Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Spooky Halloween!

"Run! Run! This Halloween-
Get away from such a scary Scene!
Ghost and Goblins, Witches too-
Are ready to scream a Halloween B-O-O!"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Halloween Storyteller


With Halloween looming I'm reminded of my one particular uncle blessed with the art of storytelling. He was from Indiana; taught biology and coached basketball but it was his wit and smile and that particular gift of his that I remember the most-especially this very spooky time of the year.

There was one particular poem he'd recite and everytime he did we sat breathless, gearing up for that last sentence spoken with such certitude and fear. Although he'd recite it any time we asked, it was this time of the year of witches and ghosts and creepy, dark shadows that the ending of that poem sent shivers through our little spines. Of course it was all in the delivery-and deliver he did every single time.

"Little Orphan Annie" was the poem. It was written by James Whitcomb Riley who was born in the very city in Indiana where my uncle lived with my aunt and four cousins in an amazingly elegant, old Victorian home filled with amazing antiques he and my aunt restored. It was a great place to visit. They were lots of fun and that Victorian fit well with that storyteller. Is it any wonder that when he was about to recite that last line, that our hearts were beating a little faster and a tingling of nerves was setting in? No matter how many times I heard this, I still jumped right out of my skin.

With his eyes fixated and his Hoosier drawl in spooky mode, this uncle turned Halloween storyteller slowly let these words out. As I write them, I can hear him and see him and miss him greatly:

"The Goblins Will Get You-If You Don't Watch Out!"

Happy Halloween Storyteller!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Disaster on the Cinder Driveway!

Running along side my grandparent's farmhouse was a cinder driveway. To the adults it was a driveway; to those of us riding our bikes it could have been the Indianapolis 500. Some days, it was.

After waiting impatiently for the snow and ice of spring to somewhat melt away, we took our Schwinns out of the garage. I loved my bike. It was blue and maneuvered that track like a pro. A long straightaway marked with tall poplar trees led to a left-hand curve we called Dead Man's Curve. The trick was to build up speed when approaching it and just as you'd go into it, you'd slow down, keeping your feet poised to brake-but not abruptly for that could prove fatal. There were times when the course was flawless. This was normally on those hot summer days when the breeze through the poplars fanned us from one race to the next. There were times when it should have been shut down-like the wild October Saturday when wet leaves covered the cinders like a damp, slippery blanket. It didn't stop us.

We'd ridden the track several times at normal speed-kind of like being out on a Sunday afternoon drive. Then my cousins and I decided to go for it. We were just kids. We never thought that rain-drenched leaves on cinders might add-up to real danger and looking back, even if we had realized, it wouldn't have stopped us. It probably would have made us more determined than ever. Kids are like that you know!

So the decision was made. The three of us would start up by the road all clumped together which was what we usually did. I had the inside. First one around the corner and behind the garage would be the winner which was usually how the winner was declared. Of course we'd never stop behind the garage. We'd go past it and down the side hill to the flatrocks. But that was usually. This was no usual race.

Out of the gate, my one particular cousin shot ahead but he always did that. We were all standing up and pumping our pedals for speed. My bike had great pick-up. I'd learned to lean-in a bit. I never understood why but doing that increased my speed. My other cousin and I had about caught up with him when it was time to prepare for that infamous curve. I guess I really wanted to beat him that windy fall day for instead of slowing down I pedalled even faster. I whizzed right by him! I was on my way to victory going into Dead Man's Curve at top speed. I felt a rush of excitement! I kept standing and pumping my pedals. As I looked back to see where my rivals were I felt the bike starting to swerve. Flashing through my mind was the thought, "Slow Down", but I couldn't. The drenched leaves were controlling me and my Schwinn now. I started to skid right towards the farmhouse. The last thing I remember seeing was the big plate glass window in the dining room as cinders flew and leaves scattered and over the handlebars I soared. I scrapped along the driveway, ending up in the middle of my grandmother's peonia bushes which was certainly the better alternative to that window. One of my cousins came rushing to see if I was alive. The boy cousin went on to victory-again.

I had lots of bruises

but nothing was broken except for those bushes. My bike survived. To this day I still have cinders in my left knee which I consider miniature trophies for taking a risk and going for it on that cinder driveway covered in wet, slippery leaves! Victory was so near but that proved to be the last race at the Indy 500 on that blustery day! My mother had alot to do with it!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Small Town Post Offices

When I was older and we moved above my father's funeral home situated in the nearby small town, most every day he'd go to the post office to pick up the mail. More often than not he'd be gone for over an hour-and the post office was just around the corner. That's because he didn't go just to get the mail. He went for the experience. He went for the exchange of conversation. Sometimes the conversations were with business acquaintances; sometimes old friends and sometimes with people he really didn't know but saw every day at that old building with its wall of p.o. boxes and photos of the town so many years ago and the counter where stamps were bought, letters mailed and packages picked-up.

Christmas was his favorite time to go there. Besides the usuals he was certain to run into old friends visiting or locals not normally there but were in need of services only a post office could provide back then.

Sadly I hear some small town post offices might close. You hear various reasons why but I dare say this internet thing-this device that has connected me to you-played into the demise of grand old buildings and small one room buildings and everything in-between we affectionately call Post Offices which are so much more than the apparent.

If post offices close we lose another real, hands-on and in-the-face way of communicating with each other. And that's not only sad-it's scary!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Digging Potatoes and Pulling Pumpkins

This is the time of the year when all the thinking and ordering, cultivating, planting, weeding, watering, picking, cleaning, canning, freezing, and pickling come full circle. You've done all the work starting back in January when the seed catalogs showed up in your mailbox. You've accomplished and crossed off each step on your long list. Now it's October. Time to dig for those potatoes and pull those pumpkins from their straggly old vines.

Digging into the earth in search of potatoes is as exciting to me today as it was back when I was a kid living in the country. My grandparents had massive gardens. They had to. With 6 daughters and farmhands, meals were major productions especially during haying season. When it came time to clearing the gardens in the fall, helping dig for potatoes was like going on a treasure hunt. You never knew what the shovel pushed into the ground might reveal when pulled back out. The hope was for oodles of potatoes but there were no guarantees. Of course even just one potato was well worth a jump up and down. When there were several potatoes of varying sizes a scream of joy would be worthy of the moment. Moving the earth aside with our hands, my cousin and I would scrutinize what the shovel left behind in a mound of vines and soil. We realized that in the excitement we might have missed a few!

I still feel the same way when the shovel goes into the ground around the potato plants and I'm still excited to see what's pulled back out. There's nothing like being able to see what those lumbering potato plants have been doing all summer. With their fruit of the harvest kept under wraps until the very end, potatoes provide the last surprise to many months of hard work and wondering.

Pulling pumpkins from their tired vines is fun too. Unlike potatoes, you've been able to watch them grow. You've nurtured them, making sure they were still attached to the vine. You kept an eye out for little critters trying to nibble away at them. Pumpkins are bright and orange and happy reminders that besides the economical and health benefits that go along with planting and working a garden, just as important is the magical wonder at what started back when it was still a bit cold and wet and windy with tiny seeds has come full circle all because of you-and Mother Nature.

I do think potaotes and pumpkins are meant to be the last of the garden bounty for a reason. They make you very happy. While you clear away vines and roots and leaves and shriveled plants, those beautiful potatoes and pumpkins are testimony to the spirit and soul of what a garden is as you end one garden and start to think of the next after the snow comes and goes and the hint of spring is back in the air.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Adventure at the Bubble

The statistics are amazing! In 2008 Americans bought 34 billion liters of bottled water. Everywhere you go you see people carrying those plastic bottles. Water has become a zillion dollar business!

One of the most favorite things my cousins and I did when growing up in the country was to go down to the flat rocks which spread out between our grandparents' farmhouse and their barn. One by one we'd lay on the rock; clear away the green, stringy moss and drink the fresh, spring bubble of water shooting up and out from between the rocks. That water remains the coldest, the most refreshing

water I've ever drank even in the smothering heat of the summertime. And every time we'd have our fill there were no plastic bottles to redeem. Sometimes simple is best-and more fun!

I admit I do drink the bottled stuff these days but despite all their hype not one of those brands could ever satisfy like that natural bubble-sprouting its way up to the surface for little kids to get on their knees and enjoy. Sometimes we'd get more of that water up our noses than in our mouths but that was part of the adventure at the bubble. And if we became impatient waiting for our turn we'd run to the pumphouse and with a few quick jerks of the pump's handle we'd cup our hands and gather as much of that well water as we could.

There were no soft drinks to drink on the farm. That was fine because you don't miss what you've never had. Water was the beverage of choice-even without realizing the benefits. It just tasted really good!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ahhh-October!

There's something about the colors and aromas and crispness of October that, when combined, present a most amazing awareness to one's senses. Add in apples and cider; pumpkins and candy corns and October climbs to the top of my most favorite list.

I wrote a little poem once about leaves which stated exactly how I felt about them: "Falling, tumbling, drifting down-I love the leaves when they cover the ground; Falling, tumbling, drifting down-I love the leaves all around!" I still feel the same about the leaves. I love watching them zipping and skipping and dancing across a field or highway. I imagine them in a giant hurry to get somewhere-all travelling in a clump like a family on a mission.

When I was growing up in the country leaves were meant to be played in. They were more than just leaves. They became giant mounds to jump in and hide in; getting up the nose, in the mouth, and stuck on clothes. None of that mattered when playing and pretending with cousins in leaf piles.

Just as much fun was the making of leaf houses. Painstakingly we'd rake leaves into a giant square or rectangle. Then we'd clear away any leaves from the middle and there we'd have a frame. Then we'd use

the leaves to designate the walls between the various rooms, leaving spaces for doorways. In the leaf bedrooms we'd make leaf beds with leaf pillows; in the leaf living room we'd make a leaf sofa and maybe a few leaf chairs; in the leaf kitchen we'd make a leaf table with a few more leaf chairs. We'd bring apples from home and eat them in our leaf kitchen. Thinking back, we never did make leaf bathrooms!

Most times the wind would sweep through and take our leaf houses away. But that never stopped us. No matter how many times we had to, we'd be back constructing new leaf houses with our rakes; sometimes playing into the evening with a big harvest moon as our guide. How very lucky we were!