By Joann M. Ringelstetter
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Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day and this story is dedicated to my mother, Dorothy Rose Barman Ringelstetter. Memories fade over time, so the storyteller in me might be embellishing things a bit, but it is mostly an accurate picture of how things were.
A well-worn path led from the driveway to the enclosed back porch of the old farmhouse on Elder Lane. The weathered wooden steps were often covered with dew in the early morning shade.
On one side of the porch steps, along the full length of the front of the house, was a colorful parade of flowers, each one opening up in its own time to the morning light. There were bright pink bleeding hearts, one of Mom’s favorites, usually blooming around Mother’s Day.
There were tulips of ivory, primrose, and crimson colors, waiting to be picked and admired in a bouquet of fresh flowers.
And delicate lilies of the valley surrounded all the other flowers and were a beautiful addition to a vase filled with spring flowers.
Shortly after the bleeding hearts and tulips had faded away, there were bright purple irises to brighten our days.
As spring gave way to summer, there were multi-colored gladiolas to enjoy.
On the other side of the steps, a white trellis leaned against the side of the porch. It was covered with periwinkle morning glories that had not yet acknowledged the dawn. A cool breeze often carried the sweet smell of the honeysuckle bush on that corner of the porch.
In the morning, after milking cows, feeding calves, and cleaning the barn, we would follow Dad into the old porch, eager to fill our hungry stomachs with a hearty breakfast. The heavy wooden screen door would slam behind us as we set down the galvanized milk pails full of fresh milk, slipped off our barn boots, and hung up our jackets.
In the mornings, the sun streamed into the east windows of the porch, flooding the wooden floorboards with warmth and splashing against the side of a dilapidated commode that stood just inside the door. The light oak veneer was peeling and faded from the southern exposure to the sun. The drawers were sticky and the handles were loose and mismatched. The top was covered with yellowed newspaper that was stuck to the commode in places. This ramshackle piece of furniture signaled the change in seasons as surely as did the change in the weather.
In the spring, plastic trays were crowded together on top of the newspaper, each one filled with seedlings that were bending toward the sunlight.
In the summer, it held boxes of fresh Georgia peaches, ripening in their crinkly pink tissues and waiting for the chance to drip down somebody’s chin. There were also tomatoes and pears ripening on the windowsills.
In the fall, a bushel basket or two of crisp Macintosh apples stood in the autumn sunlight, soon to be made into applesauce or apple crisp. And in the winter, hot pumpkin or apple pies warmed the top of the commode as they cooled in the chilly air.
Year ‘round, Mondays were wash days in the old porch. Luckily, the porch was pretty big because there were usually seven or eight piles of dirty clothes that had been separated by color and type. This was always the scene on wash day, when Mom started washing at the crack of dawn in order to get everything hung on the clothesline early enough to get dry before dusk.
Each pile would be washed in the wringer washing machine, pushed through the wringer to wring out the soapy water, rinsed by hand in the steel tub connected to the washing machine, tediously pushed through the wringer again (which had been swung from the washer to the steel rinsing tub) to wring out the rinse water, and then hung out to dry. I can still hear the sound of the wringer washing machine, wearily churning a load of heavy overalls.
And I can still remember how tired Mom looked sometimes, working on the farm and taking care of us and all of our needs. She worked from before sun-up until way past sun-down most days and she rarely complained. We owe a lot to her for all she did for us and for helping to shape us into the individuals we are today. This July, it will be 34 years since she left us. We know she is enjoying her rewards in heaven, but we still miss her very much.
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Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, and Happy Shunpiking!