Friday, December 30, 2011

December 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.

Gladys begins her December entry with these words
The first snowfall is worth having winter for.
And ends with
My last words on each and every Christmas for over twenty years have been spoken from the heart to all the world, and they are simple, but heartfelt.
God rest you, merry, Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.
In between these marvelous words is a delightful meditation on what many of us feel is the most wonderful month in the year. Even if one isn't a practicing Christian, is there any time so dedicated to thinking of others? Every present we buy, each cookie we bake, the meals we cook are all for others. Not for ourselves.

Gladys writes
I think most mothers get tired during the Christmas rush. I do. There is always a low moment when I fervently wish it were just over and I could SIT DOWN. I wish it were August. And nothing at all going on.
And yet, when the children say, "Thank you for a wonderful Christmas, best we ever had," and one child whispers, "this was just all I wanted - how did you know?" and one child curls up to read the book you have chosen so carefully, and one says, "we never had such a Christmas," suddenly then all the tiredness ebbs away, and a pure happiness floods in.
For in spite of the tinsel and wrappings and struggle over presents, we still have an idea, after all, that Christmas means giving some special joy, an unusual joy to someone. And that compensates for the commercialism which sometimes seems to threaten to engulf Christmas entirely.
And this in 1955!

In addition to the Christmas bustle, there is talk of feeding birds and using herbs and spices, each quotidian subject leading her to higher thoughts.
It is as with much of life, I suspect, the richness is there, if one opens one's eyes to see it, and one's ears to hear it.
[Herbs and spices make] my meal getting romantic. For the whole world comes into the kitchen with saffron and sesame seed, chili powder, curry, basil and bay.

Rachel begins with burning brush on the farm. As her husband monitors this chore, his mind runs free.
his thoughts have gone on a wide, evaluating tour, which is the bliss of brush-burning.
From his field he can see the neighbors' farms and some of their barns and houses. It is a pleasant closeness, without trespass. The farmer reviews the local, unprinted news and his winter work plans.
She then goes on to say that
if he doesn't get back that winter, or for several winters, the brush pile will make a brushy, safe home for rabbits and a few birds, and some other small animals that need homes. It is really better for such use if the brush pile is near a hedgerow; but a brush pile out in the field makes a good oasis for small animals that have to cross from home to hunting ground and do not like to risk their small, important lives traversing too great an expanse of unprotected open space.
When I read this aloud to Tom, it was a completely fresh idea to him. Something he had never thought of before, and now fully intends to implement. It is Rachel's work which I read most often to him because though Windy Poplars does not support us, he is himself a farmer, working with fields and fencing, animals and chickens.

You may recall a letter I wrote about calendars a while back. Well, Rachel has the most wonderful essay called 'Here come the new calendars.' She was writing in much the same time as my mother's calendars.
Calendars come in a variety of sizes, and by diverse ways. Some come by mail, in odd-sized envelopes or rolled up in a tight wrapper. Some are handed out by salesmen at the door or in stores. Some come importantly in cardboard tubes. Some come naked from the press. They have one common purpose, to perpetuate in kindness the memory of the donor in time of money expenditures.
She goes on to tell how each one sits on the kitchen wall as she tries them out in this month before they are needed, and ends
The one that remains the longest on the wall is the one with wide-open spaces around the dates so that memoranda can be written on it. Its white spaces fill up with notes of dental appointments and Fair Board meetings, who called about baling; with telephone numbers, grocery lists, addresses, recipes taken down over the phone, and important farm news such as "barn swallows returned" or "paid on tractor." … When this calendar is used up, it is too valuable to throw away. It belongs with the farm records and receipts and will be called on to help fill out income tax blanks. It's a diary, a volume of family history.
Rachel offers tales of hogs eating coats, an apology from a new neighbor, the description of a growing boy's footprints in the snow, and the poignancy of a children's Christmas show rehearsal.

In just a few pages each month, these women's words fill me with deep wonder and pleasure.


  1. Absolutely wonderful!! We have a brush pile in the corner of the back yard and I really don't want to burn it because I have so many birds and bunnies that live in it!!

    Happy New Year, Nan!!!

  2. As always, so beautiful the words those two ladies wrote in each month, and equally beautiful is your choice for us, Nan. Thank you!
    May your 2012 calendar get filled with many, many pleasant memories.

  3. Deep wonder and pleasure...yes that is it, isn't it? Thank you for another lovely post, I love when you have these Gladys and Rachel posts!
    Happy new year!

  4. I was just reading some of these same Taber words late last night, Nan, and enjoyed reading them and your thoughts about them this morning. The words ring true all these years later.

    We have a brush pile here and it didn't get burned this fall. It is good to think of it as a home for birds and small animals. We don't farm, but, our acreage home to creatures other than humans and it is rather nice to think of providing them with shelter.

    I keep my calendars, which are mostly desk calendars of late. They give a record of not only special occasions, but, doctors visits and friendships rekindled, and all sorts of what happens in "life".

    Happy New Year, Nan, to your and yours there on your Hill Farm.

  5. I noticed a Stillmeadow Album under Scriptor's tree in his Christmas pictures. Have you seen this? of Gladys Tabor is what led me to find your blog I'm happy to say.

  6. The pleasures of an old-fashioned December. I never mind when we don't get our brush pile burned because I think of all the rabbits and birds, etc. living there. Where would they go?

    Your Sat. Eve. Post cover art actually makes me think of cocoa rather than coffee. So good when you've been shoveling snow.

    Happy New Year to you and your family, Nan.

  7. I love how Rachel's words echo all these years later in your back yard, Staci! Fantastic.

    Thanks to you, Librarian, and the same to you in the new year.

    Kay, thank you. I told Tom I look forward to writing them at the end of each month.

    Penny, just as with Staci, it is great that fifty years later, people still have brush piles providing homes for little creatures.
    I wish I had kept more of my calendars from when the kids were little. :<(
    And I wish the same to you, thank you.

    Jill, I am quite sure I borrowed this from the library years ago. I should see if it is available. And thank you for your words.

    Barbara, I'm so pleased with the response to Rachel's words about brush piles.
    I think in the days of those covers adults drank only coffee. I know my parents did - at all times of day.
    And I wish the same to you. Thanks.

  8. I have two books by Rachel Peden on my waiting to be read pile . I've come across Gladys Taber as well but her books are hard to find in the UK. I shall try Amazon and E-bay I think.

  9. Rowan, I will be most interested to hear how you like RP's work. I bought a couple of Gladys' books on ebay. One, from a seller a hour away. :<)


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