My husband and I attended the Campbell Family reunion in northern Washington. It is a four hour drive from the Portland metro area and when the car crosses onto the dirt road leading up to the farm, I feel like we are driving through a hand tinted photograph from 1902.
The farm is run by a spry 76 year old cousin and his wife. They grow slicing cucumbers and blue squash and garlic and string beans to sell at their roadside stand. This year the corn is tall and sweet and the dahlia blossoms are three to a stem.
Preparations for the reunion begin the day before the event. Plywood table tops with city council race slogans painted on one side are taken out of storage, handmade sawhorses and bench tops are set up under the cedar trees and the red and white checked table cloths are shaken out and taped under at the ends of the tables to keep from flying up in the wind.
My job, this year and the years before, is flower arranging. Wading out into the rows of dahlias with a set of clippers, I cut with one hand and hold the bouquet with the other until I can’t close my fingers around the stems. Then I walk back through the bees and the spent blossoms to a table with 40 jars saved over the year. The tall jars with the peeled labels held pasta sauce, the short wide mouth jars held preserves. My husband filled the jars with warm water from a white bucket while I was in the field. I spread the flowers across the table and trim the ends. Taking the first blossom I build a story around the dense petals told in golden yellow, white and flaring orange. I take my time, moving from one jar to the next, taking a flower from this jar and adding it to that jar. The jars and the dahlias will leave with the uncles and aunts and cousins at the end of the day when the empty pie tins and crusted casserole dishes are gathered.
The white Victorian farmhouse and Buff Orpington chickens and grapevine covered red barn are the inspiration for the novel that will follow Cornerstone in the spring of 2014. I plan for the book to be out when the green leaves of the corn are sprouted for the next season of growing.