Saturday, November 27, 2010

Two Reading Suggestions

If you enjoy reading my reminiscing posts you might like to read my short story, "In Anticipation of Doll Beds", published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book entitled, "Christmas Magic". It was released October, 2010 and includes 101 heartwarming stories.

Another suggestion: Log onto Boomer Living; click on Coffee House Blog; scroll down to Hodge Podge-the name of my blog where you will find "A Plastic Santa-A Holiday Tradition." This entry looks back to the downtown of my hometown years ago when we had a downtown; of shopping in the hustle and bustle where everyone knew each other; where Newberrys and Woolworths each had live Santas and toy departments to die for!

Hope you enjoy. If you feel like sharing traditions you remember from your hometown I'd love to hear from you! Wishing you a Happy Holiday season!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving

Although we gathered frequently there was something extra special about Thanksgiving. Besides the turkey and all those marvelous trimmings with homemade pies and my grandmother's famous-much anticipated Christmas bread-there was something else going on. Looking back it was an appreciation of and respect for this day set aside for gathering together and giving thanks. Whether in red vests or a suit and tie, my father and uncles dressed for the occasion. That one particular uncle who lived 45 minutes away was always dressed in his suit and tie. To this day I've never met a man so respectful of or in love with his wife-a spitfire of a woman who was small in stature but full of spirit.

Of course the women dressed extra special too. My one aunt in particular always wore red lipstick and her hair was long and flipped up. I thought she was so beautiful. Many of the women wore aprons over their attire as they bustled about the kitchen. There were two tables set; one for the adults; one for the children. It was a right of passage when graduating from the smaller to the larger table-leaving behind wiggling kids with thoughts of that next holdiay fast approaching or itching to get back down to the creek and continue skating if the weather had been cooperative.

Seasonal music and aromas I can still tap back into filled the air. A lover of Dean Martin, my mother would play his "Marshmallow World" over and over. We'd join in as Dean took us though that classic song as only he could. Hushed conversations of Christmas surprises were held between adults as potaotes were whipped and vegetables were placed in serving bowls.Hard as we tried we never caught a word of what they were saying.
Dinner was a flurry of dishes passed and plates filled. One particular uncle was always in charge of which way the food was passed so there'd be no traffic jam holding up the flow.

Even after the turkey and pies had been enjoyed there was one more tradition we shared. A few of us older kids would cut strips of paper into smaller pieces. On each piece we would write the name of a family member. All of the names were put into a ceramic Santa Claus with a handle and after dinner we would go around the table. Everyone would take one name from the pile. That person was responsible to buy the person whose name was on the slip of paper a small gift which would be handed out on Christmas after dinner. We called them "Table Tree Gifts". It was fun to guess who had chosen whom. We'd mumble if we'd chosen someone we "didn't like" which really meant we felt they weren't that exciting to buy for. We'd spend hours trying to figue out who'd chosen our names for some bought better things than others-we thought. One particular uncle would never tell.

Of couse Thanksgiving meant "Miracle on 34th Street" would be on the tv along with great family Christmas specials such as Perry Como, Red Skelton, Dean Martin, Lawrence Welk,Carol Burnett-to name a few.

To say we were lucky living out there in the country on that certain stretch of road will never to it justice. So I will just say "Happy Thanksgiving" to all-and especially to those of us who were but little ones sitting at that smaller table. We were cetainly blessed weren't we!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Grinding Cranberries

Back when we all lived in those 4 houses in a row Thanksgiving was often at our house. Of course the hope was my father wasn't called out on an ambulance call or had calling hours at the funeral home to tend to but if any such scenarios arose Thanksgiving went on as planned for such happenings were a part of our daily lives.

I loved the anticipation just as much as the dinner itself. My parents always ordered a Butterball turkey from a local family-owned grocery. They'd both go to pick it up. I can still see my father walking into the house with his hat and tie and long coat unbuttoned proudly carrying the thick cardboard box with Tom Turkey inside. He'd strut into the kitchen as if he'd gone to the woods himself in hunt of the perfect bird.
The hustle and bustle was contagious as potatoes were peeled; stale bread cut up; seasonings gathered; squash readied to be split open; pie crusts made from scratch rolled out on floured boards; china taken out of the cupboard; chairs counted; house cleaned-and cranberries crunched.

That's where I came in-grinding the cranberries for my mother as she hurried about while keeping an eye on me. She had a simple, non-fancy, non-electric blender, grinder, mixer thing. It attached tightly to the end of the kitchen table. After the handle with a wooden end was fit into place and a large saucepan was placed on the floor to catch the escaping berry juice, I was good to go. It was time to massacre the waiting fruit.

It was so much fun; putting those dark red berries in the top of the grinder; then pushing them down through as I turned the handle; listening to them pop as they became blops of mush with the juice streaming out and the blobs falling into a waiting bowl. After my mother thought I'd massacred enough berries she handed me some oranges-peeled and sliced- which I'd put into the grinder one at a time for I loved watching the wedges disappear only to reappear as more mush. I did the same for apple slices which were even more fun because they put up a good fight only to momentarily join their fellow fruits in the big yellow bowl.

Somehow I inherited that non-fancy, non-electric blender, grinder, mixer thing. It's in my kitchen cupboard all ready to go-and when it does I'll be thinking of those 4 houses in a row as we gathered in Thanksgiving-enjoying the mush I so proudly prepared.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Now that's a lot of Bull!

There was a favorite story we asked to hear over and over when sitting at our grandmother's kitchen table with a favorite aunt who'd never married. It was this aunt we'd wait for a little after five o'clock in the summer heat; hoping she'd take us swimming across the road and down to that river with an Indian name. I couldn't really swim. I'd hold on to a big rock and kick while I watched my aunt. She was a beautiful swimmer; voted prettiest girl in her class. She'd methodically tuck her hair into a white plastic swim cap; then stand there-wetting her arms a few times while checking to see where we were; then stir the water a bit with her hands before diving in like Esther Williams. The best part came after the swim. That's when the graham crackers came out. They tasted so good as we made our way back home dodging cow pies. But it was when this aunt told a certain bull story that we became numb in silence around the kitchen table. No matter how many times we heard it we wanted to hear it again.

My mother was the 2nd born of the 6 daughters. Each had their chores to do. My mother's were in the barn beside my grandfather.She'd always tell me she was meant to be the boy helping in the barn for she was named after him. His name was Frank. Her's was Frances which led to an unspoken bond between the two. That near catastrophic bull event happened as she was racing out of the barn one Saturday-trying to get ahead of the cows to open the gate that would take them across the road and into the pasture.In her rush she smacked right into a grazing bull. She never thought anything about it. She was in a hurry to beat the herd.

But on her way back to the barn that grazing bull had her in his sights. He was ready to pay her back for disturbing him. According to our aunt, that bull put his head down and barreled right for my mother who was skipping her way back to finish her chores. I don't remember how many of her sisters or farmhands were around but anyone who was there and saw the impending tragedy about to happen started screaming in an attempt to warn her of that raging machine picking up speed. The chaos of the moment alerted my grandfather who rushed to the front of the barn just as my mother-now aware and sprinting towards the finish line-was about to fly through the doorway. Lunging forth, my grandfather grabbed her; pulled her in; then took a pitch fork and embedded it into the bull's backside. End of the bull and the bull story-no bull!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Veranda

I always liked the word-Veranda when used by the adults describing the screened-in front porch of the farmhouse. It was an elusive term; fancier than needed but it intrigued me; made me feel as if that farmhouse was a castle and my cousin and I were princesses-or something. We could have been whatever we chose for when pretending became part of the play-verandas or tree limbs or hayfields or rambling streams transformed into whatever it was that wo
rked into the script of the moment.

My most vivid memory of being on the veranda was far from the world of our imaginations. It was real. It was frightening and everytime I hear a clap of thunder and see a bolt of lightning sizzle the landscape I go back to that particular hot, summer night where we gathered together to watch it storm. Yes-watch it storm. My grandmother called us to join her as the wind began to pick up speed and little whirlwinds in the cinder driveway were whipping around like the warm-up-show of things to come.

And come they did-with my cousin and I on either side of this grandmother who had an adventurous flair about her despite her days so structured in chores and cooking and baking and caring and doing. With each jolt we dug in closer. With each electrifying flash that lit the yard up like spotlights we threw our hands over our eyes and wormed down farther into our chairs. And when the flash and the jolt combined into one huge, gigantic, earth-shaking crack my cousin and I shot to our feet and went screaming off that veranda-through the door leading to the front parlor and then straight into the coat closet under the stairway and slammed the door shut. It seemed like we were there for hours. We weren't for the storm soon drifted over the backfield-rumbling and grumbling all the way. Our grandmother sat straight through every act of that rambling storm. Something tells me her imagination was soaring that hot, summer night on the veranda.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Baldy

I don't remember much about the days when my grandparents' farm was thriving but I've heard the stories. It was always fun to sit around the kitchen table where my grandparents and aunt lived. We'd have a cup of coffee made in my aunt's simple coffee pot that only made 6 cups and enjoy whatever delight my grandmother was baking while we listened to the stories about "back then."
"Tell us another one," we'd say. We never could get enough of tho
se stories.

One particular story was told over and over. It had to do with one mean chicken named Baldy. This bird earned the nickname because of the many fights he'd partake in around the barnyard. Baldy ruled the roost if you know what I mean-winning every battle he chose-leaving him "hairless" in the process.

One battle he won every time the opportunity arose was with my oldest brother who was the first grandchild and constantly at the farm. Something tells me he was my grandfather's sidekick around the barn and a frequent passenger in Grampie's old truck. But whenever he was toddling around that barnyard and Baldy spotted him-the scurry began. Baldy would go right for this what had to be strange creature running about his domain with red hair flying and freckles plastering his face. What must have Baldy thought of this intruder at my grandparents' beck and call. Maybe it was jealously; maybe he didn't like foreigners. Whatever Baldy's reason, he would go right after my brother. With his head down and those twigs for legs flying he'd dig right in and chase my brother at high speed leaving clouds of dust and dirt behind him and one little boy screaming. No matter how many times he'd be reprimanded Baldy would do it again and again whenever it became necessary to declare just who was King of the barnyard.

Eventually Baldy earned his own private living quarters at the farm-a small buidling about the size of an outhouse where he lived in exile of fellow foul and one red-headed toddler. I don't know what ever happened to him but Baldy's house (which we family members still refer to it as)remains intact and my brother-to this day-has a fear of chickens-especially bald ones!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cooking berries in a rusted can

I really make an effort this time of the year to absorb all that's going on for it's a smorgasbord of the senses-just as it was when growing up in the country. When I hear the geese flying overhead I remember back to those times we'd be playing at the creek as fall was thinking about turning into winter. Making fortresses along that creek's bed by building walls of leaves all around us, we were able to see up and down that murky waterway just in
case an enemy approached. Don't tell any grown-ups but one time intent in play we picked lots of berries of some sorts; then put them in a rusty old can full of creek water and built up leaves underneath and around the can;then we lit the leaves on fire. (I really can't remember who had the matches)! It fit right into the script of what was going on-survivng in an unknown terriory or something like that.

Anyway our leaf fire quickly turned to smoke-lots of smoke. My two cousins were scoping the nearby field for twigs and when they returned they asked me if the berries were ready. Guess we were thinking of eating them?
Anyway I remember the next second as clear today as if it was yesterday. I was sitting cross-legged stirring our "supper' with my eyes shut and tears streaming down my cheeks. Smoke had taken over but I was sticking it out. After all we were on some foreign soil and needed to survive by any means-even if it meant eating berries-maybe. I looked up-still with my smoke-filled eyes shut-and said, "I don't know. I can't see!"

And then the three of us lost it on the banks of Sucker Creek. For some unknown reason we found my answer funny-really funny. One of those moments when you laugh so out of control and when you look back you wonder what was so funny. Well we thought this was so, so funny that it turned into rolling around in that field funny! We laughed so hard we couldn't breathe, lying there with the geese flying by. It was a moment of pure childhood-pure spontaneous childhood.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chicken Coop Clubhouse

It was like combining FAO Schwarz, Disney Land, and the North Pole into one. That's what it felt like when our grandparents, aunts, uncles and parents bought the remaining items from an abandoned schoolhouse and filled the old chicken coop with those desks, chalkboards, and books-lots of books. It'd been void of chickens for some time but there were still bits of feathers drifting about. Most of the windows were missing glass; the door crooked but none of that mattered to us even when it snowed inside.

We declared it to be the Girls Club but allowed our boy cousin to join and when that cousin who wore dresses came to visit she was allowed in too but I think we might have been mean to her at times. Not really mean but throwing our weight around because we were older-and we certainly didn't wear dresses as we played and pretended in that old coop.

Looking back we were babysitters of the younger cousins in the summertime and we didn't even realize it. To us,they were our students to the point that we even handed out report cards which included our personal remarks. We had all the tools-workbooks, chalk for the chalkboard, those desks like on Little House on the Prairie that had the round hole to the right at the top for holding bottles of ink. We taught math and read stories and sent home papers and notes if they'd misbehaved.
We even "published" a family newspaper and delivered it to each home on Sunday mornings. It contained family news, sports, and hand-drawn ads for those businesses akin to the family. I wish I could remember how we advertised my father's funeral home!

When we weren't teaching we were putting on cicuses which included getting huge empty boxes from our uncle who owned a shoe store and using them for our tumbling act. We held art shows; went out and got a small tree at Christmas and decorated it. One particular "show" where we'd invite all the adults to attend and worked so hard on organizing got washed out. It was an Easter extravaganza. We'd planned quite the event complete with pink and yellow marshmallow chicks and jelly beans. The night before it poured-really poured and all of our cardboard props and Easter candy were destroyed. The show was cancelled. But more shows were to follow.

To say we were blessed just doesn't describe what that old chicken coop with the remains of an abandoned schoolhouse gave us every single day as we experienced the pricelss gift of free play; opportunities to drop barriers in our minds and let our imaginations soar-every time we stepped through that crooked door.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

H-O-L-Y Cows!

You won't believe what I'm going to tell you but even though I grew up in the country I never liked cows-with maybe the exception of black angus. My brother had a small herd of angus cows and when he went away to visit relatives I was left in charge of caring for them. I'd get up way before the bus came and go out to the barn; returning when I got off the bus in the afternoon. I didn't mind. I most likely would have been playing around there anyway. His cows never bothered me. They just wanted to be fed and let in and out of the barn that for years housed herds of dairy cows.

By the time we all came along the herds were gone. Stanchions were vacant so it wasn't as if I'd grown up surrounded by cows. There was just something about those black and white beasts grazing in the fields of neighboring farms. With their big, bulging eyes, they'd stare as my cousin and I walked by; staring and chewing-and chewing some more as their tails constantly tried keeping the flies away. Then there was the fact they'd just let it all out standing there chewing and then after they were finished, their tails would go even faster as they kept chewing.

My gut instinct proved valid when I was a little older and went for a walk down into the woods across the road. Two of my friends and my younger brother joined me. When we reached the area of those woods where the orphans spent their summers we lingered. It was a beautiful spot. Pine and maple surrounded the open area where the orpans pitched their tents. There was a small building where the nuns slept and a much larger building where everyone ate. Caretakers lived in the back. They only stayed in the summertime so no one was around. Off in the fields there were some cows but cows were always in those fields. I guess we were so intent in what we were doing that we didn't notice more and more cows gathering-and heading straight towards us at a full, galloping gait. It was a stampede of those mighty beasts and it was obvious we were their target.

We made a dash inside the sacred building that housed the nuns; slammed the door shut and moved whatever we could in front of the door. Shaking in fear, we thought those warriors of the fields would do us in. They tried. Oh how they tried, butting their big, hard heads against the building. It was deafening-especially if you're young and despise cows in the first place. I can't remember how long they kept us prisoners in the woods but eventually they moved on and we darted home-keeping a watch over our shoulders and elated we'd escaped the attack of those H-O-L-Y Cows!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Grampie's tractor

I was in the 6th grade when my grandfather passed away. Glimpses of him remain vivd in my mind; suspenders holding his pants up; hands worn yet strong; his chewing tobacco in the checkered pouch. I can still hear the put-put of his tractor pulling a wagon full of hay over the plank bridge and up the hill; then down across the flatrock to the barn. We loved his tractor. We'd play on it when he went inside the farmhouse; pretending to shift it into gear and go on wild adventures through alfalfa and clover and then out of sight and into the big, exciting world beyond the horizon.

It was small in size. Red-maybe an orangish-red with a seat sitting on springs that would bounce up and down. The bigger the bump, the greater the bounce. There was some kind of compartment that held nuts and bolts and screwdrivers and stray nails-anything he'd need should he break down in the back fields. He must have greased that tractor daily for it constantly smelled like those cans you'd squeeze and out would come that slimy guck. It was all over the tractor-in every little crevice; over every bolt. Old rags were always near and covered in it as were his work gloves. We got covered too but it never bothered us. It was part of playing on Grampie's tractor.

I wonder what he'd say about the size of tractors today. To me they just don't look like alot of fun if your a kid and ready to head off into the sunset-or sit by your grandfather and put-put up the back hill to the barn. I bet the seats don't bounce either no matter how big the bump!