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'When are you going to bake bread?' he asked

''When are you going to bake bread?'' my husband asks as his fortnightly exercise in keeping the question alive. I haven't baked bread since we moved to the country six years ago. I baked bread before we moved here, to practice up for rural living, but I haven't had time since.

''Man does not live by bread alone,'' I remind him on my way to plant oats, ''but by garden-tending, fence-mending, and back-bending, not to mention the goats!''

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Transforming two night-owlish writers into day-breaking farmers requires some changes, it seems.

But I really ought to bake a loaf of bread, just for its smell alone. Once when I baked bread at my grandmother's the mailman nearly came undone. Standing in the doorway there while she signed for something, he smelled the bread and ever after swooned over her womanly charms.

This was funny: Sure my grandmother kept a cozy cottage with cookies always in reach, not to mention the roses all over the gate and around the front steps and along each fence. And she had plenty of womanly charms - but she never did bake bread. In fact, as a younger woman she had been outstandingly independent - with appointments and goings and comings, claiming often in later years that women's lib had nothing on her.

I remember, in fact, it was a joke among the family females that my grandmother's advice to a daughter on marrying was to hang up her hat and heat up the kettle first thing when she got home.

''Why?'' I asked as a girl, while they giggled.

My grandmother's eyes were innocent blue, widening all the more so: ''To make it look like she hasn't been out!'' It was her of-course tone, and I didn't say more.

But I decided then that I would never be deceptive. I decided right then that I would never use wiles to get what I wanted, smiles to get my way, or hats and kettles to whistle an excuse for me. I would not be loved for my tea-brewing, hat-strewing, or husband-wooing.

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And I don't. And I won't. And I wouldn't. What would be the point? All those hats and gloves and things - weren't they just so much cover-up of the real me?

So the real me, uncovered, makes no effort to hide what she's up to. The real me, unchained, stoops over hoes, bends by rakes, squats beside goats chewing far too contentedly. The real me, unfettered, does not pretend not to growl as I tote the tether line, lift the milk pail, scratch the ground with a spade for an answer, flailing the weeds with a hoe for some word.

Fiddle-de-diddle-de-diddle, Fiddle-de-diddle-dee-dee. . . .

For a moment I think I hear a strain of the fiddling fools I thought we'd all be, or become, anyway, by coming here. Happy hoe-downers, rolling porch-rockers, while we watched the crops grow.

But no - catching up on a lifetime of uprootedness, top-soillessness, unearthiness, takes a lot of digging. As for an ancient find.

Fiddle-de-diddle-de-diddle, Fiddle-de-diddle-dee-dee. . . .

And what's that? Oh! My son, scratching his violin over in the field next to mine. Says he's fiddling up the moon over the mountain, and sure enough soon the great big old moon rises to the occasion.

He lowers his bow then, heaving up something else, bringing it in under one arm. ''Hey look, Mom,'' he yells, ''want to make something out of this?''

Suddenly I find meaning in the pumpkin he's bringing. For in the plot next to this one, which didn't get tilled, the volunteer pumpkin vine spills all over the place, sprawls in the uncultured space, in full-leafed view, in the full moonlight. We didn't plant it and we didn't weed it and we didn't even bother to water it right. It just grew - lily-like - in the field.

''Want to make something of it?'' The question hangs potent in the air - the possibilities of pumpkins parading there like fairy tales in my head. Not just coaches and princes but pie and - yes - bread!

I hang up my hoe and go inside, turning the teakettle on and thinking: While the pumpkin pie bakes and the pumpkin bread cools I just might set my hair for a change and put on something beautiful.

Now the real me still doesn't make an effort to hide what I'm up to, and my husband often turns on the kettle and probably will someday bake the bread - if I don't get to it. But I think I'll get to it, even though there's no door-to-door mailman on our rural route to impress. Some things a woman just has a right to. Like pumpkin bread and a lily dress.

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