Saturday, September 21, 2019

Quit Your Lollygagging

That's me with my hands on my cheeks sitting next to my cousin in a pretty dress. I don't know what we are doing, sitting there in the grass in the side yard off my grandparents' farmhouse. Right behind us would have been the door opening into the kitchen. To the left of us would have been the pump house.

If I had to guess we might have been taking a break from playing although I don't look very happy. I was probably bored just sitting there. Maybe I wanted to get back to playing in our clubhouse. Looking at the picture I can imagine my mother saying one of her most often used phrases, "quit your lollygagging!" She'd say that all the time when, in her eyes, someone was going too slow or wasting time or spinning their wheels in indecision.It took me a few years to figure out what she meant. When I understood, her words made sense.

The earliest recollection I have of her speaking those words to me was when we lived in the house by the lane. That was the first place I called home. I was sitting on the sunporch playing Old Maid with my two best friends, Chunnie and Winnie. They were my imaginary friends. That's the reason why I won every single card game. But this particular day my mother suggested maybe I lose a game; telling me no one ever wins every game of whatever they are playing. I took her advice. But as I dealt the cards out I felt a nervousness in the pit of my stomach. As the game progressed, that nervousness continued. The closer it got to the end, the longer I took in ending it. I couldn't decide which friend would be the winner. I guess I took too long. My mother came walking onto the sunporch and told me in a stern voice to "quit your lollygagging" and claim the old maid in my hand of cards. Well I soon ended the game. But I turned out to be the winner. I wasn't ready to relinquish my title. I didn't want to hurt one of my imaginary friend's feelings. A few more card games the next day claimed Chunnie to be the winner. I was a gracious loser. A few more card games after that and Winnie was the winner. Losing my title turned out to be okay. There was always another card game to conquer.

Thinking back, my mother used that phrase of hers just when I needed it. In the mornings, more often than not, "quit your lollygagging" was the last thing she'd say to me when I was late getting outside to meet the school bus. I was never that much into school. I would have preferred staying home but with that stern voice of hers, she'd bring me back to the reality that the bus was waiting for me with the swinging door wide open. When I was a senior and undecisive of my next move, my mother again told me to "quit your lollygagging."

My mother's three words hurried my decision. Her three words always did.




Sunday, September 15, 2019

Guardians of the Farms

Towering over fields bare in winter and lush with produce in the summer, silos stand tall as children go by in yellow buses. They stand tall as farmers do their chores and families grow and babies become adults and the cycle of life and silos begins all over again.
They stand tall as lovers whisper when passing by and funerals slowly make their way down a winding country road to the church or cemetery. They stand tall as loads of hay fill the haymows and cows graze in pastures and another sunrise leads to another sunset and seasons come and go and the wind howls and neighbors move.
Some stand tall over abandoned farms. Some stand tall filled with grain. Some slowly crumble to the ground. Whatever the fate of those silent sentinels, those watchers, those guardians of the farms and the fields, they will forever be a part of the rural landscape if only in our memories.
When I was growing up my grandfather no longer worked his farm. There were no longer any cows grazing or chickens in roosts. His grain shed was quiet although the tools were still in place ready to be picked up if needed. The haylofts were mostly empty as was the towering silo. My cousin and I would look inside the massive structure. We'd play around it outside the barn. 
Today the silo is all that remains of my grandfather's barn. Gone too is his grain shed but I can still smell the grease on his tools and the grain in the bins. It was a treasured place to play and pretend.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Abandoned

I'm drawn to remnants of places sitting in silence along country roads. As I drive by the haunting structures, I wonder who'd lived there. I wonder why they left. I wonder how they walked away.
Each one of the abandoned places has a story. Just like we do. When you think about it, most of us have been abandoned in one way or another at some point in our lives by someone we loved, by a boss, a friend or a community.
My first realization of abandonment came when my aunt cared for a foster child. A little baby. I might have been twelve at the time. I never knew babies were ever abandoned. I thought they were loved to the moon and back by parents who tended to their every need. I thought they were rocked to sleep in their mother's arms smelling of talcum powder, covered in a soft, precious blanket. It was a rude awakening, followed by another. My sister found a puppy all alone, cold and shaking and hungry in one of the bins in my grandfather's grain shed. I never knew someone could do such a thing to a puppy with floppy ears and wavy hair hanging around its beautiful brown eyes.

Since becoming the mother of a mentally ill son, I've learned even more about the harsh reality of abandonment. Those who suffer with a brain disease face unwarranted stigma every single day.

When you think about it, all it would take to salvage many of those empty structures is some tender loving care. That rings true for people as well. If we were to reach out to each other in understanding, the world would be a better place.

No paint needed. No windows or roofs. Just kindness and acceptance towards one another. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Making Plain Brown Donuts and Donut Holes

My grandmother would often make jam tarts out of leftover pie dough. I loved her tarts just as much as her pies. They were usually strawberry jam tarts. When she took them out of the oven, the tarts were a golden brown and some of the sizzling jam would be oozing out of the folded dough. The aroma of those piping hot jam tarts drifting through her farmhouse added to the anticipation when biting into one-or two of the tarts. That aroma remains with me today as does the aroma of plain brown donuts and donut holes made and enjoyed when my children were quite young.

Using my grandmother's recipe for the plain donuts, I'd have the dough ready to go. The number of kids making donuts varied. Sometimes it was just my children. Other times it seemed like the entire neighborhood. Either way it was pretty well-organized. Each child had a job to do. There were those who rolled out the dough. There were those who cut out the donuts with the one and only donut-maker-cutter. It usually turned out that all of the kids cut out some donuts if they wanted to. It became quite busy-rolling out the dough, then cutting the donuts out and gathering up the middle of each cut-out donut to roll into a ball for a donut hole; then gathering up any leftover dough and starting the process all over again.

Once most of the dough had been used, the focus turned to the Fry Daddy sitting back on the counter, full of hot grease ready to turn the spongy dough into donuts and donut holes. It was a very safe and carefully executed process. I was always right there as the older children slowly lowered the dough into the grease using a large cooking spoon with openings for the grease to escape as the donuts were lifted up and placed on layers of paper towels. When they cooled down a bit, some of the donuts and donut holes were put into a brown bag full of confectioners sugar. Then whoever was the brown-bag-full-of-confectioners-sugar-shaker would go to work, shaking that bag, resulting in whatever was in that bag came out covered with the sugar. Not all the donuts and donut holes went in the bag. Many were spared the process. They were kept to be enjoyed as plain brown donuts and donut holes. And enjoyed they were.

Each child received a small bag of donuts and donut holes to take home with them. I dare say when they did get home, their bags were empty. Just the smell of those delicious donuts was enough to devour each and every one of them-just like the aroma of my grandmother's jam tarts piping hot from her oven with sizzling jam oozing out of the folded dough.



Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sweater Dress Disaster

Years ago I loved wearing sweater dresses. My favorite sweater dress had long sleeves. It was a heavier knit with a simple neckline and three brown buttons on the left shoulder. The dress was an oatmeal color. It came above the knee, perfect for my over-the-knee chocolate brown boots that my older brother gave me one year for Christmas.

I can remember the first time I wore my oatmeal sweater dress. It was late August. I'd gone back to college a little early to see a guy I hadn't seen all summer. He had a blue Chevy Impala that he was anxious for me to see. I was anxious for him to see my oatmeal sweater dress
so it didn't take me long to get ready once the day arrived. I couldn't wait to wear the dress. With my long hair up in a ponytail and a fake braid wrapped around it and my over-the-knee boots on, I was ready to go. He was early. I guess he was anxious to show off his Chevy Impala which turned out to be brand new-quite appropriate for my new sweater dress.

It was good seeing him. He surprised me by taking me to a carnival. I'd been so intent on wearing that dress that I never bothered to check the weather. I found myself at a carnival in 90 degree weather in a heavy knit sweater dress with those long sleeves and my hair sporting a fake braid and those over-the-knee boots. I was so hot (not the kind of hot I'd hoped for) that I went on rides just to cool down. But the more rides I went on the more my fake braid slid out of place. The faster the ride, the more the braid slipped until I was on one ride and I had to grab it before it flew away. My most favorite dress ever ended up feeling like a thermal blanket and electric blanket combined. My heavy Cher-like eye make-up was melting down my cheeks. I looked like a raccoon dressed in an oatmeal shade heavy coat.

I could tell my friend was glad to get me back to the dorm. Saying good night was quick. I think I scared him away. Maybe it was the fake braid I was carrying or my face covered in black eye make-up or my sweater dress with long sleeves that looked like a winter coat while he was casually dressed in madras shorts appropriate in the humid weather. Whatever it was, that was the first and last ride I ever took in his new and blue shiny Chevy Impala. I hope I didn't leave behind any streaks of my eye make-up.

But I did get to wear my favorite sweater dress again and again when snow was falling and all the carnivals had packed up and moved on.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Mary Ann's Raspberries

I was out back watering the garden the other day when the click clopping of hoofs on pavement caught my attention to a horse and buggy going by. I didn't think much about it since I still had a lot of watering to do. A few minutes later a familiar voice made me turn around.
I was happy to find the young Amish girl standing by the carrot patch. Over the past few years she'd stop by selling whatever fresh produce she had from her family garden. That day she was selling raspberries. I was always an easy sell. Not because of the produce but rather because of her. I enjoyed her visits. Our conversations were lively. She was curious. She was smart. She was funny. Her eyes always had a spark. For a small frame girl, her voice was powerful. One time when she stopped my granddaughter was at my home for an overnight. She was mesmerized by the young Amish girl.
But that day the young Amish girl was quiet. She did ask if my daughter was home. When I told her no she asked if my granddaughter was staying all night. I told her she'd be staying over the weekend with her brother. Usually she would have asked me more questions but she didn't. She showed me the raspberries and told me how much they were. I ran inside and got some money. When returning, I tried getting a conversation going
"It's so nice to see you, Mary Ann. How's your summer going?"
We went back and forth a little bit until she told me she had to get going. Her sister was waiting for her in the buggy.
"Well don't forget me when you are back out selling again."
A few minutes later we said goodbye. I watched her walking away. When she got to the corner of the house, she turned around and looked at me. Then she came running back to the garden and opened her heart.
"I won't be bringing you vegetables or strawberries or raspberries anymore. I won't be seeing you again."
"Why Mary Ann?" I thought maybe a sister or a brother would be taking over the deliveries.
"Because-because we are moving."
"Where are you going?"
"Near Buffalo."
"Why so far?"
"Because my father died and some of my siblings are living with relatives not far from there."
I could see tears in her eyes. I could feel tears in mine. I felt so sad for my little friend that I hugged her and told her how much I would miss her and our little conversations. I'm not sure if my reaction was suitable but I couldn't help it. It was spontaneous just like her smile and her laugh-except for that particular day.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Swimming Down at the Boys Camp

When growing up in the country, my cousins, siblings and I had no place to go swimming. While there was the creek that flowed behind our houses, that creek was full of blood suckers. We played around that creek all the time. But we never swam in it.

So on real hot days, we'd wait for one particular aunt to get home from work. And when she did, we'd be there, hoping she'd take us swimming. She didn't have to load us all into a car with our bathing suits on and holding on to our towels. All she had to do was go inside the house. Put on her bathing suit under some casual clothes. Grab some graham crackers. Walk us across the road and down a path through a field to what was known as the Boys Camp.

The property was owned by our grandparents. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they'd open it up in the summertime to the boys at an orphanage a few miles away. The orphanage was run by nuns. They would stay with the boys at the Boys Camp. There was a small building where the nuns would sleep. The boys slept in tents. There was a bigger building where they were fed. That building was also where Mass was said on Sundays and activities took place.

So on those really hot days, if we were lucky, that aunt of ours would hurry in the house, get changed, grab some graham crackers and walk us across the road and down through the field to the Boys Camp. From there, we kept on walking. We'd go through the Boys Camp-keep going until we had to go around a fence and down another path which led us to a river. By that time we were sweltering. But it never mattered. The walk down to that river was fun. We'd be carrying our towels, laughing and talking all the way.

Our aunt was a beautiful swimmer. After we all had our time splashing and holding on to rocks kicking and trying to swim and pretending to swim, our aunt would put her white swimming cap on. It was a slow process because she had long hair and she had to tuck it all up and into the rubber swimming cap. Once it was secure, she'd get into the water and slowly-very slowly-get her arms and legs wet. Then she'd stand on a very big rock. Make the sign of the cross and dive in as graceful as a swan. We'd watch as she did the overhand. She'd go out pretty far. When she came back in, we knew it was time to go back home. And that was okay. We ate graham crackers all the way home.

(Picture shows one of our swimming excursions. I am standing in the water with my head turned around to my cousin swimming. The aunt who always took us is sitting down on the rock watching us).