Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween in the Country

Just by virtue of being in the country made Halloween even scarier than it really was when interpreted through the eyes and minds of a kid. What might have been a cluster of leaves dancing past the cinder driveway or swirling atop an open field was actually a pack of menancing rats out to attack and devour trick or treaters. Barren trees became gnarled enemies that at any minute would join forces and nab all the children of the earth and take them off to certain demise. What cornstalks there were left standing in deserted fields transformed into haunting souls ready to avenge their fallen comrades of the field. Twisting vines once the lifelines of pumpkins now picked and gutted, carved and painted with candles flickering in their bellies, slithered about the fields anxious to grab hold of those who'd taken their fruit. Certainly under the cover of that purplish black sky they were not vines at all. Rather they were serpents-angry serpents who'd coil around innocent children and leave them to the fate of those scurrying rats.

Acting as a prop the harvest moon would disappear behind passing clouds just when its light was desperately needed. Nothing-not even the moon-could be trusted on Halloween. The barn became a fortress of gloom and doom, full of monsters and dragons about to settle the score with children who ran about their castle in the daylight-laughing and playing while they lay dormant waiting for the dark of night.

Throw in grownups who'd never grown up and the scene was set for even more of a harrowing experience. You never knew where they'd appear. A grandmother who took her hair combs out-unleashing long strands of grey that seemed even longer when evolving into the Wicked Witch of the North might have peered through kitchen windows or hidden in wait behind one of those gnarled enemies. With a nose that was a natural and a cackle perfected, this country witch was better than any Hollywood version. And then there was that uncle who made us rafts and set us off on day long treasure hunts. He was never to be found on Halloween. We could have used his help when escaping from Frankenstein himself!

Halloween in the country alerted our senses; the smell of the leaves that weren't actually leaves; the sound of the wind through nasty branches; the touch of a witch's grasp; the sight of ghosts and goblins peering out at every turn. Even after returning back home-after sorting through the lollipops and candy bars and Bazooka gum-it was unsettling to peer through any window. That Wicked Witch of the North might have peered right back!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Creek Grass

Because my father was a funeral director when I was growing up we never really went on extended vacations. Back then funeral directors were also the local rescue squad-on duty 24 hours a day-7 days a week. I remember hearing him going off into the night after an accident call had awakened him. Besides that he was dedicated to the families who came to him in grief. He treated them as he would have treated his own family.

With that said I never felt we missed out on a thing. The backfields and creek and barn with its pastures and pine trees across the road all were like a Disneyworld to me-maybe even better for there were no crowds or anyone trying to sell me a thing. It was full steam ahead for my imagination every time I stepped out the door no matter the season.

Props were everywhere for me and my cousins-from haylofts to the grain shed; empty silo to creek grass. Our parents didn't have to spend a penny to keep us amused. Mother Nature took care of that. Looking back I remember the creek grass had its own smell. To this day I turn my head going by a meandering creek which to me still looks like a great place to linger as the world rushes by for you see creek grass to us was not just creek grass. It became forts and hideaways. It'd protect us from the evils of our imaginary world or become a secret spot to sit and talk and dream. It never mattered that we might be getting wet. We never even noticed. We were off on childhood adventures-nurtured by the amazing world around us. Pretty good considering it was all free-all at our fingertips without standing in line-waiting and waiting and waiting some more.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More weathered the old barn the better

Yesterday I was joined by the award-winning illustrator of "The Reindeer Keeper"-Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda at a book signing held at St. Lawrence University's Brewer Bookstore. The response to "The Reindeer Keeper" was tremendous. In fact, we sold out! The bookstore will be restocking their shelves with more copies and another signing will be announced soon. Interestingly many who stopped for their signed copy (in some cases-"copies")lingered. Conversations flowed-from personal Christmas memories and love of Christmas stories-to infatuations with old barns.

I've let it be known that when I was growing up, my grandfather's barn was a favorite place for me and my cousins. We'd heard the stories of wayback when my grandfather and his hired hands would bring the hay in from surrounding fields under the sweltering June sun. Wagons overflowing with the hay made their way over the plank bridge to the side of the barn where it was then brought up and into the silo.

Haylofts provided us the perfect places to play-or hide-or watch barn swallows swoop in and out of broken windows of that eventually abandoned barn. We'd heard names of favorite horses; imagined what it was like when that barn brimming with memories was bustling. Chickens pecking;pigs wallowing and cows lazily making their way back and forth-that barn with its two haylofts chronicled life as it was for my grandparents; their six daughters and my grandmother's parents who'd sit at night and read to the little ones.

To hear others tell me yesterday how they too were infatuated with barns-old barns-the more weathered the better; that they too kept fond memories of old barns once part of their families close to heart was music to my ears. Old barns are history. Old barns link one generation to the next. Old barns provide us a tapestry of yesterday just as a history book provides. And that old barn of my grandfather's played a role in my writing, "The Reindeer Keeper." It was a main character!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Corny

When growing up in the country-an aunt, uncle, four cousins and a black lab named Ranger lived for awhile in the farmhouse that once housed my grandparents and their six daughters. My uncle was a teacher and coach and my aunt-a nurse. They'd met when they were in the service. He was originally from Indiana and what I remember most about him was his rendition of "Little Orphan Annie." We'd sit in silence in the kitchen or on the veranda of the screened-in porch and listen to him. In his laid back voice he'd recite the lines until he reached the end. Then with a twinkle in his eye he'd look right at us and say in a stern and scary voice-"The Goblins will get you if you don't watch out!"

I loved playing in that old home with my cousins. Inside and out we had so much fun-climbing trees, playing baseball or stomping around in a rambling stream running alongside the farmhouse.The water flowed through a tunnel underneath the road and wandered on down to Sucker Creek. It'd usually disappear in the summer heat but in the spring it was a must-to-be-played in spot. We'd have races to see whose twig-turned-raceboat would make it to a certain point first. We'd go on adventures-all the while getting soaking wet yet never feeling cold.

There were four cousins in that house. The third-a beautiful little girl with beautiful eyes like her dad-had a favorite friend named Corny. Everyone knew Corny-a small swatch of cloth once a full-sized blanket. But due to her constant holding and feeling, that blanket had been reduced to a mere piece of frazzled material. None of that mattered to my little cousin. That was her Corny. One particular summer evening at suppertime as we were all gathered outside under my aunt's pine trees for a picnic a shout of desperation came from the farmhouse. It was my aunt letting everyone know Corny was missing! Everything was dropped! Hot dishes turned cold! Salads with mayonaisse were abandoned! The hunt began! How could we sit and eat our dinner when Corny wouldn't be joining us?
I can't remember how long it took but Corny was found. We all celebrated and supper went on as usual-with one very happy little girl and her best friend named Corny.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Joy Rides in the Backfields

My father was a funeral director and ever so often in the summertime he'd drive a big, black transport-of-coffins type van home for lunch. Back then the vans were not sleek and shiny and full of bells and whistles like they are today. This was more the type of a haunting getaway car for the gangsters in a "Godfather" type film. It didn't matter to us. It made the vehicle all the more intriguing so while my father was eating lunch my cousins and I would take the van for a ride-a marvelous joy ride amongst the clover and hay. Of course we told him we'd be careful; that we'd be right back but once we made it over the rickety bridge spanning Sucker Creek and then up the hill-it was a straight shot to those backfields. I can't remember how old we were. I don't think that old for my mother had a fit. (My father was always the one we'd go to first.)

Once we were on that straightaway the fun began. Down came the windows as we stepped on the gas; our hair flying in the breeze as we flew over one bump and then another; turning in circles; dodging trees and shrubs and any little creatures that might have been curious. We never wore seat belts. No one did back then. Our heads would hit the top of the van but we never felt a thing. We were free spirits. Nothing else mattered until zipping around that raceway we saw my father in the distance flagging us in. Lunchtime was over and so was our joy ride in the backfields-until the next time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Autumn

I took part in an Authors event today held at a community library about two hours from where I live.I love doing these events especially when held in libraries. The smell of the books and quiet respect for one another does something to my soul.
It was a crisp autumn day. Shuffling leaves as I carried my books into the building brought me back to growing up in the country and going across the road; then down to the woods with my cousin. Our grandparents owned the property. It was never referenced as the woods. To the family it was "the camp." Not your regular camp but rather a camp for orphans in the summertime. You see,in the nearby town there was an orphanage run by nuns. I remember going there with my grandmother who sometimes cooked for the children. I loved going there. In fact I think I would have stayed there if possible. Clean and bright with rows and rows of beds and children of all sizes and ages made it look like one big, happy family to me. Obviously I didn't understand the situation.
My grandparents grew quite close to the nuns so that's how "the camp" came to be. Only the boys came out and stayed. They walked out; brought tents and whatever else might be needed and stayed right up to Labor Day. A couple stayed there along with the nuns. They did the cooking and any maintenance. There was a little house where the nuns slept. The boys' tents were pitched nearby.
But today's drifting leaves took me back to when my cousin and I went on adventures down there; collecting pine cones and shiny stones while making sure to step over cowpies plopped haphazardly about the landscape.Fall was the best. With a richness in the air;with oranges and yellows sparkling in the sunshine walking down to and playing around "the camp" was invigorating-just like today as I carried my books inside that charming library full of charming people.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sucker Creek

I grew up along Sucker Creek-a meandering little beast that overflowed its banks in the spring and became an outdoor skating rink in the winter. It was an all-season playground for me and my cousins. Our Uncle Paddy who just turned eighty this past July and is still a kid at heart built us rafts out of telephone poles. There were two rafts; one for the boys; one for the girls. All summer long we'd board our rafts; then steer our way around the creek by prodding a long steel pole down to the creek bed and then back up then down again-over and over while fighting off pirates or traveling to the ends of the earth-or at least the opposite shore. Whenever a bloodsucker found its way onboard, we'd swipe it off with our pipe and continue on. We could never swim in Sucker Creek. I don't remember ever wanting to.

Spring's awakening brought overflowing banks and miniature icebergs crashing into one another. I loved their moaning sounds; twisting and shoving their way down Sucker Creek. From our kitchen window we'd watch beaver and muskrats ride those frozen pieces until they disappeared around the bend.

Still to this day biting into an apple brings me back to those breathtaking autumn days by the creek. In a matter of minutes getting off the school bus we'd be down at the creek with apples in our pockets.It always seemed we'd just gotten there that we'd be called back home for dinner.

Despite the cold and wind we'd spend hours at the creek shoveling-then skating. Winter was my favorite season. It still is. There were places where we could look straight down through the ice into the eerie yet spectacular underwater world of reeds and grasses suspended in time. Some evenings my cousin and I would lie atop the ice under silver stars; dreaming and talking.It was just as much fun when it was snowing. We'd lie in a nearby field making snow angels-doing the same. On days off we'd pack a lunch and skate up the creek as far as we dared to go. Hot chocolate was always a treat when we returned home.

Life was a treat along the banks of that rambling stream-providing young imaginations a stage no matter what the season.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Molasses Cookies

She never referenced a cook book. I never saw a measuring cup sitting on the counter; no fancy utensils or designer cookware. Despite the lack of what all the celebrity chefs saturating television these days use, my grandmother's plain bowls and wooden spoons were what she used when baking in her worn woodstove-the focal point in that kitchen of the old farmhouse. From her ability to judge a pinch of this and a dash of that to realizing by aroma that whatever she was baking was baked to perfection, my grandmother brought forth memories wrapped in pot holders for generations to come.

My favorite memory coming out of that stove were her molasses cookies; melt-in-your-mouth molasses cookies so big that it took putting your hands together to hold just one-when you were a little child in your grandmother's kitchen.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Bubble

I often laugh to myself when drinking a bottle of water. So much money is spent on those plastic bottles. Growing up in the country we had an endless supply of pure,fresh water. We didn't have to pump it. We certainly couldn't buy it. It came directly from a crack in the flat rock that spanned the lower hill down from the farmhouse going up to the barn. It was the coldest; most pure water I've ever tasted. One by one we'd lay flat out straight on our stomachs on the bed of rock and reach for the bubble. Some hot summer days it would be covered in stringy, green moss. We didn't care. We'd find a stick; then clear the moss away and enjoy that bubble. It was always there except when winter put an end to anything as spontaneous as a bubble laughing its way up from the earth.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Donut holes

I've described the old farmhouse where my grandparents lived when I was growing up in my previous blog. It sneaks into my dreams ever so often and when I wake up I am always disappointed that it was only a dream. I loved that farmhouse with all its imperfections. But when you're a kid imperfections go unnoticed especially when you're having fun.
We were always having fun. And when our grandmother made donut holes we had lots of fun eating the warm little morsels.They were plain donut holes. We didn't need different flavors. We'd just fill little paper bags with them and run back outside to play. I hope I dream about those donut holes tonight!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The old farmhouse

Throughout "The Reindeer Keeper" I made reference to an old farmhouse which played an integral role in the setting of the story. Subconsciously when writing I was going back to my childhood; back to the old farmhouse which was home to my grandparents and their six daughters. There would have been a son-he would have been the oldest-but my grandmother fell while taking my grandfather water to drink. He was out in a backfield haying in the heavy heat of a June afternoon.

I can still smell the cookies and breads; donuts and full-course meals coming from my grandmother's woodstove which she directed like a conductor of an orchestra. The kitchen was enormous with wainscoating and a built-in hutch to die for. The floor in the dining room was slanted but we didn't care. One room led to another. Bookshelves held my grandfather's western novels. African violets hugged the windows especially when the sun drenched them in warmth no matter what the season. A pantry full of shelves made a great place to hide when playing with cousins.

There were five bedrooms with a "secret" tunnel connected two of them. At least that's what we thought back then. The lone bathroom was at the end of the upstairs hallway. You could walk straight through it to get to the backstairs.
The front veranda was marvelous. Screened in-it spread out along the length of the house and was a great place sit through thunderstorms.
My grandmother's peony bushes with their smiling faces were everywhere as were her lilacs and poplar trees.
So many memories stem from within that old farmhouse. Some made their way into the pages of "The Reindeer Keeper." More to come. And just a reminder, "The Reindeer Keeper" is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and will soon be available on Kindle.