Aunt Sue had a green thumb. Her home sat on a hill surrounded by distant Blue Ridge Mountains, an inspiring sight. However, up close, Aunt Sue tended to trees and flowers and vegetables with the same loving care she tended her family. Her home-canned green beans were out of this world and rivaled those of Aunt Mot, but that’s a story for another day.
Near the end of Aunt Sue’s life, she was diagnosed with cancer. She strove to hide her pain with a cheerfulness that bordered on denial. She still invited folks over and sat them down to a table laden with mouth-watering corn bread and butter, fried or baked chicken, stuffing flavored with the sage that grew outside her kitchen door (when I was a little girl, I was her stuffing tester), an array of vegetables, cooked and cru ˊde ˊta, and some wonderful dessert. She always kept friendship bread starter, and that was one of her tastiest offerings.
Once when I visited her with my daughter, Jenny, who is not much younger than Aunt Sue’s daughter, Vanessa, the autumn weather was pleasant enough for us to sit out on the front porch. As we talked, the wind got a little blustery and yellow, brown, and red leaves started falling from the trees at the edge of the lawn.
Among the old superstitions that we mountain folk grew up hearing is the one that states: “If you catch a falling leaf on the first day of autumn you will not catch a cold all winter.” It might have been Aunt Sue who reminded us of that saying.
It was worth a try. Was each of us secretly hoping there was enough good luck in an autumn leaf to dispel cancer? Jenny and Vanessa led the way as we all clambered down the steps and started trying to catch a falling leaf.
What fun that was! We must have looked like a bunch of kindergarteners, the way we squealed with our arms out-stretched and our faces up-lifted. . . . You’d be surprised how hard it is to catch a falling leaf in the wind.
I can’t remember if any of us caught cold that winter.
I do remember the joy Aunt Sue felt in life and the way she spread that joy to others with her good food and warm hospitality.