Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Christmas Reindeer & The Christmas Fox

For the longest time now my granddaughter has called me Gra-Gra Reindeer. I think it started with her being aware of my book, 'The Reindeer Keeper'. She asked me for a copy. She'd go around her house pretending to read it. She'd even bring it to the table when it was time to eat. A few years ago we went to McDonald's for a 'Christmas Breakfast.' Besides the food, I brought along some little surprises. Her favorite surprise turned out to be a decorated box from the dollar store. I don't remember what I put in it. It turned out that wasn't the attraction. What caught her eye was the sweet Christmas artwork all around the box featuring a Christmas reindeer with a Christmas fox. At that time her nickname was Melanie Kitten but as soon as she saw the fox with that reindeer, she became Melanie Fox and has remained so ever since. Her mommy even had to create a fox costume for her last Halloween. And the theme continued once again this year on Christmas Eve.
  • At her school they hold a sale of sorts before Christmas. People donate stuff for the students to buy as gifts-not for themselves but for others in their family. The merchandise is priced to sell. Last year Melanie Fox bought me several stunning bracelets held together with string and two porcelain reindeer which I keep out all year long. This year Melanie Fox bought me a bright red key chain with the words Mary Kay in sparkling silver, two beautiful pieces of jewelry-and three adorable, decorated reindeer with a sleigh. I will keep the three adorable, decorated reindeer with a sleigh next to the two porcelain reindeer. Some gifts are priceless, especially when you look into the eyes of the little one watching you open her gifts she chose just for you.
    Melanie Fox liked her fox headband and fox pajamas and fox outfits and fox books. But as her daddy was tracking Santa on his cell phone and told her Santa was over Paraguay, she panicked:
  • "Do we live in Paraguay?" she asked.
  • They quickly packed up and headed home in hopes to beat Santa Claus making his yearly stop at the home of Melanie Fox!

  • Sunday, December 11, 2016

    Tinkling of the Angel Chimes

    I can't remember where my mother bought what turned out to be one of my favorite Christmas decorations when growing up. As a child you don't wonder about that. You only look for it every year when the biggest fresh cut tree ever is brought into the house and the decorating begins.

    Our Christmas trees always reached about to the ceiling and took up more space than needed in the living room. My mother was the official decorator. She was quite particular as to what went where-except for the angel candle chimes. At some point in my young life I'd made it apparent that I wanted to be in charge of taking the parts to the chimes out of the same old box as the year before and the year before that. So from that point on, my mother would hand me that box without saying a word. She'd relinquished her role of official decorator to me-at least when it came to the angel chimes. I'm thinking now it might have been because that responsibility was one I took rather seriously and because it kept me busy and quiet. I would sit at the dining room table and carefully take out every piece of that decoration one at a time. Then I would spread the pieces out and take a minute to look at them-back again to welcome Santa Claus and relatives coming for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner that included oyster broth served with a silver ladle.

    I'd slowly begin the process of putting the angel chime decoration together for another Christmas season. I went at a snail's pace because I loved playing a role in our Christmas celebration. I loved every piece of that decoration. When it came time to put the delicate little angels in place I'd feel my heart beat a little faster. And when I'd slowly put that certain angel on the top I felt a happiness like no other. When all the pieces were in place I'd go the highboy, pull open a drawer and take out a cardboard box holding the small white candles. Those candles were just for the angel decoration. They were always in that drawer waiting for me.

    The angel candle chime was the centerpiece for our Christmas Eve dinner. My father would light the candles. My older brother and I sat in wait as the candles created enough heat to make the angels go fast enough around so they'd gently hit the chimes and magically create the most wondrous sound ever. It was the sound of Christmas. It was Hope and Wonder and Magic all wrapped up in a little decoration of twirling angels tinkling the Spirit of Christmas-of true Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Man and an unflinching Belief in Santa Claus.

    Monday, November 7, 2016

    The Year My Father Ran For President

    I remember how nervous I was the night before that election so many years ago. I knew with all my heart my father was the better candidate. Now it was up to the voters. While the campaign had been a long, hard battle with late hours and strategy sessions, there's one particular day on the road I will never forget. It was supposed to have started at 9 a.m. but because of having so much to do-needing to gather so much to take along, we didn't get going until after 11:00. You see, the problem wasn't politically related. It had all to do with diapers, bottles, snacks, wet washcloths, gas in the car, and those homemade political signs which meant we needed stakes and nails and lots of patience. There was just so much we needed to take along for the ride that my then sister-in-law and I were late getting out of the driveway and on the road with a car full of babies and toddlers. But we finally headed out, full of hope and change and burbs and dirty diapers.

    We did have a plan. We'd stop wherever we felt one of our signs should go. But one particular location was a must-the lawn of my father's opponent which was about 45 minutes away. We knew the address and once we found it, that sign was up and we were gone! And we kept going while bottles with plastic liners were filled with Tang, cheerios were passed around and diapers were changed as the car kept going and laughter mingled with giggles and cries and toys taken from one child by another. While exhausted when we made it back home, we couldn't stop. Babies had to be fed and put to bed before the returns came in.

    By the end of that night, results didn't go my father's way. He lost his run-not for the White House-but for Corner of our county. While it wasn't for President, it might as well have been. I was so excited that he took the step-that he put himself out there-that he gave it his all. So to me, he didn't lose. No one ever loses when they try their best and that's just what he did!

    It took a few days to clean the car out. Cheerios were everywhere!

    (The attached photo features my parents. Please note my father is doing his "Tricky Dick" imitation.)

    Sunday, October 23, 2016

    A Rusted Old Can Full of Water

    My cousin and I had organized what we thought would be an amazing circus combination spook house in our grandfather’s old barn. He’d shut the farm down so we were able to occupy every nook and cranny of that wooden structure. The main event was aimed at a particular uncle we'd singled out. He and his wife and daughter didn't live nearby like we did. Rather, they were some forty-five minutes away, far enough for us to consider them distant relatives. Our cousin was younger than we were. She was an only child. She'd sometimes wear a dress and her hair was always in place as were her polished shoes and fancy socks. Her father most always wore a suit and most always a tie. He’d smoke a cigar after dinner and then fall asleep until it was time for them to leave. We considered him to be an odd duck with that suit and tie. That's why he stood out and that's why we planned on dropping a long piece of twine down from the hayloft above the doorway he and the others would be walking through on their way into the main part of the barn on the day of our colossal event. On the twine we would attach a note saying, "Pull this!" Of course we would have to wait for him to be the one walking through before lowering the twine. When he pulled it, a rusty old can full of water would drop down, soaking him from head to toe.

    Finally the day of our long anticipated circus/spook house event arrived. We waited as adults took their time walking by empty chicken roosts, reminiscing of days gone by when chickens ruled the coop. I was up in the hayloft. I’d be the one dropping the twine. My heart was beating a little faster hiding behind leftover bales of hay so no one could see me. Finally I heard him laughing. He was approaching the doorway! I could smell the cigar rising up to the rafters. It about gagged me. That’s all I needed. I moved as close to the edge of that hayloft as possible without giving my presence away. My palms were sweaty as I moved the twine to the edge of the hayloft and slowly lowered it down. I couldn't wait to see him drenched. But nothing happened. I knew it had to be in front of him because we’d measured the distance. He couldn’t miss it. I wiggled the twine trying to get his attention. But it didn't work. Finally after wiggling it a little more, the twine tightened. He was pulling it but still nothing happened. The can didn't budge. It was stuck. It couldn't get over the edge of a board in front of the hayloft. If I moved I’d give myself away. We didn’t have a back-up plan and he didn’t wait around to see what was at the other end of that twine jiggling in mid-air. Could he have caught on to the fact that the sign was meant just for him? Whatever the reason, our devious deed failed. The show went on to be a great success despite our disappointment.
    Turned out a few weeks later that uncle and his family were back for another dinner. As they were getting ready to leave my aunt asked if I’d like to go with them for a sleepover. She’d checked with my mother. She told me my uncle could bring me home the next day. I did like going to their house. It was a break from my older brother. Even better than that I was certain my cousin had every Little Golden Book ever printed. Soon I was off to stay with my distant relatives.
    During the night I woke up. I was scared. The wind was hollowing. I could hear the rain hitting the windowpanes. I wanted to go home. Those forty-five miles felt like a zillion. I started to cry. I tried not to. I didn’t want my little cousin to hear big brave me, who was going to drench her father with an old can full of water, crying but I couldn’t help it. Once I started I couldn’t stop-not even when I heard the door open-not even when I could see my uncle who wore suits all the time standing there, whispering, “Are you okay?”
    The tenderness in his voice made me cry even more. In an instant he was by my side comforting me.

    “Do you want to go home?” he asked.
    “Yes,” I whimpered, explaining I was afraid my brother was going to make fun of me.

    “Don’t worry. I almost had to take him back home not too long ago.”

    I never realized my brother got homesick. Knowing that made me feel a little better. Without hesitating, my uncle wrapped me in a blanket. He grabbed a pillow and collected my belongings. Covering me up in his raincoat, he carried me to his car after making a bed in the backseat. As he drove me home, I kept watch of his silhouette when passing headlights lit up the dark. I couldn’t see any wings but I knew my uncle was my guardian angel. He wasn’t wearing a suit. He didn’t smell like a cigar.

    Saturday, October 15, 2016

    Inside My Mother's Cedar Chest

    At an early age I was aware the big box thing sitting in my parents' bedroom was called a cedar chest. I even knew it was made out of mahogany. I didn't understand what any of that meant. But I did understand how much it meant to my mother because she told me it was where she kept her favorite things. When you tell a kid that, curiosity sets in. I know it did with me.

    Every year, somewhere between spring and summer, my mother spent a Sunday afternoon gathering her good sweaters. There were quite a few of them. My mother loved sweaters. She'd wash the sweaters one at a time in Woolite-then spread each one out on the kitchen table on top of a towel. Once she had a sweater just as she wanted it, she'd roll it up in the towel and go to the next. After she'd rolled the last one, she'd set the towels with the sweaters on the dining room table to dry. Then a few days later she'd unroll the sweaters. If need be they were put outside on clothes bars to dry some more. The end of the sweater process was the folding of the sweaters and meticulously placing them-one at a time-inside the cedar chest. And there they stayed until the season demanded their return. Whenever that was it never failed-they all smelled like moth balls.

    Sometimes I'd spend time with that mahogany cedar chest. I'm sure my mother knew since the moth ball smell probably gave me away but she never said a thing. Maybe she liked knowing I was curious to see what she considered her favorite things. Truth be known I was never disappointed since she was always putting things in it.While there was a key in the lock, it was never locked. Maybe that was because the top was heavy. It took both my hands to pull it open. Once I'd secured it in place, I took my time examining the three small compartments greeting me. They were like little drawers without the drawer. One time I found my father's good cufflinks. I think they'd belonged to his father. Usually there'd be fancy hat feathers wrapped in tissue paper. Back then, women made their own hats and wore them when shopping. I'd also find linen handkerchiefs and fur collars to attach to good sweaters and fancy plush boxes holding strings of pearls. One particular compartment held a small photo album. She never changed the photos. They were of her wedding to my father in the dining room of my grandparents' farmhouse.

    The rest of the cedar chest was full of good blankets and quilts and embroidered tablecloths starched and ready for the holidays. My most favorite of my mother's favorite things were the Christmas stockings. I never disturbed them. I wanted to make sure they were there when needed.

    I have no clue what ever happened to my mother's cedar chest. I am thankful I was curious. I'll never forget her favorite things.

    Sunday, September 18, 2016

    Still Twisting the Night Away

    There was a place located in the downtown of my hometown where most all the popular teens-and those who liked to be seen with them and those who thought they themselves were popular-went after school. There was a jukebox and a soda fountain and plenty of room to dance. I only saw the inside of that place one time because of my older brother. He told me I couldn't stay. He told me to go home. I've since figured out that was because of the girls. He didn't want them to see me anywhere near him. That didn't bother me since I had my own thing going on after school right in our living room on the TV set with the b/w screen. And even though I'd usually be taking care of my little brother, I'd still be able to watch Dick Clark's American Bandstand. I'd get something to eat, turn the tube on and get lost in the music, the cute boys dressed in suits and ties with greased-back hair and the pretty girls-some with pony tails and some with hair that flipped up on the end. Little did I realize that most of the unknown singers and groups introduced by Dick Clark on that show would go on to become Music Legends-some still singing today.

    I loved  the dance contests. I loved checking out the fashions those pretty girls wore every single day. The problem with that was we didn't have stores where I could go find what I saw. Since that was pre-internet, I couldn't go searching for them-then click, use a credit card and have them in a few days. But there was one exception. When Cher first blasted on the music scene with Sonny, singing, "I Got You Babe", I was desperate for a pair of bellbottoms and a short-sleeved, rib sweater just like hers. To my amazement I found them in our downtown. And even more amazing, my mother bought them for me.

    Probably the longest lasting effect that show has had on me is the dancing. Back then, dancing was how I kept my little brother happy. I'd pick him up and twirl him around doing the jitterbug. We'd cha-cha and do the stroll. He'd laugh out loud as we did the twist-the mashed potato-the wah-watusi.To this day I'm still dancing. It might be in the kitchen while getting dinner. It might be in the dining room folding laundry. Point is I'm still strolling and jitterbugging; twisting the night away or doing the cha-cha and I don't even need a partner. Dancing never gets old and neither does the thought of American Bandstand with those cute boys dressed in suits and ties with greased-back hair.


    Saturday, September 3, 2016

    Time for Walter Cronkite

    Growing up, every evening of every week day at 6:15 I would join my father in front of the television to watch the 15-minute news cast featuring Walter Cronkite. We wouldn't be watching the news. It was always "time for Walter Cronkite." The picture was a bit fuzzy and always black and white yet that determined voice always came through the screen. It was a voice we grew to trust. It was the voice, as pictured in this post, of a newscaster struggling to tell his audience that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Every time I watch the video of that dreadful moment in our history narrated by a man we trusted I cry right along with him.

    To think that networks were able to condense all the news into 15-minutes which had to include advertising is amazing when considering today's 24-hour news channels trying to blast the loudest as they all compete for our attention. Of course back then, today's constant in-your-face reporting did not exist. News stories were not sensationalized or repeated over and over again nor were there reporters on the scene, carrying their coverage to extremes, trying to beat other networks for ratings, trying to sway their audience by taking their reporting a bit too far. Back then there were no gimmicks for your attention. It was news. Reporters were not celebrities. They were hardcore news reporters digging and searching for the truth without emails and cell phones and computers. I miss that type of reporting. I am not impressed by women with tight dresses sitting on a sofa spewing innuendos or men sitting by their side doing the same. Give me a reporter who offers facts and not opinion. From that, I can form my own opinion.

    I often wonder what Walter Cronkite would think of today's news conglomerates. I'm glad he doesn't know what has happened to the nightly news or most news. I loved watching those 15-minute news casts with my father. Right after dinner we'd turn the TV on and get ready. It always seemed so much longer that those 15-minutes. I think that was because Walter Cronkite was good at what he did. And that was reporting the news without bells and whistles.


    Saturday, July 30, 2016

    More Than A Rope Swing With A Knot

    I wish I had an actual photo of the rope swing with a knot at the end enjoyed by my cousins and I when playing down at the creek. This photo showing my aunt raking wood chips while wearing a skirt gives you a sense of where the creek was located-behind her looking over the top of the woodpile-but it doesn't show the towering maple tree from which a rope swing hung. It would have been more to the right-further along behind the woodpile.

    Being a kid, that tree was mighty. Taller than all the rest, it stood out along that creek bed. No matter the season, that tree ruled. In the spring when the water rose and chunks of ice crashed against it as the wind blew and the snow swirled, that tree stood its ground. Looking out my bedroom window, I'd watch the rope get tossed about. Sometimes it'd be frozen in place due to sub-zero temperatures. When there were ice storms it'd become one long, thick sheet of ice. None of that stopped us from going down there. We never considered the weather or the season to be a factor if we wanted to play down at the rope.

    But there was more than just the rope that was the attraction. Sitting right next to the tree was one huge-huge rock. Eventually we figured out tricks to do combining the rope swing and the rock. Standing on the opposite side of the tree, we'd take hold of that rope, get a running start-then leap up on to the rope-holding on for all we were worth with our feet hopefully firmly planted on top of the knot. Depending on our lift-off, that rope would take us out as far as possible over the creek (in the summer full of blood suckers), then it would come back in as fast as it could on the other side of the tree. If we maneuvered everything successfully, we'd land feet first square on top of the huge rock where upon we would lift our arms in victory and proclaim a happy, "tad-da"! If we didn't maneuver everything successfully, accidents happened. There were times we came crashing in to the tree-sometimes back first. There were times we'd drop right into Sucker Creek. There were times when our lift-offs were disastrous. Our feet wouldn't catch hold of the knot. Instead, they'd flail about-hitting the creek grass, the brambles full of burrs and sometimes the huge rock itself before we came crashing to a stop. Whenever such disasters took place, we'd look up towards that row of houses to see if any adult had witnessed what had taken place. If we didn't hear anyone yelling at us, we'd go right back at it. I don't think any kid anywhere had any more fun than we did down on the banks of Sucker Creek swinging on our rope swing.

    One year for Christmas, my cousin wrapped up that knot and gave it to me as a gift. Pulling away the tissue paper, tears came to my eyes when seeing that knot again. It was as if I was greeting an old friend. In some ways-I was.

    Saturday, July 2, 2016

    A Real Beauty of America-Really!

    When I entered my grandmother in a contest sponsored by Ladies' Home Journal, I never told her. That's because I thought I'd surprise her if for some wild chance she'd be one of eight women chosen from essays submitted by readers to be showcased in a special supplement in their July issue titled "The Real Beauties of America." It was 1976. America would be celebrating its Bicentennial!

    The minute I read about the Journal's search for those eight women in early February I focused on my grandmother-nicknamed Giddy by my older brother when he was a little boy. The name stuck. Everyone called her Giddy. I wrote my submission out on a legal pad over a weekend. I'd thought about what I'd say days prior whenever I had a moment to think. At that time I was the mother of 3 young children. There was no internet back then so once I was just about finished with what I was writing I took out my typewriter and began fine tuning it. I mailed it at the post office Monday morning thinking at least I'd gone through the process and that was that.

    When Ladies' Home Journal called in late April we were all sick with the flu. I answered the phone. I half listened because I felt sick to my stomach. It wasn't until I heard 'Ladies' Home Journal' did I realize what was going on although I couldn't jump up and down for joy. I didn't dare. Actually I didn't think much about it right then. The flu had my full attention. A few days later I realized I'd best tell my grandmother since a crew from the magazine would be coming to interview and photograph her. She didn't believe me at first. When it sunk in, she was delighted. She couldn't wait to meet them.

    On the day of their arrival I was at my grandmother's home. One of my aunts lived with her so the three of us sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and waiting. It wasn't long before a car pulled into the driveway. Seconds later three women were at the front door-the Health and Beauty Editor, her assistant and a photographer. The next few hours were a whirlwind. My grandmother was a hit. Our visitors loved her. I knew they would. She was a perfect fit. I was told there had been been thousands of entries.

    I couldn't wait until that July issue was out. When I saw it for the first time I read it over and over again. They actually referenced my grandmother on the introductory page-"And as for Giddy, who raised six children and ran the tractor on the family farm, she reminds us that the spunky American woman is nothing new."

    That was certainly the truth. While my grandmother is no longer with us, her spunky spirit will forever be a part of us. I'm so glad I entered her in that contest. She deserved to be on those pages that Bicentennial year of America.

    Saturday, June 18, 2016

    The Crooner On The Crescent



    (The above photo showing a section of The Crescent in downtown Ogdensburg courtesy of Ogdensburg native Ted Como-then a staff reporter at the Ogdensburg Journal-now living in Tennessee.)


    There used to be a section in the downtown where I grew up known as The Crescent as it followed the bend of the river running along just below. At one end of The Crescent it flowed underneath a bridge merging with another river.

    Back then the bridge provided access to the downtown. Going one way brought people into the shopping district. The other way brought them to additional shopping options-just not as many. The Crescent led walkers and drivers and the curious to the downtown in a back sort of way. The Crescent wasn't the heart of the downtown. It ran parallel to that thriving downtown full of tall and mighty brick buildings housing shoe stores, department stores, clothing stores, furniture stores, jewelry stores, hardware stores, five and dimes with soda fountains, a photo shop where you could bring your rolls of film to be developed and the top tunes of the day were available on 45s and record albums were displayed in bins one right after another. There was a milliner's shop with a winding stairway leading to its door and pharmacies and a fresh fruit store-banks and diners and restaurants and a newspaper; movie theatres, apartments, offices, grand hotels, an army-navy store, a pool hall, pubs, a sweet little bookstore, an amazing soda fountain with those round tables and wrought-iron chairs and creamy sodas and real milkshakes served with containers holding more of the thick, delicious drink enabling you to refill your glass more than once and coke served on ice in what has become vintage coke glasses. In front of the soda fountain there was a smoke shop complete with cigarettes and fine cigars as well as newspapers from all around the country and magazines. There was something about the smell of all that newsprint mingling with pipe tobacco in that area with its tile floor and overhead fans. One might expect to find Humphrey Bogart standing at the glass counter, about to buy a pack of Camels.

    While The Crescent wasn't the main thoroughfare, it did play an intricate role in the make-up and spirit of the downtown. Following the curve in the street were all sorts of little shops and businesses. Besides a dry cleaner and a cobbler-a fine family-owned restaurant offering Italian cuisine, a Montgomery Wards and other known stops, a popular eatery housed in an old dining car was a buzz of activity 24-hours a day. 'The Crescent Diner' offered a full menu and if you went for dinner, you could very well have been entertained by the singing waiter-the 'Crooner on the Crescent'-in other words, my father. Oh he wasn't my father back then. I wasn't even around. He wasn't even married. He was young and fancy free, waiting on tables and driving young women crazy with his crooning. He really did. Over the years I've had women, who knew my father back then, tell me how'd they go to The Crescent Diner just to hear him sing. His most requested song was 'Pennies from Heaven." I guess the girls really swooned when he moved about table to table singing that particular song. You have to remember this was the Frank Sinatra era-although it wasn't Frank making them swoon. It was a singing waiter nicknamed 'Nookie' by his adoring fans.

    I'm intrigued by the fact my father was a crooner-a singing waiter in a diner sitting above a river that still flows into another, alongside a downtown now demolished. I wonder what he was like back then. I wonder when he decided to become a funeral director. I wonder if he ever thought about pursuing a singing career. I wonder what would have happened then.  He probably wouldn't have met my mother and I wouldn't be here. I think Nookie made the right decision!


    Saturday, May 28, 2016

    The Old Garden Cart

    There was never anything fancy about the old garden cart. In fact, most would have retired it by now. Traded it in for an up-to-date model. But that wouldn't be an easy thing to do. You don't discard something just because it's worn-because it lost its shine-especially when it has served you well for forty some years. That's how it is with the old garden cart. Somehow and at some point it became more than a cart. It became a part of the family. And as family members grew old, so did that cart.

    Back in its prime the garden cart served many purposes. Besides hauling weeds and shrubs and freshly picked vegetables and sand to refill a sandbox and leaves raked into piles and rocks dug out from the earth and fallen limbs whipped from trees, that garden cart hauled little children and kittens and a dog or two. Around and around a huge garden it would go-up and down a small hill-around a cluster of raspberry bushes and apple trees as giggles and laughter and barking and meowing drifted about an oversized yard. Sometimes a few of the older children would be the ones pulling the cart. Other times it would have been an adult. No matter who was doing the pulling, there were always calls to 'go faster' from those sitting in the cart and holding on as if they were at a carnival and going on a roller coaster ride.

    There were quiet times spent in that cart as well. Sometimes one or two of those children would sit in it and play. They'd go nowhere. They'd simply play with kittens or read books or color. Sometimes the cart would be turned upside down and used as a secret cabin-a hideaway in the middle of the yard. Many a peanut butter and jelly sandwich were enjoyed in that cart as adventures unfolded and the cart turned in to whatever a little child imagined it to be.

    Due to its constant use-the wear and tear-and uncontrollable weather conditions, the old garden cart has had many repairs and tweaks and overhauls and paint jobs. But its still going. It's still in use hauling weeds and freshly picked vegetables and sand to refill a sandbox-picking up leaves and fallen limbs whipped from trees. But now a sandbox is occupied by grandchildren. And the grandchildren are the ones being pulled about a garden, sitting in the old garden cart, laughing just like the generation before them had done-laughing as they ask to 'go faster', holding on as if they're at a carnival and going on a roller coaster ride.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2016

    Card Houses on Braided Rugs

    When I was young my cousin and I would play on this braided rug made by my grandmother. It was the biggest of her braided rugs in the home she and my grandfather built once they sold the farm. Sometimes we'd spread out on all fours and try to figure out what garments owned by family members had been woven into the strips of fabric that we were playing on. Creating a braided rug-especially such a large one, was quite the undertaking. Besides preparing the braided strips, our grandmother had to clean the garments and strip them of buttons and zippers. But none of that mattered to us when we discovered those braided rugs were a great place on which to play. And when it came time to find some packs of playing cards and create our card houses, that huge braided rug was the perfect place to do it. The little grooves the rug provided gave us anchors for our creations.

    We'd both start by leaning two cards firmly together. After that, we were on our own in designated areas atop the rug. There were no instructions. No plans included inside the pack. It was up to each of us to construct the biggest-most ingenious card houses ever. Sometimes designs would spread out horizontally and then up. Others would just go up and up and up. Some would have garages. Others chimneys. Some had sidewalks or streets out in front of them. Very often card fences enclosed the structures. They were quite the site. No two places were ever alike. Once the building part was complete, the playing began. We'd visit each other in our card homes. Park our cars on the card street. Climb the card fences. Go for a walk on the card sidewalk or ride our bikes or skip our jump ropes. If we were hungry we'd go inside to our card kitchens for lunch. If we got tired, we'd take a nap on our card bed. We had so much fun. But most always that fun abruptly ended when our card creations came crashing down-by our own doing or someone opening a door and creating a breeze or someone moving the rug or an older brother playing demolition derby atop that beautiful braided rug.
    (Shown in the photo-2 of my children 'just a few years ago' with their dog)

    Saturday, April 23, 2016

    Old Enamel Chairs

    It's that time again. People are bringing out their lawn furniture put in storage before the snow arrived late last fall. As they empty garages, sheds and barns, each piece is given a good look over. While most will be cleaned and set back in place by pools, in yards and on porches, others might need a fresh coat of paint. And still, some chairs and tables and chaise lounges might be tossed out and replaced by something new and shiny. These days, fancy swings and gliders come with all sorts of gadgets. Sometimes they look more comfortable than they really are.

    My mother bought wooden lounge chairs dressed in a canvas stripe pattern. If you picked a chair up, you could move a rung on the bottom to adjust the angle of the chair. The further back the rung was put, the further back you could lay. Those chairs were great for catching some rays. Except for a hammock-style swing that went side-to-side, those chairs were about as fancy as any outdoor furniture came back then.

    I don't have any fancy types of outdoor furniture. My taste goes back to when my grandparents lived on the farm. Of course times were different then. Gadgets weren't included. But no one cared. And either do I. I can still see white enamel chairs sitting outside the farmhouse. My grandmother would sit in one as she shucked peas or cut up green beans or did mending or brushed hair. I always liked the enamel chairs. They were fun to sit in when just a kid. You could rock back and forth and try to catch yourself before falling over.

    My old enamel chairs are out of the barn. They have been cleaned off. They are sitting under the maple tree waiting to be enjoyed as spring moves towards summer. While I don't rock back and forth in them anymore, my granddaughter does. We laugh as she tries catching herself before falling over. Old enamel chairs don't need gadgets. They're fun all by themselves!

    Sunday, March 27, 2016

    The Easter Bunny in the Rock Wall


    For a few years now my granddaughter and I have been tracking a bunny we've seen out back-by the barn, hiding in the garden and disappearing in the rock wall. My granddaughter has always felt the bunny is no ordinary bunny. She's convinced it is the Easter Bunny.

    We didn't see the bunny all last summer or fall. But a few weeks ago when her little brother was here for an overnight, we both saw the bunny by the rock wall. We were so excited. I'd thought the worst had happened but the bunny proved me wrong. Adding to the excitement of seeing bunny, I'm certain I saw a few little ones skampering along beside her.

    Last evening, the night before Easter, with the geese flying and the sun setting over the fields, I went out back for a walk. I didn't get very far. As I came up the incline near the rock wall, I was astonished to find colorful Easter eggs lying in the grass. They were beautiful-sparkling-magical under the glow of the sun disappearing. Something told me these were not your ordinary Easter eggs. Slowly I bent down and touched one. It was a little wet. At that moment, I heard a scurrying by the rock wall. I turned and out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a white, puffy tail. I knew it was our bunny.

    That's when I realized my granddaughter was right. Our bunny really is the Easter Bunny and our bunny was getting ready to go hippity hop-hopping down the Bunny trail. She'd painted the eggs and put them in the grass to dry. I'm sure she has more eggs and tons and tons of candy packed and ready to go.

    You see, when you believe like a child believes, even a little bunny living out back in the rock wall really, really can be the Easter Bunny.

    Saturday, March 26, 2016

    Clicking Easter Shoes on Sidewalks

    When I was growing up it seemed as if it was always warm outside when Easter came around. I'm certain I remember green grass, flowers blooming and the sidewalks bare. Having sidewalks bare was about as important as a basket full of candy. That's because Easter was the ultimate day for dressing up. Everything was brand new-the fancy dress, the fancy hat and white gloves, and shoes that would make a clicking sound when being pranced about the sidewalk.

    Lucky for us we were blessed with a downtown full of stores. One in particular was a shoe store owned by my uncle. He carried all the latest styles for Easter. Everything from patent leather to saddle shoes. And if the shoes chosen needed polishing at some point, my mother made sure she had white liquid shoe polish in the cupboard. We never ran out of the polish since my mother was a nurse and needed to keep her duty shoes white.

    So the shoe store was the first stop. It was usually busy with everyone out shopping. After the shoes were bought, wrapped, and ready to go, we went further down the street to a sprawling department store offering frilly dresses, some with layers of crinoline, shiny buttons, or matching jackets. If the weather was cool, a coat might have been added to the mix. Even more fun than picking out the dress was trying on all the hats. There were hats with pretty fabric flowers. Hats with long tassels. Hats with netting. Small hats. Hats that looked like a square box and hats that looked like a summertime sun hat. Once the hat was chosen, gloves, a purse and fancy socks were selected.

    When we made it back home, everything was put carefully away until Easter. And when that day came, on went my dress with layers of crinoline. Then the fancy socks and sparkling white shoes and fancy hat usually kept in place by bobby pins. Topping everything off were my pretty gloves. Then I'd open the door and the Easter parade began. My fancy shoes would click and click on the sidewalk as up and down I went. I loved my clicky shoes. Only problem was they never stayed white for very long.

    Sunday, March 20, 2016

    The Old Music Box Sitting By The Front Door


    Right as you come in the front door of our home sits an antique table and on top of that table sits a small collection of things-all treasures in one way or another. I can't say why something ends up there. I do know every single piece offers meaning as you enter the old place that used to be part of a working farm but has long since ceased operation. Perhaps the most interesting and most popular item on that oblong table, judging by my little granddaughter's reaction, is the antique music box.

    I don't know how I ended up with the family heirloom. My grandmother must have given it to me at one point because I do recall talking about it with her-asking questions, rewinding it over and over. I remember the music box sitting on top of bookshelves in the living room of the smaller home where my grandparents moved after selling their farmhouse. But how and when it came into my possession is a blur. I'm just glad it did. Now, whenever I come in the house or walk by it, I am happy to see it sitting there amongst the old candlesticks and crocks and tins and a rock with the word, "Welcome", painted on it. More often than not, I think back to those times when I was young and loved turning the key on the bottom to listen to Lara's Theme. My granddaughter does the same. Sometimes she'll carefully pick it up and take it into the living room where she'll ask me to play the pretty song. A "few" times I've told her a little bit about the movie associated with Lara's Theme. She knows I went to see it more than once. She knows about the pretty woman and the doctor walking into what looks like an ice castle and how they travelled by sleigh to get there.

    Out of curiosity I looked up Reuge-the maker of the music box. It is a family business with its beginnings based in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, started in the late 1800s. To learn the music box has roots reaching back to the Alps didn't surprise me. I don't know why but I knew there were museums located in that region dedicated to music boxes and singing birds. I love history. To me, everything has a history-a story. Even a little music box now sitting by my front door and when you wind it up, it plays a most beautiful love song.

    Saturday, February 27, 2016

    Whiskey slings to the rescue

    Growing up I never understood how my mother could get irked by my father. To me, he was near perfect. He had a sense of humor. He never yelled at us. He always gave us whatever we asked for. Over summer vacation, I'd stay up and watch the late movie with him. My father most always fell asleep. When we were old enough he'd let us drive his old funeral van around the backfields. Once I had my license he let me take whatever car was in the driveway.

    One week night when I was in my freshman year of high school, my mother had to go somewhere with one of her sisters. She left my father in charge. The only problem was he had a cold. I had a cold too but it didn't seem to matter. My father was the one sick. He was the one sneezing and blowing his nose. I was too but he retreated to his bed-covering himself up and telling me to turn the heat up because he was chilled. I told him I was too. My father didn't answer. Instead he asked for another blanket. After I got my younger sister and brother to bed I was going to go to bed as well. But that proved impossible. My father had a cold! Stop the world. He was sick!  When I brought him a second blanket I stepped on tissues he'd thrown on the floor. That was it for me. I'd had it. I was irked! I remembered something my grandmother told me after my grandfather had been sick.

    Going to the kitchen, I took out a bottle of whiskey. After pouring a good amount of the stuff into a glass, I filled it the rest of the way with very hot water. I added a bit of lemon and nutmeg, stirred it and took it to my father. He loved it! The drink warmed him up. It even cleared the stuffiness in his nose and head. He wanted another. I made it in a flash. When I went back in the bedroom, my father was laughing. He'd thrown off the blankets and was sitting up. Once he drank his second whiskey sling, he started yawning and giggling at the same time. I told him it was time to go to sleep. I covered him up and turned the light out. I think my father was snoring before I reached the kitchen.

    When my mother returned, she asked me if I'd had any problems getting my brother and sister to bed. I remember staring at her. She asked me what was wrong. I told her about the whiskey slings and what a pain my father had been.

    "He's just a man," she explained. "And when a man is sick, he becomes a baby. Good idea giving him those drinks!"

    After that night, I'd sometimes find myself more understanding of my mother when she'd get irked at my father. Especially when he was sick!

    Tuesday, February 16, 2016

    The Howl of A Train

    Like so many small communities, my hometown had a functioning train depot many years ago. I don't remember much about it nor do I recall the trains coming and going. I've seen photos and heard stories and understand its history-a history wrapped about our country's history of growing and expanding with people taking the rails to travel-with industries using the trains to ship their goods.
    I took the above photo of our train depot more than a few years ago. At that point in time, it'd been closed down. Travelling by train was becoming a thing of the past. Unfortunately my hometown lost this piece of history to a fire. Gone went its marble floors and the hustle and bustle. But one thing that hasn't disappeared is the howling of trains passing in the night.

    Living about an hour from Ottawa and two hours from Montreal on the U.S. Canadian border along the St. Lawrence River we are blessed by the howling of trains on the Canadian side drifting over the river, chugging along day and night, 365 days a year. Their rail system is strong. Their depots in hometowns all along the way are open for business.

    When I was growing up in the country, my cousin and I spent so much time outside playing and skating on the creek. Many evenings we'd skate under the stars. Even when it was snowing and blowing we'd be down there swirling about the ice. Eventually we'd find ourselves lying atop the ice-talking and laughing. But when that chugging and clanking and howling of a train passing by echoed over the river, over fences, through the fields and trees, we'd stop our talking and laughing and listen. I remember imagining who was on that train. I wondered where they were going. I found myself wanting to go along for the ride. In some ways, I did. Imaginations are wonderful.

    I can still hear the trains. They are still passing by over the river. They wake me up. They put me to sleep. They stop me in my tracks. They hypnotize me. They make me feel happy. They can make me feel sad. Whatever my mood, they still make me wonder who is on them and where they are going. Business men. Business women. Families. Lovers. The lonely. I'll never meet them but they feel like old friends. They bring me back to those star-filled evenings skating on the creek with my cousin. Talking. Laughing. Sharing stories until the howling echo drifted over the land silencing us.

    They make me long for a depot lost to a fire and a simpler time when a community along a river was serviced by trains coming and going-singing their soulful songs.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2016

    I bet it was a Sunday afternoon

    I wish this old photo showed more of what was going on-showed more of who was there-maybe even showed my grandparents' farmhouse with its screened-in front porch because I know that's where this photo was taken. Underneath all that snow is the cinder driveway that led around to the back of that house down to the shallow rock. Shown is one poplar tree. There were more poplar trees lining that driveway back then. I loved when the wind moved the leaves. It was magical. I didn't love the thunder and lightning storm that cracked one of those trees in half on a summer evening when I huddled around my grandmother with my cousins on that screened-in front porch.

    Standing in the forefront is my father. What's surprising to me is not the cigarette in his mouth because they all smoked back then. What's surprising is the fact he is out there in the first place appearing to be enjoying himself. And he's not wearing a tie. In fact, he seems to be wearing a leisure sort of shirt-leisure pants, boots, and coat. The hat seems to be a bit out of place. It reminds me of the father I remember. He most always wore a tie and a hat with a feather. Being a funeral director, he was always on call.

    I love seeing the adults playing out in the snow. I bet it was a Sunday afternoon. Back then, families gathered on Sundays. Back then kids played outside as well. But you have to remember, back then there weren't electronic devices to grab their attention and keep it. I'm certain my grandmother was in her kitchen cooking one of her delicious home-cooked meals. And when they all gathered, I'm certain they stayed around the dining room table and talked-and talked.

    Sunday, January 17, 2016

    Home

    Most of us will go through life having more than a few places we'll call home. Different stages in our lives-different circumstances warrant changes in our address. Some of those changes go unnoticed. A very few remain with us no matter where we go. It's not because of brand name counter tops or built-in fireplaces or in-ground pools with surrounding paper brick. While that stuff might make us comfortable, none of it matters for the simple reason home is not defined by a price tag or a brand or color or design. Rather, home is defined in our hearts. Home tugs at us. Like a bird in its nest, we know when we're there. Home wraps us up in comfort like an old, tattered quilt. Home keeps the world away. Home allows us to be still.

    I have a few places I call home. The one that comes to mind more often than not was my first home. The home where I grew up before we moved to the country when I was in the third grade. I remember every nook and cranny of that clapboard house situated on a lane. My mind can wander through its rooms like a video recorder. I can still feel the 2nd step down into my bedroom move. I can hear it creak. I can smell the aromas from the kitchen coming up through a register in my bedroom. I can hear the wind swirling  though the trees in the back yard. A few years ago, I drove by that house. It used to be yellow but is now an emerald green. That didn't matter. I still saw it as yellow. The owners happened to be out front. I knew the minute I saw them I was going to stop. I pulled right up to the same curb I'd jumped over and walked on when I was a little girl. I introduced myself and explained why I was stopping. Without my asking, they invited me inside the house that tugs at my heart. As they took me from room to room changes made to that home didn't matter either. In fact, I felt the 2nd step down into what had been my bedroom move although there were new steps. Three in fact. And they didn't move. I could smell the aromas from the kitchen still coming up through a register although the register was no longer there. I could hear the wind swirling through the trees in the backyard even though the trees were gone. 

    I define that home by memories I hold dear in my heart. While I don't dwell on that place and time, when I do think of it, I get in touch with that little girl inside me.

    That clapboard home on the lane grounds me. Brings me back-then pushes me forward and on I go to that place I now call home-out in the country with smells and textures all its own with a barn out back and fields to explore.

    Saturday, January 16, 2016

    Old Skates Full of Memories

    Besides the pine desk my grandfather made me one year for Christmas being one of my most favorite Christmas presents ever, my white figure skates are on that list as well. Little did I know that particular Christmas morning, as I sat on my knees in the living room of a house situated alongside a lane, with my grandmother watching me open a box and finding the skates underneath sheets of tissue paper, that many years later I'd remember that moment when opening the box as if it was yesterday. I'd asked for the skates. I'd seen them sitting on a sled in a window of a hardware store in our downtown when out Christmas shopping with my mother. The skates were just as I imagined. I knew they were for me.

    Shortly after that Christmas we moved out to the country. Lucky for me and my skates there was a creek that flowed through the field behind our house and cousins next door who loved to skate. In the winter once the creek froze over, we were down there whenever possible. That meant after school, on weekends, and in the evenings. I can't remember ever being cold. We'd be having too much fun-zooming along at top speed, twirling, racing, eating snow and ice pellets, pretending we were in the Olympics, etching designs in the ice with the tips of our skates. Whenever it snowed, we'd shovel paths all about the creek and then skate along them as if they were roads on top of the ice, leading to anywhere we wished to go, anywhere around the world. It was always fun to look down through the ice at weeds and creek grass frozen in place. It was like having a huge frozen water globe all to ourselves. In fact, we did have it all to ourselves. A few times we'd pack a lunch including hot chocolate and follow the creek as it wove through the field, under fences, around rocks and trees. Our journey took forever. There was a lot of exploring to be done.

    Skating under the moon and stars was my favorite time. We were never afraid of the looming shadows or the wind howling through the barren trees. They added to the backdrop. And as the wind sang its lonely song my cousin and I would lay on top of the ice and talk and dream and take in the glittering beauty surrounding us. Those millions of stars were the most glittering stars I've ever seen enhanced by the mysterious-the magical moon.

    Although I no longer use my skates, I still have them with me. They've survived moves from one place to another. They've been kept in closets, garages, boxes, trunks of cars. I even lost track of them a few times. But through it all, they've survived. While they've lost their youth, I still see them as I did that Christmas of long ago. And this past Christmas I put them on display with an old sleigh for all to see-especially me.

    Saturday, January 9, 2016

    Pg. 51-French Goulash

    Back in 1975 the oldest of my grandmother's six daughters undertook a project that still brings smiles to those of us who have followed. This aunt was quite creative. I remember her making Christmas candles using discarded milk cartons and serving the best sloppy joes ever. But it was that project years ago of sitting down with my grandmother and collecting her most treasured recipes and then putting them in order in a handwritten cookbook that takes the cake-pardon the pun. You have to understand. Many of my grandmother's recipes weren't written down or found in another cookbook. They certainly weren't on line. The only on line back then was a clothesline.Her recipes were in her heart-her mind. Many didn't have exact measurements. A pinch of this-a thing or two of that were used to define teaspoons and tablespoons. How long to bake something was often not told in time but how something looked or smelled in the oven. "Until it looks cooked" was a favortie line used by my grandmother.

    So for my aunt to assemble the recipes and then record them for others to be able to use with exactness was a mighty task. But she did it in style-breaking the cookbook into seasons and telling stories of each season as they grew up on the family farm. It is an anthology of sorts of a time that has long since disappeared-including their one-room schoolhouse, telling how my grandfather would harvest ice with his team of horses and flatbed sleigh from a nearby river-to the lighting of candles nestled inside little tin candle clips on Christmas morning after breakfast, those candle tins sitting on tips of branches of a Christmas tree put up on Christmas Eve. Besides the recipes, those memories are reason enough to cherish the cookbook-to keep it for generations still to come-offering them a glimpse of relatives and a way of life they will never know.

    While I have copies of the cookbook given to me be my cousin that have never been touched I chose to show the cover of that cookbook I've used over and over. The stains-the tape holding it together show how much I treasure it-how much I go to it for not only a recipe but to reread the stories. The line illustrations by yet another cousin add the perfect touch.

    Of all my favorite recipes in, "Mom's Farm Kitchen", a favorite is on pg. 51-"French Goulash." I've made that goulash so many times and every time the smell of the bacon cooking, along with a pepper and onion, as spaghetti is cooked and drained in wait of being added-brings me back to my grandmother's farmhouse kitchen. That's what family recipes do. And when I make her rice pudding on page 79 and her Banana Nut Bread on page 108 I'm in heaven!

    Friday, January 1, 2016

    Soup's On


     

    It’s fitting that January follows the hustle and stress of Christmas. Call me odd but January’s my favorite month of the year. It’s always been my favorite. When I was little, it was the mounds of snow that intrigued me. It didn’t matter how cold it was, my cousins and I would stay outside making snow houses and castles and forts. Now when January rolls around, the art of soup-making intrigues me. Drawing me to the kitchen which is not where I normally prefer to create. I didn’t come by this soup thing on my own. It’s in the genes. And it is an art. Add a loaf of bread and a salad and January gets even better.

    Along with donuts and breads, French goulash and everything else in between, my grandmother was the original soup guru. Anything leftover became soup for the next day. When you farm the land and you’re raising six daughters, there’s nothing called waste. Instead of following recipes, my grandmother followed her intuition with the season of the year determining which vegetables might be added to the boiling brew. Void of any additives or extracts or artificial this-and-that, freshness was a given. I’m convinced that’s the reason why so many lived long and healthy lives back then.

    My mother was known for her witch’s brew. This favorite soup wasn’t served just around Halloween but all through fall and straight through March or April depending on the weather. The thought of that broth slowly cooking on top of the stove with snow softly falling makes the realization that it’s January quite exciting.

    Making the brew was an all day event or maybe it just seemed that way. Anticipation has a way of doing that when you’re young. After cutting up the carrots and onions just so, my mother would add the seasonings including bouillon cubes. She loved bouillon cubes. Kept cans of them in a drawer next to the stove. She’d often boil a cup of water. Then throw in some cubes and drink it like a cup of tea.

    There was no certain recipe followed. Sometimes tomatoes would be added. Sometimes she’d cut up a green pepper or dice chicken into small pieces or make tiny meatballs dressed in garlic and bread crumbs. While whatever made up a particular version may have varied, there was one constant-one ingredient never left out and that was acini d’pepe. Those little round bits of pasta were the icing on the cake or in this case-the finishing touch of a homemade soup which I now create. Cutting up the carrots and onions just so. Adding the seasonings including bouillon cubes and then going to the refrigerator to see what else I might add before stirring in those tiny bits of pasta.
     
    This so-called brew holds memories of family gathering. Of being in a place of warmth and contentment while outside the wind would howl and the snow would grow into giant mounds-perfect for kids to roll in or slide down or pack into balls after having their bowl of witch’s brew on any given January day.
    (Photo shows my grandmother's woodstove in her farmhouse kitchen. Most likely that is a pot of soup brewing).