First Frost

Mom and I walked briskly away from our farmyard buildings. Mom wore a brown plaid jacket and carried a large wicker hamper. The hamper fascinated me. I had a foggy memory of it coming into our household years before, filled with large bunches of dark purple grapes. Since then, it has been lined with fresh newspaper each year and used to carry mushrooms we picked.

Warm afternoon sunshine reassured me we’d have many more warm days before winter. Last night had been very chilly, reminding me of the beastly cold winter nights to come. Shaking off thoughts of both cold weather and my fifth-grade schoolroom confinement earlier in the day, I skipped and gamboled alongside Mom as we walked down the cow lane between fields. I was excited to go with her to our neighbor’s back forty to pick mushrooms.

Stumps of trees cut down years before dotted a small portion of our neighbor’s field. Thousands of small mushrooms grew around each trunk and along the deteriorating roots radiating from them. The small, newly emerged mushrooms are called buttons. They grew quickly from one day to the next. The mature mushrooms had light colored caps with dark brown gills underneath and looked like small umbrellas. Big or small, they all tasted wonderful when Mom sliced and fried them in bacon grease. 

It didn’t take long to fill the wicker hamper. Knowing we would find just as many mushrooms when we came back the day after tomorrow, we headed home. The sun was lower in the sky and didn’t feel quite as warm as earlier.

The few leaves still clinging to the trees in our woodlot were colorful. It was early October. I knew my parents had their wedding anniversary soon. As we trudged up the hill back to our farmyard, I asked Mom to tell me about the day she and Daddy had married.

Smiling at happy memories, she dreamily related, “We married on the 8th of October in 1934. It was a very warm fall. On the day of my wedding a huge bank of red salvia bloomed in the garden. I arrived at church late because we had to wait for the pies my sister was baking for the reception to be done. We heard the church bells ringing as we pulled out of our drive way.”

I exclaimed, “I’ll bet Daddy was worried and wondering where you were!”

 Mom nodded and continued her familiar story, “Our reception after church was in my Ma’s yard. We held a dance that night at Wenzel’s granary. The Wenzel family had come over from Germany with Ma and had settled in the neighborhood. A lot of people stood around in the dark yard visiting with each other, enjoying the very warm evening. After the dance we went home to this very farm.”

“The next day Daddy got up as usual to milk the cows. When I looked out the window above the kitchen sink in his farmhouse, I saw a whole row of red geraniums along the cow yard. Grandma Altmann had planted them.”

I commented, “Gee, usually in October, there aren’t all kinds of flowers blooming. Wasn’t that kinda unusual?”

Mom explained, “We got married right in the middle of the Great Depression. The whole world was off balance, money was hard to come by and even the weather was unusual. In 1934, we didn’t have our first frost until Halloween!”

As I grew up, I learned in school how 1934 was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. Mom was right about the weather being off balance then, too. Drought and excessive heat worsened everyone’s financial plight. Farm crops failed to grow. Gardens women planted didn’t produce. They were forced to start winter without canned vegetables for their hungry families. That year Daddy had plowed the swampland on our farm and planted a crop. He’d never done that before, nor was ever able to ever do it again.

This fall as I prepare my garden for the winter, I’m thinking about how Mom said the whole world was out of balance the year she married. Although our first frost came long before Halloween this year, our world feels just as out of balance now as it was back then. After 1934 passed, things slowly got better. I believe the same will happen after the year 2020 ends. 

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