My Trip to Bountiful

Alice's Cabin as seen from the Dam

 
I have always been moved by Horton Foote’s play/teleplay/screenplay The Trip to Bountiful. Its elderly heroine, Carrie Watts, longs to return to her rural childhood home. To her it represents youth, peace, joy, and love.
 
We all have our individual Bountifuls. Their sights, sounds, and textures speak to us of home, of happy childhood, of a close kinship with nature.
 
I’m lucky enough to be able to make visits from time to time to my own Bountiful. It’s located less than a mile from my home in Hawley, Massachusetts, in the summer community of Singing Brook Farm. 

My family rented Alice’s Cabin every summer from the time I was four until I was 21. The cabin is set in the woods, way down a curvy dirt road.

 

Alice’s Cabin perches right above Singing Brook Farm’s dammed up mountain stream and tennis courts—an ideal location for children. We could always see who was available for play.

 
Nowadays my brother David, my sister-in-law Leigh, and my nephew Michael rent the cabin each summer with a little contribution from me. They don’t stay for the entire summer so I always get to enjoy some time there.
 
I used to stay at the cabin in order to be alone. My mother can no longer be left by herself. So this summer she and I have spent a couple of nights together at Alice’s Cabin.
 
There are a few things I DON’T like about Alice’s Cabin. Since people don’t live in it for most of the year (with no insulation, a small wood stove for heat, and an above-ground water supply, the place can’t be used except in the summer) it tends to attract other residents—bugs, mice, and often a bat. It’s also a little nippy, even in the summer. 

Everything else I love. So does my mother. So do the dog and cat. The latter has unfortunately retired from mousing at the advanced age of 19; her celestial blue eyes are beautiful but blind.

Lorelei Lee adores this sofa, perhaps because the cover matches her eyes.

 
When my family first moved to a year-round house on the main road, in fact, I had trouble sleeping. I missed the brook’s lullaby.
 
Since we are regular tenants Singing Brook Farm lets us strew our stuff about. The cover art for my cookbook hangs on a wall in the kitchen, and the cow painting given to me in graduate school by an artist, Ernie from Mars, looms majestically above the mantle. 

(Ernie and the cow deserve their own post one of these days. For the moment, let me just say that the cow is hard to miss.)
  

My own room (used by nephew Michael when he is in residence) is decorated with posters. Two of my favorites are a World War I-era announcement and a blown-up advertisement for one of my singing engagements.

 

Naturally, when we are at Alice’s Cabin my mother and I spend time down at the Dam. The water is cool—actually, COLD—but refreshing. Jan can’t go swimming unless she has more than one person to help her so sometimes we have to compromise.  

I am able to move her chair into the water so that she can cool her feet off. And she often enjoys just sitting near the Dam with Truffle. The air there is always cooler than it is way up on the main road. 

 
I don’t know how often we’ll be able to stay at Alice’s Cabin this summer since moving around tends to disorient my mother.
 
Even if I don’t go back at all, I’ll feel that my portion of the rent has been well spent. Sunday night after my mother went to bed, I sat happily reading in the living room with the animals by my side. As always, the sounds of the singing brook soothed me.
 
Like Carrie Watts, I felt a sense of peace and renewal. I was home.
 
As a bonus, I experienced a spectacular sunset—something I don’t get to see at my regular house since the Casa Weisblat faces east. (Sunrises are completely wasted on me.) 

What—and where—is YOUR Bountiful, readers?

 
Mint Syrup
 
I’ll bet you almost thought I was going to forget to include a recipe in this post!
 
This syrup smells just like the doorway to Alice’s Cabin. Mint grows wild outside the door, and it’s almost impossible not to step on it and release its aroma. (I don’t actually try very hard to avoid it.)
 
The recipe appears in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. I like it in tea or lemonade. It also makes a lovely punch combined with iced tea, fruit juice, and ginger ale.
 
If you store your syrup for more than a couple of months, you may have to thin it out by heating it with additional water. Make sure it is either well sealed or refrigerated, or it will mold after a couple of weeks.
 
Ingredients:
 
8 sprigs fresh spearmint
8 sprigs fresh peppermint
(If you don’t have both, use twice as much of either.)
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 or 2 drops of green food coloring (optional)
 
Instructions:
 
Wash and carefully blot the mints dry. Place them in a saucepan, and pound or crush them slightly to release their flavors. Add the sugar and water, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
 
Turn down the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the food coloring, if desired, and remove from heat. 

Let the syrup cool for a few minutes; then strain it through cheesecloth into a sterilized jar or bottle. Makes about 2 cups.   

The newest feature of Alice's Cabin. One can sit on the swing and watch tennis, listen to the rain, or just take a nap.

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20 Responses to “My Trip to Bountiful”

  1. Flaneur says:

    Bravo! Your posting of the recipe for mint syrup could not have arrived at a better time of the year. It’s a pity that not all American restaurateurs read your blog – they might learn something quite simple but much-appreciated by patrons. Recently, at a stupendously wonderful restaurant in, of all places, Grand Rapids, Michigan, on a ferociously hot evening, I was served a tall glass of freshly-brewed iced tea, accompanied by a small pitcher of chilled simple syrup. Weary soul that I was, the syrup eliminated a few steps and also provided immediate and perfectly balanced sweetness to the tea. No doubt your mint syrup would also provide the appealing fillip of minty coolness. Why not eliminate those assorted, soggy bags (in humid July) of sugar, or (worse artificial sweeteners) and provide an accompanying pitcher of plain and mint simple syrup. This should be a restaurant law, and Congress appears to be doing nothing else this summer.

    Jan, smiling in the picture of her sitting at the Dam, would smile more broadly if she had a glass of iced tea and a picture of mint syrup. Surely there is beverage service available at the Dam and/or tennis court?

  2. Sheila Velazquez says:

    Tinky,

    Thank you for this essay. Beautiful thoughts. You are fortunate in that your “Bountiful” has essentially remained the same as it was in your childhood. Too many of us would not recognize the places to which we long to return and must preserve them in memory. Sometimes that’s good enough.

  3. janice sorensen says:

    I awoke this morning in the tree house Michael and I have set up for ourselves. I’ve had my morning run and a refreshing tepid bath. I loved reading this post and am realizing I am in the throes of my “bountiful.” Thanks for spelling it out for me. -janice
    I was soo taken by the pic of your beautiful cat.

  4. Ginny says:

    What a beautiful essay; I felt cooler just reading it. Thank you, T.

  5. Jack Estes says:

    What a fantastic post, Tink. And the photos were perfect. Jan is gorgeous!! You really create a wonderful Bountiful. And the tea – I can smell it just from reading your post.

  6. Oh Tinky – this is a beautiful post. I hope you and your Mum get to spend some more time together at Alice’s Cabin. I have travelled widely (on one trip I literally travelled round the world!), but for me, the best place to be is at home with Malcolm!
    I’ve never had mint syrup, but I do make mint sauce to have with roast lamb – it used to be my job as a child when my Mum was cooking Sunday dinner!

  7. Grad says:

    Tinky, this was so very lovely…so beautifully written…I felt as though I was walking down that road and just around the bend would be Alice’s cabin. What a wonder place to have memories linger. And the visual the name “Singing Brook Farm” conjurs is magical in itself. By the way, the “Red White and Blue” pie was wonderful.

  8. Chas says:

    Your post on the Farm was beautiful and touching. The Farm is my special place as well.

  9. tinkyweisblat says:

    Flaneur, if there were beverage service at the Dam, I have a feeling I’d be providing it so I’m glad there isn’t. But I agree that mint syrup livens up a summer drink.

    Sheila, I’m afraid my Bountiful will soon be only a memory, too; old cabins need work. Thanks for the poetic response.

    Janice, how wonderful that your Bountiful looks AHEAD!

    Ginny, Jack, and Grad, thanks; this post was dear to my heart as you could tell.

    Frayed, I love mint sauce or jelly with lamb as well–it IS a childhood thing, isn’t it?

    Chas, it’s always lovely to hear from a fellow SBF alum. You are a big part of my memories of the place.

    By the way, Jan and Lorelei Lee LOVE being admired so thanks on their behalf for the compliments!

  10. This was wonderful Tinky! So very well written- you almost had me crying… and desperately missing the mountain house I grew up in. The house is not with us anymore, but it was a great big house perched on Sugar Mountain here in North Carolina. I have so many childhood memories that take place in that house and I only wish I could create some grown-up memories there with my husband and son.
    And I love fresh mint syrup..goes great with fresh cucumber juice!

  11. tinkyweisblat says:

    The mint with cucumber sounds ideal; I’ll have to try it, EveryDay. And I know from your blog that you are creating wonderful memories with your young family, even if you can’t go to Sugar Mountain.

  12. E. Sheppard says:

    What a great place. I loved the photos too.

  13. Pam Matthews says:

    Tinky – Loved going on your trip to bountiful with you. You are to be commended for sharing these visits and the surroundings with your mom. I enjoyed the story and your photos – and I can’t wait to hear more about Ernie from Mars and whether he’s still producing such fantastic graphics!

  14. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thanks, E! Pam, alas, I no longer have any idea where Ernie is. But I have great stories to tell from the past! Stay tuned……..

  15. Adelaide says:

    Hi Tinky,

    Your cat is beautiful

    unseeing eyes
    the blue of sky and mountain lake
    still regal she rules
    with commanding meows
    and contented purrs

    Adelaide

  16. tinkyweisblat says:

    Adelaide–Lorelei Lee is asleep right now, exhausted from today’s commanding meows. I’m sure she’ll come up with a contented purr tomorrow when I read this to her.

  17. Betsy says:

    My Bountiful is, sadly, no longer accessible to me, except in my mind as it was sold to someone outside the family – but it was my grandmother’s house, built by her father in the late 1800′s. Although not in the middle of the woods, it was where I always found peace, quiet and tons and tons of love. We visited her at her house every week when I was a child. And in the summers, Gramma always served us iced tea with mint on her back porch. As I’ve just come back from the Vineyard with a huge bunch of fresh mint from my brother-in-law’s place there and a new recipe for sweet tea from my mom, your mint syrup comes at exactly the right moment. Mine is currently simmering as I write…can’t wait to try it…thank you for bringing back such lovely memories of my Gramma and her wonderful home where a good deal of my childhood was spent.

  18. tinkyweisblat says:

    Betsy, that is absolutely lovely! I know the feeling. My grandmother had a Victorian house years ago, too, and we visited every summer. I can remember the way it smelled–just a little musty but with lovely food smells. It was a farm on the outskirts of Rutland, Vermont; now it’s a commercial property and completely surrounded. But as you say one still has the memories! Enjoy yours … and the syrup!

  19. David says:

    Hi Tinky,
    Mardi got tears in her eyes when she read this post. She is very fond of Jan and it was sad to hear how she is slowing down, although it must come to us all. My memories are somewhat combined with the Farm and the house in Rutland. We frequently drive by it when we come back from Smuggs and it is sad to see it all brown and looking like a somewhat rundown fish store. On the other hand, Sewards is still there and still serving their root beer.

    I truly think the our oldest memories are of smells and tastes, and that the memory of places is bound up with those senses. I remember the smell of the fields of both the Farm and Rutland, which our children are too far removed from a rural past to appreciate. Somehow I also associate pies with all of this, and the peculiar coolness of August evenings.

  20. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thanks, David and Mardi. It’s true about the smells and tastes. And while Jan is slowing down she is generally still quite happy–always a good thing. If she’s with family, she’s almost always in Bountiful.

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