The weather man is calling for a freeze this weekend, and just the thought of it sends me into a spin of stories. Perhaps this is part of the joy of living in the north where we have a freeze or a thaw or even a blizzard (sorry about that).

In my imagination I see folks gathering up the old worn sheets to place over plants to keep them safe for even just a few more weeks. I will do the same tonight, covering my rosemary and roses, although I will take a photo just in case the sheets don’t hold the freeze at bay.

During the farm years this was one of my favorite days. I can remember it as if it were yesterday. It seemed as if it was usually on a weekday, and I can see those three little boys of mine running home down the lane. They were no boys of fashion in those days. They wore flannel shirts from Penney’s and blue jeans … not the fancy kind. Once a year I would announce, “Tonight’s the night.” They knew exactly what that meant. The frost or freeze was coming and we all had to get to work. We hauled squash and pumpkins to the root cellar. We dug potatoes and set them out to cure or dry in the back of the barn. Onions and garlic were braided and hung in the kitchen by the wood stove. We covered the carrots with straw to keep from freezing in the ground. We spent hours working and preparing for the freeze.

We already had most of our firewood cut and stacked ready for the woodstove and the cook stove. The sheep’s wool was clean and carded and ready to make into sweaters and mittens. The pantry was full of hundreds of jars of tomatoes and sauces and jams and jellies. There were jars full of cider as well. I didn’t have a camera in those days, and sometimes I just ache knowing there are no photos of the work we did. But the truth is there wasn’t money for a camera or film, and there probably wasn’t much time for it anyway.

As we scurried along working, a pot of soup was always simmering on my old wood stove. Every once in a while, I went inside to place more wood on the fire and to give the soup a stir. As darkness fell, the five of us had done all we could do. We were tired but happy the harvest was in. There were still walnuts and hickory nuts to clean and field corn to pick (by hand), but we had saved the vegetables from the freeze.

Sitting down to dinner we gave thanks for our farm … for each other. I see them now as I write … these boys of mine. Dishes were a family chore along with stories of the day and the bedtime ritual, which consisted of reading. My three sons shared one room, and I read until they fell asleep every night. The last voice they heard every night of their childhood and teenage years was mine.

When the quilts were piled high and they were asleep, I made one last cup of tea and sat out on the porch swing. I pulled my own quilt around my shoulders and watched the lights of Doc’s tractor going up and down his farm fields. Doc was a night farmer, and it was my evening’s entertainment. I can still hear the squeak of the porch swing as I watched the night sky. It was quiet then without the stores that have rambled down the highway. I remember thinking to myself, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

In the pre-dawn hours I would awake before the boys, and build another fire in the stove for breakfast. As the sun crept up across the farm fields, the magic of the first frost glistened in the morning light. It was breathtaking even though I knew it was the end of the garden for another year.

Years later I still feel the magic even though everything for me is different. Everything changes. So on this morning of the first freeze we will talk about it at the farmers market today, and share our garden stories. And perhaps I might even recite a poem or two with you if we happen to meet. Just ask! I will be happy to share James Whitcomb Riley’s poetry anytime.

Happy harvesting.

LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola at the White Picket Gardens where you can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and a collector of front porch stories. She can be contacted at locke toftime@aol.com.

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