I reckon I’m getting old. That’s why I’ve decided to write all this down. I was writing my Last Will and Testament (not that I have much money to leave folks) but I realized the things I really wanted to leave to people, well they won’t hardly know what they are, so I figure I need to tell ‘em.
I’m full of stories, but people are too busy for that these days. Anyway, I don’t even think I’m good at tellin’ tales, so I guess I feel better about writing them down and tucking them away.
I suppose everybody collects stuff over the years, but I’ve tried to only hang onto the things that’s real beautiful to me, or make me remember something I love to remember. I’m gonna write about what each one of these things make me remember, and I might ramble, but darlings, my memory rambles these days, so it is what it is.
Rosemary and Rue I’m starting with the one that makes me remember the hardest and brightest. If you’re reading this, you probably know me, and if you know me, you’ve probably seen the embroidery piece hanging in my dining room.
For you there’s rosemary and rue; these keep Seeming and Savour all the winter long: Grace and remembrance be to you.
Most people think it’s a bit of nonsense but it’s really a quote from Shakespeare, from The Winter’s Tale.
And that’s appropriate because that piece brings me right back to the winter of 1960, when I was 16 years old. It was one of the worst winters anyone could remember. We lived near the top of Long Arm Mountain, which is before the mountains get too mountainy. We weren’t usually isolated from the world, but that winter, we couldn’t get anywhere. It snowed almost every other day, like clockwork. It must of been February 13th that it all started because I remember that it ruined my Valentines plans and I was sore about it.
The first blizzard swallowed up the roads.
We hunkered down. We kept a fire burning, we kept our livestock alive, even bringing them all inside more than once. Mama had been canning food for near two decades and we had plenty to eat, but it was close quarters for us. My mama, Rue, and my Daddy, Earl and me, plus our two cows, two dogs and 8 chickens in our little house. Seemed like plenty of room all year long, with those cows and chickens outside of course, but suddenly, it was pretty tight. Felt like everyone’s breath was right up on your neck just about all the time.
We only had two books in the house: the Bible and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Mama read to me from one book or the other every night of my life, ‘til I was old enough to read myself, then we took turns. After the first week of being snowed in, she settled in to reading me The Winters Tale. She had the sweetest, softest Southern lilt, and once Mama settled into Shakespeare’s rhythm, it was like listening to music. When she came to this passage, she paused before reading our names, a smile hiding at the corner of her mouth.
“For you there’s rosemary and rue”
Up to that minute, I didn’t know Rue was a plant. I thought it was just my Mama’s name, and I don’t think she knew it was a plant either. The footnotes said rue was “an evergreen plant used medicinally”. I was filled with joy at the idea that my Mama and I were both named for something so similar, and that Shakespeare put the words together. Rosemary and Rue. Rosemary and Rue. Rosemary and Rue. Just whispering it made me feel joyful.
The second blizzard swallowed up the yard.
The snow was so deep it was dangerous to walk in. We hunkered down harder. The wind coming down the chimney kept putting out our fire, but we worked to fight the bitter cold. We ate more green beans, more canned beets and the last of our bacon. We huddled closer together, warming our hands by the fire.
We were getting a little cagey. Mom could tell we both needed a distraction so she asked me if I finally wanted to learn how to stitch. Usually her requests for me to learn to stitch were met with groans and dramatic rolls of my eye. I’d take those back now if I could. I miss my Mama everyday even all these years later and I regret all the sass I gave her. But that day, learning to stitch seemed like a grand idea. Planning is the first step of any thing good, so we talked over what our first project would be. I knew from the start I wanted it to say “For you, there’s Rosemary and Rue”. My Mama thought we should write the whole verse, which suited us well, especially as we were trying to gracefully weather a hard winter.
We opened up her cedar chest, which was a rare treat. The earthy scent enveloped me and I closed my eyes as my Mama lifted up a box of colorful thread, with fabric and a hoop. Again, I felt joy. And connected to my Mama in a special way, like I knew her secrets. Even now a whiff of cedar takes me back to that very second.
We stitched. We talked. We stitched more. My Daddy–he was there, quietly, but in my memories, it’s just me and my Mama, endlessly stitching, talking, laughing, loving.
The third blizzard swallowed the world.
Walking outside meant risking your life. We lost one of our cows and 4 of our chickens. With snow so thick you couldn’t see, keeping the livestock close and alive proved impossible. And still, we stitched. It was during the third blizzard, when it snowed so hard the whole sky was white, that I first noticed my Mama’s cough. But still, we stitched and we talked and we laughed. That laughter was ending with coughs more often than it didn’t. Mama always kept a good herb garden, and we had lots of dried herbs in our kitchen. I made her tea with honey and brought her blankets to keep warm.
The fourth blizzard swallowed our lives.
Drifts of snow higher than the walls of our house made any notion of escape or rescue impossible.
We had no way to contact anyone.
Actually, after all the snow melted, we found a pallet of food and supplies that the government had dropped, but it had fallen silently in the snow and was covered instantly. We still had food thankfully, but our only water supply was melted snow.
My dad started fraying at the edges a bit-I’d call it cabin fever. My Mama said he was stir crazy. He yelled a lot. I think back on it now and I suspect my Daddy had a drinking problem, and he ran out of drink during the storm. Like a lot of people in these hills, my Daddy had a proper still. He’d built it a few years earlier and made a good drink. That still got busted up a few years later by Sheriff Oaks, like about half the rest of the county’s. I reckon not being able to get to his still was making my Daddy on edge.
We stitched. We whispered. We really didn’t laugh anymore. And my Mama’s cough got worse. I could see the worry behind her eyes.
We finished our stitching. It was beautiful, but it didn’t ring true anymore. We were not keeping our Seeming and Savour.
The fifth blizzard swallowed my Mama.
On the first day of that blizzard she started coughing up blood, and there was no help to be had. My Daddy, he was a mess. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to cry or hollar, so he settled on both.
I spent the days keeping the fire going, worrying about how small our log pile was, and making tea and food. In my spare time, I sat next to my Mama and read her Shakespeare. We’d been distracted by all the stitching and we hadn’t finished The Winters Tale, so I picked up where she left off. She savored the story, especially the part where Hermione, who had been frozen into a statue, came back to life. She laughed in delight when it happened, which set off a coughing fit that broke my heart.
She faded, and we tried to help, but we couldn’t. That Winter was a ravenous thief.
By the time the snow melted, my Mama was gone. She took my childhood with her, although it wasn’t her fault. Maybe it was the Winter that took that too. Couldn’t be helped, either way.
But after that, I was a woman, just as quick as a flash.
So I reckon I always kept this on my wall because it brings me memories of innocent joy, even as it follows them with heartbreak. It makes me feel, and I think that’s the most important part of being human, to feel.
Grace and Remembrance be to you.