Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Happy Christmas Birthday

Because my brother's birthday was just before Christmas my mother would always make him a cake in the shape of a Christmas tree. Actually she would make all of our birthday cakes in the shape of a Christmas tree because we all loved her Christmas tree cakes. They were double tiered with homemade frosting. I remember thinking how lucky he was to have his birthday in December and close to Christmas.

Our family celebrates many December birthdays-some at the beginning of the month and two the day after Christmas. Over the years I've found having a child with a December 26th birthday to be a real challenge. Just to separate the two events is near impossible since the house is a mass of opened gifts-some still in boxes under the tree and some still looking for a place to be put and Santas and reindeer and twinkling lights and ornaments all over the place. Everyone is exhausted from the day before and the thought of having to go to a store for something forgotten for the birthday celebration is met with hesitation or that something is substituted with something left over from Christmas. There were years when birthday gifts were wrapped in Santa paper; times when a few birthday gifts were meant to be given for Christmas. And more often than not, whatever we did it always seemed the two holidays meshed into a two-day event of Christmas trees and snowmen with balloons and blowing out candles and everyone talking about the day before while singing Happy Birthday.

But I've come to realize-after years of celebrating Merry Happy Christmas Birthdays-those birthdays are very special despite the meshing with Santa and reindeer and twinkling lights and ornaments. They come at the most joyous time of the year. They fall in the month of celebrating-so blow out the candles and enjoy the cake-no matter the shape!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Perfectly Sized for Little Hands

When I was young I had a cousin who lived about 45 minutes away. It was fun to go for sleepovers. Part of that was because she had an amazing number of Little Golden Books-all lined up at the front of her bed-inside a bookcase-type headboard. Those books were perfectly sized for little hands when lying in bed pretending to read.

Before computers, illustrating anything relied solely on the original artwork. There was nothing called photo shop. Nothing was digitally adjusted because digital did not exist. In my opinion, this resulted in softer-more enticing artwork. They each had their own feel. They ignited imaginations. At least they did mine! I loved that Roly Poly Puppy trying to get under the fence and Nurse Nancy who loved playing nurse. I wanted all the little animals in Baby Farm Animals. Tootle-the little engine who went to school to learn how to be an engine-was a favorite. I feared that wolf in The Three Little Pigs, worried about Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks. Nothing teaches a lesson of self-worth more than Scuffy the Tugboat but as a kid, I didn't realize that and The Fire Engine Book made me feel like I was riding along with those adorable firemen and their Dalmatian. To me, the most amazing Little Golden Books remain the Christmas stories written by now famous writers of now heartwarming Christmas classics. Clement C. Moore's "The Night Before Christmas" and Robert May's, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" have withstood the test of time and computers-as has Frosty the Snowman.

 Actually all those Little Golden Books have withstood the test of time. Many remain on my bookshelf where both my children enjoyed 'reading' them or having them read to them. Now it's the next generation-sitting in front of all those books lined up on shelves and pulling them out until they surround her-and then searching through the little pages and discovering a roly poly puppy-a little nurse named Nancy-those  little pigs or those fuzzy, cuddly baby farm animals or two little kids following a bread trail trying to get back home-and those Christmas Classics. So while they may be little-Golden Books have made a huge impact on generations, and that in itself is no small task!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

That Christmas Wonder called Believing

In my bookcase there sits a worn and tattered copy of this 1957 Ideals Publishing Company's Christmas story, "Jolly Old Santa Claus." Some of the pages are ripped; some held together by tape; some have crayon scribbles on them. My children loved this book when they were growing up. It wasn't because of the story. I can't remember us reading the story. It was the amazing illustrations by George Hinke that kept us going from page to page-night after night before Santa came to fill stockings, eat cookies and drink a glass of milk, pick up penciled letters filled with Christmas wishes, and leave a few special gifts under the tree.

Sitting on the sofa in their pajamas as snow fell and popcorn popped, each page turned became a journey into that Wonder called Believing. Details were executed magnificently-with Mrs. Claus patting the dough before rolling it out on the old wooden table-and elves carrying trays of cookies to and from the small, brick ovens. Santa's workshop drew them in to the hustle and bustle of last minute preparations-from painting to nailing to packing a certain oversized sack for a long night's journey. They were in awe of elves blowing glass ornaments and firing them in the ovens. They took note of Santa sitting back in his chair reading letters as elves brought in more and more sacs overflowing with even more letters. "Does Santa read them all?" they'd ask.

They could almost feel the cold when Santa and his elves were in the woods after Christmas trees. They'd really get excited when Santa was preparing to climb aboard that amazing sleigh as reindeer were being hitched and the sleigh loaded down with gifts-so many gifts and so many elves helping. Of course what made those pages magical were the little hands turning them and little voices asking questions and their laughing with eyes full of Christmas magic. (That's the sort of Magic a parent notices.)

Now as I look at Mr. Hinke's illustrations I am struck by the fact that none were computer generated. Obviously there were no computers back then and that's what makes them so very Wondrous-perfect for little imaginations to curl up on the sofa with-in their pajamas-and a bowl of popcorn as Christmas nears and pages are turned.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Programs in that Little School Auditorium

The floors in that small auditorium were always shiny. I now realize that meant they were polished but I was quite young that particular Christmas when sitting in the grade-school auditorium with a stage at one end and high windows at the other. All I knew was the floors were shiny. They squeaked when you walked on them. I'm not sure but I think I was in kindergarten. I remember sitting in a chair surrounded by other kids in chairs squirming and looking around for family members just like I was doing. The chairs were the heavy fold-up type. They were cold to sit on. They didn't budge because each leg had a rubber-stop thing on the end of it.

The place was jam packed. An overflow of parents and grandparents were standing in the back and as the curtain rose the Christmas program in that little school was underway to cheers from tired children and tired adults as well. After all, Christmas was near. Class parties had been held. Gifts exchanged. The program was the last event before school recessed for the Holidays. I couldn't tell you a single thing about that particular program except for the last few minutes. That's the part I'd been anticipating. That's when my older brother stood up in the audience and sang-all by himself. He had a solo part-singing a verse of We Three Kings. I was so excited! I didn't understand a thing he sang-'myrrh is mine: it's bitter perfume' made no sense to me but it didn't matter. That was my older brother standing with everyone looking at him. And when he sat down, everyone clapped and cheered just like me. As life would have it-years later I was back there as a parent and each time I attended a Christmas program I thought of when my brother sang that Christmas verse in that little neighborhood school.

Sadly, this year will be the first year there will be no Christmas program in that auditorium. There will be no tired students and tired adults gathered to celebrate the Season. There will be no yawning Santas or crying elves or little girls dressed up in pretty dresses or little boys with white shirts and dark pants or grandmothers grinning or parents snapping photos because the school is closed. It's for sale. The auditorium is quiet-empty. But if I try, I can still hear my brother sing that strange stanza-still see my daughter dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus-still see my other daughter in a pretty dress. Over the years that auditorium presented Christmas magic to so many families-including a little girl listening to her older brother sing.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Decider of the Christmas Tree

Every family has their particular style when it comes to choosing and decorating the Christmas tree. Growing up we always went to the same place to pick it out. The man knew my mother would be looking for the biggest and the fullest tree so he always had some available from which she could make her choice. She was the 'Decider of the Christmas Tree.' We were like Santa helpers. We went along to tell her the tree she picked out was 'perfect' and most always it was. But a few times after the tree was up in the living room it wasn't quite as full as my mother had imagined. So my father would go buy another one; bring it home and put it up next to the original tree. And then-like magic-we'd have the 'perfect Christmas tree.' (One year my father cut too much off the top. But because the tree really was perfect-he taped the top back on with electrical tape and hid the tape with tinsel and decorations.)

Getting the tree, putting it up, and securing it was just the beginning. Decorating it was like watching a Broadway show unfold. Out came the ladder. This led to my father stringing the lights. He was very good at this. He took his time-a lot of time hiding the wires way back in the branches. The strands of lights were always blue lights-his favorite. Then the boxes of ornaments packed neatly away the year before were brought out. Because the boxes holding the ornaments were the original boxes bought from Woolworths, Newberry's or Grants, they were handled carefully as out came glass ornaments and fancy-blown ones appearing as if they'd been hand-painted. The smaller ones hung at the top. After the ornaments came little plastic-type icicles.

And then came the final act-strands and strands of heavy lead-looking tinsel. It was so heavy that it would have taken a hurricane to make it move-and that's what made it as perfect as the perfect tree from which it was hanging. After my father-standing on his ladder-strung the tinsel up high-my mother hung each strand below. She was so meticulous-holding the strands in a certain way in one hand so she'd be able to hang the strands-one at a time-with her other. And she was just as meticulous when taking each strand off-one by one-and carefully placing the strands back in their boxes until the curtain rose again on this Broadway Show in a living room out in the country at Christmas time.

Monday, November 25, 2013

When Lash LaRue Came To Town

There were two movie theaters in my hometown when I was growing up. I remember going to both of them. There'd be two feature films with an intermission in-between. That's when the newsreel was shown followed by trailers for upcoming movies. It was also the time to go to the concession stand for popcorn and a coke and a box of milk duds.

Void of any special effects, movies back then were more about the story and most of those stories were westerns-so many westerns and so many famous cowboys like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne. But a cowboy who wasn't quite as famous was my favorite. I don't know why I liked Lash LaRue so much. Maybe it was because he dressed all in black-or had a horse with fancy accessories and a saddle which I loved. I wanted my parents to buy me one just like it. I didn't have a horse but it didn't matter. I wanted one just like his. He could ride his horse with ease while getting the bad guys. And he got those guys more often than not with his whip-a bullwhip that he could snap or swirl and save the day-or the damsel in distress.

He could do other things with his whip. I know because I saw him do those things in person. Lash LaRue came to my hometown. He really did. I went with my older brother to one of those theaters to watch him perform stunts with his bullwhip. Despite the size of the audience my brother and I somehow ended up on stage with Lash LaRue. I don't remember how that happened but there we were-me in my pigtails and my older brother in his very own Lash LaRue attire. My brother didn't have a whip but it didn't matter because Lash LaRue let him hold his-and then he let me hold it too! We stood there while Lash LaRue did stunts with his whip just like he did in his movies. No stunt men needed for this genuine cowboy!

From that day on I pleaded even harder for that saddle. I never did get one. I did, however, get some Lash LaRue comic books now and then-and that was fine with me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Magazine Perfecting the Ideal Christmas

I can't remember one particular issue of the Christmas Ideals Magazine over another. I do, however, recall how anticipation built waiting for it to arrive. It came through the mail so every time the mailman pulled up to the mailbox sitting by the side of the road, possibility loomed. And when it was finally there, Christmas had arrived out in the country to those four houses in a row-at least according to reaction by my mother and aunts.

The Christmas edition of that magazine was an art form. From amazing photography to creative decorating suggestions-beautiful illustrations-seasonal music-poetry-and short stories, that magazine offered something for everyone all wrapped up in a big red bow or better yet-a poinsettia as poinsettias were always featured throughout the pages. When I could pull it away from others, I'd slowly make my way from the front glossy cover to the back. I'd read everything even though I was young. That didn't matter. It was the Christmas Ideals issue!

After studying the magazine my mother and aunts would get busy creating. They'd go to a local florist and buy Styrofoam squares-a few different sizes. They'd buy all kinds of decorative accents like shiny balls-some big and some small-in seasonal colors attached to tiny wooden stick-like things with one end pointed so they'd would go into the Styrofoam. Ribbons and bows were also purchased unless it was my grandmother who saved such things year after year. Branches sawed off of Christmas trees being readied to come inside were the last items needed for creating centerpieces that would sit on tables and hutches and mantles-just as centerpieces had year after year.

For awhile my mother, aunts, and grandmother met one evening a week. They called it their Busy Fingers Club. They'd do all sorts of creative projects. One of my aunts was very good at making candles by using milk cartons and little bits of used crayons. Her most beautiful candles were white-covered in glitter and wrapped in tissue paper. She somehow whipped the paraffin to get a certain effect. I don't know how. I just remember loving them. Maybe they were in one of those Christmas Ideals magazines-maybe not. It really didn't matter because when I think about it-my mother, aunts, and grandmother always put their own twist to whatever they created. I bet that magazine just got them in the mood-and they took it from there!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Addressing her Grandma Moses Christmas Cards

My mother worked nights as a nurse in the ER and from about a week before Thanksgiving up to the 2nd week in December boxes of  Christmas cards went with her to the hospital. Some nights she never had time for them. That's when she would come home when her shift was over and address a few. It was her way of unwinding.

My mother was very organized. She had a special box where she kept the list of names she intended to send cards to, sheets of postal stamps-each with the same Christmas image, a telephone book, and decorated Christmas seals she would lick and adhere to the fronts of the envelopes-the last step before having my father take the cards to the post office to be mailed. Organizing the list took her a long time. She'd have to make calls to relatives for updates to some. I loved looking at the list. It would be all scribbles; some names crossed out and some new ones added. She had the neatest penmanship-very small letters but very legible.

The Christmas cards my mother sent year after year most always featured Grandma Moses artwork. My mother loved the artwork. There was a little store downtown that was part bookstore and part gift shop. It was a ritual for her to go there to pick out her Christmas cards and then go next door to Woolworths or Newberry's for the Christmas seals. Sometimes I went with her.

 Besides sending cards, my mother enjoyed receiving them. She'd open each one as if it was a present. She'd read the inscription-and sometimes make a remark or two. She always made sure my father knew who sent them cards. That way he could say thanks if he ran into them. Later she displayed some of the cards; kept others in a basket. I can't imagine how many hours my mother put into her Christmas cards-from selecting them to organizing the list-to addressing them and licking the stamps and seals. She never complained. Christmas cards were important back then-as much a part of the Season as was getting the tree-another tradition planned and executed to perfection as only my mother could.

Number Please

Growing up we had one phone in the house. It was a rotary phone similar to the one pictured above but it was a different color. It was centrally located in the living room-sitting on the edge of a bookcase my grandfather made for my mother. It sat on top of a pillow on top of that bookcase because the thing rang so loud that it sounded like an alarm despite being turned down to the lowest level. With my father being a funeral director he was called when there were accidents. There were no rescue squads back then so many times the phone rang in the middle of the night. I'd usually hear the phone-then hear him mutter some words. A few minutes later the front door would open and off he would go on what we called an 'ambulance call.'

Because of the phone's location there was no such thing as a private conversation. When friends called-words were chosen carefully. And when a boy called those words were scrutinized even more-especially with an older brother around who also used the phone-more often than not right when I wanted to or at the exact time I'd told someone I would call. Once I did get to use the phone I'd lose track of time. I'd sit on the floor in front of the bookcase in everyone's way until my mother gave me the evil eye which meant I'd been on the phone too long.

I still remember phone numbers from back then-2075 and 2049J are engrained in my head. That was the era of telephone operators so if you couldn't remember a number they would assist you. My aunt was a phone operator so it was fun when she was the one saying, "Number Please." There were phone books too-really thick ones with lots of ads and so many numbers. Sometimes my cousin and I would open the phone book up and randomly point to a number-and call it-then hang up. Or pull the standard joke-if they had Prince Albert cigars in a case-they should let him out! Click! We 'd laugh and laugh and do it again! Or even better we'd call a boy-then hang up before anyone answered. Try doing that today!

It's hard to believe how phones are now part of our wardrobe-stuck to us like glue. We are so connected that we are actually more disconnected-so dependent on that tool that we lose sight of what is around us sometimes. Instead of talking with each other we send electronic messages or check apps or play games or whatever else those things do. It all makes me miss that rotary phone sitting on a pillow. It never told me what the weather was in Hong Kong or anywhere else around the world. It never offered directions or answered any question I might have. It simply connected me for  conversation and when that conversation was over-that phone stayed on the pillow as I went on to other things. It had its place. And that is where it stayed. And I never did know what the weather was in Hong Kong!

Friday, November 15, 2013

In Envy of a Pony Tail

There was a girl in my high school homeroom who had a pony tail to die for. She really did! While she wasn't as perky as Olivia Newton-John-she was a cheerleader. Combine that with a pony tail and you're talking one popular girl. Sometimes instead of doing my algebra homework-which was the most dreaded of all homework-I'd watch how her pony tail would swing when she turned her head. It was astonishing to me how it flowed in symphony with her movement. I figured she must have practiced in front of a mirror to have it groove like that. You see, my hairstyle at that time was the beehive-teased and sprayed so heavily that a Grade-5 Hurricane couldn't have disturbed it. Adding to my fixation of her hair was how that pony tail seemed to curl down from her head like a perfect ringlet. I was convinced she must have used Spoolies.

As if that pony tail hairdo wasn't enough sometimes she'd wear her hair down. That amazed me all the more because that hair of hers curled up at the ends like a tunnel all the way around. It was quite the sight! She looked like some of the girls on Bandstand-the ones everyone knew by their first names-the ones who'd dance with the cutest boys and wear the coolest outfits and sit next to Dick Clark when the camera was on.

Pony tails are timeless. From My Favorite Genie to Lady GaGa-pony tails continue to show up on the big screen-TV screens and now on little screens we can hold in our hands. I'm sure cheerleaders still wear them-but they probably don't use Spoolies.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thanks Betty Crocker for Pg. 94

On pg. 94 of my copy of this Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cook Book there's a recipe for "Gingerbread Boys." It's rather worn-with traces of flour and stains from butter used when greasing the baking sheet so many times now that I really don't have to dig the recipe book out of hiding when deciding to bake another batch. I know the recipe. I know what to heat the oven to and how long to chill the dough and how long to bake the little guys because I make them every year. I have been for a very long time. It's one of those little traditions I do and when I do it I feel connected to what this season quickly approaching is all about. It's nice to think about that before the hustle and bustle runs rampant. That's why I like to get this cook book out early-sift through and remember.

I actually think the cook book belongs to my sister-or my mother might have given it to all of us. It doesn't matter. What matters are the memories when looking at the fun and simple recipes. They're like old friends-everything from pinwheel sandwiches to peanut butter and jelly cookies; funny bunny biscuits, bunny salad, animal pancakes, silhouette sandwiches and so much more. Imaginative cakes include a Christmas tree cake, a circus parade cake, a Jack-o-Lantern cake. My mother used to make each of us a Christmas tree cake from scratch for our birthday despite the month our birthday fell.

When turning the pages I remember playing restaurant with my cousin; making milkshakes using ginger ale and ice cream with my siblings. My father liked those too. The colored pages inside the cook book displaying banana splits and root beer floats; banana-orange frosted and strawberry cooler-to name a few-were breath-taking and this was long before the photo shop/digital era. This cook book had it all! It didn't need enhancing. And I don't need a new page 94. I like it just the way it is-worn and full of memories.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When the Wish Book Arrived

When growing up out in the country, Christmas came in the mail and I don't mean email. It was wrapped inside a protective cover but we knew it was the much anticipated Sears Wish Book. The pages upon pages full of toys were looked at and marked up and dreamt about. By the time Christmas finally arrived the catalog would be without a cover; pages would be worn-some ripped apart. That magic catalog was like having Santa's Workshop right in our home.

I was intrigued by all the cowboys and their horses and the stagecoaches. I'm sure that was due to some famous cowboys at the time-Lash LaRue, Hopalong Cassidy, and Roy Rogers to name a few. One year Santa brought my brother a Hopalong Cassidy radio. I was just as excited as he was.
5 p.m. every night we'd listen to it while sprawled out on the living room floor.

One toy my brother always circled was a toy cork gun. And for a few years, it would be under the tree Christmas morning. There were crows included that he'd sit up on a steel rod thing. Then he'd stand back-and see how many he could shoot off the rod. Sometimes he'd let me try. It was always fun until I shot more than he did-then the game was over.

I loved all the dolls-especially Bonnie Braids. I loved the doll beds and bunk beds-the cradles and doll clothes and all the accessories. I always wanted a tin-like typewriter and a pony that you could sit on-put your feet in the stirrups-then bounce up and down and it would move. At least they said it would move! And most every year I thought I'd like a bright red gas pump. It said it had a bell that would ring while you pumped your gas but I never knew if it did or didn't because Santa never brought me one. He never brought me that pony that bounced or that tin-like typewriter. But I never really missed those toys. He always surprised me with what he thought I might like even more-and he was always right! Santa Claus was a pretty smart guy-still is!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Loving Madras

I searched for a better picture to point out how much I loved my madras shirt but this is all I could find-geeky me with my hair in pin curls and barefoot. (While the pin curls are no longer, barefoot is still a preferred way to be). It was taken on a summer evening at suppertime when we all lived in a row of four houses out on that rambling country road. We'd pool whatever anyone had prepared for supper-gathering under an aunt's pine trees. And more often than not-I'd show up wearing my madras shirt. My mother (sitting beside me sipping a cup of coffee) would have to pry the thing off me to wash it. I loved that shirt!

Actually I loved anything madras. Problem was I didn't have much of anything made from it hanging in my closet. Aside from that shirt and a madras pair of shorts my choices were limited. There was a store in our downtown that carried some madras clothing but they always sold out. And needless to say-there was no internet to turn to. So I turned to the sewing machine. I made a simple dress-a bag-and another pair of shorts. Before wearing the dress and shorts I washed them. The material was a bleeding madras-meaning the dyes were not colorfast so the colors would fade the more they were washed. And that faded madras look was the look to have.

The popular kids had lots of madras and they strutted around in their madras like peacocks. Judging someone by what they wear or do not wear hasn't gone away. While styles and fabrics change-the strutting continues. The only difference now is I'm not impressed. I don't care-although my heart does skip a beat when I see something madras-anything madras.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

So where did the veranda and peony bushes go?

Nothing stays the same.Take for instance, my grandparents' farmhouse. If you rode by that place today-still sitting along a certain country road-you wouldn't recognize what was once the family homestead. It looks nothing like the photo above. But it doesn't matter. When I ride by-always slowing down a bit-I see it as it used to be.

The screened-in veranda with its white screen door is gone as is the red-shingle siding all around the exterior. I still see it covered in red shingles. My grandmother's peony bushes are no longer there. Except for one, the poplar trees lining the cinder driveway are gone too. When I think of that driveway I remember crashing my bike on it as I rounded the curve behind the house. I still have cinders in one of my knees as a result of going too fast probably when I was told not to. I can envision mounds of snow that would bury the driveway and hear leaves scurrying across it in the wind. I remember being so afraid one hot summer night during a thunderstorm. We were sitting on that veranda-gathered around our grandmother-watching the storm-hiding our eyes and covering our ears until lightning hit so close by that my cousin and I jumped up screaming. We ran inside and hid in a closet.

When we 'grow up' things that once seemed larger and wider and taller appear not so huge or wide or tall. That's how it is when I look at that front yard. That was our Disney World-our field of dreams-the place where imagination took us on endless adventures-playing baseball and croquet-trying to catch each other in Red Light, Green Light-playing tag-making bows 'n arrows out of some kind of green rubber-type branch that bent like a stick of gum-climbing trees.

So despite disappearing shingles-a veranda taken off and peony bushes dug up-and so much more- nothing can take away the memories. We all have a place like that-tucked away in our heart-just where those memories belong.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Monster Mashers

Whatever the season or holiday, living in the country provides the perfect backdrop. Growing up, this proved especially true on Halloween when spooks could be hiding in cornfields or in gardens almost bare or in haylofts where bats swooped and creepy creatures lurked behind the bales piled high. With poplar trees nearly stripped of leaves, the remaining ones on the gnarly branches would rustle in the wind-their edginess scripted for the night of ghosts and goblins.

And if nature's backdrop wasn't enough for little imaginations to grab hold of and enhance all the more, stir in ghoulish adults with a foot still firmly placed in childhood wonder and pranking and you had the perfect scenario for the most scariest-most horrifying, monster mashing Halloweens ever-the kind you look back on as an adult and feel blessed with the memories. Memories of a grandmother whose nose was fit for a witch as was her heckle and whose long grey hair when left to fall seemed to fall forever; an uncle with not only one but both feet firmly planted in childhood with creepy masks and an ability to appear out of the dark on any given twist or turn as one is trick or treating; another uncle who could recite "Little Orphan Annie" in such a way that when he looked up and with a final pause and twist of his tongue said, "And the goblins will get you if you don't watch out" you'd feel chills down your spine yet you wanted to hear it again and again; and an aunt who made that season of suspense even more fun by hanging apples by strings for us to try to bite with our hands behind our backs plus bob for apples floating in a bucket of water. Most times the water ended up covering the floor and those trying to snatch hold of one.

To top it all off-when you'd get home and empty all your goodies out on the rug and divide them into piles you'd keep an eye out for that witch with a hook nose or monster with a creepy mask because it'd turn out out they loved eating candy too!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Families and Their Wheels

On the back of this family photo it's written-"Sold Good Friday-1947." I have no clue who in the family owned this car. I do know it was probably considered a part of the family for more times than not, that's what our vehicles become-part of our families. Many people even have names for their cars. We certainly did!

The first vehicle I vaguely remember is my grandfather's old Ford truck. I don't remember seeing him in it. I just remember seeing it sitting here and there. My mother loved buying new cars which is surprising because she didn't get her license until later on in life. I think it must have been the experience of going into a showroom and wheeling and dealing for something shiny and untouched and smelling like only new cars do. Any car she bought had to be black because my father was a funeral director and sometimes the car was used for work. I remember when my parents and my aunt had the same model car. Both black, they were the latest model of a Ford-I think. That aunt later had a little white Chevy something that was shaped like a square. My parents once owned a black Mercury. It was kind of a big car but I drove it. We called it the Black Bird. Over the years they owned an Olds Cutlass, 98, and Toronado. I think a few were green and not black!

My brother had an awesome TR-3. He was quite the guy zooming around in it! Girls loved it! I can't remember the color but I do recall the only time I drove it. We lived in the country. I'd asked him if I could take it for a ride. I wanted to go into town-show it off with me driving it. The only problem was shifting the gears. I'd never done it. My brother gave me a quick lesson but once I got behind the wheel and I was in town with stop lights and people and yield signs I forgot everything he'd told me. I ended up swerving into someone's front yard. That's when I decided to get the hot sports car back home in one piece. He treasured that car more than he did me! His first car had been a GTO but this TR-3 was his pride and joy.

My pride and joy was a 1968 cherry red Mustang with black bucket seats and a stick shift on the floor. As soon as I graduated from college and landed a job I asked my father to go with me to the Ford dealer. It didn't matter what the salesman told me. I didn't hear any of it. I knew that brand new shiny Mustang sitting in that showroom in front of me was mine. I'd fallen in love with it. I don't know why-maybe the design or that awesome logo or the way it made me feel. I'm not much of a car person. That is the only model of car that has ever caught my eye-and it still does.

Cars we've owned turn into memories of certain times in our lives. They weave their way into our story-taking us on rides and adventures; errands and duties-zooming us along this highway called life-through all kinds of weather-in good times and in bad-and that is a pretty good deal!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Junk Drawer Treasures

I'd venture to say that just about every home has a junk drawer. Growing up we always had one in the kitchen. I've carried that tradition on-having my own junk drawer in my own kitchen. Maybe it's called something else by some people but it means the same. It's the place where anything leftover from a package of something like batteries or thumb tacks-anything small that doesn't have a designated place-like on a bookshelf or in a closet or in the garage or on a wall but rather  has a potential to be used like an odd nail or two, a hook, a screw and a screwdriver, a hammer, hair clips, paper clips, pennies, dice, toothpicks, plastic ties, coupons (many outdated), tape, half-used crayons, tubes of glue, pencils and pens, etc.-is thrown and forgotten about until the need arises for a 'what-cha-ma-call-it' or a 'thing-a-ma-jig' and then the hunt begins. It's a place you should go into very carefully for as you ramble through it-your fingers might get scraped or poked or streaked with color from topless markers.

In the end, you almost always find what you're searching for in that drawer plus a whole lot more stuff that you forgot you had or that you think you might need so you take it out and put it on the counter-and then someone comes along later and puts it right back in the drawer of treasures-of beloved odds 'n ends that you know at some point you might need so you keep whatever it is in there-just in case-adding to the hodgepodge of stuff without even thinking about it.

Going into that maze of miss-matched objects is as exciting to you as a child rummaging through a toy box spilling over with stuff-only your stuff has a bit more history. While you won't find a bike or a skateboard; an onion, ice cream cone full of ice cream, or a carrot or a snowflake, you will find forgotten bits and pieces that tell a story-your story through the treasures you and others once placed in a junk drawer.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

And You Think It's Just A Birdbath

Putting little fingers in a birdbath may sound simple yet to a child looking at and feeling the water trickling down her fingers it opens her curious mind to imaginative possibilities and unending questions.

Just what is this stuff? Why does it move down my things called fingers and fall to the ground-and then where does whatever it is go? Why does this stuff feel like it does and why can't I hold it like I do my favorite blanket or mommy's hand? Why does this stuff move around like it does when I put my fingers in it and why does it go all over the place-including me-when I move my fingers faster and then put one hand in it and then the other hand and move them faster and faster-in a circle and then up and down-even faster-so fast that I can hardly breath because the stuff gets in my eyes and I can't see and that stuff on my head called hair is wet as are my clothes and I feel chilly as the summer breeze passes me by. Yet whenever I am able to catch my breath I laugh and giggle-still with my eyes shut and still with my fingers and hands going so fast that surely I will fly way up high like those pretty things with wings dancing around that place I hear called a garden. And just when there isn't much stuff left to splash in and the breeze makes me a bit chillier but I can't stop what I am doing, I feel someone picking me up and hugging me, wrapping me up in something that smells like those things Mommy calls flowers that are all colors and grow in that garden.

Hmmm-maybe when I get back outside I will go check out those flowers that are all colors growing in the garden. I will play in that box full of sand stuff and fill my trucks and pails with it and make piles and knock them over and make castles and live in them-fighting off monsters until my blue swing hanging from the thing called a tree branch catches my eye. Then Mommy will strap me inside it and I will soar way up high-laughing every time my head brushes those green things hanging from the branch.

And to think-we adults think it's just a birdbath-just water-just fingers-just hair-just butterflies-just a garden-just a towel-just flowers-just a sandbox-just a tree branch-just leaves.

Take the time to find the Wonder around you. It's still there-just ask a child!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Searching for S & H Green Stamps

I remember my mother, grandmother and aunts all saved S & H Green Stamps. They'd lick the backs of the stamps and place them on pages of small booklets. Once they had enough booklets filled, they would go downtown to the S & H Green Stamps store and redeem their books of stamps for merchandise-really good, brand-name merchandise-everything from pearls to luggage to kitchen pots and pans, etc. The more expensive an item-the more books one needed to redeem the stamps for the merchandise. That's how many Christmas presents were 'bought.' Some people would save their  books of stamps all year long and then go shopping at the S & H Green Stamp store. It was fun looking through the 'S & H Distinguished Merchandise Idea Book.' It was like the Sears Toy Catalog-but not as exciting!

My cousin and I liked to save the stamps too. I remember searching anywhere to find enough stamps to fill a book-my mother's purse (after asking), desk drawers, under couch cushions, under chair cushions, in my father's car, in kitchen drawers, pant pockets, jacket pockets. And when a book was almost filled, the search became intense. Sometimes my grandmother would give me some of hers. My grandmother had lots of stamps. It felt good to finally have enough stamps to fill enough books to go shopping. It was like getting stuff 'free'-no money needed-just books of stamps. What a nifty idea-clever actually because people would shop places that gave out those green stamps when buying something. Stores would display the S & H Green Stamp logo in the window. One particular department store in my hometown was know for green stamps. Once a customer bought something, their money and sales slip would be placed into a cylinder-type container-then put down  a tube that carried it to the office. The fun was waiting for it to come back to see how many Green Stamps were inside-and then see who would get the stamps to take home, lick and put into booklets.

I have no clue how S & H Green Stamps really worked. But it never mattered. It was too much fun searching for enough stamps to fill a book-and then another and another!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Leaf House is a Fun Place to Live-and Play!

I was recently reminded how absolutely fantastically wonderful it is to play in the leaves. And if that reminder comes from a child-as it did for me-then the experience is all the more amazing-turning an afternoon visit into an afternoon of imagination through the eyes of a 3-year old granddaughter.

When I first arrived she and her mommy and daddy had been gathering leaves into a giant pile. She came around the corner of the house, sitting on her daddy's lap-smiling-as he drove the lawn mower while holding a rake. The fun soon began as she buried her daddy-and then her mommy in the picky leaves. Then they turned the tables and covered her in the leaves. She didn't stay still for long. Up she jumped-her hair twisted in leaves-coughing and laughing and jumping around.

 After a bit, it was just the two of us at the leaf pile-then in the leaf pile-then under the leaf pile over and over again. But that curious, childhood imagination really kicked in when I took a rake and made us a leaf house. While she anxiously waited I framed off some of the leaves-like putting up the framework of a house. Then I took more leaves and 'built' walls in our house-adding doorways and a kitchen and living room, a bathroom and two bedrooms. Each bedroom had a very comfortable leaf bed with a very comfortable leaf pillow. The kitchen had a leaf table and leaf refrigerator. The living room had a leaf chair for each of us. She never mentioned adding a leaf TV! But she did add an extra front door and a leaf window in her bedroom and mine. Then we moved into our leaf house. She placed her sippy cup on the leaf table in the leaf kitchen before going to sleep. Night time flew in that leaf house as a few seconds later she jumped out of her leaf bed, got dressed, brushed her teeth. Then she ate breakfast and came rushing into my leaf bedroom telling me it was time to get up.

"Gra-Gra. I have to go to school now."

So up I got out of my comfortable leaf bed-brushed my teeth-had a quick cup of leaf coffee and off we went. We did this over and over. After taking her to school-which was the front porch, I'd go home and clean the leaf house and cook leaf food. When I picked her up she'd show me all the things she drew or colored in school. Some ended up taped to the leaf refrigerator.

With all our comings and goings our leaf walls needed constant patching-meaning raking the leaves back in place due to a certain little someone getting so excited she'd burst right through the leaf walls, forgetting about the two leaf doorways. When she realized what she'd done she would go back through the leaf wall and then out the leaf doorway-always laughing and always running. And when she wasn't going to school up on her front porch she was a little puppy, wagging her tail, whimpering as she fell asleep in her leaf crate after my feeding her a leaf biscuit in our leaf kitchen.

What was to be an afternoon visit turned into a most magical journey with a most imaginative little girl. It reminded me that Mother Nature remains the best toy store ever-providing us with leaves and puddles and snow piles and twigs and grass and stones to play in and play with-turning them into whatever we choose-and it's all free-no batteries needed-no need to power up. Just bring along a child bursting with imagination-that's all the power you need!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sitting on a Fence in a Cardigan Sweater

There are some things that really don't change-like the love of a cardigan sweater that spans generations. I don't know when this picture was taken showing some of my aunts in their cardigans but I wear similar cardigans today. A cardigan is timeless-versatile-always adds the perfect touch.There's just something about them. They become old friends-always there for us-always making us feel warm-making us feel like all will be okay.

Although some cardigans come with buttons, hooks, or zippers, the style of the sweater remains the same despite the use of a variety of fabrics. I still remember a cashmere cardigan my mother wore when dressing up-quite possibly the softest sweater I've ever felt. With small silver buttons up the front, I thought my mother looked like a fairy princess every time she wore it to go some place special with my father. When she wasn't wearing her cashmere sweater, my mother kept it in a dresser drawer wrapped in tissue paper.

I remember a certain aunt who would spend a day caring for her cardigans-washing them in woolite-blocking them out on a towel to dry. Thicker ones would be stored away for colder months-some in mothballs. I remember another aunt who would button her cardigan up the front and then wear pearls to top off the look. She always seemed dressed up to me. A cardigan fits any need-any mood. Like my aunt did, you can dress your cardigan up or as shown in the picture above you can wear a cardigan on down time over a shirt. I remember when in high school, we'd wear them backside front and sometimes top them off with a small Peter Pan collar that buttoned in the front.

In this age of so much changing and so many of us moving so fast it is nice to know there's quite possibly a cardigan in a drawer waiting to wrap us up and give us comfort and that is why a cardigan sweater remains a staple no matter how much fashions come and go. I'm not sure about those saddle shoes my aunts are wearing. But then, the three of them sure look quite fashionable sitting on a fence in their cardigan sweaters in the countryside.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

My Mother in a Flower Print Dress

This b/w photo of my mother as a young girl intrigues me-both because of her youth and her style. I love her dress with that flower print and fashionable neckline. My mother's taste for fine fabric was obvious at an early age. Years later she'd open a fabric shop. She was a perfectionist as a seamstress. Camel coats-suits-robes-she made them all. Every seam was straight. Every dart exact.

I love her hair. The style reminds me of what movie stars from that era wore on screen. I don't ever recall her wearing her hair long. This is the longest I've ever seen her hair. But even more intriguing to me than the dress or the hair are her eyes. They're not tired or worried. They're full of possibility. Did you ever wonder what your mother dreamt about when she was young and life was yet to unfold? We all have things about us that we keep to ourselves. We all have hopes and dreams and expectations we keep silent in our hearts that have nothing to do with children or family but rather all to do about us. I wonder what my mother kept silent as she reached adulthood-went to nursing school-met my father-and had children.

Some things she never kept silent were her love of books and Dean Martin. Her two favorite songs were 'In The Mood' and 'Mack the Knife.' She loved new cars and expensive clothes. She was a fine cook. Her hot chocolate sauce served over vanilla ice cream was possibly the most delicious tasting delight ever! She did her nails weekly and Toujours Moi was her perfume of choice. She loved Christmas. The tree had to be the tallest-the fullest.

But I still wonder. Underneath the books-songs-cars-clothes-perfume-chocolate sauce and Christmas trees-I wonder what she kept silent in her heart. Maybe it's because I am getting older that I wonder such a thing. Or maybe it's because I see another side of my mother that I never knew when looking into her curious eyes-dressed in that dress with a flower print and fashionable neckline.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pie Remnants

I am no expert on pie making. I think if I made a pie more often I could master creating the crust from scratch but it would never taste like my grandmother's. Her idea of mixing ingredients for a pie crust was a pinch of this and a dash of that and lard was always cut into the sifted flour with a knife. She was a Master Maker of Pies-berry, raisin, mincemeat, strawberry-rhubarb, and of course, pumpkin and apple.

It didn't have to be a holiday for pies to be in her oven. You knew the minute you walked in the door if she was baking. That sweet aroma was all through the house. And it didn't end there for once the pies were cooling-she'd gather the remnants of crust dusted with flour sitting on the counter and roll them into one ball of spongy dough with her hands. Then she'd roll the dough out with her wooden rolling pin-and cut through the dough with a cookie cutter-and repeat the process until all the dough had been recycled into shapes and those shapes were lying on a pan waiting to be baked. That didn't take very long. And it didn't take long for them to disappear once out of the oven. No one walking through that kitchen could resist having a few of the piping hot tarts. Served with jam or cinnamon or sugar, they were always anticipated after the pies were baked.

Another variation of that basic tart was to spoon a little jam into the center of the cut-out pie crust. Then the sides would be folded in, covering up the jam, before baking until the crust turned a golden bronze. Pulling them out of the oven, the jam would be oozing out onto the baking sheet which made them all the more tempting with a glass of milk or cup of coffee.

Funny how something as simple as a small tart made of leftover spongy pie crust and sweetened even more by jam or cinnamon or sugar can taste so absolutely delicious. I think it was really all about that kitchen and who was rolling out the dough and baking the pies and tarts-with a pinch of this and a dash of that of course!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Picasso in the Pumpkin Patch

I own a Picasso! It came in the mail-exquisitely drawn on a card with smiling pumpkins on the front. I know why my little Picasso chose that particular Grandparent's Day card. It was those pumpkins! You see, this little Picasso and I wander about the gardens out back. They are full of pumpkins of all sizes-some are still green-some a vibrant orange-all still on gnarly vines with picky leaves. They're so picky that she'll pull her dimpled hand back and ask me to move those big, ugly, prickly leaves out of the way so she can squat down and pat each one-big or small. And as she is patting them ever so gently in their beds of soil or grass she quietly talks to them, telling me to be quiet because they are sleeping.

"Shh Gra-Gra! Shhh," she will say to me in a concerned tone with her finger to her lips.

Then whispering in a little voice sounding more like a chorus of angels, she tells each pumpkin she touches how pretty it is-how nice it is as the wind sifts through the plants getting weary as the seasons change and her silky hair twirls in the breeze and butterflies still dance about.

This little artist also loves to tiptoe around in spots where the grass is so high you can't see what is hidden underneath. Lifting one leg up as far as she can and then the other, it's as if she is on a treasure hunt. Actually, she is. She gets giggly excited when squatting back down and pulling that grass out of the way, she finds a pumpkin. If it is a little one she wonders where its mommy and daddy have gone. She tells the little pumpkin how it will be okay-how much she loves him.

"Look Gra-Gra! Another one! Another one!," she declares to me as we sit side-by-side and talk about each one she discovers.

Soon we will gather to celebrate those pumpkins that have inspired a little Picasso, sparking her curiosity even more of the world around her. What in springtime was but a garden, has turned into a memory maker. I wonder how she'll feel when it comes time to pick her little friends off those tired vines. I do believe many of them will be going home with her and her little brother and dog and mommy and daddy. After all, that's what friends are for-especially for this little Picasso who has nurtured the pumpkins along the way-even drawn them as is evident in my original Picasso above. And like any Picasso-this original is priceless.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


I've written so much about growing up in the country surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I've gone on about playing in the barn and down at the creek and in the pine grove and especially the hours my cousins and I spent in our chicken coop clubhouse. More often than not we older ones took care of the younger ones and we never knew it. We were all just playing.

Oddly enough I hardly ever write about cousins on the other side of the family. That's because I hardly knew them. That was my father's side of the family. I have no clue why we didn't get together that often. It's not that they lived far away. They were close by-down another country road. Maybe it was because that side was all brothers and my mother's side was all sisters. Maybe it was because we were always involved with my mother's side since they were our neighbors. In the summers we shared our dinners under my aunt's pine trees. It was a given that every holiday we would be together. On Sunday nights we took turns having supper at each other's home. My aunts and mother and grandmother and some of us older ones met for coffee in one another's home all the time. On many summer evenings the adults would gather outside around a fire in a cinderblock fireplace. They called it 'the range.' They'd stay out there-talking and laughing-for the longest time.

Any recollections of my father's side is like a quick flash in my mind. What I can recall, the feeling I get has always been I wish there was more stashed away in my head somewhere that I could tap into and remember and mull over and keep near. I only have one brief memory of my father's mother and that is not of her face. Rather, it is someone-and I've always assumed it would have been her-in an apron-the kind of apron that you put over your head and tie in the back. I was really young-coming through a doorway into a dining room-near a table with a lace tablecloth and a teapot sitting in the middle-that's when that someone picked me up and hugged me. I've told myself that was my grandmother. I've always hoped that was my grandmother. I recall my father's dad a little more than his mother-mostly sitting in a chair in a front room of one of my father's brother's home. We did visit that place-just not often. I remember the winding staircase and having pillow fights and a big kitchen with lots of cupboards. I always had fun with two cousins who lived there. Their parents were always fun too.  Farther up the road there were four more cousins-two boys and two girls just like my family-and a very nice aunt who was a really good cook and an uncle just as nice and for some reason I remember him always smiling. Just down from them was the family homestead-the home of that lace tablecloth and that grandmother who hugged me.

One day not too long ago a gentleman stopped to see me. He lives not far from my relatives who lived in the house with the winding staircase. He asked if I had a minute. Then he began by telling me that right across the road from his home there is an old monument-a burial plot-dedicated to my father's side of the family which I never knew existed-which I rode by countless times. He explained that a year or so earlier he'd seen some women walking around that plot so he went over to see if he could help them. It turned out they were long, lost relatives on my father's side looking for any long lost relatives who might be living in the area. He took their information. Told them he knew me and he would get in touch with me. When he told me all of this I gave him my contact information. Not too long after that my cell phone rang early one morning. It was one of those women who'd been searching for answers at that burial site.

What a feeling that was-to talk to a stranger who, it turned out, was a cousin of mine. Long story short, that cousin and her mom recently came to my home for supper. Two of my three siblings and a sister-in-law joined us as did another cousin whose mom was that very good cook. Sitting around a pot of goulash we talked and shared stories of what we could remember. That new cousin's father had put countless hours into the genealogy of that side of our family before he passed away. That cousin has continued where her father left off. She came with books and documents and copies of letters and newspaper clippings. She showed us how we are all connected. She literally mapped us out all the way back to England; told us our first relative landed in Boston in the 1600's; told us a relative was one of the founders of Portsmouth, R.I; told us one of our relatives was the first white baby born in the county where I live. Before that it'd been all Indian babies. She told us so much that evening. She left me some books to read more about some who came before us.

But she left me with more than that. She left me with a warm place in my heart for all those people I never knew whose names I had just been told along with snippets of their lives and where they lived and if they had children and what they might have done. Their lives are part of me. What they did are part of me. We are all like puzzles and if we are lucky enough, we find most of the pieces of our lives-who shaped us into who we are-before it is our turn to leave a legacy for those who will follow. I have been blessed by being connected to a side of my family I hardly knew. But that is changing. The blank pages of our story are being filled in. Now it is up to those of us who sat around a pot of goulash to keep in touch. Something tells me this is just the beginning!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Garden Helpers

With gardens now in overload-plants spreading their vines beyond the edges like spider webs, covering everything in their path; their leaves and bounty selfishly and boldly declaring they rule the back yard or back field or wherever a garden may be, I hear people saying they don't have time to weed or water or even pick and cook and can or freeze or giveaway the beans, peas, squash, zucchini (oh how those zucchini plants produce), tomatoes, corn, beets, carrots, potatoes, peppers, onions hanging from plants or clinging to vines or underground waiting to be discovered.

When I hear this-and I say that too-I think back to the gardens on my grandparent's farm.I remember one along the side of their farmhouse. My cousin and I would help weed it. Even better, we'd sit and eat the carrots. But I don't remember the one in the photo above which shows my grandmother at a very young age working it. Besides seeing her so young, what struck me was the enormity of that garden. I still can't figure out how she had the time to take care of it; how she did everything that a garden demands besides all the other demands on her-children, cooking, baking, washing, sewing, the farm and husband. I'm sure her children helped when old enough but still. Back then there were no weed eaters or hoses or chemicals to spray on or shake on or plastic to cover or line the rows. The only 'miracle grow' was a combination of the sun and rain-and you had no control over either. There were no fancy hoes or spades or apparatus to kneel on or sit on or fancy garden wear to protect you from thorns or nature. You simply went out and worked the garden. You had no choice.

We are all connected by technology. Anything we want to know about gardens and any other subject or fact or person is a click away. That generation was connected to the earth and soil. They were at the mercy of Mother Nature. I guess everything hasn't changed for despite our instant connections and technology and fancy products we are at the mercy of Mother Nature too. Kind of nice you know. There are some things that should be left alone-and Mother Nature is one of them-even though she seems a bit out of whack these days.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Just An Old Desk

Recently when going through files of pictures, I found myself looking at this particular photo differently than when I took it awhile back. Of course seeing my granddaughter smiling, holding her crayons still makes me as happy as it did that Sunday afternoon. But this time it had a deeper meaning. Maybe it's because she's growing up. Maybe it's because she is talking a mile a minute and asking questions and sings and dances and loves butterflies and jewelry and dinosaurs and books and knows her colors and can count and remembers where she left everything when visiting the last time. Or maybe it's because I still remember her father sitting at that desk-coloring, playing with his G.I. Joes and Matchbox cars. She looks just like him. It's the eyes.

When curiosity got the best of her that day, I helped her open the top of the desk. We found a few G.I. Joes-a few scribbles her father had done and a few papers from when he was in elementary school. They had gold stars on them. She loved the purple stars Santa left all over her presents last Christmas-loves the moon-loves going up and down the stairs and taking bubble baths and sticking stickers and playing hide 'n seek. She looks for the two pound puppies I keep on the back of the sofa for when she visits. One belonged to her father. She loves playing with the mother whales and their babies. She puts them in the tub with her. They were her father's too.

That desk has even more of a history. It was in the old chicken coop converted to a clubhouse when I was growing up out in the country. I bet I sat at that desk when playing with cousins. I probably colored and had fun dropping things down the inkwell into the desk-just like my granddaughter did-just like her father did. Some of the marks on the top of the desk might have come from me-or her father-or maybe there are new ones from this little blessing herself. Funny how things become heirlooms without our noticing. But then who notices time passing day by day. We're busy-until something like an old desk with an inkwell and a top that's fun to open and close over and over again-or mommy whales kept in a worn, cardboard box with their babies-or even pound puppies worn by hugs-stops us in our tracks and makes us take note of time whizzing by and babies growing.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Creativeness of Hands

I've noticed in many of the old photos I've seen of my grandparents-so many show them using their hands to create something. While they obviously used their hands to do the necessary-cook, garden, tend to crops and barn duties, clean, do the wash, care for children, etc., whenever there was an opportunity, their hands got busy in a different way-a way of relaxing and making things; stimulating their soul after a hard day's work or after completing one task before getting on to the next. Maybe that's why my aunts, mother, and grandmother got together once a week for what they called their 'Busy Fingers' Group. They'd take turns hosting the group. I remember times when it was at our house. They were always laughing and talking!

Of course back in my grandparent's day television was a non-factor. There were no zillion channels with still nothing to watch. Texting wasn't a word. Communicating was face-to-face. And when that moment came-that break in the day-when there was time for one's self-out came the knitting needles or crocheting needle or the sewing machine was humming or rags were being ripped into strips for braided rugs or a saw was cutting wood into pieces and shellac was painted over boards turned into bookcases and desks-or hands were holding magazines like The Saturday Evening Post or books were being read in a chair in the front parlor.

It's not that creating has stopped-not at all. There are amazing artisans doing amazing work-painting, sculpting, sewing, knitting and so on. I think the difference is that back then-after putting in very hard days of never-ending chores-they had to, at the end of the day or whenever they could, muster the energy to create-and they did. And they did it masterfully!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Picnic Suppers Under the Pine Trees

Funny how we never know how great something is until we are looking back.
On warm, summer days at supper time when growing up in the country with those four houses full of relatives all in a row, each family would bring whatever they'd prepared to eat together under my aunt's pine trees in her backyard. It became a smorgasbord of hot and cold dishes with all the trimmings. Back then it was the food that I thought about-potato salads, macaroni salads, baked beans, tossed salads, fruit salads, of course hots and hams and all the trimmings plus an assortment of chips. I don't remember many desserts-except for strawberry shortcake with real dumplings made soggy by berry juice and home-made whipped cream smothering the bowl. Of course it all tasted even better because we were eating outside. After everyone was finished, the younger ones would sometimes play baseball as the others sat around and talked and family dogs would see what they could find in the grass or get that look on their face so someone would feed them leftovers.There was no rush to pick up. No cell phones ringing. No one looking down-more interested in texting outer space than enjoying what was all around that backyard-family taking time.

No matter what my father was doing he was dressed up-sometimes a little more so than other times-even when sitting and eating his picnic supper as shown in this photo. Back then he was always on call. Funeral Directors served as rescue squads 24-hours a day besides their regular hours-which were never regular as dying still doesn't happen just between 8-5.When he was with the rest of us, he thoroughly enjoyed it. All the adults got along. They helped each other. They appreciated each other. I think that was due to my grandmother (sitting near my father)-a kind, funny, and very strong woman who kept us all in line just by her presence-and cooking!

I now realize those evening suppers in the summertime under the pine trees had nothing to do with the food but were all about the moment-families gathering at the end of a day.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Squeezing Lemons in the Squeezer Thing

The season of squeezing lemons for lemonade is back again! Granted-these days all you have to do is go to the frozen food aisle, pick up some cans, bring them home, open them up, put the frozen concentrate in a pitcher, add water, stir, add ice if you want, and there you have it-Lemonade. You can purchase pink lemonade or limeade-even ice tea. Or-You can buy all those varieties packaged in a carton or glass container. No concentrate to bother with-it's ready to serve. Even the Paul Newman brand offers lemonade, limeade and ice tea.

But my favorite brand remains Homemade Lemonade. My grandmother made it as did my mother and aunts. They each had a favorite glass pitcher for lemonade that never came from a can or container. It came from slicing real, hold-in-your-hand lemons and squeezing the juice out by using a thick glass-lemon-squeezer thing. It was odd-shaped but it worked.That's what they all used. You'd hold on to it with one hand and with the other put a lemon half in place one-by-one. By moving the half lemon back and forth, around and around-out came the juice. After squeezing a few you'd dump the juice into the pitcher and repeat the process. You could leave the seeds or take them out. They knew how many lemons equaled how much water and sugar to add. I know they did because every single time they made their lemonade, it was as perfect as the time before. I don't remember a measuring cup being used. They just knew.

My mother sometimes added lime juice-after squeezing limes. She'd even slice a lemon and maybe a lime and place the slices on top of the freshly-made lemonade. Best part about that was sucking on the slices after they'd absorbed the lemonade while sitting in the refrigerator. On a hot, muggy summer day nothing tasted better than those naturally flavored slices Back then we never drank soda. We were lucky and didn't even know it- the adults never bought the stuff!

Of course, the finishing touch was a home-baked cookie or two and if you were outside enjoying the day with your lemonade and that cookie or two-life was absolutely-no questions asked-perfect!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The One-Room Schoolhouse

I'm not sure if this is the one-room schoolhouse my mother and a few of her sisters attended before it was closed and they went into the nearby city to school and I don't know how old they were when they made the switch. I do know they graduated from the Catholic high school which has since been torn down and is now the sight of the local fire department.

The one-room schoolhouse they attended was up the road from where they lived-down a side road just as it curved by a bunch of maples. The creek that ran behind their farmhouse ran behind the school as well. The school is long gone but the maples are still there. Sometimes I go down that old country road. I slow down before that turn; imagining exactly where that school sat and imagining my mother and her sisters walking along that very road. If this is the school-then this is where my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents bought the desks, books, and chalkboards for me and my cousins for our chicken coop clubhouse.

Looking at the picture I think how far we've come in educating our children. Some of that is good and some of that isn't. How simple it all looked back then. No computers or football fields or baseball fields or swimming pools. No connecting to other students around the world or excelled classes or foreign languages or guidance counselors and on and on. Just a plain building with kids of all ages clumped together. And when their school day was over there were no sports or after-school activities. Activities were actually chores that were waiting for them at home or out in the barn. They did their chores and helped out without question-sort of like Little House on the Prairie. Of course mothers were home and dinner was cooking. Kids weren't distracted by cell phones or texting. Neither were their parents.

Sometimes that all sounds better than where we are at today. But then the grass is always greener-right??

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Helping my Brother Out

By the time my cousins and siblings and I came along our grandparents' farm was not a working farm. Everything was left as it had been when the barn was full of cows and horses; chickens and pigs. There were still some stray feathers in the roosts. Empty milk cans sat unused. Stanchions sat idle. Most days when the bus would bring us home from school my brother would walk up the road to a nearby farm and help out. He was a hard worker. He was also a neat freak-the total opposite of me! I remember sneaking into his room to look at his stamp collection. It was so organized; as were his school notebooks and closet.

 A couple of times he bought a few heifers and kept them in the barn. One time it was black angus. It was fun having animals in the barn. I could only imagine what it must have been like back in the day when the farm was up and going. I think our grandfather would have been proud of my brother who was the first grandchild. They were quite close. My brother inherited his work ethic. My brother cared for the heifers and black angus every day before school and every day after school. One summer he asked me if I'd care for the black angus for a few weeks. He was going to visit relatives. I was thrilled. I was also nervous. Being as organized and particular as he was, I felt I had some big shoes to fill. But I didn't tell him that. I followed him around a few days before he left-and then-it was me and the angus!

We did just fine. The barn got a little out of control but by the time he returned I had it all organized. All the black angus were fed and accounted for. My brother brought me back a pack of Juicy Fruit gum for helping him out. I was overjoyed. I may not have filled those big shoes of his-but I had fun trying!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hurrah for Poems-Long and Short

Even when I was growing up I loved writing poems. Some were short and funny. Others were long and serious. When playing in our chicken coop clubhouse my cousin and I would write poems. One my cousin wrote remains a favorite from back then: 'Bees make honey-They make it so funny-You'd think they'd say it's a funny day-But it's not-It's not even hot-That's what they say!'
We'd laugh every time we'd recite that little ditty.

Since those days I've learned there are different types of poems, each with their own rules. I still enjoy writing poems. They make you think. They lighten your load. They offer you an avenue of expression. Since April is National Poetry Month I'd lke to share a few with you and remember-'Poems make you giggle-They make your tongue wiggle!' While I don't remember what type of poem each of these represents or what rules they follow-I hope you enjoy them!

'Tall and lanky swaying in the breeze-Carrying on laughing with the trees-Making every day bright-They are truly a sight-Always smiling without saying Cheese!'
"Let's go fishing," said the big, cat fish.
"Perfect," thought Cat, while making a wish.
Watching Fish grab a worm-Cat pounced and made Fish squirm. Cat went fishing for a Fish-de-lish!'
'Tomatoes red-Asleep in beds; Potatoes white-So hard to bite; Zucchini green-So sleek and clean;Squah yellow-A curvy fellow!'
'Asparagus swords-Defending the beds-Carefully swaying-Watching their heads; Fighting off each deadly foe-Including the farmer-with his shiny steel hoe; But once fully grown-They go down in defeat; For they taste so good-When ready to eat!'
   and one more for now...........
'Wet drops falling from above-Giving the garden lots of love-But if the rain keeps falling down-It will saturate the ground-Turning beans into boats-And off they'll float!"

Saturday, April 27, 2013

'The Snowman Maker'-a Christmas story

As I was writing 'The Snowman Maker'-my next Christmas novel to be released October, 2013, I found myself again drawing from childhood experiences of growing up in the country and weaving some of those threads into the storyline. Of course when the story is fiction, the possibilities are endless for the plot and for the characters who-by the time the last word is written-have become part of the writer's family. It's funny when you create characters their lives are in your hands. You decide their hair color-gender-views, etc.-but most important, you decide their fate. Scenes where emotions run high-run high for the writer as well. There have been scenes in both 'The Reindeer Keeper' and this upcoming release where I've laughed-cried-and felt anger towards a character. And when I found I had to write something into the story that caused such emotions, after it was on the page I'd have to get up and take a break. And once the book is published and out there for all to read, it's like putting one of your own children out for review.

I remember playing in our chicken coop clubhouse. Pretending was always part of the play as was reading Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or Louisa May Alcott-and taking pieces of paper, folding them, and 'pretending ' to write a story. They say what you did as a child is where your heart lies as an adult. A part of my heart will forever remain out in the country-the perfect place to draw from when writing fiction and weaving storylines.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Man in the Top Hat

My grandfather died when I was in the sixth grade. Any memories I have of the man are of when he was older so when I came across this photo showing him with two of his six daughters I couldn't take my eyes off him. I don't know how old he was when this was taken. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that it offers me a glimpse of my grandfather as a young father-dressed up and obviously on his way somewhere with daughter Ruth on his lap-and my mother in her little knit hat and buttoned-up coat by his side. It looks like they are in some sort of a sleigh with blankets. Wih that top hat and wool coat, my grandfather reminds me of Abe Lincoln-minus the beard. I remember him to have been tall and thin with Beech-Nut chewing tobacco in his back pocket. I remember him wearing suspenders and reading at night in the front parlor.

Besides showing my grandfather as I'd never seen him before, this photo offers another glimpse of the barn I always write about. The more I find pictures with that barn included the more I realize the role it played over the years, from one generation to the next, from one season to another. I've heard the stories about the horses it housed and the mean rooster nicknamed Baldy who ruled the barnyard and the bull who almost did my mother in if it hadn't been for my grandfather and his pitchfork. But by the time me and my cousins came along there were no horses or bulls or mean roosters-just a barn offering us a great place to play and pretend.

Family farms peppered the landscape back then. It was hard work seven days a week from early morning to late at night. Sadly, most family farms like my grandfather's have been sold or boarded up and abandoned. Many farms are big business now. It makes me wonder if kids still play in barns or ride on the back of hay wagons like we did. Although he didn't wear his top hat, it was our grandfather driving his old Ford tractor and pulling the hay wagon to the barn. We were so lucky! Trouble with that-you don't realize how lucky you were until looking at a photo of years gone by.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Certainly Not a Designer Kitchen

I love this old glossy photo of the kitchen in my grandparents' farmhouse. I only wish it showed more. It was a big kitchen but then it had to be with the meals being cooked and breads and cookies being baked and produce from the garden being cleaned, cooked or canned. You can see how the wood stove was the focal point. That pot in the forefront was the main one used for cooking just about everything. Behind it is the tea kettle always full of water. Up on top you can see a pie cooling. It was fun watching my grandmother bake her pies. Of course the crusts never came from a box in the dairy aisle like mind do. They were mixed and kneaded and water was added along with the Crisco and flour and a dash of salt until the consistency was just so. Then the dough was shaped into balls, rolled out, and filled with apples or raisins or pumpkin or mince meat or lemon pudding eventually topped with the fluffiest meringue ever. And this was done in-between everything else she had to do.

The cupboards in the kitchen were not brand name nor was there an island with stools or walls painted in designer shades to match a wood floor or carpet. No. The cupboards were white enamel. The floors were basic except for braided rugs my grandmother made from strips of fabric she'd braid together and then tack. The back door was not custom-made but it worked. It took us out to the barn-the backfields-the chicken coop turned into a clubhouse-the creek where we'd ride our rafts made from telephone poles all summer long and skate on all winter long..

In the end, a kitchen is not defined by designer this or that. It is defined by a feeling it evokes. You can't buy that or install it. That farmhouse kitchen felt like home because of a woman who worked her wood stove like a ballerina performing on a dance floor, making boiled dinners and soups and the best pies ever!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Field of Dreams

I wish this old photo was clearer. That's me center front with my arms spread wide. I don't know what I was doing or who took it-probably with a Brownie camera. While it is blurry you still can see the field that led from our chicken coop clubhouse to our grandparent's old farmhouse. The chicken coop would have been to the left of me.

Trudging through the hayfield is my fellow-cousin-girls-club-member-of-the-chicken-coop leading two of our little students back through the field-probably on their way home after class. They look like they were dressed up so it might have been a special day at the chicken coop schoolhouse. It looks like everyone had a great day. Stools seem to have been gathered outside for some reason. You can see an old record player with a collection of 45s waiting to be played. Funny thing about that-the chicken coop clubhouse didn't have electricity. But when you use your imagination-that doesn't matter. Maybe that's what I was doing-singing? Anyway, you can see the water pipe that stretched from the pumphouse to the barn and my uncle's old car parked up by the back door.

But it's the field that stirs the most fun memories. It was not just a hayfield. It was a field of dreams; a field of pure imagination as we'd run and hide and fight the bad guys and make hay houses and talk and dream and wonder about the world around us and it was all free-like the wind rippling over the field.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Tulip Stealer in the Tulip Patch

Right outside the kitchen door of my grandparent's farmhouse there used to be a tulip patch. I don't remember it growing up. I've only heard the stories-especially the ones concerning my older brother who was the first grandchild and who loved that tulip patch. Despite being told not to pick those beautiful, happy flowers he couldn't resist them and neither could anyone resist taking a tulip when he offered one. Dressed in his little short and sweater outfit with that little cap on his head and with his red hair and freckles, he won the adults over every time.

The backdrop in this photo offers another glimpse of my grandfather's barn and opposite that-the granary. Although it's just a partial glimpse of the barn it instills the comforting feeling of the family farm and how family would gather and enjoy the simple things-like a tulip patch complete with a tulip stealer. Before heading up the small incline to those buildings there was a wide area of flat rock which provided yet another source of fun for us as we grew up. Once our imaginations took over, that flat rock turned into anything we wanted it to be. After a rainfall, the puddles left behind offered even more of an opportunity for play!

The barn, the granary, and the tulip patch are all gone now. That's why old, glossy photos are treasures to be savored and appreciated.They recorded a history in their own, unique way for after taking the photos you had to wait-and wait to see which ones developed. And when you finally got them back, the anticipation of opening up that envelope and seeing your photos was like Christmas morning. Anticipation is good. You appreciate all the more what you receive.