1. Archive

Past events have a way of sneaking back into our lives

Remembering is such a pleasant thing; it lets us look back on warm yesterdays and insulates us against cold tomorrows. As a young bride I can remember my husband telling me that everything that happened to us, good or bad, as we made our way through life would one day be a rocking-chair memory, something we could recall with nostalgia as we sat back and contemplated the events of our pilgrimage from the vantage point of safari's end.

Now, from the relative calmness of retirement, though not free from care (is one ever?), I look back on those days when I was feverishly engaged in helping my husband earn a living on our farm and in ministering to the seemingly endless needs of an ever-growing family.

Certainly I see, in my transition from the city girl I had been reared as to the farm wife and mother I became, an endowment that left me rich in incidents marking the milestones of my life.

Though I was not consciously fashioning recollections for later years, I did so in exigency, from the very start of my marriage. I had to master the rudiments of good cooking and the skills of proper housekeeping _ the basics of which I sorely lacked. And I had to help work the land.

But if I knew little about the first two requisites, I knew less about the last one, the knowledge of which consisted mainly of an awareness of the difference between a rake and a hoe. I soon learned.

One of the first farm chores delegated to me, which would become an annual responsibility of mine for many years to come, was the blocking of sugar beets, a truly hard and back-breaking task. Each morning at sunup, before the day's late spring heat had become suffocatingly hot, I was in the field, back bent and a small hoe in hand, spacing the distance between each beet plant in order to thin out and control the growth of the beet.

Not only was this a physically hard job but a tedious one as well, for the constantly bent-over stance it involved allowed only the sight of earth and crop for row upon endless row. My only respite was an occasional back stretch that afforded momentary corporeal ease and visional relief as well.

One day, at a point where I was halfway through the 5 acres to be blocked, I went to the field and almost immediately catapulted back to the house. My husband, preparing to harness the horses to cultivate corn, had difficulty understanding my agitated and immediate return. It was only in fragmented speech that I was able to gasp out between hysterics and tears that in the process of hacking out excess sugar beet growth, I had nearly cut a snake in two!

It didn't matter that it had been a harmless garter snake stretched out lazily, enjoying the warm dew-damp earth beneath the small green beet foliage. A boa constrictor could not have wreaked more havoc as far as I was concerned, and I vehemently refused to return to the jungle.

My mother was visiting us at the time, and in a concerted effort she and my husband managed to subside my panic and persuade me to go back to the field, but not before I had dug out my husband's rubber boots and donned a pair of his heavy overalls and thick work gloves.

Feet, hands and body protected, I then resumed my work, but removed not a single plant without first lifting the leaves of each one to inspect the area for lurking serpents.

Needless to say, such prudent attendance to the task at hand sharply curtailed my speed, and my husband complained that by the time I had the beets thinned, it would be time to harvest them, all on account of a little snake!

His gentle derision was lost on me, however, as I told him ungrammatically, and intentionally so, "Snakes is snakes." And since the labor I provided was reasonably cheap (it was free), he could only look at me in the resoluteness apparent in my oversized and unseasonal battle dress of boots, overalls and gloves, and adhere to my persuasion: "Snakes is indeed snakes."

Needless to say, the beets were ultimately blocked, cultivated and harvested, and then hauled by my husband to the sugar factory a few miles from our farm. Later he facetiously remarked that there had not been a single snake garnered in any of the loads.

Now, all these years later, I look back on the incident of the snake and recall how distraught I was and how I wept at having, out of necessity, to go back and finish the job. Close on the heels of this recollection comes another, this time of the young person I was then, full of exuberance, consumed with hope, yet impatient for the day when I no longer would have to work so hard.

That day, of course, came; it is here now. But looking back through the years, I grow nostalgic for the joys and vicissitudes they brought. Days I thought would never end did, and I am left, as all of us eventually are, with only the memory of them.

Joan Rutledge lives in Clearwater.