Thursday, January 22, 2015

Harvesting Ice in the Wintertime

Harvesting Ice in the Wintertime:
Years back one of my aunts-the oldest of six sisters-blessed all of us with a hand-written recipe book featuring my grandmother's recipes-many enjoyed for generations. But that recipe book titled, "Mom's Farm Kitchen", is so much more as my talented aunt divided the book into the four seasons. At the beginning of each section she wrote her memories of growing up on the farm in relationship to that particular season. It's a true treasure-telling not only family stories but of life in general-a documentary of a simpler time.
Today I found myself thinking of one particular Winter entry my aunt wrote as I happened upon Amish harvesting ice not far from where I live. After taking a picture of them hard at work in sub-zero weather, I came home-pulled out the cookbook and read what she'd written about the times my grandfather "hired out with his team of horses and a flat-bedded sleigh to draw ice from the St. Lawrence to fill ice warehouses in town." My aunt wrote about his day that started before dawn. "We were awakened by delicious aromas from the kitchen below. Mom was cooking Dad's breakfast and fixing a lunch for him to take to the river." When she described how he had to bundle up I could imagine him getting ready in the farmhouse kitchen. "I can still see the huge fur coat and cap he wore," she wrote.
Looking out at the Amish hauling the huge chunks of ice I thought about my grandfather. Thanks to my aunt I read about him too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Letters in the Mail

When I came across an 8-page letter written by my mother about her Nursing School's graduating class I realized how much I missed receiving letters in the mail. It used to be so exciting-walking to the mailbox-opening it-and finding a letter with my name on it. I'd skip all the way back down the driveway-waiting to open it once I was back in the house and in my room. Receiving a letter was a personal event. It was like fireworks on the 4th of July. Someone had bothered to sit down and spend time writing to me. Then the envelope had to be addressed-postage had to be placed in that upper right-hand corner-then either dropped in a mailbox or taken to a post office. It was an effort to write a letter-and when I'd receive a letter that effort was appreciated.
I remember having a special box sitting on top of my desk in my bedroom. That's where I kept all my cards and letters. Sometimes I'd go through all of them-taking each one out and rereading them. I loved looking at the various examples of penmanship-all so different. When I look at my mother's I can see her sitting at the table with her hair up in pin curls and bearing down hard on the paper with her pen. When my older brother was in Vietnam I'd receive an occasional letter. His penmanship was very neat. My father-in-law's was a work of art. He considered penmanship quite important-telling a lot about a person. One aunt who lived in Chicago had penmanship similar to my mother's. That's when the postmark came in handy. Receiving a letter all the way from Chicago was most exciting. Receiving any letter was exciting.
Sad to think writing letters is a lost art-a lost event for the upcoming generations. That's why I send my granddaughter little things in the mail. I want her to feel that special excitement email will never offer-an envelope with stickers all over it and her name right smack dab in the middle-sealed-and meant only for her. Preserving little joys in life for the upcoming generations is important. Writing a letter is an expression of caring. Sure beats hitting send on a computer.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

An Old Cookie Cutter Finds a New Little Friend





(My granddaughter calls me Gra-Gra which appears in this Post). It was snowing in the kitchen today. Drifts were piling up all over the counter. The snow wasn't coming from a storm moving up the coast. The snow came out of a bag of flour every time a spoon was dug deeply into the white stuff and then sprinkled over the cookie dough and the rolling pin by a little Christmas cookie-making helper.The process of cutting the dough into shapes took a turn when she asked if I had a tree.
"What ...kind of a tree?"
"A tree to make cookie trees Gra-Gra."

The instant I understood what she was asking I thought of the old cookie cutter I'd left in the drawer. I didn't think she'd want to use it considering it wasn't shiny and new. It didn't look like the others. It was flatter and duller and had some scratches from being used over and over by other Christmas cookie-making helpers so many years ago.
"I do have one of those kinds of trees," I said.
"Where?"
I opened the drawer and told her, "In here."
Her eyes lit up. "Let's find it Gra-Gra."
I knew where it was. Whenever I went into that drawer I'd see it and remember the times when I was a little Christmas cookie-making helper back in a house that sat on a lane. That's the house where Santa would come when I was little. That's the house where I'd cut out cookies with my mother. I don't know how I ended up with that old cutter but I'm thankful I did. To anyone else it was a cookie cutter. To me it was magic. To me it held memories of times spent getting ready for Santa Claus with the scent of the Christmas tree in the front room covered in tinsel. My mother loved tinsel.
So we dug inside that drawer full of spices.
"Look. Here it is."
I pulled it out, thinking she wouldn't like it. But I was surprised.
"Oh Gra-Gra! What a pretty tree."
With that it snowed a little more and that old cookie cutter found itself the center of another little girl's attention. Right in the middle of a snowdrift that tree was planted. Then it was surrounded by sparkling red and green glitter. Lots of it. Piles of it. And then her imagination really kicked in.
"My tree needs a star, Gra-Gra."
I had to think. I knew I had a cake decoration left over from someone's birthday-and it was a star. Going back into that drawer-I found it!
"Oh Gra-Gra. Can you put that on my tree? And then we can pretend it is my birthday!"
Taking some cookie dough, we plopped a bunch of it on top of that old cookie cutter. Then we put that star in the dough and that's when she noticed the yellow star was a candle.
"Can you light my birthday candle on my Christmas tree, Gra-Gra?"
So I did. Then I sang Happy Birthday to that little Christmas cookie-making helper. It snowed some more after that. Christmas really is a magical season!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Annual Children's Christmas Party

When growing up my father was a member of our hometown Lions Club. He'd go to meetings on designated Thursday nights. A few times during the year there'd be formal Club events he and my mother would attend. I loved watching my mother get dressed for those occasions. She'd do her hair a little fancier. Wear a dress fit for a Princess and dab some Toujours Moi perfume behind her ears. From a blue velvet jewelry box she'd choose a sparking piece of jewelry. The end result was an amazing transformation of a woman who'd go off to work nights as head nurse in the ER dressed in her starched uniform to a woman I felt for sure was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen-going out the front door for an evening of dancing with a handsome Prince. But the most memorable Lions Club event of the year was the annual Lions Club Children's Christmas Party. That's when my siblings and I got to dress up and go with our father for the evening to a real restaurant with all the other children of all the other members. It was chaos. Noisy. Exciting. The restaurant was located in our downtown. All the tables were set with white table cloths. We got to order Coca-Cola. We never had soda in the house so that alone made the night worthwhile. The meal was the same for all of the children-usually hamburgers and French fries. Then there'd be dessert followed by the singing of Christmas Carols as a man played a piano. Needless to say, the highlight was the arrival of Santa Claus. Once he sat down, we'd be called up one by one. After a few minutes, Santa would be handed a gift to give to whoever was on his lap. It took me a few years to figure out why some were marked with a "G" and some were marked with a "B". After Santa made his exit, a few more songs were sung. Then we'd get our boots and coats back on, and with our hands holding a gift and small candy canes, we'd follow our father out the door, get into the car and head back home. That was fun too because all the stores were decorated and Christmas lights were everywhere. If it was snowing, it was even better. Looking back, I'm certain all the mothers left at home enjoyed that annual event just as much as the children.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cork Gun Christmases

This post has nothing to do with politics and guns and where one stands and why this and why that. Rather, it's all about a favorite present my older brother received a few Christmases in a row when we were little and certain Santa was responsible for bringing us the best presents in the world. It was a game. It came wrapped in a horizontal-shaped box. It had to because inside waited a cork gun, a steel rod that he'd have to fit into a block of wood at both ends, and plastic-type crows. That rod would be the fence on which he'd sit his plastic-type crows. Their 'feet' fit around the rod so they looked like they were sitting on a fence-waiting to be shot by a little guy thrilled with Santa's present. After all the gifts were opened, he'd construct his fence in the dining room. Then, still in his pajamas, he'd sprawl out on his belly and start shooting. I'd be the one fetching the crows that went flying when hit by a cork. The best part of fetching the corks was when he gave me a turn at shooting the crows. More often than not he didn't have to fetch too many because my eye was off target most of the time. But I didn't care. I was just having fun with my older brother on Christmas morning.