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!