Friday, September 28, 2012

Harvest memories

This post was something I wrote recently, then submitted to a little weekly newspaper per my father's urging (this particular weekly is published in my childhood hometown). I sent it in with some other samples (because that's what the editor had requested in the printed paper) and then I heard nothing. I finally followed up with an email a couple of weeks later, inquiring whether she'd received my submissions. She replied tartly that she had, in deed, responded and if I hadn't heard back I should check my junk email. She also informed me that she only accepted pieces that had to do with Greene County. (Ummmm... I thought this did? Directly???) I checked my spam/junk folder. Nothing there. I responded to her note, informing her I'd found no communication from her anywhere in my email, and also pointing out that one of my submissions, in fact, described a Greene County event. Her last note confirmed that she had received my stuff, read it, and replied to me, even if I didn't receive it. Her last sentence was a curt, "I think I will pass." Ouch. Am I being overly sensitive, or does that sting just a tad?

I must have been in need of a knocking down. I guess it'll make me stronger, right? ; )

It's fine. I just wish she would have shared her reasoning instead of being so short. "I have an abundant supply of better work," or "Not my style," or simply "You stink." Anything to give me some indication of why I was refused. Because that's the part that gets me: not the refusal, but the fact that her response about only accepting local themes indicates she may not have even read my work. And that makes me crazy. I don't care whether I'm liked, but by golly, I want to be accurately represented.

Regardless, here is the piece for you fine people. You don't have the ability to veto my writing, only to click elsewhere. Enjoy!!! Or, click elsewhere! Up to you!


Throughout my growing-up years and well beyond, my mother and father instilled a distinct sense and appreciation of history in my sisters and me. Family vacations often took us to places of historical significance, such as Gettysburg and Williamsburg. We were expected to know about America's important, tide-turning dates, events, and names. (I am more aware of Pearl Harbor Day than my own birthday most years.) Knowing where you came from, to my parents, was and is crucial to shaping who you become.

In light of my parents’ respect for the past, I guess it's no big surprise that the Greene County Historical Museum's Harvest Festival was an annual occasion for my family.

We'd watch for announcements about the dates, mark them, and then decide which day to go. Many times, various members of my family were in attendance on both Saturday and Sunday. I can still remember the excitement I'd feel as we came upon the museum grounds, with hundreds of cars parked along surrounding routes and in nearby fields. The timing was nearly always perfect, in that the autumnal weekend of the festival coincided with what we call "sweater weather"—those autumn days when one dons a sweater, jeans, and some sturdy shoes that can handle a slippery hillside. The sun often shone brightly, and I recall that most years, the sky was an unbelievably rich shade of blue. Leaves swirled in breezes, and those same breezes brought wonderful scents to your nose: homemade bread and cornbread, pork, candied apples, fruity pies, real popcorn, and apple butter and cider.

The noise level at the festival was always deafening, because set up right inside the entrance was a bevy of ancient machines blasting and popping out a strange, steam-powered rhythm. I had to cover my ears as we passed, and my father (who knows everyone) always saw people he wanted to chat with who happened to be standing right beside the machines. A shouted conversation would ensue, and then finally we could move forward and wander through the craft stands, the various old-time displays, and the crowds of soldiers. (Since there are war reenactments every year, you were bound to rub shoulders with both soldiers and American Indians. It caught me off guard only once, in middle school, to see my history teachers cleaning muzzle-loaders in traditional outfits.) A few times, I knew some of the crafters; my aunt and her friend sold intricate baskets they'd made, a potter we recognized displayed lovely glazed pots to buy, and there were rugs and afghans and wood crafts and so many other things I can't even recall anymore.

The inside of the museum was unchanged most years, with a huge number of rooms that seemed to be frozen in time. Lacy old clothing lay on even older beds; the rooms held chamber pots both large and small, pretty wash pitchers and basins, oddities like framed pictures made from twisted pieces of hair... It was as if we've stepped into another world. I loved the children's room best, with weathered but still beautiful toys and a doll's crib. My favorite thing in the whole building was a miniature model of an old homestead, complete with tiny people and a dog, minute vegetables, even miniature rocking chairs on an old front porch. It was enclosed in a big glass case, and I could have stared into that small home and its many accoutrements for hours.

And there was always music. We couldn't leave without lingering near the hammered dulcimer player and listening to the strains of old folk songs. If a sound could capture the free, windblown spirit of the Appalachians, my vote would be for that dulcimer. The old fellow who played it would move easily from piece to piece, delighted as a crowd gathered. The music drifted out through the ever-opening-and-closing front door of the museum, drawing more people into the already crowded rooms. It was hard to leave those beautiful, haunting melodies.

Heading for the basement of the museum made it easier to leave the music, because the lower level of the structure was where a lot of the food could be found. Big steps led you into the cellar, where many wonderful people plied you with amazing goods. (They did expect you to pay, but you always got more than your money's worth.) My personal favorite, apple butter on homemade bread, was usually to be found closer to the entrance of the festival instead of the basement, which worked out fine with me; if I’d already had that treat when I first arrived, then I'd be ready for the other goodies by the time I made my way to the rest of the foods later.

The smells of dry leaves and fine foods, the sounds of voices and folk songs and reenacted gunshots, the dappled sun shining down on a lovely brick mansion that had stood solidly for over a century—all of those wonders were a yearly joy that marked the presence of fall just as surely as the first genuinely chilly high school football game.

I returned to the festival last year with my little boy, and it's as fun as ever. I am always so delighted when a childhood memory lives up to itself in adulthood. I wish the same for you—and enjoy the lovely fall days.


chris h. said...

This made me angry -- an editor on a power trip is not a good thing. She was rude -- something truly professional people who edit others' writing for a living (like you, for example) would never be. As for the essay itself -- I agree! We all have strong memories of certain childhood events and traditions that mean a lot to us. How nice that you get to revisit them, especially with your own little one.

Mel said...

thanks for your support, Chris. I don't want to be a sissy, but it did seem out of line, especially when she'd been requesting submissions and when the main submission I'd sent had to do directly with her favorite subject. oh well. yes, the festival is really nice. there are so many great harvest/fall events around here!! : )

Leenie said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog! I appreciate your comments.

And I agree with chris h. The lady who took the call about your writing was unprofessional and rude. Even if she is overworked and underpaid it's no excuse for not at least sending you a polite rejection email so you at least had something to show for your efforts.

I've submitted plenty to publishers, have received lots of rejection letters and occasionally had my work published in magazines and books. Even if editors just scan my stuff they've almost always replied with something, even if it's just a form letter.

As for your story, I don't have time right now to really study your work but it looks well written and interesting. Keep writing, keep submitting and make sure you know your audience when you do.

Mel said...

thanks for visiting, Leenie, and for your encouragement and pointers. all good stuff! I will definitely keep trying.

Athelas63 said...

LOL. I have about 35 letters saying "Thanks, but I'll pass." in so many words. I've also been called rude, attacking, insensitive and told that the editor in question "has no interest" in my book. Editors are bitches/bastards. I think it's required. After YEARS of submissions and rejections, and seeing the semi-literate drivel that is published, I have come to the conclusion that it is only who you know. Nothing else. I've given up.