August, the look-ahead month

Celestine Sibley

August 05, 1993|By Celestine Sibley

A FRIEND was telling me she is going to Rome this month, and before I thought, I said, "Too bad it has to be in August."

She looked dejected but rallied to say she is grateful for the trip, no matter the weather or calendar.

I rallied, too. The truth is that I love old seedy August, hot and dusty and brassy as it undoubtedly will be. The summer season is winding down. The cool breath of autumn will touch our sweat-damp brows any day now.

The July flies will step up their chorus in the trees at sundown, the plumes of goldenrod, not yet ready to show color, will nonetheless be plumping up.

School supplies and shoes and sweaters are appearing in back-to-school ads. My old-time country neighbors, most of whom have moved away or died, would be very busy in August canning or freezing the fruits from their gardens.

I can smell my neighbor Olivia's apple and pepper relish now. She picked the makings in her own garden and she presided over a kitchen laden with kettles and old blue canning jars.

Once I asked Olivia the recipe for her relish. She cooked by instinct and the touch system, and between us we were unable to set down exact measurements. "A few apples," she said. "Me and Larry didn't pick too long. Put in some green ones. Red peppers make it pretty. Chop in a few of those. And onions . . ."

Time and again I have tried to make Olivia's relish, and sometimes it is passable but never as good as hers.

August, as hot as it is bound to be, brings on cooling fall thoughts. I found myself checking my nonexistent woodpile the other day, as if I'll be ready to activate the fireplace for months.

Must look for oak and hickory, I found myself mumbling. I don't need it now, but that's August for you, a deceptive, look-ahead month.

The notion to take winter clothes to be cleaned and put in mothproof bags doesn't hit me at a suitable early date, but the compulsion to bring them home from the cleaner's invariably strikes in August. Can't let winter come with no coat in the house, I think.

In the same spirit, I lug quilts out to the clothesline for an airing. They should have been washed and put away in lavender or some other sweet herb last spring but only August acts on me like a deadline. Get them ready for winter, I think, while the sun is warm and a drying breeze blows.

And it's perfectly true that August is a good month for airing quilts because the trees are still full-leafed and the old faded colors won't be further punished by relentless bleaching sunshine.

Years ago I knew a lady who wouldn't have a clothesline in her yard, although automatic dryers had not come into general use. She sent clothes home with the laundress and nobody expected the green expanse of her lawn to offer anything as plebeian as clothes drying.

But in August she brought out all her table linens and washed them by hand, inspecting them for tears and stains. Any napkin or place mat with a stain on it was spread on the grass in the sun to let August bleach and brighten it.

These days, in the early morning I see misty medallions of spider web spread on the grass and I remember that lady and her linens.

It could be that the spiders have the same sense of urgency that August brings the rest of us.

Celestine Sibley writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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