"One morning I go out to pick wild asters and suddenly it is September at Stillmeadow. I think it is the smell of the air, like wild grapes and windfall apples. I know fall is here, although the world is still green with summer. And I feel an urgency to gather in all the loveliness of the past blazing days and star-cooled nights and keep them forever.
"The Stillmeadow road is edged now with gold. From the picket fence I look up the hill to the mailbox and see the wave of goldenrod, accented with the purple of wild asters. It gives me a sense of sadness, lovely as it is, for goldenrod is the forerunner of the bright, cool autumn which will make our valley blaze with glory."
On days like this, when the calendar page is turned to a new month AND a new season, I often think, what would Gladys Taber say about this new turn of the wheel? I have been familiar with her work since I was a young girl, reading her column, "Butternut Wisdom" in a woman's magazine my mom used to get. Later, I was able to purchase four of her books used.
Gladys Taber wrote about the changing seasons, life at her old Connecticut farmhouse and dogs. Stillmeadow Farm raised champion cocker spaniels, who rotated between staying in the kennels and living in the house as part of the family. Her very favorite of all the cockers was Teddy. Her descriptions of Teddy, Sister, Jonquil and the other cockers, and the one Irish Setter, Holly, of course were heavenly to me, a dog lover. But anything Gladys wrote about carried her own special stamp of love for places, animals, people and home. (By the way, I'm calling her Gladys in the first person because she has always been an old friend to me.)
Gladys was an English professor in New York City when she and her husband and another couple purchased Stillmeadow as a vacation retreat. But Gladys and Jill ended up living there full time after their husbands' deaths.
Gladys was kind of like an old-fashioned blogger without a computer. Pure and simple, she wrote about her daily life. She wrote about eating the first asparagus of the season, alfresco, a meal in itself. She wrote about swimming in the pond in her old decrepit swimsuit (okay because no one saw her) and tennis shoes (because of the muddy bottom). She wrote about a band of cockers flying gaily across the lawn with their ears flapping high, and about Teddy peeking mournfully into the bedroom window to watch Gladys at her typewriter, too busy to play.
We learn about the trials and tribulations of living in a 17th-century house, about the good neighbors who helped out in blizzards and other trying times. We learn about the hard work of driving long distances to dog shows and the triumphs of winning ribbons. We listen in on her visits with her dear friend Faith Baldwin, also a famous writer. We watch as Jill, ever the practical, sturdy one, goes off to plant another dozen bushes before supper.
Along with Gladys, we hear the peepers in early springtime, smell the lilacs in May and see the blazing swamp maples in the fall. We celebrate a quiet New Year's Eve popping popcorn and listening to good records on the hi-fi in this earlier, more simple time. We see her darling little granddaughter, Muffin, arrive from the city for a visit. We see her cherished milk glass collection and learn to tell the difference between real and fake. We hear in her words her undying admiration for the English poet "Johnny" Keats, as she called him.
Gladys also reminisces about her growing up years in Wisconsin with her much loved "dear mama", her irascible but also beloved papa and her steady stream of "beaus" (love that quaint word.)
Gladys was an excellent cook too, and shared recipes in her books. She also wrote cookbooks, including "Stillmeadow Cookbook." I don't own it but I am sure it is chock full of comfort food recipes. In fact, Gladys wrote 79 books, both fact and fiction, including books about dogs, other books about Stillmeadow and about Stillcove, her Cape Cod house. One of my favorites is "Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge" which is a series of letters between Gladys and Barbara Shenton, another New Englander. Barbara's husband, Ed Shenton, a famous artist, added his delightful illustrations to this book and at least one of Gladys' Stillmeadow books. Sidonie Coryn's drawings add much charm to other books.
Oh, yes, this too: Gladys had a unicorn, a real unicorn, she insisted, one she would watch cropping violets in the moonlight.
Gladys Taber's books are available on Ebay and at amazon.com.
Below: Gladys Taber in the kitchen of her Connecticut farmhouse.