Writers and the Month of July

This week, I heard several different people moaning about the end of summer, even though it is just now July 21. I wanted to proclaim, “There are nearly two months left of summer! Don’t wish them away!”  Then, today, because our patio umbrella was ruined in a storm, we were trying to find a replacement. The manager of the outdoor department at our local Wal-Mart told me they didn’t have any and wouldn’t be getting anymore in stock because it is “nearing the end of the season.”

I got my chance, and I vented in frustration because we had already been to seven different stores by then. Perhaps first-days-of-school being pushed further back (our public school begins on August 12 this year) drives stores to think about school shopping and fall schedules, which in turn affects everyone’s belief that summer is over when it really isn’t.

I began to wonder about the month of July in years past. Did our grandparents think of July as the end of summer? Here are some quotes written in and about the month of July, dating as far back as 1827.

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“July 15th –Have finished “Little Women,” and sent it off, —402 pages. May is designing some pictures for it. Hope it will go, for I shall probably get nothing for “Morning Glories.” Very tired, head full of pain from overwork, and heart heavy about Marmee, who is growing feeble.” –Louisa May Alcott (from The Portable Louisa May Alcott, edited by Elizabeth Lennox Keyser).

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“Summer! Glowing summer! This is the month of heat and sunshine, of clear, fervid skies, dusty roads, and shrinking streams; when doors and windows are thrown open, a cool gale is the most welcome of all visitors, and every drop of rain is ‘worth its weight in gold.'” [written concerning England in July 1825] –William Howitt

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“July 27th. If only I don’t think—if only I don’t think and remember—how can I not get well again here in the beauty and the gentleness? There’s all next month, and September, and perhaps October too may be warm and golden. After that I must go back, because the weather in this high place while it is changing from the calms of autumn to the calms of the exquisite alpine winter is a disagreeable, daunting thing. But I have two whole months; perhaps three.” –Elizabeth von Arnim (from In the Mountains)

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“There is a hotel on Broadway that has escaped discovery by the summer-resort promoters. A few have found out this oasis in the July desert of Manhattan. During that month you will see the hotel’s reduced array of guests scattered luxuriously about in the cool twilight of its lofty dining-room, gazing at one another across the snowy waste of unoccupied tables, silently congratulatory.” –O. Henry (from “Transients in Arcadia”)

I concur with Elizabeth von Arnim (whose Elizabeth and her German Garden is one of my very favorite works) when she states that the whole month of August and September and possibly even October are still warm months to be enjoyed.

My great-grandparents (my paternal grandmother’s parents) were hard-working, honest farmers. I inherited the letters my great-grandmother wrote to her daughter and found that July was an important month on the small farms of America in the 1900s.  Grandma Lottie canned everything from tomatoes to pickles, Grand-Dad overexerted himself with haying, and both of them struggled with the heat and few modern conveniences, but I found this excerpt most interesting.

It was July, 1968, and their oldest grandson David had just received his letter from the draft board. They dreaded that letter, probably envisioning the worst. Grandma Lottie expressed her worry by cooking:   “…David got to Fort Leonard Wood midnight the 25th. He told Stevie [his brother] Tuesday night to tell the family he didn’t want anyone but his daddy to go to the bus with him. So I had them for dinner Wednesday. I knew pork chops was his favorite meal.”

Well, that will put a lousy old (or new) umbrella into perspective for you. I found examples of wars, battles, deaths (Jane Austin and Percy Shelley), and births (Emily Bronte and Beatrix Potter) in my search. July was signing of the Declaration of Independence. July was the French revolution. It was July when Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon.

July may be a lot of things, but I refuse to admit it is the end of summer!

Gravel Roads and Brush Arbor

Think about the many different types of roads. There are neighborhood streets and busy interstates. Footpaths in the grass. Dirt roads. Two-lane highways. Long, winding driveways. Mountainous roads. Roads that lead somewhere. Dead ends. Lake access roads.

The book I want to discuss today is not available to read because there are only a handful of copies of it in the world. In the introduction, the writer states:

“This narrative is dedicated to country roads:  some graveled, some still mud and some leading nowhere. What is wonderful is knowing that country roads are filled with the lives of so many others who traveled them years past and thanks to those hearty souls, you are allowed choices they could only dream of. No matter how high a man may rise, perhaps to being the richest man in the world, you can be assured that even on those roads paved with gold, there is an old country road which allowed him to get where his is.”

Sixteen years ago, before my grandpa passed away, my mom took the time to interview him and used his memories to write a book for my sister and me (of his days before we knew him). Here is the title page she created:

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As I was re-reading the book this past week, I remembered that old gravel road in Mercer, Missouri and its importance in my life. As a young girl, I walked the road, gravel crunching beneath my feet, loose stones rolling away as I passed my Grandpa’s angus cattle in the fields, the cows sometimes mooing their complaint at my intrusion in their territory. I always paused on the “bridge,” a two-board creation, to watch the creek moving beneath me. Later, as a teenager, I learned to navigate the two boards as I drove my grandpa’s pickup to town.

Here is the first paragraph of the book my mom wrote. She is such a gifted writer. I hope to publish this book at some point, as it represents so many others from the “Greatest Generation” who lived through world wars, the Great Depression, and learned to work hard, love through action, and worship God without fail.

“It was a cold November morning in a small rural area of Northern Missouri. Frozen haze was hanging over the curving creek bed and sweeping along the banks as far as the eye could see. The creek ran north to south, giving the illusion of something much larger than it actually was, while the craggy edges jutted in and out of the landscape, but always within a narrow curvature created by mother nature herself. The old house, sitting on the hill one half mile west of the creek, was creaking and sagging in places, while the shutters on the windows were painted white with hoary frost, and the smoke from the chimney curled endlessly into the sky. Inside the house the air was warm and inviting, interrupted by the whimpering cries of a newborn. Carl Vatus and Veta Fonabelle Gibson Porter were parents of a bouncing baby boy. The date was November 19, 1919, and the baby was named Doral Vatus.” (Shirley Porter, 1999)

The most special time of the year for my grandpa was July because that meant the churches would gather for Brush Arbor days (representing the old-time campmeetings of long ago). I was there for the first service, alongside my grandpa, as I was visiting him that summer. I celebrate my heritage, from that old gravel road and the influences of those who were born, lived, and died within a mile of that end of it.