Sunday, July 23, 2017
While today-at this very moment as I write this post-there is no snow outside or pile of unopened presents in the living room stacked beneath a tinsel-laden Christmas tree decorated with ornaments bought at Newberry's and Woolworths and while there is no Santa on a mantel, and despite the fact that particular house was sold and my mother has passed away and I have two grandchildren, really-nothing has changed. The spirit and anticipation felt that Christmas morning of long ago still exists even in the month of July for it exists in my heart. It has never gone away.
Since finding the photo I've looked at it several times and each time I'm brought back to that morning. I can smell the coffee perking in the kitchen and my grandmother's Christmas bread sliced and sitting on the table covered in a red, hand-embroidered by my mother tablecloth. I can see my father sitting in his chair already dressed for the day and most likely that included sporting a tie. I can hear my younger sister and brother tearing through their stockings and then going for their presents while my older brother sits like me quietly opening gifts. After all, we were older. We couldn't rip off the paper. We were too cool. I dare say while on the outside he remained cool and calm; inside his stomach was doing flips and somersaults. I know that's how I remember feeling as I sat near my mother quietly opening presents on a Christmas morning of long ago.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
When I was born my parents told me I had so much hair that the nurses kept it gathered on top of my head in a 'whisp.' In fact the nurses called me Whisteria. As I grew into a little girl, my mother often French braided my hair. When I was a pre-teen she took me to a barber shop and had my hair chopped off into a sort of Buster Brown hairstyle. That's the way it stayed until I became a teen. That's when I took over. Most every night in my freshman year I'd go into the kitchen-take out an egg-crack it, strain out the yolk, and then mix the white of the egg with some water. Then I'd go into my bedroom, shut the door and do my hair up on big rollers. I'd comb the egg white mixture into every strand before wrapping that strand around a roller and pinning that roller to my head with hard, plastic picks. Then I'd wrap a net around the rollers and sleep on them all the while telling my mother that Yes-I was doing my homework. In the morning, I'd carefully take each roller out. I really didn't have to be careful since the hair was like cement. It wasn't going anywhere which is what I wanted. I'd tease it all into a beehive as tall as I could get it-then spray that hive and off I'd go to school thinking I was just about the coolest chic ever. I wore that style for the longest time. It changed when Sonny and Cher made their debut. No more egg white for me. I wanted my hair as long and straight and free as it could be. That stage lasted for a quite awhile. A part of that stage included the discovery of long, pretend braids. A friend of mine and I would pull our hair high up to the top of our heads into one long ponytail. Then we'd wrap the fake braid around it-tuck the ends of real hair underneath it, secure it with bobby pins and think we were pretty cool in our hot, fake braids. Once I married and had children, hair time was about no time. When they were young I cut my hair all off and permed it into tight curls. That way it was no bother. They couldn't pull on it. If I didn't get to wash it, the curls looked just fine or so I thought they did. I didn't have much spare time to check..
Funny how hair tells a story. If my hair was writing a book it would include the times my sister-in-law and I used a boxed treatment for streaking our hair. We're lucky our hair didn't fall out since keeping track of the time was something we were not too good at. There'd also be chapters on long hair and short hair; streaked hair and curly hair and probably more than one chapter on the use of egg whites for gluing one's hair into place.
I still have this little inkling gnawing at me to go red. Not a bright red. Just a nice auburn kind of red. I know when the mood hits-that will happen! And then that will be another chapter.
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Did you ever look at an old photo and wish you could remember being in that moment; wish you could recall the conversation and remember who was around and figure out how that moment came about? When I look at the attached photo, I wonder. And I wish I could remember that day, sitting outside of my grandparents' farmhouse in the summertime behind my grandmother's tulip patch.
I'm seated to the left in the wicker chair. My older brother is seated across from me and our cousin who is four months older than me is sitting between us. We appear to be having a snack or lunch. I appear to have my snack in my lap. That was probably a good idea because whatever I was eating most likely would have fallen to the ground and most likely a dog named Pepper who was most likely nearby would have enjoyed whatever I was supposed to be eating. We are probably drinking milk. As I grew older I remember enjoying the homemade lemonade my grandmother would make, using her lemon squeezer and filling a pitcher with that lemon juice, along with well water and lots of sugar and lemon slices.
My brother had red hair and freckles when he was a little boy. He was the first grandchild and would often go with our grandfather in his old Ford truck. When we were old enough we'd get to ride behind our grandfather's little red tractor, sitting on the hay wagon, feeling every bump and taking in the smell of the hayfields and buzzing of the flies and bees and feeling the warmth of the sun with a gentle breeze making the clover dance and wildflowers twirl as we'd go over the plank bridge, taking us to the backfields. That farm was a paradise for adventures when growing up.
On the day this photo was taken clothes on the clothesline were swaying in the breeze. Those tall posts held the waterline going out to the barn. In the very top left you can see an inkling of what was the pump house. We loved playing in that pump house. We'd pump the cold water into our hands and keep repeating the process. That water was so cold and so tasty. On real hot days we'd pump the water onto the cement floor and then splash in it with our bare feet. We also had the option of going down to the flat rocks pictured to the right of the laundry flapping in the breeze where there was a natural bubble that would spring out from the rocks. Clearing away any moss, we'd spread out on our bellies and enjoy sipping that water, trying to avoid the water from going up our noses.
Amazing how one photo makes you wonder as it takes you back to a moment when sitting in an old wicker chair in the summertime.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
As far back as I can remember, my grandmother always wore a house dress with black shoes that tied up the front so seeing her dressed in jeans was like seeing a whole other side of her. She had an assortment of house dresses. They all had pockets. Most were a muted plaid material. Probably a cotton. On special occasions she'd wear one of her good dresses and if she was cooking, she'd wear an apron. While I don't remember ever picking berries with my grandmother, I do remember enjoying the pies she'd bake by combining a pinch of this and a dash of that. Of course her crusts were homemade. Crisco played a role in that.
Her list of homemade pies was extensive including favorites such as apple and pumpkin; mincemeat and custard. I loved her raisin pie and all the berry pies made when the berries were in season. My all-time, most favorite pie was her lemon meringue. I've tried my best to create a lemon meringue pie just like my grandmother's, even using her recipe, but I fall short every time. I think the problem is my thoughts wander back to those times of eating her lemon meringue pie and having her there and sitting in her kitchen and enjoying the pie on a certain plate surrounded by other family members doing the same while talking and enjoying the moment. Funny how food sparks our memories. Funny how food takes us back. The texture of her pies-the aromas from her kitchen-her rolling pin-her worn yet strong hands-her hair pulled up in a bun-flour everywhere-her braided rugs-her African Violets sitting on a drop leaf table in the other room-the bookcase full of books and photographs.
Funny how a pie, a simple pie made with love and served with a smile while wearing a house dress with pockets and black shoes that tied up the front can bring it all right back as if it was yesterday. There's magic in those recipes. Of course the magician herself had lots to do with it.
Thursday, June 22, 2017
I can't remember exactly when it happened, but soon after my mother came home from the hospital with him, she discovered she had a blood clot in her left leg. All I remember her telling me in the middle of the night was she'd experienced pain in her leg. It had turned black. They woke me up to listen for the baby while my father rushed my mother to the hospital. Back then the treatment for such a blood clot was far different than it is today. My mother ended up staying in the hospital for most of the summer. I was taken out of school early to help. My aunt who lived next door-a nurse with four children-stepped in as well. She'd take my baby brother as much as she could which was a lot. He'd sleep there. She'd care for him-feed him-bathe him. I wasn't happy with the arrangement. He was my brother and I wanted to do it all. Looking back, I thank God she was there. I never would have made it. I think she felt my frustration so we devised a plan with input from my father who was very busy being a funeral director, visiting my mother in the hospital, and helping me keep the house picked up and cooking and watching my younger sister. We decided I'd go to my aunt's house after my brother's morning bath-bring him home and take him back after supper, depending on how things were going. It worked. I had him most of the day. On sunny days I'd put him in his carriage and go for walks, visit my grandmother next door, or sit alongside the rock garden. When he slept, I'd read a book. But there was one time it didn't work. Not at all. I thought he'd end up in the hospital alongside my mother.
It happened when I kept him home for supper so my father could see him. I was so proud. I'd cooked the meal although I can't imagine now what it was. My aunt had just started feeding my brother cereal with some Gerber applesauce or pears so when my father and I went shopping, I bought him some chocolate pudding. I thought he would love it. But it turned out just the opposite. He became very sick and I became very nervous. I thought the days of 'adopting' my baby brother were over. But they weren't. The adults weren't as worried as I was and when my mother heard what I'd done, she didn't have a problem with it. But my father did throw out my supply of that chocolate pudding in the jars.
When my mother finally made it home, she had to take it easy. But at least she was home and feeling better. The top picture shows her outside sitting down while I rock my baby brother to sleep in his carriage. The bottom photo shows my parents next door at my grandmother's for a picnic. You can see the bandage she had to keep wrapped around her leg even when she went to bed.
That summer which began early for me was one I will never forget. I'm just glad my baby brother hasn't a clue, especially when it comes to the chocolate pudding.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
I never did learn her name. She was a beautiful, young girl sitting across from us with her mother and grandmother. While language was a barrier, it didn't matter. We communicated just fine. When the train slowed and it became apparent it was their stop, I reached into my purse, pulled out the doll and gestured to the mom if I could give the doll to her daughter. Her smile said it all.
As they disappeared into the crowd I watched as the young girl held the doll up for me to see, waving the little doll in the gentle breeze smelling of olives, oranges and the Atlantic.
Sunday, June 11, 2017
When I was in high school, girls were more often than not encouraged by their guidance counselors to go into nursing or teaching. Or, they had their own plan to get married and raise a family. Throughout my senior year, my mother kept after me, "What are you going to do after graduation?Where are you going to apply?" It didn't help that my two best friends had known all along what they wanted to do and they had their applications in to prove it. One was going for nursing; the other teaching. I was clueless. While I never liked high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do when it was finally over. Well actually I did but my mother would have kicked me out of the house. You see, all I wanted to do was write. It didn't matter what I was writing as long as I was in that mode. So if I'd had my way I would have stayed sitting at my desk in my bedroom writing. Needless to say, that never happened.
Throughout that last year my mother kept throwing ideas at me. She really pushed nursing because she was a registered nurse. She'd been in charge of the ER. The thought of doing what she did made me ill. She was not happy with me so she arranged for a man representing an airline that serviced our hometown to come to our house and interview me. Of course the interview was not for piloting the plane but for becoming a flight attendant. The thought of flying around-landing and taking off-made me ill as well. Totally disgusted with me, my mother had my father take me to a local, all-girls Catholic college run by nuns for an interview. It was very small. There was one cinder block dorm. My parents told me I could live at home and take the car when it was available. And on some of those days when the car wasn't available my older brother could possibly pick me up. I liked that plan-especially the part of my brother picking me up because he had a red TR3. So I applied for an AAS Degree in Liberal Arts and I was accepted. And once classes began I found I liked it. It was nothing like high school. I made some friends but I think my having an older brother with a sports car helped. They loved coming home with me on weekends. I graduated at the end of two years and went on to another school some 3 hours away. There I applied for an AAS Degree in Advertising and Design. I liked that too and earned the degree and then life took hold of me. But down deep inside, I knew I had one more degree to earn.
You see, while I was attending the local, all-girls Catholic college, my favorite course was Creative Writing. At the end of the semester the nun teaching the course pulled me aside and told me I had a "gift for writing." I never forgot that. And when I was married and a mother of three I went back to that small local college and earned my AAS Degree in English. (The attached photo shows me receiving my degree).
Thanks to the nun encouraging me, I found my way in getting published. I am so glad my mother kept pushing me!
Saturday, June 3, 2017
Recently when involved in a home renovation I came across what had been a focal point of my mother's fabric shop-a small, antique, hand-painted, working sewing machine which my uncle had turned into a lamp just for the shop. It was a centerpiece of conversation. My mother used it as sort of a "logo" back then for her country shop of fine fabrics. She had many offers from those interested in buying the little machine. From antique dealers to antique lovers, that mini machine caused a stir.
It is still causing a stir as it now sits on display in my home. And every time that happens I get to tell its story and the story of my mother's fabric store in the country.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
My favorite old coat has remained in my heart ever since growing up in the country. It seems like only yesterday when my mother came home from an afternoon of shopping in our once busy downtown with a big box just for me. It wasn't Christmas. It wasn't my birthday. It was just an ordinary day. Ordinary, that is, until I opened that box and discovered a brownish tweed wool coat wrapped in white tissue paper. It wasn't even that time of the year for wearing a coat but that never crossed my mind as I jumped up and pulled the coat out of the box. It was love at first sight for me and my coat. I unbuttoned the 3 buttons in the front and tried it on. It fit! I loved it more than I thought I ever could love a coat with pockets and a bit of a flair. I was a diva ready for the spotlight in my beautiful coat smelling of wool and all things warm and cozy and life is wonderful kind of stuff. But I had to wait to wear it. I had to get through the hot hazy days of summer and wait for the temperature to drop. So while waiting on Mother Nature I kept my coat in prime position in my closet. I could pull that coat out and put it on whenever I wanted to and when I did I'd strut about my room shared with my sister or sit at my desk and write my stories. My favorite old coat was always near.
I finally did get to wear my favorite coat beyond the confines of my bedroom. And every time I did I felt like a famous model gracing a runway with cameras clicking and viewers going ooh and ahh. I never grew tired of that brownish tweed coat with 3 buttons. I just grew out of it. I can't remember if it was handed down to my sister. In my heart I feel it eventually made it to my grandmother who most likely removed these 3 buttons and tore the coat apart into strips of fabric. She probably rolled those strips into a ball until needed for one of her breathtaking braided rugs. I'm hoping that's what happened to my favorite old coat. Then my favorite old coat would live on forever just like it does in my heart.
Saturday, April 29, 2017
I don't remember it hurting when in the process of getting my hair French braided. I do remember my mother pulling and separating strands and then as she twisted the strands, she'd move farther and farther back from the table. When the braid was in place, she'd grab the rubber band and wrap it around the end of the braid. Then she'd turn me another way and do the same on the other side. This process of French braiding never took very long and every time my mother braided my hair, the braids were topped off with those brown clips void of any artwork put in place at the beginning of each braid.
The French braids were like identical twins every single time. Each hair was in place. Each braid twisted at the same place.The beauty of having French braids was the fact they stayed in place for a few days. That meant a few days void of bothering with my hair. When the braids were finally taken out and my hair was either washed or braided again, I loved the look of my hair just out of the braids. That's because my hair had become curly. Because my hair was naturally straight, it was fun to have it all in ringlets.
When I became a mother, I was horrible at braiding hair. I could braid hair but not like the perfectionist. My braids were basic braids not French braids. My fingers wouldn't work like they were supposed to when dealing with the strands. I tried to make-up for my poor braiding performance by purchasing fancy barrettes with artwork on them. That worked for awhile until the braids fell out. Then I'd put their hair in basic ponytails-so much easier!
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Back then there were no health drinks for kids. There were no amazing car seats with those nooks and crannies. But all was not gloom and doom. Back then kids weren't mesmerized by technology. Kids went outside and played. They skipped rope. They roller skated and used chalk on sidewalks to play Hop Scotch. They played chase and baseball and spent hours in sandboxes or played Pick Up Sticks or rolled marbles in the snow-in the mud-in the grass. I know lots of kids do the same today. But back then, by running and playing, skipping and jumping, lots of that sugar was burned up and that was a very good thing!
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Having grown up in the country, Spring surrounded us. With the creek out back pushing far beyond its banks and geese flying high above us, my cousins and I frolicked outside until dragged inside and when we went inside, we'd most likely be soaking wet from playing in a stream that ran alongside our grandparents' farmhouse. If the weather changed and the temperature dipped, that little stream would turn to ice. But that didn't stop us. We'd find shovels or picks and open our highway back up so we could find some twigs and use them to race each other's twigs down that stream to the finish. I don't ever remember being cold when playing in that stream even when my mittens were soaking wet and my nose was dripping and my boots were full of mucky water mixed with leaves and stones. None of that matters when you are a kid and Spring is turning your Winter playground into something brand new and exciting, offering brand new things to play and explore until Spring turns to Summer and that little stream dries up and disappears under the sunshine and heat of the new season.
I can't remember if my grandparents tapped their maple trees but I do remember some other farms nearby with buckets on their trees. Now when I drive down those country roads and see buckets collecting sap, I think back to those days of chasing twigs and playing hopscotch in boots that were soaking wet but it didn't matter. It was Spring! And Spring, with all of its mud and grime, is a most marvelous place to play!
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Back then there was only one flavor of Graham Crackers and that was-Graham Crackers. No matter what we were drinking-milk, coffee, or hot chocolate-those graham crackers tasted even more delicious when dipped into our cup or glass. I'm sure we went through more than one pack of those crackers at each sitting but who kept track. We'd all keep talking as we enjoyed our snack at that kitchen table.
We also enjoyed graham crackers after our aunt took us swimming down at the river. It was across the road, down a lovely path through the woods and over a fence. Once the swimming was behind us, we'd dry off amongst the cow pies and eat graham crackers on the way back home. We never made things with the graham crackers like little houses at Christmas time. All we ever did was eat them.
When I see the Graham Crackers these days sitting on the store shelf in different boxes, various brands and in different flavors, they still bring back fun memories. I've learned it's not the graham crackers that made those times so special. It was the people gathered with me or swimming beside me or walking along with me down a lovely wooded path.
Friday, January 27, 2017
None of the old corner stores that were in my neighborhood exist anymore. Some are now homes. Some are gone completely. All that remains are vacant lots. Some were bought out-demolished and replaced by the modern day version of a neighborhood corner store. In other words, a chain where all the stores look alike inside and out. They have to. That's part of the plan.You'll never meet the owner. He/she is at corporate headquarters. You might get to know some of the clerks or the manager but they come and go so you can't count on them remembering your kids' names or remember where your grandparents lived or remember where your parents worked.There are no creaky, old floors or candy cigarettes or cats sleeping on scatter rugs or curtains in plate-glass windows with plants in pots perched on window sills or an old chair sitting out front where you might find the owner taking a little break between customers. Instead the modern day versions offer you lottery tickets, pizzas, subs, a zillion brands of beer and chips, novelties that cost much more than 25 cents as well as gas, propane, bagged ice, flavored coffees in fancy Styrofoam cups and a feeling that you are just another customer.
When I think about it, I can remember every one of those old corner stores in my neighborhood. I loved them all. I miss them all. I miss the feeling they gave me. It was like going back home.