Sunday, November 15, 2020

For the Love of Johnnycake

This time of the year brings back memories of sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table enjoying more than a few slices of her freshly baked johnnycake. Most times it'd still be nice and warm. The aroma of that favorite cake often eaten with meals like bread filled her home. When you walked through the front door and caught the scent of johnnycake, it was as if you'd discovered a little bit of heaven. Actually, my cousin and I did. It was always heaven being around our grandmother whose johnnycake was made from scratch without any need to look up a recipe in a cookbook or go searching in a drawer for a piece of paper with the recipe scribbled on it. She knew that recipe by heart.

The Quaker Corn Meal packaged in its distinctive box was a staple in her home. She used corn meal for many things. But johnnycake was the main event. As we sat around the kitchen table indulging ourselves with a slice or two, we'd sometimes hear about how when they-meaning my grandparents and their children-used to make dessert out of their warm johnnycake by pouring maple syrup made in the spring over their slices. I can only imagine the taste!

I still love johnnycake. In fact, I make johnnycake but it's nothing like what my grandmother made while wearing a house dress with her hair pulled up in a bun.. I buy those little boxes Of Jiffy Corn Muffin mixes. You just have to pour the batter into an 8" square pan when making johnnycake. Add milk and an egg to their mix and twenty minute later, you have johnnycake. Or should I say a version of johnnycake. 

You see it doesn't come with family gathered once again around a kitchen table where they often gathered, talking and laughing as the older generation would tell the younger generation stories from days of long ago-stories the younger generation often asked if they'd tell them again and again. Most often they did tell their stories again and most often they told them while we enjoyed warm, homemade johnnycake with a touch of real butter and served with a meal or served with just a piping hot freshly perked cup of coffee made in a coffee pot that had served so many cups of coffee alongside johnnycake made from scratch, not from a box. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Watching The Twilight Zone With My Cousin

 When I think about it, I was the lucky one back when watching The Twilight Zone with my cousin. Those were the days when we lived next door to each other out in the country. Separating us was a field with a pathway that we used to go back and forth. Lining one side of that field was a row of tall, stately poplar trees. To this day I can still hear the leaves in those trees rustle in the wind. When Halloween was approaching that rustling sounded more like witches screeching.

One night most every week for quite awhile my cousin would walk, or run, through the field to my house so that we could watch The Twilight Zone together. It was such a frightening show that watching it alone was never an option. Once she arrived, we'd flick the lights off and turn on CBS to get our 25 minutes of fear and suspense. I will now admit I got the better end of that scenario. I wasn't the one who had to run back home through that field with those poplar leaves moaning in the dark after watching The Twilight Zone. I just had to lock the door and go to bed. Most always I never went right to sleep. I'd replay the episode we'd just watched over and over again in my head.

Now thinking about those scary, cliffhanging, suspenseful weekly episodes, I think it was the voice of Rod Sterling that got me the most. Not that his voice was scary. It was his delivery. He'd grab my attention from the very first word and keep my attention to the very last word-all spoken in a monotone that needed no special effects. Just having Rod Sterling standing there and talking to me without a change in facial expression or inflection in his delivery or fancy backdrops was enough for me. His setting the stage to what was to come only enhanced the storyline that followed. From science fiction to fantasy; suspense to the unexpected, those weekly stories never disappointed. My cousin and I would talk about what we'd watched all weekend long until we were back again in the living room with the lights out, listening to Rod Sterling and watching his Twilight Zone. 

Who can forget him saying to each and everyone of us: "The Twilight Zone is a place that exists at any moment of time, space or of mind-but always when you least expect it. When you find yourself in this realm of unlimited possibility, be careful what you say or do. The right decision may help you find your way back out, sometimes with greater happiness & wealth. The wrong decisions often lead to madness & death, or an eternity trapped in this dimension.
Tread warily past the sign post ahead that says you have entered-The Twilight Zone!"
And my cousin and I entered that zone with our eyes wide open and hearts beating and imaginations awake and ready to go.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Story in a Hedgerow


I took the above photo of a hedgerow a few weeks ago. Most any photo taken outdoors this time of the year stirs one’s senses but this one was telling me a story that I couldn’t figure out. That changed yesterday when I opened up an old cupboard where I keep little odds ‘n ends of things, most handmade by my children over the years —like a small ceramic ghost holding a pumpkin and a stuffed-with-newspapers-brown paper bag made to look like a pumpkin face and a ceramic statue of Charlie Brown and a painted, wooden tulip in a wooden vase as well as small candles and small Santas and reindeer and bunnies and trinkets from Dollar stores.

I’d gone to the cupboard over the weekend for a few Halloween ceramic pumpkins and while I was getting the pumpkins I noted a plastic bag way in the back. Sitting on the floor, I pulled the bag out; reached inside and grabbed hold of three very large and very beautiful quilt tops my mother had made. (Example of one shown above). I’ve written before of her sewing skills. She was meticulous. Her eye for color and design was keen. After sitting there for a bit, I put the quilt tops in the plastic bag and sat them way back in the old cupboard with all the other beloved treasures gathered together, safe and sound and out of the way.

So yesterday there I was yet again—back in the cupboard for a few more Halloween trinkets. The minute I saw the plastic bag with my mother’s quilt tops inside, it happened. I heard the story that hedgerow was telling me. I realized the quilt tops were telling me the same story. My mother had the ability to turn all those little mismatched pieces of color and design into keepsakes with every stitch she made. Mother Nature took the wind and the sun and the soil and the rain and turned a simple hedgerow of mismatched brambles and weeds and mini trees and grass sitting along a country road into a breathtaking pallet of design and color.

Both told a story of determination. Both revealed a beauty unique to themselves, even those brambles and weeds twisted together like pieces of fabric sewn together in quilt tops kept in a cupboard.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Witches' Brew

Growing up in the country provided the perfect spooky setting when Halloween was looming. Poplar trees with limbs bare transformed themselves into scrawny fingers ready to snatch any one of us kids as we ran by in a hurry. Leaves scurrying over the fields evolved into mice rushing toward us. We were certain our grandfather's old barn with its main door creaking in the howling wind sounded more like screeching witches cackling under the big orange moon. But Halloween wasn't only looming outside with bats swooping down and ghosts swirling about. Things were happening inside the house as well. Especially in the kitchen.

For as long as I can remember when my mother would go to the cupboard and take out her largest cooking pot and set it on top of the stove as the leaves fell and the wind blew and homes were decorated with pumpkins and cornstalks and my cousins and I were figuring out what we'd be for Halloween, I knew what my mother was going to make. She made it come every October. And she made it more than once. More than twice. It was our favorite soup and it was perfect for that time of the year. Somehow it became known as Witches' Brew. 

Maybe it was that pot she was using. Surely if you were a kid you could have imagined it as a witch's pot. It wasn't black. It was silver but it was deep with pitch black handles and when she had her gooey, yellowish brew bubbling and she stood there stirring the brew with a long, wooden spoon, that cauldron full of a boiling, gooey yellowish g broth resembled a cauldron any witch would use. Even my mother. Even when her hair was done up in pin curls.

Standing in the kitchen, watching her stir her tasty concoction I imagined her dressed in black with a pointed hat and long, sharp fingernails despite her fingernails always manicured to perfection. When she added tiny little eyeballs, and cut-up parts and disgusting things that were little and round, that pot would get boiling hot and stem would cover the kitchen windows. Once it had roared to the point of being cooked, my mother would fill enough bowls and set them around the table along with warm cornbread just out of the oven. As we gathered around the table, we'd pick up our spoons and immerse them in our bowls of witches' brew. 

And that's when the gooey, yellowish brew turned into chicken broth and those tiny little eyeballs became acini de pepes and those cut-up parts transformed into cut-up bits of celery, peppers and onions and those disgusting things that were little and round became delicious little meatballs.

Witches' Brew stirred the imagination at a most spooky, gruesome, scary and absolutely marvelously unforgettable fun time of the year when growing up out in the country. And witches' brew continues to be enjoyed, even by the next generation-tiny little eyeballs included.

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Many Shades of Brown


The summer before my freshman year in high school, I met a girl who was two or three years older than I was. She was from Indiana. She came with relatives to visit for a few weeks. Back then, my family lived out in the country next to my grandparents and an aunt and next door to them, lived another family household with an aunt, uncle and two cousins. So when the Indiana relatives came, it was lots of fun-especially when they brought along that older girl.

It took me a while to talk with her. After all, she was older. Back in Indiana she was a cheerleader and, she had a boyfriend. I thought she was beautiful. With her blonde hair and the way she spoke, she reminded me of Marilyn Monroe. But after being around her for about a week, I realized what was most intriguing about that girl was her eye make-up. I'd never been around anyone who wore eye make-up. And she wore it every, single day.

One evening when we were all hanging around I had the nerve to ask her about eye make-up. I really knew nothing about that stuff. I could tell she was thrilled to tell me all about it. She went inside and brought out a plastic case which I soon learned held all of her make-up. She even had a little mirror. Since I'd asked about eye make-up, she pulled out small compacts of many different shades. I'd noticed she wore mostly blue. That girl had several shades of blue along with what I soon learned were accent colors. I never knew eye make-up came with accent colors. I was mesmerized by the plastic compacts and array of colors as well as eyeliners in all of their shades.

"Want me to do you eyes?" she asked.
"Me?" I replied as I felt my face turning red.
"Yes. You have big, brown eyes. They would look even bigger and more beautiful if I added a bit of make-up."

Seconds later I felt as if I was in a beauty parlor. I didn't take her long to "do my eyes." When she handed me her little mirror I was stunned with what I saw. My eyes were bigger. They were shades of brown-soft browns with lighter accented shades. I fell in love with my big, brown eyes. The next day she showed me how to do my eyes one step at a time. She told me what to buy. She told me how to take it all off at night. 

After she and my relatives left, I went to the store and bought Maybelline eye make-up. And I have been wearing Maybelline eye make-up in shades of brown ever since. "Doing my eyes" every morning has become a part of my morning routine even when I'm not going anywhere. 

Doing my eyes adds a kick to my step-a bit of color to my day. It's a fun little thing I do just for me. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Oh Those Netted Crinolines

I hardly ever wore crinolines under my skirts way back when wearing crinolines underneath skirts was the fad. Not participating in a fad was unusual for me. After all, I ran to a department store located in the downtown of where I lived  the moment Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" grabbed my attention. I had to have bellbottoms and short-sleeved ribbed sweaters. I had to grow my hair down to my waist. But crinolines were a different story. I didn't like all of that netting. I didn't like my skirts pushed way out in front of me even when most of my friends wore crinolines all the time. 

However, there are most always exceptions to most anything-even when it comes to wearing crinolines if crinolines aren't your thing. For me, that exception  came when my grandmother made me a velvet green dress to wear to a Christmas party. It was going to be held in a grand old hotel in that downtown where I lived. My date was a Freshman at a nearby college. He was so cute. We were going with a friend of his and that friend's date.

My grandmother was an expert seamstress. I had no problem wearing a homemade dress. I knew it would look as if I'd bought it in some fancy store. My mother, also an expert seamstress, owned a fabric store. It was part of our home and my grandmother lived next door. So on a Saturday morning my grandmother came over and we talked about 'the dress.' It took a few hours. The dress had to be perfect. Since it was a Christmas dance, the three of us agreed velvet would be perfect-emerald green velvet. Then we browsed through some pattern books to get some ideas. The dress ended up being a combination of features taken from a few patterns. My grandmother never actually had a specific pattern to follow. She measured me while my mother measured out the yards needed. Besides a zipper, that's all my grandmother had to make the dress. No pattern. Just a bag with the velvet and a zipper inside.

I went for a few fittings. That was fun. I loved watching my grandmother tighten a dart or tuck in a seam with her measuring tape around her neck and straight pins attached to her house dress for quick use. When I went for the final fitting three days before the gala event, I was shocked to discover my grandmother had added crinoline to the dress. Not too much but still, it made the dress puff out a bit. I didn't say anything. I didn't feel like trying it on but I did. She'd worked so hard on the dress. My grandmother put it over my head and I could feel the netting go down my sides. After she zipped up the back, she turned me around in front of a long mirror and asked me what I thought. I was afraid to look. When I did, I fell in love with the velvet green dress. The crinoline added something special. It dressed it up. It would be fun to dance in it. I loved to dance. I was excited.

Despite the velvet green dress, the dance was a disaster. After we'd dance to a fast song and my crinolines went flying, my cute date smelling of English Leather told me I wouldn't see him again because he had a girlfriend back home. Not even that dress could stop the tears.

I never wore crinolines again. I was quite happy when miniskirts and go-go boots became the fad.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Teddy Bears Sitting By A Rhubarb Patch


Years ago there was a rhubarb patch growing alongside a sandbox in front of a garden near a river and that rhubarb patch, just like the sandbox, the garden and the river, was enjoyed all summer long. Children big and small would sometimes pull a stalk of rhubarb when going to play in the sandbox or run through the garden.

One day, a glorious, beautiful day, a bunch of teddy bears, of all shapes and colors and sizes and conditions, gathered together by that rhubarb patch to play outside in the sunshine. Big, lovable Dandy, wearing quite the straw hat, was more worn out than the Care Bear or other teddy bears enjoying their time together. Dandy’s condition had nothing to do with his age. Rather, it was all about the love he received and the love he gave back—reminding me of one of so many quotable lines from the treasured children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams—

     “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

      “REAL isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”

Dandy was loved. Dandy became real just like so many other teddy bears have become real through endless hugs and countless kisses and fur combings and dress-up times and tea parties and snuggling in bed before falling asleep and sitting by rhubarb patches in the sunshine. Many of those really loved and really worn teddy bears now sit on shelves or are tucked away in attics or closets or have been tossed into a toy box or placed in a crib or given down to the next generation, or have become but a memory kept deep in one’s heart.

To all those beloved, those really worn, Real Teddy Bears like Dandy, I wish you a very well-deserved, very Happy Teddy Bear’s Day. You have been there for so many of us in good times, bad times, funny times and sad times. We’ll forever feel your hugs and the warmth of your fur and the love in your eyes. As Margery Williams simply explained: “Once you are REAL you can’t become UNREAL again. It lasts for always.”