While listening to last night’s broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor informed me that the Harvest Moon had come and gone over the course of the pervious week. This celestial update, paired with my calendar’s validation that summer had yielded to the cool winds of fall, reminded me of an autobiographical piece I composed some months ago. At the time, I was complementing my residency in North Central Florida by reading the work of the region’s Pulitzer Prize Winning laureate, Marjorie Kennan Rowlings. With its colloquial tone and ability to illustrate the majesty of everyday living, her book, Cross Creek, inspired me to look into my past and endeavor to capture an experience with equal simplicity and gravitas. With love to my Mom and Dad, enjoy dear Reader, “The Gilded Table Ornament.”
Here in Iowa we do things differently than I have come to observe folks do in other places. Unencumbered by superlative natural wonders or monumental cityscapes, ours is a simpler existence. Foreigners who neglect to stop for a piece of pie or conversation struggle to comprehend the poetry that is our way of life. For the bond we share with our neighbors: rooted in heartland soil, centered around community, and garnished with a mutual appreciation for the fruits of the seasons, sustains us.
My parents are, and always have been, of the egalitarian sort. I suppose this manner of child rearing stemmed from their unspoken confidence over the fact that they had waited until the right age, were earning the right amount of money, and had furnished the right three bedroom home on the right tree-lined street to have children. With the exception of a brief, yet vital, period of each year, our democracy thrived. It was only under the cool evening air the denotes the Midwest’s transition from summer to fall that a hierarchy emerged around my family dinner table. This was harvest season, or as my parents would have been well served to call it–squash weather. Under waning daylight and leafs ablaze, my mother and father enjoyed dinner after dinner repellent with freshly picked acorn squash. A dish, that though I had yet to try, was told by those who knew better than I, was beyond the sophistication of my juvenile palate.
I do not recall my mother’s source for the produce which had seemingly been touched by King Midas himself. Forever ingrained in my memory is how she would slice each emerald orb and glaze, its now revealed, amber innards with butter and brown sugar just prior to depositing the nuggets of culinary treasure in the oven. If served with its customary paring of meat loaf, this meal, deftly prepared by my mother, would elicit from my father a gluttonous passion and remind him, if only for a moment, of the delight he ought to take in his adept matrimonial selection.
No hostilities for not having participated in the squash laden meals that took place throughout the autumns of my youth are harbored within me. For the eating of acorn squash was a ritual that gave my parents a well deserved portion of joy and demonstrated before the onset of winter, a season that with its harsh January mornings and blistering February winds, would drive us indoors and into close proximity, that I, was a child, and that they, my mother and father, were my parents. A natural order of things, which once reminded of, would aid my family’s passage through the coming and most arduous of seasons.