What an emotive word Harvest is. I never fail to be aroused by the word that to me expresses the fruition of our lives, our loves, and our whole purpose for being. I was but small when the joy of the harvest was made clear to me. It was the climax to the agricultural year when crops were harvested, as it was for the horticultural year too when fruit was picked, vegetables gathered and the lazy days of summer seduced us all with all its fecundity.
Our families were not farmers, or workers on the land merely neighbours of such activities. For me the hay grew in the field at the bottom of the garden. My Dad walked through the still dark meadow as a short cut to get to the railway station to catch his train to work. He had a nodding acquaintance with the cows in that meadow that accepted his need to cross their food bowl with the mist still rising in the early dawn, and the night owls returning to nest after a picking up a mouse or two.
Later the local farmer would encourage us boys to gather up the mown hay and build it into stooks that he could load more easily when labour was so short in the war years. Those with the largest stack would get some small prize such as a second hand jigsaw puzzle that we worked so hard to obtain.
One Aunt and her family spent a week or so hop picking. We were enticed once to join cousins our own age on that adventure but soon found that the work was hot and back breaking and small hands were stained for days after and red raw with the effort of plucking the hops from the vine. The pungent smell of the hops however was enticing and no doubt when grown up and drinking the amber liquid older minds would recall the source of the flavour.
Gardens were large when I was small: large enough to grow much of the household vegetables. My Dad grew the basics such as potatoes, carrots, runner beans and cabbages. Other uncles were far more adventurous achieving mighty crops of onions, leeks, Savoy cabbages, broccoli, broad beans and marrows. Naturally we boys had our own pathetic rows of beetroot and radishes which grew well and quickly from our neglect. For adults though their gardens were never big enough. Wartime and the extended rationing period after the conflict enabled those keen enough to garden council allotments. Some fathers spent more time there than at home. They built little sheds for their tools but in reality it was their retreat from everyday life. A place to sit to watch the garden grow, to smoke and chat with neighbours working on their gardens and no doubt as a blessed respite from nagging at home.
My grandfather had a number of fruit trees in his garden. Apples, pears, plums and damsons were nurtured and harvested in due season. My father tended to ignore the fruit trees in his garden but despite this we had one plum tree, a Victoria plum it was, that thrived on this neglect and produced the most luscious fruit. In my minds eye I can still taste them now.
On occasion as I recall that sweet smell of an English summer my mind drifts back all those years and realizes that there was subtle lesson being taught me then. That lesson is so simple; like the crops, the fruit and the vegetables, we too have been planted here to produce fruit of our own making. This harvest, this product of our shared lives has resulted in some very fine fruit indeed.