Sunday, May 27, 2018

Decoration Day

The first Decoration Day came about in the U.S. after the Civil War.  With the deaths of some 600,000 soldiers, 600,000 new graves scarring the countryside, families needed an official moment to honor the dead, to grieve in concert, to consecrate the sacrifice. When I was growing up there were no war dead in our family -- lucky us -- so on Decoration Day it was our duty to accompany my grandma and flowers to the cemetery to decorate all the family graves.  

The flowers came from Gram's yard.  Real flowers.  Homegrown flowers in Mason jars.  (Artificial flowers would have sacriligious to her, an abomination.) We brought peonies and lilac boughs that filled the car with the heady perfume of spring and resurrected  life. 

Grandpa drove, parked the car, and waited.  Gram, Mom and my aunt, my sister and I, would visit each grave, the resting place of Gram's brothers, her mother, her father, her first husband.  Sometimes things would have changed a bit and there were false starts and discussions of missing landmarks, but eventually each grave would be found.  

To visit meant to pull weeds, brush off the flat stone with tender, loving fingers, find a water spigot, and arrange the flowers in a metal vase stuck in the ground by the grave. Bouquets delivered, our little group of the living would hunt for the graves of more distant family, friends, and neighbors.

The saddest and most frightening was the grave of my cousin, Buddy, who died as a toddler and whose death my great aunt never seemed to come to terms with.  The marker, half-buried in the grass, was a stone lamb.  I was anxious to move on: if Buddy could die and be in a box under the ground, what was different about me?  

At each grave, we paused to remark on whether or not so-and-so's family had brought flowers yet and how lovely they were.  Gram would remind us who each person was in the family lore and my mom or aunt would sometimes tell a story, proffer a little memory for us to keep.  It was a small repertoire of stories and after a few years' repetition, they were firmly a part of us, my sister and me, too.  

I haven't returned to the cemetery to leave flowers since I left home nearly 50 years ago, except on the day my grandma was buried there.  We are all scattered now, across states and countries.  Not a single one lives near, so there is no one to brush the dust from the graves, no flowers to show that the person under the stone is loved and remembered. 

I like to think their spirits have followed me here, that I can make the offering of loving memory with a bouquet of hydrangeas and roses on the mantel. I carry them in my heart no matter where I am, as long as I have this memory of tending their graves with Gram on Decoration Day.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Oh Pickles!

A fine Saturday morning and we were off to the farmers market, first one of the season, just crossing the big bridge into town, when a piece of metal flew off a scrap truck, cartwheeled along the pavement, and sliced the left rear tire.  Whoosh! out went the air.  
No place to stop on the bridge so we inched on and pulled over at the first opportunity,
coming to rest under the Georgetown water tower, next to the steel mill and right where all the logging trucks make the turn off the bridge and lumber into the entrance of the paper mill.   

Not the most pleasant place to sit for a couple hours, waiting for roadside assistance.  And apparently we weren't the first to have a flat tire here.

The only thing flatter than our tire -- a shoe, squished by the heavy logging trucks going by.

It was hot and boring, and by the time we were on our way again with two new tires ... four and a half hours later.  

Friday, May 18, 2018

Behold the Lilies of the Field

Spider lilies, on the edge of old rice fields in Georgetown, SC

Where did they come from?
How did they get there?
How long ago?  

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Tea II

 It was fun to see how many of you are fellow tea lovers and that you shared my surprise that tea was grown in the United States.  I love tea and I start every single day with a cuppa.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I also savor a cup of coffee with cream and a little sugar later in the morning.)  I don't like sweetened tea or anything else in my tea, like milk or lemon, either and I prefer loose tea to bags.   

Yes, it seems a shame that workers can no longer come into our country to work at the jobs Americans won't do.  If it were me, I'd rather work with organic tea plants than hamburger at McDonalds for the same wages, but I know it's not that simple.  It's not just agriculture that is hurting for workers; take for example the tourism industry.  We live an hour away from a big tourist destination (Myrtle Beach) where young people used to come from other countries to work in the various businesses for the summer.  Last summer when they were no longer allowed to come, businesses in resort towns everywhere could not open because they could not get workers. 

Okay, back to tea!  Different types of tea are all from the same plants and the difference is in the way they are processed.  So white, green, oolong, and black all come from these plants and were available for tasting at the tea plantation.  They also flavor some teas (raspberry, peach, and cinnamon spice were available the day we were there).  

They had both iced and hot, caffeinated and decaffeinated, sweetened and unsweetened.  My favorites are green and black and I'm not fond at all of the fruity-flavored or the decaf ones.  We were encouraged to drink all we wanted.  I had trouble falling asleep that night ... too much caffeine!  

In closing, I'll leave you a little something to think on while you drink your next cup:

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Bucket List Check-Off

One of the the things on my "bucket list" when I retired was visiting a tea plantation, which I imagined in the mountains in China.  It wasn't in China but I did make it to a tea plantation, the only large commercial tea plantation in North America, which happens to be just south of Charleston.  

The original plants, several different varieties of tea, were first cultivated commercially in the 1880s and today's plants are hybrids from natural cross-pollination of these originals.  We took a tour through the factory where the leaves are processed and through the plantation where the tea is grown.  The fields had just been harvested (the top few inches are cut every two weeks during the growing season) so they don't look so pretty.

The greenhouse holds lots of small plants ready to go out in the field.  They are overdue to go out, in fact, because the migrant agricultural workers of the past are not allowed to enter the U.S. and Americans are not willing to work in the fields so there aren't enough workers to do the planting.  

We enjoyed our very enthusiastic tour guide, the gorgeous spring day, and the tea plantation.  
Oh, yes -- and all the tea we could drink.  And we did drink our share!