Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Irony In A Day

Early in the morning of the day before Christmas I was in the grocery store. I was in a hurry as it was the last place I wanted to be. Standing by the meat counter I happened to look up. Coming towards me was a man I'd see now and then in various places-in stores or walking down a street. Whenever our paths crossed I'd always say hello but never received a response. Never saw a smile. Never made eye contact. In my mind I'd written him off as ornery. So when I saw him coming down the aisle I turned back around and continued my shopping. I forgot about him until I heard someone say,

"You can always count on needing a few more things before Christmas. You're smart being here early."

It was the ornery man talking to me. It had to be me I thought. I was the only one in sight. I was so shocked I didn't reply. I didn't have to. He kept talking.

"You might think I'm out early getting ready for Christmas dinner. Well I'm not. No Christmas dinner at my place. Hasn't been one in years. I'm a widower. My kids are married. None of them live here. Christmas dinners stopped when my wife died. I'm not really shopping. It just looks like I am. Truth is the walls close in on me sometimes. I have to get out of the house so I go to the stores and walk around. I have to get out of my chair. Too much idle time once my wife died. Retirement isn't what it's cracked out to be. I don't like idle time."

He stopped. He stood there looking at me. He was smiling. Suddenly on that early morning the ornery man was not so ornery. He was lonely. I asked him where he'd worked. He told me downstate. That's where he'd met his wife. He moved back after she passed away. He told me they'd had a good life. Then he told me he wouldn't keep me any longer and wished me a Merry Christmas.

"Merry Christmas to you as well, " I replied.

"I'll probably see you at Walmart sometime, " he mumbled with his back to me, pushing his empty cart up an aisle.

Later that evening, upon urging of my 5-year old granddaughter, I opened a gift she handed me as she stood by my side dressed in her beautiful Christmas dress with the biggest, the most excited Christmas Eve smile ever. Once I pulled away the tissue paper I understood why as a box full of reindeer was waiting for me. She and her mommy had gone to a craft show at her school. That's where she bought the reindeer. I don't think she could have picked out anything else that would have meant so much to me as those beautiful reindeer. You see we have a pretend game we play. She is Melanie Kitten and I am Gra Gra Reindeer. Her imagination sometimes stops me cold. It did that night as had that man I'd assumed was ornery earlier in the day.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Comfort of the Emerald Green Velvet Dress

When I graduated from high school I was clueless as to what I wanted to do. My mother insisted I enroll in a local college for girls run by nuns. It was small. I could live at home while I figured it out. I didn't want to go there but I finally took the step. I was tired of my mother asking, "What are you going to do?"
Turned out it wasn't so bad. There were lots of interesting girls there from all over the place. I never liked high school but soon discovered this was different. Since I lived at home and since I had an older brother who drove a little TR3 and often came and picked me up, I was quite popular. Many of my new found friends took turns staying at my house when weekends rolled around. And some of those weekends included 'Mixers' with fraternities in colleges nearby. This was really lots of fun-especially one Mixer. That's when I met a guy from Niagara Falls. He was quite possibly the cutest guy in the place. He asked me to dance. Not once. Not twice but four times. When the bus came to take them back to their fraternity house, he asked me for my phone number. The next week he called. This was early October. We were still an item straight up to the Holidays. That's when he asked me to a Christmas Ball. I was told it would be a fancy affair. He was wearing a suit and tie. I prayed he'd splash on some English Leather. I'd grown to love his cologne. Most all the girls loved English Leather. Many of us bought small bottles of the stuff and dabbed a bit on favorite stuffed bears. I dabbed mine on a little stuffed puppy I'd had for years.

The event was to be held at a grand hotel in the downtown of where I lived. It was an amazing hotel with a grand front porch where rocking chairs sat ready for rocking in the summertime. It was gloriously decorated. Chandeliers shimmered, resembling something out of an old Hollywood movie. Because of the hotel's elegance I knew my dress had to be elegant as well. But instead of going shopping, I went to my grandmother and asked her to make me a velvet dress. An emerald green velvet dress. I was confident I'd be wearing the most beautiful dress at the Ball. My grandmother was an accomplished seamstress. She'd sewn all her life. Most times she never used a pattern. She'd just sit down at her Singer sewing machine with her tape measure around her neck and straight pins pinned to her house dress and create. That's what she did after I asked her to make me that dress. She created the most beautiful emerald green velvet dress ever made and it only took one fitting. With long sleeves and darts just right, that dress was the perfect dress. I felt like Cinderella-until the very last dance of the evening.

I knew he was going home for Christmas the next  day so I asked him when he was getting back. That's when he told me he wasn't coming back. He was transferring. Even worse, he told me he had a girl friend back home. And they were serious. I don't remember much after that. Tears tend to cloud your eyes especially when you're gasping for breath. We were with another couple. Looking back I'm sure they knew about the girl friend. No one spoke when we pulled into my driveway. Not even my date. I just opened the car door, slammed it shut and never saw him again. Once in my bedroom in complete despair I threw my little dog smelling of English Leather in the basket. I curled up in bed still wearing my emerald green velvet dress and cried. I sobbed so hard that my mother heard me. Peeking in my bedroom, she whispered, "You looked beautiful tonight in that emerald green velvet dress."
After she shut the door, I realized she was saying so much more. I fell asleep in the comfort of that emerald green velvet dress.
Looking back-I can remember every detail of that dress. But I can't even remember that guy's name.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Priceless Little Gift Under Twenty-five Cents


For whatever reason, certain Christmas gifts stand out from others received over the years. Sometimes those remembered the most aren’t necessarily the most expensive. Cars, jewelry, trips. They all cost a pretty penny. But the one gift I remember in particular cost less than a quarter. That’s because it didn’t matter what was wrapped inside. What mattered was it came from my older brother.

We grew up in a house sitting alongside a lane surrounded by other houses mostly occupied by young families like ours. Because the street was on a bit of a hill, whenever a blizzard closed the schools, we’d all be sliding down the street on toboggans and sleds. Even though there was no fireplace, our home was the perfect location for Santa to visit once our father went to the attic and carried down a cardboard imitation. We’d get so excited as pretend flames started back up again when batteries were in place. On Christmas Eve we’d tape our stockings to the cardboard mantle after leaving milk and cookies for Santa who’d fill the stockings to the point of overflowing.
My brother had the bedroom at the top of the stairs. Mine was in the back. It was all about location on Christmas morning. He’d beat me down stairs every year. Then wait impatiently for me to follow. A few times he’d get under the register leading up into my room and make loud noises. It always worked.
One Christmas he didn’t wait. He came right up and got me. After our parents had their coffee in hand we were allowed to dig into our stockings. Our mother wrapped every little gift stuffed inside so it took a while to get down to the toe. Once we did, we were allowed to open one present from Santa. Then we’d have to wait while breakfast was served before diving into the pile of gifts awaiting us.

This one particular Christmas was no exception. Wrapping paper went flying as surprises were discovered in that house by the lane. It was after the gifts had been opened that my brother came over to me with a smile. I remember as if it was yesterday. I was sitting on the floor trying to get a doll with two braids out of its package when he handed me a very small gift wrapped in red tissue paper with my name on it printed in pencil. I could tell he was excited. He told me he’d wrapped it after I went to bed and hid it under his pillow. I became excited too. Not because it was another gift. Rather, because it was from my big brother.

Seconds later I was holding a 5-stick pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum. He’d bought it at the little grocery at the end of the lane. He knew it was my favorite kind.Gifts remembered and treasured forever come straight from the heart. My brother’s heart was full that Christmas-as was mine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gooey, Filled With Love, Strawberry Jam Tarts

Simple things sometimes come with memories of a time-a person-a moment-even simple things like Jam Tarts.
After filling her pie plates with crusts kneaded to the right consistency, my grandmother would gather the leftover dough and shape it into small balls. Then she'd take her wooden rolling pin and roll the balls out one at a time. When all the little balls were flat on the flour-covered counter, she would fill them with her homemade strawberry jam, fold the edges into the center and put the tarts in the oven of her woodstove. Anticipation would mount as the sweet aroma of jam and cinnamon blending into the dough filled the kitchen-the dining room-every room of that farmhouse.
Once the jam tarts were pulled out of the oven, cold milk was poured into tall glasses. Then piping hot strawberry jam tarts were enjoyed. It didn't matter what time it was or if it was a sweltering summer day. They were enjoyed as much as any fine dessert from any fine bakery. Of course if it was Christmas time, they seemed to taste even better. Their aroma mingling with the scent of a tree in the front parlor-with snow swirling and joy prevailing-heightened the season of Santa and gifts and family gathering.
Those little tarts served in that country kitchen were mouth-watering delicious. There were no preservatives or food colorings. Just Crisco. Just so bursting with flavor. So filled with love by a woman with hair pulled up in a bun. Her hands worn, strong. Her house dress neat, covered by an apron. Her shoes black and tied up the front. Her smile as warm as sunshine. Her wit always near. Her arms all embracing-making you feel as if you were all that mattered. To my grandmother, you were. That's why she made her hot, gooey, filled with love strawberry jam tarts. She knew how much they were enjoyed. And she came from a generation where nothing went to waste. Not even small bits of pie dough.

Simple is priceless. Simple comes easy-like a breeze through the trees. Like an embrace of a grandmother dressed in a house dress covered by an apron.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Magic Atop the Christmas Mantel

Growing up there were a few decorations I'd anticipate their return for yet another Christmas season. I loved the angel chimes. Once white candles were lit underneath little brass angels, the angels would move around and around and as they moved they'd strike little brass bells. The little bells would then respond with a most beautiful sound. The angel chimes always sat in the middle of the dining room table.

In the home where I grew up before moving to the country, we had a cardboard fireplace. My brother and I would eagerly await our father carrying the fireplace down the back stairs in sections from the attic. We'd watch as he'd put it back together and place it in the second room of the double living room where it sat every year. The pretend yule logs would 'burn' whenever they were plugged in. Santa always knew where to find our stockings on Christmas Eve. Once we moved to the country, that cardboard fireplace disappeared. Our new home had a fireplace complete with a pine mantel. Our stockings were never too heavy for that mantel. It was so much stronger than the cardboard. And you didn't have to plug it in.

Of all the traditional decorations my mother put out every year, it was a plastic Santa and a plastic Snowman that resonated in me the fact that  Santa was really coming! They weren't anything fancy. They were probably Made In China. My mother probably bought them at Woolworths or Newberry's. They might have been the 'must have decorations' back then as my grandmother had the exact same plastic Santa and plastic Snowman. She'd put them on a windowsill in the front parlor of the farmhouse next to a piano. It was a perfect setting. White, billowing curtains pulled back with white matching ties looked like snowdrifts to me. At night when they were plugged in, the Santa and the Snowman added holiday shades to those pure white snowdrifts.

My mother kept our plastic Santa and plastic Snowman on the mantel of the cardboard fireplace. When we moved to the country, those two decorations were the focus on top the pine mantel. She'd add boughs from the Christmas tree once the tree was brought inside, trimmed, and put in place.  She'd add tinsel and small, round gold balls wrapped around picks-the sort of decorations you'd find in a fancy centerpiece. The mantel always looked the same. Magnificent. Once the stockings were hung, it looked even more magnificent. And when the plastic Santa and plastic Snowman were plugged in-the Magic of Christmas was everywhere!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Ceramic Thanksgiving Santa Claus



My family had a few Holiday traditions. The most delicious tradition was my grandmother's Christmas bread. The most fun tradition happened right after Thanksgiving dinner as dessert was being enjoyed. I don't know who started it or when. It was just something we did that became a tradition called Table Trees.

Preparing for Table Trees began Thanksgiving morning when sheets of paper were cut into strips. On each strip the name of a family member was written. While it differed who wrote the names on the strips, it most always was a younger member of the family doing it. After every family member's name was on a strip, the strips were folded a few times and placed inside the ceramic Thanksgiving Santa Claus which was then put some place secure until the dessert was being enjoyed. When I was little  it seemed as if the adults would never finish talking and eating so the ceramic Thanksgiving Santa Claus could be brought out and the fun could be underway.

Again it would be a younger member doing the honors. He or she would go around the table with the ceramic Thanksgiving Santa Claus, stopping just long enough so the person sitting there could reach into the ceramic Thanksgiving Santa Claus and pull out a strip. The name on the strip was the family member the person doing the choosing had to buy a small gift for to be opened after Christmas Dinner. The small gifts were known in the family as Table Tree Gifts. They'd be kept in a basket Christmas Day. As soon as Christmas dinner was done, the table tree gifts were passed around. It was always exciting. You knew all day long you had one more gift to open. Gifts were supposed to be kept at $5. or under but that never happened. Gifts bought were thought over and shopped for with extra care. After all, it would be the last gift opened on Christmas night. Sometimes certain names chosen weren't the most popular ones. Sometimes some switching among family members of strips with certain names was done on the side. One year my cousin got my older brother. Believe it or not I wanted his name. I wanted to buy him something I'd seen in Newberry's for his stamp collection as a Table Tree gift. My cousin switched and I totally surprised my brother!

When we were really young, one special aunt would take us all downtown shopping. We'd have lunch in a local eatery in the heart of that bustling area. At some point we'd stop at our uncle's shoe store to say Hi and take a break-but not for long. The quest for those Table Tree gifts was front and center. A few times it took more than one trip downtown to find the perfect gift.

I have that ceramic Thanksgiving Santa Claus sitting on a shelf in the kitchen. It isn't brought out on Thanksgiving Day anymore. Sometime traditions from a certain time belong kept in the heart as new ones begin. And that's just what has happened!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Playing School in the Old Chicken Coop

When playing school out in the country in our chicken coop schoolhouse void of chickens and filled with the chalkboard, books, and desks from an abandoned one-room schoolhouse, my cousin and I often shared the responsibility of teaching our 'class' of younger siblings/cousins. When they were not attending class their desks were occupied by invisible students who had pretend names and participated with enthusiasm. Sometimes too much enthusiasm. But all would quiet down when I read them a certain story set in Lapland from the Barne's New National Reader titled, "A Reindeer Drive." Actually I didn't read it. I made a story up and showed them the picture that went with the story-a reindeer running while pulling a small sleigh. For some reason I loved that illustration and decided to enhance it by letting my imagination take over. The pretend students loved it! They asked me to read it again and again and so I did.
I still have that book. The copyright is 1884.I love its simplicity. I love how the story is a lesson-Lesson XX111. There are new words shown before the story that will be introduced and after the story there is a Language Lesson with the instructions, "Let pupils give answers whether oral or written in complete statements." I did that with my students. I asked questions and they answered in complete statements. Most of them received a grade of 100 and a star hand-drawn in the upper right corner of their paper.
Looking back at that chicken coop turned clubhouse-schoolhouse-anything we wanted it to be I realize how lucky we were to have that old coop to play in and pretend and create and read and write in. Boredom was not a word we ever used. There was no time! Even in the winter when the snow would come through any cracks it could find we'd be out there bundled up and warm as toast for when you let imagination take over snow can work to one's advantage. Snow can become a storyline.
I am thankful I never actually read "A Reindeer Drive" to my class for it talks about how the people used the skins of the reindeer for hats, coats, boots, and beds.

My students would have been horrified! I know their teacher was!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Could My Father Have Been Santa Claus?




Because my father was a Funeral Director back when funeral directors were always on call we rarely went on vacations. When we did it was unusual if we went very far. The North Pole was only two hours away so we made that trip a few times. Every time was magical. Of course Santa Claus lived there. Although I knew that, one year on Christmas morning I was convinced my father was the real Santa.

The night before had been disappointing. Oh family members came. Piles of presents were under the tree. I hung my stocking and put the milk and cookies out with my brother. But it was raining outside. Any snow on the ground had been washed away. I'd never known a Christmas without snow in all my seven years. Besides the lack of snow, my father had to work. He made it home just as our mother was telling us it was time to get ready for bed. I was standing by the Christmas tree when he came in soaking wet. After pulling a package out from under his coat, he took the coat off and hung it over the bannister. Then he placed the package on a chair and came into the living room. After giving us hugs and asking about our Christmas Eve, my father grabbed that package and went to the kitchen. My mother had a plate full of food ready for him in the refrigerator. I was right behind him. I was keeping track of that package now lying on the counter.
I sat at the table while my father ate his Christmas Eve dinner. As soon as he finished, my mother was in the kitchen reminding  me it was time for bed. I tried stalling but it didn't work. Saying good night, I opened the door to the backstairs which led up to my bedroom. I stalled again, eyeing that package until my mother hustled me along. I was okay with that.
There were two registers in my bedroom floor. One looked directly down into the kitchen. Once I had my nightgown on and my teeth brushed I turned the light off-stretched out on the floor and peeked through the register. All I could see was white tissue paper and Christmas stickers on that counter.
I tiptoed down to the kitchen. My excuse was ready. I was thirsty. I didn't have to use it. I could hear my parents talking in the front room. The package was no where to be seen. I went back upstairs to bed.
While I thought I'd never get to sleep it was soon morning and I was rushing down the front stairs and into the living room with my brother. The stockings were bulging. But it was a package wrapped in white tissue paper kept together by Christmas stickers that caught my eye. It was sitting under the tree on top of some bigger presents. It was tradition for us to open one gift after our stocking gifts. Then we'd have breakfast and open the rest. I knew which gift I was going to open. I knew the present wrapped in white tissue paper was for me. I felt it. When it was time I took hold of that gift with my name in cursive on a tag. It was beautiful penmanship. I loved how the letters swirled as if caught in a breeze.I looked at my father. He was smiling.
Seconds later the tissue paper was off and I was holding on to a box I'd held on to in a small corner store just up the street. My mother and I had stopped there for a few things and while she paid for them, I found what I was now holding. I'd told my mother how much I hoped Santa would bring me the paint-by-number kit with primary colored felt tip markers included. Sitting there in my nightgown I looked back at my father. He was still smiling. Then he pointed to the window. It was snowing.

The paint-by-number kit with primary colored  felt-tip markers ended up my favorite Christmas gift that year. I don't know how my father ever knew I wanted it as much as I did. I convinced myself he was Santa Claus.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cornfields and Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers once said, "Play is really the work of childhood." Growing up in the country my cousins and I were playing all the time. Not with toys, but outside, taking advantage of what nature provided us every season of the year. We never went to Disneyland. We never even thought to ask to go. Why would we. We had our own theme park. In the winter we'd be skating on the creek just out back and down the hill. It didn't matter how cold it was. That never stopped us. We'd even be down there skating at night. With the moon above and the stars glistening that was the best time of all to go skating on that old creek that turned into a waterway in the summertime-providing us even more fun as we'd guide our rafts made from telephone poles on endless adventures. It was named Sucker Creek for a reason. Whenever any of those suckers got on our rafts we'd take our steel poles used for steering the rafts and cast them back into the murky water.

Fall proved to be just as much fun especially with cornfields spreading out as far as we could see. It was the cornfield next to our grandparents' farmhouse that got most of our attention. Being little, it seemed massive. Once we entered it, we disappeared which is probably what we wanted to do so no adults could see us as we each found our spot and made homes in the corn. We'd move cornstalks aside-bring them down and then stomp on them until we felt we had enough space. Then we'd create a kitchen-a living room-a bedroom with a cornstalk bed. We'd play in the middle of the cornstalks for what seemed like hours. We'd visit each other. Create imaginary friends. We'd even spy on adults not too far away. Besides making our homes, we had fun just running through the field. We were making corn mazes long before it was a popular thing to do. Running as fast as we could, most times we'd keep our eyes shut and our heads down because the leaves on those stalks were sturdy. They'd whip us in the face-scratch us most anywhere we weren't covered up but that never stopped us. That was the price we had to pay for playing in those tall stalks with funny tassels at their tops waving in the breeze.

Our grandfather never said a thing about the crushed cornstalks in the middle of that field when it was time for harvesting them. But then, he never said a thing about our hosting circuses in the barn or sitting on his tractor and pretending to take it out back-down the hill-and across the plank bridge to the backfields. Maybe we amused him with our playing. Maybe he understood what Mr. Rogers was saying about Play. We certainly did. We were quite serious about our work no matter the season..

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Stories Told In Braided Rugs

Funny what you remember growing up. At the time it might have seemed insignificant but looking back some of those memories prove priceless. My grandmother filled what little idle time she had using her hands to create. Crocheting to sewing-to braiding rugs-it didn't matter. In the evening she'd sit in her chair and her hands became her instruments. That generation never wasted time. There was no time to waste. Little did she realize that some of what she created would live on to tell her story-a family story-to generations that would follow. That especially rang true of her braided rugs.

Growing up we were aware that no garment was too old to be considered a candidate in one of her braided rugs. Before anything was thrown out, it would go to my grandmother. She would make the decision if it would get that second chance. More often than not, it survived her test. After that initial 'interview' a garment would be stripped of buttons, zippers, bias tape, rick rack-anything that could be recycled and used again. From this process came a great collection of zippers and tape and a button bag brimming with buttons of all colors and sizes. That bag came in handy when we'd play, "Button! Button! Who Has the Button!" Once the garment was clear of bobbles, my grandmother would cut and rip it into strips. Then the strips were rolled into a ball until there were enough balls of strips of fabric from other garments to braid together and create a rug. It was common to see her sitting in her chair with strips of fabric spread out on the floor and as she wove them all together the strips became shorter and shorter. Her rugs were like the storyline in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There were small rugs-medium-size rugs-and great big rugs. When one was finished, it would sit on the floor for awhile so it could be stepped on to eventually get the stitching evened out.

Those rugs provided my cousin and I with a game of seek and find. Lying on the floor, we'd inspect new rugs created-looking to see if we could recognize any old pieces of clothing woven in to place. It was fun finding what we'd considered something old and tattered given new life and a place center stage for all to see for years to come. Discovery led to stories about that garment-who it belonged to-certain times when it had been worn. When my aunt who lived with my grandmother passed away years after we'd lost my grandmother, those rugs were given to family members. Those stories continue to be told. Included in the stories are memories of the woman who'd created the braided rugs while sitting in her rocking chair-using her hands as instruments-weaving stories that will never be forgotten.



Friday, October 2, 2015

Discarded Underwoods

I grew up using a typewriter. I must have been eight or nine when I'd take my brother's typewriter into my room-shut the door-and spend what seemed like hours at my pine desk my grandfather made me one year for Christmas typing my stories. The typewriter was the last stage of my process as I'd have the stories written out on lined paper and ready to go under my penname of Maggie O'Shea. I often wonder whatever happened to those early masterpieces or the notebooks with my scribbles. Or that typewriter my brother never knew I borrowed without asking.

The use of notebooks continued as I grew up. And so did the use of typewriters. I loved the process-the art of typing. Loved the sound of keys hitting the paper and the bell dinging at the end of a line telling me to pull the shift arm to go back and begin another line. White out was a blessing. If I didn't have any I'd go looking for an eraser. If I couldn't find an eraser I would pull that particular sheet of paper out-put a new one in and start all over. That never bothered me. That was the way it worked back then.

When computers started edging their way from offices in to homes, my daughters told me over and over I should buy one. That way I could store all my material and when comfortable I could use one to not only write my stuff but send it, tweet it, zoom it around the world if I wanted to. At first, I had no interest. I still had my typewriter in its case although typewriter ribbons were getting harder to find. I still loved using legal pads to write out whatever I was working on-and then rewrite it using my typewriter. I had a system. I'd never have use for a computer. Not me!

Now I can't imagine writing without using a computer. I started reluctantly with a laptop after my daughters kept at me. I wouldn't admit it, but I fell in love with that thing the minute I turned it on. After a few instructions I was on my own. I was told I couldn't break it. I was advised to save stuff as I went along. They were right. I haven't broken anything yet. I am now tweeting and writing and saving and shifting sentences and deleting and downloading and amazed by the time I save and curious as to what I ever did without my computer.

I wonder if some day I'll find a discarded antique called a computer decaying next to a barn with no one to care about it but the meadow moles and chipmunks and rabbits as rain turns to snow and the wind swirls about its silent keyboard.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

In Search of Pumpkins


Since being blessed with two beautiful grandchildren a tradition has taken hold and continues every year about this time. We pick a Saturday or Sunday to go out back and harvest the pumpkins. The only problem this year is the lack of pumpkins. I've only found seven and that just won't work. So this week my son and I went on a search for pumpkins. With roadside stands-commercial businesses and Amish farms, pumpkins are not hard to find. We chose to ride down a back road and find an Amish farm. And we found the perfect Amish farm. So perfect that I went back a few more times. They know me now. They wave Hi as I pull up in front of their sprawling mass of beautiful pumpkins. Of course having little Amish children running around barefoot adds to the backdrop.

Soon we will be going out back to "pick" pumpkins. Little will those grandchildren know that most of those pumpkins are imports. All they will see will be a mass of orange ready to be touched and patted and brought home in wait of Halloween. I think as parents or grandparents we've all had to "help" things along or do something to make a moment easier while never confessing to anyone.

I remember back when one of my daughter's had a baby rabbit. She was quite young. She loved that rabbit. Played with that little rabbit all the time. She'd carry it around like a kitten. She'd talk to it-even read the rabbit stories. One day I found the rabbit in its cage. It had died over night. While I realized it could have been one of those 'teaching' moments, it was one I was not ready to teach-not then anyway. So I ran to the farm where we bought the rabbit. Luckily, they had one that looked just like the little one we'd lost-same size, same coloring. I brought it home and put it in the cage-praying the little rabbit had the same disposition as the other little rabbit. It turned out that rabbit had it all. My daughter never realized the difference and they were best of friends for years. Since then, my daughter has had more than a few of those teaching moments I avoided when the little rabbit passed away. Those moments are part of living. We all have them.

I'm also reminded of the time when I was trying to make a homemade gingerbread house with all the trimmings one evening close to Christmas. The kids were little and they were "helping." For some reason nothing was working. The walls kept caving in. I think it was because the icing I made didn't have the right consistency. Or maybe it was because they'd cry and moan uncontrollaby whenever a wall fell in, sending sprinkles and hard candy all over the place. I decided to get them to bed. I told them I would work on it. And I did. Once they were asleep I got in the car and went to the grocery. I bought a kit with a 'prefab' gingerbread house. I brought it home. I put those beautiful prefabricated walls up-glued them with icing included in the kit and adhered some of their candy in place. The kids were thrilled in the morning. That evening we finished our project. Not one scream or moan. Just lots of laughs and happy memories!
So very soon pumpkins will be discovered with delight. Then we will come inside for some of my 'Witch's Brew'-a homemade soup that has become part of this tradition. It will be the same tradition even though most of the pumpkins about to be 'planted' outback are immigrants from a farm not too far away. That won't matter. They'll never know. Years from now when they too are adults-maybe with their own children-I may tell them. And maybe by then they will have had to help along a gingerbread house or go in search of pumpkins. That's when they will understand.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Old Grinder In The Cupboard


Funny how something simple can trigger memories-like the old steel manual grinder my mother would bring out from a kitchen cupboard during the Holidays. Taking all the parts out of the cardboard box, she'd give them a good washing before she attached it to a leaf of the table and put it all together. Then she'd place her big yellow bowl on the floor underneath it to catch the juices from whatever she'd be grinding. For Thanksgiving that meant cabbage and carrots-maybe an onion; for Christmas that meant cranberries, oranges, and apples. We all loved doing the grinding-especially the cranberries because they popped when going through the grinder and the juice would squirt all over the place. When my mother wasn't in the kitchen, I'd load it with cranberries and grind them as fast as I could. It sounded like fireworks-blending right in with whatever Christmas album my mother had playing in the other room.
Among the vegetables my son brought home the other day from Steps 2 Grow Garden, was a cabbage. Not your ordinary super market cabbage-but one heck of a huge cabbage.It was an armful. And he carried it in the house smiling all the way. I knew I had to do somehing with it sooner than later and today-with the rain falling-I thought of that old grinder. You see, I have that grinder. It sits in my cupboard in the same carboard box as when my mother was its keeper. I am not one to use fancy blenders with endless options and zillions of buttons or coffee pots and toasters with brains. I don't even have an iPhone. That old grinder is my speed. I treasure it-and so today as the rain kept falling, I pulled it out-washed it off and set it up alongside a kitchen counter. I brought out carrots and cleaned them as well as an onion. I put a bowl on the floor to catch the juices and called my son to come and help.
I explained how the grinder worked as I cleaned that magnificent cabbage and sliced it into wedges. Then I asked him if he wanted to keep filling the top with the vegetables or do the grinding. He said he'd try grinding.
We started with cabbage because there was so much of it. Once we got going, he'd mix it up with a carrot-a slice of onion. Soon he was going full speed-telling me when to add what and to make sure the bowl on the floor was catching all the juice. And while we worked, we talked about that old grinder. I told him about Holidays of long ago when I was a little girl out in the country. I told him about the times I'd get in trouble over the cranberries popping out onto the kitchen floor and the time my mother got laughing so hard when she was the cranberry grinder and one jumped out and hit her in the face. He told me he might not be able to eat the salad we were making because he might choke. You see he has a fear of choking after choking on a candy bar one day years ago when we were in the car. Since then, he stands to eat-thinking that will help him if he chokes. Introducing new foods is sometimes tricky.
But not today! I gave him a small poriton just to see what happened-that led to two more helpings! He loved it. He asked if we could bring the rest of the cabbage/carrot salad to Steps 2 Grow on Monday to share.That's what it takes-one Step at a Time and each Step is one more Step out of the Darkness.
That old grinder proved its worth yet again. And now he wants to grind cranberries when Christmas gets here!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Family Trees and Trees

FAMILY TREES AND TREES:
Still to this day the rustling of leaves on poplar trees takes me back to my grandparents' farmhouse where stately poplars lined the cinder driveway. When Halloween came around, those trees and their skinny branches way up high became witches and black cats-goblins or monsters especially when an orange moon lit up the night, casting spooky shadows over the fields.
With four houses of relatives all in a row, it became a summer tradition of joining suppers in a particular backyard full of scotch pines. The shade was welcomed as was the scent of those trees as salads and hotdogs-hamburgers and all the trimmings were enjoyed. Later, while adults sat around enjoying a cup of coffee, the kids would play baseball-running from one tree to another.

From a big old tree sitting on the banks of sucker creek, holding our rope swing in its grasp so we could run real fast, take a leap, grab hold of the rope with our hands and situate our feet on the knot at the bottom as over the creek we'd soar and maybe land on our feet on the other side-avoiding quite possibly the biggest rock ever-to trees we'd climb and dangle from branches-to trees we'd decorate or spread a blanket underneath and play and pretend-so many trees are wrapped within our family trees.

And as famiies grow, so do the memories involving new trees in our family trees-like the maple tree out our back door. No matter the season that tree stands tall-offering shade and comfort; astonishing colored leaves to a breathtaking backdrop when the leaves are gone and it stands proud with its branches bare. That maple tree is the center of activity-with swings hanging and a sandbox nearby and chairs to sit in and talk as the summer breeze whispers by.
My son and I have had many a conversation under that tree-some are serious-others a hodgepodge of topics. Sometimes we count how many bass boats go by. Other times we guess the colors of cars before we see them. Today it was a serious conversation. I couldn't get him out of his funk-until I noticed the moon way up high. It reminded me of another conversation I had with a certain 5-year old on her last sleepover. We were out on the pull-out sofa on the back porch discussing the moon.

"I love the moon," I told her.
"Sometimes you can see the moon when the sun is out, Gra-Gra!"
"You can? I am going to look tomorrow."
"I said sometimes, Gra-Gra. You can't see it every day."
"Whenever I do see the moon when the sun is out I will think of you."
"Make a funny face Gra-Gra! Like this!"
And that's when I got my son out of his funk. I imitated a funny face that really was funny that night out on the back porch. He laughed-and we started counting bass boats as we sat underneath that maple tree.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Pencil Case Full of Chubby Crayons

When recently walking down a certain aisle of a discount store, I found myself drawn to all the school supplies filling the shelves. Signs shouting special pricing-great deals-hurry while supplies last-were everywhere as were children with parents obviously immersed in Back to School shopping. And there I was-still infatuated by all those products just as I used to be when I was the one taken to the store to shop for Back to School. When it was me, it was never the clothes or shoes that interested me. It was always the pencils-the erasers and glue and paper and scissors and notepads and folders. All those aromas of all those things coming together was exciting to me. Besides going back to school, it meant spending even more time at my desk in my bedroom-writing-drawing-creating whenever I could.

Back then there were no official discount stores. We had a Newberry's and a Woolworths. They sat side by side in our downtown. Everyone would go from one to the other when doing Back to School shopping. Both had soda fountains. Both had lots of school supplies. Newberry's even had an escalator!

There was only one item that I took my time in choosing from all those others on the shelves. And that was a pencil case. I loved pencil cases. I loved them all. Some had zippers-some had drawers. The drawers were fun to fill with crayons and erasers. I had so many erasers. Some were pink and some were gray. The pink tasted the best! Some pencil cases had a plastic ruler on top that you'd slide downward to get your pencils sitting inside. I had a few of those. My very most favorite pencil case ever belonged to a friend when I was in kindergarten. It had all sorts of drawers full of chubby crayons. My friend always used his own crayons when we did projects. The rest of us used school crayons filling a box that sat in the middle of the table. I remember thinking how lucky that boy was with all those drawers and all those crayons. Even now-whenever I see him-I think of that amazing pencil case with so many drawers and chubby crayons that were the envy of a kindergarten class in a neighborhood school so long ago.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reading, Writing and What!

I never knew about the left side or the right side of the brain when growing up and despising arithmetic. I just knew I could not stand columns of numbers with plus or minus signs or some marked with an X or others with another sign. I never had enough fingers to use when counting. There was no wiggle room when getting the right answer. It had to be exact. Two and two always equaled four. This thing called exactness was why I preferred English-preferably writing. There's lots more freedom. You aren't tied to a formula. Your answers-your essays-whatever it is you write-is all yours. No one else will have the exact same story or essay as yours. I liked that. Life is not exact. Why should what you do be exact?

My distain for arithmetic-for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing-took a nasty turn once I had to take Algebra. My disdain for exactness had met its match. I was horrified by formulas and rules that made no sense and questions I did not understand. My mother asked my uncle-a high school Biology teacher-to help me but he couldn't. Oh he tried but most times I'd run in my room crying and screaming to the world how I hated everything-in particular, "Dumb Algebra."
I failed Algebra the first time I took it. I failed it again the next year-and that landed me in summer school. I was miserable. I was stuck in school just because of that exactness. I'd made up my mind I was only going to fail again-until the patience of a little old man who was the instructor turned my life around.

At first I thought he was useless. He'd stand there-so short he could hardly write on the chalkboard. His voice was low pitched so I couldn't hear him but I didn't care-until the day he returned our first tests individually to each of us. When he put mine down on my desk he asked me in his low pitched voice to stay after everyone left. I thought this was it. Numbers and formulas were finally going to do me in. Boy was I surprised. In the silence of that room when it was just the two of us, the little old instructor told me I reminded him of himself when he was my age. He told me he'd built up a wall around himself-convinced he'd never be able to do math because math demanded the right answer.

"There was no wiggle room," he told me.

That got my attention as he told me Algebra was easy. All I had to do was learn the basic formulas and he was willing to spend time with me while I got them. And he did! And I passed! I even went on to take Geometry and I passed it a well but that was the end of my math career. I will forever be thankful to that instructor who bothered to spend time with me and teach me the basics. He certainly was a fine example of what teaching is all about.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Ironing in the Summertime-Turning Wrinkles into Magic

When I was twelve, my mother gave birth to my younger brother in the month of May. Shortly after that she was stricken with a blood clot in her leg and hospitalized for a good part of that summer. Thankfully we were surrounded by family. I pitched in the best I could. Once school got out, that summer was all about pitching in. That's when I started to do the ironing.

I'd watched my mother iron. It was more of an art form to her and to her mother and sisters. Whatever it was that my mother was ironing, she'd spread it out on her ironing board as if getting a game plan together in her head as to how to approach the item. Then she'd pat it down-wet her finger and then touch that finger to the iron. If it made a sizzling noise it meant the iron was hot enough for her to proceed. Back then, the ironing board was either up all the time or close at hand because everything was ironed. Bed sheets-pillowcases-towels-everything or anything was ironed. I'd learned the basics just by watching. Now it was my turn-and that included my father's shirts he'd wear to work at his funeral home. But that didn't bother me. I knew what to do.

In the afternoons I'd set the ironing board up in the living room. With both the iron and the TV on, I would stand there for a very long time and iron. Beforehand in the morning-after doing the dishes and then the washing and the drying of the laundry, I would take my father's good shirts and do as my mother always did. While holding a shirt in one hand, I would sprinkle water on the shirt and as I did I would tuck the sleeves in and eventually as I watered it, the shirt would end up being rolled into a tight ball. After the towels had been ironed and folded-after the sheets had been spread out and ironed and then folded and folded again and ironed-as well as the pillowcases and everything else in the laundry basket, it would be time to do the shirts. This became the fun part to me. Every shirt was a challenge. They had to look the best they could. My father was counting on me.

One by one-I'd unroll them. If I thought a shirt was too dry I'd sprinkle it again with water. Then I'd begin-starting with the sleeves-then the fronts. Then I'd spread the back out on the board. Moving it along, the back of the shirt would be ironed. Then, spreading just the collar out, I would carefully iron the collar-trying to avoid any creases. After the collar-came the best part of all-ironing the shoulders-bringing it all together with a neatly ironed shoulder crease. After I'd finished the process, I'd hang the shirt up to dry-and start in on another.

Ironing was never a chore to me. I felt like a conductor of an orchestra-lining the items up and turning wrinkles into magic. A part of my reward was the smell of the iron working those wrinkles out. To this day I love that smell. It takes me back to those summer afternoons ironing in the living room with the TV on.
(The picture above shows my mother just out of the hospital and me rocking my baby brother to sleep in his carriage. I was probably in a hurry. I still had the ironing to do!)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Amish Man Out In The Field


I was late-in a hurry to pick my son up at the Steps-2-Grow Greenhouse/Garden. As I was going around a curve in the road, coming towards me was an Amish man working a field with his team of horses. As he was about to take the curve on his 'road' which would have led him away from me, we shared a wave and a smile-something most of us do as we pass by our Amish neighbors.

Then I went looking for my camera. Grabbing hold of it, I pulled my car off the road and got out. Running through some weeds and gravel I waved to him again-this time pointing to my camera. Bringing the horses to a stop, he got up from his seat and smiled the biggest smile.
"Can I take a picture?" I asked.
"No. I do not want my picture taken," he replied walking towards me.
"Can I take a picture of your horses?"
"Where are you from?"
 I told him. Then I asked, "Where's your farm?"
He pointed. "The one with all the children!"
We both laughed-two strangers in so many ways laughing like old friends.
"How many children?"
"Ten. Do you have children?"
I told him yes and that I was on my way to pick up my son.
"Where?"
I explained about him being at the garden and greenhouse-and why. For some reason I felt comfortable telling the Amish man all about my son who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia as the bees buzzed over our heads and the horses used their tails as fly swatters.
"I've passed by the garden. It looks peaceful. That is good for him. It is a good place for him to be."
I was speechless.
"You can take a picture-of the horses."
So I did.
When we said goodbye a part of me wanted to stay and talk some more. That Amish man out in the field on a hot summer day got it. He understood about the garden and greenhouse and those involved in that program. I could tell just by looking in his eyes. I must say it was rather refreshing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Echo of Piano Keys

There was a piano in the front parlor of my grandparents' farmhouse. All of us little ones would take turns sitting on the bench pretending to play except for one cousin who really could play. Sometimes I would sit with her. She'd nod her head when it was time for me to turn the page of her songbook. When she put her fingers on the keys and started to play Rhapsody in Blue I'd be mesmerized straight through to the last note. Over the years, I never did learn how to play the piano but I've always loved listening to someone play. I thought I'd heard it all until coming down a narrow flight of stairs to the main area of a local psychiatric center. I was in a hurry. The monthly meeting had run longer than I'd expected.
I was aware of the piano's existence. I'd heard someone playing it awhile back when I was standing-waiting for the elevator to take me to the 2nd floor. But this day was different. There was no hustle or bustle. No one was sitting or sleeping on the benches. There were no clusters of people or attendants walking around. The double set of locked doors were quiet as were those in charge behind protected windows. .As I came flying down those narrow stairs I heard a few sporadic notes. Then, as I opened a door leading into that area, a few more notes struck on those ivory keys lead to even more beautiful notes and soon I was stopped cold. Turning around, I looked towards the piano and saw a young man with his back to me sitting on the piano bench. A bit hunched over-with his head down-his hair in place, his fingers were moving those keys as if they were free-weightless-dancing in a meadow on a warm summer day-feeling the wind-chasing butterflies and laughing without a care in the sunshine. But the young man was not free. Yet that didn't stop him. As I stood there I realized I was listening to a master of his craft. Every key struck-every chord played echoed through that facility with its drab walls and sterile presence-creating a sense of a great stage on which sat a most grand piano player.
When the young man finished he stood and walked away. I started clapping as tears filled my eyes. I'd never heard Rhapsody in Blue played so beautifully.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Funeral Director with a Sense of Humor

A SENSE OF HUMOR:
All of us have our ways of dealing with life when life doesn't go the way we want it to or when the unexpected comes at us like a hurricane. My father chose humor as his way of dealing. I'm not even sure he knew he did that but looking back, I'm certain that's why he'd do his "Tricky Dick" imitation-and joke with my mother who hardly ever thought he was funny-but we did! My father was a dedicated funeral director. His profession was his passion. The families he served became his families. The care and concern he expressed was genuine. When the phone rang and he was needed, my father was there in an instant. He also loved his hometown. He knew every street-every family and where they lived and who married who and when someone had died right down to the date and where they were buried. It wasn't gossip when he'd go on about a family. It was because he looked upon those families as an extended family of his own.
By virtue of being a funeral director or a member of that funeral director's immediate family, one is aware of that thin line between life and death. You learn the truth in-"You never know"-"Live each day to the fullest"-"Go for it" and so on. I've written before about the call my father received on one particular Easter morning-a call of a family in great need-in unspeakable sadness-as their little girl choked on a jelly bean and died. My father received so many-so many tragic calls as funeral directors do. And my father stayed by those families long after the calling hours were over and the headlines faded.
Perhaps one of the hardest things my father had to do when called upon in his role as funeral director was to tend to patients who passed away at a nearby psychiatric center. His compassion would be on overload for normally there'd be no family involved. He'd be quiet for awhile after their burial-their place in the cemetery marked not by name but by their patient number. That to me is dedication-compassion for human beings most turn their backs on.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Growing Up With June's Creators


 

 

Richard Scarry


It can’t be in the water for they were all born in different places. It can’t be one particular year in which they were all born because the year differed. I’m certain it has nothing to do with the fact that June is the month with the longest day of the year or that no other month begins on the same day of the week as June. The common denominator simply is the fact that all these famed creators were all born in the month of June.

 Richard Scarry-(pictured above)-author and illustrator of over three hundred books with over one hundred million books sold worldwide, was born in Boston June, 1919. He lived a large part of his adult life in Switzerland which shows in his amazingly creative artwork. His animals and imaginative houses and modes of travel continue to delight children-and the young at heart. Busytown and the Best Ever series were favorites in our house and remain on my book shelf. My kids and I loved searching for Lowly worm.

 Bob Keeshan was born in Lynbrook, NY  in June of 1927. He started out playing Clarabell the Clown on the original Howdy Doody show. Clarabell spoke by honking his horn. To our good fortune, Bob Keeshan had the idea for what became a classic television show for children-Captain Kangaroo. For three decades beloved characters such as Dancing Bear, Bunny Rabbit, Grandfather Clock, Mister Moose and Mister Green Jeans joined Captain Kangaroo in fresh, creative programming that remains beloved by generations. Later on in life, Keeshan became an advocate against violence in video games and joined parent groups in protest of TV shows geared to children based on toys in the market place at that time such as He-Man and Transformers. He felt toys turned into TV shows didn’t teach children about the real world.

 Maurice Sendak, children’s writer and illustrator, was born in Brooklyn in June, 1928. Sendak described his childhood as a “terrible situation” because his extended family died in the Holocaust. His love of books developed when he was young and confined to bed due to health problems. At the age of twelve he decided to become an illustrator after watching Disney’s Fantasia and Mickey Mouse. That decision continues to influence children everywhere. Sendak is best known for writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are first published in 1963. To date it has sold over nineteen million copies worldwide and has been adapted as an opera, animated short, and live action feature film. Upon his death, Maurice Sendak was called the “most important children’s book artist of the 20th century” by The New York Times.

 Eric Carle whose brilliant illustrations of beloved children’s picture books was born in Syracuse, NY in June, 1929. During his career he illustrated more than seventy books and most of those he also wrote with more than one hundred ten million books sold around the world. Carle’s, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” remains a beloved children's book everywhere.

 Whatever it is about the month of June we continue to reap the rewards no matter how old we get. Thinking back to when we were first inspired by a hungry caterpillar or a very busy town or a funny worm with a hat or really wild things or a dancing bear or cute bunny rabbit or a captain who visited our homes on a device called a TV, fond memories are tapped as that place in our hearts called childhood-where we never grew up-is once again visited and it doesn’t even have to be June to go back there.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Beauty Nurtured on a Farm

There's something to say about growing up on a farm. It offers one the opportunity to understand and value the meaning of hard work. My grandparents never stopped from sunup to sundown-using their hands not computers-to do all that had to be done inside and outside their farmhouse-inside and outside the barn and granary-and spreading out to fields just over the plank bridge. I've seen photos of my grandfather coming through the back door into the kitchen looking exhausted yet he was back at it a few hours later. He had to be. There was no slacking. Their livelihood depended on it. Of course he was blessed with a great partner who worked just as hard and just as long.

With all the conveniences we have come to depend on-I don't know how my grandmother accomplished so much and got up and did it all over again. But dressed in a house dress, she did it all-even baked and cooked amazing homemade meals every day. During the haying season, she cooked full-fledged dinners that included pies of all sorts, serving them at noon for those working the fields in the blazing sun. I vaguely remember those times-those noontime feasts served in the kitchen. For some reason what stands out to me the most remains a small pitcher of vinegar, sitting on a table covered in fine linen, for anyone who wanted to add it to their salad. I think that remains so vivid because I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to add something that smelled so potent to anything.

With all they had to do-there were six daughters to be cared for and tended to. Looking at the photo, I think my grandparents did an amazing job. True Beauty can't be found in tubes or compacts. True beauty doesn't mean erasing the lines that come with age or going through procedures to nip and tuck. True beauty comes from within and is noticed by all. There will never be a more beautiful woman to me than my grandmother. Her hands were worn from hard work yet her touch was as gentle as a feather and warm as a summer breeze. There's something to say about the beauty nurtured from growing up on a farm. That beauty truly is eternal.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Making School Fun with the old Barnes's National Reader

Playing school was a favorite thing to do in our chicken coop clubhouse. But then, we were lucky. Our parents and grandparents filled that old place with desks, books, and chalkboards from an abandoned one-room schoolhouse. Our schoolhouse wasn't made by Fisher-Price. It stemmed from our imagination. There were no summers or week-ends off. Our school was open all year long despite the fact some of the windows were without glass allowing snow to pile up inside during the winter. But we didn't mind. School was in session. And if we didn't have little brothers and sisters and cousins to teach, we used that imagination to fill the two rows of desks-the same type of desks you'd see in 'Little House on the Prairie' episodes.

I still have one of my favorite books I used when 'teaching.' It didn't come from that one-room schoolhouse. It belonged to my grandmother. She had a few editions of the "Barnes's New National Readers." The one I have sitting on a bookshelf in my living room was their "New National Third Reader" published by the American Book Company in 1884. I love the book. It presents a story or a poem for the teacher to read and then offers lesson plans to follow. Some plans include what to maximize for memorizing-a list of new words being introduced followed by a language lesson which could be fill in the blanks-word pronunciation-explanation of word types like connecting words-writing sentences using the words. There's a Definition of "some of the difficult words in the reader" in the back of the book. Included with each story or poem is a simple black and white illustration.

The Preface is interesting, stating teachers and school officers are requested to examine features in the book including its conversational character-the beautiful script-the new type. The publisher explains Language Lessons serve-among other things-"to develop the perceptive faculties of pupils by stimulating investigation-the prelude to all accurate knowledge." I think we understood that in our chicken coop clubhouse. Our students were quite attentive-quite curious. At the end of our school year, they all passed. They all went home with their report cards stating they'd made it to the next grade which was actually the same grade as before with maybe a few tweaks here and there. It didn't matter. We made it interesting. We made it fun-and isn't that what school should be anyway? Because if it is fun, kids will dig in-kids will participate and kids will learn in the process.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Place of Gathering

Call it what you want-a porch or a veranda. The term doesn't matter as much as the value it holds in the early morning or at the end of a day. It doesn't matter if it's one person sitting there enjoying that first cup of coffee or several sitting around after a long day discussing whatever they choose to discuss. It doesn't matter if it's used for a celebration of a special moment or for the rocking of a little one to sleep as a gentle breeze passes by. Whatever the reason-there is no place like that place called whatever we chose to call it. What does matter are the values of friendship-of family-of conversation and companionship such a place nurtures and develops from one moment to the next. In this era of electronic devices taking over real human interaction where that conversation is turned from people to people face-to-face to cold, hard devices with fingers moving at lightning speed and heads down and where words spoken are nil-that place called whatever you chose to call it is invaluable.

The photo included in this post shows my parents in their early years as a married couple standing in front of my grandparents' farmhouse. I love the photo for many reasons-one being, it shows the screened-in veranda where I played with my cousins. One summer we had some sort of a club. All I remember is clipping things out of magazines and taping them all over one end of that veranda. I recall a stormy summer evening when we were huddled around our grandmother sitting in her rocking chair as lightning struck a poplar tree close by. We all screamed and jumped-a few of us hid in a closet under the front stairs.

Sadly that veranda is gone-ripped away by a new owner who took those peony bushes away as well. But the memories of moments shared at the place of gathering can never be ripped away-for when you gather at such a place-what you experience is priceless.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

On A Magic Carpet Ride


To this day, there’s absolutely no explanation for my infatuation with classic Ford Mustangs. I know nothing about cars. I never did. But I can tell you when I first took notice of the Mustang, I fell head-over-heels in love-for a car. My parents were always trading cars. Because of their friendship with an Oldsmobile dealer, brands like Cutlass, Toronado, and the Ninety-Eight took turns sitting in our driveway. My father also had a thing for Lincoln Continentals. He was a funeral director so those cars were always black-always spotless and always off limits to those of us just itching to drive something-anything. Once in awhile during the summer he’d come home for lunch in a funeral van sort-of-thing. It too was black. He’d let us take it out beyond the hayfield while he ate. My cousins and I had lots of fun going over the wooden planks that spanned the creek. Then stepping on the pedal, we’d fly up the gravel road and across the open space to the woods. We never told my father how fast we had the old thing going. Looking back, I’m sure he knew.
A yellow GTO was my older brother’s choice. It went great with his red hair and crew cut. At least the girls thought so. At one point, he owned a little TR3 which he let me take for a test drive into town. With this my first experience maneuvering a stick shift, I ended up in someone’s front yard. I didn’t say anything but I’m certain my brother knew something had happened by the look on my face when I came screeching into the driveway jerking all the way.
While this was the era of muscle cars-everything from the Camaro to the Thunderbird to the Barracuda and Todd and Buzz  zooming along Route 66 in their Corvette convertible, not one of those hot cars made me feel the same way as when my eyes came upon the 1964 Mustang with bucket seats and a stick shift in between. I became obsessed with this car. The Mustang had it all or what I should say, what that vehicle had hit a chord somewhere. The way those seats sat-the shape-oh I loved the shape-the sleek front and how the back end was short, leading to those tucked-in rear lights-the way it’d move along the highway following a beat of its own and making a statement of freedom, coolness, and watch out world, here I come sort of thing all contributed to this overwhelming awestruck feeling. My father’s cars were ok but nothing too exciting. My brother’s cars-well they were his. But the Mustang was unique-from its galloping horse logo to its distinct design and I claimed it as mine.
I was hired right out of college. Once I got my feet on the ground, I asked my father to go with me to a Ford dealership. What might have been one of the easiest car sales ever occurred minutes upon opening their door. I didn’t need the pitch. I didn’t have to hear the spin. Once everything was in order, I was heading down my version of Route 66 in an all new, cherry red 1968 Mustang with black bucket seats and a stick shift in between. If ever there was a love story written between a car and its owner it was written that day. If ever freedom was experienced and exhilaration on high it happened that day as a cherry red Mustang took me along the asphalt-around curves and up hills on a magic carpet ride with my hair flying and tunes playing. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Palace with a Chimney Stack

Most of us will live in more than one house as we grow up and move along through our lives. Each will hold its own memories. To me, of all the places I've called home, the house on the lane holds the most endearing memories. It was just a regular neighborhood home-with an upstairs, a closed-in porch where I'd play cards with my imaginary friends and win every time, a flagstone walkway my father and grandfather cemented in place, a cellar where you'd have to enter from the outside, a huge yard with lilac bushes and a rock garden, a kitchen with a counter where my goldfish sat, a front stairway that seemed so steep, a double living room, registers in the floor, and that chimney stack in the parlor that I thought was the most amazing contraption ever. Of course I was little. And when you're little everything seems amazing. The summer before I entered the fourth grade we moved to the country. Still to this day, a part of me remains in that house on the lane.

Maybe that's because that house was where on a Christmas morning I found what is still my most favorite Christmas present ever waiting for me when I came down those steep stairs-a pine desk my grandfather made complete with a stool and a single drawer with a pad of paper and a #2 yellow pencil inside. Or maybe that's because my bedroom was possibly the best bedroom in the world-at least to me it seemed as if that was the case. After all, it had a slanted ceiling and you'd have to walk down two steps to get inside. The room was huge-taking up the whole back of the house. It even had a stairway down to the kitchen. It was like my own apartment and I didn't even realize it. But then when you're little you don't realize how things change-and maybe that's a good thing!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

White Shoe Polish in a Bottle



My mother was a Registered Nurse. Eventually she became the Charge Nurse in the ER on the Night shift. That shift worked well for my parents. My father would be home with my brother and me while my mother worked. Back then nurses wore immaculate, white uniforms-white nylons with a seam up the back and immaculate, white duty shoes. Their caps were white-starched white. My mother's cap had a black ribbon-like material across the front signifying she was a registered nurse. Even though I was very young, I sensed the pride she took in her uniform. I remember her nylons hanging on a hanger over the tub after soaking in the sink and her cap just starched spread out flat across the counter. Most of all I remember her polishing her duty shoes with a white liquid shoe polish in a bottle. She'd sit at the kitchen table in her slip with her hair up in bobby pins-shake the stuff-and then proceed to polish the shoes with a foam brush attached to the inside of the cap. She was very careful with the polish. Each application was meticulously applied.
But the duty shoes weren't the only shoes polished with the white liquid. Back then babies-like the one in the picture who happens to be me being held by my mother-wore white shoes that tied up the front. It was a big deal when a baby was old enough for his/her first pair of white shoes. That meant a trip to a real shoe store where a real person would try to measure the child's foot if he could uncurl the little toes curled up in a ball. Once the child outgrew the first pair of shoes, often the shoes were bronzed on a plague for all to see. When I was a little older I'd take a bottle of white stuff and polish my dolls' shoes. One time I not only polished doll shoes but went on to highlight some dolls' hair until being stopped by a nurse needing to polish her duty shoes. That was the one and only time my dolls went to my beauty parlor. I had to close it down.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Favorite Movie is Like An Old Friend

A favorite movie is like an old friend. You are always happy to see it again.
We all have favorite movies we could watch over and over to the point we are able to say the lines as the actors say them. Great acting is the ability to take a character and turn that character into a real person contributing to a story that flows seamlessly in the eyes of those watching. To the viewer, the actor is not acting. The actor becomes the character. And when that happens, the movie-going experience stays with you for days-for years-after seeing the film. You find yourself wondering about that character. You find yourself replaying parts of the movie in your head as you go about your day. When a movie stays with you long after the experience of watching it, then that to me is a sign of not only great acting but great writing as well.

I loved going to see 'Gone With The Wind' with my uncle. I loved the final scene in 'Baby Boom' when the mother returns home and finds her little girl playing in the front room-picks her up and sits with her in a rocking chair. But there is one movie that has stayed in my heart for years and that is where it will remain. I can still repeat the lines. I can still feel my heart skip a beat-maybe many beats-as Robert Redford meets Barbra Streisand in "The Way We Were" and their story unfolds. I still for the life of me can't imagine how 'Katie' felt when seeing 'Hubbell' sitting on that bar stool half asleep or how her heart must have flipped when he interrupted her dancing with someone to be able to dance with her. The goose bumps still come. I still cry when thinking about the last scene as they embrace and Hubbell turns away and leaves Katie on the street corner. I questioned-'what if'-for years.

I haven't been to see a movie in a theatre in years. My hometown is lacking one and I don't feel like travelling to see a movie. I don't use Netflix or devices for viewing movies. Except for the evening news, I don't watch TV so I don't sit down to watch movies there either. I can't comment on movies I haven't seen. Many I would like to see-but haven't. What spare time I do have goes to writing. I guess that's like going to the movies in my head-seeing the scenes and then putting them to words. I've rewritten the ending to "The Way We Were" several times in my head-turning it into a fairytale ending. To be truthful, I like the movie version better. It's real-gut-wrenching, tear jerking real-and that is life as most of us know it to be. Everyone has 'what-if' moments. It's how we deal with them that matters.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February Nuptials at the Farmhouse

My parents were married in early February of 1942. They celebrated their marriage at a small reception in the dining room of my grandparents' farmhouse surrounded by immediate family. My mother's five sisters all look so beautiful. Right beside my mother is her father-a hardworking man who worked from sunup to sundown 7days a week. My mother was named after him. She'd work out in the barn right alongside him after school and on the weekends. My grandmother is standing beside my father. She too was a hard worker. If ever she had a spare moment she'd be using her hands to create-sew, crochet, mend, braid rugs, cook, garden and so on.
 I can't tell if my father is singing as he cuts the 3-tier wedding cake with my mother. Something tells me he could have been as he was known around the town as a crooner-a singing waiter before becoming a licensed funeral director. I remember my mother telling me they were married on a Tuesday. I never knew the reason why. Maybe it had something to do with my grandparents running the farm. I really never thought anything of it. I do know they honeymooned in New York City. They had a suite in The New Yorker. I still have one of the souvenirs they brought back home-an ashtray from their hotel. My mother loved the City. She told me they went to some shows while they were there. And then there were all those stores.

I've often thought my mother would have loved living there if her path had taken a different direction. She had a creative flair about her that surfaced now and then. One such time was when she opened her fabric shop which, in turn, led to her going to New York to buy fabric in the Garment District. I was lucky enough to have gone with her a few times. It was quite exciting! So busy-so many rolls of fabrics and interesting characters. My mother had a flair for fashion. Some would say she had expensive tastes. When I was little I loved going through her blue, velvet jewelry box. I felt like a princess trying on all the glittering bobbles.

I guess we all can say that about our lives-what we would have done if our live had taken a different direction. Truth was my parents fell in love. They worked hard. They bought a house on a lane and started a family. My mother worked nights as a registered nurse so my father would be home with my brother and I. Eventually she worked her way up to Head of the ER. As the family expanded we moved out to the country-right next door to the farmhouse where they cut that cake and celebrated with family and friends. Life really does go in circles.

Monday, February 9, 2015

You Pave Paradise-La La La!

My mother was an avid reader. I've written before about going with her when I was a little girl to a small bookstore located inside a fancy department store of our hometown. I was writing from memory since I'd never seen a photo of that location because our downtown was leveled in the '70's when urban renewal was the thing to do as shopping centers were springing up all over-changing the way people shopped. A few weeks ago I finally saw a picture of where that amazing little bookstore sat on what used to be our main street full of hustle and bustle with people engaging in conversations and people taking a break for a soda at the soda fountain or lunch where locals gathered. Looking at that worn photo I was saddened to learn I pass by that location quite often and never realized that's where that little bookstore was located. Since finding that out, I've driven by there several times-slowly down to imagine that magnificent department story that no longer exists. There's no evidence it ever existed. There's nothing there at all except empty bottles and candy wrappers and old papers and other bits of trash discarded without thought. It saddens me to think the younger generation will never know what was there. But when you think about it, so many, including the younger generation, now go to the internet for books-or to all sorts of devices void of a front door leading to a little bookstore with a front window full of little window panes where books were displayed in such a way you couldn't wait to get inside and become immersed with books that you could hold and feel and get lost in-then take them home and after reading them, you put them on a bookshelf with your signature inside-claiming it for all time. That's what my mother did with any book she bought from wherever she found it. And I am the lucky one to have many of those books now sitting in my bookcase in the front room-all with her signature.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Harvesting Ice in the Wintertime

Harvesting Ice in the Wintertime:
Years back one of my aunts-the oldest of six sisters-blessed all of us with a hand-written recipe book featuring my grandmother's recipes-many enjoyed for generations. But that recipe book titled, "Mom's Farm Kitchen", is so much more as my talented aunt divided the book into the four seasons. At the beginning of each section she wrote her memories of growing up on the farm in relationship to that particular season. It's a true treasure-telling not only family stories but of life in general-a documentary of a simpler time.
Today I found myself thinking of one particular Winter entry my aunt wrote as I happened upon Amish harvesting ice not far from where I live. After taking a picture of them hard at work in sub-zero weather, I came home-pulled out the cookbook and read what she'd written about the times my grandfather "hired out with his team of horses and a flat-bedded sleigh to draw ice from the St. Lawrence to fill ice warehouses in town." My aunt wrote about his day that started before dawn. "We were awakened by delicious aromas from the kitchen below. Mom was cooking Dad's breakfast and fixing a lunch for him to take to the river." When she described how he had to bundle up I could imagine him getting ready in the farmhouse kitchen. "I can still see the huge fur coat and cap he wore," she wrote.
Looking out at the Amish hauling the huge chunks of ice I thought about my grandfather. Thanks to my aunt I read about him too.