Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cornfields and Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers once said, "Play is really the work of childhood." Growing up in the country my cousins and I were playing all the time. Not with toys, but outside, taking advantage of what nature provided us every season of the year. We never went to Disneyland. We never even thought to ask to go. Why would we. We had our own theme park. In the winter we'd be skating on the creek just out back and down the hill. It didn't matter how cold it was. That never stopped us. We'd even be down there skating at night. With the moon above and the stars glistening that was the best time of all to go skating on that old creek that turned into a waterway in the summertime-providing us even more fun as we'd guide our rafts made from telephone poles on endless adventures. It was named Sucker Creek for a reason. Whenever any of those suckers got on our rafts we'd take our steel poles used for steering the rafts and cast them back into the murky water.

Fall proved to be just as much fun especially with cornfields spreading out as far as we could see. It was the cornfield next to our grandparents' farmhouse that got most of our attention. Being little, it seemed massive. Once we entered it, we disappeared which is probably what we wanted to do so no adults could see us as we each found our spot and made homes in the corn. We'd move cornstalks aside-bring them down and then stomp on them until we felt we had enough space. Then we'd create a kitchen-a living room-a bedroom with a cornstalk bed. We'd play in the middle of the cornstalks for what seemed like hours. We'd visit each other. Create imaginary friends. We'd even spy on adults not too far away. Besides making our homes, we had fun just running through the field. We were making corn mazes long before it was a popular thing to do. Running as fast as we could, most times we'd keep our eyes shut and our heads down because the leaves on those stalks were sturdy. They'd whip us in the face-scratch us most anywhere we weren't covered up but that never stopped us. That was the price we had to pay for playing in those tall stalks with funny tassels at their tops waving in the breeze.

Our grandfather never said a thing about the crushed cornstalks in the middle of that field when it was time for harvesting them. But then, he never said a thing about our hosting circuses in the barn or sitting on his tractor and pretending to take it out back-down the hill-and across the plank bridge to the backfields. Maybe we amused him with our playing. Maybe he understood what Mr. Rogers was saying about Play. We certainly did. We were quite serious about our work no matter the season..

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Stories Told In Braided Rugs

Funny what you remember growing up. At the time it might have seemed insignificant but looking back some of those memories prove priceless. My grandmother filled what little idle time she had using her hands to create. Crocheting to sewing-to braiding rugs-it didn't matter. In the evening she'd sit in her chair and her hands became her instruments. That generation never wasted time. There was no time to waste. Little did she realize that some of what she created would live on to tell her story-a family story-to generations that would follow. That especially rang true of her braided rugs.

Growing up we were aware that no garment was too old to be considered a candidate in one of her braided rugs. Before anything was thrown out, it would go to my grandmother. She would make the decision if it would get that second chance. More often than not, it survived her test. After that initial 'interview' a garment would be stripped of buttons, zippers, bias tape, rick rack-anything that could be recycled and used again. From this process came a great collection of zippers and tape and a button bag brimming with buttons of all colors and sizes. That bag came in handy when we'd play, "Button! Button! Who Has the Button!" Once the garment was clear of bobbles, my grandmother would cut and rip it into strips. Then the strips were rolled into a ball until there were enough balls of strips of fabric from other garments to braid together and create a rug. It was common to see her sitting in her chair with strips of fabric spread out on the floor and as she wove them all together the strips became shorter and shorter. Her rugs were like the storyline in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There were small rugs-medium-size rugs-and great big rugs. When one was finished, it would sit on the floor for awhile so it could be stepped on to eventually get the stitching evened out.

Those rugs provided my cousin and I with a game of seek and find. Lying on the floor, we'd inspect new rugs created-looking to see if we could recognize any old pieces of clothing woven in to place. It was fun finding what we'd considered something old and tattered given new life and a place center stage for all to see for years to come. Discovery led to stories about that garment-who it belonged to-certain times when it had been worn. When my aunt who lived with my grandmother passed away years after we'd lost my grandmother, those rugs were given to family members. Those stories continue to be told. Included in the stories are memories of the woman who'd created the braided rugs while sitting in her rocking chair-using her hands as instruments-weaving stories that will never be forgotten.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Discarded Underwoods

I grew up using a typewriter. I must have been eight or nine when I'd take my brother's typewriter into my room-shut the door-and spend what seemed like hours at my pine desk my grandfather made me one year for Christmas and type my stories. The typewriter was the last stage of my process as I'd have the stories written out on lined paper and ready to go under my penname of Maggie O'Shea. I often wonder whatever happened to those early masterpieces or the notebooks with my scribbles. Or that typewriter my brother never knew I borrowed without asking.

The use of notebooks continued as I grew up. And so did the use of typewriters. I loved the process-the art of typing. Loved the sound of keys hitting the paper and the bell dinging at the end of a line telling me to pull the shift arm to go back and begin another line. White out was a blessing. If I didn't have any I'd go looking for an eraser. If I couldn't find an eraser I would pull that particular sheet of paper out-put a new one in and start all over. That never bothered me. That was the way it worked back then.

When computers started edging their way from offices in to homes, my daughters told me over and over I should buy one. That way I could store all my material and when comfortable I could use one to not only write my stuff but send it, tweet it, zoom it around the world if I wanted to. At first, I had no interest. I still had my typewriter in its case although typewriter ribbons were getting harder to find. I still loved using legal pads to write out whatever I was working on-and then rewrite it using my typewriter. I had a system. I'd never have use for a computer. Not me!

Now I can't imagine writing without using a computer. I started reluctantly with a laptop after my daughters kept at me. I wouldn't admit it, but I fell in love with that thing the minute I turned it on. After a few instructions I was on my own. I was told I couldn't break it. I was advised to save stuff as I went along. They were right. I haven't broken anything yet. I am now tweeting and writing and saving and shifting sentences and deleting and downloading and amazed by the time I save and curious as to what I ever did without my computer.

I wonder if some day I'll find a discarded antique called a computer decaying next to a barn with no one to care about it but the meadow moles and chipmunks and rabbits as rain turns to snow and the wind swirls about its silent keyboard.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

In Search of Pumpkins

Since being blessed with two beautiful grandchildren a tradition has taken hold and continues every year about this time. We pick a Saturday or Sunday to go out back and harvest the pumpkins. The only problem this year is the lack of pumpkins. I've only found seven and that just won't work. So this week my son and I went on a search for pumpkins. With roadside stands-commercial businesses and Amish farms, pumpkins are not hard to find. We chose to ride down a back road and find an Amish farm. And we found the perfect Amish farm. So perfect that I went back a few more times. They know me now. They wave Hi as I pull up in front of their sprawling mass of beautiful pumpkins. Of course having little Amish children running around barefoot adds to the backdrop.

Soon we will be going out back to "pick" pumpkins. Little will those grandchildren know that most of those pumpkins are imports. All they will see will be a mass of orange ready to be touched and patted and brought home in wait of Halloween. I think as parents or grandparents we've all had to "help" things along or do something to make a moment easier while never confessing to anyone.

I remember back when one of my daughter's had a baby rabbit. She was quite young. She loved that rabbit. Played with that little rabbit all the time. She'd carry it around like a kitten. She'd talk to it-even read the rabbit stories. One day I found the rabbit in its cage. It had died over night. While I realized it could have been one of those 'teaching' moments, it was one I was not ready to teach-not then anyway. So I ran to the farm where we bought the rabbit. Luckily, they had one that looked just like the little one we'd lost-same size, same coloring. I brought it home and put it in the cage-praying the little rabbit had the same disposition as the other little rabbit. It turned out that rabbit had it all. My daughter never realized the difference and they were best of friends for years. Since then, my daughter has had more than a few of those teaching moments I avoided when the little rabbit passed away. Those moments are part of living. We all have them.

I'm also reminded of the time when I was trying to make a homemade gingerbread house with all the trimmings one evening close to Christmas. The kids were little and they were "helping." For some reason nothing was working. The walls kept caving in. I think it was because the icing I made didn't have the right consistency. Or maybe it was because they'd cry and moan uncontrollaby whenever a wall fell in, sending sprinkles and hard candy all over the place. I decided to get them to bed. I told them I would work on it. And I did. Once they were asleep I got in the car and went to the grocery. I bought a kit with a 'prefab' gingerbread house. I brought it home. I put those beautiful prefabricated walls up-glued them with icing included in the kit and adhered some of their candy in place. The kids were thrilled in the morning. That evening we finished our project. Not one scream or moan. Just lots of laughs and happy memories!
So very soon pumpkins will be discovered with delight. Then we will come inside for some of my 'Witch's Brew'-a homemade soup that has become part of this tradition. It will be the same tradition even though most of the pumpkins about to be 'planted' outback are immigrants from a farm not too far away. That won't matter. They'll never know. Years from now when they too are adults-maybe with their own children-I may tell them. And maybe by then they will have had to help along a gingerbread house or go in search of pumpkins. That's when they will understand.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Old Grinder In The Cupboard

Funny how something simple can trigger memories-like the old steel manual grinder my mother would bring out from a kitchen cupboard during the Holidays. Taking all the parts out of the cardboard box, she'd give them a good washing before she attached it to a leaf of the table and put it all together. Then she'd place her big yellow bowl on the floor underneath it to catch the juices from whatever she'd be grinding. For Thanksgiving that meant cabbage and carrots-maybe an onion; for Christmas that meant cranberries, oranges, and apples. We all loved doing the grinding-especially the cranberries because they popped when going through the grinder and the juice would squirt all over the place. When my mother wasn't in the kitchen, I'd load it with cranberries and grind them as fast as I could. It sounded like fireworks-blending right in with whatever Christmas album my mother had playing in the other room.
Among the vegetables my son brought home the other day from Steps 2 Grow Garden, was a cabbage. Not your ordinary super market cabbage-but one heck of a huge cabbage.It was an armful. And he carried it in the house smiling all the way. I knew I had to do somehing with it sooner than later and today-with the rain falling-I thought of that old grinder. You see, I have that grinder. It sits in my cupboard in the same carboard box as when my mother was its keeper. I am not one to use fancy blenders with endless options and zillions of buttons or coffee pots and toasters with brains. I don't even have an iPhone. That old grinder is my speed. I treasure it-and so today as the rain kept falling, I pulled it out-washed it off and set it up alongside a kitchen counter. I brought out carrots and cleaned them as well as an onion. I put a bowl on the floor to catch the juices and called my son to come and help.
I explained how the grinder worked as I cleaned that magnificent cabbage and sliced it into wedges. Then I asked him if he wanted to keep filling the top with the vegetables or do the grinding. He said he'd try grinding.
We started with cabbage because there was so much of it. Once we got going, he'd mix it up with a carrot-a slice of onion. Soon he was going full speed-telling me when to add what and to make sure the bowl on the floor was catching all the juice. And while we worked, we talked about that old grinder. I told him about Holidays of long ago when I was a little girl out in the country. I told him about the times I'd get in trouble over the cranberries popping out onto the kitchen floor and the time my mother got laughing so hard when she was the cranberry grinder and one jumped out and hit her in the face. He told me he might not be able to eat the salad we were making because he might choke. You see he has a fear of choking after choking on a candy bar one day years ago when we were in the car. Since then, he stands to eat-thinking that will help him if he chokes. Introducing new foods is sometimes tricky.
But not today! I gave him a small poriton just to see what happened-that led to two more helpings! He loved it. He asked if we could bring the rest of the cabbage/carrot salad to Steps 2 Grow on Monday to share.That's what it takes-one Step at a Time and each Step is one more Step out of the Darkness.
That old grinder proved its worth yet again. And now he wants to grind cranberries when Christmas gets here!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Family Trees and Trees

Still to this day the rustling of leaves on poplar trees takes me back to my grandparents' farmhouse where stately poplars lined the cinder driveway. When Halloween came around, those trees and their skinny branches way up high became witches and black cats-goblins or monsters especially when an orange moon lit up the night, casting spooky shadows over the fields.
With four houses of relatives all in a row, it became a summer tradition of joining suppers in a particular backyard full of scotch pines. The shade was welcomed as was the scent of those trees as salads and hotdogs-hamburgers and all the trimmings were enjoyed. Later, while adults sat around enjoying a cup of coffee, the kids would play baseball-running from one tree to another.

From a big old tree sitting on the banks of sucker creek, holding our rope swing in its grasp so we could run real fast, take a leap, grab hold of the rope with our hands and situate our feet on the knot at the bottom as over the creek we'd soar and maybe land on our feet on the other side-avoiding quite possibly the biggest rock ever-to trees we'd climb and dangle from branches-to trees we'd decorate or spread a blanket underneath and play and pretend-so many trees are wrapped within our family trees.

And as famiies grow, so do the memories involving new trees in our family trees-like the maple tree out our back door. No matter the season that tree stands tall-offering shade and comfort; astonishing colored leaves to a breathtaking backdrop when the leaves are gone and it stands proud with its branches bare. That maple tree is the center of activity-with swings hanging and a sandbox nearby and chairs to sit in and talk as the summer breeze whispers by.
My son and I have had many a conversation under that tree-some are serious-others a hodgepodge of topics. Sometimes we count how many bass boats go by. Other times we guess the colors of cars before we see them. Today it was a serious conversation. I couldn't get him out of his funk-until I noticed the moon way up high. It reminded me of another conversation I had with a certain 5-year old on her last sleepover. We were out on the pull-out sofa on the back porch discussing the moon.

"I love the moon," I told her.
"Sometimes you can see the moon when the sun is out, Gra-Gra!"
"You can? I am going to look tomorrow."
"I said sometimes, Gra-Gra. You can't see it every day."
"Whenever I do see the moon when the sun is out I will think of you."
"Make a funny face Gra-Gra! Like this!"
And that's when I got my son out of his funk. I imitated a funny face that really was funny that night out on the back porch. He laughed-and we started counting bass boats as we sat underneath that maple tree.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Pencil Case Full of Chubby Crayons

When recently walking down a certain aisle of a discount store, I found myself drawn to all the school supplies filling the shelves. Signs shouting special pricing-great deals-hurry while supplies last-were everywhere as were children with parents obviously immersed in Back to School shopping. And there I was-still infatuated by all those products just as I used to be when I was the one taken to the store to shop for Back to School. When it was me, it was never the clothes or shoes that interested me. It was always the pencils-the erasers and glue and paper and scissors and notepads and folders. All those aromas of all those things coming together was exciting to me. Besides going back to school, it meant spending even more time at my desk in my bedroom-writing-drawing-creating whenever I could.

Back then there were no official discount stores. We had a Newberry's and a Woolworths. They sat side by side in our downtown. Everyone would go from one to the other when doing Back to School shopping. Both had soda fountains. Both had lots of school supplies. Newberry's even had an escalator!

There was only one item that I took my time in choosing from all those others on the shelves. And that was a pencil case. I loved pencil cases. I loved them all. Some had zippers-some had drawers. The drawers were fun to fill with crayons and erasers. I had so many erasers. Some were pink and some were gray. The pink tasted the best! Some pencil cases had a plastic ruler on top that you'd slide downward to get your pencils sitting inside. I had a few of those. My very most favorite pencil case ever belonged to a friend when I was in kindergarten. It had all sorts of drawers full of chubby crayons. My friend always used his own crayons when we did projects. The rest of us used school crayons filling a box that sat in the middle of the table. I remember thinking how lucky that boy was with all those drawers and all those crayons. Even now-whenever I see him-I think of that amazing pencil case with so many drawers and chubby crayons that were the envy of a kindergarten class in a neighborhood school so long ago.