Friday, October 30, 2020

Watching The Twilight Zone With My Cousin


 When I think about it, I was the lucky one back when watching The Twilight Zone with my cousin. Those were the days when we lived next door to each other out in the country. Separating us was a field with a pathway that we used to go back and forth. Lining one side of that field was a row of tall, stately poplar trees. To this day I can still hear the leaves in those trees rustle in the wind. When Halloween was approaching that rustling sounded more like witches screeching.

One night most every week for quite awhile my cousin would walk, or run, through the field to my house so that we could watch The Twilight Zone together. It was such a frightening show that watching it alone was never an option. Once she arrived, we'd flick the lights off and turn on CBS to get our 25 minutes of fear and suspense. I will now admit I got the better end of that scenario. I wasn't the one who had to run back home through that field with those poplar leaves moaning in the dark after watching The Twilight Zone. I just had to lock the door and go to bed. Most always I never went right to sleep. I'd replay the episode we'd just watched over and over again in my head.

Now thinking about those scary, cliffhanging, suspenseful weekly episodes, I think it was the voice of Rod Sterling that got me the most. Not that his voice was scary. It was his delivery. He'd grab my attention from the very first word and keep my attention to the very last word-all spoken in a monotone that needed no special effects. Just having Rod Sterling standing there and talking to me without a change in facial expression or inflection in his delivery or fancy backdrops was enough for me. His setting the stage to what was to come only enhanced the storyline that followed. From science fiction to fantasy; suspense to the unexpected, those weekly stories never disappointed. My cousin and I would talk about what we'd watched all weekend long until we were back again in the living room with the lights out, listening to Rod Sterling and watching his Twilight Zone. 

Who can forget him saying to each and everyone of us: "The Twilight Zone is a place that exists at any moment of time, space or of mind-but always when you least expect it. When you find yourself in this realm of unlimited possibility, be careful what you say or do. The right decision may help you find your way back out, sometimes with greater happiness & wealth. The wrong decisions often lead to madness & death, or an eternity trapped in this dimension.
Tread warily past the sign post ahead that says you have entered-The Twilight Zone!"
And my cousin and I entered that zone with our eyes wide open and hearts beating and imaginations awake and ready to go.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Story in a Hedgerow



 

I took the above photo of a hedgerow a few weeks ago. Most any photo taken outdoors this time of the year stirs one’s senses but this one was telling me a story that I couldn’t figure out. That changed yesterday when I opened up an old cupboard where I keep little odds ‘n ends of things, most handmade by my children over the years —like a small ceramic ghost holding a pumpkin and a stuffed-with-newspapers-brown paper bag made to look like a pumpkin face and a ceramic statue of Charlie Brown and a painted, wooden tulip in a wooden vase as well as small candles and small Santas and reindeer and bunnies and trinkets from Dollar stores.

I’d gone to the cupboard over the weekend for a few Halloween ceramic pumpkins and while I was getting the pumpkins I noted a plastic bag way in the back. Sitting on the floor, I pulled the bag out; reached inside and grabbed hold of three very large and very beautiful quilt tops my mother had made. (Example of one shown above). I’ve written before of her sewing skills. She was meticulous. Her eye for color and design was keen. After sitting there for a bit, I put the quilt tops in the plastic bag and sat them way back in the old cupboard with all the other beloved treasures gathered together, safe and sound and out of the way.

So yesterday there I was yet again—back in the cupboard for a few more Halloween trinkets. The minute I saw the plastic bag with my mother’s quilt tops inside, it happened. I heard the story that hedgerow was telling me. I realized the quilt tops were telling me the same story. My mother had the ability to turn all those little mismatched pieces of color and design into keepsakes with every stitch she made. Mother Nature took the wind and the sun and the soil and the rain and turned a simple hedgerow of mismatched brambles and weeds and mini trees and grass sitting along a country road into a breathtaking pallet of design and color.

Both told a story of determination. Both revealed a beauty unique to themselves, even those brambles and weeds twisted together like pieces of fabric sewn together in quilt tops kept in a cupboard.


 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Witches' Brew


Growing up in the country provided the perfect spooky setting when Halloween was looming. Poplar trees with limbs bare transformed themselves into scrawny fingers ready to snatch any one of us kids as we ran by in a hurry. Leaves scurrying over the fields evolved into mice rushing toward us. We were certain our grandfather's old barn with its main door creaking in the howling wind sounded more like screeching witches cackling under the big orange moon. But Halloween wasn't only looming outside with bats swooping down and ghosts swirling about. Things were happening inside the house as well. Especially in the kitchen.

For as long as I can remember when my mother would go to the cupboard and take out her largest cooking pot and set it on top of the stove as the leaves fell and the wind blew and homes were decorated with pumpkins and cornstalks and my cousins and I were figuring out what we'd be for Halloween, I knew what my mother was going to make. She made it come every October. And she made it more than once. More than twice. It was our favorite soup and it was perfect for that time of the year. Somehow it became known as Witches' Brew. 

Maybe it was that pot she was using. Surely if you were a kid you could have imagined it as a witch's pot. It wasn't black. It was silver but it was deep with pitch black handles and when she had her gooey, yellowish brew bubbling and she stood there stirring the brew with a long, wooden spoon, that cauldron full of a boiling, gooey yellowish g broth resembled a cauldron any witch would use. Even my mother. Even when her hair was done up in pin curls.

Standing in the kitchen, watching her stir her tasty concoction I imagined her dressed in black with a pointed hat and long, sharp fingernails despite her fingernails always manicured to perfection. When she added tiny little eyeballs, and cut-up parts and disgusting things that were little and round, that pot would get boiling hot and stem would cover the kitchen windows. Once it had roared to the point of being cooked, my mother would fill enough bowls and set them around the table along with warm cornbread just out of the oven. As we gathered around the table, we'd pick up our spoons and immerse them in our bowls of witches' brew. 

And that's when the gooey, yellowish brew turned into chicken broth and those tiny little eyeballs became acini de pepes and those cut-up parts transformed into cut-up bits of celery, peppers and onions and those disgusting things that were little and round became delicious little meatballs.

Witches' Brew stirred the imagination at a most spooky, gruesome, scary and absolutely marvelously unforgettable fun time of the year when growing up out in the country. And witches' brew continues to be enjoyed, even by the next generation-tiny little eyeballs included.

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Many Shades of Brown

 

The summer before my freshman year in high school, I met a girl who was two or three years older than I was. She was from Indiana. She came with relatives to visit for a few weeks. Back then, my family lived out in the country next to my grandparents and an aunt and next door to them, lived another family household with an aunt, uncle and two cousins. So when the Indiana relatives came, it was lots of fun-especially when they brought along that older girl.

It took me a while to talk with her. After all, she was older. Back in Indiana she was a cheerleader and, she had a boyfriend. I thought she was beautiful. With her blonde hair and the way she spoke, she reminded me of Marilyn Monroe. But after being around her for about a week, I realized what was most intriguing about that girl was her eye make-up. I'd never been around anyone who wore eye make-up. And she wore it every, single day.

One evening when we were all hanging around I had the nerve to ask her about eye make-up. I really knew nothing about that stuff. I could tell she was thrilled to tell me all about it. She went inside and brought out a plastic case which I soon learned held all of her make-up. She even had a little mirror. Since I'd asked about eye make-up, she pulled out small compacts of many different shades. I'd noticed she wore mostly blue. That girl had several shades of blue along with what I soon learned were accent colors. I never knew eye make-up came with accent colors. I was mesmerized by the plastic compacts and array of colors as well as eyeliners in all of their shades.

"Want me to do you eyes?" she asked.
"Me?" I replied as I felt my face turning red.
"Yes. You have big, brown eyes. They would look even bigger and more beautiful if I added a bit of make-up."

Seconds later I felt as if I was in a beauty parlor. I didn't take her long to "do my eyes." When she handed me her little mirror I was stunned with what I saw. My eyes were bigger. They were shades of brown-soft browns with lighter accented shades. I fell in love with my big, brown eyes. The next day she showed me how to do my eyes one step at a time. She told me what to buy. She told me how to take it all off at night. 

After she and my relatives left, I went to the store and bought Maybelline eye make-up. And I have been wearing Maybelline eye make-up in shades of brown ever since. "Doing my eyes" every morning has become a part of my morning routine even when I'm not going anywhere. 

Doing my eyes adds a kick to my step-a bit of color to my day. It's a fun little thing I do just for me. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Oh Those Netted Crinolines

I hardly ever wore crinolines under my skirts way back when wearing crinolines underneath skirts was the fad. Not participating in a fad was unusual for me. After all, I ran to a department store located in the downtown of where I lived  the moment Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" grabbed my attention. I had to have bellbottoms and short-sleeved ribbed sweaters. I had to grow my hair down to my waist. But crinolines were a different story. I didn't like all of that netting. I didn't like my skirts pushed way out in front of me even when most of my friends wore crinolines all the time. 

However, there are most always exceptions to most anything-even when it comes to wearing crinolines if crinolines aren't your thing. For me, that exception  came when my grandmother made me a velvet green dress to wear to a Christmas party. It was going to be held in a grand old hotel in that downtown where I lived. My date was a Freshman at a nearby college. He was so cute. We were going with a friend of his and that friend's date.

My grandmother was an expert seamstress. I had no problem wearing a homemade dress. I knew it would look as if I'd bought it in some fancy store. My mother, also an expert seamstress, owned a fabric store. It was part of our home and my grandmother lived next door. So on a Saturday morning my grandmother came over and we talked about 'the dress.' It took a few hours. The dress had to be perfect. Since it was a Christmas dance, the three of us agreed velvet would be perfect-emerald green velvet. Then we browsed through some pattern books to get some ideas. The dress ended up being a combination of features taken from a few patterns. My grandmother never actually had a specific pattern to follow. She measured me while my mother measured out the yards needed. Besides a zipper, that's all my grandmother had to make the dress. No pattern. Just a bag with the velvet and a zipper inside.

I went for a few fittings. That was fun. I loved watching my grandmother tighten a dart or tuck in a seam with her measuring tape around her neck and straight pins attached to her house dress for quick use. When I went for the final fitting three days before the gala event, I was shocked to discover my grandmother had added crinoline to the dress. Not too much but still, it made the dress puff out a bit. I didn't say anything. I didn't feel like trying it on but I did. She'd worked so hard on the dress. My grandmother put it over my head and I could feel the netting go down my sides. After she zipped up the back, she turned me around in front of a long mirror and asked me what I thought. I was afraid to look. When I did, I fell in love with the velvet green dress. The crinoline added something special. It dressed it up. It would be fun to dance in it. I loved to dance. I was excited.

Despite the velvet green dress, the dance was a disaster. After we'd dance to a fast song and my crinolines went flying, my cute date smelling of English Leather told me I wouldn't see him again because he had a girlfriend back home. Not even that dress could stop the tears.

I never wore crinolines again. I was quite happy when miniskirts and go-go boots became the fad.
 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Teddy Bears Sitting By A Rhubarb Patch


 

Years ago there was a rhubarb patch growing alongside a sandbox in front of a garden near a river and that rhubarb patch, just like the sandbox, the garden and the river, was enjoyed all summer long. Children big and small would sometimes pull a stalk of rhubarb when going to play in the sandbox or run through the garden.

One day, a glorious, beautiful day, a bunch of teddy bears, of all shapes and colors and sizes and conditions, gathered together by that rhubarb patch to play outside in the sunshine. Big, lovable Dandy, wearing quite the straw hat, was more worn out than the Care Bear or other teddy bears enjoying their time together. Dandy’s condition had nothing to do with his age. Rather, it was all about the love he received and the love he gave back—reminding me of one of so many quotable lines from the treasured children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams—

     “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

      “REAL isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”

Dandy was loved. Dandy became real just like so many other teddy bears have become real through endless hugs and countless kisses and fur combings and dress-up times and tea parties and snuggling in bed before falling asleep and sitting by rhubarb patches in the sunshine. Many of those really loved and really worn teddy bears now sit on shelves or are tucked away in attics or closets or have been tossed into a toy box or placed in a crib or given down to the next generation, or have become but a memory kept deep in one’s heart.

To all those beloved, those really worn, Real Teddy Bears like Dandy, I wish you a very well-deserved, very Happy Teddy Bear’s Day. You have been there for so many of us in good times, bad times, funny times and sad times. We’ll forever feel your hugs and the warmth of your fur and the love in your eyes. As Margery Williams simply explained: “Once you are REAL you can’t become UNREAL again. It lasts for always.”

 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

It Was All About The Logo

 

I must have been twelve or thirteen when I first looked through a New York Times’ Sunday edition that my father brought home from work.

I was instantly intrigued by such an extensive newspaper with so many sections and the smell of all that ink on all of that newsprint. I remember standing at the kitchen table with the paper wide open. There was just so much to see and read. But I never made it through all of those pages. I never got beyond the first section. I was stopped in my tracks by a logo.

You have to realize this was way before computers and instant everything. There were only three news networks on the TV. Cable was nonexistent. Magazines ran cigarette ads. It was a whole different world. So when I turned a page of that newspaper and saw for the first time a pen and ink logo that swirled off the page in creativity, I was hooked. 

The logo was the Lord & Taylor logo. The ad said the item advertised was available at all Lord & Taylor stores. I wasn’t interested in the item. It was the logo that intrigued me with the capital L looking like a bird you’d draw when you were a kid and how the word Taylor was written as two words with the letter r looking to be an extension of the letter o. It all flowed together beautifully. I stood there and studied each and every stroke of the pen that created it. From then on I asked my father to bring home that paper whenever he could. He tried remembering but many times it slipped his mind.

One time when he did remember, more than the logo grabbed my attention. This time the advertised item hooked me as well. I had to have the outfit drawn with the ink pen showing a skirt with a flair and a pin stripe shirt with long sleeves in my size. But what really had me in a tizzy were the suspenders attached to the skirt, going up and over the shoulders of the pin stripe shirt worn by a model sketched by an artist somewhere far away from my kitchen table where I stood in awe of both the logo and that outfit with suspenders.

I remember making quite a commotion to my parents about the outfit. I made it very clear it was a matter of life and death that I have the outfit. I was told it was too much money for just a skirt and a shirt. I argued how the outfit came with suspenders but I could tell it was a lost cause.

A few weeks later when getting off the school bus, I saw a package attached to our mailbox. Waiting for cars to go by, I ran across the road to see who it was for. Even before I reached the mailbox I saw that logo—that swirling, creative sophisticated logo with the capital L looking like a bird. My suspenders had arrived! I was later told it was a belated birthday gift.

I kept the box with the logo in my closet for the longest time and I wore those suspenders to threads.

Last week when I heard Lord & Taylor would be closing all of their stores, I felt sad. I thought back to when I’d look for their ads in the New York Times and how excited I’d get when seeing their logo. To think an artist could bring the excitement I felt to even suspenders tells me Lord & Taylor was nailing it. A global pandemic and a thing called the internet were out of their control.

The memories of standing at the kitchen table with a newspaper opened to a page displaying a Lord & Taylor ad will never go away. Neither will the image of the letter r looking to be an extension of the letter o.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Old Grinder from the Hardware Store


With zucchini so plentiful in the garden last week, my son Brian and I spent a few days making small loaves of zucchini bread. Some loaves will be for Christmas gifts and some will be for giving away—and some are for our own enjoyment.
The process began when I brought out my mother’s old Universal food grinder. The old grinder holds so many memories of preparing for so many Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I can still hear cranberries popping as they were squeezed through the grinder. Some never made it through. Instead they’d go flying through the air when the grinding speeded up and the juice from the cranberries fell into a yellow bowl sitting on the floor underneath the grinder. My mother once told me she bought the grinder at Barr’s Hardware located in a downtown of long ago.
The grinder is still as good as new. There are no buttons to push or speeds to select or cords to plug in. You just put the parts together and off you go. Brian did all the grinding of the zucchini. My mother would have loved how fast he had that grinder going.
Our first batches of zucchini bread were made from a basic zucchini bread recipe. But then we got a little creative by using my daughter Natalie’s recipe for "Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread." It was fun adding the baking cocoa and chocolate chips to the zucchini since zucchini is so bland. The result was a super moist, sweet but not overly sweet bread that I can tell you from trying a “few” slices, tastes as good as it looks. If you’d like to make some double chocolate zucchini bread, you can search for the recipe on my daughter’s website. www.parsleyandicing.com.
Enjoy and Happy Baking as September begins to unfold.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Just An Old Piece of Wood

 Sitting up on a shelf in front of my computer is an old piece of wood. It sits there for a reason. Whenever I’m in need of inspiration, that old piece of wood inspires me. That old piece of wood reminds me of a time long ago when I was a little girl reading my Louisa May Alcott books and Laura Ingalls Wilder books in an old chicken coop void of chickens, converted to a clubhouse where I’d play with my cousins. And next to the old chicken coop there sat a massive old barn. Like the chicken coop, it belonged to my grandparents. They were both a part of their family farm.
My cousins and I played in that barn. By then, the farm was no longer a working farm. Although the roosts were void of chickens and the stanchions void of cows and the pastures void of horses and the grain shed was almost void of grain, none of that mattered to us. The roosts and stanchions turned into props. We were there to play and pretend and go on great adventures.
There were two mighty hay lofts in the barn connected by an old plank bridge which we’d cross when storylines demanded we did. A few bales of hay still hanging around made great hiding places as swallows came swooping down from their muddy nests. We once hosted a circus in the barn. We invited all the adults to our greatest show on earth-or at least in a barn.
Due to my grandfather’s health, the farm was sold. It went through a few owners. One day a while back, the owner at that time burned the barn down in a controlled fire. Some of us in the family were so upset that we asked a family member to please go to the site to salvage anything left from the fire. That’s where my old piece of wood comes from—my grandfather’s barn, once host to little ones seeking great adventures. I can still go on those great adventures or make up new ones when I look up at that shelf above my computer and see that old piece of wood sitting there. To anyone else it’s just an old piece of wood. To me, it’s a part of my childhood. It’s my key to imagining.
I would think most of us have stuff of great meaning that only we understand. I’m not talking about anything expensive. I’m talking about stuff that is priceless only to us as individuals. It could be a button sitting back in a dresser drawer that once adorned a favorite coat. It could be a stone now kept in a jar that you picked up when out walking with someone special or when walking alone in deep thought. It could be a pine cone or a ribbon or a letter or a photo or a crayon scribble on a piece of paper or a little toy or baby rattle or an article clipped from a newspaper turning yellow with age. It is one of a kind. It reflects you at a point in time that has meaning to just you.
Whatever it is, it is priceless—so priceless, that not even a fire can destroy that meaning and the memories it holds.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Meet Junior Bob


 When my kids were growing up, this little rubbery toy was a favorite of all the toys they had. I have no clue who named it Junior Bob but that's the name the little puppy was given. And that's the name I'd hear when they were playing in the living room, often with a cousin after school. Junior Bob was the center of whatever they were doing and imagining. They never brought in other toys when playing with Junior Bob. The puppy alone held their attention.

Junior Bob is only two inches long yet the fun it created was immeasurable. I don't remember where it came from. I think it was included in a group of little rubbery toys, packaged together to make the purchasing more exciting. It might have been included in a Strawberry Shortcake collection of little friends to Strawberry Shortcake herself or friends Orange Blossom, Lemon Meringue, Blueberry Muffin or Raspberry Tart to name a few.

The product label on the underside of Junior Bob is worn away. I'm not surprised after all the hugs it received and adventures it went on around the couch or the chairs which those young imaginations could have turned into castles or ships or magic carpets to never never land. The tip of its tail is missing. That could have happened in most any scenario I heard taking place in the living room when laughter took over. 

It is amazing to me how such a little rubbery puppy with its big nose and sweet face created so much fun all by itself. With all the other toys around-some with batteries, some so much larger and louder, some with brightly colored accessories, it was that sweet little puppy who those little kids sought when running into the living room to play and pretend.  

Mr. Rogers often said that "play is the work of childhood." I think Junior Bob would agree.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Archie, Veronica, Betty & Jughead


With all the wonderful books to read way back when, including the Nancy Drew Mysteries, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott books as well as the Bobbsey Twins, a favorite source of reading was not a book. It was the monthly comic book titled Archie. 

I have no clue where my cousin and I bought our copies. Maybe we had a subscription. Maybe they were for sale in Woolworths or Newberry's located in the downtown where we lived. Quite possibly we bought them at what was called The Busy Corner in that downtown-a combination smoke shop, ice cream parlor complete with ceiling fans and small round tables with wrought iron chairs and a checkered linoleum floor. Besides tobacco products, the smoke shop carried numerous newspapers and magazines. I'm sure they must have carried comic books.

The backdrop to the Archie comic book series was a high school like most high schools of that era with students like most students of that era. Red-haired Archie was the main character. Jughead was his best friend. He always wore a funny-looking hat and always seemed to me to be lazy. Betty, the pretty blonde was like the girl next door. Very sweet with her eye on Archie. But the problem was Veronica who was Betty's best friend as well as rival for Archie's attention. Veronica was  attractive with her long, black hair. I remember there was a boy named Reggie but that's about all I remember about him. He wasn't a main character.

I can't remember any of the storylines. More often than not, it had to do with Betty and Veronica vying for Archie's affections. But none of that stuff caught my interest. I didn't care who ended up with Archie. I guess I realized that could change in the next issue. Rather, I was more interested in what Betty and Veronica were wearing and how their hair was styled. Their outfits reminded me of outfits a few of my pretty aunts would wear to work. Betty and Veronica didn't look like high school girls. At least not the girls where I went to school. They were quite curvy if you know what I mean and the outfits were beyond stylish. And the best part of that was the fact that, besides the comic books, we could buy paper dolls of all the Archie characters and along with those dolls came all of those wonderful outfits including bathing suits, skirts, pedal pushers, blouses, dresses, coats, pjs, and accessories. It was fun putting Veronica's outfits on Betty or vice versa and they never fought over who was wearing what. Not once. Maybe they were too busy fighting over Archie!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Frankly My Dear

When I learned of the death of actress Olivia de Havilland, my thoughts went back to a summer of long ago. My cousin and I were still hanging out in our chicken coop clubhouse, surrounded by the books, chalkboards and desks from an abandoned one-room schoolhouse up the road. Besides 'teaching' our younger siblings, we taught pretend students as well. And if we weren't teaching, we were putting on art shows, circuses, carnivals-whatever we thought the adults would 'love' to attend. After all, our shows were Free, and Tremendous.

Sometimes we'd bring books to read if we had the chance. Our grandmother had given us the Laura Ingalls Wilder books one Christmas. We read them all. Other favorites were the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew Mysteries. But during that particular summer, I went to my mother's bookcase and pulled out a paperback she'd raved about titled, "Gone With The Wind."

My mother was an avid reader. She worked evenings at the local hospital as Charge Nurse in the ER. She'd always put a book in her bag of stuff before going to work. Some nights she'd find time to read. Most nights I'm sure there was no time. Her favorite books were of the South in the era of plantations and beautiful women in big, beautiful, puffy gowns with matching hats and jewelry. The shelves of her bookcase were lined with those types of books. I'd neve heard her talking about any of them like she did "Gone With The Wind" so I pulled that book off the shelf and took it with me to our chicken coop clubhouse. The minute I started to read it, I fell in love with the story, especially Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara. It took me all summer to read the book. I was quite proud of myself for reading a book that was over 1,000 pages long. My mother was surprised. I wasn't. I was hooked from the beginning. "Frankly my dear" was a perfect closer.

When my mother passed away I was given most of her books. They now sit on shelves in my living room. Sometimes I'll pull a few of those books out just to look at the covers and once in a while when I do that, I remember my mother sitting in a chair by a window in the dining room with her hair done up in bobby pins, reading before getting ready for work. Now that I think about that she was probably gearing up for the transition from mother to nurse.

For some reason, "Gone With The Wind" was not included in the books I was given. I have no clue where it went. But that's okay. I will never forget that story just like I will never forget my mother sitting in that chair by a window in the dining room with her hair up in bobby pins, reading before getting ready for work.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Magic of Fields


There’s something magical about fields. It doesn’t matter the time of year. Fields amaze me whatever the season. This fascination began at an early age. I remember playing with my cousins as we watched for our grandfather to return from haying in the backfield. Once he drove his little red Ford tractor back over the plank bridge spanning the creek on his way to the barn, we’d run and jump on board the wagon full of hay. Fields surrounded us on both sides of the road.
When I was 8 or 9, we moved to the country, next door to my grandparents’ farm. Despite the farm not being a working farm anymore, the fields provided hours of play for me, my siblings and my cousins. They were great places to play hide ‘n seek. Fun places to pick wildflowers and clovers that were sweet tasting. Fun places to play ‘pretend’, making pretend houses by stepping down on the tall grass. Fun places to escape the adults. Fun places to walk through in the snow, stopping to make snow angels and snowmen and snowballs for throwing.
I remember sitting at my desk in my bedroom, looking out the window at the fields stretching to the back woods. When the sun would set through the trees, the fields would often be streaked with color. When it snowed, the fields glistened. After a rain shower, the fields with their weeds and wildflowers and brush and hay grew all the more. After a storm, the fields became disheveled. Even some trees might have fallen. But Mother Nature stepped in. Mother Nature was its caretaker.
When autumn came back around, Mother Nature meticulously painted the weeds and wildflowers and brush and leaves in splendid shades of orange and red and yellow. The fields took my breath away.
Fields still take my breath away. I’m still surrounded by fields. Although they are different fields, they too have their weeds and wildflowers and brush and trees. Mother Nature is their caretaker and I am a grateful onlooker —no matter the season.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

For The Love of Paint-By-Number Kits

I always felt like a famous artist when working on a Paint-By-Number Painting. I loved them. They came in a kit inside a decorated cardboard box. The kit contained everything one would need to complete the painting. Some kits included one large paint-by-number painting. Others included three paint-by-number paintings, smaller in size than the kit with the single painting. I can still remember my most favorite of all the ones I painted. It was a horse standing in front of a barn-a rather big horse. I spent hours on that painting, sitting at my desk in a bedroom I shared with my younger sister with a huge assortment of brushes, a glass of water and lots of tissues sitting next to me. I always made a mess when creating. That's just what artists do.

Going shopping for new paint-by-number kits was great fun. Woolworths and Newberry's always had great selections. Sometimes my cousin and I would go downtown shopping and sometimes I'd come back home with gift ideas to tell my mother if my birthday was coming or Christmas was near. Those gift ideas always included some paint-by-number kits. When the Sears Wish Book arrived in the mail, paint-by-number kits were sought after items.

But of all those kits I received, the one I remember the most came from my father. I don't remember the actual painting itself but I do remember the anticipation it created. It was a Christmas Eve. My father was a funeral director and that meant he even had to work on Christmas Eve if there'd been a death. This particular Christmas Eve he had to work. On top of that it was raining. Relatives had come for dinner and were gone when he came walking inside the house soaking wet. My older brother and I were dressed for bed. Milk and cookies were all set up. We waited for our father to get his coat off before we hugged him and said goodnight. When he took his coat off I noticed him grabbing hold of something hidden by his coat and putting it on a chair in the dining room. It was a package! It was Christmas Eve! I just knew it was for me.

While I thought I'd never get to sleep it was soon morning and I was rushing down the front stairs and into the living room with my brother. The stockings were bulging. But it was a package wrapped in white tissue paper kept together by Christmas stickers that caught my eye. It was sitting under the tree on top of some bigger presents. It was tradition for us to open one gift after our stocking gifts. Then we'd have breakfast and open the rest. I knew which gift I was going to open. I knew the present wrapped in white tissue paper was for me. I felt it. When it was time, I took hold of that gift with my name written in cursive on a tag. It was beautiful penmanship. I loved how the letters swirled as if caught in a breeze. I looked at my father. He was smiling. It was his penmanship.

Seconds later the tissue paper was off and I was holding on to a box I'd held in a small corner store just up the street. A few days earlier, my mother and I had stopped there for a few things and while she paid for them, I found what I was now holding. I'd told my mother how much I hoped Santa would bring me the paint-by-number kit with primary colored felt tip markers included. Sitting there in my nightgown I looked back at my father. He was still smiling. Then he pointed to the window. It was snowing.

The paint-by-number kit with primary colored  felt-tip markers ended up my favorite Christmas gift that year. I don't know how my father ever knew I wanted it as much as I did. I convinced myself he was Santa Claus.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Lilacs In The Blue Vase

The lilacs are blooming, their sweet scent drifting about the back yard, over the fields, even coming inside through the screens on the back porch. It amazes me that such a sweet scent can come from such little flowers. But then, there are so many little flowers in a cluster. I couldn't resist cutting a few and bringing them inside, arranging them in the blue vase.
It was my father's vase, handed down to him from his mother. I don't remember how I ended up with it but I am thankful I did. It makes me feel like I have something tangible from a grandmother I hardly knew. She passed away when I was quite young. I only have one vivid memory of her and in that memory, I can see the blue vase sitting on her dining room table.
My older brother and I had gone with our father to visit his parents. I'm certain it was a Sunday morning. I remember wearing a pale yellow sundress with bunnies embroidered around the neckline. It must have been in the summertime because a window was wide open and the curtains were moving a bit. I could smell flowers as we walked up the front steps and through the front door. My father and brother were ahead of me.
When I was walking through the dining room, I was swallowed up in a warm embrace. It was my grandmother, smelling like a grandmother, all warm and safe and loving with fresh baked cookies on the kitchen counter. She was wearing black shoes. They tied up the front. An apron that went over her head and tied in the back covered up what I think was a dress.
I remember hair combs and wrinkled hands and little pearl earrings and thinking I'd like a cup of tea from the beautiful teapot sitting on the dining room table covered by a beautiful lace tablecloth with that blue vase full of flowers sitting in the middle.
Sadly, I can't remember her face. I can't remember if I ever did have a cup of tea from that teapot which now sits in my home along with the blue vase.
I wish I'd gotten to know my Grandmother Louise. I bet we would have had tea parties while sitting at that dining room table covered by that beautiful lace tablecloth with that blue vase full of fresh, blooming flowers sitting in the middle and a breeze coming through the windows.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Small Talk While Wearing Face Masks



It was another beautiful morning. I was up early-at the post office getting my mail out of my postal box when I noticed an older gentleman walking into the building. He had a cane and was wearing a face mask. As soon as he was inside, another older gentleman wearing a face mask and making copies at the copier, turned to see who was opening the door.

By the boisterous hellos, it was obvious they knew each other.
“Well look who’s here! How you been old guy?”
“Oh you know. Tryin’ to stay home but I gotta pay my bills.”
“Know just what you mean. I make copies of mine.”
“I was thinkin’ earlier. This would be a great time to rob a bank! With everyone wearin’ a face mask, you’d never get caught!”

They both started laughing in the old post office that had stood witness to so many catastrophic events in this country’s history.

Then the older gentleman who’d walked through the door continued as he adjusted his face mask. “I’m tempted sometimes to take this thing off. Makes it hard to breathe.”
“No! You can’t do that. We’re only in the third inning. Keep your face mask on. You don’t know who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy, if you know what I mean.”
Their small talk and laughter continued as I walked out the door.

My next stop was the grocery store. Standing in front of the meat case, with signs posted concerning limited quantities on some items due to Cova19, I thought about news reports concerning slaughter houses around the country where so many of their employees had been stricken with Cova19. As I continued to stand there, another older gentleman happened by. He was wearing a face mask. The fabric was all kittens. He didn’t hesitate to pick up a few packages of hamburger. Then we started talking. Turns out he’d been a farmer all his life. I told him my hesitation in buying meat.
“Check the expiration date,” he told me. “If ok, buy what you want and cook the heck out of it. That’ll kill anything, even that virus!”
“Thanks,” I told him. “I like your face mask.”
“My granddaughter made it. She knows I love kittens. Her mother told me she made quite a few for those who needed them. Well, it’s been nice talking with you. Stay safe.”
I picked up some packages of meat. When I got home, I cooked the heck out of it.”

I’ve been thinking about those three older gentlemen. They reminded me of my grandfather, especially the farmer. I remember hearing stories of how my grandparents and family would gather around the radio in the evening to listen to news after the Pearl Harbor attack and during WW11. I remember hearing stories of very tough times on their farm and in the country. I've been wondering what my grandfather would be doing during this Corona Virus pandemic. I suspect he'd be doing what he had to do just like the three older gentlemen I met the other morning, even if that meant wearing a face mask made from fabric with a kitten design.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Having Fun With Stilts


I don’t remember who made the pair of stilts my cousins and siblings and I played with when growing up out in the country. I do remember how much fun we had with them. The stilts were kept in my grandmother’s garage which was always open so we were able to get them whenever we wanted to.

The wooden stilts were painted gray. There was nothing fancy or mechanical about them. They were just gray with chunks of wood added for foot rests. Funny how such a simple thing could bring so much fun. But they did. Even my older brother would walk around on the stilts and he hardly ever joined us when we were outside playing which was most of the time. That just reinforces how much fun we had, taking turns walking around on those gray wooden stilts.

My grandmother’s driveway was crushed stone so if whoever was using the stilts wasn’t careful, a stilt could land on some stones the wrong way and throw the rhythm of walking on the stilts off. And down they’d go. Landing on crushed stone was very painful.
Sometimes we’d have races. Since there was only one pair of stilts, we had to count how long each of us took to determine a winner. Sometimes we’d try doing tricks like holding on tight to the stilts and attempting to jump one or two or maybe even three times with them. Another trick was to walk backwards. Another one was to look as if you were dancing. Of course, getting on and off the stilts was always a trick.

In the spring, we’d march through puddles. In the summer, we’d host circuses outside our chicken coop clubhouse. I’m sure all the adults loved attending our show which included some amazing stilt walking and stilt tricks and stilt marching under the big top which was actually just being outside in the sunshine.

I don’t know whatever happened to those simple, gray stilts. I do know they were lots of laughs despite all the bruised knees and elbows.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Oh Those Little Knick Knacks

I never knew a lot of the little things my grandmother had on display in her home could have been collectively referred to as knick knacks. In fact, growing up, I never heard that term used for anything. All those things sitting here and there, on tables and book shelves and shelves inside cabinets with glass doors and on window sills and in plants and on the mantel above the fireplace in the living room and sitting on antiques and on top of starched doilies and on little wooden steps of a wooden crescent moon serving as a display as it hung on a wall weren't just things. They were my grandmother's things and each one of them was considered to be a treasure by those of us who loved her. Each one had a story all its own.

When walking through her front door, those knick knacks were there to welcome you back. They never called in sick due to the weather. You knew where each one sat day after day. They added  to the scenery; to the warmth of that home. They were a part of that home just as much as the furniture and books and paintings on the wall and dishes in the kitchen cupboards and canned goods in the pantry. They were part of the family.

Most of those little things had been gifts to my grandmother-birthdays, Mother's days, Christmas. Some were home-made. Some were ceramic like little bunnies and kittens. Some were Santas and snowmen. Some were little vases holding pencils or rubber bands or paper clips. Of all those things called knick knacks, one was probably everyone's favorite. It was a candy dish in the shape of a chicken. It sat on an antique table behind the sofa. All you had to do was take hold of the chicken's head, lift it up and your reward was candy. I can't imagine how many little hands lifted that chicken's head in search of a treat.

Later in life my grandmother would tell us, when her birthday came around or Mother's Day was near or Christmas was coming, not to buy her a thing. "Come spend some time with me," she'd say.
Sitting around her kitchen table enjoying a cup of freshly perked coffee and listening to her stories and those of my Aunt Claire who lived with her was certainly better than buying a knick knack or receiving a knick knack. And, of course when visiting, lifting up that chicken's head for some candy was the icing on the cake.

I don't think knick knacks play such a prominent roll in homes today like they once did many years ago. Everyone is busy. Some consider such things as dust collectors. Homes are more efficient and void of clutter. I get that. But back then, knick knacks were more than just useless things sitting here and there. They were story tellers of the family in that home. They were little things always there to greet you when coming through the door. They were traditions.

I am blessed to have one of my grandmother's little knick knacks in my home. Every time I look at it, I remember it sitting on one of those wooden steps of the crescent moon that hung in the dining room of her farmhouse. It is so much more than a knick knack made in China.

To me, it is love wrapped up in memories.








Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Ten-Day Beauty Plan

Way back in the day when I was in my early teens plagued by acne, I would have done anything to get rid of those pimples. In fact, I did but still pimples blossomed all over my face. After reading a magazine ad stating if you used their product faithfully for ten days straight, your skin would be rid of acne. In fact, it claimed, "You will be beautiful!" That's all I needed! I bought a jar, convinced there'd be no more reason to hide my face with my hands or turn away when seeing popular upperclassmen.

For ten long days, I'd grab the magic jar and cover my face with the magic, silky lotion. Then I'd wait for however long I was supposed to before taking a clean washcloth put under warm water and then cold before wiping the magic, silky lotion off my face. I did that twice a day for nine days. At the end of the tenth day, I went into the bathroom and shut the door. Then I picked up the jar of magic, silky lotion and covered my face extra carefully. I left it on a little longer. I could feel myself getting excited. The long wait was over. No more pimples! No more being embarrassed or hiding my face with my hands. No more spending time on products that did nothing as promised in their ads. I was certain the magic, silky lotion I'd used as directed twice a day for ten days straight had rid my skin of acne.

With a clean washcloth put under warm water and then cold, I slowly began to clean the magic, silky lotion off my face. I took my time. Beauty, I decided, is to be savored. The only problem was when I looked in the mirror, I had even more pimples than I'd ever had. Throwing the not-so-magic lotion in the waste basket, I ran to my room; threw myself on my bed and buried myself in blankets. I stayed there until morning.

One good thing when I woke up, it was a Saturday. I didn't have to see anyone with my face smothered in pimples. I didn't feel like doing anything but decided to go next door to my grandmother's house. She was always up to something. I hoped her something on that Saturday would help me take my mind off my face.When I walked through the front door, I could hear her sewing machine humming. I knew where she was. Walking through the kitchen, I slowly approached her sewing room. Hesitating for a second, I took a deep breath and walked into the room. It made me feel better just to see her. I felt like crying but her words stopped me cold.

Looking up from her little black, Singer sewing machine with a tape measure around her neck, she smiled at me and said, "Well, don't you look beautiful today!"

"Really?"
"Yes. Really!"

I spent most of the day at my grandmother's. I decided, with brown spots on her hands and long gray hair twirled up in a bun and lines on her face that told her life's story, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I was in good company.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Playing Marbles


Right about this time of the year when growing up out in the country, I’d be looking for my bag of marbles. It wasn’t a fancy bag. It was a paper bag and there weren’t that many marbles in it. My older brother was the one with the marbles. He kept them in a plush-like bag with ties you’d pull shut so the marbles wouldn’t fall out. Sometimes when he wasn’t home I’d sneak into his room, pull open a certain dresser drawer and grab hold of that plush-like bag. Then I’d sit on his bed. Open the bag and spread the marbles out in front of me.
One time a marble rolled off his bed and disappeared just as I heard him come through the front door. I panicked. I scooped up the marbles and dumped them in the fancy bag. Then I got down on my knees and searched for the one that got away. I couldn’t find it! I was running out of time so I put the plush-like bag back in the drawer and hurried to my room and shut the door. I waited for him to start yelling at me. I was convinced he’d find it. But that never happened. He never went in his room. A few minutes later I heard him go back out the front door. Watching him walk up the road, I hurried into his room and eventually found that marble and put it back where it belonged.

I think most of my marbles came from Woolworths or Newberry’s. I didn’t have any fancy ones like steelies, but my brother did. And like his marbles, he had steelies in all sizes. My marbles were just your regular sort of marbles. Some, like the solid white ones and solid yellow ones, looked like gumballs. I had a few favorites chosen because of their swirling colors.
My cousins and I would get our marbles outside as soon as the snow started melting. We’d play with them in what grass there was despite it being frozen. Our marbles would roll in the snow; in mud puddles; down the cinder driveway; into the little stream beside our grandparents’ farmhouse waking up and getting a little bit bigger most every day. Our hands would be freezing.  Our feet would be soaking wet but we didn’t care. We were finally outside playing with our marbles after waiting all winter long.

I don’t know what ever happened to that paper bag holding those glorious little balls of fun. I guess you could say ‘I lost my marbles!’

Thursday, March 5, 2020

A Magical Little Stream

After passing by the creek shown in the attached photo, I found myself turning back around to take a closer look. There was something about that creek; bringing me back to another creek waking up in springtime.
When growing up in the country, spring surrounded us with the smell of the earth thawing and the honking of geese announcing their return. The creek that ran behind those four homes full of relatives would overflow its banks like clockwork when the temperature began to rise. One day it'd be frozen in place. The next day it'd be moving along swiftly, spreading out into the surrounding fields like a wildfire out of control. It was exciting to see that creek expand. Sometimes while having supper, we'd watch muskrats sitting on chunks of ice flowing by as if on a carnival ride. We weren't allowed to play near that creek when the water was full of cakes of ice and moving along at full speed but that didn't matter. There was a little stream that ran alongside our grandparents' farmhouse. It was the perfect-sized little stream even when it overflowed its little banks. I'd play outside with my cousins in and around that little stream until dragged inside, soaking wet and anxious to get back outside to continue our playing.
The little stream came flowing through a tunnel built under the road, bringing waters from other fields to our little stream; then to the flat rocks and eventually to the big creek with cakes of ice.
If the weather changed and the temperature dipped, that little stream would turn to ice. But that never stopped the play. We'd find shovels or picks and open our highway of water back up so we could find more twigs and use them to race each other's twigs down that little stream to the finish which was the flat rocks.
Racing those twigs was so much fun. Sometimes a twig would get lost underneath the edge of ice still in place. Sometimes a twig would blend into a glob of twigs or dirty, leftover leaves. If that happened whoever owned the twig would have to take their mittens off and recover their racing twig, 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're a kid and spring turns 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.
But with that flat rock in place, something magical happened in the heat of the summer. That's when a natural bubble would pop up and out of the flat rock. It was so cold and so delicious. It was worth clearing away the green moss, lying down on the flat rock and getting good and wet just to drink from that natural bubble-proving once again how magical it was to play about that little stream-that wonderful little stream offering hours of never-ending fun at no charge and no batteries required.
All that was required was Imagination.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Rding Horses Bareback Out In The Country

Did you ever look at a photo and wish you could remember that moment; remember what lead up to it and what everyone was saying and who took the photo and what happened after the photo had been taken and life continued on?
I had all those questions and more after receiving the attached photo from a cousin. That’s me sitting on a horse behind my Uncle Paddy-my cousin’s father. My older brother is sitting on the other horse. I have no recollection of that day. But I do know if my Uncle Paddy was involved, it would have been a fun day. Most in the community knew him as owner of a shoe store. I knew him as an uncle who was a kid at heart.
Uncle Paddy was the one who built us kids rafts out of telephone poles so we could go off on adventures on a creek that ran along behind our homes. Uncle Paddy was the one who helped my cousin and I set up a tent behind his house so we could camp out on occasion over summer vacations. Of course he was also the one who loved to scare us later on and then show up early in the morning for fried eggs and toast cooked over a fire consisting of twigs and creek grass producing lots of smoke that made our eyes water.
Uncle Paddy was the one who spent hours planning what became an annual Easter Treasure Hunt when we all lived out in the country in those four houses in a row. Before we were awake on Easter morning, he’d go about that huge plot of property and hide clues for us to find. The pot of gold was individual brown bags of candy, lots of candy, for each one of us. We worked for that candy. He hid the clues in hard to find places. Some of the clues were near impossible to figure out. A few times over the years we’d ask him for help when we were stumped, but he never said a word. He’d just laugh and tell us to keep looking. He loved watching us running from the creek to the barn to the grain shed to cars and rock walls and everywhere else in between. After we finally found the treasure, we’d hurry inside to discuss the hunt with the treasure hunt creator himself.
Later in life, it was my Uncle Paddy I’d go with to the movies. He’d always buy us popcorn in that downtown theater of long ago. I think Dr. Zhivago was one of our favorites.
I still have so many questions about that photo. I’m thinking my Aunt Claire probably took it with her Brownie camera since we were on our horses right in front of her home and she loved taking photos. The horses probably came from a nearby farm. Of course I’m just guessing.
The one thing I know for sure is my brother and I were having lots of fun and lots of laughs riding horses bareback out in the country with that kid at heart.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Little Valentine Tree


This past December when going to the woods for a Christmas tree, I came back home with two trees. One was for the living room. The other was for the room where Brian and I spend most of our time. We call it the Groove room. It used to be a back porch. Now it’s where it all happens; everything from singing and dancing to TV viewing and CD listening and writing and watching the leaves turn and the snow fall and the garden grow and the deer pass by. It overlooks the back yard and the fields; a rock wall where rabbits live and the old barn with a light in the upstairs window.


I’d thought about putting a small Christmas tree in the Groove room before but I never followed through. Something was telling me to do it this past Christmas. So I did. Once Christmas was over, it didn’t bother me to take down the tree in the front room but that little tree on the old back porch was a different story. Brian and I weren’t ready to say goodbye to what had become our favorite little tree. So we decided to keep it up through January. But by the end of that month, we still weren’t ready to say goodbye to that precious little tree.


Because I love Valentine’s Day for all of its color and warmth in the midst of winter whites and greys and chilly temperatures, I suggested to Brian that we turn the little Christmas tree into the little Valentine Tree. He liked the idea, probably because it meant a few more weeks of having the little tree within view. 


As Valentine’s Day approaches we feel blessed to have our little Valentine tree. And once Valentine’s Day comes and goes, I’ll take that little Valentine tree back outside where the snow will eventually cover it and the wind will blow and the birds will sit on its branches and the seasons will keep changing. 

But the memories of that little Christmas/Valentine tree will remain in our hearts forever.


Saturday, February 1, 2020

Winter Suppers


With the snow and the wind and below zero temperatures, I sometimes fix something simple for myself when suppertime comes around. This doesn’t happen every night but when it does happen; whatever I fix not only warms me up but fills me with an even deeper appreciation of winter. I’d never think of having hot cereal for supper in the summertime. But I do during the winter. And I enjoy every spoonful as much as I would enjoy a full-course meal. After the hot dogs and potato salads and the boiled dinners and turkeys, winter offers a time of slowing down and occasionally treating yourself to simple, warm and relaxing suppers.


Besides a bowl of hot cereal, which could be Oatmeal, Corn Meal, or Wheatena with an added treat of dipping a piece of toast into any one of those cereals, my simple winter supper might be buttermilk pancakes with either blueberries or bananas on top. When the kids were little I had a Hello Kitty-shaped pancake skillet. Those pancake suppers were quite popular.


Another simple winter supper—which was sometimes enjoyed for breakfast as well— was a favorite when growing up in the country where I was blessed with having a grandmother living next door. Those of us who gathered around my grandmother’s kitchen table in wait of her serving her quite popular rice croquettes could never get enough of such a simple, yet such a delicious meal. Now looking at her recipe, it’s hard to believe the joy and satisfaction we experienced from rice mixed with 2 beaten eggs, then shaped into croquettes and rolled in flour or bread crumbs and cooked in deep fat until browned. Maybe it was the hot tomato sauce covering the croquettes that we loved. Or, maybe it was because we were gathered around our grandmother’s kitchen table and we would have enjoyed whatever she was cooking.


One of my aunts loved having an egg on toast or chipped beef on toast or creamed peas on toast. They were all simple winter suppers. This aunt also loved going out to a diner for breakfast. She’d come home with more than a few packets of sugar or little creamers in her purse.


Some winter suppers are a little fancier yet remain on the simple end of preparation. Tuna casseroles, creamed tuna on toast (can you tell I love tuna fish), or corn bread served with regular goulash or my grandmother’s French goulash all hit the spot when the snow is swirling and the wind is howling. Homemade soups and shepherd’s pie get a little fancier but worth the effort.

Winter suppers, simple or not quite so simple, are all about being home; being content as the wind howls and the snow falls and you are safe and warm with less dishes to do and more time