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No delay in packing away the signs of summer


It was an odd practice, but my grandmother granted no exceptions: The ice tea disappeared from her table the day after Labor Day.

Lily Rose, who cast the rules at the old Guilford Avenue house, hated hot weather and all its trappings. So, when the first Monday in September rolled around, she decreed she'd had enough of the summer and stopped making ice tea.(That tea, by the way, was the best you've ever tasted and took a while to make and all afternoon to steep. She prepared it in a large crockery bowl, decorated with a fancy 1920s-style grapevine pattern. Like the tea it held, the bowl was washed and put away on her pantry shelf, where it would sit empty until Dec. 23, when it was filled with her eggnog.)

September was a month of gradual change. The summer clothes began to be put away. We kept the vacation homes open, but only for a few more weeks. (I can well recall the state trooper rapping on the door of a little cottage in Dewey Beach one late summer day and ordering us back to Baltimore to beat Hurricane Someone.)

Aunt Cora, my grandmother's sister, placed the call to Jefferson's awnings to have the men with the ladders take down the canvas panels that shaded the front porch. She and her sister put their summer straw hats away; Lily wore blue straw, Cora's were cream-colored. They carefully wrapped up their July hats in circular cardboard hatboxes.

As a child, I could tell the difference between the two siblings' handwriting, rendered in black crayon across manufacturers' and department store labels attached to hatbox labels.

It was a bittersweet time of year. While we said goodbye to summer, we ushered in a whole new routine for the days when the weather was still pleasant and the curtainless windows could stay open. (No curtains yet, but dark blue linen-weave shades remained for a few brief weeks.)

For starters, these sister cooks resumed making the dishes that had disappeared over the hot weather months.

The buckwheat cakes arrived on Sunday mornings. So did the kidney stew for those who would go near it. There was far more baking - maybe a pineapple upside-down cake. And, without fail, a new supply of homemade ketchup, always put up on a humid September day when the tomatoes were about to explode in their ripeness.

The standing rib roast of beef returned on Saturday nights. So did roast pork loin with quarts of sauerkraut.

Speaking of the dining room, it went back into commission after a summer's vacation recess. At a distance of 40 years, it seems funny today, but the sisters disassembled the house for the summer, hid the silver and stowed away dust-catchers such as cut-glass bowls.

As the pleasant scent of the brewing tea infused with the juice and skins of four lemons disappeared from the kitchen, the wedding gift bowl returned to the dining room table. It was a present to my grandparents, who were wed in 1916.

That bowl held the morning backyard garden crop: the roses, so battered down by the summer heat, came back. So did the cockscomb (celosia), the fall ageratum and maybe some vivid purple widow's tear too (spiderwort), all mixed in with the spectacular fireworks of September's zinnias.

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