In the fall of 1960, the year we moved to the farm, Three of my neighbors, Martha Metheny, Edith Thompson, Mrs. Cora Peck and I, started what would become a tradition. We chose the first sunny day after the first killing frost, to glean the wonderful things the fields, woods and fence rows had to offer. Unlike the garden, in hot summer, when we had to work so hard to till the soil, plant seed, hoe and encourage it to produce vegetables; this was different, "Mother Nature" had done all of the hard work for us. All we had to do was gather all of the good things she had provided for us. Pinecones, shiny burgundy heads of sumac and beautiful, orange clusters of bittersweet to use in making holiday decorations were plentiful. There were lots of hickory nuts for pies, black walnuts to put in divinity candy and the delicious jam cakes, we made for the Christmas Holidays, and hazel nuts to have for snacks.
Getting buckets, tow sacks, a jug of drinking water and, of course, Banana Twinkies, peanut butter and crackers for snacks, ready, was even fun. I hitched the trailer to the tractor and drove down Lone Valley Road across Highway 62 to the sawmill where Edith lived. After picking her up I drove back up the winding gravel road to Martha's house then on to get Mrs. Cora. As Mrs. Cora was much older than the rest of us and had hickory trees and a black walnut tree in her yard, she didn't go every year. She just went along for the ride and to enjoy the outing with us.
While following a fence-row along the edge of the woods, we stopped to gather hazelnuts, before going deep into the woods, where scaley bark hickory trees grew in abundance. Our favorite walnut tree grew in a fence-row between two fields, it was enormous, it was estimated to be over a hundred years old. Walnuts from that tree had thinner shells and were larger than those from the other trees on the farm and it produced a good crop almost every year. We had to hurry to harvest the nuts from that tree before someone else beat us to it.
Getting together on that day every year was enjoyable and it kept our friendship tightly bound. One year, due to illness, I wasn't able to set out on the yearly sojourn with my friends. That year Martha drove her tractor and they went without me, how I did long to be with them. Just before time to start baking for Christmas that year, I looked out my kitchen window and saw Mrs. Cora walking down the road. She was about a mile away from her home. I wondered why she was out and where in the world she was going on such a blustery day, with the temperature at 30 degrees. As I opened the door to speak to her she turned to walk up our driveway. When she got to the door we greeted each other with hugs and she handed me a calico "Molly" bag containing a quart fruit jar. The jar was filled with black walnut meats just in time for Christmas baking. What a gift! I'm sure she spent days on end picking out those walnut meats. Now, if you have ever tried to extract the meats from the hard shell of a black walnut, you will know that that was an act of kindness. To me it was more than an act of kindness it was truly, a labor of love.
The tradition my neighbors and I started was broken after 15 years with the deaths of Mrs. Cora and Martha. The next year Edith moved away after they sold the sawmill. In late October the following year, I awoke one morning to see the ground covered by a silvery, icy, frost, a killing frost. It was a sad and lonely moment for me, but the next moment brought happy thoughts of days past spent with friends gleaning "Mother Nature's" wonders. Memories of those days will be with me forever.