The Delicate Dance

365-36The Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the little town no one’s ever been able to find on a map. If you hit the subscribe button to the right, the Chronicles will be delivered to your inbox every Friday.
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Ruth Goodwin pulled back the curtain on Edie’s front window to peer across Carding green.

“Are you sure they’ll come?” she asked again.

Edie smiled as she fished a set of heavy wine glasses from the deepest regions of the most seldom-used cabinet in her kitchen. Though not to her more simple taste, Edie treasured the gaudy stemware. They’d belonged to her grandmother, Kitty Wolfe.

Edie always thought of her grandmother as a no-nonsense kind of lady. Oh, Kitty baked her share of cookies, hosted Thanksgiving dinners, and tended cuts and bruises with solicitous care. But Kitty preferred things in her life to be rather stripped down and practical.

So why in the world did she own a dozen fluted glasses in swirls of deep autumn gold and overripe eggplant? They were so unlike her.

“Do you know if everyone got everything done?” Ruth called from the living room while Edie rinsed the drinking vessels under the tap then wiped them dry.

“I believe so,” she said. “I saw Lydie in the Coop yesterday, and she had just the one small garden by her front door left to cut down.”

“What about Agnes? There was still a lot of wood in their front yard when I drove by yesterday afternoon,” Ruth said.

Edie craned her head around the doorway so she could see her best friend. Of the two of them, Ruth had always worried more about…about everything, really. Agnes often teased her about being the lady with the permanently puckered brow.

Ruth caught the glance, and laughed at herself. “I know, I know,” she said. “But at my age, I’m scarcely going to change, am I?”

“Do you want to get your cake out on the table?” Edie suggested.

Ruth grinned. “So that I’ll stop fretting by the front window?” she said. “Sure.”

While some of the younger families in Carding relied on oil-burning furnaces for winter heat, and the shelves of the Coop for fresh veggies, the majority of Carding-ites loved the deep warmth of their woodstoves, and smothering their pancakes in applesauce that they’d canned themselves.

But participation in these Carding rituals meant stacking wood, gardening, and picking fruit on local farms in season.

And in the fall, these activities inevitably led to what Edie called “the delicate dance of autumn.”

“You have to hit it just right,” her friend Andy Cooper advised first-timers to the tradition. “If you start putting your wood up too early, you’ll die of the heat while you’re doing it. That’s definitely something you want to save for a cool day. And let your gardens go as long as you can because, you know, we spend a lot of time looking at white ground up here.”

The trouble with this timing issue is hitting the sweet spot of daytime temperatures cool enough to stack wood but not getting stuck cutting back your gardens in an early snow.

Locals knew that you could usually ignore the first swirl of frozen precipitation because “it wouldn’t stick.” But one year, that first snow came on October 15th, and it was deep, about ten inches. Then  it stayed cold.

“Froze my picnic table to the ground,” Andy said. “And I still had half my wood to stack.”

But this year, Vermont basked in a magical reprieve. Not only had the foliage been spectacular, the trees kept their color far longer than usual. In fact, Edie thought it rather too warm during the day to rake leaves.

No matter. Now was the time for the annual celebration with her friends, the moment when all the wood was in for the winter, all the gardens were cut back, all the summer furniture and boats were tucked away, and the snowblowers were primed to go.

Hence the gaudy glasses, the ones that looked like harvest to Edie’s eye and, she suspected, to her grandmother’s as well. They’d fill and refill them with wine or sherry over their traditional supper of roasted chicken, squash from Andy’s garden, potatoes from Lydie’s, onion dressing courtesy of Agnes’s dirt digging, and applesauce made from the fruit of the trees in Edie’s backyard.

She held one of the glasses up to the fading November light, admiring its rich color. Ready for winter.

At last.

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