Friday, 4 September 2009

Will all be safely gathered in?


Readers of my blog will remember that there is a field along the lane which has been planted with half oats and half barley. When I passed it on my walk yesterday it had still not been harvested, although they both looked very ripe - the barley a pale cream and the oats a deep gold. The reason it has not yet been cut is undoubtedly the weather. All week it has been sunshine and very heavy showers. Today it is cold, cloudy and very windy. But sooner or later the corn will all be cut and gathered in and it will be time for Harvest Festivals. Very tame affairs these days, when most people are not even aware of harvest taking place, but in Victorian times, and earlier, everyone in village life was involved in one way or another with harvest - and it was vital that the harvest was in before the bad weather in those days before modern machinery and grain driers.

Allow me to take you back to around 1946 in the Lincolnshire village where I grew up. Sorry folks, but it is nostalgia time again - do hope you will forgive me!


A Saturday in late September.


The weather is still, warm and sunny with a strong hint of Autumn in the air (well, come on, it is always warm and sunny in one's memories). I am thirteen or so and am up early gathering together produce to take in the wheelbarrow to the chapel just down the road - we are all meeting at ten am.

First, round the garden with the scissors to snip off the michaelmas daisies - they grow like weeds round here so there is no shortage. Then into the barrow go the conkers I gathered earlier in the week - shiny brown nuts still inside their splitting spiny green shells. Dad has nurtured his two best marrows. He cuts them with his knife and mother is on hand to wash and polish them, so that the green and yellow stripes sparkle in the sunlight. Half a dozen of our best potatoes, the ones with red "eyes" will have been washed and carefully dried - they go in too, along with our best tomatoes from the greenhouse, six brown eggs laid that morning, Bramley apples from our old tree - polished until they shine.When the barrow is full to overflowing I push it along the street to the chapel - only a few yards away.
Our chapel had a wooden dado all round the walls and a set of choir stalls in the corner. Already someone has stretched string all along the tops and we are soon pushing Michaelmas daisies into the string with bits of ivy trailing down here and there.

On the big trestle table in front of the altar someone has stretched a gleaming white damask cloth and now they are arranging all the produce. There are cabbages, scrubbed carrots, plenty of marrows, tomatoes, pots of jam made that year. Soon the table is groaning under the weight and the surplus is spread around the chapel - apples, pears and conkers are arranged along the pulpit rail. We do this every year and it makes for an exciting time at the Sunday service, especially if the preacher happens to be one of the "pulpit thumping" vatiety. Each time he bangs his fist down all the fruit wobbles and (if we are lucky) a conker, or an apple will fall off and bounce across the floor.

The eggs (were they really all deep brown?) are arranged in little nests of straw along the kneeling shelf. The best roses are put in a glass vase on the pulpit. Suddenly you become aware of that smell, that smell of Harvest Festivals - michaelmas daisies, new seasons apples, greenery - why doesn't someone market it in a bottle - I am sure it would sell well with the over sixties!

Then it is Sunday - "Come ye thankful people, come" - the chapel full to bursting with chairs in the aisles. After the service we make up the boxes of produce - each with eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, bread, jam and a few other "goodies" - to be taken to the ten Alms Houses in the village.

On the monday evening there is THE SALE in the Sunday School Room, where we all bid for our own produce, or somebody else's - pence, maybe a shilling or sometimes even half-a-crown. That money will go into a fund which will buy a bag of coal for each poor family in the village - to be given before the bad weather sets in.Only one thing remains - that is the wheatsheaf made out of bread and shining a deep golden colour. That will remain in the chapel until Christmas - a reminder that at harvest time we have a lot to be thankful for.


##The chapel - this is a modern photograph but the building and the street have changed little since the days when I lived there. The pink building is the Sunday School Room where we spent many happy hours in the winter playing "Oats and Beans and Barley Grow", or "Spinning the Breadboard" or "Postman's Knock" - games that have largely died out in these days of modern entertainment and television - but boy did we enjoy them in "the old days."

24 comments:

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Weaver:

What sweet, tender memories. No wonder you like to revisit and record them. I feel privileged to have been invited along on your stroll down memory lane.

steven said...

weaver what a gorgeous memory!!! i remember being in small country churches when my grandad was preaching (methodist) and the front of church would be loaded up with flowers and vegiies and fruit. the rest of the church i can't recall being decorated but certainly the entrance would be filled. but the smell of the gifts - it's so hard to describe it but that smell was the harvest smell for me. a good rich happy-making smell. it transformed the church. have a lovely day. steven

Heather said...

We are promised (?) a fine weekend so hopefully the oats and barley will be safely cut. What lovely memories of Harvest Festivals - I remember that smell too. Nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia Weaver - it is educational for your younger readers and very pleasing for the older ones. Our Festivals were held in the Parish Church. The produce displays began on the stone benches either side of the porch and even the windowsills were filled with fruit and vegetables. The pulpit and lid of the font disappeared under carefully arranged foliage and flowers. It was all beautiful, and as with yours, everything was distributed or auctioned for those in need. Happy days!

Golden West said...

This is my favorite of all your writings so far. You've drawn such a vivid and warm word picture that speaks to the soul of your village. Thank you for sharing this memory - I couldn't ask for a nicer start to the day.

Cathy said...

Thank you for sharing such beautiful memories. I wish my children could have experienced life even when I was a 13 year old. Life was so much more than television and cell phones. I miss my days in Sunday School and the smell of Kool Aid and cookies. I miss the smell of the hay being cut and long days of canning. I can see your church so vividly by your description and I would like some of that perfume if you find it!

willow said...

Lovely, lovely post. "Come ye thankful people, come" is a favorite hymn of mine. My heart wells up every time I hear it.

Pondside said...

You put me right there, Weaver.
When I read your words 'Sorry folks, but it is nostalgia time again' I was delighted because I knew I'd be in for a good read.

C Hummel Kornell a/k/a C Hummel Wilson said...

Weaver, I enjoy your writing so much. I, too, came from farming stock although it was in the Midwestern U.S. The memories of the smells, touch and taste of those times are still with me (especially new mown fields and for some unexplainable reason, the smell of newly turned rich soil). I need help, though, I cannot find out what a 'marrow' or a 'conker' is. Thought perhaps the marrow might be a squash, pumpkin or watermelon. As close as I could find for conker (other than some sort of modern game) is a snail. Please help, once you stop laughing!

Studio Sylvia said...

Weaver, once again, I settled down for a wonderful read. You are a gifted writer who engages those who visit - an inspiring storyteller. Thank you for those nostalgic images that I have conjured up. I don't have similar experiences of village life, so you took me on a journey of wonder.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

Church didn't feature greatly in my childhood but I always enjoyed the hymns we sang at school, highlighting each special time of the year and Harvest Festival was always one of them.

mizmollye said...

Hello Weaver, I cam here via Heather's blog. What a wonderful blog. I am linking to you in my post I will do for Labor Day on the 7th. Have a beautiful weekend.

acornmoon said...

My sister got married during harvest festival, I remember the church being decorated rather like your description. That was in the sixties, so not that long ago, well not to me but I'm getting on a bit!

Hildred and Charles said...

Thank you, Weaver, for wonderful memories, so beautifully written.

These old hymns (Come Ye Thankful People and We Plough the Fields and Scatter) evoke the pictures and the fragrance of Harvest Festival as it was then. And somewhat as it is now in a rural community, - the church is still decorated, and the roots and vegetables and fruits distributed, but there is not the same sense of community and thankfulness. Much of the produce comes from fruit stands. I love the description of how your family took part, - your mother polishing the vegetables, and the picture of you trundling the wheelbarrow to the church.

Your nostalgia is always welcome!

Leenie said...

I was unaware of such a tradition. It sounds wonderful! What a special way to give thanks for harvest blessings and provide for others as well. Much more giving and thoughtful than the U.S. Thanksgiving which has evolved into gluttony, football and family gatherings laced with resentment and offense. Our Thanksgiving is held far too late in the year as well. Bad for travel. More of an official opening to the season of greed. Sorry for the rant. Your post was well written, interesting and educational.

Linda said...

I am so excited because the church you pictured so resembles the churches that dot the landscape of every town of southern Ontario! Most pictures that leave England are of cathedrals. Churches like the variety in Ontario DO exist in England!

Every year our minister gathers fresh produce on the alter table from the congregation which is used through out Thanksgiving weekend to provide meals for homeless people. Corporations donate turkeys. We all sing "Come ye thankful people, come" AND, about those games.....
"you nor I nor anyone knows, where oats, peas beans or barley grows." My nephew and I still play!
I used to know a song about conkers too, but I can't remember it. thanks for the memories, Weaver!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks to you all for the comments - it seems that harvest festivals evoked memories for a lot of you. I was glad to see that the old games - oats and beans and barley grow, postman's knock and spinning the breadboard have not died out. Really they were all excuses to kiss the boys - didn't think anyone needed an excuse these days! If I could bottle that smell I would - looks like I would make a fortune selling it to you all. Have a good weekend.

Leilani Lee said...

Your posts are amazing, it surprises me not at all that 124 of us are following you. I'd follow you over hill and dale. Large rolls of hay are dotting the pastures. Rain is forecast, and one wonders if they will get it in before the rain comes. If it is put away damp, disaster looms

Titus said...

Wonderful memories, Weaver. Thank you.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Weaver of Grass, this poem I have written several years ago is maybe in tune with your latest post.
Best wishes, Davide

READY

Golden barley, tall, bending, ripe, passing by
you feel like tasting the thick bounty,
it must have grown, you think,
just in these latest days of your distracted travelling,
as if taking you by surprise, -Already,
you hear yourself say watching the field;
and when in that dense body of stalks
you see a squared section taken away
you want to shout into the razed patch:
“Give the next to me, now I am ready.”

Leigh Russell said...

Oh the good old days . . . have we really made any progress at all?

BT said...

Another beautifully written post Weaver. I so enjoyed it. We used to have a fantastic harvest festival at both my junior and grammar schools. I loved to see all the produce that was brought. My father grew quite a few vegetables, so I always had plenty to take in. I can feel the atmosphere in the school hall now. Thank you for that.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Another lovely post ,Weaver,golden memories so warm and inviting.What struck me most, as well as the goodness of the food, was the goodness of the people.How did we become so insular and selfish?

Linda S. Socha said...

Lovely post Weaver. I feel as if I am strolling with you and glad to have been invited
Linda

Mistlethrush said...

What a lovely post - thanks. I know what you mean about society, generally, feeling remote from harvesting now - even though we all have so much to be grateful for (and not least to the farmers for nurturing it all).