Old-Fashioned Fun

Old-Fashioned Fun

My esteemed brother-in-law David H. had warned me:  “The iPhone will change your world. One day you will think back on life before iPhone and life after iPhone, and see what an enormous difference it makes. I think you’ll really like it!” And he was right; I do really like it. But lately I find myself succumbing to what so many of us have–a life with my attention on a screen of one sort or another for way too many hours of the day.

As a small fish in an ocean of cousins, I enjoyed the games at family reunions and ice cream socials. Hide and seek when we were younger, then “Flags” when we had grown a bit. “Flags” consisted of the kids dividing off into two groups, each one of which had a different colored shop rag from the barn or garage. The groups were each to hide their flags in the best spot they could find within fifteen minutes, and then each team scurried around trying to locate and take the flag of the other. It doesn’t seem like there were any rules or restrictions, just lots of running around in the twilight at my Aunt Kate & Uncle Dick’s farm. We had a blast!

Earlier this summer when I picked up my two youngest granddaughters to come visit overnight, we had time that Saturday morning to pause along the side of the gravel road between my place and theirs, looking at the various wildflowers and naming those that we could. We took photos of those we didn’t yet know, then used the conservation website later to figure out what they were. I also showed them a fun thing that my own Grandma Helen May had taught me when I was about the same age; instilling colors into Queen Anne’s Lace. We picked four specimens of the white blossoms, placed each one in a separate glass filled about three inches high with water, then the girls carefully added three drops of different food colorings to the water. We set the timer for half an hour. The results were less than spectacular, so they added three more drops and the timer was set for an hour. By then we were able to discern some color wicking up through the stems and into the flowers. And by the next morning, there were more definite results. Within the next week I saw larger, more open blooms of this weed along the ditches, and wondered if our scientific experiment might have worked better with those. Next time!

Since both of our grandmothers practiced the art of home canning, mason jars were always available. Another summer game was that of seeing which one of us kids could collect a jar full of what we called “locust” shells. I believe now the prehistoric-looking dried exoskeletons are actually from cicadas, but back then, we didn’t know the difference, nor did we care. They were fragile and hollow, and the brownish-gray color blended well with the trees onto which they were usually clinging. Yesterday as I was heading back into the house I found this one latched onto a rail outside my door. It brought back fond memories of hunting around outside with my siblings, gathering prickly cast-off bug shapes that were likely to end up tossed out our Grandma’s back door when the jar was needed. And it made me smile. We had some good old-fashioned fun, didn’t we?

What was your favorite outdoor activity in the dog days of summer, and do you still do it? Have you passed it along to a niece or nephew, a neighbor or your next generation? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

 

Remembrance

Remembrance

Last weekend was a busy culmination to a week that had been jam-packed with activity. It was great to be able to attend two of my grandson’s junior-high basketball games, ride my little gelding Tanner twice, see a late movie on opening night with my friends the Neufelds, (John Wick Chapter 2!), and then participate in an excellent fund-raising event for a cousin who is battling cancer on Saturday. To top that off, two of my cousins who were helping to spearhead the event opened their home to me–and another set of cousins–afterward, so we didn’t have to drive home in the middle of the night. The dinner, featuring BBQ pork, beef brisket, veggies, homemade rolls, and a wide assortment of desserts, was fantastic. The raffles and auctions were exciting and productive. The turnout by the folks in their small-town community of Wellsville, Missouri,  was truly amazing. People dug deep and gave from their hearts, and it was such an inspiration.

Somehow, the five of us managed to tumble out of our beds before 8am on Sunday; no small feat, considering at least two of us were up until almost 4am, chatting and unwinding from all the excitement! And when all four cousins agreed to join me for my side trip to the cemetery in Middletown where so many of our kinfolk have been laid to rest, I was grateful. It’s not that I’m opposed to going there alone, but somehow, it took a bit of the sting out of the grief of putting new silk flowers at my mother’s grave, having Desiree and Paul, Jeff and Linda at my side. Then we meandered around the place, paying our respects at as many of the headstones of our family members as we could find, and admiring the art forms exhibited on many of the markers.

This one, for instance, at the edge of an older part of the cemetery, wasn’t for anyone we knew. On the front is carved “Our Children”, and the date on one side is from 1865. Many names and dates we saw served as reminders of the days when childhood mortality, and even the loss of women in childbirth. was much more prevalent than we see today. It made us feel lucky to be born when we were, and appreciative of the fact that we haven’t had to face the hardships that so many of our ancestors did.

Near the opposite border of this extensive bit of land, closer to the road, we located the grave of Charley and Carrie (or Caroline) Steele, the couple who adopted my great-grandmother Peirrie Belle when she was a nine years old. Because their parents had died young, Peirrie (pronounced Peery) and her four siblings were split up, mostly among the families of relatives. The Steeles were friends of the parents, however, and had no children of their own, and so legally adopted my great-grandmother. She was loved and provided for, and raised almost as an only child from that point, and she returned this honor by naming my grandfather (the first of her eleven children) Charlie, and her next child Selma Carolena. So you can imagine our delight in finding here, amid all the dry brown grass of mid-February, the first sign of the Springtime to come:  a beautiful cluster of purple crocus, blooming just in front of their stone. And while we might never learn who planted them there, at least we know someone remembered. Someone, at some time, took a moment to slip those little bulbs down into the soil, knowing they’d sprout up each year as a beacon of Life renewed, and a hope for the future, a promise of the big Family Reunion we all hope to attend one day.

Won’t it be grand?

Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Chocolate Galas not withstanding, sometimes we just need a little Comfort Food. While the exact types and recipes can vary from sweet to salty, savory to spice, I think it’s probably more the memory or emotion a particular food evokes that is most meaningful.

For instance, back in the Dark Ages after I attended the morning session of kindergarten (yes, it was just half days back then!), Mother would often fix a grilled cheese sandwich for my lunch. White bread, with just enough butter to brown the bread, but not enough to make it soggy, American or Velveeta cheese, all nicely toasted in a cast-iron skillet.  Mmmm! This is still one of my favorite sandwiches, especially when paired with tomato or chicken noodle soup. Not the chicken soup from a can, mind you, but the Lipton kind from the packet with the little skinny noodles. Isn’t it funny to be so picky about such a simple thing as chicken noodle soup? Stir up a beaten egg with a little salt and pepper and add enough flour to make a thick paste, then drop tiny dumplings from the tip of a teaspoon into the simmering broth . . . oh my. That’s comfort food.

Another basic meal on the list is poached eggs on toast. Last weekend, while visiting Daddy, we had this for breakfast on Sunday. I told him how I recalled this as being one of the things Mother might make for me if I had to stay home from school due to sickness. Was it the protein she thought I needed?  The comparable blandness that would go easy on my stomach? The soft texture of the damp toast and the smooth egg that wouldn’t irritate a sore throat? The answer eludes me, but the memory remains, just like the times Dad would warm up milk in a pan on the stove and drizzle in some honey, stirring until it dissolved, and serve it in steaming mugs. That, too, was comfort food.

Custard pie and homemade ice cream make me think of my Grandpa Charlie and his siblings. Chinese food reminds me of my sister and her husband, because the first time I met him (before they were even engaged!) he took us to an excellent Chinese buffet for lunch in Tulsa. Chicken mole, first prepared for me by my dear sister-in-law, has become a favorite, and I never order it without thinking of her and my brother. And how can I possibly look at barbeque beef brisket without a fond remembrance of my Uncle Stan and cousin Dan, or see smoked salmon and not call to mind cousin Greg?

So, now it’s your turn. Leave a comment, if you will, and share your favorite comfort food, and why.  Then, get comfortable!

A Fowl Story

A Fowl Story

Supper at the kitchen table was tradition at my parents’ home, a meal we all ate together, and one in which we (mostly) ate what we were served. Mother was a good cook, and her constant efforts to provide us three nutritious and tasty meals each day must have been exhausting. The discussions around that table could be interesting, educational, and often amusing. Daddy regularly kept us entertained with jokes and poems and stories of all kinds, but the one I’m thinking of this week actually came from one of my siblings. Here’s hoping one of them will chime in with a comment below and take the credit they deserve! The story goes like this:

Once Upon a Time, there was a state-owned zoo that was famous for its dolphins. The dolphins looked like the dolphins from any other zoo, and they acted the same, and learned the same tricks from their trainers. The special thing about this particular school of finned wonders was that the same set of dolphins had been there as long as anyone could remember, since the zoo had first opened a very long time ago, and none of them died. People began to say they were Immortal!

Well, obviously, this created some interest from the scientific community, and a team of marine biologists were sent in to make a study. The only difference they could pinpoint about the porpoises, was that they ate primarily a certain type of young seagull at specific feeding times each day, and that this habit had never varied in all the years of record. The scientists told the zoo officials at the state house that as far as they could tell, as long as the dolphins received their regular diet on time, every time, they showed every sign of being able to live forever.

Late one Sunday, however, as their devoted keeper approached the arched stone bridge leading across to the porpoise pool with the cages containing their evening meal, he encountered a dilemma. The zoo’s prized male lion had escaped from his cage, and was stretched out, napping in the last rays of sunlight that had warmed the bridge, blocking the path. What to do?! If the keeper woke the lion, it might attack him. If the dolphins failed to receive their regular dinner on time, they might die. He had to think fast. In a flash of brilliance, he recalled that the seagulls loved to eat little fish.  The keeper grabbed a bucket of shad, tossed them gently but quickly into a trail leading up to and over the sleeping lion and on over the bridge to the pool. Then he released the seagulls, who followed the trail of fish over ol’ Leo and into the waiting reach of the dolphins. All was saved!

The next day, however, as word got out about this episode, the police came and arrested the zookeeper.

The charge?

“Enticing Young Gulls Across a State Lion for Immortal Porpoises”.

(yes, I hear you groaning . . .)

And while it might be the longest set-up for a pun I’ve ever heard, keep in mind, I still remember it, more than 40 years later. Surely that’s worth something!

Got a favorite pun? Leave a comment, and Happy New Year!

Weird Weather

Weird Weather

Grandpa Charlie May used to say:  “Don’t like the weather in Missouri? Stick around a day or two; it’ll change.” For all that it is now early November, the lawn’s still green, my trees still have a lot of leaves, and we’ve felt temperatures up around 80 this week. Usually we’ve had a good hard frost by now, if not a dusting of snow. Don’t misunderstand me on this, as I am not complaining . . . it’s just weird!

A few days ago I read a post on social media that mentioned a lilac bush putting on buds. As you can see in the photo above, some branches on the south side of my Forsythia bush have blossoms.  A little anemic-looking, but blossoms, nonetheless. And last weekend while visiting Daddy, I saw a really nice surprise:  a violet, peeking out from between the autumn leaves by the steps of the deck out back. Later that morning I found two more while Sis and I were helping him rake leaves (and huge acorns!) from under the big Burr Oak tree.  Violets.  Pretty, deep purple violets!

To say that violets are one of my favorite flowers is, perhaps, an understatement. More than a thing of beauty, violets hold a sentimental significance dating back to my early years. They grew scattered around my grandparents’ lawn, like tiny treasures sprinkled randomly by the Easter bunny each spring. I found them sprouting around the ivy and the ferns and the Lily of the Valley in the yard at home, and would occasionally pick one and take it to my mama. It turned into a sort of ritual, as each year after I went away to school, and even in the years beyond, when the weather began to warm, she’d pick the first violet she saw, press it between a tissue or paper towel, and send it to me.  I would do the same, either with a violet, or a dogwood blossom, or both, just a “Thinking of you” tradition we had.

After Mother’s funeral last April, my sister came in the back door of our parents’ house, and advised me to go sit on the swing under the arbor when I had a moment. Curious, but too numbed by grief to ask why, I did as she’d instructed. Sprouting up around and between the bricks and stones of the walkway were dozens and dozens of violets. . . a deluge of emotional symbols, right there at my feet. Sobbing, I sat on the swing for a long time. “I haven’t left you,” it seemed my mother’s voice was saying to me through those flowers. “I’m right here.”

So. Say what you will about global warming or weird weather or whatever. I’ll take violets in November. Any year.

21 April 1990

21 April 1990

 

A Frog of My Very Own

A Frog of My Very Own

While I often extol the many benefits of living the country life, the truth is, I really do mean it. This little piece of farmland in mid-America is a very good place to be. Nearly every day, I see something in my surroundings that makes me smile.

In the Spring when the weather was cooler, my sister and I were chatting on the phone when she asked: “What is that noise, a locust? Are they out already?” She knew I was sitting on the porch swing out front. “No,” I told her, “those are frogs. Tree frogs, I think.” Just then a baritone voice joined in the song. “And that’s a bullfrog,” I added. His voice was loud, as he was located near the vicinity of the ornamental pond in the flower bed just in front of the porch. We agreed that he was probably trying to lure a lady frog to his pad. Sure enough, the following evening there were two froggy voices bellowing from the area.

The photo above might not be the same frog as the one I heard, but it was fun to see one sitting on the artificial lily pad in the goldfish pond a month or two after that conversation. It brought to mind a memory from my childhood, one involving the bitterness of disappointment, and the sweetness of the eventual outcome. The story goes something like this . . .

Our parents had taken us to visit my dad’s brother and his family, and during the course of the summer afternoon, Daddy and Uncle David took my cousins, my brother and sister, and me on a brief outing to the creek.  It was either Coon Creek or Cuivre River, I’m not sure which. (That’s pronounced “Quiver”, and until about ten years ago, the correct spelling was unknown to me!) Anyway, as the men tried out a new handgun on a snake that was lurking in the shadows, we children looked for snail shells and dried locust skins and other sundry treasures. My brother and sister each caught tiny brown frogs with buff-colored bellies and throats, and cousin Bruce tried to help me catch one, too, but we failed in our efforts before it was time to leave.

“Noooo!!” my three-year-old self moaned to my dad, “I dinna get my fwog yet!” He sympathized, but explained that we had to go, that we’d already been out longer than originally planned, and that Mother and Aunt Evelyn would be worried. My sister assured me that she would share her frog with me. My brother named his frog Herman, and let me touch it gently on its little head. “But I wanna fwog of my vewy own!” I sobbed.

It was a long drive home.

Thirty years went by, and one day, quite out of the blue, the mail brought a little parcel, wrapped in brown paper, from my aunt and uncle. As I removed the paper, the words on the white cardboard box brought the memory rushing back. Uncle David had written “A Frog of Your Very Own” on the side, and within the box was a small, molded resin frog with the sweetest expression on its face. I laughed, and then I cried, and then I called my uncle. “How did you remember?” I asked him.  “How could I forget!” he replied.

So among the knick-knacks and souvenirs on the shelves by my kitchen doorway, there sits a smiling little green frog. He greets me each morning as I come downstairs and head to the coffee pot to start my day, and he’s one of the last items I see as I shut up the house for the night; a symbol of an uncle’s kind heart, and of a wish fulfilled.

A frog of my very own!DSCN4166

Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Sunday of last weekend being Father’s Day, I had to brag on my Daddy just a little. He claimed it was overdone, but I assure you, it was the mere Tip of the Iceberg, as they say. But in an effort to keep myself out of trouble, this week we’ll focus not on my dad, but on his neighbors. Oh boy, does he have great neighbors!

My parents watched their house as it was being built in 1955. Several blocks of similar-style homes were erected in those post-war years, and young families full of Baby Boomer children filled the suburbs. But as the kids grew up and went off to college or work, and moved in to their own homes, it seemed the ol’ neighborhood wasn’t as fun. Housewives didn’t visit over the back fence while hanging out the laundry to dry, because they were almost all gone to work now, or had the luxury of electric clothes dryers, or both. There weren’t as many school-aged kids on the block, or maybe it was just that, with their own offspring grown and gone, my parents had fewer connections with youngsters. It seemed a bit of a blue time.

But change is inevitable, and sometimes if you stick around an area long enough, you’re blessed to see things turn around for the better. My dad might be one of the few original residents on his block now, but some really fantastic people have moved in around him. And a few houses down, Leah and Forrest Hall have opened their front lawn–and their hearts–to create an area of welcome. Following the example of Kristin Schnell (http://www.kristinschell.com/the-turquoise-table/ )they set up a picnic table parallel to the street, delivered invitations to their neighbors, and are fostering a feeling of community every week with a bag of bagels, coffee and conversation, and smiles all around. Everyone is welcome. Ideas are exchanged, family news is shared, and an aura of peace prevails. It’s a ministry of sorts, and one of the best kind, in my opinion, as it involves reaching out to those in one’s immediate vicinity. For while it’s perfectly fine to write a check to provide aid to people half-way around the world, there is something true about the old adage that “charity starts at home”. In this case, it’s an offering of self; of time, of friendship, and of acceptance.

Now, if I could just figure out how to convey the concept of the Turquoise Table to my birddog Jethro BoneDean and the cats, there’d be peace around this ol’ farmhouse, too.  Oh, Leah . . .?!

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For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

From the looks of the social media sites on the internet today, it would seem that a preponderance of people share the notion that their dad is (or was) the greatest one of all. If you subscribe to the belief that we are all Children of God, then we can each have the idea that our Father is supreme over all, and be right! When it comes to human fathers, though, not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and that’s a sad thing.

Before the era of training wheels and child helmets–say around 1959 or so, my dad jogged alongside a little blue Schwinn bicycle, simultaneously bending over at an awkward angle to the side to steady the vehicle and the tenuous rider (my brother) as he learned to achieve balance while coasting or pedaling. Over the next several years, he repeated this process as my sister and I each became old enough to graduate from the tricycle. He also built and demonstrated stilts, rigged a makeshift swing out of a sanded board, a rope and a pulley in the garage, taught us how to play ping pong, pool, chess, and word games, and helped us memorize poetry.  He played the guitar or mandolin for sing-alongs, got us all started on learning piano as children, and even now, at almost 88 years old, is teaching the complex Classic Finger-style 5-string banjo method that he knows to my sister.

My siblings and I have always known that our dad is super smart, and that any new subject that truly interests him will be read about, studied, and analyzed until Daddy has a firm understanding of the matter. Among many other talents, he can sketch, paint signs and pictures, began learning German in his 60s, and can tell a joke better than anyone I know. A lifelong willing student, these past two months he’s been learning things that he might well have hoped he would never need to know:  those various duties that go along with living alone. It’s been hard, and he’s grieving, but he is trying, and it shows.

Daddy, I am so proud of you. Just remember, you weathered the challenge of raising me. That should mean you can do anything!  Happy Father’s Day!

Howard.20sIMG_1395

Going Home Again

Going Home Again

The Thomas Wolfe line “you can’t go home again” is widely quoted, with various connotations.  I have to admit that I’ve not read anything Mr. Wolfe wrote (or at least not that I can recall; high school was a long time ago!), so if the context here is ill-applied, mea culpa.

My parents watched their house being built in 1955, and still live there today.  But they both had roots–hers deeper than his–in a small town about 80 miles away, where we were fortunate to be frequent visitors with both sets of grandparents, a few great-grandparents, some aunts and uncles, and lots of cousins.  To me, this seemed like my rightful “hometown”, and I still stop by there now and then, mostly to place silk flowers at numerous headstones in the cemetery where 5 generations of my kin now rest.  It’s a peaceful place, that hillside by the little white Methodist church, and there are definitely more folks in the cemetery now than there are left in that tiny, sleepy town.

Cruising slowly up Cherry Street after my stop at the kirkyard, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to look at the once-proud old Victorian house that had been my maternal grandparents’ home.  Houses require upkeep, and this one hasn’t received the TLC it deserves.  Roofing, paint, and window work would be a good start, and probably some updates to the heating, plumbing and electrical systems as well.  And it’s possible the foundation could use some shoring up, and those weeds out back ought to be mowed!  I bemoaned the condition of the place to my cousin Kerry L., and received in return his kind words of wisdom, which were something along the lines of:  “Whether the house is there or not, your memories remain.  It’s the people who lived there and the time you spent with them that you miss.”

And you know what?  He is so right.  Just topping the hill on the two-lane highway approaching town, made the words “I see the Bridge!” pop into my head, just as my siblings and I raced to be the first to say them each time we were driven there for a visit.  The sight of the flagpole in the middle of the crossroads by the funeral parlor immediately brings to mind the dinner table tales of Daddy being paid a nickel (and later a dime!) to shimmy up and shine the metal ball at the top.  The fact that the driveway to the house is overgrown now doesn’t dim my joyous recollection of hopping out of the station wagon, racing to the front door to be enveloped in my grandma’s embrace, and promptly being offered some warm-from-the-oven pie crust with cinnamon sugar baked on top.  “These pieces were left over” she would tell us, “would you children like to clean this up?”, as if we were doing her a big favor by assuaging our hunger with a sweet treat before dinner.  Grandpa’s books, the card games he always won (we didn’t mind, he beat Everyone!) Grandma’s paintings, the high-ceilinged bedroom upstairs with tall windows in three walls that were angled so that we could see up and down the street as well as straight across . . . the memories go on and on.  They’re here, in my head and in my heart, where they will stay and be treasured.

And in this way, even through the grief of loss, there is the celebration of what was.  And what it was, was pretty special.

GGM2

Dedication

Dedication

This is a pre-emptive post.  It’s going up ahead of the actual holiday to which it applies, for two reasons.  Reason one is that almost everyone who might read this will likely be busy on the actual date, and reason two is that sometimes ideas for blog posts just pop into my head at the oddest hours and won’t go away until I get up out of bed and write them.  Hopefully after I finish this and click “Post” my ol’ noodle will slow down enough I can get to sleep.  But here goes.

Like me, many of you are probably thinking September 1st?  How did it get to be September already?!  And coming up here in just a few days is Labor Day weekend, the last big blow-out of the season.  Lots of people will be headed to the lake, or having family and friends over for barbeque, or making one more fast trip somewhere fun with the kids before the Fall Frenzy of football and volleyball and harvest festivals devolve into pumpkins patches and corn mazes and then the next thing you know it’s Christmas already.  Sheesh!

But what is Labor Day all about, really?  It’s not just the last three-day weekend of the summer, and not only one of the biggest sale days of the year at the stores.  It is a day set aside to celebrate US:  the workers of America who keep this star-spangled clock ticking.  And so, along those lines, I’m taking this opportunity to say Thank You . . . (in no particular order of importance):

. . .to the men and women of our Armed Forces and all branches of law enforcement, for all that they do to keep us safe.

. . .to all the educators who do their best to learn us stuff, whether we want to know it or not!

. . .to the janitors, dishwashers, laundry workers, street sweepers, sewage plant personnel and garbage collectors who have the unpleasant task of cleaning up our messes.

. . . to the cooks and waitresses and fast food workers who keep us fed.

. . . to the architects, designers, draftsmen and construction workers who provide us safe shelter with style.

. . . to all of those in the vast field of medicine who struggle to keep us healthy in spite of all we do to sabotage their efforts.

. . . to the geniuses of the electronic universe who keep us plugged in, connected across the airwaves, and entertained.

. . . to the farmers of our nation, for without farmers we’d be hard-pressed for food!

. . . to those who labor in manufacturing of all sorts of things, supplying us with endless luxuries.  We are much more fortunate than most of us realize.

and most especially, to two of the hardest working people I’ve ever known.  To Daddy and Mother, for teaching me to read . . . and to write.

Thank you.

Now don’t forget to put away those white shoes.