Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bedtime Ditty or Anytime At All

What do you get if you combine a rocking chair with a little ditty? If you happen to be talking about my grandmother then surely the two would lead to her sitting in her rocking chair humming and singing one particular short but sweet lullaby-type verse to any toddler perched on her lap or baby cuddled up in her arms. It didn't necessarily have to be bedtime for this to happen. And no matter the age, the little bundle lucky enough to be wrapped in her embrace seemed to sense how special the moment was as her reassuring voice would sing the simple stanzas over and over again. With her down-to-the-waist length hair pulled up in a bun and held in place with hair combs, and her black-laced shoes firmly set on one of her braided rugs, my grandmother's rhythm in both rocking and singing blended effortlessly as the simple words filled the room with a warm, comfortable, fuzzy feeling-the same sort of feeling you get when curled up with a good book on a snowy evening.

The ditty was 'Pony Boy' and if I didn't know any better I would have thought my grandmother wrote it. But of course she didn't. She just sang it like she did and every time it came to one particular point she would slow down and emphasize one particular word with as much enthusiasm as she'd shown the last one hundred times she'd recited it. Granted the babies didn't notice but the toddlers did. They'd about hold their breath when the chair stopped rocking until they heard "Whoa-my Pony Boy". Then the rocking returned as the voice danced to the end of the ditty, adding an extra hug or two for good measure.

My mother never sang 'Pony Boy.' Most afternoons when my sister was very young she would rock her to sleep and as my mother rocked she'd hum her own little ditty. I know her ditty was an original for there were no words-just repeated sounds hummed in such a monotone that my mother often fell asleep too.

Lullabies or ditties-words or no words-however they are defined-boil down to generations spending precious time together and that alone is worth singing from the mountain tops.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Had to be a Butterball

I never knew why our Thanksgiving turkey had to be a Butterball. I never knew what the difference was between a Butterball turkey and a regular turkey. I just remember all of our Tom Turkeys had that same first name and they all came from the same neighborhood store.

My mother would call a good two weeks out and put her order in. She never used a coupon. That little store never offered such things. My parents knew the owner. Most everyone did in our small town. When it was time to go pick the Butterball up and bring him home to roost, my father always wore a tie with a good shirt, dress pants and his winter coat and wool hat with a red feather on the side. My mother always went with him wrapped up in her red, woolen coat. My siblings and I would stay home and wait for them to return. It was quite an exciting time.

Once back home, my mother would open the front door for my father who'd walk in carrying Tom inside a heavy cardboard box with handles on each side. We'd follow them into the kitchen as the box was placed inside the sink. Once their coats and boots were off, we waited while our parents opened the box so we could see what Tom looked like. We'd stand there marveling at his splendor and size. Thinking about it now, Tom looked the same every year. I never thought he did back then as the box was secured and Tom was put on the side porch until it was time to put him in the oven-usually very early Thanksgiving Day-early enough so that when we got up that welcoming aroma of a turkey roasting in the oven was starting to become apparent.

Sometimes our home was where everyone gathered for the yearly feast. Sometimes it was my grandmother's. Either way, the night before was a hustle of preparations. The stuffing was always made fresh from scratch so that meant the dry, stale bread had to be ripped into pieces and the butter had to be melted and the spices readied-especially that little box of Bell's seasonings. While the stuffing was being blended, Tom was brought in from the side porch. It was his turn to be cleaned and prepared. He was always the 'biggest turkey ever.'

As little kids we never realized what else besides the Butterball and his stuffing was meticulously prepared. I guess we thought the cranberries and coleslaw and mashed potaotes with dumplings and gravy and squash and salads and homemade pickles and pies with real whippped cream and everything else sitting on a tablecloth-the same tablecloth brought out every year-took no thought at all or at least much less than that Butterball in the cardboard box. However the feast came together, we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Adults back then were dressed for the occasion. My grandmother always traded her house dress for a good dress even though she worked in the kitchen. Aprons were always nearby. The men wore ties and the conversation flowed. Hours after the meal, Tom the Butterball was again enjoyed in sandwiches with pepper and mayonnaise with yet another slice of pie with the real whipped cream.

That corner neighborhood store is now closed. No one can order Butterballs from there anymore. Nothing lasts forever. That's why it's important to enjoy the moment at hand with family and friends.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lunch boxes and Twinkies

There's nothing like baking cupcakes or cookies. It's even more fun to eat them or take them with you to school or the office or to someone having a tough day or a birthday or just to say hi. Back when I was a kid it was even more of a treat to have a Twinkie. My mother didn't buy them all the time so when she did, they didn't last very long.

Having a Twinkie in your lunch box at school afforded you added value with friends and anyone else sitting within view in the crowded and noisy cafeteria when you pulled that so familiar and so highly revered little package out in a way that you made sure everyone saw it. And although you wanted to rip it wide open and gobble the two golden spongy logs down like you did at home, you'd slow the process down to a crawl and act as if no one cared what you had in your hand when you knew it was just the opposite. Methodically you'd take a bite and as you chewed with a heavenly smile upon your face you'd look around as if no one was watching when actually you felt the eyes and heard their pain. If you happened to get a bit of that fluffy, creamy, whatever-it-was-made of filling on your face, you'd stop and take a break while you wiped away the stuff and then lick your fingers-again very slowly as the clock ticked and the natives were getting more envious with each lick and bite. This prolonged torture lasted until the last bite was taken and the last chew enjoyed. Friends held on to the bitter end, each hoping they would become your very best friend and you'd share the pleasure. But you never did. You'd smack your lips, put the wrappings back in your lunch box and get ready to go, strutting out of the cafeteria like a peacock after a fine meal.

This was all well and good in cafeteria land-until it was someone else pulling Twinkies out of their lunch box. Surely you thought, as you stared in envy, this person would share a Twinkie with you. After all, you were their very best friend. Just because you didn't know this person's last name or where they lived, for the moment you declared yourself a best friend. How could they just sit there and eat both of the Twinkies with a smirk on their face and that to-die-for filling on their cheeks and around their mouths?

Thank you Twinkies everywhere for the memories. I never cared about calories or articicial this and that. Bottom line, you always tasted so good. You were just the right size for a little sweet treat and satisfied like no other little sweet treat. What you gave us every time was pure delight-and status in the cafeteria!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

French Toast

 My younger brother was born in the month of May. Not long after his birth, my mother ended up in the hospital with blood clots in her leg. She spent a good part of the summer there and I spent alot of time with the new baby being cared for by my aunt just next door. I was eleven or twelve and that summer was all about the baby. As he grew-our bond became even closer. And one of the many things entwined in that bond was french toast-along with the citing of the first snowflakes falling and dancing aound the house to most any jitterbugging song on the radio.

My little brother thought I was the best french toast maker ever-ever! But honestly-in today's french toast standards-my version of this breakfast tradition was rather simple. I only used Wonder bread because that is what my parents bought at the A & P. There were no fancy baked breads or Italian or French breads perfectly sliced in our home-just Wonder bread with those red, yellow, and blue balloons printed on the package! As my brother sat in his bathrobe waiting I would take the big bowl from the cupboard and begin the magical process of turning bread into special moments between a little boy and his big sister. My mother only used butter then so that is what I would melt in the pan after slicing the bread and cracking and whisking the eggs with a fork. Sometimes I'd sprinkle a little cinnamon in but that was all I would add besides the milk-mixing the few ingredients to a certain point and then dipping the bread into the bowl and in turn, placing the slices in the frying pan. Sometimes I'd soak them too long and they would break apart before hitting the pan-landing on top of the stove or on the floor. Or sometimes they'd be so soaked with the egg mixture that I about burned them before they were cooked. Quite often I'd rip a slice apart trying to flip it over to the other side. None of that mattered to my little brother. He'd sit and play at the table unaware that I might be struggling with the task at hand. It's when the kitchen filled with smoke and I had to open the back door that he'd look up but not for long. He always had faith in me and he always ate whatever version  I served him after I drenched the french toast with Aunt Jemima.

My little brother still thinks I am the best french toast cooker ever and that makes all my preparing and cooking frustrations and burned slices never served and messy countertops and sticky tabletops and sticky floor and a kitchen filled with smoke more than once-worth it. Sometimes sticky and messy and smoke-filled turn into unforgettable memories as they have with those french toast slices made from Wonder bread and served with love from a big sister to a little brother.
(The illustration above is by The Reindeer Keeper's amazing illustrator-Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Winter's in the Air!

                        My mother always said you spend the summer getting ready for winter.

That never made any sense to me when I was growing up. I didn't connect the dots-between the clearing of gardens and washing of windows inside and out and the replacing of screens with storm windows and the fixing up going on-with the changing of the season. I never realized the sheets, along with sweaters washed in Woolite and blankets taken out of cedar chests and anything else that had been packed away in mothballs, were on the clothes line probably for the last time until tulips and daffodils announced the next season's impending arrival. I never questioned the picnic table and enamel chairs disappearing from the back yard as leaves swirled about. I guess I thought boots and mittens, scarves and snowsuits just appeared from nowhere as bikes and roller skates could be found hanging back in the garage. Slowly like molasses coming out of a jar-menus changed without my noticing from hotdogs and potato salad to boiled dinners and scalloped potatoes and ham. I never knew my father had to take the car in to get the oil changed and tires checked. I never realized the shovel and scrapers had to be found.

I only knew that when those first snowflakes fell it was magical. I would grab my boots and mittens, scarf and snowsuit and run outside and play in the snow. When the creek froze I'd get my skates kept right where they always were when needed. I'd grab the shovel when there was a lot of snow and make paths in the fluffy flakes or forts with my snow block maker. Everything was where it should be-as it would be again when snow became spring showers and snow suits and snow boots and shovels and skates and snow block makers disappeared-for a little while-with no effort at all-or any that I was aware of back then.