Saturday, May 05, 2007


Each season in the South I grew up in was vastly different -- not only in terms of temperature, but in terms of how we lived, what we ate, and how we spent our time. When I reflect on those childhood days, I find myself longing to return. While I could go back to Birmingham, I can never go back and recapture those times.

In spring, the weather was restless and the vegetation amazing. Tornadoes were a frequent occurence in the Birmingham area, and we learned to just live with the possiblity that one day our lives would be totally disrupted by a tornado. But, for us, it never happened! The dogwoods and the azaleas provided a colorful backdrop for our lives in the spring. My grandmother planted flowers. We ate fresh strawberries from the curb market and slept with all the windows open at night. My grandmother wore housedresses, and we cleaned the house from top to bottom. The days were filled with the promise of new life.

Summer was heralded by the arrival of the lightening bugs. I used to catch them in a jar with holes punched in the top. That is what all the kids did without the vaguest regard for lightening bug life or death issues. Once at week we went to the curb market and bought corn, butterbeans, gren beans, black-eyed peas, yellow squash, okra, watermelon and cantalooupe. The farmers drove in all over the area and the food was fresh and luscioius. Summer afternoons were spent snapping beans and shelling peas, and they let me help. Sunday dinner was a feast with fried chicken, fried corn, butterbeans, and rice, along with peach pie. The grownups had iced tea with dinner. My mother punctuated each of her many accomplishments with consuming a Coca Cola and I got part of each one. The attic fan ran night and day and a gentle breeze swept through the house. My grandmother tended to her garden, and we would water it every night when no rain was forecast. Summer storms were powerful, with thunder and lightening and sometmes hail and high winds. The gutters running down our street (we were on a hill) became raging torrents. Then after each storm there was a period of extreme calm that resonated deep into your soul. Even the grownups seemed at peace.

Fall meant falling leaves, new school shoes, and new notebooks and pencils. I loved the fall! The colored leaves, the rich smell of woodsmoke, fresh apples, and the sense that I was a year older and wiser. My favorite fall memories are of cookouts with my parents and their friends. We used to go to the top of Shades Mountain and build a campfire in a small park overlooking the valley. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows and the grownups told stories of before "the war." Fall meant Halloween and trick-or-treating. I always went as gypsy in a costume my mother had made me. It was a great costume by any objective skeleton, but there was a side of me who would have preferred to be a devil and wear a stiff (and tacky, according to my mother) store bought costume.

Winter was cold -- sometimes even below zero. We had a big metal therometer with the sole of shoe as a baskdrop for the the glass tube (my grandfather worked for a leather company). It was always a guess to see just HOW cold it was going to get! Birmingham is in the South, but it is colder than many places nearby because it is in the foothills of the Appalchians. Sometimes it would snow. Once I remember my parents sliding down the sidewalk in front of our house on garbage can lids and coal shovels. I was three and sick. I lined up my dolls in the living room window. When I did finally get to go out in the snow I had to wear a snowsuit. It was hard to get me in it, and harder to get me out of it. In winter we ate canned vegetables and fruits and potatoes and rice. On Saturday nights we had spaghetti and my parents invited their friends over. We had country fried steak, chicken pie, chili and potroast. We felt warm and cozy and stayed indoors.

Now I live in Maryland. After five years in southern California, I was ready to return to seasons in 1976. On the surface, one would think the seasons here are the same as in Alabama. The seasons here in Maryland seem less vibrant. We have azaleas and dogwoods in spring, bright colored leaves in the fall, snow in the winter, and storms in the summer, but it doesn't feel the same. Maybe it is because I don't actually interact with the seasons the way I did when I was a kid. The culprits are air conditioning, supermarkets with fresh produce year-around, no reason to be outside, and the changing perspective of old age. And now each season goes by so fast!!!