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Southeast

BY CAROL BISHOP MILLER / Huntsville, Alabama USDA Zone 7

Reading a Dream

In the 1970s, as a harried apartment dweller caught in the tumult of Atlanta, I found escape in library copies of Celestine Sibley’s books about rural life at Sweet Apple, her restored cabin in the foothills of north Georgia. I likewise relished Gladys Taber’s picturesque accounts of bucolic domesticity at Stillmeadow, her seventeenth-century Connecticut farmhouse. Their books kindled my dream of cultivating a spot of ground of my own.

Driven in part by the need to help support their families, both women authored dozens of books in an array of genres and became well-known journalists—Sibley (who died in 1999 at age 85) as a reporter and columnist at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and Taber (1899-1980) as a popular columnist for Ladies’ Home Journal and Everywoman’s Family Circle. Taber’s concerned reflections on the human condition, strong but gently expressed moral convictions, and affectionate accounts of family, neighbors, pets, and wildlife made reading her as comforting as having a chat with my own revered grandmother. “I would be willing to go around the world,” Taber wrote, “if I came back in time to light the candles and set the table for supper.” The audacious Sibley, on the other hand, was perpetually primed for adventure. Bubbling with an earthy humor and infectious curiosity, she shared with her readers a wealth of colorful stories and lore. She tells, for instance, how as a child she marveled at the fearlessness of her Aunt Babe, who defended her strawberries from the jaybirds by rushing outside many times a day to flap a dish towel or broom in their faces—even though “all children knew that jaybirds tattled to the devil, going every Friday to take him fat pine splinters to keep his fire going and an inventory of our sins”.

Neither writer considered herself a gardening expert, but both regarded raising food and flowers an integral part of the authentic country lifestyle they sought to experience and celebrate. “It’s inconceivable to me that there should be people in the world who are not attracted to and fascinated by the great natural laboratory of earth, water, sun, and seeds,” wrote Sibley. “It’s as if there were children who didn’t like Christmas.” Sibley did like Christmas, and the season drove her to “fresh fits of fruitless activity” as she combed her woods to fill the cabin with pine and welcoming cheer for children and friends. Taber, too, gathered nature’s bounty to set the scene at holiday time: “The spicy smell of pine blends with the perfume of bayberry candles and popcorn exploding into snowy sweetness in the ancient wire popper. If we are lucky we may have chestnuts roasting on the fire shovel.”

I haven’t made it to the country, but I’m blissfully content to garden on our woodsy, three-tenths-of-an-acre subdivision plot, which I pretentiously, perhaps, but fittingly, alas, call Chipmunk Hill. I pop my corn in a microwave (though I bet the gas logs in the den would work if I had a wire popper). And I still find pleasure and inspiration in the long-ago doings at Sweet Apple and Stillmeadow.

RECOMMENDED READING

The Sweet Apple Gardening Book by Celestine Sibley (Doubleday, 1972; Peachtree Publishers, 1989) and Country Chronicle by Gladys Taber (Lippincott. 1974; Amereon Limited, 1983)

Celestine Sibley and Gladys Taber were both prolific writers. These selections afford readers an introduction to some of their more garden-related work. Both are available from a number of online sources in a range of prices and conditions.

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