Every year at this time, I drive down into the Connecticut River Valley, down through Northfield and Sunderland and Hadley, to buy my winter supply of onions and potatoes, plus winter squash and apples, and a few other things that will keep in my root cellar. This way, I don’t have to think about buying winter vegetables again until spring. I have done this so many years, I can no longer count how long this has been my custom. This year was especially exciting as one of my friends from my growing up years moved to Amherst in the beginning of September. She had lived for years in San Francisco until she and her husband moved to Washington D.C. a couple of years ago. That was certainly a lot closer but a move to Amherst put her practically in my back yard. I went down to welcome her on Saturday, which so happened to be one of the most magnificent days of the summer, so far. Cloudless, cobalt blue skies. Warm but not hot sun. Gentle breezes. The harvest was in progress on the fields of all the farms I passed on the way down. What could be a better setting to renew a friendship?
Mimi and I went through high school together. We listened for hours on end to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (and sometimes laughed hysterically at the wry irony of the lyrics and the comedic intrusion of the tuba and exalting horns). “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64,” sounded to us like twenty lifetimes away. Subsequently, we discovered our love for classical music, not as much of a contradiction as that may sound. Mimi had a passion and a talent for modern dance and even danced for a brief period with the Jose Limon dance troupe in New York City. This would have been in the 1960s. I sometimes accompanied her in to New York so she could attend her dance classes. After, we would explore Greenwich Village where we would eat at exotic food stands and buy unusual earrings at bohemian stalls several steps down from the sidewalk. There was a sense of freedom in all of this, a sense of new beginnings and a great big world out there ahead of us. We grew up together with these expectations.
So here we are, more than forty years later, with most of that great big world now having been encountered, digested, analyzed, laughed at and mourned over. It seems almost impossible that we are at an age where we are able to look back further than we will ever again be able to look forward. I picked Mimi up a bit before lunch and we set forth. I wanted to find a pumpkin, for starters. We pottered along, admiring the old tobacco barns, many of them now used for purposes other than drying tobacco. The open stretches of field all around us created a big sky and made us think of the Midwest. Corn had already been cut, leaving that distinctive autumnal stubble. Great coils of bittersweet wrapped itself around trees and telephone poles, turning itself red from the effort. Occasionally we’d slow for a big wide tractor lumbering down the road, many of them pulling large wagons loaded with squash or pumpkins. They were headed, we assumed, to the farm markets of Northampton or Amherst. Weathered wooden stands set close to the roadside displayed bright bunches of multi-colored zinnias in Mason jars, $5 a bunch, an honor system box beside them. We saw pumpkins big enough to wage war and cabbages too (“that would make a lot of galumpkies,” Mimi commented as we encountered a monster bigger than a basketball), all massive examples of the abundance of summer. Many varieties of winter squash spread across lawns, boxes of tomatoes sat under umbrellas, pots of purple asters and orange mums lined the roadways, all beauty queens hoping to be noticed. We noticed. We bought. We filled the trunk.
Toward the end of the day, we spotted a yard sale with abundant offerings. There had been many, all day, but our focus had been the farm stands. This one, however, seemed tempting. Clothing on hangers, tables laden with what seemed like the contents of an entire kitchen, furniture, sports equipment, books. We caused a bit of a traffic hazard by stopping short. It wasn’t what we had hoped and the prices were high. Mimi found a basket for $5, bargained it to $3, still too much, but she was happy with it when we got back into the car. Onward to Sunderland where, again, a yard sale in front of one of those huge old dowagers that line the main street caught our attention. We stopped again. It was 4 p.m., close to closing time. Some of the tables were covered with plastic, they were already packing it in. Nothing much to shout about. We sauntered back toward the car. On the curb, Mimi noticed a pile marked “free.” We started to pick through the offerings. I found what appeared to be a big white tablecloth, big enough for my dining room table. I tucked it under my arm. Mimi discovered a poster and a frame. A bag full of pine cones. My eyes focused on a bread box — sapphire blue, a good match for my kitchen. It was in perfect condition, just a little dust. I have never had a bread box before. It struck me as a sensible idea. I picked that up as well. Was it really free? We re-checked the sign. It seemed to be so. We hustled back across the road to our car, feeling a bit like fugitives, packed our treasures in around the pumpkins and cabbages and headed back toward Amherst.
When I got home, I opened up the tablecloth, expecting to find a hole or a large red wine stain. Nothing. It was perfect. And it fit my table. I have looked for a tablecloth big enough for that table for years. I pulled things out of the pantry and put the bread box in and then fit everything back in around it. It looked like it was meant to be there. Mimi reported that she had already arranged the pine cones in the basket, a fall centerpiece for their new table. What’s next? There’s still a lot of poking around to do before snow.