Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Grandfather's Old Barn

What a treasure of a picture I discovered Thanksgiving day. Going through family picture albums with my older brother we came across so many pictures we'd never seen before. We had an aunt who organized family pictures by year and by family. Behind many of the photos were the negatives. I can't imagine how long it took her to do this but I am thankful she did.

The first photo I would like to share is this amazing photo of my grandfather's barn. This is the barn I went back to in my memory several times when writing, "The Reindeer Keeper." My cousins and I spent countless hours playing and pretending in this massive structure with two haylofts connected by an old plank bridge and empty stanchios and empty chicken roosts. But empty didn't matter to us. In our imaginations they were sometimes occupied. In our imaginations that old barn was one great adventure after another. Despite the snow and rain creeping in between the cracks, we stayed inside that barn-and waited for the next stagecoach or hid from younger family members or dashed from one haymow to the other in hot pursuit of evil creatures.

That weathered old barn was our Disney World and our Great Adventure and Smithsonian every time we stepped inside. And when I sat down to write "The Reindeer Keeper" that barn with its creaks and smells and fascination became the focal point to a story I felt brewing inside me about bringing adults back to that wondrous feeling of truly believing in the Spirit of Christmas.

Family photo albums are a family's history. They link generations, telling them about those who came before them and about special times and places-like an old barn now gone except for its silo.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Coleslaw in the Yellow Bowl

My one particular aunt who lived with my grandparents really never cooked. Besides oatmeal and chipped beef on toast, she stayed out of the kitchen. She really didn't have to cook when my grandmother was alive for nothing could beat what this woman of French-Canadian descent created with ease; mixing and stirring without a recipe; using a pinch of that and a dash of whatever else she felt was needed. My grandmother mastered the art of cooking long be

fore TV chefs made their way into our homes.

But once on her own, my aunt did master a few recipes including her great version of coleslaw. It became a family favorite. It was always requested for family gatherings including Thanksgiving. I'm not sure if my grandmother gave her some secret tips for making coleslaw but whatever my aunt's secrets, her version of this basic salad was carried out to perfection every single time she made it.

On Thanksgiving Day her yellow bowl with that salad was a sought after item. It always blended in perfectly with the rest of the amazing feast served around a table of cousins and aunts and uncles-all talking at once and all thankful to be together as that yellow bowl made its way around the table again and again until it was empty.

Family traditions come wrapped in many packages. This particular tradition came in a yellow bowl created by a reknowned chef-at least reknowned in her family and missed this day when yellow bowls and serving platters and pie plates are full and appreciated by loved ones gathered once again in Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The China Cupboard in the Corner

Even though we were young, my cousins and I must have realized the china cupboard situtated in a corner of the dining room of the old farmhouse was off limits. I don't remember us talking about it. If we had talked about it I would have remembered because such talks were usually long ones. And I don't remember any adult telling us not to play near the cupboard so it must have been our youthful intuition at work. Oh we played in the dining room all the time. We ran through it, played tag around the oak pedestal table; hid buttons for "Button, Button, Who's Got The Button", laughed and giggled in games of "Red Light-Green Light" and so much more but not once did we venture near that cupboard. Looking back I think it's because we knew it wasn't just any china cupboard. It was our grandmother's china cupboard.

The glass doors were only opened on special occasions-including Thanksgiving. When they were, out came bone china dining sets and serving bowls and silver soup ladles and tall, etched goblets. Underneath the glass doors were two pull-out drawers full of fine linen tablecloths and crocheted, linen napkins and serving pads.The cupboard had its own special smell-a mixture of shellac and green tea. For some reason my grandmother kept her green tea bags near her collection of china tea cups. Throughout the year she'd go to the cupboard; choose a cup, pick out a tea bag, boil some water and enjoy a cup of tea. I don't know exactly how many cups and saucers she had but I remember thinking there were zillions. The cups hung from little hooks. Some were decorated in an old-English flair; others with dainty flowers and swirly designs. Others were void of anything but a gold-like rim. My favorite cup had pretty clovers all over it. The saucers were neatly stacked on the shelf underneath the cups.

When my grandparents moved out of the farmhouse the cupboard was relocated to one of my aunt's.

The tea cups with matching saucers were divided up between the grandchildren. I felt so lucky. I was given the cup with the pretty clovers!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

House Dresses

I only remember one time when I saw my grandmother in anything but a house dress. It was later on in her life. She was going berry picking in a pair of jeans. That image was odd to say the least because growing up, she always wore a house dress; sort of like June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson but more down-to-earth like the Waltons.

My grandmother worked from the minute she got up to the minute she went to bed. I guess you could say when she went downstairs in the morning, she was reporting in to work wearing her uniform. Functional, with pockets, her house dress with its lose fit freed her to move fast, cook fast, mend and sew and knit fast, bake bread and prepare meals and clean-up after fast, tend to six daughters fast, help her husband in the barn and fields and gardens fast and deal with everything else in between through four seasons, seven days a week even faster.

She had a few house dresses. They were always clean and neat and complimented her as she moved about the old farmhouse which would have been comparable to today's woman in the workplace. That rambling home with its front veranda was her office. The kitchen was her board room. The long, pine table was where board members met to enjoy home-cooked meals and partake in conversations on a daily basis. Instead of stocks and bonds and trends, discussions focused on chores and family matters and more chores.

I dare say the work was harder and the hours longer in my grandmother's office. She never closed for holidays. She didn't benefit from paid vacations or sick leave or health insurance. Work as it is defined was real work back then. And even though she never wore pants, everyone knew she "wore the pants" in that office while wearing a house dress with pockets.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

For the love of Tuna Fish

I can remember going to my grandmother's and eating tuna fish sandwiches. She'd cut up celery into little bits and with a dash of pepper, add the bits to the fish and mix it all together with mayonnaise-never a substitute. Then she'd open a jar of pickles and put them on the table. If she'd run out of her own slippery pickles-the best pickles in the world-she'd serve dill pickles bought at the A & P or Loblaws. To me, pickles and tuna fish were made for each other-like peanut butter and jelly-ice cream and cake.

My mother made a great tuna casserole. Served piping hot with bread, the creamy mixture complete with peas and sliced hard-boiled eggs was the perfect meal on a winter's night. It was also good the next day-cold, for lunch.

Still to this day my love affair with tuna fish continues most every single day either for lunch or dinner-or both! I don't know what it is about that can of flaky fish. It's not just a habit because more often than not I crave my tuna. The worst example of this craving came when I was quite pregnant and in the grocery store. I realize now that I should have eaten before going there but I didn't think I'd be that long. But since it wasn't busy I bought more than I'd planned. Suddenly, waddling down the frozen food aisle that tuna craving hit so hard that I hurried to the front of the store and told a teller with a long line that I'd be right back. I parked my cart by the front desk and rushed as much as I could out the front door.

Thinking back and remembering the looks on faces, I bet they thought I was in labor. In a way,I was-

a labor of love started long ago by a grandmother who cut celery up into little bits and with a dash of pepper, added the bits to tuna fish and made sandwiches served with pickles on the side.