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).

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Stitches and French Knots

The more I looked at this photo of an Amish farmhouse and barns and outhouses and gardens that I'd taken on a back country road, the more it resembled a beautiful work of embroidery, what with its textures and colors and lines and thicknesses here and there.  
 I thought of my grandmother, sitting in her rocking chair, using her hands to create beautiful works of embroidery with a needle and thread.
My grandmother taught me a few stitches. When I looked at the photo I thought some of the plants in the garden resembled the blanket stitch or the herringbone stitch and the thickness of the green grass resembled a padded stitch. Little buds on plants made me think of her French knots. But I never embroidered a thing. I learned a few stitches and that was it. Not that I didn't want to learn more but I was in to sewing at the time.
Now I wish I'd sat with her longer to learn more stitches and techniques. Any time with my grandmother was priceless-even when picking my fingers with a needle trying to learn embroidery stitches.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

My Father in Suspenders in the Farmhouse Kitchen

Did you ever look at an old photo and wish you could remember the moment? That's how I felt when looking at this photo of  me holding my baby sister. Behind us is our father. We are in the kitchen of our grandparents' farmhouse. To my left, with only a corner showing, is the kitchen table.
My grandmother's woodstove was beyond the kitchen table. A built-in cupboard stood in the corner.  The door in the photo led outside to a small, cement stoop and beyond to the root cellar, pump house, barn, grain shed, chicken coop, fields and the creek.

I'm guessing we were gathered for a family event. I'm guessing it might have been an Easter Sunday since my sister was born in January. But I'm only guessing. It looks as if there's still snow on the ground. That doesn't matter. It still could have been Easter. Seeing my father wearing a tie isn't surprising to me. He most always wore a tie, even when he went to the post office or grocery store.  My father most always wearing a tie might have been a generational thing. Or his wearing a tie might have been because of his profession. My father was a funeral director. He treated those who came to him in times of sorrow with the upmost respect, including the manner in which he presented himself. He was dedicated to those families. To this day, I am told stories of my father's kindness.

I love the look of my father dressed in the suspenders. So handsome he was in that crisp, white shirt. Seeing him standing tall with his wire-rimmed glasses and that crisp, white shirt and the tie and those suspenders makes me think of  "The Godfather." I can imagine a 1941 Packard or a Lincoln Continental of the same year wheeling down my grandparents' cinder driveway lined with poplar trees, taking the curve and slamming on brakes with cinders flying just outside that door and a few seconds later, some Michael Corleone type guys rushing inside the kitchen. Of course those gangsters might have had to park their gangster vehicles near my grandfather's old Ford tractor.


Old photos are stories of a time and a place and a moment. Once the moment is captured, it will live on forever, along with the legend of Michael Corleone and my grandmother's kitchen table now sitting in my home, still gathering stories with photos being taken-not by a Kodak Brownie camera-but by cell phones; making the photos available instantly at one's finger tips.

I still prefer a box of old glossy photos with dates scribbled on the back and sometimes names written in cursive. When you open the box, it feels like Christmas. And maybe in that box of photos you'll discover a photo you'll treasure as much as I do the photo of my father in suspenders in the Farmhouse Kitchen.




Friday, May 17, 2019

Journey of a Favorite Little Picture Book

For my youngest son’s first Easter, I put some books in his Easter basket. One was titled, 'Henry’s Awful Mistake', written and illustrated by Robert Quackenbush. The book turned out to be a favorite. I’d read it to him night after night. He knew every word and if I skipped one, he’d let me know. The book eventually became worn and frazzled around the edges. Some of the pages were ripped. Some had scribblings on them.
Years later, as I was planning to go to New York City, I read an article about the 25th anniversary edition of that book. It went on about the author/illustrator and his studio in Manhattan where he not only does his illustrating but also teaches art to children and adults. A thought went through my head. Minutes later I was calling Robert Quackenbush’s studio and to my surprise, he answered. We had a lovely conversation which led to plans for me to stop by his studio. I couldn’t wait. I made sure to pack the worn copy of 'Henry’s Awful Mistake' still sitting in a bookcase in the living room.
Our visit turned out to be more than I could ever have imagined. After a tour of his charming studio, we sat and talked for a few hours. I eventually presented that worn copy to him. I’d told him about it over the phone and had asked if he’d sign it. Mr. Quackenbush took his time; looking through the pages; the worn pages-some with scribbles; some ripped. After Mr. Quackenbush signed it with a personal note to my now adult son, he stood and went over to a shelf. He came back with a copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of 'Henry’s Awful Mistake' published the year before. He said the book was a gift from him to me. Sitting down, he signed the book while telling me how the original story came to be and how pleased he was that it became a favorite book of so many children including my son.
Little did I know that eventually I’d be blessed with a grandson named Henry! Just before his first birthday I called Mr. Quackenbush and told him I had a Henry! He was delighted! I asked if I sent him a birthday card for Henry, would he sign it and mail it back to me. That card was in my mailbox a few weeks later with a lovely message-“Wishing you a Happy 1st Birthday and a childhood blessed with wonderful books!” It was signed-“Henry the Duck and Henry the Duck’s author and illustrator, Robert Quackenbush.”
Isn’t it funny how a picture book sitting in an Easter basket created a story all its own?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

My Mother the RN


Seeing my mother with her hair up in bobby pins was an everyday sight when growing up. She’d keep the bobby pins in until it was time to get ready for work. In her career as a RN, my mother eventually became Charge Nurse of the night shift in the ER. As a kid I never realized what any of that meant. I just remember being put in the back seat of the car next to my older brother when it was time to go with our father to take our mother to work. By that time— she’d fed us, given us baths, put our pajamas on and then— took the bobby pins out of her hair, put on her white nylons with a seam up the back, put on her perfectly ironed, white uniform along with her polished white duty shoes and her starched white cap with a black strip around it that she’d bobby pin to her hair.

Once we were in the car with the engine on and my father at the wheel, my mother would walk out of the house wearing her nurse’s cape with the initials ABHH stitched into the stand-up collar. Not a hair was out of place. The uniform and duty shoes and cap were white as snow. She most always carried a cloth bag with her. With a touch of lipstick and the aroma of her Avon deodorant, she was were ready to go and so were we.

The drive didn’t take very long but I loved every minute of it. My parents conversed in small talk as we rode down familiar streets. Once we went over a bridge spanning a river that connected to another river, my father would take a right at the light and minutes later we’d be entering a circular drive in front of the hospital. He’d stop the car and we each took turns saying goodbye. Most often we were told to be good. We’d watch our mother go into the hospital. Then we’d wait for her to appear in a window a few floors up from the main floor. There she’d wave goodbye to us as our father took us home to bed. More often than not, I’d go back home with red lipstick on my cheek.

I never thought about what it was my mother did while I was sleeping. When I came downstairs in the morning I’d sometimes find that cloth bag she carried to work by a window in the dining room. She’d sit there when first getting back from work. That’s where she’d put the bobby pins back in her hair. Then she’d read more of a book she kept with her in that bag. Reading helped her wind down. Eventually she’d go upstairs to bed for a little while.

As I grew older, my mother would encourage me to be a nurse. But that calling wasn’t in me. On the other hand, it was in my mother.  Through her example, I learned the meaning of dedication.






Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Bunny in the Rock Wall


For a few years, my now eight-year old granddaughter and I kept track of a bunny we'd see out back by the barn, hiding in the garden or hopping around and then disappearing in the rock wall. My granddaughter always felt the bunny was no ordinary bunny. She was convinced it was the Easter Bunny.

When she was five we never saw the bunny during the summer, fall or winter. But the following spring when her little brother was here for an overnight, we both saw the bunny by the rock wall. We were so excited. I'd thought the worst had happened but the bunny proved me wrong. Adding to the excitement of seeing bunny, I'm certain I saw a few little ones scampering along beside her.



Just before Easter that year, on a beautiful spring evening with geese flying and the sun setting over the fields, I went out back for a walk. I didn't get very far. As I came up the incline near the rock wall, I was astonished to find colorful, decorated Easter eggs lying in the grass. They were beautiful-sparkling-magical under the glow of the sun disappearing. Something told me those eggs were not your ordinary Easter eggs. Slowly, I bent down and touched one. It was a little wet. At that moment, I heard a scurrying by the rock wall. I turned, and out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a white, puffy tail. I knew it was our bunny.

That's when I realized my granddaughter was right. Our bunny really is the Easter Bunny and our bunny was getting ready to go hippity hoppity down the Bunny trail. Bunny had painted and decorated the eggs and put them in the grass to dry. I was certain she had more eggs and tons and tons of candy packed and ready to go.

**Moral of this Easter Tale: When you believe like a child believes, even a little bunny living out back in the rock wall really, really can be the Easter Bunny. Happy Easter!