Monday, February 11, 2019

Gingerbread Boys Surrounded By Hearts

Back on December 19th I wrote a post about a Christmas tradition I started when my children were little. That simple tradition was making lopsided Gingerbread Boys following the recipe on page 94 of Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cook Book. I can't tell you when the cook book was published because some of the pages are missing and pages, like page 94, are worn down and have blotches of  stains from required ingredients. But I can still read it. I pull it out every year and make my gingerbread boys. And this year was no different except in one way.

My tradition of baking my lopsided gingerbread boys and leaving them without faces; without any decorating of any kind and when cooled, placing them in old tin cans and setting them around the house and once January had come and gone, sending them off to gingerbread boy heaven followed along without a hitch this year. That is, until January was coming to a close. That's when I realized I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to my faceless little friends. I know this sounds strange. After all, they are only gingerbread boys. There is no value to them. People associate gingerbread boys with Christmas and Christmas had come and gone. But still, something was gnawing at me. A few times I carried the tins to the kitchen with plans to empty the contents into the trash but each time I couldn't do it. I'd put the tins back and tell myself "maybe tomorrow."

Well, tomorrow for my lopsided gingerbread boys' demise still hasn't come and I think I've figured out why. In all of their simplicity, they give me comfort. They always have. I guess the gingerbread boys are like that feeling you get when you crawl out of bed and turn the coffee pot on. The thought of a cup of coffee is comforting as a new day begins. If you don't drink coffee, maybe the comfort those gingerbread boys bring to me is like that feeling you get when curling up in a favorite blanket or getting into a good book or listening to a train off in the distance.

Whatever it is, this year I am rewarding the little fellows. I am keeping them in their old tin cans through February surrounded by Valentine hearts. They certainly have earned each one of those shiny, beautiful dollar store hearts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

My Grandfather's Other Side

My grandfather was a hard-working farmer. He and my grandmother provided a good life for their six daughters. They did it all. Each had their list of duties from ice harvesting on the St. Lawrence in the depth of winter to haying in the hot sticky days of June; along with planting gardens which led to weeding, picking, slicing, cooking, canning produce and filling the root cellar. Then there was the sewing, knitting, cleaning, tending to children, tending to barn animals and machinery and the list goes on. Point is, my grandparents worked hard every day with no days off.

Memories of my grandfather are precious. I can see him splitting wood in the woodshed just outside a door of the kitchen in the farmhouse. I can hear the ax hit the wood; remember the splinters of the wood go flying through the air.

I can see him coming in from the backfield with a load of hay driving his small red Ford tractor over the plank bridge spanning Sucker Creek, then over flat rock and on to the barn.

I can recall Saturday nights when my brother and I were lucky enough to go to the local Strand Theater with our grandparents. They’d both be dressed up. I loved seeing them in their good clothes. They were a handsome couple. When the movies were over, they’d take us next door to Phillip’s Diner for a hamburger and a coke in one of those real coke glasses filled with ice chips.

I remember moments playing around him with my cousins as he sat in a room in the farmhouse where the sun would come through a window in late afternoon. Depending on the time of year, my grandmother would keep her geraniums in that window. They’d bloom all winter long. On one wall there was a bookcase. It took up the entire wall. I didn’t realize it then but the shelves might have been filled with some of my grandfather’s favorite books.

You see, my grandfather had another side to him once he came in from the barn. He loved reading; loved his books. I’m sure when we were playing around him he never noticed us. That’s what happens when you’re engrossed in a book. You disappear. His favorite author was Zane Grey. But he also had a favorite magazine-The Saturday Evening Post. He read each one cover to cover. He saved every edition. There were always stacks of the magazine in that room with the geraniums

Over the years I’d hear my grandfather coughing. Sometimes his asthma kept him in bed. I remember seeing his Beech Nut Chewing Tobacco in his back pocket; remember seeing him pull the pouch out of the pocket, dig in with his fingers and put some of the stuff in his mouth and start chewing. My grandfather passed away in 1957.

The attached photo of my grandfather sitting and reading his magazine in that room in the farmhouse is one of my favorites. I zoomed in to get a closer look of the cover of the magazine he appears to be engrossed in, even with his barn boots still on. Then I researched the magazine’s archives to find out the date of when the magazine was published.

It turned out it was published in March, 1952. The artist was Amos Sewell; a banker during the day who took art classes at night for fun and ending up being remembered as one of Saturday Evening Post’s best artist/illustrator. The name of the cover art is “School Orchestra.”

I find that trivia interesting; a part of my grandfather’s other side.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Magic of a Desk

It was the Christmas when I was seven that I found a desk under the tree with my name on it. I’d smelled the shellac when hurrying down the front stairs. I didn’t know what it was until I was told my grandfather used something called shellac when making the desk out of pine. It had two shelves on the right side and a single drawer in the front. When I opened the drawer I found a pad of lined paper with a No. 2 sharpened, yellow pencil. From that moment on I considered desks to be magical.

My best friend back then was an only child. I loved running through our side yard to go play with her. Once inside the pale yellow house with a back stairway that took us up to her bedroom, we spent time not only in her room but spare rooms full of stuff as well. Going from one room to another we’d have to walk by a desk sitting in a nook all by itself. It was my friend’s desk. It was a roll top desk and whenever I could, I’d sit in the chair and pull the top back and be taken away by the magic of what was in front of me. It had all sorts of cubbyholes and drawers jam packed with things. There were coloring books and small diaries to dot to dots and mazes. There were crayons to colored pencils to pencils kept in a pencil holder that I would have died to have sitting on my pine desk. There were little treasures that held a special meaning to my friend kept out of sight in cubbyholes. The scent of the wood mixing with the crayons and pencils added to the magic. I remember thinking if it was my roll top desk I’d keep it beside my pine desk in my bedroom. While I loved my pine desk there was something intriguing about a roll top desk; being able to pull that top back and be taken away to a place of imagination and creativity. Those cubbyholes and drawers offered possibility; a free ticket to the land of make believe.

Desks continued to cross my path as I grew older. I’ve written many times about the old chicken coop void of chickens at my grandparents’ farm and how my aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents bought the remains of a one-room schoolhouse that had been closed for years and put it all inside the old chicken coop. That included chalkboards; books and desks-so many desks and they all had an ink well on top along with an indentation to hold pencils in place. My cousins and siblings and I played in that chicken coop turned clubhouse-turned pretend school-turned pretend everything-all year long; even when the snow came through the cracks in the walls and around the edges of windows that didn’t quite fit. Those windows were good enough to keep the chickens inside when chickens called that place home but the snow and rain flew right in.

Later on in life my father had a desk; an antique desk that I fell in love with as it was so full of cubbyholes and shelves and drawers. You could pull down a leaf in the center of the desk; grab hold of a chair and sit and write. That’s just what I did. I now have the small desk from the chicken coop clubhouse and my father’s desk in my home. Inside one of the cubbyholes of my father’s desk are some of my father’s blue Christmas bulbs still in the package. They are the old kind; the bigger ones. They were my father’s favorites.

I am blessed with two grandchildren. The oldest now eight has been intrigued by both the little desk from the chicken coop clubhouse and my father’s antique desk. She’s sat at both desks; playing, coloring and pretending. She is quite artistic; loves to draw; loves to read. A year ago Christmas when she was seven I decided I would give her a roll top desk with cubbyholes and drawers. The only problem with that was it never arrived until January. I was going to give it to her for her birthday in June but decided the desk was meant to be discovered under a Christmas tree. And so this past Christmas that roll top desk hidden inside a massive Christmas decorated bag was waiting for her by the tree when she came for Christmas Eve dinner with her little brother and mommy and daddy and her other grandparents who’d travelled here to spend Christmas with them. Once dinner was over, the magic began. While her little brother-a most dedicated fisherman-was busy unwrapping his own surprises, that eight-year old unveiled a roll top desk-her very own roll top desk with all the cubbyholes and drawers full of stuff. Her reaction was priceless. It was love at first sight.

That roll top desk now sits in a nook inside her bedroom. Let that free ticket to the land of make believe and imagination and creativity that only a desk can offer take her away over and over again.

(Pictures attached show my granddaughter when she was younger coloring at the desk that was in the old chicken coop clubhouse. Also included is a picture of me sitting at my pine desk on a Christmas morning long ago and my granddaughter sitting at her roll top desk this past Christmas Eve).

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Lopsided Gingerbread Boys in Old Tin Cans

I don’t remember when I started the Christmas tradition of making gingerbread boys to fill a few of my old tin cans but that doesn’t matter because today the tradition continued.

I’m sure the gingerbread boys don’t look like much of a tradition sitting in those old tin cans; faceless and awkward, without icing hair or icing eyes or icing mouths or icing buttons down their fronts. Some are plump. Some have hands or feet that don’t match. One gingerbread boy left one of his arms in the cookie cutter and I had to perform emergency surgery. But to me they don’t need to be perfect. Nothing’s perfect. To me it’s the feeling I get when seeing them sitting in those old tin cans in celebration of Christmas; sitting there faceless yet oh so full of the spirit of the season without frills or fancy ribbons or designer names attached. They’re never eaten or dunked in coffee. They just sit there in their old tin cans as the snow falls and the north wind blows and Christmas comes and goes. They stay put through January. Then off they go to wherever faceless little gingerbread boys go once removed from their old tin cans.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Christmas Ornaments from Long Ago

I remember the evening my parents walked into our house situated on a lane with their arms full of bags and boxes; some wrapped and decorated with curly ribbon. They’d been downtown Christmas shopping. They’d been gone a long time. While our father took the babysitter home, our mother told my brother and me to go upstairs and get our pajamas on; then come back down and stay in the living room while she put things away. I watched her put one box on the dining room table as I hurried up the front stairs. When our father returned, we were told to sit by the tree in the living room. I could hear them whispering in the dining room. Then in they walked with my mother carrying that box she’d placed on the dining room table.

Sitting in a chair by the tree my mother handed the box to my father. I can see him standing there still wearing a tie. He was always wearing a tie. Sometimes he’d be wearing a tie as he strung the tree with strands of blue lights. My father loved those blue lights. But he wasn’t stringing lights that night. Opening the box he was holding, my father slowly took out one precious ornament after another. They weren’t like any other ornament already in place on the tree. Each looked hand-painted. Each presented a unique design. They all shimmered under the blue lights. As my father hung the ornaments high up on the tree, my mother explained the box my father was holding was the last box of those beautiful ornaments for sale in the store. I remember feeling so happy that my parents bought that box. It felt as if they’d brought home a hidden treasure. In a way, they did.

Once all those ornaments were in place, we took a moment to enjoy the tree; to take it all in as those sparkling, shimmering ornaments glistened under the blue lights; adding to the splendor of the tinsel my mother had methodically put in place and the other ornaments already on the branches. It was a glorious moment, even for little kids awaiting Santa Claus.

Now years later I am blessed as keeper of those precious ornaments. I think my parents would be happy to know I don’t hang them on the tree. Instead I put them out for all to see. I can look at them as I go about my day. I can tell their story to those who might not notice them on the tree with all the other ornaments. And when Christmas is over for another year, I will take them down and pack them up in that box my father held as he placed those ornaments on the tree. The box and those ornaments came from Woolworths located in a downtown of long ago.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Downtown Barber Shop

When I was a little girl my mother would take me to a barber shop to get my hair cut. It was situated in the heart of the downtown in my hometown. It was a perfect location; right where the two main streets crossed and in wait of Christmas, a plastic Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer were strung over top those streets. It was a huge draw to the downtown. When the wind blew I was convinced those reindeer were flying.

To me that barber shop was as good or better than any beauty parlor around. But then, I'd never been in any of those fancier places where women and girls went for styles and perms with lots of hair spray and hair curlers and hair teasing and big awkward hair dryers; maybe even some Dippity Do. It wasn't time for me to move on to a beauty parlor.

I loved going to the barber shop. Following my mother up what might have been winding cement steps, we'd go through the door leading to a very large area. That was the barber shop. I think there were four barbers. Each was dressed in a clean, white, crisp buttoned-up the front professional barber shirt. Whoever ironed those shirts was a master. Each shirt had a pocket on the upper left side. Those pockets held black combs. The barbers were rather dapper looking; as if cast in a gangster movie out of the '30s & 40s. All four were friendly. All remembered my name and my brother's name and where my father and mother worked and where we lived. That familiarity is what you get when rooted in a small town.

It never mattered to me which barber cut my hair. I wore a Buster Brown hairstyle for years back then and each one of them was capable of cutting my hair in that popular style. It was fun sitting in a barber's chair with its leather seat. The barber would push down on a foot peddle that brought that seat higher which meant I was closer to him so he'd be able to reach me.

The barbers stood in a row behind their chairs. In front of them was a wall of mirrors and a countertop holding containers of more combs with scissors sitting in place and powders in a row along with a phone and drawers below holding towels and coverings for customers. On the side of their chairs hung a leather strap used for sharpening their razors before shaving a customer with what looked like whip cream. They put that stuff on using brushes. I liked watching them. I don't think I realized how sharp those razors were or how skilled a barber had to be in using one. The way they moved those razors was as if they were conducting an orchestra. It was magic.

I can't remember when I stopped going to that barber shop. Probably when I realized no other girls my age went to a barber for what was considered a real hairstyle. But whenever it was that I moved on to a beauty parlor-not a one that I've frequented could ever measure up to that barber shop in a downtown of long ago. It had character with characters. The smell of lather along with newsprint from newspapers set out for customers to read along with powders and hints of cigars from a nearby cigar store all mingled together and remain forever in my heart. There were no fancy services offered. No fancy d├ęcor except for the red and white barber pole outside and the smiles of welcome on the faces of four happy and talented barbers.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Tree and Its Leaves

There’s a particular tree out behind the barn whose leaves are the first to turn when summer fades to fall. I took a few pictures as that process began again and as I did I found myself looking at that magnificent tree with even greater wonder. I’m not sure why. It could have been the softness of the sun or the quiet of the small meadow where the tree stands tall reaching to the heavens with late season wildflowers spreading about in the tall grass.

As September rolled on, the tree kept pulling me back to take more pictures as its leaves became drenched in vibrant colors and the scents of pumpkins and apples told the story of a most magical season evolving into the next.

When I went out back one day this past week I found the tree about barren. It looked tired in October’s shadows. I couldn’t figure out how that had happened. It seemed like only yesterday that its branches were dressed in leaves of oranges and reds. Its spirit seemed strong no matter how hard the wind blew or the rain fell.

The evolution of the leaves is similar to our looking back at the stages of our own lives and wondering where the time went. But don’t dwell too long. Life is full of surprises. Like this morning when waking up to an early season snowfall  covering the ground along with the leaves and turning one tired looking tree out back behind the barn into a sparkling and vibrant tree reaching to the heavens.