Tuesday, July 3, 2018

When a Baby Blanket becomes a Best Friend

Linus didn't invent being attached to a blanket. A little one becoming attached to a favorite baby blanket is nothing new. Whatever the reason why one particular blanket over another is the chosen blanket is anyone's guess. It could be the smell or feel of the blanket. It could be the color or a graphic sewn into the blanket. Whatever it is, the bond that forms between a child and his or her blanket is real. The bond is a close one. When everything else fails that blanket when given to a tired child will soothe that child more than a toy or a cookie or even a mother. That blanket is magic when magic is needed. And it can become a bargaining tool when the child is a little older and misbehaving.

Favorite blankets come in all sorts of colors. Some are finished in satin trim. Some have teddy bears or rainbows or puppy dogs and kitten graphics. Some are handsewn. My grandmother was in the process of making my youngest a baby blanket but she passed away before finishing it. I have it framed and on the wall. Something tells me it would have been a favorite blanket.

Most always when it comes to a favorite blanket, the favorite blanket is given a name by the child who loves that blanket beyond the moon and back. After all it is the blanket that comforts and soothes and lets the child know all will be okay; that lets the child know it is time to go to sleep. My oldest daughter had a favorite blanket when she was little. She called it Duckies because there were three yellow ducks sewn in the center of the soft, white blanket with satin trim. But Duckies wasn't the only favorite baby blanket in the family. Others have taken their place in our family story. Corny, DiDi, and Monkey Cookie will forever remain known as favorite baby blankets; coming to the rescue to soothe and most importantly to give and receive unconditional love. 

Any wonder the temporary loss of a favorite blanket sends a family in panic mode in search of that favorite blanket proving its worth in the family tree.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Oh Those Heavenly Lemon Meringue Pies

I've written before about my grandmother's skills when baking pies. Her recipes featured measurements such as a pinch-a dash-and a sprinkle. This time of year she'd be on overload making her pies. Many would be berry pies because of the abundance of wild berries in the fields surrounding the farm. From raspberries to blackberries and strawberries, berry pies were created and enjoyed one right after another. But one pie didn't contain any berries; no apples or pumpkins. The main ingredient in that pie was lemons. And on the days when she made her mouthwatering lemon meringue pies, my grandmother's  kitchen was bustling.

The process began with her creating the most flaky pie crust I've ever tasted. Her pie crusts were perfect every time she made them. Every pie crust offered the same consistency, the same flavor, look and smell as previous pie crusts. She'd measure the flour, salt, water and lard together. Then divide the dough into two balls if it was a two-crust pie and start rolling out the crust. Of course her lemon meringue pie was a one-crust pie. That sweet meringue was the topping.

My grandmother used lemon juice when making her lemon meringue pies. She'd gather the sugar, salt, flour and cornstarch in a saucepan .Adding water a little at a time, she'd cook the mixture in a double boiler, stirring until it thickened. Then egg yolks were stirred. Butter and lemon juice were added and then poured into a baked pie crust and cooled completely. While that was cooling, my grandmother would create her delectable meringue; beating the egg whites until they held a soft shape; then adding the sugar until the meringue was stiff enough to stand in peaks. Spreading the meringue on top of the cooled pie, it was placed in the hot oven until the meringue was lightly browned.

To taste my grandmother's lemon meringue pie was like tasting a little bit of heaven. The combination of the lemon and the fluffy, sweet meringue was proof that opposites attract. Those lemon meringue pies made with love in my grandmother's farmhouse kitchen never lasted very long. That's because those pies were favorites; enjoyed by young and old alike.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Long Way Home

When my grandparents lived in their farmhouse, many times during the winter my grandfather worked on projects in the kitchen. In the evening he’d shut the door leading to the dining room and get busy. He’d do it all in that kitchen-from sawing to nailing to finishing. The end results became keepsakes to those lucky enough to be given one.

I’ve written before about the pine desk my grandfather made me. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it on Christmas morning when I was 8 years old. Smelling of shellac, it came with a stool and a single drawer. Inside that drawer was a pad of paper with a sharpened #2 pencil.

My mother was another recipient of one of my grandfather’s wooden heirlooms. Hers was a bookcase made of pine with three shelves. The bookcase was the perfect gift for my mother as she was an avid reader. Her favorite books were mostly novels set in the South during the Civil War; the era of Rhett and Scarlett and big hoop dresses and sprawling plantations. I remember the times she would take me with her to a small bookstore located inside a department store in our downtown. I loved going with her. Even though I couldn’t read I pretended I was reading. There was something intriguing about all those books on display in that space. It might have been the smell of all those pages with all that ink printed on paper. It might have been the window displays or watching my mother making her selections with such care. Because my mother was an RN, eventually working the night shift as Charge Nurse in the ER, she always took a book with her to the hospital. If she had time she’d spend that time reading. Thinking about it now, reading was probably a way for her to relax if given the chance while on duty.

When my mother passed away I was lucky enough to have been given most of her books. Some of those books have her signature inside. But the bookcase eventually went away on a long journey until a few weeks ago. That’s when that bookcase with three shelves came back home to me via one big truck where it looked funny all packaged up and sitting by itself. That bookcase is now in my living room where it will be holding some of those Rhett and Scarlett type novels. It looks the same as it did when it was in our home out in the country; sitting in the living room with the only phone in the house sitting on the top shelf. Those were the days of telephone operators. Our number was 2094. It’s funny how you remember such a thing.

My mother kept the phone sitting on a pillow so in case it rang during the night it wouldn’t wake her up. I never could figure that out because back then my father would often receive calls during the night. Those were the days of no rescue squads. Funeral Directors did that job so my father, being a funeral director, would get some of those calls. He always heard the phone. He never missed a call. I equate that to being a mother. You sleep with one ear on alert.

Now looking at the bookcase I can still outlines of books that sat on those shelves so many years ago as well as burn marks on the top of it. In a hurry while smoking a Camel cigarette, my mother would sometimes put her cigarette down on the top edge of the bookcase while she did a chore or changed her 33LP record in the stereo console. Oh she did have ashtrays but they were in the kitchen and if she was in a rush and smoking a cigarette, down it would go on that bookcase while she tended to whatever it was needing her attention and that included her children. I know it probably sounds horrifying to some to think my mother would be going around the house smoking her cigarettes but that was a different era; an era of the Marlboro man and a ‘Winston tasting good like a cigarette should’ and operators saying “number please” with one phone per home.

Funny how a simple pine bookcase could go on a journey and end up back where it began years later in one piece with no nicks except for those burn marks made by its original owner. The bookcase with its pine boards still smelling of shellac is a reminder of that farmer working into the night in his farmhouse kitchen creating heirlooms; each telling a story for anyone who’d listen from one generation to the next .
**!st Photo: I am 9 years old on a Christmas morning when we lived in a house on a lane before moving to the country. My grandmother is watching me and the bookcase is behind me.
**2nd Photo: So many years later the bookcase arrives back home to me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Sticky Hug on a Rainy Christmas Day in May

On my way back home late this morning from participating in a Grandparents Day breakfast with a 4-year old little fisherman who left us both sticky from maple syrup as we laughed and talked about perch and walleye and his upcoming Fishing Birthday Party and he showed me the right way to drink chocolate milk from a small container using a straw, I thought about his saying goodbye after giving me a sticky kiss and sticky hug..
“Love you too GraGra,” he waved as he disappeared around a corner on his way back to his classroom. He’d been chosen to be the caboose-the child at the end of the line-so he was able to wave goodbye to me all the way down the hall.
When he disappeared around that corner I felt my heart sink.
A few hours later I was back at that school-back in that cafeteria enjoying a Grandparents Day lunch with a 7-year old granddaughter. To see her smile when she saw me made it feel like Christmas. I was certain the rain falling was really snow and the gentleman with the beard waiting by the door was really Santa Claus.
As we sat and ate our lunch and talked I wondered when in the world did a sweet little baby girl blossom into such a beautiful young girl. When she asked about the locket I was wearing I told her Uncle Brian gave it to me. Getting a closer look, she opened the locket.
“Why don’t you have a picture in your locket”?
“I’ve been going to,” I answered.
“I think you should put a picture of Uncle Brian in the locket. He would like that GraGra.”
“I think he would too.”
When it was time to leave, I watched her go down the stairs and join her friends, skipping along until she stopped and turned.
“Love you GraGra.”
My heart sunk a little bit more.
As I passed by farmland that had been plowed and Amish going along in their buggies or working out in their fields, I thought how lucky I was-blessed with a sticky kiss and a sticky hug and a smile that turned a rainy day in May into Christmas. Priceless.
(Please Note: GraGra is what my grandchildren call me)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Ballerina With Wings on Ice

Before last weekend’s April ice storm I’d filled the bird feeders out by the clothesline. It’s a clustered bunch of bird feeders. A few are made of wood now worn with plastic dividers chipped in the corners. One is made of small, colorful pieces resembling stain glass glittering out in the elements. Once the ice storm hit with howling winds and snow falling, many of those seeds in the feeders went flying. Many ended up on top of the ice covering the ground while even more of them ended up under the feeders. Seeds just sitting there on the ice and under the feeders attracted a variety of birds but more often than not, only the big birds were able to conquer the slippery ice; then grab some seeds and take off to a nearby tree to enjoy their just reward.
Of all the birds that were out there, it was one little bird that caught my eye. She was very small but determined. As my son Brian and I watched her fight for a seed, we found ourselves cheering her on. There is a very slight incline in the yard leading to the bird feeders. You probably wouldn’t even notice it but if you are a tiny bird with thin little legs and the wind is pushing you and the snowflakes are knocking you down as you try to put one thin little leg in front of the other in order to get under the bird feeders where some prime seeds are resting, you’d notice that giant incline. You’d probably feel like you were climbing Mt. Everest.
I’m sure that’s how the little bird felt as she tried and tried to get under those feeders. Sometimes she’d get part way then the wind would take her swirling around and around the ice covering the ground making her look like a beautiful ballerina with wings giving the performance of a life time. On a few occasions one of her legs would be up in the air as if she was doing an Olympic-style program in the backyard. Once we saw her pushed by the wind so far away that we thought we’d seen the last of her as she crashed into some leaves frozen in the ice. But that never happened. That only spurred her on to victory under the bird feeders. Back she came stronger than ever and away she flew with a mouth full of prime, delicious seeds.
You see this little bird was a fighter; conquering blue jays and cardinals and sparrows and robins and morning doves. She was determined. She was Forrest Gump and the Little Engine Who Could and Dumbo and Cinderella and Susan Boyle and a U.S Olympic Hockey team who beat those Russians and Rosa Parks and Rocky and Rudolph and Stephen Hawking and Andrea Bocelli and so many more. She was anyone physically or mentally handicapped who gets up every day and puts one foot in front of the other. She was the underdog who keeps trying; keeps fighting; keeps going and she was those bullied by cowards who stand their ground and give it right back to the spineless.
There certainly is a lot going on out at the bird feeders. More than I ever realized. And when it rains or snows or the wind blows or the ice falls some of those birds stand up and fight for what they believe in.
I like that idea.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Flying Out a Kitchen Window

On my way back home one day last week passing by farms and fields a story my grandmother would tell came to mind. Whenever my grandmother told the story she’d laugh right out loud. So did anyone who was listening to her talk about the time when she was a little girl sitting at the kitchen table playing and acting silly with her siblings. Eventually her mother told her to stop but she kept on playing. In fact my grandmother played so hard that she ended up running around and around that table so fast that she went flying out the kitchen window. Whenever she’d get to this point in the story my grandmother’s eyes would widen with a twinkle and the laughter would get uncontrollable. She’d always end her tale by saying it was a hot summer day and the window was wide open. While she didn’t get hurt she did ‘catch heck’ as she’d describe the aftermath from flying straight out that window after being told to stop.

Once in a while I’d take my grandmother for rides out in the country and as we’d go along I’d hear stories about way back when working farms were scattered about the countryside like rugs throughout a home; where families with familiar last names were raising children and tending gardens and plowing fields and milking cows and filling haylofts with picky bales of hay through the month of June. One time while riding along she told me that story again about falling out a kitchen window as we approached a certain farmhouse.

“Slow down,” she told me. “That’s the place where I flew out the kitchen window.”

Problem was that particular window was no longer there. Someone had added on an enclosed front porch and replaced trees with shrubs and a cinder driveway with a paved, circular drive. I asked her if she wanted to stop. She told me no.

“I’d rather remember that place as it used to be.”

So much has changed since my grandmother went flying out of that kitchen window. Most of those farms she recalled are now vacated, torn down or have new owners with unfamiliar names. Yet despite so much changing, so much has stayed the same, like the smells of the earth awakening to spring undeterred by winter trying to hold on as streams begin to trickle alongside roads and wander about the fields while the crows and geese keep flying by and little kids keep playing after being told to stop and then ‘catch heck’ in the aftermath.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Favorite Old Record Album

As the snow keeps falling in this month of March I am reminded of my mother and a 33rpm vinyl record album she played over and over again on a record player which was part of a fancy console complete with a radio featuring both AM & FM channels as well as a space to store albums.

She bought the massive console as a gift for the family or so she said when it was delivered days before Christmas one year when I was in Junior High School. Thinking back, I believe the main purpose of that console was for my mother to play a particular song from one of her favorite Dean Martin Christmas albums. The song was titled-“A Marshmallow World.” She played that song not only in December but all through the winter months. Each of us in that household knew every word, every pause in that song. We’d automatically sing along without even realizing it. My mother was a fanatic Saturday morning clean-the-house-thoroughly kind of person which meant I had to pitch in. Dean Martin made that torture go so much faster.

When I went outside today and took a walk in the snow, those words of that particular song came back to me-every single one of them including the pauses. It certainly was a Marshmallow World out there. My mother would have loved it.