Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I Think I Found Christmas

I’d ridden by the Amish farmhouse with Christmas wreaths displayed on the front porch a few days earlier. The contrast of red bows against off-white clapboards caught my eye. I didn’t have time to stop but I knew I’d get back there. And I did earlier this morning despite the zero-degree temperature and a light snow making the less travelled, winding road a little slippery. But that didn’t stop me. There was something about that simple house with corn shocks gathered in a nearby field and those wreaths on display in the cold that made me feel like Santa lived there.

I noted tracks leading from the barn to the road. They were from the wheels of a buggy and a horse pulling it. I noted footsteps in the snow. Someone was off somewhere early. Maybe the North Pole?  Thoughts of that someone out in the freezing cold made me hurry along a shoveled path leading to the front porch where the wreaths were hanging from nails. Aromas of cedar and pine and something baking inside brought me back to the times when I was a little girl visiting my grandparents at their farmhouse; especially this time of the year; the time of cinnamon and nutmeg; wreaths being made in the kitchen; an old Singer sewing machine humming and my grandfather’s saw creating surprises like a pine desk complete with a stool-my most favorite Christmas gift ever.

Swirls of snow dancing over drifts took my breath away as I knocked on the door. I could hear a baby crying. I could hear a little one running around. When the door opened I was greeted by a young Amish woman holding the baby. She didn’t invite me in. We stood there looking at each other until I asked about the wreaths. I was told they weren’t for sale. They were a special order. That’s when the baby really started crying. It was just too cold. The mother asked me in while she tended to her little one. The minute I stepped inside I felt as if I was back at the farmhouse where I spent endless hours as a child.  I felt as if my grandparents were there. In a way, they were as the floor creaked and the wind edged its way in between cracks and aromas of yeast and currants and kneaded dough and spices swirling from an oven brought to mind my Grandmother’s Christmas bread. Could it be that’s what was in the oven? Anything was possible. Christmas was coming.

A few minutes later I was asked to sit down at the table. The baby was sleeping. The toddler was peeking at me. We exchanged names. We talked. I learned the other children were at school. Watching her finagle her many duties brought me back to when my children were young. It seemed like yesterday. And yet, it seemed like an eternity. She disappeared for a minute only to return with her arms loaded down with boughs of cedar and pine. She explained she had to finish that special order. Watching her gather her materials reminded me of the times I’d do the same when I had a minute, only I’d be gathering pads of paper with scribbles I hoped to turn into a story if I had the time.

I decided I’d stayed long enough. This mother was trying to create with duties all around her. I stood, telling her I had to get back home.

“I would like you to take a wreath. Pick anyone you’d like, except for the large one, off the porch.”

I told her I wouldn’t take one if she didn’t accept money for it. We made a deal and minutes later I was walking along that shoveled path holding on to a precious wreath of pine and cedar with a red bow and pine cones made by what could have been an elf in disguise if you took in account her spirit of giving.

Driving down that narrow, slippery road I noticed a buggy being pulled by two horses coming towards me. As we were about to pass I felt chills going down my spine. If I didn’t know better the older gentleman in that buggy could have been Santa Claus. I mean he really looked like Santa Claus with wire-rimmed glasses and a beard as white as snow flying in the breeze and a twinkle in his eyes and a smile that made me feel like it was Christmas morning. I saw deer running in the woods. I bet they were on their way to the North Pole. I mean, it’s Christmas.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

In J. J. Newberry's basement with Santa Claus

Despite the rip right through my older brother's face, this photo is in pretty good shape considering its age. I am so thankful I found it in a box of old photos meant some day to be a part of a family album. Of course back when it was taken there wasn't the technology as there is today so if photos weren't put into albums immediately, they were added to a collection of photos stored away in a drawer or a box once they were developed. I'm figuring a store employee took this photo. I think that #53 is a reference number for the photo. It doesn't matter. What matters are the memories, despite the fact I have no recollection of that day-still dressed in my snowsuit in the basement of a J. J. Newberry's in the heart of the downtown in my hometown.

I remember hearing stories of going there to see Santa Claus when we were little. I remember walking down the stairs and turning right but that's it. Maybe I can't remember because I would get so very excited when seeing Santa Claus despite my not even acknowledging him in the photo. My mother would tell me stories of the Christmas mornings when I'd be so over-the-moon excited that I actually made myself so sick that she had to bundle me up on the sofa while she and my father and older brother opened their presents.

From what I can recall hearing, Santa's booth was not far from the stairs. It was against a wall. It was busy every day leading to Christmas. My mother helped my brother and I write our "Letters to Santa Claus." We'd bring them with us to Newberry's to drop in that box in the photo. I remember a main item on my list for a few years was a Bonnie Braids doll. When I finally found her under the tree wrapped in Santa paper it was like finding a pot of gold-even better.

Usually it was my mother who took us to Newberry's but it is an aunt in the photo waiting while Santa talks to us. That aunt was like a mother to us. She never married so her nieces and nephews were special to her. We loved talking Christmas with her. We loved how she wrapped the presents she bought for us.

It wasn't until years later that my mother told me the Newberry's Santa Claus was a woman. She worked with my mother as a nurse and loved playing Santa Claus. I decided that's what matters. She loved igniting that wonder and belief in the children who came to see her in that store basement. That to me is what Santa Claus is all about.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

We Three Kings and my Older Brother

I can't remember what grade my older brother-by two and a half years-was in when he was chosen by his teacher to sing one of the stanzas of 'We Three Kings' in the Christmas program at the little grade school we both attended just up the block from our house on the lane. I do remember I didn't think much about it even though I heard my parents discussing his singing with other relatives. That didn't matter. I knew he preferred playing with me over singing. And I was certain he wasn't as good at singing as he was at building forts with me in the front hall.

Our forts were made when closing off both doorways leading to the front stairs by using blankets. I don't know how he'd secure the blankets. I was more interested in filling our secret space. When the blankets were in place we'd take books from our mother's bookcase and put them in our secret spot. I'd run upstairs and bring down some of my dolls and stuffed animals. I don't think having my dolls in our fort bothered my brother. He never said they did. He was too busy defending us from the enemy. We'd play and pretend in that hidden hallway for what seemed like hours. 

It was snowing the morning of the Christmas program. When we got to school the parking lot was beginning to fill up. When I stepped into my classroom, the teacher told me she'd heard my brother sing in a rehearsal. She thought he had a good voice. I can't remember what our class was singing in the program. I just remember having to put something in my hair. Shortly after that, we were lined up one by one and led into the auditorium. It was packed. I found my parents near the back sitting with one of my aunts. I waved at them but they were waving at my brother. He was sitting up near the front with his class. He was dressed as a wise man. Everyone thought he looked just like one despite his red hair and freckles. 

The program was very long but very good. Just before Santa Claus made his appearance, the lights dimmed. The Principal walked to the center of the stage and announced the next song would be the last song . I knew what it was. It had to be 'We Three Kings." And it was. My brother's class stayed in their seats and sang. When it came time for the third stanza to be sung, my brother stood. A spotlight was right on him. And when he started to sing I was in shock. My brother really could sing! His voice was strong. He held his head high and sang with all of his might. When he got to the end of the stanza, his classmates joined in. When the song had been sung, the auditorium erupted with applause. Everyone was on their feet-including me. I was sure I was clapping the loudest-the proudest as I told my classmates, "That was my brother singing"! I looked back at my parents and my aunt. They were clapping just like me.

My brother's fame never changed him. He still built us forts in the front hallway and he never did complain about me filling them with my dolls and stuffed animals.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Best Little Newspaper Ever

Growing up in the country surrounded by relatives proved to be my own Kickstarter when it came to taking my love of newspapers at a very young age to another level. I don't know if my infatuation was with the smell of the print or everything that a newspaper had to offer from the front page to the last page. Add in flyers and advertisements and the lure grew even stronger. I read all the sections-from local news to national news to sports and special features. When my father brought the newspaper home with him, I was usually the first one to grab it.

My family's home was one of four homes in a row and all those homes were full of those relatives. My grandparents' farmhouse was the anchor. Off in a field not far from the farmhouse was an abandoned chicken coop. That old coop became the center of my universe, as well as my cousins, after the adults gutted it and filled it with the desks, chalkboards, and books from a vacated one-room schoolhouse. We were always in the chicken coop; even in the winter despite snow blowing in through windows with missing panes. We'd play school with imaginary students. We'd put on Easter parades. We'd read books and write books. And from all of this playing and pretending and creating an idea hit like a hurricane.

We'd start a newspaper. And so my cousin and I became reporters, editors, publishers, advertising salespeople, circulation experts and the Sports department. We called our paper 'The Burns Row Journal'. It was named after our grandparents as all those four homes in a row were all Burns' in one way or another. We were a weekly newspaper, publishing on Saturday nights in the chicken coop. There were no computers. We didn't have a printing press so we hand-printed 4 copies of our Journal. We didn't have paperboys or papergirls so on Sunday mornings, we'd deliver a copy of The Burns Row Journal to each of the 4 homes. There weren't individual sections to our pub. It was usually four sheets of loose-leaf paper stapled together and when it came to a new section it would have its own heading. We didn't charge our customers. Each printed edition was a labor of love.

The one thing all of our sections had in common was the fact that every single item in the Burns Row Journal was family-related. Our ads featured a funeral home, a shoe store, a teacher/coach and nurses as all of those professions were represented in those four homes. Our Sports section ran features on anything we considered to be sports. That included baseball games held in the front yard of the farmhouse to swimming in a river down across the road to skating down at the creek. News highlighted anything we could think of family-related and that could have been news briefs on family pets or a special event coming up at the chicken coop clubhouse.

I can't remember when our 'printing press' stopped. Probably when we grew out of doing such a silly thing as hand-printing four copies of what we considered to be our own New York Times on Saturday nights.

(Photo included shows that old chicken coop clubhouse. I am the one standing between two neighbor kids. This is the only photo I have of that amazing clubhouse-home to the amazing Burns Row Journal.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pretty Little Handkerchiefs

My mother worked the midnight shift as a Charge Nurse in the ER. Working that shift meant my parents didn't have to pay a babysitter for me and my older brother. By the time she had to leave to get to the hospital, she'd fed and bathed us. Then we'd ride in the backseat of the car as my father drove her to work. After she got out of the car, waved to us and disappeared inside, my father wouldn't drive away. The three of us would stay in that car, looking up towards a window overlooking the circular drive. The window was in the office of the Nun in charge. Our mother would get to that window and wave goodbye again. On the way back home it was as if she was still in the car. I could smell her Avon deodorant and whatever she'd used to keep both her hair and starched white cap in place. Besides those familiar scents, I also remember a leather-type bag she always brought back and forth with her. It held books she might be reading. It also held whatever project she was working on; projects that kept her fingers busy and her mind released of some of the stress she was under. Of course I wasn't aware of that stress back then. I just liked riding in the car in my pajamas.

Of all the projects she worked on, her hand-embroidered handkerchiefs amazed me the most. The designs were so dainty. They were mostly little flowers with little leaves. The colors were happy. Beautiful. She kept that bag near a chair by a window in the den. Sometimes I'd sit in that chair. I'd reach in and take out whatever she was working on. If I pulled out knitting needles or embroidery needles I'd spend a few minute pretending I knew how to use them.  I was especially happy when I pulled out those pretty little handkerchiefs. I'd take my finger and follow the stitches. I'd check the other side of the handkerchief which was as neat as the front.

When I was a teenager, we moved to the country. In the afternoons in the summertime I'd do the family ironing. Back then everything was ironed. Even towels and sheets were ironed. Once in awhile my mother would open a top drawer of her dresser. It held all of those pretty little handkerchiefs. She'd gather them and hand-wash each one using Woolite in the kitchen sink. Then she'd lay them on the table. When they were dry, she'd let me iron them after adjusting the temperature. I took my time. I'd take that iron carefully around each cluster of leaves and flowers embroidered in a corner of each handkerchief. I knew how precious they were. I knew the nurse found such pleasure in her work-both as a Charge Nurse in the ER and as a designer of precious little handkerchiefs.

I don't remember her ever actually using one. I think that's because she considered each a piece of art. And I would have to agree.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Magic of a Cookie Jar

When I was growing up we had a Santa Claus ceramic cookie jar that sat on one of the shelves of a free standing service cart-like-thing. It had wheels so you could roll it around from one wall to another or one room to another. My mother always kept it in the kitchen by the back door. Along with that cookie jar she kept the toaster sitting on that stand as well. Both the toaster and the cookie jar always stayed in the same place. Other stuff wasn't permanent. It changed when she needed to get something out of the way.
It never mattered to any of us that it was a 'Santa Claus' cookie jar. What mattered was that it contained cookies all year long.

My grandmother kept her cookies inside a small, free-standing cupboard. It was painted white and it had a counter top. Half of the space in the front of that cupboard was where she kept boxes of cereal. All you had to do was open a small door and make your choice. The other half was comprised of three pull-out drawers. The middle drawer had a tin-like top with holes for ventilation. That's where she kept the cookies. All you had to do was slide that top back to find the cookies. If the cookies weren't homemade, they were either Fig Newtons or Lorna Doones. When my children were growing up, cookies were kept in a drawer in a cupboard. And when my two grandchildren happened along, cookies were kept in a cupboard-until the oldest one fell in love with foxes.

Her infatuation with foxes started awhile back. She is now 7 years old. A few weeks ago I'd been told by her mother that a certain store was carrying Fox ceramic cookie jars. Bingo! A light bulb went off in my head. My thoughts went back to my mother's Santa Claus ceramic cookie jar always sitting in the same place and always full of cookies. I hadn't thought about that cookie jar in years but at that moment, I realized how much I missed it. I realized how much it remains a part of my childhood. It was always there. Whatever else might have been going on; whatever else might have changed, that ceramic cookie jar probably 'Made in China' was sitting there waiting for a little hand to stop, pick up the top half, take a cookie or two, put the top back down and enjoy what that jar had to offer. But it wasn't always a little hand dipping into that jar. You see, my father loved cookies and my father did the grocery shopping so add those two together and you get a full cookie jar at all times full of his favorite cookies.

A few days after leaning about those Fox ceramic cookie jars on sale at a local store, I went shopping. When I came home, I not only had a Fox ceramic cookie jar 'Made in China' but a Fox ceramic cereal bowl and a Fox ceramic plate.  I couldn't help it. They belong together, now sitting on a shelf in an old cupboard in the kitchen, full of homemade Squash cookies waiting for that little fox to make another visit.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hair Nets

No matter where my mother went she was wearing a hair net or had one with her in her purse even when going to the grocery store. Her wearing a hair net always amazed me because her hair was either set in place with lots of hair spray or done up tightly in pin curls held in place by bobby pins. But that didn't matter. Hair nets were a must accessory back then. They came in handy if the wind kicked up or it started to rain or she was in a boat going for a ride or she'd just had her hair done and she wanted to be sure to keep it in place.

Hair nets came in colors. Her hair nets were always black or if she was wearing a bouffant type, they were always pink. I was used to seeing her in a hair net. They were as common as earrings are today. She even had a dresser drawer dedicated to hair nets.

My mother eventually grew away from wearing hair nets when styles became more casual although she kept some near just in case. I never knew her to grow her hair. It was always short and tight to her head while her mother's was always long and twisted into a bun and held in place by hair combs. Hair can define us. Hair can make a generation stand apart from another. While hairdos change so do the accessories and ways we treat and cut our hair. Lots of women pay big bucks on their hair.

Maybe my mother had it right. Wear a hair net to keep those hairs in place. It makes for less time spent on your hairdo and keeps you from going back to salons for their assistance. And always, always keep a hair net close by. You never know when you might need one.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Really was like Christmas in July

I knew this photo existed. I just couldn't put my hands on it until one day last week-one day during the month of July. Finding the photo in a pile of old photos in a trunk kept in the garage has led me to believe there really can be Christmas in July! Before I thought it was just hype. A great phrase to use as a marketing tool when sales slack off in the heat of summer. But now I feel differently. Finding the photo of me in my nightgown opening a gift on a Christmas morning and my mother sitting on the couch nearby with her hair done up in bobby pins was like opening a gift on Christmas morning with the snow coming down and Bing Crosby and Dean Martin and Andy Williams taking turns with the entertainment.

While today-at this very moment as I write this post-there is no snow outside or pile of unopened presents in the living room stacked beneath a tinsel-laden Christmas tree decorated with ornaments bought at Newberry's and Woolworths and while there is no Santa on a mantel, and despite the fact that particular house was sold and my mother has passed away and I have two grandchildren, really-nothing has changed. The spirit and anticipation felt that Christmas morning of long ago still exists even in the month of July for it exists in my heart. It has never gone away.

Since finding the photo I've looked at it several times and each time I'm brought back to that morning. I can smell the coffee perking in the kitchen and my grandmother's Christmas bread sliced and sitting on the table covered in a red, hand-embroidered by my mother tablecloth. I can see my father sitting in his chair already dressed for the day and most likely that included sporting a tie. I can hear my younger sister and brother tearing through their stockings and then going for their presents while my older brother sits like me quietly opening gifts. After all, we were older. We couldn't rip off the paper. We were too cool. I dare say while on the outside he remained cool and calm; inside his stomach was doing flips and somersaults. I know that's how I remember feeling as I sat near my mother quietly opening presents on a Christmas morning of long ago.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hairy Extremes

At first I thought I'd be getting pretty brave when posting my graduation picture along with my Cher era photo. Now that I'm doing it, I realize it doesn't matter. It's worth a laugh or two. Hair is just that-hair.We all have photos of our hairstyles and cringe at how we wore our hair at certain times. But each particular time tells about a chapter in our life. It might be a good or bad or sad chapter but all those chapters add to what is our own, one-of-a-kind story and our hair is a part of that story.

When I was born my parents told me I had so much hair that the nurses kept it gathered on top of my head in a 'whisp.' In fact the nurses called me Whisteria. As I grew into a little girl, my mother often French braided my hair. When I was a pre-teen she took me to a barber shop and had my hair chopped off into a sort of Buster Brown hairstyle. That's the way it stayed until I became a teen. That's when I took over. Most every night in my freshman year I'd go into the kitchen-take out an egg-crack it, strain out the yolk, and then mix the white of the egg with some water. Then I'd go into my bedroom, shut the door and do my hair up on big rollers. I'd comb the egg white mixture into every strand before wrapping that strand around a roller and pinning that roller to my head with hard, plastic picks. Then I'd wrap a net around the rollers and sleep on them all the while telling my mother that Yes-I was doing my homework. In the morning, I'd carefully take each roller out. I really didn't have to be careful since the hair was like cement. It wasn't going anywhere which is what I wanted. I'd tease it all into a beehive as tall as I could get it-then spray that hive and off I'd go to school thinking I was just about the coolest chic ever. I wore that style for the longest time. It changed when Sonny and Cher made their debut. No more egg white for me. I wanted my hair as long and straight and free as it could be. That stage lasted for a quite awhile. A part of that stage included the discovery of long, pretend braids. A friend of mine and I would pull our hair high up to the top of our heads into one long ponytail. Then we'd wrap the fake braid around it-tuck the ends of real hair underneath it, secure it with bobby pins and think we were pretty cool in our hot, fake braids. Once I married and had children, hair time was about no time. When they were young I cut my hair all off and permed it into tight curls. That way it was no bother. They couldn't pull on it. If I didn't get to wash it, the curls looked just fine or so I thought they did. I didn't have much spare time to check..

Funny how hair tells a story. If my hair was writing a book it would include the times my sister-in-law and I used a boxed treatment for streaking our hair. We're lucky our hair didn't fall out since keeping track of the time was something we were not too good at. There'd also be chapters on long hair and short hair; streaked hair and curly hair and probably more than one chapter on the use of egg whites for gluing one's hair into place.

I still have this little inkling gnawing at me to go red. Not a bright red. Just a nice auburn kind of  red. I know when the mood hits-that will happen! And then that will be another chapter.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Picnic by the Tulip Patch

Did you ever look at an old photo and wish you could remember being in that moment; wish you could recall the conversation and remember who was around and figure out how that moment came about? When I look at the attached photo, I wonder. And I wish I could remember that day, sitting outside of my grandparents' farmhouse in the summertime behind my grandmother's tulip patch.

I'm seated to the left in the wicker chair. My older brother is seated across from me and our cousin who is four months older than me is sitting between us. We appear to be having a snack or lunch. I appear to have my snack in my lap. That was probably a good idea because whatever I was eating most likely would have fallen to the ground and most likely a dog named Pepper who was most likely nearby would have enjoyed whatever I was supposed to be eating. We are probably drinking milk. As I grew older I remember enjoying the homemade lemonade my grandmother would make, using her lemon squeezer and filling a pitcher with that lemon juice, along with well water and lots of sugar and lemon slices.

My brother had red hair and freckles when he was a little boy. He was the first grandchild and would often go with our grandfather in his old Ford truck. When we were old enough we'd get to ride behind our grandfather's little red tractor, sitting on the hay wagon, feeling every bump and taking in the smell of the hayfields and buzzing of the flies and bees and feeling the warmth of the sun with a gentle breeze making the clover dance and wildflowers twirl as we'd go over the plank bridge, taking us to the backfields. That farm was a paradise for adventures when growing up.

On the day this photo was taken clothes on the clothesline were swaying in the breeze. Those tall posts held the waterline going out to the barn. In the very top left you can see an inkling of what was the pump house. We loved playing in that pump house. We'd pump the cold water into our hands and keep repeating the process. That water was so cold and so tasty. On real hot days we'd pump the water onto the cement floor and then splash in it with our bare feet. We also had the option of going down to the flat rocks pictured to the right of the laundry flapping in the breeze where there was a natural bubble that would spring out from the rocks. Clearing away any moss, we'd spread out on our bellies and enjoy sipping that water, trying to avoid the water from going up our noses.

Amazing how one photo makes you wonder as it takes you back to a moment when sitting in an old wicker chair in the summertime.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Berry Picker in Jeans

This is the one and only time I remember my grandmother ever wearing jeans and sneakers. She was going berry-picking while visiting one of her six daughters and family. I can only imagine the laughs they had as that particular daughter was lots of fun just like her mother. I wasn't there but something tells me they filled that bucket she is holding more than once. And I'm sure when my grandmother was back home, she baked some strawberry-rhubarb pies.

As far back as I can remember, my grandmother always wore a house dress with black shoes that tied up the front so seeing her dressed in jeans was like seeing a whole other side of her. She had an assortment of house dresses. They all had pockets. Most were a muted plaid material. Probably a cotton. On special occasions she'd wear one of her good dresses and if she was cooking, she'd wear an apron. While I don't remember ever picking berries with my grandmother, I do remember enjoying the pies she'd bake by combining a pinch of this and a dash of that. Of course her crusts were homemade. Crisco played a role in that.

Her list of homemade pies was extensive including favorites such as apple and pumpkin; mincemeat and custard. I loved her raisin pie and all the berry pies made when the berries were in season. My all-time, most favorite pie was her lemon meringue. I've tried my best to create a lemon meringue pie just like my grandmother's, even using her recipe, but I fall short every time. I think the problem is my thoughts wander back to those times of eating her lemon meringue pie and having her there and sitting in her kitchen and enjoying the pie on a certain plate surrounded by other family members doing the same while talking and enjoying the moment. Funny how food sparks our memories. Funny how food takes us back. The texture of her pies-the aromas from her kitchen-her rolling pin-her worn yet strong hands-her hair pulled up in a bun-flour everywhere-her braided rugs-her African Violets sitting on a drop leaf table in the other room-the bookcase full of books and photographs.

Funny how a pie, a simple pie made with love and served with a smile while wearing a house dress with pockets and black shoes that tied up the front can bring it all right back as if it was yesterday. There's magic in those recipes. Of course the magician herself had lots to do with it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

At Age 12 I 'Adopted' My Baby Brother

I have three siblings. The youngest was born in May-the same month I turned twelve. I was very excited to have this baby brother especially with summer vacation coming, I knew I'd get to spend lots of time with him. What I didn't know was just how much and in what way.

I can't remember exactly when it happened, but soon after my mother came home from the hospital with him, she discovered she had a blood clot in her left leg. All I remember her telling me in the middle of the night was she'd experienced pain in her leg. It had turned black. They woke me up to listen for the baby while my father rushed my mother to the hospital. Back then the treatment for such a blood clot was far different than it is today. My mother ended up staying in the hospital for most of the summer. I was taken out of school early to help. My aunt who lived next door-a nurse with four children-stepped in as well. She'd take my baby brother as much as she could which was a lot. He'd sleep there. She'd care for him-feed him-bathe him. I wasn't happy with the arrangement. He was my brother and I wanted to do it all. Looking back, I thank God she was there. I never would have made it. I think she felt my frustration so we devised a plan with input from my father who was very busy being a funeral director, visiting my mother in the hospital, and helping me keep the house picked up and cooking and watching my younger sister. We decided I'd go to my aunt's house after my brother's morning bath-bring him home and take him back after supper, depending on how things were going. It worked. I had him most of the day. On sunny days I'd put him in his carriage and go for walks, visit my grandmother next door, or sit alongside the rock garden. When he slept, I'd read a book. But there was one time it didn't work. Not at all. I thought he'd end up in the hospital alongside my mother.

It happened when I kept him home for supper so my father could see him. I was so proud. I'd cooked the meal although I can't imagine now what it was. My aunt had just started feeding my brother cereal with some Gerber applesauce or pears so when my father and I went shopping, I bought him some chocolate pudding. I thought he would love it. But it turned out just the opposite. He became very sick and I became very nervous. I thought the days of 'adopting' my baby brother were over. But they weren't. The adults weren't as worried as I was and when my mother heard what I'd done, she didn't have a problem with it. But my father did throw out my supply of that chocolate pudding in the jars.

When my mother finally made it home, she had to take it easy. But at least she was home and feeling better. The top picture shows her outside sitting down while I rock my baby brother to sleep in his carriage. The bottom photo shows my parents next door at my grandmother's for a picnic. You can see the bandage she had to keep wrapped around her leg even when she went to bed.

That summer which began early for me was one I will never forget. I'm just glad my baby brother hasn't a clue, especially when it comes to the chocolate pudding.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Aboard the Marrakesh Express

I was in Morocco visiting my daughter, an ESL instructor. I'd brought along a children's book I'd written & illustrated plus a little doll for us to use with her students. After visiting the school, we caught the Marrakesh Express in Casablanca-destination Marrakesh! I could hear Crosby, Stills & Nash in every nook of that old train, chugging past shepherds using cell phones while sitting on donkeys.  And while onboard that train, I made a friend.

I never did learn her name. She was a beautiful, young girl sitting across from us with her mother and grandmother. While language was a barrier, it didn't matter. We communicated just fine. When the train slowed and it became apparent it was their stop, I reached into my purse, pulled out the doll and gestured to the mom if I could give the doll to her daughter. Her smile said it all.

As they disappeared into the crowd I watched as the young girl held the doll up for me to see, waving the little doll in the gentle breeze smelling of olives, oranges and the Atlantic.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Encouraged by a Nun teaching Creative Writing

When I was in high school, girls were more often than not encouraged by their guidance counselors to go into nursing or teaching. Or, they had their own plan to get married and raise a family. Throughout my senior year, my mother kept after me, "What are you going to do after graduation?Where are you going to apply?" It didn't help that my two best friends had known all along what they wanted to do and they had their applications in to prove it. One was going for nursing; the other teaching. I was clueless. While I never liked high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do when it was finally over. Well actually I did but my mother would have kicked me out of the house. You see, all I wanted to do was write. It didn't matter what I was writing as long as I was in that mode. So if I'd had my way I would have stayed sitting at my desk in my bedroom writing. Needless to say, that never happened.

Throughout that last year my mother kept throwing ideas at me. She really pushed nursing because she was a registered nurse. She'd been in charge of the ER. The thought of doing what she did made me ill. She was not happy with me so she arranged for a man representing an airline that serviced our hometown to come to our house and interview me. Of course the interview was not for piloting the plane but for becoming a flight attendant. The thought of flying around-landing and taking off-made me ill as well. Totally disgusted with me, my mother had my father take me to a local, all-girls Catholic college run by nuns for an interview. It was very small. There was one cinder block dorm. My parents told me I could live at home and take the car when it was available. And on some of those days when the car wasn't available my older brother could possibly pick me up. I liked that plan-especially the part of my brother picking me up because he had a red TR3. So I applied for an AAS Degree in Liberal Arts and I was accepted. And once classes began I found I liked it. It was nothing like high school. I made some friends but I think my having an older brother with a sports car helped. They loved coming home with me on weekends. I graduated at the end of two years and went on to another school some 3 hours away. There I applied for an AAS Degree in Advertising and Design. I liked that too and earned the degree and then life took hold of me. But down deep inside, I knew I had one more degree to earn.

You see, while I was attending the local, all-girls Catholic college, my favorite course was Creative Writing. At the end of the semester the nun teaching the course pulled me aside and told me I had a "gift for writing." I never forgot that. And when I was married and a mother of three I went back to that small local college and earned my AAS Degree in English. (The attached photo shows me receiving my degree).

Thanks to the nun encouraging me, I found my way in getting published. I am so glad my mother kept pushing me!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Little Sewing Machine Full of Memories

When I was in my early teens my parents added a room on to our home out in the country. That space would become my mother's fabric shop where she eventually sold not only fabrics of all sorts but everything else needed for the sewing process including patterns, zippers, bias tape, buttons-even hat forms and feathers and jewels to decorate one's hat creations. My mother had the shop decorated in fine antiques, providing warm and inviting displays for the bolts of fabric in season at the time. On Saturday mornings my grandmother offered sewing classes. She and my mother were fine seamstresses. That's where I learned how to sew although I never reached their level of craftsmanship.I loved that fabric shop. It provided me endless hours of imaginative play when the closed sign was on the door.

Recently when involved in a home renovation I came across what had been a focal point of my mother's fabric shop-a small, antique, hand-painted, working sewing machine which my uncle had turned into a lamp just for the shop. It was a centerpiece of conversation. My mother used it as sort of a "logo" back then for her country shop of fine fabrics. She had many offers from those interested in buying the little machine. From antique dealers to antique lovers, that mini machine caused a stir.

It is still causing a stir as it now sits on display in my home. And every time that happens I get to tell its story and the story of my mother's fabric store in the country.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Favorite Old Coat

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

My favorite old coat has remained in my heart ever since growing up in the country. It seems like only yesterday when my mother came home from an afternoon of shopping in our once busy downtown with a big box just for me. It wasn't Christmas. It wasn't my birthday. It was just an ordinary day. Ordinary, that is, until I opened that box and discovered a brownish tweed wool coat wrapped in white tissue paper. It wasn't even that time of the year for wearing a coat but that never crossed my mind as I jumped up and pulled the coat out of the box. It was love at first sight for me and my coat. I unbuttoned the 3 buttons in the front and tried it on. It fit! I loved it more than I thought I ever could love a coat with pockets and a bit of a flair. I was a diva ready for the spotlight in my beautiful coat smelling of wool and all things warm and cozy and life is wonderful kind of stuff. But I had to wait to wear it. I had to get through the hot hazy days of summer and wait for the temperature to drop. So while waiting on Mother Nature I kept my coat in prime position in my closet. I could pull that coat out and put it on whenever I wanted to and when I did I'd strut about my room shared with my sister or sit at my desk and write my stories. My favorite old coat was always near.

I finally did get to wear my favorite coat beyond the confines of my bedroom. And every time I did I felt like a famous model gracing a runway with cameras clicking and viewers going ooh and ahh. I never grew tired of that brownish tweed coat with 3 buttons. I just grew out of it. I can't remember if it was handed down to my sister. In my heart I feel it eventually made it to my grandmother who most likely removed these 3 buttons and tore the coat apart into strips of fabric. She probably rolled those strips into a ball until needed for one of her breathtaking braided rugs. I'm hoping that's what happened to my favorite old coat. Then my favorite old coat would live on forever just like it does in my heart.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Perfectionist of French Braids

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

I don't remember it hurting when in the process of getting my hair French braided. I do remember my mother pulling and separating strands and then as she twisted the strands, she'd move farther and farther back from the table. When the braid was in place, she'd grab the rubber band and wrap it around the end of the braid. Then she'd turn me another way and do the same on the other side. This process of French braiding never took very long and every time my mother braided my hair, the braids were topped off with those brown clips void of any artwork put in place at the beginning of each braid.

The French braids were like identical twins every single time. Each hair was in place. Each braid twisted at the same place.The beauty of having French braids was the fact they stayed in place for a few days. That meant a few days void of bothering with my hair. When the braids were finally taken out and my hair was either washed or braided again, I loved the look of my hair just out of the braids. That's because my hair had become curly. Because my hair was naturally straight, it was fun to have it all in ringlets.

When I became a mother, I was horrible at braiding hair. I could braid hair but not like the perfectionist. My braids were basic braids not French braids. My fingers wouldn't work like they were supposed to when dealing with the strands. I tried to make-up for my poor braiding performance by purchasing fancy barrettes with artwork on them. That worked for awhile until the braids fell out. Then I'd put their hair in basic ponytails-so much easier!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How Did Kids Survive Back Then

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

Back then there were no health drinks for kids. There were no amazing car seats with those nooks and crannies. But all was not gloom and doom. Back then kids weren't mesmerized by technology. Kids went outside and played. They skipped rope. They roller skated and used chalk on sidewalks to play Hop Scotch. They played chase and baseball and spent hours in sandboxes or played Pick Up Sticks or rolled marbles in the snow-in the mud-in the grass. I know lots of kids do the same today. But back then, by running and playing, skipping and jumping, lots of that sugar was burned up and that was a very good thing!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sweet Spring Awakening

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

Having grown up in the country, Spring surrounded us. With the creek out back pushing far beyond its banks and geese flying high above us, my cousins and I frolicked outside until dragged inside and when we went inside, we'd most likely be soaking wet from playing in a stream that ran alongside our grandparents' farmhouse. If the weather changed and the temperature dipped, that little stream would turn to ice. But that didn't stop us. We'd find shovels or picks and open our highway back up so we could find some twigs and use them to race each other's twigs down that stream to the finish. I don't ever remember being cold when playing in that stream even when my mittens were soaking wet and my nose was dripping and my boots were full of mucky water mixed with leaves and stones. None of that matters when you are a kid and Spring is turning your Winter playground into something brand new and exciting, offering brand new things to play and explore until Spring turns to Summer and that little stream dries up and disappears under the sunshine and heat of the new season.

I can't remember if my grandparents tapped their maple trees but I do remember some other farms nearby with buckets on their trees. Now when I drive down those country roads and see buckets collecting sap, I think back to those days of chasing twigs and playing hopscotch in boots that were soaking wet but it didn't matter. It was Spring! And Spring, with all of its mud and grime, is a most marvelous place to play!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Growing up with Graham Crackers

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

Back then there was only one flavor of Graham Crackers and that was-Graham Crackers. No matter what we were drinking-milk, coffee, or hot chocolate-those graham crackers tasted even more delicious when dipped into our cup or glass. I'm sure we went through more than one pack of those crackers at each sitting but who kept track. We'd all keep talking as we enjoyed our snack at that kitchen table.

We also enjoyed graham crackers after our aunt took us swimming down at the river. It was across the road, down a lovely path through the woods and over a fence. Once the swimming was behind us, we'd dry off amongst the cow pies and eat graham crackers on the way back home. We never made things with the graham crackers like little houses at Christmas time. All we ever did was eat them.

When I see the Graham Crackers these days sitting on the store shelf in different boxes, various brands and in different flavors, they still bring back fun memories. I've learned it's not the graham crackers that made those times so special. It was the people gathered with me or swimming beside me or walking along with me down a lovely wooded path.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Old Neighborhood Corner Stores

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

None of the old corner stores that were in my neighborhood exist anymore. Some are now homes. Some are gone completely. All that remains are vacant lots. Some were bought out-demolished and replaced by the modern day version of a neighborhood corner store. In other words, a chain where all the stores look alike inside and out. They have to. That's part of the plan.You'll never meet the owner. He/she is at corporate headquarters. You might get to know some of the clerks or the manager but they come and go so you can't count on them remembering your kids' names or remember where your grandparents lived or remember where your parents worked.There are no creaky, old floors or candy cigarettes or cats sleeping on scatter rugs or curtains in plate-glass windows with plants in pots perched on window sills or an old chair sitting out front where you might find the owner taking a little break between customers. Instead the modern day versions offer you lottery tickets, pizzas, subs, a zillion brands of beer and chips, novelties that cost much more than 25 cents as well as gas, propane, bagged ice, flavored coffees in fancy Styrofoam cups and a feeling that you are just another customer.

When I think about it, I can remember every one of those old corner stores in my neighborhood. I loved them all. I miss them all. I miss the feeling they gave me. It was like going back home.