Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Favorite Old Coat

Funny how certain things remain in your heart as you grow up. You don't judge their value monetarily. Rather, their value stems from the feelings they evoke; the memories they stir; the senses they ignite. Their value to you is priceless. It could be as something as small as a tea cup to something as big as a car. Whatever that favorite thing is, all that matters is that connection in your heart.

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

The Perfectionist of French Braids

I never realized the skill and patience it takes to create French braids. My mother created them all the time and every time I was told by adults how perfect they were. Their remarks were part of the routine that started when I'd sit down at the kitchen table and stay still. On the table sat a tall glass of water with one of those skinny black combs, some hair clips and rubber bands. Back then there wasn't a slew of licensed characters on barrettes so I never whined for anything fancier than the simple, brown hair clips my mother bought at Newberry's or Woolworths. They didn't come in a variety of colors. They weren't decorated with little flowers or butterflies or ladybugs. They were basic brown-like my hair.

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

How Did Kids Survive Back Then

I sometimes find myself wondering how my kids survived growing up without all the safety products and warnings and whole foods and organic products now on the market. Back then when driving a car, what we used for a car seat was our right arm, automatically reacting when danger lurked. Without a thought, that arm sprang into action, saving the child from going into a dashboard or a window or being thrown onto the floor as the car kept going on its way. An arm didn't come with all the bells and whistles those safety seats come with today. Some of those seats have nooks and crannies for drinks and coloring books and crayons and other favorite things. And to keep the little ones content on longer trips, their attention can be grabbed by videos or movies playing on small screens right in front of them. I could have used such technology a few times. I remember a 3-hour drive with a toddler in the back seat, roaming around at will, crawling on the floor of the car and nestling in the back window. I'd throw Cheerios to her to keep her content. From Cheerios I'd go to throwing cookies when the need arose or toss her a bottle full of Tang or "strawberry milk" made by adding a powdered mix with strawberry flavoring and dyes and tons of sugar. Either one was loaded down with sugar. But each did the trick.

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

Sweet Spring Awakening

I don't keep it a secret that Winter is by far my favorite season. But that doesn't mean I can ignore the smells and colors of Fall and the sound of leaves when shuffling through them or the splendor of a Summer garden or the tinge of excitement when the Earth is awakening to Spring and robins come back home and thoughts of playing hopscotch on a sidewalk that's been buried in snow makes you go searching for chalk of any size, any color.

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

Growing up with Graham Crackers

My grandmother had a small white stand-alone cupboard in her farmhouse kitchen. When they sold the farm, that cupboard went right along with them to the next kitchen. If any of us little ones were worried the contents of that cupboard would change in new surroundings, our worries were put to rest the first time we sat around the same kitchen table that we'd sat around before and were served our most favorite treat of all-Graham Crackers-kept in the middle draw of that cupboard along with Fig Newtons and Lorna Doons.

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

The Old Neighborhood Corner Stores

When I was growing up it seemed as if every block around where I lived had a corner store. None of them were alike. There were no neighborhood corner store chains back then so each had its own personality. More often than not the actual store was located in the front part or the side part of the owner's home. When you walked into the store you might have been able to smell dinner cooking beyond the closed door leading into the home. You might have found a bell on the counter next to a manual cash register and underneath the bell there might have been a sign telling you "Ring if you need service." Most always the person waiting on you was the owner himself. That was his full-time job and if he had to be out of the store for some reason, his wife or an older child would be the one waiting on you. Neighborhood corner stores were family businesses. You were called by your first name. You were asked about your family. And if you didn't have enough to cover what you were purchasing, it wasn't a problem. "Just pay me next time," you were told.

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.