Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mounds of Snow

When you're a little kid, giant snowbanks are so much more. They turn into whatever a young imagination wants them to be. That's the way it was when growing up in the country. Of course the only shovelling we did was when digging tunnels into snowdrifts, linking one to another and maybe another. With fields all around there was enough space and more than enough snow for each of us to have our own snow home complete with a snow bed and if the consistency of the snow was just right-a supply of snowballs ready to go when needed. Older kids would entertain younger ones but it was built into the playing going on instead of thought of as taking care of them. Out came sleds and wooden skiis as drifts became mountains to slide down or roll down. And when there weren't enough sleds, ripped cardboard boxes worked just fine!

We'd spend hours outside. Even with wet mittens and boots full of snow we never felt cold. We were too busy turning those mounds of snow into whatever we wanted to-and eating some of the snow along the way!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Silver Ladle


 

The house where Santa Claus came on Christmas Eve when I was growing up was situated beside a lane on a street with a bit of a hill. Whenever a snowstorm came blasting out of the north, the street would more often than not, be closed. And if school was closed too, that street would become crowded with kids and sleds and toboggans. It was a great place to live when just a youngster and the place I look back upon fondly when thinking of hanging my Christmas stocking with my brother on the taped-together, heavy cardboard fireplace our parents brought down from the attic a few weeks before Christmas. We loved the fireplace. It looked real once the flames were plugged in. The flickering effect for some reason made me feel warm and cozy. Sitting on the black cardboard mantle in the same spot every year were a plastic Santa and Snowman. Once turned on, they’d light up. The snowman became a green or blue or red snowman-depending on the little bulb my mother chose.

We always had a real tree. It always sat in the same corner of the front room. My mother insisted. She was a perfectionist when it came to decorating it after my father strung the lights. The smallest ornaments would be hung at the top. The bigger decorations, most of them bought at a local hardware store or Woolworth’s, filled-in the middle and bottom of the tree. Then each branch would be covered in heavy tinsel making it look like something out of a magazine. The decorating of the tree was a tradition-just like my grandparents and aunt joining us for Christmas Eve dinner.

They always came in through the side porch which sat alongside the lane. My grandfather would nudge his old Ford truck as close to the house as possible. They used that particular door to bring in presents-some my brother and I weren’t supposed to see. Years later I figured out my mother hid those presents on the porch until Santa came down the cardboard chimney long after midnight mass and long after we’d gone to bed-but not to sleep.

 It was a sight, seeing my aunt with her long hair and red lipstick bounding into the kitchen loaded down with the gifts that needed to be placed under the tree. My grandfather followed carrying homemade pies and breads. But it was what my grandmother carried that instilled in me a feeling of tradition even though I didn’t know such a word existed or such a feeling had a name.  Despite the fact that you couldn’t eat it or play with it or wear it or the fact that it didn’t have bells or whistles, what my grandmother carried into our home was the one thing that never changed. It was a constant. It simply was-a silver ladle wrapped inside a deep-blue velvet bag with strings that you’d pull to keep it secure. It was a custom for my grandmother to bring that sparkling heirloom to Christmas Eve dinner in the house that sat by the lane. My mother would always make oyster broth and it was the silver ladle that served the soup into china bowls sitting on a linen tablecloth that had been in the family for as long as my grandmother could remember.

It’s not the gifts or the parties that are remembered long after the tree is down and thoughts turn to spring. It’s traditions, linking one Christmas to the next and one generation to another, that remain forever in a family’s tapestry. To some it was just a silver ladle. To me it was the silver ladle in the deep-blue velvet bag brought to Christmas Eve dinner.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

It's a Marshmallow World

Winters were winters back when this photo of two of my aunts walking with friends up the buried-under the-snow-cinder driveway lined with barren poplar trees leading to the farmhouse was taken. The barn off to the right is not the barn I used for inspiration when writing The Reindeer Keeper. It's a different barn. A part of it was used to store the ice my grandfather hauled by horse and sled from a nearby river in the dead of winter. Packed in sawdust, the ice would usually last through summer. Sadly the barn is no longer there. Except for one, the mighty poplars are gone as well. Where that barn was situated is where the house I lived in with my family was built. In the summer that field between those trees and the barn was a grand garden.

Thinking about how high the snow banks grew and how deep the snow became when I was growing up makes me think of my mother this time of the year and a 33rpm record album she played over and over on a record player which was a part of a real fancy console with a radio included. She bought the massive piece complete with a storage area for record albums as a gift for the family-or so she said. Thinking back, I believe the main purpose of that console was for my mother to play the Dean Martin Christmas album. In particular, one certain song from that album-'A Marshmallow World'-was played and replayed all through December. Each of us knew every word, every pause of that song. My mother was a fanatic Saturday morning clean-the-house thoroughly person which meant I had to pitch in. Dean Martin made it all go so much faster-at least for December that is!

A favorite part of the weeks leading to Christmas was the line-up of Variey Show Christmas specials on television. Back then there was a distinct time frame as to when getting ready for Christmas began. That was after Thanksgiving and not before. So when those entertaining Variety Shows started to air in early December, we knew the Holiday Season was upon us! We'd all sit down together and watch them. Each was eagerly anticipated. Without saying, Dean Martin's was a favorite but so were the hour-long specials from Mr. Christmas himself-Andy Williams. When he sang, "Oh Holy Night", it was silent in our living room and when his beautiful, French wife Claudine Longet was performing with him, it seemed magical. Perry Como's Christmas specials were wonderful. It was fun to see where the show was coming from as the location changed yearly. One thing that didn't change was his singing of "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas." Of course the Bob Hope Christmas Specials were always anticipated. I particularly remember the ones he performed in Vietnam. Who can forget The Carol Burnett Christmas shows or The Bing Crosby Christmas specials or The Lawrence Welk Christmas prograns. But out of all the many entertaining Christmas specials by the many talented performers and their guests one of my very favorite Christmas shows was that of Red Skelton, especially when he was in character as Freddie the Freeloader. I loved the endings of his shows. I always felt as if he was speaking just to me.

The era of richly entertaining Christmas specials seems to have come and gone unless you go to YouTube or buy the DVDs. But watching them over the internet or via a DVD is nothing like watching them in your own living room surrounded by family as the feeling of Christmas fills your home and outside falling snow creates a magical Marshmallow World!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Plastic Santa in His Sleigh

Every Christmas a big, smiling, plastic Santa Claus sitting in his sleigh with his reindeer hitched up and ready to go hung above the intersection of the two main streets of the downtown where I grew up. When the wind blew really hard off the river the sleigh appeared as if it was in flight. And when it was snowing many of the shoppers in a hurry slowed down to catch a glimpse of the jolly old man waving at them through the snowflakes. Looking back I believe what mattered to those rushing by was the fact that Santa and his sleigh were right where they had been for as long as most could remember. That Santa and that sleigh and those reindeer were a holiday tradition in the community.

I loved going Christmas shopping downtown. My aunt would take my cousins and me on a Saturday. We'd spend the day-having lunch at a favorite spot of all the locals. It had plastic tablecloths and big glasses of chocolate milk. Conversations were friendly. Everyone knew everyone. Families caught up with other families on who was coming home and who wasn't. My uncle owned a shoe store so after we did some shopping we'd use his store as our drop-off point when we got tired of carrying bags and boxes. Our aunt was very patient. She helped us figure out what to buy for everyone on our lists. She never had children of her own so I think we were the next best thing.

There were so many little shops and stores in that downtown. Newberrys and Woolworths were favorites. Newberrys even had an escalator. Both had great toy sections. There was one particular store that was lots of fun to shop in. Not because of the merchandise as it was mainly clothing and shoes, but because it had department after department-each connected to the next and each slanted downward so that if you started in the department with baby stuff you could actually pick up speed as you raced down through to the last department full of women's clothing and jewelry, even luggage. This is when having an aunt who was patient really came in to play! This store was also known for giving out S & H Green Stamps with every purchase. My grandmother collected the stamps all year. Just before starting her Christmas shopping she'd pack up all her books of licked-in-place green stamps and redeem them at the S & H Green Stamp Redemption Center. She did a lot of her shopping with those stamps.

While many communities still have downtowns in one form or another, they continue to compete with malls and now super malls and the new kid on the block-the internet. Convenient and a great time-saver open 24-7 right in your home making it possible for you to wear your pajamas while you shop, the internet defaces the Christmas shopper. Technology has replaced the human element of interaction with PayPal and a button to click at places such as that friendly restaurant offering plastic tablecloths and chocolate milk.  They say change is good. But tell that to the children and their children who scurried about Christmas shopping as snow fell and a smiling, plastic Santa with his sleigh and his reindeer in flight watched over them in a downtown now but a memory. After all, that was a tradition.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown and The Grinch

It's the Season once again for great TV Specials-the kind of television programming that you sit down and thoroughly enjoy because you've sat down and thoroughly enjoyed the same Christmas specials year after year. It doesn't matter that you remember every word and every scene of each of the 20-some minute long specials. It makes no difference if you know Lucy and Linus and the others will rally around Charlie Brown's forlorn little tree and Rudolph will lead the way and Frosty will be back again some day and little Cindy Lou Who will melt the Grinch's heart. None of that matters because these characters with their flaws and defects are woven into your childhood and when it comes to Christmas we are all children once again in one way or another. We appreciate the snowman and the reindeer and little boy and selfish grinch in a deeper sense. Their presence on our TV screens affirms a meaning to Christmas that can not be bought. There's no price tag on the Christmas spirit. Nothing can top the feeling of Home and innocence and memories of being wrapped up in a blanket in your pajamas with a bowl of popcorn as the snow's falling and the tree lights glitter and you're that little kid again sitting in the living room with other family members who are just as mezmerized as you by that winter's night scene when Snoopy glides across the ice with his ears straight out and innocent voices tell you 'Christmas time is near'. There is no age limit on feeling the Wonder. The Wonder does still exist. It is ageless. It's not in the malls or on the internet. It's in our hearts.

The longevity of two of these particular Christmas specials has alot to do with one particular man who only wanted to 'bring a little happiness into everyone's life'. Screenwriter Romeo Muller adapted Rudolph and Frosty for TV Holiday specials using stop-action animation. As is the case with all four of these TV specials none were generated by a computer. There were no special effects. Charlie Brown was produced on a shoestring budget. In fact, when the higher ups saw the final Charlie Brown product they were horrified. They felt the use of a jazz soundtrack wasn't the best choice for a children's program and they weren't happy using actual children for the voice overs.  In the end, it's the storylines that count and these storylines have endured. Generations continue to fall in love with a red-nosed reindeer and jolly snowman and little boy with a skinny, little tree and a big mean grinch who turns out not to be so mean-not through the trickery of a computer but through a heartwarming story of the Season-simply told and forever enjoyed by children of all ages sitting on sofas as the snow falls and tree lights glitter.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bedtime Ditty or Anytime At All

What do you get if you combine a rocking chair with a little ditty? If you happen to be talking about my grandmother then surely the two would lead to her sitting in her rocking chair humming and singing one particular short but sweet lullaby-type verse to any toddler perched on her lap or baby cuddled up in her arms. It didn't necessarily have to be bedtime for this to happen. And no matter the age, the little bundle lucky enough to be wrapped in her embrace seemed to sense how special the moment was as her reassuring voice would sing the simple stanzas over and over again. With her down-to-the-waist length hair pulled up in a bun and held in place with hair combs, and her black-laced shoes firmly set on one of her braided rugs, my grandmother's rhythm in both rocking and singing blended effortlessly as the simple words filled the room with a warm, comfortable, fuzzy feeling-the same sort of feeling you get when curled up with a good book on a snowy evening.

The ditty was 'Pony Boy' and if I didn't know any better I would have thought my grandmother wrote it. But of course she didn't. She just sang it like she did and every time it came to one particular point she would slow down and emphasis one particular word with as much enthusiasm as she'd shown the last one hundred times she'd recited it. Granted the babies didn't notice but the toddlers did. They'd about hold their breath when the chair stopped rocking until they heard "Whoa-my Pony Boy". Then the rocking returned as the voice danced to the end of the ditty, adding an extra hug or two for good measure.

My mother never sang 'Pony Boy.' Most afternoons when my sister was very young she would rock her to sleep and as my mother rocked she'd hum her own little ditty. I know her's was an original for there were no words-just repeated sounds hummed in such a monotone that my mother often fell asleep too.

Lullabies or ditties-words or no words-however they are defined-boil down to generations spending precious time together and that alone is worth singing from the mountain tops.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Had to be a Butterball

I never knew why our Thanksgiving turkey had to be a Butterball. I never knew what the difference was between a Butterball turkey and a regular turkey. I just remember all of our Tom Turkeys had that same first name and they all came from the same neighborhood store.

My mother would call a good two weeks out and put her order in. She never used a coupon. That little store never offered such things. My parents knew the owner. Most everyone did in our small town. When it was time to go pick the Butterball up and bring him home to roost, my father always wore a tie with a good shirt, dress pants and his winter coat and wool hat with a red feather on the side. My mother always went with him wrapped up in her red, woolen coat. My siblings and I would stay home and wait for them to return. It was quite an exciting time.

Once back home, my mother would open the front door for my father who'd walk in carrying Tom inside a heavy cardboard box with handles on each side. We'd follow them into the kitchen as the box was placed inside the sink. Once their coats and boots were off, we waited while our parents opened the box so we could see what Tom looked like. We'd stand there marvelling at his splendor and size. Thinking about it now, Tom looked the same every year. I never thought he did back then as the box was secured and Tom was put on the side porch until it was time to put him in the oven-usually very early Thanksgiving Day-early enough so that when we got up that welcoming aroma of a turkey roasting in the oven was starting to become apparent.

Sometimes our home was where everyone gathered for the yearly feast. Sometimes it was my grandmother's. Either way, the night before was a hustle of prepartions. The stuffing was always made fresh from scratch so that meant the dry, stale bread had to be ripped into pieces and the butter had to be melted and the spices readied-especially that little box of Bell's seasonings. While the stuffing was being blended, Tom was brought in from the side porch. It was his turn to be cleaned and prepared. He was always the 'biggest turkey ever.'

As little kids we never realized what else besides the Butterball and his stuffing was meticulously prepared. I guess we thought the cranberries and coleslaw and mashed potaotes with dumplings and gravy and squash and salads and homemade pickles and pies with real whippped cream and everything else sitting on a tablecloth-the same tablecloth brought out every year-took no thought at all or at least much less than that Butterball in the cardboard box. However the feast came together, we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Adults back then were dressed for the occasion. My grandmother always traded her house dress for a good dress even though she worked in the kitchen. Aprons were always nearby. The men wore ties and the conversation flowed. Hours after the meal, Tom the Butterball was again enjoyed in sandwiches with pepper and mayonnaise with yet another slice of pie with the real whipped cream.

That corner neighborhood store is still open but it has changed hands and no one can order Butterballs from there anymore. Nothing lasts forever. That's why it's important to enjoy the moment at hand with family and friends.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lunch boxes and Twinkies

There's nothing like baking cupcakes or cookies. It's even more fun to eat them or take them with you to school or the office or to someone having a tough day or a birthday or just to say hi. Back when I was a kid it was even more of a treat to have a Twinkie. My mother didn't buy them all the time so when she did, they didn't last very long.

Having a Twinkie in your lunch box at school afforded you added value with friends and anyone else sitting within view in the crowded and noisy cafeteria when you pulled that so familiar and so highly revered little package out in a way that you made sure everyone saw it. And although you wanted to rip it wide open and gobble the two golden spongy logs down like you did at home, you'd slow the process down to a crawl and act as if no one cared what you had in your hand when you knew it was just the opposite. Methodically you'd take a bite and as you chewed with a heavenly smile upon your face you'd look around as if no one was watching when actually you felt the eyes and heard their pain. If you happened to get a bit of that fluffy, creamy, whatever-it-was-made of filling on your face, you'd stop and take a break while you wiped away the stuff and then lick your fingers-again very slowly as the clock ticked and the natives were getting more envious with each lick and bite. This prolonged torture lasted until the last bite was taken and the last chew enjoyed. Friends held on to the bitter end, each hoping they would become your very best friend and you'd share the pleasure. But you never did. You'd smack your lips, put the wrappings back in your lunch box and get ready to go, strutting out of the cafeteria like a peacock after a fine meal.

This was all well and good in cafeteria land-until it was someone else pulling Twinkies out of their lunch box. Surely you thought, as you stared in envy, this person would share a Twinkie with you. After all, you were their very best friend. Just because you didn't know this person's last name or where they lived, for the moment you declared yourself a best friend. How could they just sit there and eat both of the Twinkies with a smirk on their face and that to-die-for filling on their cheeks and around their mouths?

Thank you Twinkies everywhere for the memories. I never cared about calories or articicial this and that. Bottom line, you always tasted so good. You were just the right size for a little sweet treat and satisfied like no other little sweet treat. What you gave us every time was pure delight-and status in the cafeteria!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

French Toast

 My younger brother was born in the month of May. Not long after his birth, my mother ended up in the hospital with blood clots in her leg. She spent a good part of the summer there and I spent alot of time with the new baby being cared for by my aunt just next door. I was eleven or twelve and that summer was all about the baby. As he grew-our bond became even closer. And one of the many things entwined in that bond was french toast-along with the citing of the first snowflakes falling and dancing aound the house to most any jitterbugging song on the radio.

My little brother thought I was the best french toast maker ever-ever! But honestly-in today's french toast standards-my version of this breakfast tradition was rather simple. I only used Wonder bread because that is what my parents bought at the A & P. There were no fancy baked breads or Italian or French breads perfectly sliced in our home-just Wonder bread with those red, yellow, and blue balloons printed on the package! As my brother sat in his bathrobe waiting I would take the big bowl from the cupboard and begin the magical process of turning bread into special moments between a little boy and his big sister. My mother only used butter then so that is what I would melt in the pan after slicing the bread and cracking and whisking the eggs with a fork. Sometimes I'd sprinkle a little cinnamon in but that was all I would add besides the milk-mixing the few ingredients to a certain point and then dipping the bread into the bowl and in turn, placing the slices in the frying pan. Sometimes I'd soak them too long and they would break apart before hitting the pan-landing on top of the stove or on the floor. Or sometimes they'd be so soaked with the egg mixture that I about burned them before they were cooked. Quite often I'd rip a slice apart trying to flip it over to the other side. None of that mattered to my little brother. He'd sit and play at the table unaware that I might be struggling with the task at hand. It's when the kitchen filled with smoke and I had to open the back door that he'd look up but not for long. He always had faith in me and he always ate whatever version  I served him after I drenched the french toast with Aunt Jemima.

My little brother still thinks I am the best french toast cooker ever and that makes all my preparing and cooking frustrations and burned slices never served and messy countertops and sticky tabletops and sticky floor and a kitchen filled with smoke more than once-worth it. Sometimes sticky and messy and smoke-filled turn into unforgettable memories as they have with those french toast slices made from Wonder bread and served with love from a big sister to a little brother.
(The illustration above is by The Reindeer Keeper's amazing illustrator-Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Winter's in the Air!

                        My mother always said you spend the summer getting ready for winter.

That never made any sense to me when I was growing up. I didn't connect the dots-between the clearing of gardens and washing of windows inside and out and the replacing of screens with storm windows and the fixing up going on-with the changing of the season. I never realized the sheets, along with sweaters washed in Woolite and blankets taken out of cedar chests and anything else that had been packed away in mothballs, were on the clothes line probably for the last time until tulips and daffodils announced the next season's impending arrival. I never questioned the picnic table and enamel chairs disappearing from the back yard as leaves swirled about. I guess I thought boots and mittens, scarves and snowsuits just appeared from nowhere as bikes and roller skates could be found hanging back in the garage. Slowly like molasses coming out of a jar-menus changed without my noticing from hotdogs and potato salad to boiled dinners and scalloped potatoes and ham. I never knew my father had to take the car in to get the oil changed and tires checked. I never realized the shovel and scrapers had to be found.

I only knew that when those first snowflakes fell it was magical. I would grab my boots and mittens, scarf and snowsuit and run outside and play in the snow. When the creek froze I'd get my skates kept right where they always were when needed. I'd grab the shovel when there was a lot of snow and make paths in the fluffy flakes or forts with my snow block maker. Everything was where it should be-as it would be again when snow became spring showers and snow suits and snow boots and shovels and skates and snow block makers disappeared-for a little while-with no effort at all-or any that I was aware of back then.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Imaginary Friends

My mother used to tell me about the times she'd hear me playing on the sun porch or in the front room with my two friends. That was when we lived in the house on the lane before we moved out to the country. I really loved that house on the lane. It had a back stairway leading down from my  bedroom and the kitchen had a very high counter where I remember watching a tadpole turn into a frog inside a glass fish bowl sitting on top of it. From the back steps off the sun porch was a flagstone patio that my father and grandfather created with the help of the cement they mixed inside an old wheelbarrow. Beyond the patio was an intriguing backyard of shrubs and lilac bushes and trees. It was the biggest backyard in the neighborhood so it was the backyard all the neighborhood kids played in except for those two friends my mother heard me talking to on the sun porch or in the front room. That's because those two friends were my imaginary friends.

Their names were Chunnie and Winnie. I don't remember them looking like anything in particular. I only remember their names and carrying on distinct conversations with them. Winnie really made me laugh except for when we played cards. She was a good Old Maid card player. She tried to trick me when she held the Old Maid card by making it stand out more than the other cards she held but I never fell for it. I always won and Chunnie usually ended up with the Old Maid. We had lots of fun when my mother threw an old blanket or sheet over some chairs making us a hideaway in the front room. We'd camp out in our tent in the house for long periods of time. Sometimes we ate lunch in our tent. The Old Maid came along too as did pads of paper and pencils and crayons for scribbling great pieces of artwork. I'd pile books inside from my mother's bookshelves even though I couldn't read but I could pretend I was reading as did my two friends. I also brought some of my dolls with their doll bed down from my bedroom. I made sure there was a doll for each of us. I always got to choose first.

Once I started kindergarten at the elementary school right up the street, Chunnie and Winnie didn't come around to play anymore. I think that's because I made new friends. I liked my new friends but I never played Old Maid with them. It wouldn't have been as much fun as it was when playing with my two very best friends ever.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Poplar Trees Turned Spooky on Halloween

Running alongside and circling behind our grandparents' farmhouse was a cinder driveway. It made for a great race track until going so fast on your bike you couldn't slow down in time to take the curve and you'd find yourself crashing into the field or our grandmother's peony bushes. To this day I still have cinders in my knees.

Lining the other side of the driveaway were tall poplar trees. They were mighty. Proudly they stood through the rain and snow. And when the wind blew, their leaves sang a most amazing song that remains my favorite of all the needles and leaves singing when the wind pushed its way through them. While pine trees seemed to hum, those poplar trees sang a ghoulish, rustling tune and no other night was more ghoulish than Halloween as that wind seemed to orchestrate those leaves into the spookiest, creepiest, gut-wrenching, fearful, eerie, whaling scream that made us run through the fields splintered in streaks of moonlight-trick or treating at lightning speed-pushed by a fear of ghosts and goblins and witches with long, black finger nails and noses with green warts and scraggly hair with evil black cats perched on their brooms and creatures with giant teeth and fangs and wings swooping-all rushing forth and chasing us-about to grab us and take us up and into those forboding poplar trees where I was certain we'd disappear forever-candy and all.

Later after miraculously making it back home-with that candy counted and sorted into categories of bubble gum and lollipops and tootsie rolls and candy bars and popcorn balls and little bags of goodies it would be time for bed. Lying there, with the poplars still howling their ghoulish cry and the witches still cackling and creatures still swooping and the moon seeping its fingers into my room, I'd find myself shaking in fear. Pulling the blankets up and around I'd listen to those rustling leaves and soon they'd lull me into sleep as they kept howling and screaching on the spookiest, most fun-filled night of the year.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Funtime Little Poems

When growing up in the country and playing in the abandoned chicken coop turned into our Girls' Clubhouse which later included one male cousin, we had a Girls' Club Pledge-vowing to be faithful, fair, good, kind, and considerate. I wonder if we realized what all those words really meant. But that didn't mattter. Our pledge was part of our play as was the reciting of a fun little poem which I still recite in my head because whenever we'd recite it-it made us laugh. It now makes me smile. I think my favorite cousin wrote it. She was quite clever and it went like this: "Bees make honey-They make it so funny-You'd think they'd say it's a funny day-But it's not-It's not even Hot-That's what they'd say!" 
 
I love little poems like that little poem. And over the years I've loved writing them whenever the mood hits. Writing such riddles and rhymes gets me back to those days when our biggest worries were whether of not we'd be called home to eat or even worse-called home to do some chores around the house. Reading little ridiculous lines of rhyme can be fun. It loosens you up. Lightens your load. Makes you smile and appreciate the moment. There lies within our hearts a little child and with that in mind I would like to share with you a few of the many little tongue-twisting, giggly, wiggly lines of rhyme I have written when that mood hits-and when it hits I've learned to grab a pencil before the thought wanders off. Some follow certain rules for certain poetic forms. Some just stand on their own! I hope you enjoy!
 
MIX-UP
If you opened pods, took out the peas
Grabbed an ear of corn, pulled off its sleeves,
Then put peas in the ear-
Corn in green pods so near,
You'd mess up the farmer-and the bees!
 
FISH WISHING
"Let's go fishing," said the big, fat Fish.
"Perfect," thought Cat, while making a wish.
Watching Fish grab a worm-
Cat pounced and made Fish squirm.
Cat went fishing for a Fish-de-lish!
 
VINES
Like knotted ropes spreading from the soil,
Some smooth, some picky-
Pulling them is very tricky,
For they wrap like serpents in a coil-
Clearing them out is a hard day's toil.
 
BUNNY
Bunny fluffy and so cute,
Hops all about in his cuddly suit-
Going here and going there,
Eating carrots in the summer air.
 
GARDEN TUNES
Rib bit!
Squeak!
Scratch!
So many sounds-
Before eggs hatch.
 
And one more........
 
RAIN
Wet drops falling from above,
Giving the garden lots of love.
But if the rain keeps falling down-
It will saturate the ground-
Turning beans into boats-
And off they'll float!
 
(Hope you had a laugh or two-for that's what silly poems can do!)
 
 
 
 
 
 


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Even the Smallest Things

Childhood is a time of Wonder and Curiosity of even the smallest things. Growing up in the country, my cousins and I were provided endless opportunities for both. There was a creek full of suckers where our rafts made from telephone poles took us on journeys around the world; an old barn whose hay lofts provided us cover from evil doers; an abandoned chicken coop turned into a clubhouse filled with old desks, chalkboards, and books and so much more feeding our imaginations every single day we went outside to play-and that was most every day.

 I love this picture of my granddaughter as she discovers water in the birdbath. I find myself wondering what she is thinking of that stuff trickling down her little fingers. Does she wonder what makes that stuff move when she splashes it around? Does she even notice that it takes her breath away when her splashing becomes nonstop and her face and hair and everything she is wearing becomes soaking wet yet despite it all it's so much fun that she giggles between catching her breath as the sun dancing through the trees transforms her into an angel shimmering in the backyard on a summer day?

When a child's imagination is triggered anything is possible. Leaves become forts and flying saucers. Stones become irrestible. They have to be picked up and tossed or brought inside to be stored away in secret places or maybe painted and saved as masterpieces-at least by parents and grandparents. Bubbles blown into the wind must be chased as fast as little legs can run although the bubbles are impossible to catch and hold and brought inside to store with those stones. But maybe catching them doesn't matter for as soon as the bubble being pursued pops and disappears or flies into the horizon, another bubble comes along and the chase begins again.

And then there are the sticks that become drum sticks making beautiful music when tapping sidewalks and front steps and back steps and old enamel chairs that have been tapped before by children now grown and now the ones so busy that they don't notice the flying saucers spinning around or that stuff in a birdbath that trickles down fingers when submerged on a summer day. That's when grandchildren step in and remind the adults of that Wonder everywhere and that's when the adults start to march or run or giggle or splash alongside the little one filled with a curiosity of even the smallest things.





Saturday, September 29, 2012

Old Cookbooks

This is one of several b/w illustrations created by gifted illustrator-Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda for inside the pages of "The Reindeer Keeper." This particular piece is a favorite of mine. It reminds me of my mother's cookbooks. She treasured her cookbooks. She'd sift through their pages, reading each one like a novel-treating each one like a good friend. When she passed away, we divided the cookbooks between us and what I discovered to be even more fun than reading the recipes were the bits of paper and pages from notepads and looseleaf with recipes written on them in her handwriting mixed in with a few handwritten grocery and things-to-do lists. There was even the back of a bag of Nestles chocolate chips with the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe on it. Whenever she found a recipe she liked in a magazine, or if someone recited a recipe for her to try, my mother would write it down and put it in a cookbook for safe keeping.

My mother was a fine cook. She perfected soups to main dishes and everything in between. But it's her desserts I remember the most and it's the desserts that prevailed on those odds 'n ends of worn paper between the pages of her cookbooks where many of the frequented pages were still smudged with traces of flour. When my mother made her chocolate sauce served over vanilla ice cream we all hurried to get through the main course just to enjoy the most amazing hot, thick, chocolate sauce ever! Adults would clean their bowls and lick their spoons just like the kids. Every bit as amazing was her gooey, rich  butterscotch pudding served over warm rice with homemade whip cream. Her melt-in-your-mouth Lady Baltimore cakes were always baked in cake tins shaped like Christmas trees no matter the season. Peanut butter balls of all sizes dipped in chocolate were Holiday favorites as was her peanut butter fudge and divinity fudge made year round. In her younger years when she worked nights as a nurse I remember riding with my brother in the backseat of the car in our pajamas when our father would take our mother to work. Many times she brought along some of her fudge to share with co-workers. Of course we had our share of fudge waiting at home.

These days the internet is more often than not the cookbook. Recipes are googled. Famous chefs are searched and all is downloaded. But in the computer google searches and beautifully designed pages of those famous chefs and celebrity chefs, a main ingredient is missing, and that's the taking of time to turn pages in worn cookbooks turned by a generation or two before. Old cookbooks recite a family history. Worn, handwritten recipes scribbled on bits of paper and stuck between their pages are priceless as are those pages still smudged with traces of flour.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tea and Toast

I can't say for sure if my grandfather is drinking tea or coffee in this picture but if I had to choose I'd say it is probably tea because tea and toast is what my grandparents and some of the other adults enjoyed during the day when possible-or in the evening or in the case of one particular aunt, as supper. My grandmother not only drank the tea, she read the tea leaves and when the reading involved me-she was always right on. A few times I wish I would have listened to her!

I remember it was green tea that they drank-Salada green tea I think or maybe it was Lipton. Of course tea choices were limited back then. There were no fancy flavorings or endless variations of tea. Tea was tea-kind of like coffee was coffee. I never acquired a taste for tea. I tried but even with the amount of sugar I'd add it still tasted like tea! The thought of dunking a much anticipated piece of toast into a drink I did not like-toast made from a toaster where you'd pull down both sides and lay a piece of bread in place in each and then put the sides back up-and then wait and most usually I'd burn the bread and have to scrape the burnt part off in the sink-was not something I wanted to waste my toast on even if it was burnt and half-scraped off. Actually the half-burnt toast tasted pretty good with extra butter.

The one thing I did like when trying to drink the tea was the cup and saucer in which the tea was served. Something tells me those cups and saucers came from inside an Oatmeal box because I remember my grandmother reaching inside the box to see what was waiting for her. The cups and saucers were never packaged or protected. They just sat in wait amongst the oat flakes. I bet my grandmother felt the same anticipation we experienced when we'd dig inside our Cracker Jack boxes.

My grandmother did have fine, bone china cups and saucers kept in the dining room in her china cupboard but they were for good. They were antiques. We had our favorites. Mine was a matching set with clovers all over them. Lucky for me, that set now sits in my cupboard. I've used it a few times-but not for tea!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Washtub, Bench and a Few Old Chairs

When you put a washtub, bench, and a few old chairs together, you get just that unless you're a little kid like my older brother playing outside on a sunny afternoon. From the look on his face it's obvious he's quite content. After all, the opportunities to inspire such a young imagination at that very moment are endless and they don't cost a penny. Put those chairs together-throw an old blanket over them and he has a tent. Put those chairs in a half circle and he can play musical chairs when someone comes along ready to partake in such an adventure. To make it even more fun they could march around the chairs singing all the way-until the singing stops and the scramble begins! And if no one comes along-he could pretend someone did. Or, he could put the chairs in a straight line and play train-All aboard and off he could go around the fields and back again or over the moon and beyond. Or he could jump off the train and hitch a ride with his grandfather passing by behind him on his old Ford tractor on his way to the barn. When my brother gets back to his washtub, bench, and a few old chairs, he could grab the broom standing behind him against the tree and use it as a horse to ride or turn himself into a witch and fly away.

Point is a kid can have lots of fun just being a kid. We always did back then. Chairs really were much more than chairs and secret cabins were most anywhere-in a cornfield or a hayfield or a grain shed or hay mow. In the fall, leaves became piles to jump in and hide in and houses to play in. In the winter, the frozen creek turned into our own olympic stadium and in the spring the stream that ran beside the farmhouse became a source for racing twigs and getting soaking wet and not even noticing it and wondering why we were being dragged inside for fear of catching a cold when catching our twigs as they hurried about was all we cared about. Getting wet was part of the experience.

Pure play is the best play. There are no buttons to push or batteries to change or directions to read. The sky's the limit, but then if pure play is the best play-there is no limit!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cows

I'm standing sideways in this picture attempting to feed a cow. I don't remember anyone taking the photo. That's probably because I never liked cows and I am sure I was a little nervous being so close to them. It doesn't make sense to me that I didn't like them because when you're growing up in the country cows go with the territory.

I don't remember much about my grandfather's cows. Whenenver we played in the barn it was void of cows or chickens or horses which was ok with us. It gave us the whole barn to play in and that included the large area full of stanchions where the cows were kept when inside. We loved playing in there. We turned stanchions into swings-trying not to land in the cowpies hidden under the hay.

For awhile my brother had a few black angus which he kept in the barn. I can't remember where he went but he was away for a good week. He asked me to take care of them. So I did. Every morning before I went to school I'd go to the barn and do my chores. When the school bus brought me back home in the afternoon I'd run inside, get changed, and go to the barn. For some reason the cows didn't bother me that week. Thinking about it, I'm sure I didn't want to let my older brother down. Besides that he was paying me!

There was one particular time many years later when cows did more than bother me. I'd gone for a walk with a few friends down into the woods across the road from the barn. I brought my little brother with me. The fields around the woods were home to cows grazing. When we reached a cleared area which had once been a summer camp for area youth we decided to look around unaware the fence keeping the cows away was down. We were so intrigued with what we were doing that we didn't notice the cows slowly coming closer and closer. When we did something made us run-and run fast into one of the two abandonded buildings. Turned out it was a good thing. Those lazy, grass-chewing, overweight animals were right on our heels. The cows were chasing us! They were coming towards us full speed as if they were in the Olympics! We slammed the door and just in time because they were now bunting and ramming the sides of that old building. They circled the place and wanted in while we were huddled together shaking!

Well they never got us! They went back to chewing their cuds and we went sprinting back home! To this day-I do not like cows!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Rocking Chair

I don't think anything turns a house into a home more than a rocking chair. Just the presence of a rocking chair evokes warm feelings. A rocking chair embraces and comforts. Its rhythm soothes your soul. Its never-changing melody feels like a familiar hug every time you sit down and put your arms in place and push your feet ever so slightly. It becomes an old friend, a good friend. A rocking chair links generations. Those once the infants and rocked in the chair become the adults doing the rocking and comforting sometimes late into the night or all through the night as the wind might blow or the rain might fall or the snowpiles might grow higher or the magical moon might shine brighter. A rocking chair can tell a family story-and it's a story little ones love to hear.

When I think about rocking chairs images of my grandmother in her farmhouse kitchen come to mind. Although her time during the day was limited, sometimes she was able to squeeze in moments to relax or read or hold a little one on her knee or in her arms in the rocking chair sitting next to the woodstove. I also think of my mother. When my sister was little, my mother loved rocking her to sleep in the early afternoon. She'd hum a little ditty over and over. That's all it took. Soon both my sister and mother were sound asleep. I also think of my father's mother. While I only have a few memories of her, the most vivid one involves a small rocker with ornate woodcarving on the arms and back and a distinct creak as she went back and forth-sitting in the chair with an apron over her house dress and her hair gathered on top of her head and the aroma of something delicious cooking. I rocked my children in an old wicker rocker. I now rock my grandchildren in a rocking chair that had been in that farmhouse. The rocking chair most always does its magic.

As life gets faster and faster and family members spread out around the globe, the thought of a rocking chair can slow us down and bring us back together-whether the memories are of a farmhouse or a penthouse-an apartment or a clapboard house in a neighborhood of clapboard houses. If a rocking chair shared our growing up and our get-togethers and our holidays and birthdays and other times of joy and sadness, that rocking chair will keep on rocking in our hearts no matter how far we roam or how old we get.



Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Clothesline

It was a given that the clothesline-running from the pumphouse situated not far from the back porch of my grandparents' farmhouse to out and over the flat rocks strung underneath a pipe taking the water to the barn-was most always loaded down with laundry when the season allowed. Of course there were no automatic washers and dryers back then and with such a large family there was always laundry. It probably never was caught up. How could it have been with six girls and barn work to be done along with everything else in-between?

Laundry waving in the breeze provided great fun. My cousins and I could run back and forth underneath the sheets and pants and towels and house dresses and never get tired. If the sheets were hanging low enough they provided the perfect cover for hide 'n seek or from cars passing by or from adults wondering what we were doing. When there was no laundry hanging on the line the pipe leading to the barn offered us a daring opportunity. Even in the heat of the summer, the pipe was always cold as it transferred the well water from one place to another. It was attached to poles-just high enough so that we'd have to jump to grab hold. But we did it. And we did it often. Once we had a firm grip, which wasn't easy to do because of the moisture on the pipe, we tried shimmying our way with our hands as far as we could towards the barn. The further we went the higher the pipe was from the ground and the higher we'd be dangling by our fingertips. I don't ever remember making it all the way out there. I do remember my cousin with her unique ability to do some sort of a fancy back flip off the pipe and always land on her feet. She also had an amazing double-jointed finger!

Occasionally my mother hung laundry outside. When I can, I do the same although my clothesline doesn't go all the way to the barn nor is there a pipe above it. Even so, that fresh smell is as fresh as ever. My mother would iron all the sheets and towels and pants and shirts when she brought them back inside. Sometimes I had to do it. That's one thing I no longer do!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Five doors into the Kitchen

The kitchen in my grandparents' farmhouse was the focal point of their home. The walls were covered in wainscoting half way up. Cupboards were white enamel. The wood stove was the centerpiece and next to it sat a rocking chair and a woodbox. When more wood was needed you'd go out a door leading to the woodshed, load up all the wood you could carry and bring it back inside. You'd keep doing this until the woodbox was full. We loved going into that woodshed. It's where Grampie used his ax to split the wood and it's where my cousins and I would sometimes put on great shows for all the adults to attend and most certainly enjoy!

Near the woodstove sat an oak kitchen table with six chairs. Behind the table was a hutch full of dishes and bowls. I think the top half had glass doors so everything was in plain sight. The bottom half was drawers for linens and such. Behind the wood stove was another door. Open it and you found the back stairway. My mother and aunts would tell of cold, winter mornings when they were in school and how they'd run down those stairs in a hurry to soak up the heat of the woodstove. Central heating was not a concept back then. My cousins and I loved running up those stairs which led to a bedroom with a 'secret' doorway taking you into another bedroom. There were five bedrooms in all.

On the other side ot the woodstove was another door which led to the cellar with its mud floor and low-lying ceiling so much so that adults had to stoop over to get around. I remember shelves stocked with canned vegetables from the gardens and jars of slippery pickles-possibly the best pickles in the world along with corn relish and pickled pears. There were sacks and sacks of potatoes stored for the winter and another stairway leading up to the small, cement stoop which served as the back porch with its own door leading into the kitchen. The back door leading into the kitchen is the door in the photo included in this post showing my grandfather coming in from the barn. (Also shown is the door leading to the cellar). My grandfather was a hard-working man with fields and pastures and hayfields and cows to tend to and six daughters to provide for. Relaxing for him meant reading the Saturday Evening Post or a Zane Gray novel in one of the front parlors in the evening. He always had a pouch of chewing tobacco on him. From what I recall, it was red and white and kept in his back pocket. On the far wall of that kitchen was another door taking you to the dining room with its slanted floor, the three front parlors, a screened-in veranda and a front stairway.

That farm kitchen with its five doorways leading in and out it was like a command center steering traffic to and fro. That kitchen was as glorious and amazing as any kitchen featured on glossy pages of any magazine today showcasing brandname cupboards and island dividers and chopping blocks with walls perfectly manicured and decor accents in place-especially when the back door opened and a grandfather came in from the barn or six sisters raced down the backstairs to warm up and get dressed for school or grandchildren went out to the woodshed to perform star-studded shows or fill their arms with wood or the best grandmother in the world would go down the cellar stairs for potatoes or jars of relish or slippery pickles or pickled pears saved for a holiday meal or aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, brothers, and sisters would go through the door leading to the rest of that farmhouse to set the dining room table, play in the parlors, run up the front stairs or sit on the screened-in veranda and share some time together.

While that kitchen is long gone I am blessed with the oak kitchen table and its six chairs sitting in my dining room. Some traditions do carry on. It's up to the adults to tell  younger generations of kitchens with five doors and everything else in-between.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sort of like a Starbucks minus Lattes and Laptops

Back when there were no strip malls or massive shopping conglomerates spreading over acres and filled with a zillion stores-back when small villages and cities had vibrant downtowns there was usually a place where people gathered-sort of like a Starbucks minus the brand coffee with funny-named varieties and customers interacting with their laptops. Our hometown was no different. We had such a place in our downtown. It was called the Busy Corner-a just reward after a hard day of playing or the place to include when out shopping the many stores offering everything from a new suit to hardware-a new bike to jewelry- furniture and everything else in between.

When you walked into the Busy Corner with its tile floor and ceiling fans-which now make me think of a Humphrey Bogart movie sort of plot-you were greeted by stacks and rows of newspapers and magazines-piles of them. Lining one wall were choice cigars-so many so that the blend of the printed material and rolled smokes made for a most unique aroma as you passed by the man behind the counter who most always was smoking a cigarette or cigar and most always talking to a customer or two who they themselves were most likely enjoying a smoke. None of that bothered anyone back then. It's just the way it was. And so you kept on going in anticipation of what was to follow-which was the most amazing ice cream parlor ever.

Unlike ice cream franchises we are now accustomed to with endless offerings and endless lines, the ice cream parlor inside the Busy Corner was a most amazing, welcoming place complete with a soda fountain. You could choose to sit down at the soda fountain or you could choose to sit at one of the round type tables with the fancy round-seated chairs where you could perch for awhile and watch who was coming and going and talk to fellow shoppers and best of all-enjoy the best-ever milkshakes served in those tall types of glasses placed inside some sort of stainless steel container that you could hold on to while you sipped that best-ever milkshake in the world through a straw and when you hit empty you could pour more into your glass because they left more for you sitting on the table inside one of those milkshake-making containers. I know they also served Coca-Cola in real Coca-Cola glasses with ice but I can't tell you what else because I always ordered a milkshake. I'm sure they must have offered coffee for I remember adults sitting at that counter reading newspapers. I guess that would have been like their version of a laptop.

The Busy Corner was the hub-the center and heart of that downtown comprised of mighty brick buildings-some with ornate designs. Sitting on the corner where the two main streets intersected the Busy Corner was witness to the comings and goings of all that was happening. Sadly, that downtown and that Busy Corner are long gone. But I can still remember the aroma of newsprint mixed with cigars and the anticipation of going for the best-ever tasting milkshake after a hard day of play.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Camping Out In The Back Field

For me and my cousin, summer meant camping out in the back field behind our uncle's house who was as much of a kid as we were. I'm not sure but I think it was his tent that we used. I do remember he was the adult who helped us put the tent up-from pounding the stakes into the ground with a sledge hammer to making sure it was secure. It had to be secure. You never knew what creatures (or uncle) might be lurking in the night! Were those dark, spooky shadows really tree limbs in the moonlight? Were those moans really the wind or some creature climbing out of the swampy creek not too far away? We usually had my brother's dog Smokey or that uncle's dog Bess with us but they seemed to sleep through anything. They showed more signs of life when food was around.

The tent was a real heavy canvas-an olive green shade with flaps that we tied in the front when we'd finally settle down inside our sleeping bags. When we woke up the sun beating in made it so unbearable that we'd quickly untie those flaps and run outside for fresh air unless it was storming. That's when we'd stay in our sleeping bags and talk or read our books or roll over and go back to sleep.

Once we were up and going we'd cook our breakfast over an open fire built within a cement block fireplace-the same fireplace we used the night before for roasting marshmallows under the stars. It had a steel grate on which we'd place our wrought-iron frying pan. Once the butter was melted we'd crack the eggs. As the eggs cooked we'd put slices of bread at the end of a big fork and put the fork over a flame. It was the best toast ever! Most always we were joined by that uncle who thought it was the best toast ever too! But then when you're just a kid at heart you don't mind if your toast is a bit charred or even dusted with embers after falling off the fork. A little more butter and a whole lot more jam made those embers very delicious! Sometimes we'd have cereal in a milk-filled paper cup. Whatever we ate always tasted so much better out in that back field. Though we never went camping in a fancy camper in a park full of other fancy campers I dare say we had just as much fun-maybe even more!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hometowns

No matter where you go, no matter how many places you plant roots, work, raise a family and make friends there will be but one place you will ever call your Hometown. It might be a hamlet or village, city or metropolis-it doesn't matter. Your hometown is where you grew up. You probably went to school there and most always relatives were near.

Summer is the time many go back to where memories of those early years are engrained in the sidewalks and parks, corner stores and downtowns, movie theatres and malls, libraries, trees, fields and maybe even rivers, streams, mountains or skyscrapers. Summer is the season of going back to family reunions where new babies are googled over and elders appreciated and familiar tales are heard again and new stories are told and newlyweds sit by couples who've gone through many a four seasons. Besides festivals and fairs, class reunions bring  people back home too. For a few hours you get to step back in time and recall the big game or moments in a classroom or certain teachers. Even better you get to check out classmates you may have had a crush on or classmates you forgot about or some you don't recognize at all.

Whatever constitutes your hometown remains a part of you wherever you go. No matter how successful you may become or how far you travel, your hometown welcomes you back as that little kid who rode a bike or jumped a rope or skipped a stone or played football in the neighbor's yard or hockey at the local rink. While things change in a hometown, some things remain the same and that's the feeling you get when returning. It wraps you up like a blanket and tells you, "Welcome Home!"

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Front Yards in the Summertime Were for Playing

Years ago front yards were for playing-really playing and pretending and spending time in from the minute you got up-especially when on summer vacation and the days were long and hot and hazy and the lemonade freshly squeezed and kept in the refrigerator in a certain glass pitcher with slices of lemon just waiting to make your mouth pucker up and ice cubes ready to be chomped on.

The front yard of our grandparents' farmhouse was everything any kid could have asked for. It had trees to climb up into with limbs to hang from and swing from and drop to the ground from. There were clumps of bushes to hide in-or-around-or behind. One particular clump had some bamboo-type things growing in it. They made great bows and arrows after we took the leaves off them and one of us ran inside for some string. Such weapons came in handy when fighting the enemy or surviving a catastrophe. Catastrophes were  daily, some times hourly. That happens when imaginations are full-speed ahead. Of course our grandmother's peony bushes also provided great cover. We never touched the flowers. We knew they were off limits. We just hid behind them.

Some days my cousin and I would load the little ones in a wagon and go off on an adventure around that marvelous yard which was anything we wanted it to be any day we wanted to be there. We'd pack up supplies-which might have included Lorna Doones or Fig Newtons, bamboo bows and arrows (because you never knew what might be lurking around-or in-or near the bushes which weren't just bushes if you know what I mean), blankets, a few pillows and whatever else fit the script that day. Some adventures lasted into the afternoon or at least until naptime for the littlest ones being pulled around and around in a wagon on a sticky summer's day.

Because the front yard was huge-at least looking at it through the eyes of a child it was huge-it was a great place for hosting major sporting events. Besides playing Red Light, Green Light; Simon Says, Pick-Up Sticks, Marbles, Hide 'n Seek and Tag that front yard held some mighty baseball games despite our only having a bat or two and a ball and our bases were trees and bushes and the star was my older brother who was a mighty hitter. I think my brother was one team and me and my two cousins were the other. I can't remember who won what back then. It didn't matter. I just remember how much fun it was playing in the front yard of our grandparents' farmhouse in the summertime with lemonade waiting for us in the glass pitcher. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My mother, Andy Griffith and the 4th of July

When you think about the 4th of July and what it represents besides hotdogs and parades I think it is rather ironic that we just lost a man who represented the values and goodness in an endearing little place called Mayberry. Mayberry could have been any small town in the U.S.A..

Years back when the Andy Griffith Show came on the air every week, we as a family would sit down and watch the show together. There was no worry about the content. It was all apple pie and family while still dealing with real issues. It was TV in its peak of quality programming and that had a lot to do with the man himself and a cast of supporting characters we all considered part of our family too.

While we all loved the show, my mother really loved the show especially when Andy and Barney would get going which usually led to some really funny situations. When Barney twitched about with his eyes bulging and his tone trying to be in charge as only a Barney Fife could my mother would start laughing. She'd laugh so hard that she'd have to take her glasses off and try to catch her breath. It was so contagious that we all started laughing right along with her. We couldn't stop laughing-roll over, belly laughing!

One particular episode stands out as I think about her sitting on the sofa in her nightgown exploding in laughter. Barney was somewhere in their patrol car-off on his own. He was outside of the vehicle and suddenly came face to face with a bear. I remember his scurrying all over the place-his thin little legs going at top speed. He ended up on top of the squad car and went for his gun. That's when my mother started. He couldn't get the gun out of his holster. His eyes were really bulging and when he did take hold of his gun he couldn't find the one bullet he always carried with him in a pocket-but which pocket was the problem!.My mother couldn't stop roaring as he stood on top of that car and tried to locate his only bullet. How that episode ended I'll never know because we had another show to watch-my mother! She was ripping it up so hard that she couldn't breathe-and neither could we!

Thank you Sheriff Andy Taylor, Opie, Aunt Bee, Barney and all those other supporting characters who remain a shining example of what TV can be. You all add meaning to this day in which we celebrate America in hometowns just like Mayberry.

Friday, June 29, 2012

When the Adults Dressed Up

When growing up out in the country it was quite exciting when any of the adults dressed in their finest clothes for special occasions which could have been anything from a funeral to a night out at the movies to going to church. Every Saturday evening my brother and I got to go to the local theatre with our grandparents and every Saturday night my grandmother wore her fancy hat with netting in the front, her good coat and white gloves. My grandfather who worked his farm all week dressed in his suit with a tie and his gentleman's hat on his head. They never looked out of place. That's the way all the adults dressed.

My father was a member of a civic organization. Their annual Installation of Officers was held every summer. I think I looked forward to it just as much as my mother because I got to watch her get ready. During the day she'd put dippity-do in her hair and then wrap it up tightly in small curls held in place by bobby pins. She'd be sure to feed us earlier than usual because most every year my parents would host a small pre-Installation of Officers gathering of friends before they went to wherever the event was being held. Most times it was at the local country club-a rambling building with a big stone fireplace and lots of room to dance. More times than not my mother made her dress. She was an expert seamstress. For awhile she owned a fabric shop and carried the finest in silk organzas and taffetas so her dress always stood out. I remember her going through the pattern books sitting in her shop. Her choice usually came down to Butterick or Vogue. Vogue was usually her choice. She also carried hat-making supplies which included feathers and pins and shiny jewels. Most of the women wore hats and nylons with seams up the back of their legs and their fingernails polished. My mother was meticulous about her nails. She'd do them faithfully. Her small jars of Revlon nail polish along with her cuticle remover and nail file were kept on top of the sidetable by the couch in the living room. She'd pick one evening a week to do her nails.

When the kitchen was back in order, my mother began getting ready. After her bath, she'd put her slip saved for good on-and then her marvelous dress. While she was doing all of this I would sit on her bed and go through her blue-velvet lined jewelry box. I loved doing that. There were so many pretty things-from cameo earrings with matching necklace to brass bracelets to chokers and pendants. Whatever she chose she looked beautiful. Once she took the bobby pins out and brushed her hair and put her red lipstick and heels on she had only one more thing to add-a splash of T'oujours Moi-her favorite perfume. My parents were a stunning couple. My father most always wore a white shirt, his good suit and a striped tie. His hair sort of cuved up into what we called his "time tunnel." Thinking back I bet women would have payed a pretty penny for that hair of his. He never had to use dippity-do.

While the adults had their small get-together I'd try not to watch but I couldn't help it. I liked seeing my parents dressed up. And when it was time for them to leave my mother would put her over-the-elbow white gloves on along with her feathered or jeweled hat and off they would go-and off I'd go back to her blue-velvet lined jewelry box and pretend I was Princess for a night-like my mother.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Haying Season

Hot June days like the ones we are now experiencing bring me back to what seemed to be even hotter days when growing up in the country and watching the hay wagons being brought in from the fields. I didn't understand at that age how very hot it was for the men handling the bales-the very picky bales of hay that scratched your skin and left you itching for quite awhile.

My grandfather's farm included rambling hay fields.When a wagon was brought over the plank bridge and up the hill and over the rock bed where a small stream flowed until the summer sun dried it up, my cousins and I would get excited. We'd run to meet the wagon and try to wedge our way up onto it somewhere between the bales and ride all the way to the barn. We never realized how picky those bales were until we jumped off as the work of getting the bales out of the wagon and up into the silo began.

I've never seen such hard work but it did get rewarded. My grandmother and her daughters cooked all morning-and I mean cooked. At noon a full-course, sit-down meal was served to all the workers. I remember helping. I remember bowls of home-grown lettuce covered in vinegar and bowls of fat at both ends of the table for the men to dip their homemade bread into. Of course there were homemade mashed potatoes, homegrown vegetables and of course, the beef or pork from the farm and my grandmother's mouthwatering homemade pies. After the meal was finished it was back out into the fields where the sun was still hot and the hay was still high and picky but the work seemed to go a little faster after a full-course meal had been served and enjoyed!

(The picture above is at my grandfather's farm way before I even remember-when horses were used instead of tractors. Either way the haying was done-it was very hard labor in the heat of the summer.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Popsicles and Other Frozen Delights

Summer is a time for many things enjoyed best while the days are hazy and hot. Of course when you're young summer also means a very, very long vacation which allows even more time to enjoy those special, frozen delights meant to be savored and licked and finally bitten into and then when swallowed, felt all the way down to your stomach,freezing your insides for a second while outside the temperature is soaring and the crickets are yacking and the bees are buzzing. There was a small neighborhood store we loved to frequent when at all possible, especially from June through August. That was because right inside the door to the left sat one of those white enamel, horizontal-shaped freezers-the kind where you'd pull on a latch and when you lifted the top, all the frost from inside would roll right out in your face, cooling you off for a second or two. When the mist cleared, the fun began for inside that frozen oasis all nudged beside each other were what seemed to be-to us kids at least-countless, flimsy cardboard boxes, each with one end ripped off displaying what was inside awaiting little fingers. Back then there wasn't the extensive variety of frozen treats on a stick or in a cup as there are today but you don't miss what you've never had. We were excited every time we lifted that lid and found cherry, orange and grape popsicles; mouth-watering creamsicles and fudgesicles; ice cream filling waffle cones-some with peanuts on top; yummy ice cream sandwiches which you'd unwrap in a hurry and eat before the chocolate sandwich-like covering fell apart from the vanilla ice cream inside melting away-but when that did happen it tasted so gooey and good; ice cream cups which came with a small wooden-type spoon that if your teeth happened to scrape on too hard, chills would go up and down your spine-sort of like fingernails on chalkboards. The hardest part of going into that store was deciding which frozen delight we wanted that particular day. It didn't really matter though. We were young and on summer vacation allowing us endless opportunities to lift that latch and choose again-and again.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Quite possibly one of the best things about this time of the year is that it is time for homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie! It amazes me how you can take total opposites-one so bitter and one so sweet, wrap them up in some pie dough, add some sugar, and out from the oven a short time later comes a most heavenly tasting, gooey, piping-hot blend that has, at times, forced me to sit down with a fork and just keep eating pieces one right after another. This pie even works for those who might not like strawberries or those who might not like rhubarb because for some reason by mixing them together one enhances the other. Gone is the bitterness of the rhubarb. Instead the rhubarb seems to add just a bit more flavor to the strawberries making the wait for the pie to bake a bit hard to take! My mother had a strawberry patch that ran along the side of our home in her rock garden out in the country. The problem with a strawberry patch is that many times most of the strawberries never make it inside the house due to kids sitting and picking them and eating them one right after another. That's what we did. Thinking back to when we'd sit in the grass in front of those delicious red berries with a warm summer breeze making the day even more perfect, with birds chirping and the sound of tractors pulling wagons out in the hayfields, life was the best it could get for kids happy to be back wearing shorts and anticipating the long, hot summer ahead. Of course that all changed once we went inside the house with the evidence all over us that we'd been eating strawberries again. Now whenever I bite into a strawberry-rhubarb pie I hear my mother telling me to stay away from the strawberry patch. That was a very hard thing to do. It proved to be impossible!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Diners and Church Dinners

So what do diners and churches have in common? Well this time of the year some great home-cooked, affordable meals. While diners pump out their unique menus all year long, local churches step up to the plate now straight through the fall offering everything from chicken 'n biscuits to chicken bbq to lasagna, roast beef, and turkey. Besides the main item you also receive home-baked pies or cakes or brownies, real mashed potatoes with real gravy, assorted salads and vegetables, breads fresh from the oven and a variety of condiments and freshly perked coffee. These days you can eat-in or take it home to enjoy. There's one particular church I vaguely remember going to with my grandmother for their chicken dinner. I only remember going a few times but the aromas coming forth from that simple small church with its tall wooden pews and amazing stained-glass windows remain vivid in my mind. The combination of all the ingredients drifting about that church made you hungry even if you weren't. There were no take-outs back then. There were no styrofoam containers to hold your food until you made it back home. Tables were set and that's where you sat-next to friends and neighbors young and old. Conversations were a part of the menu. It was a time of both sharing a meal and catching up with those who lived around you. More often than not, there were locally-made items for sale sewn by women-most wearing house dresses. Everything from doll blankets to quilts were available with all proceeds going to the church. Up the road from the church was a little diner-type place where my aunt and other relatives loved to go on Fridays for the fish dinner. Besides the fish served on your diner-type, milk-white plate with a gold-filled ring around the edge, you'd receive homemade french fries, homemade coleslaw and freshly baked pie of your choice with an endless cup of perked coffee. Those Friday night dinners were anticipated all week long. While that place has since closed and church dinners now include styrofoam take-outs, the anticipation remains no matter the diner you choose or church dinner you attend. It's just that these days, a homecooked meal is not an everyday occurrence so therefore its enjoyed maybe even more than those days gone by!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Crayons

Just the smell of a crayon brings me back to my childhood growing up in the country. There's nothing like that specific aroma of colored wax-rolled and shaped and wrapped in a paper-covering a lighter shade than the crayon itself. Crayons were like best friends. They were always near. My cousin and I used them when playing school in our chicken coop clubhouse. Our pretend students drew some great pictures with their crayons even when the crayons were just broken pieces. That didn't stop some of their artwork from being chosen to hang by thumb tacks on our bulletin board-the bottom of a cardboard box. At home I always had crayons in my desk ready when needed. Besides drawing, coloring in coloring books was so much fun. We had a JJ Newberrys and a Woolworths next to each other in our downtown back then. Sometimes in the summertime my cousin and I would pack up our purses and walk the country road to go shopping. Newberrys had great over-sized coloring books. I think I bought a few of those but my favorites were the regular-size coloring books with lots of pictures with small spaces. I loved coloring those kinds of pictures because I got to use lots of crayons. I'd spend time planning my color scheme. I was a bit obsessed with staying in the lines. Coloring books weren't all glittery and full of licensed characters. They were simple with simple drawings-lots of drawings. Crayons were the reason I could have found myself in trouble in kindergarten. I didn't mean to take a boy's pencil box home but I had to. It had drawers and compartments to die for and he had it full of crayons. His crayons were never broken like mine. My mother always told me I was hard on my crayons. He also had a little ruler and lots of little pencils and lots of erasers. I loved pencil cases. I'd never seen anything like his fancy pencil box and I wanted one for my birthday so I took it home to show my mother.I never asked the teacher or the boy. I just took it when no one was looking with the intention of bringing it back the next day-which I did before that boy walked in and without the teacher noticing what I was carrying into the room. When my birthday came and I received my own fancy pencil box with drawers and compartments full of crayons and not one of them broken I felt my escapade had been worth the risk! I'm certain I would have felt differently had I gotten caught. Then my mother would have found out and there wouldn't have been that amazing pencil box waiting for me on my birthday. Of all the Santa surprises wrapped in white tissue paper-secured by a sticky sticker and stuffed inside my Christmas stocking every year, it was the box of crayons I always looked for. I could tell by the shape which one it was because that was the only time I'd get the tall box with so many perfect crayons. But then, whenever I got to color or draw with my crayons, those amazing wax marvels with their amazing smell made it feel like Christmas all-year long! (And by the way-I recently confessed my sin to that "little boy." He didn't remember his fancy pencil box-but I sure do)!