Saturday, March 26, 2011

Darning Holes in Worn Gloves

I wore the same black gloves every day this past winter. I'd found them in the grocery store in the frozen food aisle. They held up pretty good for being cheap and considering I used them to scrape snow and ice off my car windows. But in the last few weeks the tips of my fingers have pushed through the ends of my gloves; making them look more like those things that golfers wear.
I know it's pretty sad but I refuse to go buy a new pair. It's the principle of the thing. By the calendar, it is spring so soon I won't be needing them. Right! Today I had the bright idea I'd sew the ends with tiny, black stitches just like my grandmother would darn socks.

When I think about it, my grandmother-and those of her generation-never threw anything out just because it had a hole or it was ripped. Nothing was tossed. Everything was given a 2nd or 3rd life. Needle and thread would be pulled out of her sewing basket. When she found a spare moment she'd mend the holes in the socks and rips in pants or shirts; even sweaters. When clothing was really worn she'd cut the cloth into strips and when she had enough material she'd braid her rugs. If something needed a button she'd go to her button bag-all recycled from the clothing she'd cut up. That button bag was also a great source of fun when in need of checkers for the checker board or playing, "Button! Button! Who's Got the Button" or "Hot Potato" or "Hide the Button" or for seeing who could make the longest line of buttons around the farmhouse. Zippers and hooks 'n eyes each had their own bags too but they weren't as fun as buttons.

If there were leftovers, the next night the meal was a different version of the previous night. Rice left from dinner might turn up as rice croquettes for breakfast. When my grandmother made her to-die-for-flaky-crisco pie crusts, she would roll any leftover dough out into small,separate crusts. In the middle of each, she'd spoon on some of her homemade jam-whatever she had ready; then roll each little pie crust up into a tart and bake them until the crusts were golden and the jam pipping hot. With a glass of cold milk, those tarts quite possibly were the best treats my grandmother baked. They said alot for leftover pie crust and the art of recycling when recycling was just the way of life.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dogs, cats, a mean rooster, and an alligator

Pets make their way into our hearts and a family's legacy. They mark an era; bring tears and laughter and make great stories when remembered. Growing up in the country we were blessed with many little friends. Some were given names while some remained generic like "that" chicken or "the" pig.

There was Pepper-a small kind of a dog hanging around the farmhouse when we were little. He was short with a long sort of a nose. He probably had been named Pepper because he had black and white fur with a tinge of butterscotch-an odd pepperish mix. There were two particular horses I remember hearing stories about when sitting around the kitchen table; remember being told which stalls had been their's but I can't recall their names. One might have been Molly.

No particular barn cats come to mind although there must have been a few of them. After all there was a barn with haylofts and nooks and crannies. Barns are full of mice. Nearby stood a small grain shed which made a perfet place to play especially when the bins were full. It also was where strays gave birth. The grain made a warm, soft, and sheltered bed.
Old farmhouses with woodpiles in the shed just outside the kitchen scream for mice to come in and play. One cat roaming around the big kitchen with its tail waging comes to mind. I'd forgotten about the cat. I was quite young.

The most infamous of the animals in the barnyard was the bald-headed rooster I've written about before. That mean guy had earned the name Baldy because of all the fights he picked and won. He ruled the roost; terrorized my brother when he was a toddler. To this day there still stands a small building the size of an outhouse where Baldy finally was forced to live alone. We still call it Baldy's house.

There was a black angus calf which an aunt nicknamed Sparkle for my little sister. When my grandfather was older he had a pet bird named Pete. My mother couldn't stand Pete, especially the time Pete got out of its cage and swooped about the dining room-the parlors-around the kitchen and then back into his cage. I can still hear my mother yelling, shooing Pete away with flailing hands.
As I got older the pets increased. There was Ranger-a black lab and Smoky and Bess-sister German Shepherds and Tink Tinkerbell-the best cat ever and a Doberman Pinscher I'd prefer to forget. My aunt had a big, fluffy white dog that underwent an operation which left it half-shaven and sickly looking. There was Brandy-a yellow lab that seemed to live forever-but he didn't except in the hearts who loved him.

The strangest pet on the farm was an alligator. I think it came from a school project as my uncle had been a biology teacher. My cousin cared for him. He finally let him go in Sucker Creek and we never saw the alligator again.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Geraniums in the Window in the Winter

When I was young and my grandparents were living in the farmhouse a favorite room of mine was one of the front parlors-especially when winter's grasp was harsh and gray days prevailed. I'd stand by the window looking out towards the barn in awe of my grandmother's geraniums in full bloom sitting in front of me soaking up what sunlight there was coming in from the cold. The contrast was stark. Outside everything was frozen in place. Inside those plants with their big, happy, green leaves and big, happy, red flowers weren't stopping to wait for the heat of summer. They didn't seem to care. They made no distinction between the seasons. They were getting what they needed and letting you see how content they were in that window-all thanks to my grandmother's green thumb. She cared for her plants like she did her cooking-smidgens of this and that done naturally and with lightening speed and with great results.

There was no down time for this woman who juggled her many roles and duties in a house dress with her hair wrapped up in a bun. Her gym was her surroundings-up and down the stairs endless times a day; stacking wood and loading her stove; carrying babies-chasing babies; slicing-dicing-whipping-kneading-canning-knitting-sewing-crocheting-mending-braiding rugs-braiding hair; shoveling snow; walking back and forth to the barn; doing chores; planting-picking-pickling-working in her garden; stocking up the root cellar. Maybe her equipment wasn't made of steel and maybe her house dress was void of a brand name logo but that woman never left her gym and never quit working out and did it all with ease and did it all every, single day. Her water wasn't in plastic bottles. It came from the well.

I often think of how my grandmother made her way. She continues to influence me. My geranium plants with their big, happy, green leaves and big, happy, red flowers have bloomed all winter long-sitting in a window looking out towards the barn.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

March Madness-Country Style!

Nope. No basketball hoops growing up in the country. No snowmobiles or 4-wheelers back then either. I dare say if we had stuff like that we probably wouldn't have bothered with any of it for we had our own versions of what we considered fun-know today as recreational playtime.

Any hint of spring would find us outside in the mud; making snowballs that would soak our mittens and marching through puddles that would flood our boots. Once the stream that meandered its way between the farmhouse and our clubhouse began to wake up, we'd help it along with shovels and picks and whatever else we could find in the shed. It came through a tunnel built underneath the road; run-off from a field that stretched way back to the pine grove. If you bent over and yelled your loudest into the tunnel, it would echo out the other side. Sometimes we'd throw stones into the tunnel to see who could throw the farthest. We had lots of fun with that tunnel. It became whatever we wanted it to be.

Once we felt the stream was ready, we'd take little twigs and have races to see which twig could make it down to the flat rock first. The course was a rough one with patches of ice cakes still in place. The best twigs would flow right underneath them and come out farther down the stream. You had to watch for your twig. Sometimes it'd get lost in the muck along the way. Sometimes the race would end in a tie. The next day we'd be right back at it. That is unless winter had returned over night and froze the stream in place just as we'd left it. That didn't stop us. Because of its overflowing banks we had more room to skate-until it opened up again and we'd be back running our races.

I've never been to Disney World but I have been under the road playing in the tunnel that became a ship or hideaway or castle. I have frolicked in the stream that offered hours of pure fun-where our imaginations took off just like those twigs hurrying along. There were never any crowds to fight; no long lines to stand in. And there was never a charge for playing to our heart's content!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Good Friends Forever

Books mark stages of our lives. They become more than words on pages forming sentences. They become good friends and when thought of, bring back memories of being swept away while sitting quietly turning pages.

I can still see my grandfather in his chair by the window in the front parlor of the old farmhouse in the early evening. After a full day's work, he'd sit and read. He loved Zane Grey westerns; devoured Saturday Evening Posts cover to cover. We'd play all around him but I don't think he ever noticed. He was being swept away.

I still remember going with my mother to a small bookstore in our downtown when we had a downtown. She loved fiction; mostly of the South when sprawling plantations were still sprawling and the women dressed like Scarlett O'Hara and all the men were Rhett Butlers. My mother worked as head nurse, evening shift in the ER. When she got home-before going to bed, she'd read. She'd sit near the window in the side room that bordered the lane-sometimes with her white duty shoes still on and let the words sweep her away. I bet that's how she relaxed after hours at the hospital.

My grandmother gave us books as gifts. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Carolyne Keene's Nancy Drew Mysteries, even the Bobbsey Twins took turns going to the chicken coop with me-just in case I had a spare minute to read between going on great adventures with my cousins. Sometimes that chicken coop clubhouse turned into a library. We'd put all the books we had up on display; turn little slips of paper into our card catalog; then check them out to as many pretend patrons as we could make up that day. Some days we were quite busy!

There's no richer an experience we can give our children than that of immersing them in books; taking them to libraries and letting them sift through the shelves; letting them touch them and smell them; letting them experience being swept away for once they've been swept away, they'll want to be swept away again and again. Boredom will never be in their vocabulary.

No one could sweep children away better than Theodor Geisel-the beloved Dr. Seuss who celebrates his birthday this month. His hilarious, tongue-twisting characters and storylines continue to spur young imaginations everywhere. Happy Birthday Dr.Seuss. What a good friend you are to children and the young-at-heart everywhere!