Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ladies' Days

Calendula and bee balm
Heritage Herbs, near Hickory, North Carolina

I've had a lovely couple of days of being with special women and enjoying some wonderful times with them. Tuesday I had planned a trip for bunny feed with my cousin RJ, and we were thrilled when friend Kym could come along. A rare treat, as her work schedule doesn't allow for many times together during the day. We headed out for town under a lovely sky with cool breezes blowing. Wildflowers are blooming along the roadways now, some in a profusion. Farmers are cutting their hay, birds were singing wildly and it was a perfect morning to be heading out with congenial people.

Lunch at our favorite seafood restaurant after picking up two bags of pellets for the rabbits was fun, with lots of conversation. With these brilliant ladies there is rarely a lull in interesting talk. At least, until they bring the food! We do have our priorities. Then we headed for some shopping. I have been the model of restraint lately because I DO NOT NEED CLOTHES! The closet is overflowing with lovely things given to me by cousins and good clothes I have purchased myself that just last forever. But there was a sale, ya'll. So I came home with two purple and pink skirts. Blame Sandra over at Thistle Cove Farm! We had to go to the big store so I could buy an ink cartridge for the computer. RJ sat that one out; content with her crosswords in the car while cool breezes blew through the open windows. I found lots of cheap DVDs for Dad to enjoy in the evenings. And, just so you know how simple mountain people are, RJ and I were thrilled when I found little cups of our favorite Ben and Jerry's ice cream, complete with tiny spoons! We enjoyed those while Kym ventured into another store to find a bag for her festival adventures.

Mrs. Cooke begins the tour
Mrs. Cooke begins the tour

Yesterday I got up early to do bunny chores as the sun rose in a brilliant blue sky. The grass was wet with dew and my old rubber boots were welcome once again. Still early, I headed over to the community building to meet a group of ladies, special friends of my aunt's, for a delightful day at Heritage Herbs, down near Hickory, North Carolina. I was greeted with enthusiasm by women that I knew and didn't know, except by name, and it was nice to get reacquainted. We headed off in two cars, because one member of the group had to head home for Charlotte. Our car was a new deluxe model with all the latest gadgets and safety features. It had a computer named Roxanne that gave us directions on how to get to our destination. We had a lot of fun with that, particularly when it 'forgot' to tell us a turn and when we disobeyed instructions!

Herbs behind the 150 year old house
Herbs behind the 150 year old house

Wilma Cooke, the owner of Heritage Herbs, greeted us with Southern hospitality and charm. The house and gardens, down a narrow dirt road, has been her home all her life and five generations of her family lived there. She was 72 years old when she started the business ten years ago and is carrying on the traditions and lessons she learned from her mother. Her knowledge is extensive and there was a bewildering collection of herbs to admire, smell and taste.

Studying the varieties
Admiring the many varieties

The herbs were planted in charming beds, along with flowers for color and variety and interesting bits of whimsey that reflected the delightful personality of our guide. Mrs. Cooke had a story for every plant and variety and kept us busy taking notes of the many uses of the herbs and what variety was best for what purpose. There was another group with ours, celebrating a birthday, but everyone was intent on catching every word and scent that Mrs. Cooke shared.

The ladies midst the herbs
Comparing notes

The morning flew by with so many interesting things to think about and then it was time for a wonderful luncheon served in the lovely old house. We crossed a narrow porch, surrrounded by the scents of rosemary and pine, and found ourselves in a cool, lovely room, decorated with family heirlooms and handsome antique furniture. Mrs. Cooke showed us the room where she was born nearly 82 years before, papered in charming old-fashioned wallpaper and graced with a handsome iron bedstead.

Lunch was indescribable. The food was amazing, each dish flavored with herbs and looking almost too good to eat. The company was as good as the food, as the ladies, all of them from different areas but united in their love of their homes in the mountains, shared stories of their adventures. Norma, Mrs. Cooke's daughter and dilligent helper, sat down with us and shared her knowledge of the herbs. She is an artist and showed us some of her wonderful work.

In the shop
At the shop

Replete with good things, we all headed to the herb shop to inquire about the many preparations on the shelves. I bought a bottle of calendula oil, which lovely Norma and Mrs. Cooke use daily. Surrounded by wonderful scents and books filled with knowedge of herbs, we asked about the many preparations and Mrs. Cooke shared more delightful stories.

Norma surrounded by herbs
Hard at work

Norma was in the back, putting up a herb that was requested by one of our party. She sat surrounded by the dozens of herbs grown and prepared by the herbalist. More talk and learning when she came out, until we finally realized that we had to tear ourselves away to make the long trip home. A generous gift of chocolate mint for each of us accompanied us, along with advice on how to use it to best advantage.

Under the trees
Under the trees in the park

We made our way home, safely guided by the computer and driver. After a visit to my mom's house to tend her critters, I settled in here to spin and dream of herbs and traditions. Today I'll set out my little clump of chocolate mint, in memory of good times with special ladies in a beautiful garden.

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