Miss Haggarty was in the hospital with spinal meningitis, and Miss Price was not coping well. I didn’t blame her. Miss Haggarty was unconscious and was breathing with the aid of a ventilator. Dr. Deirdre Barstow had told Miss Price that Miss Haggarty’s condition was “dangerous” and that, if she survived, she might be deaf or she might have brain damage. Dr. Deirdre Barstow doesn’t pull her punches.
As I believe I have already said, Miss Haggarty and Miss Price have been together for more than thirty years. Miss Haggarty is calm and rather quiet and very kind, and Miss Price, even though she makes the best cinnamon rolls in the entire world, is something of a bulldozer. Sister Alma Rose says that Miss Price is “all butter inside” and that her tough exterior isn’t her real self, it’s just a tool she uses to get her way, partly because Miss Haggarty is “a marshmallow” and Miss Price thinks she has to take care of her, Miss Haggarty, or she’d be “squished like a bug,” although Sister Alma Rose believes that Miss Haggarty actually is the stronger of the two.
Miss Price had not eaten or slept for two days — she’d been at Miss Haggarty’s bedside ever since Miss Haggarty was admitted to the hospital. She told Dr. Deirdre Barstow that she couldn’t possibly go home, and she refused to take any medicine to calm her down or help her sleep. Finally Dr. Deirdre Barstow told her that her being at the hospital, as agitated as she was, was hurting Miss Haggarty more than it was helping her, and she, Dr. Deirdre Barstow, ORDERED Miss Price to pack a suitcase and stay with Sister Alma Rose while Miss Haggarty was in the hospital.
Miss Price and Miss Haggarty have known each other all their lives. Miss Price grew up on the farm that is adjacent to ours on the north, stretching all the way down to the Wild Turkey River, and now the land is farmed by her brother’s family. Miss Haggarty was an only child whose daddy had owned the old Farmer’s State Bank. Her mama and daddy had taken a train trip to some famous canyon in Mexico — it was supposed to be their second honeymoon — and the train had gone off the tracks and just rolled down the mountain and everybody died who was in that train. Miss Price and Miss Haggarty were both in graduate school then, and Miss Price started taking care of Miss Haggarty, and she’s been taking care of her ever since.
The pull of the land
After they earned their master’s degrees, they could have gone anywhere to teach school — certainly at a much higher salary than teachers were paid in Hilltop — but Miss Price said she couldn’t live anywhere else. “It’s the pull of the land,” she would say with a smile when anyone asked why they had come back to this tiny out-of-the-way community, where everybody knew everybody else’s business and where there had been, at one time, a great deal of whispering about Miss Haggarty and Miss Price. But the town had quickly embraced them — they were irresistibly delightful, and besides, they were very fine teachers — and the whispering stopped.
And now here was crusty Miss Price on Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green porch, almost hysterical from worry and lack of sleep. It was a splendid evening in mid-June and the sun hadn’t even set when the full moon rose like a huge platter in the eastern sky. I was sitting on the steps and beginning to wonder if I ought to go home and leave Miss Price and Sister Alma Rose alone, but then Mr. Truman LaFollette, obeying whatever telepathy he and Sister Alma Rose use to communicate, brought me a large tumbler of lemonade with fresh lemon slices floating in it and placed glasses of iced tea with lemon slices on the grass-green wicker table in front of both Sister Alma Rose and Miss Price.
I had heard of “gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands,” but I’d never actually seen anyone do those things until now. I’m sure there were calming herbs in the iced tea — chamomile, certainly, perhaps valerian, and I don’t know what else — because after a bit Miss Price calmed down enough to sob, thoroughly and loudly, but at least she was sitting still and had ceased to gnash.
Finally Sister Alma Rose stood and walked around the table to Miss Price and put her large, gentle hands high on Miss Price’s back, unobtrusively massaging away the tightness of Miss Price’s neck and shoulder muscles. “Lavinia,” she said — “Lavinia” is Miss Price’s first name — “come with me for a minute. I want to show y’all something in the garden before it gets dark.”
I looked at Sister Alma Rose with a question in my eyes, and she nodded slightly, which I understood to be her way of saying that I should follow at a discreet distance. My relationship with Sister Alma Rose has never been easy to explain, but on this particular evening I felt, as I have at other times, that it was in part a sort of apprenticeship and, furthermore, that somehow I became invisible to the people who came to pour their hearts out to Sister Alma Rose.
The beating of the heart of Mother Earth
Miss Price had her face buried in her hands, and she shook her head slightly, but Sister Alma Rose has a way of insisting against which there is no defense. Miss Price rose unsteadily out of her chair and, leaning heavily on Sister Alma Rose, allowed herself to be guided to the lovely flower garden in the back of the house.
In the rays of the setting sun, the flowers were neon-bright, and even Miss Price was momentarily awed by the spectacle of wild roses, hollyhocks, chrysanthemums, bachelor’s buttons, and other varieties I couldn’t name. The light breeze carried the sweet scent of honeysuckle that tumbled over the arched trellis. But the sight and scent of such beauty seemed to make Miss Price even more emotional, and her ample torso was soon heaving with sobs again.
Sister Alma Rose steered Miss Price to a small raised bed of violets that encircled an ancient cottonwood. There they rested, and I plopped down on the ground nearby. Miss Price sat in what we used to call Indian style, though I’m not sure if it’s polite to use that expression any more. Miss Price was wearing immaculate khaki pants. She leaned back against the smooth, wide trunk of the cottonwood, and sighed enormously.
Sister Alma Rose was muttering something — prayers, I thought — but she didn’t seem to care if Miss Price could hear her or not. Miss Price sat very still, with her eyes closed, supported by the earth and the tree, and she seemed almost to melt into them and take root herself. There was enchantment in the night air; the moon shone on Miss Price as if to ease away the worry lines on her face.
It was so peaceful. Only crickets broke the silence, and maybe the odd field mouse. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do or of anywhere I’d rather be than sitting on the grass, between the night sky and the cool ground alongside Sister Alma Rose’s fragrant garden.
“Do y’all hear it?” asked Sister Alma Rose softly after a bit. Miss Price opened her eyes and nodded and smiled.
“What is it?” I asked. “What do you hear?”
Miss Price seemed to notice me for the first time, and she smiled again.
“Why, Fanny, it’s one of the things we can’t teach you in school.” Her voice was low and soft, but it carried easily through the darkness. “It’s the heartbeat of Mother Earth.”
“Gounding yourself” before meditating, or as a meditation on its own, can bring instant relief from panic or anxiety. You don’t have to be sitting on the actual GROUND. Sit or lie anywhere that allows you to feel connected to the earth. It’s a little more difficult if you’re in a high-rise penthouse, but it can be done.
Be conscious of how Mother Earth supports you. Relax every muscle and sink into whatever surface you’re sitting or lying on. Many meditators visualize a golden cord that originates high, high above, passes through the body, and pushes itself through to the center of the earth.
On a nice day, in your own yard or in a park, find a tree to lean against and enjoy the sensation of being grounded and supported by the earth. This is an excellent way to “collect yourself” when your thoughts and worries break their restraints and lead you into a fruitless and exhausting cycle of “what ifs” and “if onlys.”
Some meditators let the light from above course through them and “push” their worries and their woes into the ground, where they become compost.
Section 27: A Century on a Family Farm
by Mil Penner
From Amazon.com product review: Smack in the middle of Kansas, Section 27 in McPherson County has been occupied by the Penner family since 1874. Although few of the area’s residents have direct ties to the past, Mil Penner still farms the land that his family has worked for over 125 years. His account of daily life on a Mennonite family farm near Inman. Kansas, retells a universal story of the American heartland sharpened by personal accounts of one family’s enduring relationship to the land.
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