Saturday, April 12, 2014

Holy Smokin' Easter Bunny

It used to be so much fun playing the Easter Bunny after everyone went to bed and the bags of goodies and surprises were brought out from hiding. Before beginning the process of filling the wicker baskets I'd have a plan. Some of the jellybeans and chocolate eggs wouldn't go in the baskets. I'd hide them behind doors-on window sills-beside pillows on the sofa-on top of the tv or wherever I could put them without being too obvious. Jellybeans would also start a trail at the top of the stairway-leading all the way down the stairs and straight to overflowing Easter baskets waiting in the living room. Once the baskets were examined-and then examined some more-the hunt for the hidden candy began. The race was on! Who would find the most?
 It really never mattered because the baskets already had more than enough of the eggs and jellybeans-along with marshmallow chicks, lollipops, candy bars, chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs and candy cigarettes. Yes that's right-packs of candy cigarettes that were replicas of the best sellers of the day. The Easter Bunny brought cigarettes! And that's not all-the Bunny brought bubble gum cigars as well!
When I was growing up we always had candy cigarettes in our baskets. It was so much fun pretending to be smoking them. We had our favorite brands. Back then we knew them all because they were advertised on television.
How things have changed. I can't imagine finding candy cigarettes in a basket on Easter morning these days. They probably don't even make them anymore. But quite honestly, those sticks of candy were really just that to us. It was the pretending that was the fun because that is what kids do-they pretend. They use their imaginations. We certainly did. My favorite brand was Winston-as the TV commercial jingle said-'Winstons taste good-like a cigarette should'!
(And when I grew up I never smoked cigarettes-not even a Winston!)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Basketball Rivals and Ladies' Choice

When I was growing up there were two high schools in my hometown. One was a public school; the other Catholic. Through my early Junior High school years my uncle taught boys basketball at the Catholic school. This was a perk for me and my cousin. We got to go to the games and strut around, thinking we were something because we had ties to the coach-as if it mattered to anyone else in that gymnasium.
We knew the names of all the players. We'd cheer them on as if they knew or cared who we were. Looking back I realize now they never even knew we existed. But when you're that age-younger than any of the players and your own uncle is their coach, imagination is a wonderful thing. If anyone of them had even looked our way I know we would have died! Eventually the Catholic high school closed and the students were merged into the public school.
High school basketball games were lots of fun-especially when we'd e playing a big rival. Those were the times there'd be lots of evening phone calls back and forth during the week leading up to the game. Needless to say there were no cell pones or ipads and texting was non-existent so for me that meant I was forced to stand in the living room and do my discussing of the game and the players and what we were going to do in preparation of the game. We only had the one phone in the house. It was a rotary phone. It sat on top of a pillow that sat on top of a bookcase in the living room. My mother kept it on a pillow so at night-if my father got called out on an ambulance call-she wouldn't hear it ring. I never thought about my father hearing it!
Anyway, getting ready to take on a rival took lots of planning. It sure beat doing geometry! We'd make signs. A few times we'd stuff clothes and make it look like a dummy and write something on its shirt which probably wasn't very nice. Home games were in the gym. A curtain would be pulled back to expose an auditorium and that's where everyone sat-in the auditorium seats. It was always packed. The local radio station would be there. Cheerleaders led us in chants and clapping and feet stomping. I was never a cheerleader. A few of my aunts were when they were in high school at the Catholic school-torn down after it closed. In its place there now sits a fire station. In my heart it will always be where that school sat. While we thought we were rivals-turns out we were friends.
The best part of a game was after the final buzzer sounded and the gymnasium turned into a dance floor. When the words, "Ladies' Choice", came over the microphone it made the entire week of talking on that phone that sat on a pillow in the living room-and the planning-and the painting of signs-and the cheering-and screaming-worth it. It was our own version of a March Madness! I dare say ours was lots more fun. It only lasted a few minutes. No brackets. No hype. Just a slow dance in a high school gym.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Toast-So Tasty

To this day I cherish the moments I get to enjoy a piece of toast. It usually happens on the week-ends when I have a bit more time for a second cup of coffee. I dare say we all have our favorite ways of toasting our bread and now with so many types of breads to choose from, the outcomes are much more diverse.It wasn't always like that. White or wheat-that was it-take your pick. Today my choice is wheat. But when growing up it was always white because that's what my parents bought-and it came from the package with the 'red, yellow, and blue balloons printed on the package'-as the jingle used to say.
Of course after the bread is toasted-another decision is needed. What do you put on top of your toast? Butter-honey-jam-jelly-and then what kind-what flavor? It used to be a treat when our mother bought honey butter. Sometimes I'd sneak into the refrigerator and take a spoonful of that thick, delicious topping to enjoy all on its own.
I think the best toasted bread I've ever had is my grandmother's Christmas bread. Toasted or not, it remains the best homemade bread ever. Many times when growing up and making my toast in the simple two-sided toaster that would burn the bread if you didn't fling it open on your own to turn to the other side-I would take the toast and put it on a plate. Before adding anything I would lick it if my older brother was sitting there. I had to. If I didn't he would wait for me to add jam or honey butter-and then he'd take a slice without even asking. Just as disheartening were the times I'd have my toast exactly how I wanted it-but then I'd drop a slice on the floor.
The way my father prepared and enjoyed his toast was an art form. I can still see him sitting at the kitchen table on early mornings before he had a funeral. (For those who don't know-my father was a funeral director.) He'd be sitting there in his white shirt and gray-striped dress pants. Next to his cup of coffee-just half-filled because he didn't have much time-was the same plate he always used for his toast which was always white bread-two slices toasted to a cinnamon shade. Piping hot out of the toaster he'd layer the slices with butter-real butter-and then smother it with Smucker's Raspberry Jam; cut it diagonally-and savor every bite.
One particular aunt of mine loved going out to breakfast. Looking back I'm certain she enjoyed her toast at those diners-or little mom and pop restaurants-or stops along a highway (all served on those same types of milk white serving plates with matching coffee cups) as much as she enjoyed whatever else she ordered. And if there were any little tubs of jams or jellies left on the table she'd put them in her purse to enjoy later at home.
Funny how something as simple as toasted bread can bring such satisfaction. Maybe that's it. Toast is simple to prepare-and the aroma and taste are simply fantastic-no matter how you slice it!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pump House Swimming Pool

Just outside the back door of my grandparents' farmhouse sat the pump house. It was painted white-quite small with  two windows and surrounded by flowers. There was a cement floor and the pump. That's all. Its purpose was to shelter the pump that provided a water source for the barn. In the sweltering heat of summer it also provided us the best-the coldest-the most refreshing water I've ever tasted-and it wasn't even packaged in a plastic bottle. All you had to do was grab hold of the handle and start pumping. Within seconds water would flow into whatever was catching it-little hands-buckets-cups-ladles. On some of those summer days we let the water flow all over the cement floor and then we'd splash around in our bare feet. It was our swimming pool even though all we'd do was slam our feet or put our heads under the water spout which took our breath away it was so very cold. It also provided a great place to hide when playing hide 'n seek. No one would ever think to look there!
To get the water to the barn there was a pipe leading from the pump house-over the flat rock-through the field-behind our chicken coop clubhouse-to the barn. It didn't take much to stir our imaginations. That pipe became part of circus acts or provided us some good old fun-like seeing how far we could move along-holding on-dangling-moving our hands a little at a time. We'd eventually drop in exhaustion or let loose and fall into the tall grass. I don't remember any of us getting too far along on that pipe. It was cold and wet with moisture.
The pipe leading to the barn is gone now. So is the barn and pump house. Driving by I see the pump-sitting outside-unsheltered. It doesn't look the same to me. It seems so much smaller than it was when I was little and splashing about on the cement floor inside the pump house. That's what happens. When you're a kid, backyards-rooms-everything seems bigger. But then, big is not always best-they say!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Smelly Perms and Buster Brown Haircuts

Still to this day, the word 'Perm' makes me shutter even though perms have come a long way! Besides modern day perms being less harmful to the hair and more flattering to the person getting one, the biggest improvement to perms is that smell-the gagging, obnoxious smell that filled your senses for days is gone. And the end result is complimentary.
When I was growing up my mother never took me to a 'beauty salon' to get my haircut. Rather, she took me to a barber shop in our downtown. I vaguely remember walking up big stone steps and into a large area with three or maybe four barbers dressed in crisp, white shirts-more like uniforms with black pants. They each had their own area in front of a big mirror. They each had a chair that, to a little kid, was huge-complete with a leather strap attached to the side used to sharpen their razor blade before shaving a customer in either hot lather or straight razor style. After my mother got her hair cut, my brother and I took turns in the big chair. My 'style' was always the same-a short Buster Brown complete with bangs. The best part was when the barber finished cutting my hair, he'd powder up a little shaving cream brush with the best smelling powder ever and clean all the little hairs off my neck and back.
Those horrible perms were given at home. They came in a box. I remember two brands-Lilt and Toni. My mother or aunt usually bought the Toni perm which came with plastic curlers, waving lotion, thin pieces of paper to put between the hair and curler before rolling, and a neutralizer. The stench from those chemicals filled every corner of the house for days. The perms were so harsh they'd make your eyes water so I can't imagine the damage done to the hair. Add in the fact that you couldn't wash your hair for a few days and the misery seemed never-ending. But the hair was certainly curly-very curly-so tightly curled that not even a hurricane could have budged a strand.
I can't imagine having all the services available then that are offered now: foils-waxing-body wraps-manicures-pedicures-paraffin wax treatments-facials, etc. to name a few. Looking back-the service of cutting hair offered in that downtown barber shop seemed more than enough, especially after the barber put his sweet, smelling powder on his little shaving cream brush. My mother was always happy to just get her hair cut. I bet she would have laughed if someone had suggested a body wrap with her husband being a funeral director!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Red Nail Polish and Blowing Smoke Rings

My mother and her older sister graduated from a nursing school that was part of the hospital. Back then there were two local nursing schools. Both have since closed. I recently found a handwritten speech my mother must have given during Class Night prior to their graduation. This surprised me because I never saw my mother in that light-giving speeches-but then-she was my mother and mothers have sides their children never see. Some of what she wrote I couldn't read as it was written in pencil in 1939.
She started out with a class history-stating that "three years prior, on September 11th, twenty-six young and ambitious girls entered training in the Hepburn School of Nursing. Everything was so different. It took us several weeks to become accustomed to the routine. During the first year, four of our girls left for other vocations." She explained that near the end of October, they were placed 'on duty.'  That meant they carried water and maybe helped an older student make a bed. In a list of "trials and tribulations" she includes, ".....and imagine yourself sitting enjoying a good forty-cent movie when suddenly you sneak a peek at your watch and find that you have eight blocks and eight minutes to get there." I loved when she listed her classmates and areas of the hospital and equated a song of the era to each. 4th floor-home to the Nursery-she listed "Got a Million Dollar Baby"; the OR-"I Can't Fail the Mission."
She also mentioned unforgettable moments-like the time she found herself in trouble with the nuns. She was in so much trouble for following through on a dare that she had to clean all the bathrooms with a toothbrush for two weeks. Despite that setback my mother graduated as did her older sister. Both proved to be excellent nurses.
I remember sitting with my brother in the back seat of the car when our father drove our mother to the hospital. She worked the evening shift. Before she'd leave, she'd feed us and give us our baths. We were always in our pajamas on those short drives. Once we dropped her off in the circle driveway-we'd sit and wait for her to get up to the second floor where she'd look out the window and wave good-bye. I can still see her there-smiling-her crisp white uniform ironed to perfection; her white cap starched and immaculate, held in place with bobby pins; her white stockings and polished white duty shoes always flawless. She took great pride in her uniform. I remember her stockings soaking in the sink; her cap stretched flat on the counter. By the time my mother retired from nursing, she was in charge of the ER at night.
Included in that Class Night speech she writes-'red finger nail polish was never seen on duty.' Maybe that's why later on in life her nails were always manicured and polished with the reddest of reds polish. She also mentions how some of those classmates were 'reprimanded for blowing smoke rings on state property.' I never saw her blow smoke rings-but then as I previously stated, mothers have sides children never see.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Where is Lowly Worm?

Little kids have their favorite books-the ones they most always pick out when you sit down to read to them. It doesn't matter how many books they have. It's those certain ones you end up reading over and over again. And if you're tired and you try to skip a page or even a paragraph-they'll catch you. I know because I tried doing that a few times and every time I'd get caught-especially if it was a Richard Scarry book.
'Best Story Book Ever' was a favorite Scarry book on those nights before bedtime. Along with, "Is This the House of Mistress Mouse?"; "Chipmunk's Birthday Party"; "The Country Mouse and The City Mouse" and more, there was one particular story read so many times those pages are now worn and tattered. I could recite it today-word for word, from beginning to end without even opening the book. That particular story, 'Pierre Bear'-was read every single time we sat down to read.
And if we weren't reading books by Richard Scarry, we were absorbed in his fun, imaginative illustrations. Within those magical pages, scattered here and there, the artist cleverly hid a little worm dressed in a tiny green hat with a feather. The search for Lowly Worm became part of our nightly routine. No matter how many times they found him, the next night the search was on again with as much excitement as the night before. It was as if every search for Lowly was the first search ever.
There were other favorite books read those evenings while sitting on the couch. Most of them are now on shelves in a bookcase in the living room. You can tell which ones were favorites. They look tired after having been held; after having been turned upside down and used as tunnels for Matchbox cars or as houses for Weebles. Some have crayon scribbles in them which could have been the result of playing school or library. Some are taped together in certain spots.
They all await little hands to pick them up again-to be cuddled and read while sitting on the sofa. Lowly Worm is there too-on the same pages as he was years ago-wearing that same tiny green hat with a feather.