It was the sweetest time of the year, she thought. Coming home from the gallery, over the hills through Edmeston and New Berlin, she had watched the sallow final green of the fields go ocher; she had seen the brush, under a silky darkening sky, turn sere. The sumac was brilliant with its final burn. The wind, though still warm with late September, had a touch to it of October’s chilled-wine autumn taste. And here she was in a bulky sweater and jeans and her boat shoes, walking behind the house and sipping at the wind…
The garden behind the house, a hundred by a hundred feet or so, still held the heat of the day. She kneeled in the friable soil that she’d worked, manured, nourished, rotary-tilled, and weeded for years, and she stayed that way, on hands and knees, looking into the low sun. The green mulching plastic she hated but used because it kept down the weeds now caught the sunlight, and the garden looked striped into rows of rich earth and rows of shiny green liquid. The dark tomato vines on their green bamboo stakes were drooping with the weight of plum tomatoes she hadn’t ye plucked. Most were dark red, and even going soft.
There were hundreds to take, and although she hadn’t planned to harvest tonight, the low orange sun, the sky that looked like a dark – an African – skin, and the smell of the vines, that luxuriance of greenness, made her take off her sweater and, with goose bumps pricking the flesh of her arms and her neck, tie its sleeves together and fill it with all the dry, firm tomatoes she could fit inside its upside-down torso…
There were days when the light and temperature made you want a sweater on not so much because you were chilly as because the day or evening looked like chill, suggested that being a little cold would be appropriate, and you wore something heavy, to acknowledge the world: Canada geese overhead, out of sight but hooting the shrill sad cries; the sky going one tone darker of blue; the roadside milkweed bobbing in a wind that would bring enough col within the week, she thought, to burst them into white silk hairs and crusty brown shell.
From Harry and Catherine by Frederick Busch
OK, I’ll admit that my adoration of this book is very far beyond normal. First, it is set RIGHT in my neck of the woods – I drive through Edmeston and New Berlin on a regular basis – so it makes my sometimes hum-drum life seem quite romantic. SECOND, I met Fred Busch, who was a professor at Colgate just to the north AND the founder of the Colgate Writers Workshop AND a phenomenal writer. His wife Judy was a mentor of mine when I first started teaching, and as Fred says in the dedication, This is Judy’s book. LAST, I think Catherine Hollander is just a kick-butt heroine, and I really jam to her artisty wood-chopping tomato-picking 40-something mother-of-boys Gestalt.
If you like this novel, there are two short stories that I know of that precede it, found in Domestic Particulars and Too Late American Boyhood Blues. (If anyone knows of other Harry and Catherine stories I missed, please let me know.) If you like books, read everything Fred Busch ever wrote because he was brilliant. I just ordered three used copies of his novel Sometimes I Live in the Country to foist onto my students from Sherburne because it is set in their school. I have read Harry and Catherine probably 15 times.