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Preserving memories

11/22/05 12:00AM By Stephanie Montgomery
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(HOST) Commentator Stephanie Montgomery has been ruminating about the weather. She believes New England seasons have taught her to keep step with life changes.


(MONTGOMERY) Despite appearances, these recent warm days are running up to winter. The first big snowfall always takes us by surprise. Then again, sometimes not. They do say that if you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a minute. Long time residents know that in this interim moment, when hunters walk our quiet woods and the last of the color belongs to the ruddy oak leaves and, finally, to the pungent cedars and pines, winter may dally, but it's coming for sure.

There was a time when I put food by for winter, much as my mo-
ther had done. She taught me that with salt, vinegar and sugar
you can preserve almost anything. By October, her back pantry displayed row upon row of jars: tomatoes and green beans in quarts, jams and relishes by the pint, and cherry cordial in stoppered bottles. Potatoes, carrots, and apples filled bins in the root cellar. Braided onions hung from beams beside bundles of
tarragon, oregano and thyme. Such bounty before winter repre-
sented long hours in the garden and steamy afternoons in the kitchen. Years ago, this was women's work; peeling and chopping side by side neither of us ever thought to complain or wish it otherwise.

Before the invention of refrigerated trucks, fresh vitamins were in short supply even by Thanksgiving in northern New England. We kids enjoyed making popcorn and cracking nuts, completely unaware that these good keepers would help nourish us through winter. Mama depended on her jellies and cranberry relish to give bright color and taste to any festive dinner. And, by Christmas, everyone was delighted to find Santa had put an orange in the toe of their stocking.

I once thought I would be content to be a gardener all my life. But the romance of having children later in life took me by surprise. As our children flourished in our busy, rural village, my canning tradi-
tion dwindled.

Ah, but our girls grew up. Like an early frost when you're not ready, children go off quite suddenly and leave you feeling hungry for color and freshness. Now, without the commotion of kids and instead of canning peaches, I preserve memories by writing story after story. I'm still using salt and sugar and vinegar. Some stories are as sweet as peaches. Others are more like pickles. I lay up color and freshness in pint-sized tales and quart-filled sagas.

Like the experience of many generations of New England authors who have sought to preserve a way of life in words, I suspect our predictably, unpredictable weather has shaped me as a writer as much as it has as a gardener and parent. Cold snaps and thaws have taught me to cherish every season's fleeting oddities and deep rhythms. When I look out upon the quiet woods and still, green valleys of both the past and the present, writing up memo-
ries rewards me with bright gardens and the summer sound of children's voices just as the snow begins to fall.

This is Stephanie Montgomery of Walpole, NH.

Stephanie Montgomery is the Director of Memoir Cafe, an online writing service for women. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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