Simple gifts, and love, mean most

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silverware on table

“I had a barrel churn, one of those things that went back and forth. I didn’t mind that at all. I’d helped my grandmother do it so much, I sort of liked it….she always had it about ready to be butter when I took ahold of it.”

— Winifred Jeffers, born in 1895

Rare and wonderful are the people in a life that bring a feeling of jubilant joy just in the recalling of a day spent with them.

My Aunt Dee was, and will forever be, one of those sweet souls. She was busy raising four children of her own on a lovely farm, all four of them about the same ages as my sisters and me. She and my uncle later adopted two little girls who needed a loving home, completing a happy family.

When chosen to spend a day and an overnight with my aunt and uncle, it felt as though a new national holiday had just been proclaimed.

Uncle Howard would hand-milk their lovely little doe-eyed Jersey, and Aunt Dee would hand crank the cream into the best butter I had ever tasted. Breakfast with freshly baked bread toasted just right, with a hearty amount of creamy butter, was fine dining in my book.

“Don’t you want jelly on that?” one of my cousins might offer, and my thought was why ruin perfection?

Though it was a small farm, Aunt Dee would often have to mow or rake hay. No matter how much work needed to be done, their welcoming place felt like the best style of resort ever created.

After my cousins finished up a few household and outdoor chores, we had the whole day ahead of us, and it all was centered around having fun.

Perfect playground

Across from the house, they owned a really great piece of property fashioned into their own campground. A pond with a pebble beach sat back off the road, surrounded by lawn that Dee kept manicured perfectly. A volleyball net was always in place beyond that, the ground nice and flat for an all-out battle for bragging rights.

We spent hours in the pond, having diving contests from the high dive Uncle Howard had built.

A fire pit with a dozen chairs in place reminded us that no matter the time of day, we just might be cooking something great for our next meal. A neat little camper trailer with an awning sat toward the back of the property, where dishes and roasting sticks could be found. Aunt Dee might have a little contest to see who could create the best new recipe in a pie iron.

She made homemade doughnuts in a bubbling kettle over the fire, so good that nothing else in the whole wide world mattered in that moment.

She was the kind of mother who could bark orders with a voice that was filled with a joking, happy attitude.

“Hey, brats, it’s time to clean up!” would be met with a groan or two, but everyone pitched in to do whatever she instructed.

She was the kind of aunt who made her nieces feel so lucky and loved and somehow special beyond all others. She listened with her whole heart. She hugged. She cared.

I dream of her still, and feel an incredible connection to her, though she has been gone for a number of years.

Role model

There are some people who live life with so much love it remains. My aunt, who gave so much to so many, who welcomed everyone with a happy heart as she grabbed another plate for the table, made this world a better place.

As I watch a simple camp fire burning, I think of her and miss her still.

I hope that I have grown to be that welcoming soul on my farm as she taught us, by example, to be. Friends and family who know how to love and laugh know they can stop in to visit, anytime. The more the merrier.

And even if there is nothing else to eat, there will always be chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows, and the roasting sticks to bring it all together.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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