Sunday, January 23, 2011


     Joe just came inside and a bit of the bitter cold air followed him through the door. But when he reached into his coat pockets he pulled out summer and fall: an orange, a grapefruit and an apple. Fresh fruit in the midst of a bitter cold snap. He hadn’t made a trip to the grocery store for it, but rather a quick trip to our root cellar. We always buy a bushel of oranges from the FFA kids and two bushels of apples from a local orchard. They provide our winter fruit. He asked me which piece of fruit I would rather have and I chose the orange. It was cold and firm. I peeled it slowly, savoring the sweet smell of sunshine and citrus. I ate it deliberately thinking about the boxes of fruit and other good things stored in our cellar.
     Joe and I drove to Staunton yesterday for a load of chicken feed and of course made a trip to the grocery store. It took us six hours to complete this odious chore and when we got home, I was more tired than if I had spent the day shoveling snow. I craved a nap. I appreciate my root cellar most on days like yesterday because it keeps me from having to drive for groceries more than two or three times a month. Putting up jars of beets and tomatoes and beans and pickles and peaches and relishes is time consuming, but pleasant, fulfilling work in a light filled kitchen. Walking up and down the aisles of a grocery store, overwhelmed by aisles of choices is drudgery to me. Why in the world would anyone need an entire aisle dedicated to cereal and another just for toilet paper? I hate shopping most particularly because of the overload of information I must sort through to find what I need. And just when I’ve memorized where things are in a store, the chain decides to rearrange things so I’ll be tempted to buy more as I search. I much prefer my tiny root cellar with its tidy rows of jars. Shall I have beans or beets? Whatever I choose, there’s only one variety to tempt me, so I can save my time for more valuable pursuits than reading labels.
     I often wonder if I would feel the same revulsion towards shopping if I lived where I could do it on a whim. If I could jump in my car and be at the mall within ten minutes would I spend more time there? Would I, like my mom, shop each day for what I planned to eat at night, thus spending no more than fifteen minutes on the whole operation? I don’t know. I only know that when a trip to town always includes a mandatory trip to the grocery store, the drug store, the feed store and any other store we should add to the list so we don’t have to come back soon, it wears me out just to think about it. I hate shopping but, maybe in a world gone mad over materialism, that’s a good thing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's a Dog's Life

     Four weeks ago Joe ran over one of the rabbit beagles. We had just come home from finishing chores in McDowell and it was already dark. He dropped me at the front gate and then pulled around the side of the house to park the truck out of the way. I had just opened the gate to go inside when I heard a shrill yelp. I ran around to the side of the house and found Cindy Dog lying at an awkward angle in the snow. Joe’s windows were up and so he didn’t even know he had hit her until he walked back up the snowy driveway. The best we could figure is that she slipped on the ice and slid under his back wheel as he drove past.
     I scooped the dog up and carried her gently to the house. She tried to bite me several times, so I knew that she was in a lot of pain. Our neighbor is a retired vet so I called him and he agreed to meet us at his house. Without an x-ray, he couldn’t be sure, but it appeared that she had cracked her pelvis. He said the best thing we could do for her was to keep her in a very small area for six weeks while the pelvis knitted back together.
     When we got home, I prepared a thick pad of papers and old towels for Cindy and set her up in the kitchen. She had to be carried outside several times a day to take care of her doggie business, but other than that she sprawled on the linoleum looking miserable. Then a friend offered a small cage, so we set her up in the shed outside, surrounded by blankets. That worked pretty well, because she could do her business on the dirt floor, so there was less stress to her hip from being toted outside, but I felt bad for the dog. It’s cold outside. I was sure she must be freezing. Within a week I had hauled her back in the kitchen, where she spent her days looking sad and miserable. I assumed it was because of her hip.
     Then, a funny thing happened. Joe set her outside so she could go to the bathroom and when he went back out, fifteen minutes later, Cindy Dog was gone. In spite of the fact that she couldn’t even walk five steps to her water bowl, the dog with the broken hip had smelled a rabbit and with her hunting pal, Sandy Dog, was off on a three-legged adventure.
     I searched frantically all day for my dog, sure that she had fallen and couldn’t get up. I even went out into the dark with my flashlight and scanned all the fields around the house figuring the light would reflect off her eyes. I was right. It did. I found her curled up in her doghouse. I carried my naughty beagle back to the kitchen and placed her on her snug bed. She stared at me with sad eyes asI held the bowl to her tired little lips and worried about the damage a jaunt in the woods must have done to her unhealed hip.
     The next day, when we set her out to go to the bathroom, Cindy disappeared again. And again, I found her at dark, curled in her dog house. The same thing happened each day for the next three days. The pitiful little dog in the kitchen, who spent her days curled in the corner making sorry suffering puppy eyes at us, would disappear as soon as she was set outside.
     Three days ago, we gave up and tied her outside. It turns out that’s what she wanted all along. When I go out to feed her, the dog who could barely wag her tail or stand up to drink from her bowl comes bounding out of her little house balancing on three legs and wagging her tail so hard it throws her sideways. She’s happy to be home. I’ve always felt bad about having to chain my dogs, but I’m seeing it in a new light. Given the choice of a warm bed inside with a view of four walls, or a chain and doghouse outside, this dog chooses the chain and the wide outdoors. I’m sure there’s a lesson in all this. If anybody figures it out, let me know.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Holey Tradition

     When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to take his shotgun outside the old farmhouse and shoot a hole in the sky to help the arrival of the new year. Here in the mountains, I’ve discovered a new way to poke a hole so the year can come through. My friend Caroline is hosting her annual doughnut party and the holes we will make are sweet. Doughnuts at midnight are a longstanding tradition for her family and it’s one I’m delighted to share with her.
     Friends and family start to gather at Caroline’s hilltop house at about 8:00. Everyone arrives with at least two plates of finger food, but there’s not much time to stand around and eat. It’s doughnut cutting time. Caroline and her mother spent the day housecleaning and then mixing and kneading two dishpans full of doughnut dough. The square pans are over by the gas wall heater and the dough inside has already risen above the edges. Caroline lugs the first pan to the kitchen and her son-in-law grabs a softball sized hunk and with firm hands rolls the wooden pin over it until it’s less than a quarter inch thick. Then several women grab doughnut cutters and with deft twists of their wrists create the rings and holes. My mom and Dad have driven up from Richmond to celebrate with us, so she and I take charge of moving the floppy dough rings onto trays to rise. Then we carry the trays of doughnuts out to the other room and set them on every available surface . The other guests, who are laughing and gabbing, jump up to help place them. There are trays on top of the piano, trays on chairs, trays on the steps and even a tray on top of the TV which is on so we can watch the ball drop later. I estimate we’ve cut out over a hundred doughnuts.
     By the time we finish cutting out all of the doughnuts, the first ones are ready to fry. Caroline fills a large pot with about six inches of oil and when it’s hot enough, she begins dropping them into the sizzling pot, six doughnuts at a time. They bobble and twirl for three minutes on one side and then Caroline deftly flips them with a slotted spatula. Three more minutes and then, like pleasantly plump ladies emerging from a tanning bed, the winter white doughnuts are tantalizingly brown. The first four dozen are cooled and then shaken in a mixture of plain and powdered sugar. The next forty-eight take a bath in a maple syrup glaze and the last ones get a dusting of cinnamon and sugar. For the next hour, stainless steel bowls as big as washing tubs full of warm doughnuts make the rounds of the teen-aged card players and their aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers who are gathered in the living room. My son, who has a date later, has elected to come to this party with us first and he stays until he’s played enough Rook and eaten his fill of doughnuts. When he leaves, he wraps four more in a napkin and stuffs them in his coat pocket to give to his girlfriend later.

By midnight every guest is stuffed. “Just one more,” we say as the bowl makes another round. After all, this is the last sweet hurrah of two weeks of overeating. Tomorrow, we’ll diet.