Monday, March 29, 2010

Hen and Chickens

As a little girl who spent summers with her maternal grandparents and her mom's unmarried sisters, I was trained to know the outdoors. Unfortunately, I was more interested in having my blond hair combed, avoiding baths, reading outdated copies of Redbook and Ladies' Home Journal, hanging out at my aunt's beauty parlor and trolling through movie magazines, and resting my usual TV deprived butt in my aunt's chair and watching Lawrence Welk, I-Spy, or Perry Mason.

Up the street about an eighth of a mile was a small park with swings, slides, and this big tilt-a-whirl that I could get spinning so fast my brains were scrambled. I loved that thing -- I was indefatigable on it, and I begged my aunts, and sometimes strangers, to spin me till I couldn't stand.

It was cool to be young and dizzy part time.

Hmmm. No wonder Algebra gave me such a problem --and to think I blamed it on my momma allowing me to roll off the bed when she was changing my diaper when I was nine months old. :)

My mother went back to work when I went to kindergarten. My parents became one of those 1960s statistics of the beginning of the two-income family -- neither one made a ton of money, but together, they managed to save enough money to send four children to college, supporting for one year, three at a time.

So, during the summers, for my first young years, I was sent to stay with my aunts and grandparents in their home in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The house was a three story white clapboard (top photo) with a glassed-in front porch, eaves used as attics, and a full basement with a spooky, hulking coal furnace. The basement was full of implements left over from farm work, as well as home canned goods, and the washing machine --- when it finished its cycle, the hose emptied over a floor drain.

Coolest thing evah.

Uncool -- then someone carried them to the backyard to be hung out on the clothesline attached to the house and the alley fence on a pulley. That was the best thing -- it was on a pulley, so we could stand in one spot to hang the clothes. I usually parked myself in the nearest lounge chair. See photo at left.

Tee hee.

It was in this backyard that my aunts instructed me on flowers and other flora and fauna that they had lovingly transported from the "farm," their 100 acres in Appomattox.

When my grandparents became too old to farm in 1959, they moved from the farm to the nearest big city, and their daughters, unmarried or uninterested, had no desire to keep the vocation that their parents worked so hard, they lived together in this house on Westover Boulevard in Lynchburg.

They brought memories of the farm to town -- foxgloves, snapdragons, ladies' tresses, squaw root, poke weed, golden rod, and beauty berry. Names I thought they made up based on how they looked--- and within the native flowers, they planted daffodils, tulips, and clematis.

When we went to "Grandmaw's little acre," a patch of land with a cabin that they saved from "the property," which we visited every Sunday afternoon after church, and after paying our respects to the ancestors at the church graveyard near by, we would take a picnic to the cabin and again, my aunts and grandparents patiently tried to teach me about plants and trees.

Unfortunately, I was more interested in checking out the outhouse, pushing the hand mower, or stretching out on a lounge chair under the trees with my second or third piece of homemade pie or cake.

I was a brat in training.

When my aunt died and my family emptied their house, I was a grown married woman with an ache for nostalgia and memories. Too late -- that generation, mostly had passed on, or were sequestered in nursing homes where they hardly knew me.


my Aunt Eleanor's green thumb had the power to make the hardest of indoor plants flourish: orchids, African violets, and .... did what she asked them, and her tender loving care of plants, not only from the farm, but those she coddled for forty years in that house -- were alive to be taken for posterity.

I loved a plant she called "hen and chicks" that grew like a weed in her flower bed -- their little heads clinging to sides, climbing over one another, and putting out like a toaster.

She also had a little breeding ground for these in "Papa's bean bowl" sitting on the side porch door stoop. In that bowl were "hen and chicks" galore, spilling and filling that bowl like it was its natural habitat.

When we packed up that house, I asked to take the hen and chicks in "Papa's bowl," and since no one in my family wanted them, I was allowed to take them with me to Georgia, where they have flourished.

That was 1992.

Those hen and chicks were blessed ones.... they are still rearing their heads each spring, and sending "chicks" in all directions.

Over the years, I have shared the hen and chicks with friends, and one time with a UPS delivery man who admired them on the porch. I quickly snipped four or five "chicks" and sent them to grow to be hens with the UPS man.

Plants are a legacy. They should be something that you share.

Yeah, you should.

And now, I officially sound like an old lady.

Shutup. All of you.

Pictured above -- At Grandmaw's cabin, my sister and me -- and then Aunt Eleanor, me, and my sister on the Blue Ridge Parkway.



  1. I have to admit I am a sucker for your family stories over your book reviews. Not that I don't appreciate those as well :). There is just something about your memories that gets me every time!!!!

  2. I'm with Julie on this. I'd love sitting and listening to you talk about your family over your book reviews any day. Don't get me wrong, you know how much I love reading and read the book review section of the Times religiously, but your family stories whisk me away to the past and I learn about not only you, but how different parts of the country were/are. That's just the history geek in me sitting up and going "heck yeah, keep talkin'lady."

    All right, I've babbled enough. Just going to say thank you for sharing your stories with us. I enjoy them immensely. :)And you're not old, you're young at heart!

  3. Totally not where you were intending to go with this, but....

    I totally remember spinning myself silly on the same merry-go-round in lynchburg. It was the greatest thing to get spinning super fast, and then try to climb up to the middle. Maybe it's just how short I was at the time, but I remember trying to climb up a couple stories into a rapidly spinning wheel. It was hard, but also arguably the most fun I've had in my life.

  4. Ah, you take me right back to my own memories of growing up and going to the farm with a Grandma, and Aunt and myriad Uncles - all trying to teach me about the outdoors. I, like you, was not really interested at the time, but some of it must have stuck because I certainly know more than the average bear about trees and flowers. I agree that once I was grown with the ache for nostalgia and memories, it had fairly well passed on. Thanks for the trip back this AM!

  5. You're the one with your legs sprawled in the most unladylike fashion, I assume? Heeheehee. :)

  6. Great story! I also enjoyed the Bryson review.