Thursday, November 7, 2019

It Could Have Been a TV Drama Series

This old photo shows me standing between my parents. My mother is holding my little sister. We are packing up the first place I ever called home and moving to the country. I remember feeling sad. I didn't want to move anywhere. I loved that clapboard house sitting on a lane just minutes from where I went to school. I loved my bedroom with back stairs leading down to the kitchen. I loved having my desk in my bedroom sitting beside a window where I could look out as I "wrote my stories." (Check the notebook in my hands). I loved the sun porch and the high counter in the kitchen where my tadpole swam in a bowl of water. I loved the big yard and my best friend who lived but a minute away. I loved the double living room. I loved coming down the front stairs on Christmas morning.

The photo was taken in the second living room. The doorway behind my mother led to the kitchen and then the sunporch. To her left was the dining room where on Christmas Eve she'd set the table using her finest linen and her finest china with candles in crystal candle holders and silverware kept in a mahogany box lined in velvet brought out only for Christmas Eve.

The more I look at the photo the more I imagine it as a set from an old TV drama series filmed in California's wine country. With that infamous hat at his fingertips, my father could have been the actor, Art Carney. With her short, dark hair, my mother could have been the actress, Jane Wyman. Art Carney's character could have started out as a grape picker at a celebrated winery and worked his way up to vineyard manager while Jane Wyman's character cared for their daughters and was a housekeeper for the winery's family matriarch-a rich and powerful woman and owner of a sprawling mansion and that winery in her possession for decades. Art and Jane's characters live in a little home. They are hard workers and good parents. None of that goes unnoticed by the family matriarch. When she passes away, the matriarch leaves everything to Art and Jane's characters. In her air tight will, sealed and notarized, the woman tells her children, who are now adults, they don't deserve to inherit something they've taken for granted; something they've never bothered with or worked for while waiting for her to pass. Instead of caring and tending to the grapes, they've consumed the wine as if it was water streaming out of a faucet.

In the last episode of this popular TV drama-so popular that viewers rooted for this little family week after week as they survived one crisis after another while those rich brats rode around in their fancy cars wearing their fancy diamonds and designer clothing and drinking their wine in long stemmed crystal glasses, the family is packing up their little home. They are sad to leave it. That's where they've lived since arriving at the winery. They've welcomed their children in that home. They've made friends who would come for supper on Sunday evenings. That's where they've celebrated holidays and birthdays. They've enjoyed the sun porch and the big back yard. Their oldest daughter is very sad. She's going to miss her bedroom with back stairs leading down to the kitchen and the high counter where her tadpole swims in a bowl of water.

The last scene shows them walking out the back door of their little house for the last time with that young girl carrying her tadpole in its bowl of water-just like I did when we left that clapboard house sitting on the lane and moved to the country. Once that family settles in the mansion, they're very happy. That mansion feels like home. Once my family and I were settled in our new home out in the country, we were very happy. While it didn't have a sunporch, it did have fields to play in and a creek to skate on. While my bedroom lacked backstairs going down to the kitchen, it had a window looking out towards the back fields. That's where my desk sat. That yellow house out in the country felt like home because it became our home.

It wasn't a mansion. It wasn't a clapboard house sitting on a lane. It was home and home is in one's heart.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Old Tin Can and the Little Gardener

The old tin can is back on the small table by the front door full of little garden gourds and other garden remnants found underneath weeds and overgrown plants with sprawling vines. As Christmas nears, the old tin can will hold gingerbread men fresh from the oven; some still steaked with flour and all without decorations or faces. They will remain in the old tin can through February.

Many of those little garden gourds and other garden remnants were discovered by a six-year-old. Most every time he visited this past summer, he’d run out the back door to the garden to see what had grown since his last visit. One day he cleared a space between the carrots and zucchini and asked if he could plant something in his little garden. I found some leftover beet seeds in the garage. He was thrilled. Watching how gently he patted soil over the seeds, it was obvious he’d not only inherited the fishing gene, he’d inherited the gardening gene as well. When he was satisfied that the beet seeds were covered, he found rocks of all sizes and placed them around his little garden. Before he went back home, the little gardener asked me to water his beets whenever I watered the carrots and zucchini and the rest of the garden. I did as he requested but sadly deer would come along and step on them. I never told him. I’d salvage what little fledgling beets I could.

The small area designated by a circle of rocks between the carrots and zucchini never did produce beets of any size but the little gardener didn’t care. He was satisfied with the few sprouts that somehow survived the mighty hoofs of passing deer and the fact they were planted late in the season. That little gardener was proud of his sprouts. He’d sit beside them while digging for carrots, first with a small shovel and then, using his fingers, he’d dig around the carrot and pull. Sometimes the carrot would break in half but that didn’t stop him. He’d keep digging until he retrieved the entire carrot. When he felt he had enough carrots, he looked for zucchini hiding underneath oversized leaves resembling elephant ears when flapping in the breeze.

Even at such a young age, the little gardener understands it’s not really all about the produce plants bring forth. Rather, it’s about the process. It’s about the sun and the summer breeze and the rain and the bunnies hopping by and the weeds that need tending.

It’s about elephant-sized zucchini leaves flowing in the breeze, flapping with laughter, protecting fledgling little beet sprouts planted by a mighty proud little gardener and protected by rocks of all sizes.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Paper Dolls Kept in a Shoebox

I loved paper dolls. I had a shoebox full of them. I kept the shoebox in the bottom drawer of an old dresser in my bedroom. Sometimes I'd sit on the floor and play out scenarios with them. I named each one of them.They were like little friends to me. None were licensed characters. None came with sparkly outfits. They were just paper dolls. And that was all I needed. Most of my paper dolls came from Newberry's or Woolworths. It was always fun when shopping for paper dolls. Of course, Santa Claus made sure to bring me even more.

It was exciting when deciding which outfit each of my paper dolls would be wearing. Sometimes they'd have to change more than once during a scenario depending on what they were doing. They always had lots of fun whether going to the beach or school, on a picnic or visiting friends or taking care of their puppies or kittens. Whatever they were doing, they were fashionably dressed for the occasion.

One evening, like many other evenings, I had my paper dolls in bed with me. We were having a great time until I fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, I was horrified to find scraps of paper everywhere. Many of the paper doll outfits with their paper tabs used to fold around the paper doll were destroyed. Some of the tabs had ripped right off.  Some of the paper dolls were bent or missing limbs. I taped some of the missing parts and ripped outfits. I was able to salvage some but not all. I didn't throw any of them away. I couldn't. I didn't care if they were injured. They were still my friends.

I did get more paper dolls. I kept them in a different shoebox on top of my dresser. That other shoebox with the injured paper dolls and ripped outfits remained in the bottom drawer from then on. I didn't play scenarios with them. But I did take them out and check on them once in awhile.

I don't know whatever happened to those two treasured shoeboxes. We moved to the country and I never saw them again. But I never forgot them. You don't forget little things that bring you joy-simple, quiet joy when sitting on a bedroom floor pretending with your beloved paper dolls.

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


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.