Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Mother's Ducks

When I was a little kid, there was a war going on.  Today we have wars that never touch us, but that one came right into our living rooms.  Japanese submarines frequently turned up in Monterey Bay and the blackout sirens would wail, warning everyone to turn out all the lights so we wouldn't be a visible target.  Our floor lamp was actually designed for this -- the base of the lamp had a very low wattage bulb under a faux-marble diffuser which would just throw enough light on the floor so we could see where to step.  We had blackout shades that cut off all light to the outside.  We could hear the big guns from Fort Ord, across the bay. Sometimes we could see tracer bullets. Those were scary times.

Some of those memories are funny now, like the time my Aunt Lucy came over during a blackout and stepped into my big pile of rubber squeaky toys -- about a bushel basketful.  I thought that was hilarious.  I was about three years old at the time.  Not long afterward, the whole mess of my rubber toys went to "the war effort."  I felt very patriotic, going with my mother to turn in my toys to make tires for the soldiers.

Today, furious at a tornado warning that came in the middle of my bread-making, I remembered another vignette from the war. My father had been duck hunting and brought home a fine bunch of Mallard ducks.  My beautiful mother had taken great care preparing them, stuffing them with pieces of oranges, onions and celery to season them. She was just ready to put the big roaster full of ducks into the oven when the blackout sirens went off again.  This time was even worse; the neighborhood air raid wardens came to the door and told us we had to evacuate to the hills.  That really set my mother off.  She was furious!

I can still hear her hissing through clenched teeth, frowning so hard her eyes were squinched shut, "Those goddam Japs are not going to get my ducks!"  And to prove she meant it, she pulled a kitchen chair up in front of the oven and sat down on it with a shotgun across her lap.  She was not about to budge.  My Aunt took my Grandmother and me up into the coastal hills, but my mother refused to go.  When we got back, she was still sitting there with the shotgun across her lap.  Her ducks were safely defended from the enemy, the submarine was long gone and all was well with the world.

Today when that tornado siren went off , I could really relate to my mother and her ducks.  That goddam tornado was not going to get my bread!  It was at a critical point -- time to punch it down, rest it and form it into loaves.  If I didn't do it at that moment, the bread would be an over-raised, ruined mess.  That was not happening!  I worked quickly but without leaving out any necessary steps to get the bread formed and into the pans to raise for the final time.   After the pans were neatly lined up and covered with a cloth, I joined Laura in our safe place in the hall with one of the dogs and a cat. Not long afterward, they cancelled the tornado warning.

The other dog, Suzy, has moved permanently into her safe place -- the bathtub.

photo credits: Laura Hoffman, Suzy; MaryAnn Jackman, bread.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Requiem for a Redbud

I knew last spring that our redbud would not bloom again.  Two thirds of it were already gone.  These beautiful trees are not long lived -- twenty-five years is about the lifespan.  I have loved that tree as long as I have lived in this house.  Every April, she burst into amazing purple-red blossom.

Redbud blossoms are subtle.  Not big and showy like the dogwood, or heavily borne like the Bradford pear, a redbud in full bloom looks more like purple smoke in the distance.  A hint of color -- brilliant and wild, but painted with a light hand.  The bud-like flowers are tiny.  Redbuds along the Tennessee roads in April are magical. 

They are wild trees and, often, propagate in disturbed soil -- opportunists who move in when something else has been forcibly moved out.  Our redbud has tried very hard to reproduce herself in the most inappropriate places in the yard.  Last year we had one good sprout in a probably good spot and, knowing we were losing its parent, we hoped to cultivate it but the dogs got it.  They usually leave plants alone but for some reason, they got this one.

Last April, a third of her burst into glorious bloom.  The rest was gone from heart rot or some other old age disease of trees.  The year before, she had bloomed twice, putting out one limb of blossoms in the fall.  I knew that was a harbinger of the end.  Trees make one last try at posterity before they go.  Last April's bloom hardly produced any seed pods, another sign she was not going to pull through.

The new gardener was very worried she would break and do harm in a windstorm, and we have had a lot of heavy wind lately.  When the big storms were about to come through today, he rented a chainsaw and headed over to take her down. 

I look out where she once stood and see only the lawn and a few small twigs.  We will plant another tree there in her honor.  Maybe not a redbud. May her memory be for a blessing.

"Blessed are You, HaShem,
Sovereign of the Universe,
that your world is not lacking anything,
and you created in it
good creations and good trees
for the pleasure of mankind."

It is said that blessing a blossoming fruit tree will redeem souls. 

photo credit: UT Ag.  This is not a photo of our redbud.