perfect vacation: your own county fair all week, preferably with some good cattle exhibited; one or two days at fairs in all the counties you have lived in before; one or two in counties where you have good friends exhibiting; a few at fairs that offer outstanding horse pulls or tractor pulls; then two or three at your state fair; and around Thanksgiving, a day and a night at the International Livestock Show in Chicago. What more could a farmer want?
Just this: "One evening this week I want to see our county fair with you."
I've written about our local fair twice over the years of the blog. Last year's is here, and an earlier entry is here which includes a wonderful poem by Auden. Our day at the fair could be in either August or September, depending on when Labor Day falls that year, for it is always, always held over the Labor Day weekend. You can count on it like the dawning of the day.

I smiled with understanding when I read of her visit to an exhibition hall:
I wanted to see the flowers, the handmade rugs, the lovely serene quilts hanging from their racks, and the incredible things people crochet. Much of the handicraft is pure lavishment of imagination, with no hampering of function or beauty. Much of it, surely, is put together merely to show that anything can be used in some way, and much of it deserves a ribbon for proving this.
In the various books of Gladys Taber which I have read over the years I've found that they often follow a year. But that year doesn't always begin in January. Sometimes a book begins in winter. Another might begin in November, and still another in spring. This first book I've read by Rachel Peden begins in September, and ends this month. And of all beginnings and endings, this seems most appropriate for me. I don't know if it is the lifetime of school beginnings, or the feeling in the air, but my personal year seems to begin in September. I feel alive, and hopeful, and energetic just as most of us are thought to feel in the spring. Spring, however, is almost too much for me; too much to plan, too much to do. I feel so scattered that it is always hard for me to settle on an activity with the concentration and steadfastness which only September offers. So for me, as in Rural Free, the year truly does end in August. It feels like the culmination of the year's activities, both mental and physical.
Yet the words that Rachel writes gave me a whole new way of looking at a year:
The sun comes now at a slanting angle; early mornings are marked by an almost springlike excitement, as if the year might go backwards and return to September by way of spring.
It is the end of August, the end of summer, the end of a book. But it is not really the end of a year, because a year is not really a circle. It is a segment on a spiral that repeats the same pattern year after year, but never quite identically, and never comes together in a final and hidden meeting place as a circle would.
The year is life itself, forever changing, forever leading on to something else. In each year we look for cherished and familiar landmarks, and in finding these, we discover the necessity of the suffering the year exacts, the discipline it imposes, as well as the generosities it pours out to us.
We do not know where the curving, spiraled pattern leads, nor in fact whether it leads up or down. We know only that someplace on it there is an assignment for even the least among us, and that the fulfillment of that assignment is important to the pattern and ennobling to the individual.
I doubt that any philosopher of great reputation has ever said it so well, and so understandably.

When I began this adventure I wasn't sure about how it would work. As the months have gone on, I've found a rhythm that seems to suit me. I sit down toward the end of the month with both books beside me. I begin alphabetically by first name, and also because I have 'known' her longer, with Gladys. I then come to the computer and write about her month. I go sit down again, and read what Rachel has to say, and come back to the computer. It feels right to read the month as mine is ending. This is such a joyful experience for me. They were both wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful women who wrote so very well about their world and the world.


  1. This was pure balm for my gardening soul, Nan. I've come to look so forward to these monthly meetings with Gladys and Rachel. It is so lovely to see how much this rhythm of life you speak so tenderly about has come to suit you so well and their words seem gratifying to you. I know they are to me.

    This was such a lovely post.

  2. Thank you very, very much for posting the bit about the year being a segment of a spiral.
    This is indeed a wonderful, most understandable, and so very true-ringing bit, lyrical and logical at the same time.
    Once again, thank you!

  3. We went to a county fair in the far north of Vermont in 1979. I've forgotten the town's name but my then 3 year-old was enchanted by an exhibit called: Ernie, The Littlest Pig in the World. Poor little runt of someone's litter, Ernie shivered in straw under a thermal light, but he was certainly pretty small! (We had hired a Winnebago in Miami and in 3 weeks drove as far as the Canadian border and then to New York and home - great fun and our 10, 8 & 3 year olds loved it).

  4. Lovely, lovely post. Enjoyed it throughly. For me, September is a month of wrapping up the year in house projects and garden projects until spring. I feel relief that my world is winding down and if there are any more projects to do, well, it waits until spring.
    Even here in Salinas, CA, September is the beginning of our warm weather for a few months but the look and the feel of the sun as it slants into my yard tells me its the last hurrah. The glowing color of the air is slower, the wind even seems to be more lazy when it blows around the falling leaves. This time of the year is rapturous to me and fills me with contentment.
    Love the writings of these two ladies and I love your blog. Thank you for making this effort to share all that you do.

  5. I've truly enjoyed these postings about Gladys and Rachel. Funny, I've always felt the year began in Sept. and possibly it's because I looked forward to the beginning of the school year. So many things to learn, so many possibilities ahead.

    Your tomatoes look absolutely perfect! My husband would be so jealous. He didn't get to plant any this year.

  6. Penny, thank you so much for your nice comment.

    Librarian, I was quite impressed with the 'spiral' too. I like what you said 'lyrical and logical' - great.

    Nicola, what a wonderful trip! Really perfect.

    Susan, your comment could have been a blog entry! Have you thought of beginning one? I'd love reading it. Thank you very much for your kind words.

    Barbara, this has been one of the best tomato years ever for us! Wish I could drop some by your house.

  7. What someone has called my gentle philosophy of living comes from the warm sense of good there is around me. I can read the direst news in the papers and then go down the road and find some man or woman doing a very fine sacrificial deed for someone else.

    This is just beautiful. The news can get me down too, and I try to keep this in mind - that the news mainly reports on bad deeds but largely ignores all the good deeds done by people every day.

    I also hadn't heard of Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, so thank you for the introduction :) They're going on my list of books to read.

  8. HKatz, I think that sadly people rely too much on their television and computer news, neglecting the news that is right next door. I remember years ago, an older woman we knew wouldn't go downtown at night in our little town because she had seen so much television about the dangers to older people. Except those dangers reported were no where near where she lived.

  9. A lovely post. I have nearly all my life felt that the New Year comes in September. I wonder why we feel a bit more energetic then, as well as feeling that things are beginning anew...I need to slow down my reading and savor writers like Tabor and Peden and Hal Borland and many others. And slow down and enjoy my own life. These are beautiful day, moments of wonder, and if I don't pay attention that chance for joy is gone forever.

  10. Kristi, so, so amazing you wrote this. I just this morning read these words:
    "Keep your eyes open, and live life with a sense of urgency: not to get more done, but to see and hear more in each moment."

  11. Nan, even more surprising. I titled my blog post today "Open Your Eyes". I didn't read these words, but I was being inspired by your post.

  12. Kristi, incredible! I'll be over to read.

  13. A very special and very lovely post, Nan. Thank you.

    I'm not that familiar with Gladys Taber's work but I love what I read here. What a gentle soul.

  14. Yvette, both Gladys and Rachel were gentle, intelligent, interesting women. I'm loving these books.

  15. My God, I have not seen Taber or Peden's names in years. My mother had all their books and cookbooks. They come from a slower, more graceful, less vulgar age. Perhaps their books are still to be had from Amazon-

  16. Betsy, I'm so very pleased you stopped by and took the time to leave a note. Yes, their books are available. Rachel's 3 are at amazon, with one a preorder. Gladys' are mostly available in used editions, but usually at not too high a price. Thanks for writing.

  17. Lovely review and the passages you cite have much meaning even for those of us who don't garden (any more). I was most taken with Gladys' crab analogy. I feel hope after reading it.

    (I have saved this post on my Google Reader until I had time to savor it. Thank you!)

  18. I felt the same way about the crab section, Sallie. Perspective is everything.


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