Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why "Beech Croft"?

Get comfy. Want to get you settled into Beech Croft.

A croft is a very small farm. Underline very. Farther back than I can remember, a mean Shetland pony named Joey had a stall in the brown barn. My oldest brother, Paul, bought chicks each spring. They grew to replace the current batch of egg-makers which, in turn, were promoted to main course features for Sunday dinners. To deliver the eggs around our village, Paul loaded cartons on the cart behind Joey who behaved better in harness than when either of the boys tried to ride him. Dad and my brothers also raised dogs. The boys had hounds. Dad raised cocker spaniels. Plus a succession of single canines came and went - an Irish Retriever, a Dalmatian, a Golden Retriever, a Spaniel/Collie mix. Some even gained access to the people house.

One of Mom’s stories was about my brother, Hugh, asking the meaning of “confusion”. Her answer was, “When I’m trying to make dinner and you two and your Dad and the puppies are in the kitchen, that’s ‘confusion’.”

The rest of the livestock consisted of a barn cat that, judging by his wounds, survived some vicious battles, and two rabbits noted for the brevity of their stay. Mom traded them, hutch and all, to a chap for a bunch of prize-winning gladiolas – a bouquet of cut flowers for two rabbits and their cage!

So much for the “croft”. As for “beech”, there was a young beauty growing in the south corner of the front yard, except I’d learned from Mom that it was a lemon tree. When preparing food for a family who loved to eat, she wasn’t one to take any chances on ruining it by letting me in on the mixing. I was eager to crank that dover beater, fascinated by the transformation of egg whites into foamy froth.

“I’m making lemon-snow,” she said. “You can make your own.” She gave me a high glass container, poured in some water and let me crank the dover beater. No transformation. No froth. “You’d better go get some lemons,” she said, “from the lemon tree.”

Even as a pre-schooler I was pretty sure there was no tree with lemons anywhere close. But Mom had a way about her. I don’t remember whether she told me to pretend. In any case, she convinced me. I picked “beech leaf lemons” and beat them up in that water. It was the sorriest looking mess. Those kids in the ally on-line banking commercials - I know exactly how they feel. I’d been had. It wasn’t right. Still the young beauty in the south corner remained a lemon tree for some time.

Mom was a widow when my brother, Hugh, gave her a copper beech to plant by the brown barn. She thought she wouldn’t live long enough to see it grow. The years zipped by and that tree became so large the rhubarb along the side of the barn couldn’t get enough sunshine to amount to anything, but the beauty of the sheen on those copper leaves in sunlight was worth it. Mom watched that tree mature and we had extra justification to name this patch of God’s earth “Beech Croft.”

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