If even one of you, my readers, has read any of Gladys Taber’s Stillmeadow books, I’d like to know. I read them as wandering but organized conversations with a well-read woman of sensibility and reflection, deceptively simple, unfailingly kind. Yes, what old-fashioned language I use here, because Gladys Taber is of another time. I sometimes feel when I look up from the pages as though she should be right across the table having a leisurely read with me. We’d debate many issues, because she doesn’t simply talk about the garden or her dogs, but issues of politics and society. We wouldn’t agree on many points, but that’s fine, because she understands as I try to, that agreement is never the measure of friendship. Respect is.
For while I am a modern woman in my feelings about the world, like Gladys, it is my time, my reading, my experiences and those of my extremely varied friends which have shaped my attitudes. The ecology and evolution of my world, my sense of fairness, my support of equality, and my sense of the needs of people across a range of living habits, these things have weight for me. Inside I hold the New Hampshire farmwoman that part of my heritage expected me to be. I always will. But my New Hampshire farmwoman has different decisions in her.
I love dirt, rain, the passage of seasons and the changes in my obligations as the year moves on. I smell rain on the air and my senses quicken. I step outside and if a bird calls in distress, I look for it, ready to interfere if I can help. Once it was a wren who’d fallen down a knot-hole into one of the porch supports. That took a saw to solve. Another time, a scrub jay had a hummingbird in its beak, but I could not catch up. Many times, a bird has flown into my studio and is trapped. This, despite my silly bead curtain over the door which I endure for all its glittering foolishness just so no bird will pass!
I cannot feel it right to let string beans grow coarse on the vine–I have a duty to pick. So, too, I have an obligation to the ripe plums glowing on the Santa Rosa, the soft fuzzed cheeks of peaches peeking from between the curving green leaves, the tomatoes half-hiding in the odoriferous tangle that makes my shirt stain yellow-green and stink the rest of the day. These growing things I planted have a claim upon me. And I must pick clean, take off the damaged or old fruit as well as all the perfect ones, or my neglected sins will wait and ripen to foulness. This is true, if you do not pick well of the harvest-ready fruit, the vines will stop setting new ones, figuring that their job is over– they have reproduced successfully and can shut down and die. Consequences everywhere, especially in the garden.
I read Gladys Taber, and she is the voice from far inside, the graying older friend companying me through the rows of beans, and taking up an eggplant to admire its glossy purple sides. She chats about ways of cooking, gently remarks about the difficulties of restraint when one’s soul yearns for cream but the scale frowns back. Her dogs bustle and snuff, knocking over the occasional seedling, but if one has dogs, what does one expect? They are an invitation to a fuller life, an extension of awareness and gratitude. Like children, inconvenient, but expanding experience and feelings. She pauses to watch the cat curl his paws over in sleepy satisfaction, by doing so she makes me notice, makes me remember. Pay heed to the small graces of daily passage.
So when I go on Goodreads how can I evaluate such a book? Indeed, Gladys isn’t one book, she is a march across the shelves of books, plain covered and simple like the voice in which she speaks. Some better, more poignant than others. I still harbor a deep pang in me too, for her beloved companion Jill’s dignified death from leukemia. I wish I had been there to keep Gladys a little company then, if, perhaps, she had wanted some. She had her land, her old house, had her children and Jill’s and the dogs and the cat, but the children by then moved in their own lives and children, and the dogs and cat could not speak. I feel from her pages about Jill’s passing a loss undemonstrative but unfinished, the kind of missing that becomes part of life, but is never past.
She is not a friend to everyone, she may ‘read’ too slow for some. Her events are small and daily, full of the many kinds of faith, journalistic in the sense of a diary. Maybe I am odd to like her so much, but so it is. If you are minded to try her, let me recommend The Stillmeadow Road, or Stillmeadow Daybook. Let me know.