Saturday, December 21, 2019

Dishes That Tell A Story of Christmas

When you’re young and gathered with family around the table, you don’t think about the dishes used to serve the meal. Some of those dishes are pulled out from kitchen cupboards. They’re the everyday dishes. Others are taken off shelves in a china cabinet. Those are the ones used only for special occasions. They need to be washed before they’re put to use. Some are quite old. Some have been serving meals for generations. Some have offered more than food; serving comfort in times of sorrow; joy in times of celebration.
As a child, our attention is elsewhere especially on Christmas. Santa Claus and reindeer and overflowing stockings and presents under the tree take precedence over dishes. They’re just dishes. But that changes as we grow older. Those dishes start to mean something. Those dishes and bowls and platters somehow turned into traditions as we were growing up. They’ve become old friends. They’ve earned a chapter or two in our family story like the yellow bowl that held the coleslaw made by an aunt who never married and the platter that sat in the middle of the table holding the turkey sliced by an uncle who always wore a bow tie and fell asleep after dinner. China serving bowls, some with a few nicks and scratches, held potatoes and squash, turnip, stuffing, cranberries and dumplings. Crystal dishes held pickles made from garden cucumbers by a grandmother who also shared her scrumptious pickled pears in another serving dish and slices of her infamous Christmas bread in yet another.
Pies in familiar pie plates with homemade crusts were made by the family pie expert. Crusts were crimped around the edges in lightning speed as if the baker was playing a piano. Along with the pies came coffee served in cups with saucers matching the plates sitting in place around the table all decked out for the occasion.
Besides the dishes earning a chapter or two in a family story, supporting players such as tablecloths and candlesticks and aprons worn by those preparing the feast and original artwork taped on the refrigerator-some showing colorful scribbles and some showing Santa in his sleigh or Frosty with his broom-complete the family story for another year.
Every year is different as a family grows and changes. But if we’re lucky, some of the dishes remain the same. That part of the story continues on. That’s what traditions do.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

When In Line At The Post Office

I told my son Brian I wouldn't be long. I only had a few things to mail. I told him not to worry. I'd get him to the gym on time. Hurrying towards the post office I noticed two women helping each other up the steps. It wasn't snowing. The steps weren't icy but I slowed down while they made it to the door. One pushed the handicap lever and the door opened. That's when they noticed I was waiting behind them.
They told me to go ahead. One explained, "We're just two old friends coming to mail our Christmas cards. We've been doing this for years. Don't wait for us. You'll be here all day!"
I thanked them and went inside and stood in a long line. I thought about leaving but decided there'd be no good time to mail something with Christmas getting closer.
I could hear those two older women chatting. I turned around to see where they were. They both saw me. They both smiled and waved. That's when I noticed what they were wearing. The two were all dressed up with clip-on earrings and long wool coats and hats. Not winter hats but dress hats with veils. They reminded me of my father. He loved going to the post office and when he did, he always wore a tie and if it was cold outside, he'd wear his dress hat. He'd always run into people he knew and would spend time talking to them and others he didn't know. Going to the post office was a social event for him as it seemed to be for the women in dress hats chatting with all who walked by them.
The post office was really busy. Some people were waiting with arms full of boxes. Some held onto piles of cards and letters. Many had questions once they reached the counter and that took them even longer. I noticed a few people getting restless. A few muttered to themselves and to others in line. A few left and that made the rest of us happy. When one person reached the counter with many big boxes to mail, a subdued moan went around the lobby. That's when I saw one of the old ladies standing near me reading greeting cards for sale on a display. I noticed the ones that had her attention were all Christmas-themed.
One really caught her fancy. She brought it over to her friend. They both started chuckling and giggling and then laughing-laughing so hard like a belly-type laugh with tears falling down their cheeks. They tried stopping. They'd take a breath; then they'd start laughing again. Their laughter became contagious. Others started laughing. Strangers were smiling and talking with one another.
It was a wonderful experience. It felt like Christmas had arrived early in the historic old post office where I imagined my father standing in the line waiting to mail the Christmas cards my mother had addressed. When you think about that's what a post office does. It delivers Christmas just like I delivered Brian to the gym-on time!
(Hope you enjoy The Saturday Evening Post cover. I love those covers and that magazine. My grandparents always had a stack of them when living in their farmhouse).

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Getting The Decorations Out

We all have our ways of decorating the Christmas tree. My way begins with bringing down the box that holds many of the decorations. It’s an old box. It once held a VCR made by RCA. At the time, it was an exciting gift for the family. I should retire the box. I know there are better ways to store the decorations but I’ve yet to make the move. You see, that old box has become a part of the tradition of trimming the tree. After all, it has the responsibility of holding the decorations all year long. And most of those decorations are priceless-not in the money sense of the word. Rather, in the memory sense. They each tell a story of a time or a place in our family history.

When I was first married, I bought a paint-by-number Christmas kit holding small wooden Christmas decorations complete with a small hole for the string to hang them on the tree and little plastic containers with the paint and two paint brushes. I started painting them late in the season. When Christmas came around some of the decorations were only painted on one side. That didn’t stop me from putting them on the tree. To this day, a few, like an elf and a teddy bear and reindeer are still only painted on one side. And that’s okay. They tell the story of a first Christmas of long ago. One of the wooden decorations is Mrs. Claus. We named her Giddy after my grandmother. They have the same, warm and happy smile. Their eyes are full of love and you get the sense they both share a passion for baking cookies.

The biggest item in the VCR box is the tree skirt. My mother made it for us years ago out of felt. In its younger days, it was bright red and the snowmen were pure white but the years have taken its toll. Some might have replaced it by now, trading it in for a new one. But I can’ do that. Every time that tree skirt is unfolded and put around the bottom of the tree, I envision my mother cutting out the pieces and putting them all together when we lived atop the funeral home.

There are elves in the VCR box. They look just like those elves on shelves but they aren’t. They’re just elves. They’ve never been hidden. They’ve never told Santa who has been good or bad. They’re just elves full of memories. They were my father’s; probably bought at Newberry’s or Grants. I know a few of the decorations came from Woolworths. My father told me he and my mother went shopping at that downtown store for decorations to put on their first Christmas tree. They are beautifully painted and their shapes are unique. I take extra care when I pack those decorations away in the VCR box. Each is wrapped in paper towels and newspapers as are the cookie dough Santas I purchased years back when I had a little store selling Hello Kitty and so much more. I couldn’t sell the Santas. I fell in love with them the minute I saw them. I did the same when it came to little horses and pigs made of cloth and placed inside half of a walnut shell, looking as if they’re in bed covered in a tiny little cloth blanket.

One decoration came straight from Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole. It wasn’t planned. It was an accident. Brian was maybe two or three. We didn’t notice him taking a red wooden heart off one of the decorated trees and putting it in the back of the stroller holding his youngest sister. Later, when we were leaving, we found the heart. We were way off in the parking lot and made the decision to keep the heart. I’m so glad we did. Every year when the red heart is on the tree, the story is told again about that day at Santa’s Workshop. I do believe Santa had lots to do with that memory.

So many decorations—so many memories like the decorations made in nursery schools where scribbles and colorings are considered Picassos and a handmade decoration with a reindeer drawn inscribed with “Gra-Gra Reindeer” extends the memory making to yet another generation. (My two grandchildren call me Gra-Gra).

There have been a few Christmases when I wasn’t in the mood for decorating the tree. To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood for Christmas until I brought down the old VCR box and opened it up and found all those priceless, family stories waiting for me to get them out and hang them on the tree where they could be told and enjoyed again. The wooden ornaments painted years ago, some only on one side and one named after my grandmother, and a tree skirt made of felt that was showing its age and elves that were just your regular elves my father bought at Newberry’s or Grants and treasured ornaments my parents bought at Woolworths and cookie dough Santas and walnut shells turned into beds for miniature-sized horses and pigs and a red wooden heart direct from the North Pole selected by a little boy one summer day so very long ago and scribbles and colorings and so much more—they were all there waiting for me like they are every Christmas-like they were yesterday.

Soon there will be gifts under the tree. But there is no greater gift than the stories told by ornaments and treasures packed away in an old box that once held a shiny new RCA VCR.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

When Wonder Stirs

Two little ones came to stay for a while this afternoon. The first thing they asked was if they could make cookies. I'd anticipated the question. I had the dough chilling in the refrigerator. It wasn't long before the cookie cutters were on the counter and the fun began. It was obvious from the start that thing called Wonder had returned. The Season of Christmas was in their eyes, their smiles, their laughter.
It was contagious. After they'd packed up their cookies and headed home, I discovered some of that Wonder was still about the kitchen; inspiring me to make my little, faceless gingerbread men and put them in the old tin sitting on the table by the front door. As I mixed the dough and smelled the molasses and cut the little guys out, baked them, cooled them down and filled that tin, my mind wandered back to that precious time of Wondering. We remember the red suit, the beard, the ho-ho-ho. We remember leaving cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. But when you're a child, there's so much more when you Believe-when that Wonder stirs.
You're certain you hear the sleigh land and the hoofs pawing and Santa sliding down the chimney. Peeking from under your blankets, you're sure he's filling the stockings and placing presents under the tree and eating the cookies you made. You smile as you hear him going back up the chimney.
In an instant you hear the jingling of bells. The pawing of hoofs intensify as those magnificent reindeer pick up speed right above you. The ho-ho-ho echoes over the land as Santa leads that sleigh to yet another rooftop of another family with children nestled under blankets while snow softly falls.
Anything is possible-when Wonder stirs-even the baking of precious little gingerbread men; then placing them in an old tin can and sitting the can back on a table by the front door, thus carrying on a Christmas tradition of long ago.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Inside An Old Cardboard Box

While doing some cleaning-out-of-stuff in the garage recently I came across an old cardboard box marked fragile. Pulling the box closer to me, I sat down and removed the yellowed, crinkled tape holding it together; then slowly opened it. As I began lifting away layers of crumpled newspapers, I noticed something towards the bottom, half exposed and sparkling. Taking a closer look, I knew what I’d found.  Every once in a while, I’d wonder where it’d gone. After removing the rest of the newspapers, I stood with that box in hand and went inside the house. Putting it down on the kitchen counter, I began pulling out small crystal cups and eventually, a crystal punch bowl and crystal ladle. All of the pieces had belonged to my mother. 

Taking a wet cloth, I wiped away leftover bits of newspapers and grit and remnants of leaves that had found their way inside the box. The longer I stood there, the more memories of that crystal punch bowl came back to me. My father was a member of the local Lions Club. In the summertime my parents would host a social event in our back yard before that Club’s annual event held at a local restaurant. In preparation of the event, my mother would get out the crystal punch bowl and fill it with a concoction of liquids, adding a few slices of oranges and limes and topping it off with cherries.

While the punch chilled, my mother would get dressed. That was my favorite part of the event. One in particular stands out. With her good slip on, she opened her closet door and pulled out one of her fancy dresses and spread it out on her bed. Most likely, she’d made the dress. She was an exquisite seamstress. Going into the bathroom, she took out bobby pins securing tight curls in her hair; then stood in front of the bathroom mirror and brushed the curls out—using a bit of hair gel to cement the style in place. Back in the bedroom, my mother unzipped her dress. Then standing in front of a mirror, she put it on. Adjusting her slip, she checked all angles of the dress, making sure the darts and the seams were in place. Then she opened her blue velvet jewelry box. I loved all the pieces kept in that magic box of shiny things. The cameo necklace with matching earrings and the necklace with small emeralds set in yellow gold were stunning. But my favorite was the pearl necklace. I remember my mother telling me my father had given it to her. The pearl necklace is what she chose to wear that particular evening. After dabbing some Toujours Moi behind her ears and on her wrists, my mother was ready for the ball. While the social event was going on, I peeked outside to see how things were going. I thought my parents were the most beautiful couple in the crowd. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever use the crystal punch bowl but that doesn’t matter. It’s about the memories of watching my mother transform into Cinderella with her hair rid of bobby pins and her red lipstick on along with her fancy dress and pearl necklace and her long white gloves and black dress purse with its sparkling clasp ready to go. It’s about my father who always wore a tie, even to the post office and picnics in the summertime. But there was something about the tie he wore to that particular gathering in the backyard that made him even more handsome. That’s probably because he was escorting Cinderella to the ball.  

That crystal punch bowl was part of that era and while my parents have since passed away, I can still see my mother in the kitchen with bobby pins in her hair filling that bowl; then slicing the fruit and going to get dressed.

Memories come in all shapes and sizes—even in a crystal punch bowl with matching crystal cups.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Growing up with Favorite Books

When I was growing up I was lucky to have a mother and a grandmother who bought me books that I fell in love with and remain favorites to this day. Of course there was no internet to go to when buying the books. Instead there was a little bookstore in our downtown. Sometimes I'd get to go there with my mother. I'd be excited when walking through the door and seeing all the books on display. The smell of the books, of the type on the pages, was magical.

My grandmother bought me books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I not only read those books. I devoured them. From the little house in the woods where Laura lived with her family to the house 
on the prairie to the house on the banks of Plum Creek, I was with Laura and her family wherever they went. I shivered in fear when wolves would howl or grasshoppers brought about a plague or fierce blizzards buried them in snow. I imagined playing with dolls made of cornstalks in the attic with Laura and Mary. I loved summer planting and the smells of fall harvest. I loved playing outside. I loved the trundle bed where Mary and Laura slept covered in quilts as the wind and the wolves howled. I loved the Christmases as described. I loved the idea of that family working together through hardships and gathering around the table for home-cooked meals and conversation.

While the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were my very favorites, I also loved my books written by Louisa May Alcott-especially Little Women and Little Men given to me by my mother who was herself, an avid reader. I always felt as if I was the character, Jo, who aspired to be a writer and growing up, was quite a tomboy. Jo was outspoken when she needed to be and feisty when she felt like it. I'd find myself rooting for Jo. She never disappointed me.

Other beloved book series of mine included the Nancy Drew mysteries and the Bobbsey Twins. All were good stories. All were hard to put down especially when reading them in an old chicken coop cleaned out and filled with the remains of an abandoned one-room schoolhouse including chalkboards, books and desks and turned into a clubhouse for me and my cousins. I've written about that clubhouse before. It was the perfect place to be reading as it was a place of play and imagination and what better way to stir one's imagination than by reading-especially reading books by favorite authors, most bought at a small, downtown bookstore where all those books on shelves smelled just heavenly when walking through the door.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

It Could Have Been a TV Drama Series

This old photo shows me standing between my parents. My mother is holding my little sister. We are packing up the first place I ever called home and moving to the country. I remember feeling sad. I didn't want to move anywhere. I loved that clapboard house sitting on a lane just minutes from where I went to school. I loved my bedroom with back stairs leading down to the kitchen. I loved having my desk in my bedroom sitting beside a window where I could look out as I "wrote my stories." (Check the notebook in my hands). I loved the sun porch and the high counter in the kitchen where my tadpole swam in a bowl of water. I loved the big yard and my best friend who lived but a minute away. I loved the double living room. I loved coming down the front stairs on Christmas morning.

The photo was taken in the second living room. The doorway behind my mother led to the kitchen and then the sunporch. To her left was the dining room where on Christmas Eve she'd set the table using her finest linen and her finest china with candles in crystal candle holders and silverware kept in a mahogany box lined in velvet brought out only for Christmas Eve.

The more I look at the photo the more I imagine it as a set from an old TV drama series filmed in California's wine country. With that infamous hat at his fingertips, my father could have been the actor, Art Carney. With her short, dark hair, my mother could have been the actress, Jane Wyman. Art Carney's character could have started out as a grape picker at a celebrated winery and worked his way up to vineyard manager while Jane Wyman's character cared for their daughters and was a housekeeper for the winery's family matriarch-a rich and powerful woman and owner of a sprawling mansion and that winery in her possession for decades. Art and Jane's characters live in a little home. They are hard workers and good parents. None of that goes unnoticed by the family matriarch. When she passes away, the matriarch leaves everything to Art and Jane's characters. In her air tight will, sealed and notarized, the woman tells her children, who are now adults, they don't deserve to inherit something they've taken for granted; something they've never bothered with or worked for while waiting for her to pass. Instead of caring and tending to the grapes, they've consumed the wine as if it was water streaming out of a faucet.

In the last episode of this popular TV drama-so popular that viewers rooted for this little family week after week as they survived one crisis after another while those rich brats rode around in their fancy cars wearing their fancy diamonds and designer clothing and drinking their wine in long stemmed crystal glasses, the family is packing up their little home. They are sad to leave it. That's where they've lived since arriving at the winery. They've welcomed their children in that home. They've made friends who would come for supper on Sunday evenings. That's where they've celebrated holidays and birthdays. They've enjoyed the sun porch and the big back yard. Their oldest daughter is very sad. She's going to miss her bedroom with back stairs leading down to the kitchen and the high counter where her tadpole swims in a bowl of water.

The last scene shows them walking out the back door of their little house for the last time with that young girl carrying her tadpole in its bowl of water-just like I did when we left that clapboard house sitting on the lane and moved to the country. Once that family settles in the mansion, they're very happy. That mansion feels like home. Once my family and I were settled in our new home out in the country, we were very happy. While it didn't have a sunporch, it did have fields to play in and a creek to skate on. While my bedroom lacked backstairs going down to the kitchen, it had a window looking out towards the back fields. That's where my desk sat. That yellow house out in the country felt like home because it became our home.

It wasn't a mansion. It wasn't a clapboard house sitting on a lane. It was home and home is in one's heart.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Old Tin Can and the Little Gardener

The old tin can is back on the small table by the front door full of little garden gourds and other garden remnants found underneath weeds and overgrown plants with sprawling vines. As Christmas nears, the old tin can will hold gingerbread men fresh from the oven; some still steaked with flour and all without decorations or faces. They will remain in the old tin can through February.

Many of those little garden gourds and other garden remnants were discovered by a six-year-old. Most every time he visited this past summer, he’d run out the back door to the garden to see what had grown since his last visit. One day he cleared a space between the carrots and zucchini and asked if he could plant something in his little garden. I found some leftover beet seeds in the garage. He was thrilled. Watching how gently he patted soil over the seeds, it was obvious he’d not only inherited the fishing gene, he’d inherited the gardening gene as well. When he was satisfied that the beet seeds were covered, he found rocks of all sizes and placed them around his little garden. Before he went back home, the little gardener asked me to water his beets whenever I watered the carrots and zucchini and the rest of the garden. I did as he requested but sadly deer would come along and step on them. I never told him. I’d salvage what little fledgling beets I could.

The small area designated by a circle of rocks between the carrots and zucchini never did produce beets of any size but the little gardener didn’t care. He was satisfied with the few sprouts that somehow survived the mighty hoofs of passing deer and the fact they were planted late in the season. That little gardener was proud of his sprouts. He’d sit beside them while digging for carrots, first with a small shovel and then, using his fingers, he’d dig around the carrot and pull. Sometimes the carrot would break in half but that didn’t stop him. He’d keep digging until he retrieved the entire carrot. When he felt he had enough carrots, he looked for zucchini hiding underneath oversized leaves resembling elephant ears when flapping in the breeze.

Even at such a young age, the little gardener understands it’s not really all about the produce plants bring forth. Rather, it’s about the process. It’s about the sun and the summer breeze and the rain and the bunnies hopping by and the weeds that need tending.

It’s about elephant-sized zucchini leaves flowing in the breeze, flapping with laughter, protecting fledgling little beet sprouts planted by a mighty proud little gardener and protected by rocks of all sizes.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Paper Dolls Kept in a Shoebox

I loved paper dolls. I had a shoebox full of them. I kept the shoebox in the bottom drawer of an old dresser in my bedroom. Sometimes I'd sit on the floor and play out scenarios with them. I named each one of them.They were like little friends to me. None were licensed characters. None came with sparkly outfits. They were just paper dolls. And that was all I needed. Most of my paper dolls came from Newberry's or Woolworths. It was always fun when shopping for paper dolls. Of course, Santa Claus made sure to bring me even more.

It was exciting when deciding which outfit each of my paper dolls would be wearing. Sometimes they'd have to change more than once during a scenario depending on what they were doing. They always had lots of fun whether going to the beach or school, on a picnic or visiting friends or taking care of their puppies or kittens. Whatever they were doing, they were fashionably dressed for the occasion.

One evening, like many other evenings, I had my paper dolls in bed with me. We were having a great time until I fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, I was horrified to find scraps of paper everywhere. Many of the paper doll outfits with their paper tabs used to fold around the paper doll were destroyed. Some of the tabs had ripped right off.  Some of the paper dolls were bent or missing limbs. I taped some of the missing parts and ripped outfits. I was able to salvage some but not all. I didn't throw any of them away. I couldn't. I didn't care if they were injured. They were still my friends.

I did get more paper dolls. I kept them in a different shoebox on top of my dresser. That other shoebox with the injured paper dolls and ripped outfits remained in the bottom drawer from then on. I didn't play scenarios with them. But I did take them out and check on them once in awhile.

I don't know whatever happened to those two treasured shoeboxes. We moved to the country and I never saw them again. But I never forgot them. You don't forget little things that bring you joy-simple, quiet joy when sitting on a bedroom floor pretending with your beloved paper dolls.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Quit Your Lollygagging

That's me with my hands on my cheeks sitting next to my cousin in a pretty dress. I don't know what we are doing, sitting there in the grass in the side yard off my grandparents' farmhouse. Right behind us would have been the door opening into the kitchen. To the left of us would have been the pump house.

If I had to guess we might have been taking a break from playing although I don't look very happy. I was probably bored just sitting there. Maybe I wanted to get back to playing in our clubhouse. Looking at the picture I can imagine my mother saying one of her most often used phrases, "quit your lollygagging!" She'd say that all the time when, in her eyes, someone was going too slow or wasting time or spinning their wheels in indecision.It took me a few years to figure out what she meant. When I understood, her words made sense.

The earliest recollection I have of her speaking those words to me was when we lived in the house by the lane. That was the first place I called home. I was sitting on the sunporch playing Old Maid with my two best friends, Chunnie and Winnie. They were my imaginary friends. That's the reason why I won every single card game. But this particular day my mother suggested maybe I lose a game; telling me no one ever wins every game of whatever they are playing. I took her advice. But as I dealt the cards out I felt a nervousness in the pit of my stomach. As the game progressed, that nervousness continued. The closer it got to the end, the longer I took in ending it. I couldn't decide which friend would be the winner. I guess I took too long. My mother came walking onto the sunporch and told me in a stern voice to "quit your lollygagging" and claim the old maid in my hand of cards. Well I soon ended the game. But I turned out to be the winner. I wasn't ready to relinquish my title. I didn't want to hurt one of my imaginary friend's feelings. A few more card games the next day claimed Chunnie to be the winner. I was a gracious loser. A few more card games after that and Winnie was the winner. Losing my title turned out to be okay. There was always another card game to conquer.

Thinking back, my mother used that phrase of hers just when I needed it. In the mornings, more often than not, "quit your lollygagging" was the last thing she'd say to me when I was late getting outside to meet the school bus. I was never that much into school. I would have preferred staying home but with that stern voice of hers, she'd bring me back to the reality that the bus was waiting for me with the swinging door wide open. When I was a senior and undecisive of my next move, my mother again told me to "quit your lollygagging."

My mother's three words hurried my decision. Her three words always did.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Guardians of the Farms

Towering over fields bare in winter and lush with produce in the summer, silos stand tall as children go by in yellow buses. They stand tall as farmers do their chores and families grow and babies become adults and the cycle of life and silos begins all over again.
They stand tall as lovers whisper when passing by and funerals slowly make their way down a winding country road to the church or cemetery. They stand tall as loads of hay fill the haymows and cows graze in pastures and another sunrise leads to another sunset and seasons come and go and the wind howls and neighbors move.
Some stand tall over abandoned farms. Some stand tall filled with grain. Some slowly crumble to the ground. Whatever the fate of those silent sentinels, those watchers, those guardians of the farms and the fields, they will forever be a part of the rural landscape if only in our memories.
When I was growing up my grandfather no longer worked his farm. There were no longer any cows grazing or chickens in roosts. His grain shed was quiet although the tools were still in place ready to be picked up if needed. The haylofts were mostly empty as was the towering silo. My cousin and I would look inside the massive structure. We'd play around it outside the barn. 
Today the silo is all that remains of my grandfather's barn. Gone too is his grain shed but I can still smell the grease on his tools and the grain in the bins. It was a treasured place to play and pretend.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


I'm drawn to remnants of places sitting in silence along country roads. As I drive by the haunting structures, I wonder who'd lived there. I wonder why they left. I wonder how they walked away.
Each one of the abandoned places has a story. Just like we do. When you think about it, most of us have been abandoned in one way or another at some point in our lives by someone we loved, by a boss, a friend or a community.
My first realization of abandonment came when my aunt cared for a foster child. A little baby. I might have been twelve at the time. I never knew babies were ever abandoned. I thought they were loved to the moon and back by parents who tended to their every need. I thought they were rocked to sleep in their mother's arms smelling of talcum powder, covered in a soft, precious blanket. It was a rude awakening, followed by another. My sister found a puppy all alone, cold and shaking and hungry in one of the bins in my grandfather's grain shed. I never knew someone could do such a thing to a puppy with floppy ears and wavy hair hanging around its beautiful brown eyes.

Since becoming the mother of a mentally ill son, I've learned even more about the harsh reality of abandonment. Those who suffer with a brain disease face unwarranted stigma every single day.

When you think about it, all it would take to salvage many of those empty structures is some tender loving care. That rings true for people as well. If we were to reach out to each other in understanding, the world would be a better place.

No paint needed. No windows or roofs. Just kindness and acceptance towards one another. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Making Plain Brown Donuts and Donut Holes

My grandmother would often make jam tarts out of leftover pie dough. I loved her tarts just as much as her pies. They were usually strawberry jam tarts. When she took them out of the oven, the tarts were a golden brown and some of the sizzling jam would be oozing out of the folded dough. The aroma of those piping hot jam tarts drifting through her farmhouse added to the anticipation when biting into one-or two of the tarts. That aroma remains with me today as does the aroma of plain brown donuts and donut holes made and enjoyed when my children were quite young.

Using my grandmother's recipe for the plain donuts, I'd have the dough ready to go. The number of kids making donuts varied. Sometimes it was just my children. Other times it seemed like the entire neighborhood. Either way it was pretty well-organized. Each child had a job to do. There were those who rolled out the dough. There were those who cut out the donuts with the one and only donut-maker-cutter. It usually turned out that all of the kids cut out some donuts if they wanted to. It became quite busy-rolling out the dough, then cutting the donuts out and gathering up the middle of each cut-out donut to roll into a ball for a donut hole; then gathering up any leftover dough and starting the process all over again.

Once most of the dough had been used, the focus turned to the Fry Daddy sitting back on the counter, full of hot grease ready to turn the spongy dough into donuts and donut holes. It was a very safe and carefully executed process. I was always right there as the older children slowly lowered the dough into the grease using a large cooking spoon with openings for the grease to escape as the donuts were lifted up and placed on layers of paper towels. When they cooled down a bit, some of the donuts and donut holes were put into a brown bag full of confectioners sugar. Then whoever was the brown-bag-full-of-confectioners-sugar-shaker would go to work, shaking that bag, resulting in whatever was in that bag came out covered with the sugar. Not all the donuts and donut holes went in the bag. Many were spared the process. They were kept to be enjoyed as plain brown donuts and donut holes. And enjoyed they were.

Each child received a small bag of donuts and donut holes to take home with them. I dare say when they did get home, their bags were empty. Just the smell of those delicious donuts was enough to devour each and every one of them-just like the aroma of my grandmother's jam tarts piping hot from her oven with sizzling jam oozing out of the folded dough.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sweater Dress Disaster

Years ago I loved wearing sweater dresses. My favorite sweater dress had long sleeves. It was a heavier knit with a simple neckline and three brown buttons on the left shoulder. The dress was an oatmeal color. It came above the knee, perfect for my over-the-knee chocolate brown boots that my older brother gave me one year for Christmas.

I can remember the first time I wore my oatmeal sweater dress. It was late August. I'd gone back to college a little early to see a guy I hadn't seen all summer. He had a blue Chevy Impala that he was anxious for me to see. I was anxious for him to see my oatmeal sweater dress
so it didn't take me long to get ready once the day arrived. I couldn't wait to wear the dress. With my long hair up in a ponytail and a fake braid wrapped around it and my over-the-knee boots on, I was ready to go. He was early. I guess he was anxious to show off his Chevy Impala which turned out to be brand new-quite appropriate for my new sweater dress.

It was good seeing him. He surprised me by taking me to a carnival. I'd been so intent on wearing that dress that I never bothered to check the weather. I found myself at a carnival in 90 degree weather in a heavy knit sweater dress with those long sleeves and my hair sporting a fake braid and those over-the-knee boots. I was so hot (not the kind of hot I'd hoped for) that I went on rides just to cool down. But the more rides I went on the more my fake braid slid out of place. The faster the ride, the more the braid slipped until I was on one ride and I had to grab it before it flew away. My most favorite dress ever ended up feeling like a thermal blanket and electric blanket combined. My heavy Cher-like eye make-up was melting down my cheeks. I looked like a raccoon dressed in an oatmeal shade heavy coat.

I could tell my friend was glad to get me back to the dorm. Saying good night was quick. I think I scared him away. Maybe it was the fake braid I was carrying or my face covered in black eye make-up or my sweater dress with long sleeves that looked like a winter coat while he was casually dressed in madras shorts appropriate in the humid weather. Whatever it was, that was the first and last ride I ever took in his new and blue shiny Chevy Impala. I hope I didn't leave behind any streaks of my eye make-up.

But I did get to wear my favorite sweater dress again and again when snow was falling and all the carnivals had packed up and moved on.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Mary Ann's Raspberries

I was out back watering the garden the other day when the click clopping of hoofs on pavement caught my attention to a horse and buggy going by. I didn't think much about it since I still had a lot of watering to do. A few minutes later a familiar voice made me turn around.
I was happy to find the young Amish girl standing by the carrot patch. Over the past few years she'd stop by selling whatever fresh produce she had from her family garden. That day she was selling raspberries. I was always an easy sell. Not because of the produce but rather because of her. I enjoyed her visits. Our conversations were lively. She was curious. She was smart. She was funny. Her eyes always had a spark. For a small frame girl, her voice was powerful. One time when she stopped my granddaughter was at my home for an overnight. She was mesmerized by the young Amish girl.
But that day the young Amish girl was quiet. She did ask if my daughter was home. When I told her no she asked if my granddaughter was staying all night. I told her she'd be staying over the weekend with her brother. Usually she would have asked me more questions but she didn't. She showed me the raspberries and told me how much they were. I ran inside and got some money. When returning, I tried getting a conversation going
"It's so nice to see you, Mary Ann. How's your summer going?"
We went back and forth a little bit until she told me she had to get going. Her sister was waiting for her in the buggy.
"Well don't forget me when you are back out selling again."
A few minutes later we said goodbye. I watched her walking away. When she got to the corner of the house, she turned around and looked at me. Then she came running back to the garden and opened her heart.
"I won't be bringing you vegetables or strawberries or raspberries anymore. I won't be seeing you again."
"Why Mary Ann?" I thought maybe a sister or a brother would be taking over the deliveries.
"Because-because we are moving."
"Where are you going?"
"Near Buffalo."
"Why so far?"
"Because my father died and some of my siblings are living with relatives not far from there."
I could see tears in her eyes. I could feel tears in mine. I felt so sad for my little friend that I hugged her and told her how much I would miss her and our little conversations. I'm not sure if my reaction was suitable but I couldn't help it. It was spontaneous just like her smile and her laugh-except for that particular day.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Swimming Down at the Boys Camp

When growing up in the country, my cousins, siblings and I had no place to go swimming. While there was the creek that flowed behind our houses, that creek was full of blood suckers. We played around that creek all the time. But we never swam in it.

So on real hot days, we'd wait for one particular aunt to get home from work. And when she did, we'd be there, hoping she'd take us swimming. She didn't have to load us all into a car with our bathing suits on and holding on to our towels. All she had to do was go inside the house. Put on her bathing suit under some casual clothes. Grab some graham crackers. Walk us across the road and down a path through a field to what was known as the Boys Camp.

The property was owned by our grandparents. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they'd open it up in the summertime to the boys at an orphanage a few miles away. The orphanage was run by nuns. They would stay with the boys at the Boys Camp. There was a small building where the nuns would sleep. The boys slept in tents. There was a bigger building where they were fed. That building was also where Mass was said on Sundays and activities took place.

So on those really hot days, if we were lucky, that aunt of ours would hurry in the house, get changed, grab some graham crackers and walk us across the road and down through the field to the Boys Camp. From there, we kept on walking. We'd go through the Boys Camp-keep going until we had to go around a fence and down another path which led us to a river. By that time we were sweltering. But it never mattered. The walk down to that river was fun. We'd be carrying our towels, laughing and talking all the way.

Our aunt was a beautiful swimmer. After we all had our time splashing and holding on to rocks kicking and trying to swim and pretending to swim, our aunt would put her white swimming cap on. It was a slow process because she had long hair and she had to tuck it all up and into the rubber swimming cap. Once it was secure, she'd get into the water and slowly-very slowly-get her arms and legs wet. Then she'd stand on a very big rock. Make the sign of the cross and dive in as graceful as a swan. We'd watch as she did the overhand. She'd go out pretty far. When she came back in, we knew it was time to go back home. And that was okay. We ate graham crackers all the way home.

(Picture shows one of our swimming excursions. I am standing in the water with my head turned around to my cousin swimming. The aunt who always took us is sitting down on the rock watching us).

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Stitches and French Knots

The more I looked at this photo of an Amish farmhouse and barns and outhouses and gardens that I'd taken on a back country road, the more it resembled a beautiful work of embroidery, what with its textures and colors and lines and thicknesses here and there.  
 I thought of my grandmother, sitting in her rocking chair, using her hands to create beautiful works of embroidery with a needle and thread.
My grandmother taught me a few stitches. When I looked at the photo I thought some of the plants in the garden resembled the blanket stitch or the herringbone stitch and the thickness of the green grass resembled a padded stitch. Little buds on plants made me think of her French knots. But I never embroidered a thing. I learned a few stitches and that was it. Not that I didn't want to learn more but I was in to sewing at the time.
Now I wish I'd sat with her longer to learn more stitches and techniques. Any time with my grandmother was priceless-even when picking my fingers with a needle trying to learn embroidery stitches.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

My Father in Suspenders in the Farmhouse Kitchen

Did you ever look at an old photo and wish you could remember the moment? That's how I felt when looking at this photo of  me holding my baby sister. Behind us is our father. We are in the kitchen of our grandparents' farmhouse. To my left, with only a corner showing, is the kitchen table.
My grandmother's woodstove was beyond the kitchen table. A built-in cupboard stood in the corner.  The door in the photo led outside to a small, cement stoop and beyond to the root cellar, pump house, barn, grain shed, chicken coop, fields and the creek.

I'm guessing we were gathered for a family event. I'm guessing it might have been an Easter Sunday since my sister was born in January. But I'm only guessing. It looks as if there's still snow on the ground. That doesn't matter. It still could have been Easter. Seeing my father wearing a tie isn't surprising to me. He most always wore a tie, even when he went to the post office or grocery store.  My father most always wearing a tie might have been a generational thing. Or his wearing a tie might have been because of his profession. My father was a funeral director. He treated those who came to him in times of sorrow with the upmost respect, including the manner in which he presented himself. He was dedicated to those families. To this day, I am told stories of my father's kindness.

I love the look of my father dressed in the suspenders. So handsome he was in that crisp, white shirt. Seeing him standing tall with his wire-rimmed glasses and that crisp, white shirt and the tie and those suspenders makes me think of  "The Godfather." I can imagine a 1941 Packard or a Lincoln Continental of the same year wheeling down my grandparents' cinder driveway lined with poplar trees, taking the curve and slamming on brakes with cinders flying just outside that door and a few seconds later, some Michael Corleone type guys rushing inside the kitchen. Of course those gangsters might have had to park their gangster vehicles near my grandfather's old Ford tractor.

Old photos are stories of a time and a place and a moment. Once the moment is captured, it will live on forever, along with the legend of Michael Corleone and my grandmother's kitchen table now sitting in my home, still gathering stories with photos being taken-not by a Kodak Brownie camera-but by cell phones; making the photos available instantly at one's finger tips.

I still prefer a box of old glossy photos with dates scribbled on the back and sometimes names written in cursive. When you open the box, it feels like Christmas. And maybe in that box of photos you'll discover a photo you'll treasure as much as I do the photo of my father in suspenders in the Farmhouse Kitchen.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Journey of a Favorite Little Picture Book

For my youngest son’s first Easter, I put some books in his Easter basket. One was titled, 'Henry’s Awful Mistake', written and illustrated by Robert Quackenbush. The book turned out to be a favorite. I’d read it to him night after night. He knew every word and if I skipped one, he’d let me know. The book eventually became worn and frazzled around the edges. Some of the pages were ripped. Some had scribblings on them.
Years later, as I was planning to go to New York City, I read an article about the 25th anniversary edition of that book. It went on about the author/illustrator and his studio in Manhattan where he not only does his illustrating but also teaches art to children and adults. A thought went through my head. Minutes later I was calling Robert Quackenbush’s studio and to my surprise, he answered. We had a lovely conversation which led to plans for me to stop by his studio. I couldn’t wait. I made sure to pack the worn copy of 'Henry’s Awful Mistake' still sitting in a bookcase in the living room.
Our visit turned out to be more than I could ever have imagined. After a tour of his charming studio, we sat and talked for a few hours. I eventually presented that worn copy to him. I’d told him about it over the phone and had asked if he’d sign it. Mr. Quackenbush took his time; looking through the pages; the worn pages-some with scribbles; some ripped. After Mr. Quackenbush signed it with a personal note to my now adult son, he stood and went over to a shelf. He came back with a copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of 'Henry’s Awful Mistake' published the year before. He said the book was a gift from him to me. Sitting down, he signed the book while telling me how the original story came to be and how pleased he was that it became a favorite book of so many children including my son.
Little did I know that eventually I’d be blessed with a grandson named Henry! Just before his first birthday I called Mr. Quackenbush and told him I had a Henry! He was delighted! I asked if I sent him a birthday card for Henry, would he sign it and mail it back to me. That card was in my mailbox a few weeks later with a lovely message-“Wishing you a Happy 1st Birthday and a childhood blessed with wonderful books!” It was signed-“Henry the Duck and Henry the Duck’s author and illustrator, Robert Quackenbush.”
Isn’t it funny how a picture book sitting in an Easter basket created a story all its own?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

My Mother the RN

Seeing my mother with her hair up in bobby pins was an everyday sight when growing up. She’d keep the bobby pins in until it was time to get ready for work. In her career as a RN, my mother eventually became Charge Nurse of the night shift in the ER. As a kid I never realized what any of that meant. I just remember being put in the back seat of the car next to my older brother when it was time to go with our father to take our mother to work. By that time— she’d fed us, given us baths, put our pajamas on and then— took the bobby pins out of her hair, put on her white nylons with a seam up the back, put on her perfectly ironed, white uniform along with her polished white duty shoes and her starched white cap with a black strip around it that she’d bobby pin to her hair.

Once we were in the car with the engine on and my father at the wheel, my mother would walk out of the house wearing her nurse’s cape with the initials ABHH stitched into the stand-up collar. Not a hair was out of place. The uniform and duty shoes and cap were white as snow. She most always carried a cloth bag with her. With a touch of lipstick and the aroma of her Avon deodorant, she was were ready to go and so were we.

The drive didn’t take very long but I loved every minute of it. My parents conversed in small talk as we rode down familiar streets. Once we went over a bridge spanning a river that connected to another river, my father would take a right at the light and minutes later we’d be entering a circular drive in front of the hospital. He’d stop the car and we each took turns saying goodbye. Most often we were told to be good. We’d watch our mother go into the hospital. Then we’d wait for her to appear in a window a few floors up from the main floor. There she’d wave goodbye to us as our father took us home to bed. More often than not, I’d go back home with red lipstick on my cheek.

I never thought about what it was my mother did while I was sleeping. When I came downstairs in the morning I’d sometimes find that cloth bag she carried to work by a window in the dining room. She’d sit there when first getting back from work. That’s where she’d put the bobby pins back in her hair. Then she’d read more of a book she kept with her in that bag. Reading helped her wind down. Eventually she’d go upstairs to bed for a little while.

As I grew older, my mother would encourage me to be a nurse. But that calling wasn’t in me. On the other hand, it was in my mother.  Through her example, I learned the meaning of dedication.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Bunny in the Rock Wall

For a few years, my now eight-year old granddaughter and I kept track of a bunny we'd see out back by the barn, hiding in the garden or hopping around and then disappearing in the rock wall. My granddaughter always felt the bunny was no ordinary bunny. She was convinced it was the Easter Bunny.

When she was five we never saw the bunny during the summer, fall or winter. But the following spring when her little brother was here for an overnight, we both saw the bunny by the rock wall. We were so excited. I'd thought the worst had happened but the bunny proved me wrong. Adding to the excitement of seeing bunny, I'm certain I saw a few little ones scampering along beside her.

Just before Easter that year, on a beautiful spring evening with geese flying and the sun setting over the fields, I went out back for a walk. I didn't get very far. As I came up the incline near the rock wall, I was astonished to find colorful, decorated Easter eggs lying in the grass. They were beautiful-sparkling-magical under the glow of the sun disappearing. Something told me those eggs were not your ordinary Easter eggs. Slowly, I bent down and touched one. It was a little wet. At that moment, I heard a scurrying by the rock wall. I turned, and out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a white, puffy tail. I knew it was our bunny.

That's when I realized my granddaughter was right. Our bunny really is the Easter Bunny and our bunny was getting ready to go hippity hoppity down the Bunny trail. Bunny had painted and decorated the eggs and put them in the grass to dry. I was certain she had more eggs and tons and tons of candy packed and ready to go.

**Moral of this Easter Tale: When you believe like a child believes, even a little bunny living out back in the rock wall really, really can be the Easter Bunny. Happy Easter!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Playing with Books

Books on shelves were always present when I was growing up. My mother's father built her a pine bookcase. It sat in our living room full of my mother's favorite reads. Most of them were novels set in the South when women wore those long, flowing Scarlett O'Hara type dresses and they lived on sprawling plantations and spent much of their time fanning themselves. My grandmother's living room also had a bookcase full of books. Those books offered more of a variety. But variety wasn't important to me or my cousin. The books themselves were the attraction. They were the reason we loved to play library and bookstore. Sometimes I'd play library or bookstore all by myself when I was home. It didn't matter that I was alone because playing with the books was so much fun and I had many imaginary friends and customers playing right along with me.

When playing library, books were put out on display. Whether playing with my cousin or by myself, there were pretend library cards and a pretend stamper and slips in the back of the books to mark the books. Advice was free. Recommending certain books to check out was taken seriously. There were no computers in our libraries so we had to do all the referrals and answering of questions. After all, being a librarian came with great responsibility. But then, so did being the owner of a bookstore.

Any bookstore I imagined when playing was modeled after a real little bookstore inside a department store in our downtown. Even though that bookstore was small, it was jam packed with books. Bestsellers were displayed on a table in the middle of the store. I'd go to that bookstore with my mother. She'd take her time at that table. I loved watching her among all those new, untouched books. She never walked out of that store without a bag of finely printed, brand new books with beautifully illustrated covers of those times of Scarlett and Rhett. I can remember being fascinated by the window displays and a ceiling fan in that bookstore as well as the wonderful smell of so many books gathered together in one place. So because of that bookstore, any bookstore I imagined myself owning where I'd build displays and cash out my happy customers and discuss the new titles sitting on a table in the middle of my store was actually that real little bookstore.

When I think back to those pretend bookstores and pretend libraries, I'm in good company because in my home on bookshelves are most of my mother's Scarlett and Rhett books bought from that real little bookstore. Besides those treasured books, I am blessed to have the simple pine bookcase my grandfather made in my home as well. The only difference now is that it's my grandchildren playing with the books. And that is the way it's supposed to be-from one generation to the next.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Playing Down at the Creek

I recently took the attached photo showing geese coming back to a creek where I played when growing up in the country alongside cousins and siblings. We were always outside playing and going on adventures and that rambling creek was most always included no matter the season and no matter the weather.

This time of the year, as shown in the photo, the creek would overflow its banks in a spring thaw and we'd be right there; standing as close as possible to the edge of the creek trying not to get soaked. But most times we'd get drenched as we'd take turns throwing chunks of ice or, if the conditions were right, throwing snowballs along with the chunks of ice at larger chunks of ice moving along the open water. Sometimes when eating supper we'd watch muskrats sitting on those big chunks, hitching a ride down the creek to wherever the big chunks took them.

Summer found us making forts along the creek bed using fallen limbs and branches to hide us from the enemy. Inside our fortresses we'd keep a supply of weapons in case we needed them. Weapons included stones and rocks; sticks and smaller limbs. We had spaces in our hideouts to "cook" and "sleep." If we weren't out exploring, we'd be at our swing which was a very long rope made of a heavy twine. It was tied way up on a thick and sturdy branch. At the end was a huge knot. We took turns running to catch hold of the rope. As soon as we lifted off, we'd get our feet on top of the knot as we soared out over the creek and around to the other side of the tree in an attempt to land on a giant rock. Sometimes we nailed the landing. Other times we went into the creek or backside into the tree. However we landed, the flying part was lots of fun. I felt like a bird minus the wings.
Besides the rope and the fortresses, we were lucky to have had an uncle who made us rafts out of telephone poles. There were two rafts. One for the boys and one for the girls. We'd use long, heavy pipes to maneuver ourselves from one shore to the other. Those pipes came in handy to rid the rafts of blood suckers. After all, it wasn't called Sucker creek for nothing!

Fall found us right back at the creek. If it was a weekday, we'd run off the school bus, into the house to change, grab an apple and run down to the creek and play until suppertime. It was a beautiful time down there what with the colors and crispness and country smells in the air.

Winter was magic on the creek. When the water froze we'd go skating day and night. I don't remember ever getting cold; even when lying on the ice and talking with my cousin under the stars. With everything glistening it felt like a winter wonderland. But then, it was!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Everyone Has A Story

Years back if you'd opened that door in the photo and walked inside, you would have discovered a talented and hard-working woman who spent her life in the world of dance; teaching dance to anyone willing to learn. Of course, willing to learn, in her book, meant possessing the ability to listen, to pay attention, to be able to take criticism and then accepting the criticism which she herself described as "essential." It didn't matter if you were a young child-a moody teenager or nervous adult. If you were in her School of Dance, this instructor let it be known that she was there to teach. Lack of attention or fooling around would not be tolerated.

The instructor's name was Ruth Dumas, who at the age of sixteen, moved to New York City to study dance.To pay for her lessons and expenses, she'd assist with instruction. After opening her school of dance when returning to her hometown in 1935, Ruth kept studying dance during the summers in New York City with Dance Educators of America. Mrs. Dumas taught dancing for over fifty years.

When I was in junior high school, my older brother and I took dance lessons with an aunt and uncle at Ruth Dumas' School of Dance. I considered my aunt and uncle to already be pretty good dancers, especially when doing the jitterbug. Lessons were Tuesday evenings. I can't remember how many weeks we enrolled but I do remember how much fun we had. My brother was my partner. He stepped on my feet when learning the jitterbug, the cha-cha, the stroll and ballroom dancing. Despite that, we did learn to dance and Mrs. Dumas gets all the credit. Our learning how to dance those different dances was because she'd take us aside, slow us down, get and keep our attention and go through every step one at a time. She'd continue doing the steps until we mastered them.

Years later I was back at Ruth Dumas' School of Dance with my younger daughter. I enjoyed sitting on a bench and watching her under the instruction of a master in her craft. I can't remember how it happened, but often when a lesson was over, my daughter and I would give Mrs. Dumas a ride home. When I think back to those short rides in the car with Mrs. Dumas, I find myself wishing I'd bothered to get to know her; wish I'd asked her questions about her experiences. It was only after she passed away that I learned what an amazing life she'd led. I never knew all that she'd accomplished in her lifetime. I'd never taken the time to ask.

Everyone has a story. Because my father was a funeral director I've always found obituaries interesting, and some, fascinating reads. They are mini biographies. Each is a glance into a life. We assume we know someone but discover that not to be true. We form opinions about someone and learn our assumptions are baseless. I often think so many senior citizens are untapped history books full of untold stories. The longer you live the more you've experienced; the more people you've met; the more places you've been and the more history you've lived through. It's our loss when someone passes away and their stories, big and small, pass away with them.

I will forever treasure the times I sat around my grandmother's kitchen table with cousins and siblings and listened to family stories told by my grandmother and aunts. When one story was finished, we asked for another and then another. Coffee made in a simple little pot never tasted so good. It probably had a lot to do with the conversation going on.