By Brenda Reeser
May is here at last! It’s a hopeful time allowing for the celebration of various May Day traditions and activities throughout the world. There is Maypole dancing. In some countries people decorate their homes with flowers and greens hoping that the “vegetation spirits” will bring a healthy garden crop. Young girls are asked to make garlands from fresh flowers. There are parades and processions to churches. It’s a time for love and romance. We all know that!
Here in these Catskill Mountains heavy overcoats are shaken, plumped, aired and put in the upstairs closet. Mittens and hats are placed in the proper drawer and our woolies are washed, neatly folded and put away. There are serious housecleaning chores that have to be done; washing windows, cleaning the pantry, the wood-box and vacuum cleaning under the sofa. Some homes in the country call for the chimney sweep after a long season of fires in a wood-burning stove. Then the preparations for the flower and vegetable gardens begin.
There are new scents and sensations. The unctuous, oily smells of the earth in these Catskill Mountains permeate throughout. Everything is in bloom. Doug and I look for wildflowers when walking through the woods. We have to direct our eyes to the ground and look carefully for white trillium or trout-lily. And we are joyful when we can identify jack-in-the-pulpit, a signature wildflower in the spring. The fragrance of large bouquets of lilacs stays in our home. It’s a favorite flower of mine.
There are distinctive moments or memories in my life and one that comes to my mind is Mother’s Day or, because my parents were German, Muttertag,which in Germany and the United States is always celebrated on the second Sunday of the month. German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: “von Vater hab ich die Statue, des Lebens ernstes Fuhren, von Mutterchen die Frohnatur und Lust zu fabulieren.” My cousin Bodo helped with the translation: “Of father I have the stature, life’s serious behavior. Of little mother the cheerfulness and joy to fantasize.” Note: Mutterchen is a loving form of talking about one’s mother.
On Mother’s Day when I was a young girl I would go to the apple orchard in the early morning to look for violets. Finding these small, colorful flowers was difficult when walking through fresh grass wet with dew. It was also labor intensive because I had to be careful not to break the thin, delicate stems. When I had a child’s fistful I would place them in the smallest container I could find. A schnapps glass was usually the perfect vase for me, and I was happy that I could adorn the table with this ever-so-tiny token. Later, my mother would find a more appropriate, pretty vase, expressing what a lovely bouquet I had picked. The rest of the day was spent trying to be good and to stay clean.
My mother recognized and paid tribute to all holidays, so on Mother’s Day she prepared German rouladen or meat rolls filled with bacon, pickles, and onions that was a family favorite. A linen tablecloth and napkins were brought out from a special cupboard and I was allowed to help set the table with her best china, ever so careful when handling each plate.
After Doug and I were married we would often celebrate at the Andes Hotel with my mother and our Dingle Hill neighbors and friends, Don and Sonja Baylis. The hotel dining room was filled with families from the community. Most families owned farms. They were hardworking people creating a wonderful human community. There was a sense of harmony and balance as conversations consisted of the difficulties of winter and farm life: cattle and crops and how to pay for the repairs on machinery. However, these farmers were always trusting that despite the hardships they would be able to get through them.
In May (or late April) Doug and I pick our own ramps that grow wild on our property. Ramps are part of the onion family. Both the bulb and the broad green leaf are edible. Like the delicate violets I picked when I was a child, digging ramps out of the ground is labor intensive because the bulb is difficult to retrieve. I don’t have the patience nor the strength that my husband does and often come up with a disappointing fistful of green leaves. There is much teasing and bantering as we work together. Satisfied with a partially full paper bag we begin our walk home. Doug rinses them with the outside garden hose before bringing them into the kitchen.
As a welcome back ceremony that is beginning to become a tradition, we invite our snowbird friends to share these special vegetables. I have a recipe that uses ramps, smoked fish, a vinaigrette and cubed apples to make for an interesting, crunchy salad.
Doug and I believe in the special Catskill mountain cadences and changes that take place and we look forward to discovering new things, especially embracing the warmth, sunshine and nurturing of summer days to come. ~