Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I bet it was a Sunday afternoon

I wish this old photo showed more of what was going on-showed more of who was there-maybe even showed my grandparents' farmhouse with its screened-in front porch because I know that's where this photo was taken. Underneath all that snow is the cinder driveway that led around to the back of that house down to the shallow rock. Shown is one poplar tree. There were more poplar trees lining that driveway back then. I loved when the wind moved the leaves. It was magical. I didn't love the thunder and lightning storm that cracked one of those trees in half on a summer evening when I huddled around my grandmother with my cousins on that screened-in front porch.

Standing in the forefront is my father. What's surprising to me is not the cigarette in his mouth because they all smoked back then. What's surprising is the fact he is out there in the first place appearing to be enjoying himself. And he's not wearing a tie. In fact, he seems to be wearing a leisure sort of shirt-leisure pants, boots, and coat. The hat seems to be a bit out of place. It reminds me of the father I remember. He most always wore a tie and a hat with a feather. Being a funeral director, he was always on call.

I love seeing the adults playing out in the snow. I bet it was a Sunday afternoon. Back then, families gathered on Sundays. Back then kids played outside as well. But you have to remember, back then there weren't electronic devices to grab their attention and keep it. I'm certain my grandmother was in her kitchen cooking one of her delicious home-cooked meals. And when they all gathered, I'm certain they stayed around the dining room table and talked-and talked.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Home

Most of us will go through life having more than a few places we'll call home. Different stages in our lives-different circumstances warrant changes in our address. Some of those changes go unnoticed. A very few remain with us no matter where we go. It's not because of brand name counter tops or built-in fireplaces or in-ground pools with surrounding paper brick. While that stuff might make us comfortable, none of it matters for the simple reason home is not defined by a price tag or a brand or color or design. Rather, home is defined in our hearts. Home tugs at us. Like a bird in its nest, we know when we're there. Home wraps us up in comfort like an old, tattered quilt. Home keeps the world away. Home allows us to be still.

I have a few places I call home. The one that comes to mind more often than not was my first home. The home where I grew up before we moved to the country when I was in the third grade. I remember every nook and cranny of that clapboard house situated on a lane. My mind can wander through its rooms like a video recorder. I can still feel the 2nd step down into my bedroom move. I can hear it creak. I can smell the aromas from the kitchen coming up through a register in my bedroom. I can hear the wind swirling  though the trees in the back yard. A few years ago, I drove by that house. It used to be yellow but is now an emerald green. That didn't matter. I still saw it as yellow. The owners happened to be out front. I knew the minute I saw them I was going to stop. I pulled right up to the same curb I'd jumped over and walked on when I was a little girl. I introduced myself and explained why I was stopping. Without my asking, they invited me inside the house that tugs at my heart. As they took me from room to room changes made to that home didn't matter either. In fact, I felt the 2nd step down into what had been my bedroom move although there were new steps. Three in fact. And they didn't move. I could smell the aromas from the kitchen still coming up through a register although the register was no longer there. I could hear the wind swirling through the trees in the backyard even though the trees were gone. 

I define that home by memories I hold dear in my heart. While I don't dwell on that place and time, when I do think of it, I get in touch with that little girl inside me.

That clapboard home on the lane grounds me. Brings me back-then pushes me forward and on I go to that place I now call home-out in the country with smells and textures all its own with a barn out back and fields to explore.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Old Skates Full of Memories

Besides the pine desk my grandfather made me one year for Christmas being one of my most favorite Christmas presents ever, my white figure skates are on that list as well. Little did I know that particular Christmas morning, as I sat on my knees in the living room of a house situated alongside a lane, with my grandmother watching me open a box and finding the skates underneath sheets of tissue paper, that many years later I'd remember that moment when opening the box as if it was yesterday. I'd asked for the skates. I'd seen them sitting on a sled in a window of a hardware store in our downtown when out Christmas shopping with my mother. The skates were just as I imagined. I knew they were for me.

Shortly after that Christmas we moved out to the country. Lucky for me and my skates there was a creek that flowed through the field behind our house and cousins next door who loved to skate. In the winter once the creek froze over, we were down there whenever possible. That meant after school, on weekends, and in the evenings. I can't remember ever being cold. We'd be having too much fun-zooming along at top speed, twirling, racing, eating snow and ice pellets, pretending we were in the Olympics, etching designs in the ice with the tips of our skates. Whenever it snowed, we'd shovel paths all about the creek and then skate along them as if they were roads on top of the ice, leading to anywhere we wished to go, anywhere around the world. It was always fun to look down through the ice at weeds and creek grass frozen in place. It was like having a huge frozen water globe all to ourselves. In fact, we did have it all to ourselves. A few times we'd pack a lunch including hot chocolate and follow the creek as it wove through the field, under fences, around rocks and trees. Our journey took forever. There was a lot of exploring to be done.

Skating under the moon and stars was my favorite time. We were never afraid of the looming shadows or the wind howling through the barren trees. They added to the backdrop. And as the wind sang its lonely song my cousin and I would lay on top of the ice and talk and dream and take in the glittering beauty surrounding us. Those millions of stars were the most glittering stars I've ever seen enhanced by the mysterious-the magical moon.

Although I no longer use my skates, I still have them with me. They've survived moves from one place to another. They've been kept in closets, garages, boxes, trunks of cars. I even lost track of them a few times. But through it all, they've survived. While they've lost their youth, I still see them as I did that Christmas of long ago. And this past Christmas I put them on display with an old sleigh for all to see-especially me.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pg. 51-French Goulash

Back in 1975 the oldest of my grandmother's six daughters undertook a project that still brings smiles to those of us who have followed. This aunt was quite creative. I remember her making Christmas candles using discarded milk cartons and serving the best sloppy joes ever. But it was that project years ago of sitting down with my grandmother and collecting her most treasured recipes and then putting them in order in a handwritten cookbook that takes the cake-pardon the pun. You have to understand. Many of my grandmother's recipes weren't written down or found in another cookbook. They certainly weren't on line. The only on line back then was a clothesline.Her recipes were in her heart-her mind. Many didn't have exact measurements. A pinch of this-a thing or two of that were used to define teaspoons and tablespoons. How long to bake something was often not told in time but how something looked or smelled in the oven. "Until it looks cooked" was a favortie line used by my grandmother.

So for my aunt to assemble the recipes and then record them for others to be able to use with exactness was a mighty task. But she did it in style-breaking the cookbook into seasons and telling stories of each season as they grew up on the family farm. It is an anthology of sorts of a time that has long since disappeared-including their one-room schoolhouse, telling how my grandfather would harvest ice with his team of horses and flatbed sleigh from a nearby river-to the lighting of candles nestled inside little tin candle clips on Christmas morning after breakfast, those candle tins sitting on tips of branches of a Christmas tree put up on Christmas Eve. Besides the recipes, those memories are reason enough to cherish the cookbook-to keep it for generations still to come-offering them a glimpse of relatives and a way of life they will never know.

While I have copies of the cookbook given to me be my cousin that have never been touched I chose to show the cover of that cookbook I've used over and over. The stains-the tape holding it together show how much I treasure it-how much I go to it for not only a recipe but to reread the stories. The line illustrations by yet another cousin add the perfect touch.

Of all my favorite recipes in, "Mom's Farm Kitchen", a favorite is on pg. 51-"French Goulash." I've made that goulash so many times and every time the smell of the bacon cooking, along with a pepper and onion, as spaghetti is cooked and drained in wait of being added-brings me back to my grandmother's farmhouse kitchen. That's what family recipes do. And when I make her rice pudding on page 79 and her Banana Nut Bread on page 108 I'm in heaven!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Soup's On


 

It’s fitting that January follows the hustle and stress of Christmas. Call me odd but January’s my favorite month of the year. It’s always been my favorite. When I was little, it was the mounds of snow that intrigued me. It didn’t matter how cold it was, my cousins and I would stay outside making snow houses and castles and forts. Now when January rolls around, the art of soup-making intrigues me. Drawing me to the kitchen which is not where I normally prefer to create. I didn’t come by this soup thing on my own. It’s in the genes. And it is an art. Add a loaf of bread and a salad and January gets even better.

Along with donuts and breads, French goulash and everything else in between, my grandmother was the original soup guru. Anything leftover became soup for the next day. When you farm the land and you’re raising six daughters, there’s nothing called waste. Instead of following recipes, my grandmother followed her intuition with the season of the year determining which vegetables might be added to the boiling brew. Void of any additives or extracts or artificial this-and-that, freshness was a given. I’m convinced that’s the reason why so many lived long and healthy lives back then.

My mother was known for her witch’s brew. This favorite soup wasn’t served just around Halloween but all through fall and straight through March or April depending on the weather. The thought of that broth slowly cooking on top of the stove with snow softly falling makes the realization that it’s January quite exciting.

Making the brew was an all day event or maybe it just seemed that way. Anticipation has a way of doing that when you’re young. After cutting up the carrots and onions just so, my mother would add the seasonings including bouillon cubes. She loved bouillon cubes. Kept cans of them in a drawer next to the stove. She’d often boil a cup of water. Then throw in some cubes and drink it like a cup of tea.

There was no certain recipe followed. Sometimes tomatoes would be added. Sometimes she’d cut up a green pepper or dice chicken into small pieces or make tiny meatballs dressed in garlic and bread crumbs. While whatever made up a particular version may have varied, there was one constant-one ingredient never left out and that was acini d’pepe. Those little round bits of pasta were the icing on the cake or in this case-the finishing touch of a homemade soup which I now create. Cutting up the carrots and onions just so. Adding the seasonings including bouillon cubes and then going to the refrigerator to see what else I might add before stirring in those tiny bits of pasta.
 
This so-called brew holds memories of family gathering. Of being in a place of warmth and contentment while outside the wind would howl and the snow would grow into giant mounds-perfect for kids to roll in or slide down or pack into balls after having their bowl of witch’s brew on any given January day.
(Photo shows my grandmother's woodstove in her farmhouse kitchen. Most likely that is a pot of soup brewing).

 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Irony In A Day

Early in the morning of the day before Christmas I was in the grocery store. I was in a hurry as it was the last place I wanted to be. Standing by the meat counter I happened to look up. Coming towards me was a man I'd see now and then in various places-in stores or walking down a street. Whenever our paths crossed I'd always say hello but never received a response. Never saw a smile. Never made eye contact. In my mind I'd written him off as ornery. So when I saw him coming down the aisle I turned back around and continued my shopping. I forgot about him until I heard someone say,

"You can always count on needing a few more things before Christmas. You're smart being here early."

It was the ornery man talking to me. It had to be me I thought. I was the only one in sight. I was so shocked I didn't reply. I didn't have to. He kept talking.

"You might think I'm out early getting ready for Christmas dinner. Well I'm not. No Christmas dinner at my place. Hasn't been one in years. I'm a widower. My kids are married. None of them live here. Christmas dinners stopped when my wife died. I'm not really shopping. It just looks like I am. Truth is the walls close in on me sometimes. I have to get out of the house so I go to the stores and walk around. I have to get out of my chair. Too much idle time once my wife died. Retirement isn't what it's cracked out to be. I don't like idle time."

He stopped. He stood there looking at me. He was smiling. Suddenly on that early morning the ornery man was not so ornery. He was lonely. I asked him where he'd worked. He told me downstate. That's where he'd met his wife. He moved back after she passed away. He told me they'd had a good life. Then he told me he wouldn't keep me any longer and wished me a Merry Christmas.

"Merry Christmas to you as well, " I replied.

"I'll probably see you at Walmart sometime, " he mumbled with his back to me, pushing his empty cart up an aisle.

Later that evening, upon urging of my 5-year old granddaughter, I opened a gift she handed me as she stood by my side dressed in her beautiful Christmas dress with the biggest, the most excited Christmas Eve smile ever. Once I pulled away the tissue paper I understood why as a box full of reindeer was waiting for me. She and her mommy had gone to a craft show at her school. That's where she bought the reindeer. I don't think she could have picked out anything else that would have meant so much to me as those beautiful reindeer. You see we have a pretend game we play. She is Melanie Kitten and I am Gra Gra Reindeer. Her imagination sometimes stops me cold. It did that night as had that man I'd assumed was ornery earlier in the day.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Comfort of the Emerald Green Velvet Dress

When I graduated from high school I was clueless as to what I wanted to do. My mother insisted I enroll in a local college for girls run by nuns. It was small. I could live at home while I figured it out. I didn't want to go there but I finally took the step. I was tired of my mother asking, "What are you going to do?"
Turned out it wasn't so bad. There were lots of interesting girls there from all over the place. I never liked high school but soon discovered this was different. Since I lived at home and since I had an older brother who drove a little TR3 and often came and picked me up, I was quite popular. Many of my new found friends took turns staying at my house when weekends rolled around. And some of those weekends included 'Mixers' with fraternities in colleges nearby. This was really lots of fun-especially one Mixer. That's when I met a guy from Niagara Falls. He was quite possibly the cutest guy in the place. He asked me to dance. Not once. Not twice but four times. When the bus came to take them back to their fraternity house, he asked me for my phone number. The next week he called. This was early October. We were still an item straight up to the Holidays. That's when he asked me to a Christmas Ball. I was told it would be a fancy affair. He was wearing a suit and tie. I prayed he'd splash on some English Leather. I'd grown to love his cologne. Most all the girls loved English Leather. Many of us bought small bottles of the stuff and dabbed a bit on favorite stuffed bears. I dabbed mine on a little stuffed puppy I'd had for years.

The event was to be held at a grand hotel in the downtown of where I lived. It was an amazing hotel with a grand front porch where rocking chairs sat ready for rocking in the summertime. It was gloriously decorated. Chandeliers shimmered, resembling something out of an old Hollywood movie. Because of the hotel's elegance I knew my dress had to be elegant as well. But instead of going shopping, I went to my grandmother and asked her to make me a velvet dress. An emerald green velvet dress. I was confident I'd be wearing the most beautiful dress at the Ball. My grandmother was an accomplished seamstress. She'd sewn all her life. Most times she never used a pattern. She'd just sit down at her Singer sewing machine with her tape measure around her neck and straight pins pinned to her house dress and create. That's what she did after I asked her to make me that dress. She created the most beautiful emerald green velvet dress ever made and it only took one fitting. With long sleeves and darts just right, that dress was the perfect dress. I felt like Cinderella-until the very last dance of the evening.

I knew he was going home for Christmas the next  day so I asked him when he was getting back. That's when he told me he wasn't coming back. He was transferring. Even worse, he told me he had a girl friend back home. And they were serious. I don't remember much after that. Tears tend to cloud your eyes especially when you're gasping for breath. We were with another couple. Looking back I'm sure they knew about the girl friend. No one spoke when we pulled into my driveway. Not even my date. I just opened the car door, slammed it shut and never saw him again. Once in my bedroom in complete despair I threw my little dog smelling of English Leather in the basket. I curled up in bed still wearing my emerald green velvet dress and cried. I sobbed so hard that my mother heard me. Peeking in my bedroom, she whispered, "You looked beautiful tonight in that emerald green velvet dress."
After she shut the door, I realized she was saying so much more. I fell asleep in the comfort of that emerald green velvet dress.
Looking back-I can remember every detail of that dress. But I can't even remember that guy's name.