The Crone’s Autobiography in Twenty Minutes

  • Born with the atom bomb 
  • Struggling, loving parents
  • Polio scare
  • Doodlebug, Doodlebug, come out of your hole; your house is on fire and your children will burn”
  • Mustard plasters
  • Daddy telling “The Crooked Mouth Family” story (over and over to much delight)
  • Separated from my best friend
  • Found him again two years later and showered him with 100 unwanted kisses on the school playground
  • Hopscotch; Jacks; Lavender Blue, Billy Billy, Lavender Green
  • Field trips—Merita Bakery, Coble Dairy, Timrod Park
  • Spelling bees, Old Maid, racist school plays (Epaminondas; Little Black Sambo)
  • Recess trips to the bathroom with friends to see who’d be the first to get her period
  • First bra; first kiss
  • Les Miserables; First “C” (Damned math!)
  • School chorus, church choir, handbell choir
  • 4-H—projects, camps, awards
  • Student Senate, May Court, Social Board, Japanese tea garden
  • First love, lost love, real love
  • All grown up, all alone together
  • Poor and in love, our first home of our own
  • Babies, diapers, formula, laughing, crying, exhaustion, love
  • Politics, women’s movement, civil rights, peace movement
  • Speaking my mind, shaking in my boots
  • Life in a tent; baths in a mountain creek, building our home with our own four hands: dreams of self-sufficiency
  • Gymnastics, cross country, careers
  • Camping, canoeing, photography, basketry, writing, publishing
  • Grandchildren, retirement, returning to the dream
  • Building—again; growing our own food; growing ourselves

What’s next?

A Month of Soups

I make a kiss-ass vegetable soup. My dad said so—well, no, if you knew my dad you’d know he’d never have used such language! But he loved, loved, loved the homemade vegetable soup I began making when I was ten or twelve years old. Of course, I learned how from my mother, but I added a few secret ingredients that made it all mine.

My mother was a busy woman. Like many homemakers of the day, she opted for the new convenience foods lining grocery shelves. Other than my vegetable soup, the only soups we ate when I was growing up came out of those iconic red and white cans. With the exception of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato, I wasn’t a fan. I assumed I just didn’t care for soup. I had no idea how homemade soups tasted and couldn’t imagine what it took to make them.

Until recently. A few years ago, we tried a lentil-carrot soup that’s easy and at the same time sophisticated the addition of Swiss cheese and white wine. Easy. That’s a word I’d never associated with soup. But it’s the right word. My vegetable soup is the most complicated soup I’ve ever made and that’s just because there are so many ingredients to gather, chop, and pour in the pot—not because there’s anything hard about it.

Quite accidentally, last January turned into soup month up here on the diagonal. First, it was the package of beef flavored vegetarian bouillon I received as a giveaway from a gardening blog I follow. That gift led to a delicious French onion soup, a delicacy I thought I’d given up forever when I became a non-meat eater more than twenty years ago. Then it was the potato-leek soup I’d been looking forward to ever since we planted our first leeks last spring. A look in the fridge told us we had some Swiss cheese that needed using, which turned into that delicious lentil-carrot soup.

Then the most serendipitous thing happened. We were sorting through our bookshelves (January is such a good time for decluttering and organizing) when we came upon an ancient copy of the Mother Earth News Almanac, a gift from my brother and his wife way back in 1975.

almanac

We curiously turned to a bookmarked page and were ecstatic with what we saw: our favorite easy, cheesy potato soup recipe from all those decades ago and whose loss we’d mourned for decades. The book had been tucked away in one of our moving and storage processes, and after a while we couldn’t remember where the recipe had come from in the first place. We sadly assumed it was gone forever. Naturally, the soup got made—and lovingly savored—that very day!

Lots of pumpkins line the shelves of our root cellar, calling to us to use them before they go bad. One of our favorite pumpkin recipes (aside from pumpkin pie, of course) is a cream of pumpkin soup made even better when topped with cinnamon croutons. We made that soup two separate times in January.

And then I happened upon a tomato soup recipe I wanted to try with our home canned tomatoes, so that soup made it into the January soup line-up too, paired with grilled cheese on homemade rye.

But even a small batch of soup will give our twosome two generous meals, often three. If you do the math, that means we had soup suppers every night for close to three of January’s weeks. Delicious, all. And not a vegetable soup among them!

(I’m posting these recipes as quickly as I can. If you don’t find the one you’re looking for, keep checking.)

The Last Time

(Note: certain details have been changed to protect individual privacy, but the essential facts remain the same.)

I’m at an age when it sometimes occurs to me that this may be the last time. The gnome and I, if we’re lucky, will be nearly eighty when it’s time to repaint the house and well over a hundred when time comes to replace our new metal roof. As inveterate do-it-yourselfers, it’s encouraging to think, “Well, at least we’ll never have to do that again,” when it comes to big jobs like roofing and house painting. (Not because we’re planning on going anywhere but, at least if we have our wits about us, we won’t be climbing any extension ladders!) I think of these as the good last times.

But there are other last times, other milestones I’m not so eager to meet. I wonder about the last time I’ll be able to climb our stairs. Upstairs is where our bedroom and only bathroom are; it’s pretty important to be able to make that trek. What if the time comes, like it has for my mother and some aunts and uncles, when my body just won’t let me do that anymore?

What about the last time we’ll kiss goodnight, the last time we’ll make love. It’s coming. Chances are when the last time comes, we won’t recognize it.

The memory lingers of the morning I got a sickening call that the husband of a young neighbor had been murdered just moments before. She remembered their goodbye that morning. Nothing special, just a peck on the cheek. Like most other mornings. How could she have possibly imagined it was the last moment they’d share?

One day after a marathon lunch gathering of old friends now spread far and wide—those things do tend to go on and on—we stood around our cars in the parking lot saying our almost equally long goodbyes, oblivious to the fact that in just a few hours one of us would get a call that her husband had been killed in a car accident. Who would have anticipated that?

Then came the day when a close-knit group of colleagues came together for one of our regular quarterly meetings. The day one of us who had been plagued for months by an undetermined ailment told us she was feeling better. Even joked that at least she’d lost some weight. None of us expected it to be the last time we’d see her.

Every decision we make—or don’t make—could be a life-altering moment. Almost always, we never have a clue. We don’t know what would have happened if we’d left the house one second sooner or one second later, or if we’d decided to take one route over another one, or if we said no instead of yes (or yes instead of no). Of course, it serves no purpose to second guess ourselves, but it might be worthwhile to recognize and appreciate the sheer randomness of everyday moments and events.

So, I think about these things. Maybe it sounds morbid. Not all that many years ago, I’d have squirmed uncomfortably at such thoughts. These days, though, I’d like to be aware. Not to constantly worry or agonize but to put myself fully in the moment, to appreciate the here and now for all that it is. Because it’s just possible this may be the last time.

Origins of the Gnome and Crone

Once upon a time in a land far away, I was the youngest. Almost always. (Except at home, where as the oldest I was gleefully “bossy”—though if I’d been a boy, I might instead have been dubbed a leader.) In elementary school most of my classmates celebrated their birthdays during the school year. They advanced in age before my eyes while I had to wait until summer to age one more eagerly anticipated year. Then came the sixth grade.

In October of that fateful year, the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite. The cold war was in its heyday, and the rush to beat the Russians was on. Across the state, we sixth-graders were given a test. The goal: to identify students who could successfully accelerate our learning by scrunching our seventh and eighth grade studies into one year. If we graduated a year early, maybe we’d be more likely to go on to college and then to graduate school where we’d discover the next great thing to make our country the greatest, to beat our worst global enemies.

Overnight I became even younger than my peers, sometimes close to two years younger. All through high school, all through college, and in the early years of my adult working life, I was the baby. I got used to it.

As time went on, I began to notice something: my colleagues were getting younger and younger. So were my doctors, my dentists, my elected officials—and just about everyone else. Meanwhile, I was getting older. Old enough to be their mother.

And so it went. As I neared the end of a nearly thirty-five-year career in the field of workforce development, I was part of what, in the world of technology, is called a legacy system. My colleagues across the state looked around and realized I was now one of the few who held the vast array of institutional knowledge about our field. I knew its history, its various iterations, and the virtually forgotten rationale for various decisions and regulations that had been implemented over the years. I knew the whos,  the whats, the whens, wheres, whys, and hows. When I was gone,  a whole lot of knowledge would go with  me. Some of my professional friends gave me a new moniker. I became the crone. In its best tradition, a crone is a Wise Woman. I embraced my new persona.

In the last weeks of my career, I was surprised by those same people with a retirement celebration. Ron (he’s my guy) was there, too. In the course of conversation, he mentioned that he thought he looked like a gnome. Height has never been his strong suit, and degenerative discs along with the effects of spinal stenosis have shortened his vertical dimension by several additional inches. And his eyes do crink with a twinkle that matches his ever present mischievous smile.

So there you have it. It was a tiny leap to brand ourselves as the gnome and crone.  We think it fits us. What do you think?