Posted November 22, 2013 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (November 2013)

by Paulette Curran.

The other day, I talked on the phone with one of our readers, a farm woman from Alberta in western Canada. Her family, she mentioned, is in the midst of harvest, their busiest time of the year. We, too, of course, are harvesting, and this was for me one more reminder of how one we are with you our readers.

Here at MH, of course, it is the farmers and gardeners who pour out their lives to feed us, as do the food processors who freeze, can, and dry that food. But at harvest-time at our old-fashioned family farm, every able-bodied person who can be spared from his or her usual work takes part in one way or another.

This we do at the all-house work bees—to slaughter and clean the chickens and to harvest the potatoes. We also do harvesting for an hour or so one or more evenings a week, and some of the women work at food processing for a day or so, here and there, as they can be spared from other work.

Every year on our farm is different, and, according to weather and other conditions, always some crops do well and others poorly.

This year spring was cool and rain adequate, and two of our most essential foods were bumper crops: potatoes and apples. May Davis, who has been responsible for our orchards for many, many years, says she has never seen so many apples. One tree alone yielded 17 garbage-size bags of apples, and there was one apple that weighed a whole pound!

Why are apples so essential? Well, with our short growing season, apples and rhubarb are the only fruits we can grow in the abundance we need.

We also had a bumper crop of green beans and a good hay crop. But the onions did poorly, and the broccoli died due to root maggots.

Also the late spring caused everything to come in about two weeks late, making it a shorter season of "everything coming in at once." Or so it seemed.

Over Labor Day weekend, we had what we call Heritage Fest, a sort of small fair, which is held at our handicraft center and gift shop and their yards. It is becoming a yearly tradition.

This year, more people than ever attended—young and old, friends and neighbors, locals and vacationers.

On that Saturday, all three shops had their biggest sale days of the year. The museum was open and as always the player piano was the most popular feature. In front of the museum, Mary Davis and Jeannine Biron demonstrated wool carding and spinning.

Neighbor Katy Hanlon did face painting, something that was so popular with the children that they were willing to stand a long time to wait for it.

The other long line was for balloons custom-made by our friend, Terry Newcombe. Mostly he did animals, but one popular item with the boys was swords. (Now that’s a safe way to have a duel.)

And the children, of course, loved cranking the ice cream maker and sampling the results.

Michael Amaral demonstrated how he makes lampadas (vigil light holders) from tin cans. Beth Scott and Veronica Ferri taught how to make friendship bracelets. Teresa Gehred and Bryan O’Brien demonstrated butter making and gave free samples.

Carol Anne Gieske and Trina Stitak gave a number of performances of the puppet show that was so popular at St. Joseph’s House’s 50th anniversary celebration. And Janine Gobeil, Sofia Segal, and Fr. Brian Christie provided music.

A couple recently moved into the area, Ian and Jennifer Coxworthy of The Saddlery, demonstrated leather work.

Beekeeper Andorra Howard presented a display on bees and honey and gave free samples. Patrick Stewart set up his easel in a quiet corner of the yard and worked on an oil painting.

At the handicraft center were demonstrations and displays of a variety of crafts, some of which visitors could try their hands at. Mark Schlingerman did wood carving; Anne Marie Murphy, felting. Peter Gravelle wove, Mary McGoff knitted, and Laurette Patenaude, Gretchen Schafer and Aliz Trombitas, sewed.

Raandi King did pottery on the wheel, and Sara Matthews did quilling. Bonnie Staib displayed her Washi (Japanese) decorative eggs and bookbinding.

Many other staff helped in the shops or handicraft center or just visited with people.

This is also the time of year we accept applicants, the time young people wishing to join Madonna House begin their period of formation. This year there are six of them: three laymen, one priest, and two women. It isn’t often that the men outnumber the women!

The ceremony which takes place in the dining room right after supper is very simple. It includes the giving of "the brown folders," by the directors general, the folders which contain essential writings about Madonna House and its spirit, and a cake with a dark cross, a symbol of the cross which is an intrinsic part of this vocation. This cross sits on white icing, a symbol of the glory hidden within it.

The new applicants, who had just moved into their dormitories, immediately embarked on their new life. They began the reading of the history of the apostolate together and had an afternoon of recollection. Their workdays continue as before, but now include more serious learning of the skills involved.

Learning and building skills are not just for applicants; it is a lifelong work. Mostly we do this within Madonna House, but at times, usually for short periods, we do it elsewhere.

Dierdre Burch and Linda Owen took a weekend water-coloring class. Andorra Howard went on a weekend mentoring experience with an experienced beekeeper.

Raandi King, who does pottery, has been learning different techniques of firing. She spent part of her holidays with a woman in Colorado who does pit firing, participated in a wood kiln firing in Ontario, and took a weekend workshop in soda firing.

Each of the techniques produces a different surface on the pots, and the pots she fired in these ways are varied and beautiful.

We also take part in teaching others. Fr. Ron Cafeo went to MH Roanoke to give a day-long retreat at a parish celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Fr. Denis Lemieux spent a few days helping NET (National Evangelization Team, young people who travel across Canada evangelizing) with the training of new members—mainly with his presence and sacramental ministry.

Others of us were involved with training proctors (dorm house parents) and their assistants for Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, the nearby school of higher education.

Mary McGoff went there to give them a presentation on listening skills. Then they came here for a day. Melanie Murphy toured them and spoke to them about Catherine Doherty and Madonna House.

Margarita Guerrero gave them a talk on the spirit of cleaning. Patrick Stewart accompanied them to the farm and gave a talk on hospitality.

Last but not least, we had an evening of authentic mountain music from Appalachia by Jenny and her husband Mack Traynam. Jenny is the daughter of Bob and Jean Young, very longtime friends of MH.

In this harvest-time, let us not take for granted the countless gifts God continually gives us. Let us thank him for them and rejoice in them.


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