a side of sweet potatoes, ah autumn, breath of joy, Nancy Ceyters

Sweet Potato Harvest of Laughter

Nancy Ceyters

As hard as it is to wave goodbye to summer, I find myself once again greeting fall with a hearty hello.

There’s something about that time between air conditioning and heat; the lower electric bill coupled with crisp nights brings on some good sleeping. The darker mornings and earlier sunsets force us to be the light as we get out of bed to savor the three month transition to winter.

For some, fall’s glory is celebrated in corn mazes and caterpillars, raking more and mowing less; for others, it’s the ginger beer and sweatshirts, football games and pumpkin spice lattes. Still others embrace the fall by stirring hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick, while riding atop a wagon of hay.

When I welcome fall, I reminisce the harvest, especially the autumn harvest of 2012.

For years, the entire back yard was converted to several large summer gardens and, come autumn, a few fall gardens as well. The entire process from turning over the land in the spring to yielding the harvest throughout the fall and into the winter brought hours of joy and pounds of produce to record in my garden ledger.

The first year I planted sweet potatoes, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I opted to start small until I knew they would be a success, so I planted just a few slips. From what I had read, I expected about six to eight sweet potatoes from each plant. Of course I had no idea what if anything was going on underground all spring and summer. Neither did I know when the potatoes were ready for digging.

Photo Credit: Jerenita Leavy

In October of 2012, my friend Kathy Joy was visiting for the weekend. We had a full schedule between a trip to our favorite Delaware beach, a guest pass for a Combat class at the gym, an event at the homestead where I volunteered as a docent, and a dinner and music night with my parents who were coming in from out of town. Knowing that Kathy’s late husband Roger was a farmer after retiring from the police force, and a farmer before they married, I felt that I needed Kathy by my side as I dug through the earth.

We had to fit this into our schedule somehow. Besides, how long could it take to dig up a few potatoes? We’d dig and then cook dinner.

If there were no sweet potatoes, Kathy would be there to console me. If there were six to eight per plant, we could celebrate together, eating sweet potatoes for supper and sending some home. I read that a pitch fork—rather than a shovel—is needed to avoid breaking or bruising the tubes. That was one garden tool lacking in my shed.

Breaking the earth gently with a shovel, I then dug nervously with gloved hands, not wanting to hurt what little produce might be underground. Every other scoop I turned to Kathy for the go-ahead to dig deeper. And then there was a tint of orange!

One potato, two potato, three potato, more! With each potato, came a squeal, and the count continued. Kathy! There are more over here. And over here! And over here! Even when we thought we were done, we found more, far from where the few slips were planted.

Seventy-one potato, seventy-two potato, seventy-three potato, more!

As the sun began to set and the cool of a fall breeze blew our hair, a train of sweet potatoes tracked the benches of a 22 foot square deck. From big-as-our-faces-enormous, to medium, to small-as-a-fist, we were overwhelmed with potatoes. A few were bruised by the excitement of the digging and the harvest, but not enough to have to toss them. Even after we finished digging, I wondered if there were more out there that we missed.

With several large buckets full of sweet potatoes, and a search for more containers, we had enough root vegetables to last a number of households the winter.  We laughed and counted, counted and laughed, well past the dinner hour. We’d have potatoes for a bedtime snack.

Spring and summer, hidden from view, potatoes were growing like crazy. From a little, came a lot. The element of surprise, the beauty of the root vegetables, and sharing the moment with a friend who celebrated with me made the harvest of 2012 the sweetest ever.

I didn’t grow sweet potatoes again after that, wanting this memory to be the one I cherished and celebrated when waving goodbye to summers and greeting falls with a hearty hello.

– Nance Ceyters

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©2020 Capture Books and its authors are happily represented by the publicity of Books for Bonding Hearts where you will find novels, memoirs, gift books, and several children’s books of high literary quality.

breath of joy, memoir, Nancy Ceyters, simply summer

SUM-SUMMER, SOME BEACHES

By Nancy Ceyters

COVID-19 may have washed the summer beach date off the calendar, but we have a backup plan: the beach webcam.

Not kidding.

Through the eyes of the webcam, we watch the sun sparkle on the tips of the waves, the tides ebb and flow, and the seagulls swoop too close to the lens.

We have witnessed weddings on our beach webcam, volleyball games, summer lifeguard Olympics, foot races, and fights; we are drawn in by the boats and planes carrying written messages, and the people dropping their ice cream on the boardwalk and spewing verbal messages we can only imagine.

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Last night when in need for a beach fix, the beach-cam was down. Don’t they realize? We watch the cam all seasons, and we especially need it now.

Quickly my party came up with another backup plan: beach memories.

I recited, “Every summer during the growing up years, my family spent two or three weeks at Point O’ Woods beach in South Lyme, CT. A small private beach with no motels, stores, restaurants, or amusement parks, Point O’ Woods is a beach, not a city. We pulled the car in on a Saturday and did not get into that car again until the day we left. Days were spent on the beach, and evenings were spent taking walks, playing whiffle ball, and dealing cards. Even when the sun didn’t shine, we enjoyed the fog horns, the rocks around the sound, and the lively waves fighting back at the rain.”

I’m talking, a few winters we visited the old aunts at Haven of Rest Trailer park in Hobe Sound, FL. The sun on the beach seemed stronger there, and the waves rougher, but this quiet beach was home for a week.

Our only worry there was the Portuguese Man o War, as even the dead ones can sting, and one put an aunt in the hospital for several weeks.

As an adult, Rehoboth Beach, DE is my beach. Although it isn’t as built up as Ocean City, MD, it is lined with motels, shops, arcades, and eateries. We face the ocean with that “city” view behind us. The only time we leave the beach is to feed the parking meter or empty the bladder.

I love the beach, in and out of season.

A page from Breath of Joy: Simply Summer by Kathy Joy

Trudging through the snow on the beach in Asbury Park, NJ made it too tempting not to take off the boots and test the water. Visiting Rehoboth in the fall surprised us with kites flying and a superpod of dolphins in synchronized swimming.

The salt air, the therapeutic lull of the waves, and the refreshing water, along with the sun and kick-up-the-feet and lose-the-cares beach spirit does not mean every experience is joyful, but all are memorable.

My memories are stealing the conversation, but I don’t care much now.

I’ll never forget seeing Grandma sobbing in the dining room chair of the cottage the day her dog Ladybug was killed on the trip to visit us at the beach. I can still feel that sinking in my stomach that kept me from a second bite of a muffin the day we sat at the picnic table and the police officer came around the back of the cottage to tell us our childhood friend Freddy had died. Nor will I forget the fear, as a child, seeing someone steal a carton of cigarettes and worrying that he knew I saw him do it.

But with those memories come the 20 lb. bluefish my brother caught, the many friends who came to visit, the five-cent Good Humor ice creams, swimming out to the raft for the first time, and many hours of pure delight.

The beach has played a significant role in my life and in the friendship with a dear friend of 42 years. We have shared trips to Rehoboth, and we have had fun with the webcam—one at home viewing, the other waving to the camera. In the 1980’s we saw the movie Beaches and claimed it as ours. Over the past four decades, our life stories and our friendship—in their own way–have paralleled that of CC and Hillary. As we kept in touch through letters, email, and now text, we closed our message with “Beaches.” At times the entire message was “Beaches.”

This summer’s beach plans are shot, and from time to time the webcam is down, but if I have learned anything from the beach and my longtime beach friend Kathy, it is that we can make the best of it and still find something to celebrate. Kathy celebrates all four seasons, beach or no beach, and between her wit and her wordsmith talents, she brings that celebration into the life of all who meet her. 

I can’t visit my memories of the beach without celebrating my friend, “Beaches.”

Nancy Ceyters

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©2020 Capture Books and its authors are happily represented by the publicity of Books for Bonding Hearts where you will find novels, memoirs, gift books, and several children’s books of high literary quality.