Friday, April 06, 2007

New Life

from Jacqueline

It’s my favorite time of year on this side of the pond, and pretty much anywhere I’ve ever been, to tell you the truth. It’s springtime, with new lambs gamboling across the patchwork-quilt fields that surround my parents’ house, and the woodlands are carpeted with primroses, bluebells and delicate white wood-anemones – and the weather is perfect, with bright sunshine and just a hint of a nip in the air, which makes for great hikes across the countryside. You see, I’m a country kid at heart, despite the buzz I get from being in New York, or the fact that I could wander the streets of London for hours, and that I love San Francisco with a passion. This is where I began, and Easter happens to be the holiday closest to my heart. And it’s not just because Britain is chocolate-Easter-egg-central. It’s special, you see, because it’s the time of new life, and the land is just about bursting with it.

There’s one particular Easter that sticks in my mind from childhood. It was close to the end of term, coming up on the Easter of my ninth year, when Mrs. Boulding, our class teacher, asked us all to bring an egg or two to school because we would be “blowing eggs.” This amounted to almost organized anarchy. We pierced the egg at each end with a pin, then blew the yolk and white out of one end to be left with an empty shell. Then we had to varnish the eggs to strengthen the shell before decorating them. I still remember it – what a lark! There were kids covered in egg contents everywhere. But the thing I remember most was our local vicar, coming into the classroom for a special lesson afterwards.

Being a parish school (most local schools in England were, historically, founded by the church), there were still links with the local church, so the Reverend Bradshaw came in once a term to talk to each class. Most of us gazed out of the windows across the fields, or passed notes back and forth, or you’d suddenly feet the whack of a marble on the back of your head and you scowled at the culprit before sending a note back that you would get him later. And all the while the poor old reverend was oblivious to what was going on in the classroom.

But on this day, about half-way through his soliloquy he had our undivided attention. He began speaking about the meaning of Easter, about new life, and what it truly meant, and as he did so he picked up one of the eggs. But it wasn’t an empty egg, its contents already blown into the glass bowl. No, this was an egg ready to crack and splatter the man with yuk if he grasped it any harder, and not one child moved, watching that egg as he waved it around while he talked of Easter and the miracle of life. We were all a bit disappointed when he made a clean getaway after the lesson.

We broke up for the holiday that afternoon – my decorated egg was in bits by the time I’d walked home. The following day – Good Friday – after a breakfast of Hot Crossed Buns (traditional Good Friday treat, a bit like a current bread roll with a pastry cross on the top, if you haven’t had them – and they’re best hot or toasted, hence the name), my brother and I went down to the farm with our mother and the other women who worked on the land.

When I was a child, there weren’t many jobs around in rural areas for women who needed to work, but wanted a bit of flexibility because they had children. Farm work was pretty much the only option where we lived, so not only did my mother work on the farm, but from the age of about six, that’s where I earned my pocket money too.

It was freezing cold with snow on the ground, and the job in hand was that of gathering spent hop bines into big mounds and then burning them – and already the bright green shoots of new hops were bursting through. All the kids were working because everyone wanted to get home, and it was nasty work as hop bines can scratch your hands and arms to shreds, especially old ones that had been sitting around throughout the winter. The fact that it was bitter outside didn’t help, so it was a tired group of women and children who made their way slowly up the lane late that afternoon, with the light fading and snow falling around us.

Our silence was broken when my mother shouted at us to stop, because in the field right next to the lane, a ewe was in the midst of giving birth. At first the women were worried that she was in trouble, but then the lamb began to be born, and we all drew nearer to watch. I’ll never forget that Good Friday, that last snow of the year as it fell around us, a motley group watching a lamb coming out into the world, the mother licking her newborn onto unsteady legs, then both of them taking cover under the hedge. I was told to run back to fetch the farmer, because more hay would be needed before the night was out, and at least one new lamb had to be brought in from the cold.

Though I can hardly claim to have had great philosophical thoughts as a nine-year-old, I remember thinking, in the darkness of my room that night as the snow pattered against the windowpanes, about the Reverend Bradshaw and what he said about new life, and what it all meant. I thought about that tiny lamb coming to its feet, and what a wonder it was to see it born.

I thought about it again today, as I was driving along the country lanes, looking out to the fields, seeing the newborn lambs on unsteady legs.

So, I wish you a lovely Easter time, and here’s to new life, and everything that means, no matter how old you are, or what time of year it is in your part of the world.

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  1. And a lovely Easter to you as well.

  2. Thank you for taking us with you on your memory lanes. It was lovely.

  3. We are anxiously awaiting the birth of our first grandchild this Easter week. She is due any day now, so your blog was especially meaningful as I sit waiting and worrying, chewing my fingernails. Thank you for painting such lovely pictures in my eager but apprehensive head.

  4. So beautiful, Our J. I always got a new dress to wear to church for Easter, usually a frou-frou chiffony sort of thing and a new pair of patent-leather shoes, too. Maybe the new outfit was symbolic of Spring, though I never thought of it that way until your post.

    Sounds like you're having a wonderful time. Send our regards to your mum and dad.

  5. What a lovely Easter memory, J!

    I've always wanted to use "gamboling" in a sentence. But with the stuff I write, it's more likely to be "gambling."

  6. Hello one and all. Wow, Debby, a new baby at Eastertime - many blessings to you and yours. And Patty, maybe you should go out and treat yourself to a new Easter outfit, something springlike - and thanks for remembering my parents.

    I love the word "gamboling" - it always sounds so free and joyous. Guess gambling's like that if you're a winner.

    Jim - have a great giggle with your kids this weekend.

  7. Hello one and all. Wow, Debby, a new baby at Eastertime - many blessings to you and yours. And Patty, maybe you should go out and treat yourself to a new Easter outfit, something springlike - and thanks for remembering my parents.

    I love the word "gamboling" - it always sounds so free and joyous. Guess gambling's like that if you're a winner.

    Jim - have a great giggle with your kids this weekend.

  8. Thank you, Jackie, and Happy Easter to you and yours.

    Tom, T.O.

  9. Jacqueline,

    I want to run barefoot through your childhood memories!! :-D This one was wonderful. I used to enjoy rambles and gambols through the bush near our house: read tall thin trees and scrubby forest. But some moments of time were truly wonderful and transcendental. Like the morning I walked into the cool dewy edge and just caught a single shaft of sunlight hitting a cobwebbed tussock of grass. Every dew drop glistened like many coloured diamonds. I wish I could remember enough of the details to paint it. :-D

    Meanwhile, Happiest of Easters to everyone!


  10. Isn't it lovely when we remember those moments in the past - and sometimes they are just moments - that seem filled with grace. It's sometimes so easy to remember the troubled times, without reflection upon the simple things that gave us pause for thought and warmed our hearts. Easter always seems the right time to do that.

  11. Oh that looks like a *good* egg, very much like Our J! Well, you are of course slightly less chocolate-y, but no less fine.

    I got to see a new crop of spaniel puppies the other day in Sausalito. Melted my tiny black heart.

    I always think of the old days on my morning school bus, in springtime... five miles into Carmel from the Highlands, up the coast highway. We'd come out of the woods at Point Lobos to see the little bay of San Jose Beach sparkling below us on the left, with round green hills rising lushly away to our right.

    At the crest of the road was an old ranch with an iconic Cypress tree out front (long since cut down, but preserved in a split second of The Graduatesince Dustin Hoffman races past it in his Alfa-Romeo when he's chasing Katharine Ross from Berkeley to LA).

    We'd roll to a stop for the three sisters who lived in a tiny red house there. The bus door would swing wide to let them in, along with the smell of sweet hay and salt water.

    This time of year you'd always see a doe-eyed foal or two, peeking out from between the whitewashed planks of pasture fence. Fat mares ambled up from behind, quick to impart a "mustn't stare" maternal nudge--nose-to-flank--should their nickers of caution be ignored.

    Our bus would start up again, diesel growl going high and thin as we swooped down into a green bowl of valley. We'd look for fresh calves in the black herd grazing near the monastery.

    Here's a watercolor someone did from inside Point Lobos, sans cows...

    Best bus ride ever....

  12. Oh, Cornelia, this is beautiful. I can just see the whole bus-ride in my mind's eye - complete with those foals. I went for a ride yesterday, cantering across the fields, and through the woods (thanks to the neighbors who have horses) - then stopping at the pub, where we all (and the horses) had a cool beer. We passed a field with a Shetland pony and her foal - probably not much bigger than those spaniel pups! Oh, what a joyous day. Happy Easter!