by Catherine C. Brooks
The woman entered the Mathews Art Gallery aglow, heading for my co-worker.
I quickly saw they were friends. It was November 2003, and I was doing
volunteer work for my son, Wade Brooks. “You moved back to Mathews from
Scottsdale, Arizona, I hear. Why?” The co-worker asked after the usual
I am glad for the changes and feel for the folks, who celebrate Christmas in air conditioning or on the beach. While writing the chapter in my book in progress, Truths and Traditions of Post Offices in Mathews County, Virginia, about Fitchetts Post Office, I relived outstanding scenes from my childhood. I grew up near Fitchetts Post office. Though the book is focused on post offices, I include much of the local history in each particular area. I thought back on my favorite season before I reached six years-of age.
We didn’t use a push mower to cut our yard—mowers of that type were for the town and city folks. Horses, cows, hens, roosters, guineas, ducks geese and whatever animals one’s parents owned, except hogs, ran loose in the fenced yard. When a wagon, buggy or car entered or left, someone had to open the gate. But the animals mowed the grass.
In early spring, dandelions appeared randomly on the south side and front of our large yard. For some reason, nothing grew in the smaller north corner except straight tough grass I called marsh grass in later years. Before it was warm enough for me to go outside to play, I watched these flowers that most people consider weeds today from the windows. In the morning they would be like a bud, opening their heads as the day passed, but in a day or two the yellow bloom would become a white fluffy ball of fuzz with tiny seed inside. When a bit older, we children picked the fuzzy balls, making a wish before trying to blow it all away at one time. The hollow stem seemed just trash so we just tossed it.
Robins, sparrows and other early song birds sang as they built nests, courted their mates, later laying eggs and tending the baby birds. Their songs made a dreary day bright. As I grew older, watching the birds and learning tunes to identify them delighted me. The mocking bird tried to confuse me. But he couldn’t compete with the woodpecker, which awakened me mornings with his pecking on a nearby tree, like one with a hammer and small chisel would do, throwing bark and wood chips into the air. This would continue for several days until the opening was large enough for a nest. Later the martins, the swallows, tiny jenny wrens and humming birds appeared. The grasses, weeds and wild shrubbery furnished seeds and they had no trouble finding worms in the yard and surrounding areas. Of course some preferred our strawberries, peas and later in summer cherries—wild or planted. The crows cawed, trying to have their way when it came to food. The fishing hawk screeched as he flew into the creek for a fresh catch, taking it back to the nest to feed the young. But the owls kept quiet during the day, hanging upside down from a fruit tree limb, sometime frightening me until I learned what the brownish ball was. If I went to the pea patch or picked blackberries early in the morning, a dove serenaded me from the myrtle bushes on my approach. I disliked the hawks. They squealed as they swooped down and stole a young chicken from the yard. I wondered at the glory of it all—even the thief.
When April’s showers and warmer days arrived, one morning we would look
out to behold the yard covered in a yellow coat. Buttercups were in bloom.
They waved in the wind, sat up after a rain made them lean a bit but looked
beautiful—or so I thought. Though the flowers had a short life span, more
kept blooming until the sun became too hot. I still enjoy fields of buttercups,
seeing several fields where daffodils had bloomed earlier as a friend and
I traveled through Gloucester in mid April of this year.
In other sections of the yard, roses bloomed in red and white—some with huge blooms and others had many smaller pinkish flowers. Oriental iris that Mr. Winn, a former owner and nurseryman, had planted in the lower part of the southern back yard bloomed fluently. Salt water came up into this ravine when tides were high, and these deep blue irises flourished in such an environment.
On into the summer Queens Anne lace bloomed with large circles of white lace, myrtle bushes flowered and other bushes, my memory doesn’t bring their names to mind, bordered the back lot and the fields on the water’s edge where a plow couldn’t easily reach. Meanwhile tall yellow daisies or white ones with yellow centers stood well above the grasses, scattered about the yard, asking to be picked. One day we saw nothing and the next day they had bloomed.
When the grass seemed too unsightly, Daddy hitched Nancy and Ginger to the hay mower, mowing the yard like hay. We never raked the yard since Daddy said it’d be out of sight in a few days and be natural fertilizer.
I think of the patches of violets, bluebells, which daddy called weeds, the mimosa tree in late July and the hollyhocks Momma had sown seed for near the picket fence in the southern back corner of our yard. They all made for happy seasons of the year.
Autumn brought cooler temperatures and colorful leaves on trees—some yellow, some red and others orange. The wind blew them in piles as they became brittle and brown. Again we didn’t rake or burn them. “The best fertilizer made,” Daddy would say.
Then we bundled in our winter wraps to go out of the door as cold weather crept into the area. The first big freeze usually came Thanksgiving weekend. Then light snow fell from time to time. But after Christmas, we may have a long-hard freeze with folks ice-skating on the creeks. Once in awhile the Chesapeake Bay had too much ice for ships or steamboats to make their runs. Usually we had one or more heavy snows with most things at a standstill. But when a blizzard came, we small children stayed house bound for a time. There were no snowmen or even snow balling until the drifts had been conquered. By February, we all looked forward to spring.
I am glad Virginia has seasons. Aren’t you?
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