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Autumn Impulses

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Carol Bossard


The Equinox has come and we are now truly in autumn.  Seasons are flashing past in double-time.  Sooner than seems possible, we’ll be contemplating Thanksgiving dinner and then Christmas cards.  But even now, there is this strange pull to prepare for winter ---- though most winter days here are navigable and fairly easy to manage.  We are seldom snowed/iced in for more than two days.  But, still, something inside ---- maybe all those years of helping put in hay bales or canning tomatoes, or perhaps ---- survival genes from eons ago ---- makes me want to be sure we are snug and ready for anything winter can bring.   

“….She was covered from head to foot with stove blacking.  On the floor all around the stove were dribbles and splotches of blacking……That was the worst day.  On Friday the house was almost in order and they worried lest Ma come home too soon….”*

  Little Town On The Prairie”, quoted above, has Laura and Carrie trying to do the house-cleaning while their parents are gone.  Everything that could go wrong, does.  That also describes my comprehensive cleaning dilemma; I begin one thing and that leads to something else and suddenly I’m over my head in too much to do and where on earth will I put things?  The traditional housewifely practice of the 19th and early 20th centuries demanded deep-cleaning, spring and fall.  Of course, then, there were no vacuum cleaners, no carpet shampoos, Scrubbing Bubbles or Windex for regular maintenance.  My seasonal efforts are, admittedly, minimal.  I bring out the quilts and pillows, change the wreath on the door and add pumpkins and chrysanthemums to the porch.  But I don’t take the carpets outside for beating, nor wash the walls.   Some windows may be cleaned as we remove the ACs but my efforts are more cosmetic than seriously cleansing.

My college major {then called “Home Economics;” now called “Human Ecology!”} was because a) I wanted to be a 4-H agent and b) I’ve believed that making a home where people feel comfortable and loved is both a fine art and necessary skill for happy living.  Even an aero-space designer or nuclear physicist --- of either gender ---- needs this. That opinion wasn’t popular in the 1960s when women were trying to escape the rigidity of society’s assigned roles.  I agreed about need for change in societal expectations, but if one is free to develop a career outside the home, then one should also be free to make home a career without feeling like a betrayer of womankind.   

Of course, there is far more to home-making than the house itself, but most of us do tend to focus on our houses, since they are the basic structures within which and around which, we create a living environment.   Kerm and I lived in three apartments and one half-house before, we moved to a large, square Pennsylvania farm house; 4 rooms upstairs and 4 rooms downstairs with an attached summer kitchen.  We and our then-toddlers moved in to face high ceilings, big windows and empty walls.  I was staying home with the children, so one salary had to stretch for all things.  My mother, always good at re-purposing, kindly offered me a pile of white sheets she no longer needed, and I made cottage curtains for six big windows, from those muslin sheets, and trimmed them with ball fringe.  The living room walls were soon brightened with fabric hangings upon which I appliqued patterns and quotations.  It took me about 3 days per hanging, to cut out letters and shapes, hand-sew them on and fringe the burlap, this being before the advent of digital sewing machines that do everything but fix dinner and wash the dishes.  We also discovered a new hobby; household auctions.   We found large, round overhead lights from the county building that, tipped over, turned into ultra-modern table lamps ---- industrial meets Star Trek.   We found gold-framed paintings we both liked and occasional pieces of furniture.  I bought an entire bolt of orange corduroy and covered floor pillows, slip-covered a chair and couch cushions.  We purchased a good couch and bed, but the rest of our house was put together with very little effect on the budget.  It e slowly evolved into an eclectic décor that was pleasing, at least to our eyes.     

I have always enjoyed seeing the unique ways in which people create their living spaces.  Karen, whose casual house-keeping style is similar to mine, and who also enjoys vintage things, arranges pleasing vignettes on her table.  I remember one that featured a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, some interesting stones and a charming little bowl.  It was a conversation-starter.  Jan fills her walls with original paintings --- not Van Gogh or Rembrandt--- but artists from her community. They may never be famous (or they might) but the art is attractive and unique, and it inspired me to go and do likewise.   Pat has her own amazing paintings on the wall and makes beautiful quilts.  Ellie keeps a neat and tidy abode without clutter, but adorned with African carvings, flowering plants and a comfy porch where one can watch hummingbirds.  Her home breathes out restfulness and peace.  Another Ellie’s home always has a touch of elegance whether she is living in an old house, a new house or an apartment.  Her elegance comes from within and is expressed via good taste, not thousands of dollars.  And Joette’s rooms could be in the pages of “Country Living,” a magazine that we both enjoyed some years ago.  All of these houses have a unique ambiance that just fits those who live there.

Our preferences have altered some over the years; I currently surround myself with what makes me happy.  Books!  Music!  Photographs!  Art from people we know!  The top of a high bookcase has a painting of the Campfire Girl’s Creed (done by my mother) and various items suggesting camping and the outdoors.  It is a dust-collector but every time I look at it, I think of the fun (and crises) we’ve had camping, and I remember the stories my mother told, about growing up in the early 20th century.  I have framed photographs on tables and walls, surrounding myself with people I love.  My living room curtains are still white with ball fringe, though not the originals.  Our orange decor has changed to rose, blue and green. None of our rooms are “show rooms” in any sense, but they are comfortable. I believe that if we listened closely enough, we’d undoubtedly hear echoes of music and laughter --- of dinner parties and rehearsals, of D&D games and graduation parties---- of adding up the pinochle score ---- all caught in our walls.  What happens in a house, over many years, must be absorbed, becoming part of the very air.    A home that exudes warmth, welcome and happy times --- in one’s very personal style ---- is one of life’s blessings.  And considering how many homes have been recently lost in floods, earthquakes and fires, not to mention bombings --- having four walls and a roof, is definitely something for which to be deeply grateful.

We turn to the outside, tucking our gardens in with cover crops.  We no longer have livestock (chickens or rabbits), but we do have outside cats who believe they own us, and wild birds with expectations involving suet and seeds.   We make a shelter in an ell of our house for the cats, enclosing a table with sheet foam, lined baskets beneath.  Some of the warmth from inside seeps out to them and they are protected from the wind.   There’s also a double-walled dog house that, with the demise of Freckles, is open to cats.  (Freckles would be appalled!) And cats grow thick coats of fur, soon resembling walking muffs.   There are shelters for birds to use on cold nights, and we try to provide fresh water for whoever might need it.  Concern for the creatures around us is part of being grateful for our life and theirs.

This doesn’t mean romanticizing them to the point where they become more important than humans.  Here I’m thinking of the cows in India that walk wherever they choose, of the deer in Ithaca that do the same and the people who are all warm and squishy about deer, whales and manatees, but forget about starving or abused children.  We need to be compassionate toward whomever or whatever we met on our individual paths, but we should develop well-informed common sense so that our compassion doesn’t morph into gooey sentimentality.

A home’s most important quality is probably that of acceptance.  Carl Larsson**, an artist of all things homey, says: “A home is not dead but living, and like all living things, obeys the law of nature by constantly changing.”   And “The nourished spirit is essentially what we pass on to others whether family, friends, coworkers or strangers.”***  Home should soothe us, inspire us and take us in, that we might be renewed to face a not-always-friendly world.

Meanwhile, autumn has come --- today!  Golden rod is blooming everywhere.   The crickets sing their autumn songs while trying to sneak into the house.   We all, with some dread and some relief, await the first hard frost.  There is an aroma ---- perhaps a combination of composting leaves, flowers blooming for one last time, a tinge of woodsmoke on crisp mornings and a long, fragrant sigh from the earth as the season turns.  Whatever the source, the bouquet for our noses triggers an impulse of urgency deep within us, to prepare for the colder days ahead.  So. bring out the quilts, polish the windows and view, with gratitude, the changing life around us wherever we live.

Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

*Little Town On The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder----American writer.  1867-1957.  If you haven’t read these books, or if it has been years since you did, now is a good time to re-read them.  Excellent reads!


**Carl Larsson---Swedish painter who exemplified the Arts & Crafts Movement.  1853-1919.


***Alexandra Stoddard--- American decorator and writer; philosopher of contemporary living.

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