Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Berry Picker in Jeans

This is the one and only time I remember my grandmother ever wearing jeans and sneakers. She was going berry-picking while visiting one of her six daughters and family. I can only imagine the laughs they had as that particular daughter was lots of fun just like her mother. I wasn't there but something tells me they filled that bucket she is holding more than once. And I'm sure when my grandmother was back home, she baked some strawberry-rhubarb pies.

As far back as I can remember, my grandmother always wore a house dress with black shoes that tied up the front so seeing her dressed in jeans was like seeing a whole other side of her. She had an assortment of house dresses. They all had pockets. Most were a muted plaid material. Probably a cotton. On special occasions she'd wear one of her good dresses and if she was cooking, she'd wear an apron. While I don't remember ever picking berries with my grandmother, I do remember enjoying the pies she'd bake by combining a pinch of this and a dash of that. Of course her crusts were homemade. Crisco played a role in that.

Her list of homemade pies was extensive including favorites such as apple and pumpkin; mincemeat and custard. I loved her raisin pie and all the berry pies made when the berries were in season. My all-time, most favorite pie was her lemon meringue. I've tried my best to create a lemon meringue pie just like my grandmother's, even using her recipe, but I fall short every time. I think the problem is my thoughts wander back to those times of eating her lemon meringue pie and having her there and sitting in her kitchen and enjoying the pie on a certain plate surrounded by other family members doing the same while talking and enjoying the moment. Funny how food sparks our memories. Funny how food takes us back. The texture of her pies-the aromas from her kitchen-her rolling pin-her worn yet strong hands-her hair pulled up in a bun-flour everywhere-her braided rugs-her African Violets sitting on a drop leaf table in the other room-the bookcase full of books and photographs.

Funny how a pie, a simple pie made with love and served with a smile while wearing a house dress with pockets and black shoes that tied up the front can bring it all right back as if it was yesterday. There's magic in those recipes. Of course the magician herself had lots to do with it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

At Age 12 I 'Adopted' My Baby Brother

I have three siblings. The youngest was born in May-the same month I turned twelve. I was very excited to have this baby brother especially with summer vacation coming, I knew I'd get to spend lots of time with him. What I didn't know was just how much and in what way.

I can't remember exactly when it happened, but soon after my mother came home from the hospital with him, she discovered she had a blood clot in her left leg. All I remember her telling me in the middle of the night was she'd experienced pain in her leg. It had turned black. They woke me up to listen for the baby while my father rushed my mother to the hospital. Back then the treatment for such a blood clot was far different than it is today. My mother ended up staying in the hospital for most of the summer. I was taken out of school early to help. My aunt who lived next door-a nurse with four children-stepped in as well. She'd take my baby brother as much as she could which was a lot. He'd sleep there. She'd care for him-feed him-bathe him. I wasn't happy with the arrangement. He was my brother and I wanted to do it all. Looking back, I thank God she was there. I never would have made it. I think she felt my frustration so we devised a plan with input from my father who was very busy being a funeral director, visiting my mother in the hospital, and helping me keep the house picked up and cooking and watching my younger sister. We decided I'd go to my aunt's house after my brother's morning bath-bring him home and take him back after supper, depending on how things were going. It worked. I had him most of the day. On sunny days I'd put him in his carriage and go for walks, visit my grandmother next door, or sit alongside the rock garden. When he slept, I'd read a book. But there was one time it didn't work. Not at all. I thought he'd end up in the hospital alongside my mother.

It happened when I kept him home for supper so my father could see him. I was so proud. I'd cooked the meal although I can't imagine now what it was. My aunt had just started feeding my brother cereal with some Gerber applesauce or pears so when my father and I went shopping, I bought him some chocolate pudding. I thought he would love it. But it turned out just the opposite. He became very sick and I became very nervous. I thought the days of 'adopting' my baby brother were over. But they weren't. The adults weren't as worried as I was and when my mother heard what I'd done, she didn't have a problem with it. But my father did throw out my supply of that chocolate pudding in the jars.

When my mother finally made it home, she had to take it easy. But at least she was home and feeling better. The top picture shows her outside sitting down while I rock my baby brother to sleep in his carriage. The bottom photo shows my parents next door at my grandmother's for a picnic. You can see the bandage she had to keep wrapped around her leg even when she went to bed.

That summer which began early for me was one I will never forget. I'm just glad my baby brother hasn't a clue, especially when it comes to the chocolate pudding.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Aboard the Marrakesh Express

I was in Morocco visiting my daughter, an ESL instructor. I'd brought along a children's book I'd written & illustrated plus a little doll for us to use with her students. After visiting the school, we caught the Marrakesh Express in Casablanca-destination Marrakesh! I could hear Crosby, Stills & Nash in every nook of that old train, chugging past shepherds using cell phones while sitting on donkeys.  And while onboard that train, I made a friend.

I never did learn her name. She was a beautiful, young girl sitting across from us with her mother and grandmother. While language was a barrier, it didn't matter. We communicated just fine. When the train slowed and it became apparent it was their stop, I reached into my purse, pulled out the doll and gestured to the mom if I could give the doll to her daughter. Her smile said it all.

As they disappeared into the crowd I watched as the young girl held the doll up for me to see, waving the little doll in the gentle breeze smelling of olives, oranges and the Atlantic.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Encouraged by a Nun teaching Creative Writing

When I was in high school, girls were more often than not encouraged by their guidance counselors to go into nursing or teaching. Or, they had their own plan to get married and raise a family. Throughout my senior year, my mother kept after me, "What are you going to do after graduation?Where are you going to apply?" It didn't help that my two best friends had known all along what they wanted to do and they had their applications in to prove it. One was going for nursing; the other teaching. I was clueless. While I never liked high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do when it was finally over. Well actually I did but my mother would have kicked me out of the house. You see, all I wanted to do was write. It didn't matter what I was writing as long as I was in that mode. So if I'd had my way I would have stayed sitting at my desk in my bedroom writing. Needless to say, that never happened.

Throughout that last year my mother kept throwing ideas at me. She really pushed nursing because she was a registered nurse. She'd been in charge of the ER. The thought of doing what she did made me ill. She was not happy with me so she arranged for a man representing an airline that serviced our hometown to come to our house and interview me. Of course the interview was not for piloting the plane but for becoming a flight attendant. The thought of flying around-landing and taking off-made me ill as well. Totally disgusted with me, my mother had my father take me to a local, all-girls Catholic college run by nuns for an interview. It was very small. There was one cinder block dorm. My parents told me I could live at home and take the car when it was available. And on some of those days when the car wasn't available my older brother could possibly pick me up. I liked that plan-especially the part of my brother picking me up because he had a red TR3. So I applied for an AAS Degree in Liberal Arts and I was accepted. And once classes began I found I liked it. It was nothing like high school. I made some friends but I think my having an older brother with a sports car helped. They loved coming home with me on weekends. I graduated at the end of two years and went on to another school some 3 hours away. There I applied for an AAS Degree in Advertising and Design. I liked that too and earned the degree and then life took hold of me. But down deep inside, I knew I had one more degree to earn.

You see, while I was attending the local, all-girls Catholic college, my favorite course was Creative Writing. At the end of the semester the nun teaching the course pulled me aside and told me I had a "gift for writing." I never forgot that. And when I was married and a mother of three I went back to that small local college and earned my AAS Degree in English. (The attached photo shows me receiving my degree).

Thanks to the nun encouraging me, I found my way in getting published. I am so glad my mother kept pushing me!


Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Little Sewing Machine Full of Memories

When I was in my early teens my parents added a room on to our home out in the country. That space would become my mother's fabric shop where she eventually sold not only fabrics of all sorts but everything else needed for the sewing process including patterns, zippers, bias tape, buttons-even hat forms and feathers and jewels to decorate one's hat creations. My mother had the shop decorated in fine antiques, providing warm and inviting displays for the bolts of fabric in season at the time. On Saturday mornings my grandmother offered sewing classes. She and my mother were fine seamstresses. That's where I learned how to sew although I never reached their level of craftsmanship.I loved that fabric shop. It provided me endless hours of imaginative play when the closed sign was on the door.

Recently when involved in a home renovation I came across what had been a focal point of my mother's fabric shop-a small, antique, hand-painted, working sewing machine which my uncle had turned into a lamp just for the shop. It was a centerpiece of conversation. My mother used it as sort of a "logo" back then for her country shop of fine fabrics. She had many offers from those interested in buying the little machine. From antique dealers to antique lovers, that mini machine caused a stir.

It is still causing a stir as it now sits on display in my home. And every time that happens I get to tell its story and the story of my mother's fabric store in the country.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Favorite Old Coat

Funny how certain things remain in your heart as you grow up. You don't judge their value monetarily. Rather, their value stems from the feelings they evoke; the memories they stir; the senses they ignite. Their value to you is priceless. It could be as something as small as a tea cup to something as big as a car. Whatever that favorite thing is, all that matters is that connection in your heart.

My favorite old coat has remained in my heart ever since growing up in the country. It seems like only yesterday when my mother came home from an afternoon of shopping in our once busy downtown with a big box just for me. It wasn't Christmas. It wasn't my birthday. It was just an ordinary day. Ordinary, that is, until I opened that box and discovered a brownish tweed wool coat wrapped in white tissue paper. It wasn't even that time of the year for wearing a coat but that never crossed my mind as I jumped up and pulled the coat out of the box. It was love at first sight for me and my coat. I unbuttoned the 3 buttons in the front and tried it on. It fit! I loved it more than I thought I ever could love a coat with pockets and a bit of a flair. I was a diva ready for the spotlight in my beautiful coat smelling of wool and all things warm and cozy and life is wonderful kind of stuff. But I had to wait to wear it. I had to get through the hot hazy days of summer and wait for the temperature to drop. So while waiting on Mother Nature I kept my coat in prime position in my closet. I could pull that coat out and put it on whenever I wanted to and when I did I'd strut about my room shared with my sister or sit at my desk and write my stories. My favorite old coat was always near.

I finally did get to wear my favorite coat beyond the confines of my bedroom. And every time I did I felt like a famous model gracing a runway with cameras clicking and viewers going ooh and ahh. I never grew tired of that brownish tweed coat with 3 buttons. I just grew out of it. I can't remember if it was handed down to my sister. In my heart I feel it eventually made it to my grandmother who most likely removed these 3 buttons and tore the coat apart into strips of fabric. She probably rolled those strips into a ball until needed for one of her breathtaking braided rugs. I'm hoping that's what happened to my favorite old coat. Then my favorite old coat would live on forever just like it does in my heart.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Perfectionist of French Braids

I never realized the skill and patience it takes to create French braids. My mother created them all the time and every time I was told by adults how perfect they were. Their remarks were part of the routine that started when I'd sit down at the kitchen table and stay still. On the table sat a tall glass of water with one of those skinny black combs, some hair clips and rubber bands. Back then there wasn't a slew of licensed characters on barrettes so I never whined for anything fancier than the simple, brown hair clips my mother bought at Newberry's or Woolworths. They didn't come in a variety of colors. They weren't decorated with little flowers or butterflies or ladybugs. They were basic brown-like my hair.

I don't remember it hurting when in the process of getting my hair French braided. I do remember my mother pulling and separating strands and then as she twisted the strands, she'd move farther and farther back from the table. When the braid was in place, she'd grab the rubber band and wrap it around the end of the braid. Then she'd turn me another way and do the same on the other side. This process of French braiding never took very long and every time my mother braided my hair, the braids were topped off with those brown clips void of any artwork put in place at the beginning of each braid.

The French braids were like identical twins every single time. Each hair was in place. Each braid twisted at the same place.The beauty of having French braids was the fact they stayed in place for a few days. That meant a few days void of bothering with my hair. When the braids were finally taken out and my hair was either washed or braided again, I loved the look of my hair just out of the braids. That's because my hair had become curly. Because my hair was naturally straight, it was fun to have it all in ringlets.

When I became a mother, I was horrible at braiding hair. I could braid hair but not like the perfectionist. My braids were basic braids not French braids. My fingers wouldn't work like they were supposed to when dealing with the strands. I tried to make-up for my poor braiding performance by purchasing fancy barrettes with artwork on them. That worked for awhile until the braids fell out. Then I'd put their hair in basic ponytails-so much easier!