Early on a dappled September day she takes her three boys down the dirt road surrounded by oat fields on both sides. The light in early fall and the crisp morning air soothe her soul in such a way that nothing else can. She carries Earl on one hip and a bushel basket holding George in the wagon as she walks to the apple orchard to fill her basket with the harvest that will be their delight in the coming winter. Apple butter, apple sauce, and canned apples for future pies are the order of the day. Willie will head to school and she will be left with Earl and George to entertain themselves in the orchard. The unexpected warmth of the Indian summer fills her with hope and makes her very routine life a little brighter.
As they make their way back along the tree-lined dirt lane, Earl helps pull the wagon loaded with the apple bushel while baby George now takes his place on her left hip. The gradual change in leaf color has begun and as the sun rises higher in the crisp blue sky, there is a calm in this day which doesn’t always show itself. As summer struggles for its final breath before fall takes full command, there is a nearness to this season, to nature, the bounty of the harvest, and the preparation of food for the winter months; anticipation of evenings spent indoors darning, sewing, knitting all taking place next to the fire in the stove. Not looking forward to those freezing trips to the outhouse, however, brings her back from her daydream and into the babbling conversation of a three year old who has decided to pee on a rock at the side of the road… again. Earl stays busy all day on the farm, following his papa, chasing chickens, playing with sticks and rocks (which generally fill his pockets by the end of the day), and peeing on any big rock he finds. It all stems from Willie telling him a story about a cow who peed on a flat rock out in the field one day and the sound it made. She is surrounded by boys, was raised by boys, and she must fight for her maternal side to show itself as she laughs at their antics.
Baby George is falling asleep on her hip as they arrive back at the home they share with Lizzie’s father and brother John. She puts him down in his cradle while Earl runs out to do his daily routine which ends with him very dirty and smelly at the end of the day. She pumps another bucket of water and rinses the apples. For the applesauce she like to leave the peels on to add a little more flavor and texture. The others she peels for apple butter and puts a pot on the always-warm stove top.
Lizzie’s Diary: Six months have passed since little George Wilmer was born. He is tiny and charming. Can a baby be charming? I am taken with him in a way the others have failed to capture my heart. He is a bundle of my very soul and I could forsake all others for this very one. He is very interactive, especially with me and I believe I never knew true love until this little fella came along. I never tire of him and I feel a connection to his heart in such a way that I feel foolish!
I am a sassy, feisty woman in my 20’s not given to fanciful thought. I work hard, knowing that the only thing between living and dying is my own hard work around here. We must work to put every morsel of food in our mouths.
Sometimes I take this baby and the other two boys, Willie and Earl and we walk down the dirt road that runs out to the main road. There are fields on both sides and a shallow ditch. We plant for Mr. Halloran who owns the property. We hope to buy it from him. We have five acres of oats and a personal garden. The dirt road is lined with tall leaf trees that at this time of year begin their gradual change of color. It is in the evening light, as the sun sets before dinner now, that the lingering rays dance on the breezy leaves in such a way that I feel a comfortable deep longing in my soul for the season to hang on a little longer before another winter brings rain and sleet and even a bit of snow. I love the fall of this area—so crisp in the mornings, so mellow in the afternoon, so soothing in the evenings as summer struggles for its last breath before fall takes full command.
Willie Boy has started school now. He is six years old and goes to the schoolhouse every day, arriving home tired and worn from all the cares of kindergarten. Earl stays busy all day on the farm, following his daddy and chasing chickens, playing with sticks and rocks (many of which I routinely find in the pockets of his overalls on laundry day!) While my sweet baby and I go about our days canning, cleaning, and cooking.
I fall into bed at night exhausted and filled with a thousand things left undone, lean in close to my hardworking husband and fall promptly to sleep. The baby sleeps six hours at night now and it is a blessing beyond measure.
An hour after falling into a deep sleep I awaken to a feverish six year old, coughing with the croup. I am so deeply asleep at first I cannot comprehend the disruption but alas my senses kick in. There is always a pot of water boiling on the woodstove so I create a tent over it for him to breathe the steam. He is so miserable and tries to cry but just barks that horrible bar. I make a poultice and place it on his chest. He is in misery and the barking wakes the baby. Soon the household is up and Willie is barking, the baby crying, and Earl wants to use the toilet! Tietjen chaos has begun. George gets up to see what all the commotion is about. Thankfully he sees to the Earl while I try to comfort Willie and my precious baby. I feel a bit overwhelmed but I am certainly capable of a crisis of this magnitude!
We all settle back in for a few hours of much needed rest before the morning light again graces us with another full day ahead.
I often feel that my days are a monotonous routine of a never ending cycle of repetition and it is simply easy to lose the value of life. We are simply living to live another day and as the season changes I cling to the want of more carefree, long summer days as the darkness creeps in lasting longer each morning. I know it won’t last long but some days it seems endless with little to show for it all.
As my baby rocks with me in this old chair I recite, in a whisper
O sleep, sweet sleep—lean downward unto me
And lay thy cool touch on my fevered cheek
Lay all thy fair length close to me and speak
Thy language soft and drowsy as the sea
That steals up tidelands slow and lullingly
O sleep, kind sleep, lean down and press thy lips
On my tired lids, let thy cool fingertips
Still my hot temples throb—aye, let me be
Cradled within thy arms –and bid me think
Of clovered banks where long, still shadows creep
Of lotus blossoms lolling on a stream
Of tinkling brooks where thirsty cattle drink
Of drowsy poppy fields—and bid me dream
Of him I love, O sleep, O gentle sleep. (Ella Higginson, 1895)
The baby’s even breath, Willie’s raspy snore, all matching the longing for peaceful sleep once again. I lay little George back in the cradle and his warmth leaves my breast. I climb back into bed and recite it again in my head, not getting past “On my tired eyes”….