Midsummer heat blankets our hills, as July slips away into the past. August is ready to enter, with her showy flowers and languid, sleepy days marked by misty mornings and hot, sunshiny days.
Above the spotted Joe-Pye weed, the butterflies hover, anxious to draw all the sweetness of summer from its blossoms. Late summer flowers are beginning to make their appearance now; the jaunty Turk’s cap lily, with its spectacular, orange-spotted flowers bloom along swampy places and ditchlines.
The beautiful tiger lily blooms at the corner of the house, brightening the yard with its brilliant orange blossoms. The plumy flowers of the tall meadow rue constantly invites bees and butterflies to partake of its honey, while the Monarch butterfly, with its burnt-orange and black markings, feast on the perfumed milkweed blossoms. Out in the meadows, the purple-headed sneezeweed, looking much like its cousin the black-eyed Susan, dots the landscape with its daisy-like blooms.
In the blackberry fields, there blooms a pink flower we used to call St. Anthony’s cross. It has a sweet, spicy scent and small shiny blossoms and always blooms in blackberry season. We found out later that it is a type of dianthus, or pinks. It will forever recall my memories of blackberry picking, as just a whiff of it transports me back to the berry field.
These warm summer evenings takes my mind back to childhood days and joys of long ago. (It is true that older people like to walk around in days of yore and relive their childhood!) I see a dirt road meandering along in Ovapa, and there is a gang of barefoot children playing. The blackberries have been picked earlier in the day, handed over to our mothers, and we are free in that hour or two between chores and bedtime.
Supper has been over for some time, dishes washed, the kitchen swept and water carried from the pump in zinc buckets for the night. A late evening hush falls over the hills, and the air is beginning to cool after the hot summer sun has gone down. Songbirds chirp sleepily, and a whippoorwill’s lonely call echoes from a hillside.
We are playing hide-and-seek, and I can hear Margaret Ann reciting from the sycamore tree, where she has her head hidden in the crook of her arm. “Bushel of wheat, bushel of rye, who’s not ready, holler I!” We are quiet as church mice, hiding behind the tall stock tanks, Bud Coon’s garage and the pump station. Then comes the call, “Bushel of wheat, bushel of clover, who’s not ready, can’t hide over – I’m coming!” And the hunt was on.
The game breaks up when Jeuell Beth and Janice Carole have to go home, as their hour is up. We gravitate to the Virginia office porch, and launch into our favorite game of “Old Witch.” It is a fancified version of “Base,” but is adapted to the three sided porch that runs around both sides and the front of the office building and tool house. As the oldest girl, I usually have to be the old witch. Cody tolls me away from the big metal tool chest that is my base, while Allen Wayne rescues Larry from my clutches.
We have already exhausted “Pretty Girl Station” with its sing-song chant, “Here I come – where you from? – Pretty Girl Station – what’s your trade? – lemonade – what’s your initials? – get to work and show us something!”
Summer memories, like sun-dappled shadows, come and go, full of children from the past. Shadows lengthen and grow darker. I can hear Opal calling for Reva to come home and Mary has called Margaret Ann for the second time. Allen Wayne’s house is adjacent to the Virginia office, and we see Maxine stepping out on the porch to call him in. We know that it is just a matter of minutes until Mom is calling us in to get ready for nighttime devotions, and Cody is on his way home.
We troop to the house and are instructed by Mom to wash up, and scrub our feet good. Of course they are dirty from running over the dusty dirt road, and I can hear Susie admonishing us, “remember girlth, clean sheeths!” We take a “wash pan” bath, put on our white feedsack gowns, and gather in the front room for our bedtime prayers.
We perched like little birds on the couch, chairs and sometimes sat in the floor. Daddy would read from the Bible, and then he would pray aloud as we knelt on our knees. When it was our turn to pray, some of the smaller ones would be fast asleep on their knees and would have to be carried to bed. I can still hear their childish voices saying, “Now I lay me down to sleep – “ two of the little tow-headed boys have taken their eternal sleep, to be awakened on Resurrection Day.
Long-ago children – where are they now? Scattered here and there, and some, like Cody and Allen Wayne, are gone forever from this life. Janice Carole and Margaret Ann are gone also, and each year more of those children are called home. Yet, in these long summer evenings, they play and romp in the meadows of my mind, young and happy once again. I hear Mom calling, “Alyce Faye, Larry, and Mary Ellen – it’s time to come home!”
By Eugene Field