Bittersweet. I’ve known the word since my Arkansas childhood when, as days shortened and breezes grew brisk, I traveled with my parents from Little Rock to Eureka Springs making our annual pilgrimage for an autumn visit with our relatives. Year after year we followed two lane roads carrying us past the low lying farms, and then we began winding up into the colorful Ozark Highlands where cattle grazed beyond four square fences strung on hillsides.
We did stop. We stopped and helped ourselves to the abundant bounty free for the harvesting and filled the large basket we carried for collecting the treasure that was to be our yearly offering.
As we arrived at our farmhouse destination, Daddy pulled into the front yard. From under the glowing yellow maple tree he dramatically honked our car horn over and over. Uncle Chester flung open the screen door, waved and crossed over the wrap-around porch. With his burly arms he gathered us up and then our overnight cases. When Aunt Gladys came out wiping her hands on her white apron, Mother presented her with our bittersweet brimming basket.
While Daddy parked by the chicken coup, my brother and I raced to be first at the outhouse. Until my brother was old enough to go to school, I always won, being four years older.
Though we wanted to explore the big hay barn, dinner smells drew us inside and to the dining room. There we found Aunt Gladys expressing her delight as she decorated the dinner table “just so” with our vining strands of festive orange berries. Mother Nature was palpably present blessing the table before we even sat down and Uncle Chester said our grace.
Uncle Chester and Aunt Gladys have passed. Their memory-filled farmhouse is gone—burned to the ground by a lightning strike. Mother and Daddy and my brother are all gone, too.
Ah, such bittersweet memories. They return this time each year as our trees color and the air turns brisk and my husband David and I decorate our old home with autumn leaves and strands and wreaths of bittersweet and other autumn berries. Nothing much else is needed except for a scented candle burning in each room, offering up the memories of bittersweet seasons already passed.
The bittersweet nightshade is an American climbing plant that bears clusters of bright orange pods. The leaves have a bitter, then sweet taste, hence the name. The description first originated in the 1800’s.
Like the bittersweet plant or a piece of bittersweet chocolate made with only a small amount of sugar, a bittersweet emotional feeling calls up a contrast—feelings of both happiness and nostalgic sadness, too.
As songster Billy Joel reminds us, “Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.”
Even an exceptional art exhibition must come to an end with our regretful good-bye, but not quite yet. You still have plenty of time to say “hello” to Jodie Sutton’s ENCAUSTIC AUTUMN LANDSCAPES—112 stunningly awesome paintings made with hot wax—continuing on view at Hyde House through November 17, 2019. Gallery Hours: Fridays and Saturdays, 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. The display of this beautiful collection is generously underwritten by Sirloin Stockade. For more information call (417)358-4404.
I send you best wishes for this beautiful bittersweet season.