I didn’t just one day sit up in bed and say, I’m moving to the country. The seed had been planted long ago. I grew up in North Carolina in the fifties, back when it was mostly rural, when everyone bought their produce and eggs at the farmer’s markets, and it was no big whup. Just the way it was.
Back then summer seemed long, like a whole lifetime had passed by the time it was over. We spent the evenings catching fireflies and frogs and listening to the grownups tell stories on the screened porch in the lamplight. Until August. By August, the heat and humidity would be so bad anyone who could went to the beach, and so we’d pack up the station wagon head off for two weeks to the South Carolina shore.
One summer, July was just too much, too, and my parents said, we’re going to Maine for a week to visit friends. Maine might has well have been Mars for all I knew. I remember asking for grits in a café once we got there, and the waitress and my parents laughed. I remember learning what a cove was, that the ocean—a cool, blue grey color in Maine — could lap against the rocks of a cove as calmly as lake waves. Before that, I had only known the thundering waves of South Carolina beaches and the swell and fall of the inlets. In Maine, I learned that summer nights could require a sweater, of all things.
Anyway, the trip got my 10-year- old attention—narrow roads lined with huge evergreens, fields of Queen Anne’s lace (still my favorite wildflower) and those blue-grey coves.
Just past a cove and up a fir-lined dirt road, I saw the farmhouse where we’d be staying. Nothing like North Carolina—no Victorian turrets or wide, white painted verandas—just an old, weathered box of a house with a steep roof.
The people we were visiting seemed old, too, but they surprised me with their energy. No one had energy in the south in the summer except kids. They’d planned an excursion. Off we went in their truck to haul driftwood from the beach before dark. The hosts thought we might need a fire. A fire in July? Mars, definitely. Anyway, it was great for me. I was expecting the grown-ups to sit on the porch with iced tea and talk for hours. Instead, we were back at the cove—that word again—pulling driftwood over the rattling pebbles to the truck.
After that task was done, my brother and I were given pails and told to go pick blueberries. It all seemed weird to me. No one in the south expected their guests to do chores! But, we were free for however long it took to fill the pails. Not only that, I didn’t have to put on high boots because of copperheads. I wouldn’t even have to look down.
I remember the air smelled like the ocean even though I couldn’t see or hear the waves, only the wind through the deep green fir trees.
We filled our buckets, and then Helen — our hostess — said she needed help making blueberry pies. Now, I knew I was not in the south. I was a guest, working in the kitchen AND IT WAS FUN! Once the pies were in the oven, Helen said we needed to pick vegetables for the soup, and off we went again, trotting through the meadow and the Queen Anne’s Lace to the vegetable garden. I didn’t know you could live like that, going from one pleasant task to another, wearing old clothes, not having to make charming chit-chat.