Sunday, November 17, 2013

Too Hot to Sleep

November has put a heavy gray lid over us. Days are short and brisk. 

It can get dreary as the routine of gray cloud cover goes on. Short days robbed of daylight by the prevailing gloom begin to be felt.

In Minnesota November is often not a lovely month. 

Thanksgiving helps to redeem it. Pumpkin pie, turkey and dressing, and family and friends gathered, are a great antidote to days edging in. 

For lots of us, as well, anticipation and preparations for the holidays pulsate with stronger energy the darker the days get.

It’s this seasonal mix – dreariness of weather and the homecoming thoughts many of us hold to – that makes November a time to think about dear ones gone, absent from us on earth.

It’s well-spent time to occasionally bring to mind those who’ve left their mark on us, often in lasting ways. 

Perhaps it was this that made my sister think of an old neighbor. She wondered if I knew the year this dear friend of ours passed away.

I did some checking to see if I could find the answer for her. It wakened my curiosity. I wanted to know too. 

This sweet farm woman passed away so long ago. But some folks, while you don’t always have them in mind, you never forget.

The year of her passing was found and the question  solved. But the search kicked off for me vivid memories of pleasant visits with this elderly neighbor when I was a girl.

I liked to walk up her steep hill to sit and chat awhile. They're remembered entirely as forenoon visits.

She often was making bread, or waiting while it set to raise, or was at some stage in baking (cookies and desserts were a given in a farm kitchen in those days) when I called on her.

We sat in her living room. The room had a door which entered from the outside. This was the door used by me.

The door was open to the outdoors in the summer. It made the visiting both informal (green nature and birdsong on the other side of the door screen) and cozy.

I had a seat by the door. She took the easy chair. I don't recall she took her apron off but she may have. Like the flowers outside she lovingly tended, her apron was such a part of her.

Sometimes her husband, every bit as liked by my sister and me as the friend I came to see, joined us from work he was doing outside. 

My visit gave them a chance to "sit a spell." It was a break from tasks which began at early rising. Their work day (as farmers with a dairy herd) revolved around their cows. Milking time took precedence over everything.

We were a companionable trio. Possibly in some way - as I look at it now - the couple were surrogate grandparents for me. Mine lived far away.

Even then, probably, I was something of a historian. The stories my friend told of earlier times were interesting to me.

Her early life which she touched on, perhaps in response to questions from me, have all been forgotten. All but this one about to be shared. 

Why it remains, while the others have faded, is one of the mysteries of memory.

Perhaps it's because it was a story of another summertime – the summertime when she was a girl like me. 

She lived in Iowa then. It was hot Iowa in the summer. Humid nights when temperatures stayed up were common. 

It was before rural electrification. Electric fans to cool a closed-in room weren't an option.You put up with your misery as best you could.

She said on those unbearable nights she slept below the opened window. It was cooler on the floor than in bed. 

On the floor there came across her an occasional stir of air. It was moving air which can be such relief on a beastly hot Midwest night.

Mattresses may have been moved off the beds for more comfortable sleeping. The details elude me now. 

All I remember is how wide eyed I listened picturing my elderly friend brought to the necessity of catching a breath of air below the window sill.

That story illuminated her background as stories of a personal nature can do. 

It’s my connecting point with her and always will be. At ten or so I could image it vividly. It made her past so real.

Ro Giencke

November 17, 2013


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