Caramel Apples and Popcorn Balls

Like many kids in the fifties and sixties, the kids on Rubberneck Avenue enjoyed the Halloween season with school parades, PTA festivals, and bake sales; all culminating with the actual Trick or Treating around our initial neighborhood.

Since a majority of us were raised in the Catholic Church, our families had no problems celebrating Halloween.  None of us were exposed to the actual, historic beginnings that were less than church-like.  Some of us had been Brownies and knew that the Girl Scouts of America’s founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was born on October 31st.  For many of us, that was enough validation to stamp Halloween as an “approved” holiday for participation.

Of course, Daddy always told the story that as a boy in West Oakland, he was invited to a Halloween Party in which the invitation said to bring five cents for admission.  Money was dear to many immigrant families; a nickel could buy something of value in the early nineteen hundreds. I can’t imagine too many parents obliging this request but apparently my grandparents did.  So, Daddy and his buddy decided that in order to get their money’s worth, they would each have to take a bite out of all the apples floating in the water bucket that was readied for the traditional Bobbing for Apples game.  He never mentioned being invited back.

Daddy’s newer tradition was taking inventory of our candy bags when we returned each Halloween evening.  This was for the sole purpose of making sure that he got a piece of the good candy, not “the crap that your mother buys” (to hand out).  I grew to understand that I’d lose at least two to three Snickers or Musketeers on average from each year’s haul.  Not a problem.

No one worried about the safety of unwrapped or homemade goodies.  Neighbors knew neighbors; merchants often lived in the same area as their small shops.  Since our homes were only a few houses above the major boulevard, we kids knew just how far and in how many directions or streets we needed to cover to rake in all the special treats that awaited us.  One of the first stops was to pick up our caramel apples with nuts, made ONLY for the Rubberneck Avenue Block Kids. Once we ventured across the street to 3668, we’d show off our costumes, pose for photos with the entire group, and then return our apples to our respective homes before continuing on.  Thankfully, Daddy didn’t realize that we’d left them unguarded.

Around the corner and up a few houses directly opposite our elementary playground were the homemade popcorn balls ready for pick up.  This house was where one of the five and dime ladies lived; she always made sure to have popcorn balls set aside for us children she knew from frequenting the store.

No Halloween was complete until Mom had trudged down to the boulevard earlier that week and purchased fancy cupcakes with black cat and jack-o-lantern plastic décor on top!  Mom didn’t bake, so she always purchased cupcakes for the school bake sale and saved two for us baby girls at home.  (I guess Daddy wasn’t aware of this; we never had to give up our cupcakes.)  The ladies at the bakery across the boulevard were wonderfully kind.  If we accompanied Mom into the bakery and behaved (not that we had a choice), one of the grandmotherly clerks would pull a butter cookie that had drizzled pink and brown icing on it.  They were a wonderful treat and we thankfully nodded, smiled and stayed as polite as we could, gobbling them up quickly before anyone had a chance to utter Not before Dinner!

We were allowed to trick or treat in specific areas and on only certain streets.  As we got older, the parents would let us go as a group.  Some years, we’d split up, depending on how late a parent was in getting home that evening or, if indeed, someone was in trouble and allowed out with his parent only.

One year we took turns ringing doorbells.  Some of us knew that one mother in particular was especially good at losing count and allowing her child to ring most of the bells.  We learned not to repeat that exercise the following year.  As the kids began to move away and less of the original gang lived on Rubberneck, only my baby sister and I were left to carry on.  But the caramel apples appeared each year on schedule.

I was lucky enough to watch our neighbor put the caramel apples together one year; I used to visit her often just to chat; she liked girls and was appreciative of the company in the kitchen as her boys were normally not interested.  She was another particularly neat cook – not a drop or mess anywhere when she prepared meals or desserts for her family.  The counter space was limited, so she deftly used each inch and fifteen minutes later, one would never know that any ingredients had even been removed from the refrigerator or the adjoining overhead cupboards!  Except for the individual green salads with radish slices that graced the four place settings at her kitchen table most evenings, one would have thought no one was even home or that they didn’t cook!  The kitchen was always pristine.

Each year, Laurel School held its Halloween parade after lunch in the early afternoon.  This was our time to shine, walking up and down the side streets and in front of the five and ten, the soda shop, the theater, then back up toward the school.  The route was always the same, so the ladies at the five and ten and our neighbors knew exactly when to expect to see us passing by.

Each class walked together, the younger ones holding onto a rope to stay in line.  It was rare to see a store bought costume, except for the simple masks or princess hats or tiaras.  The costumes were normally homemade; either sewn from a Simplicity pattern or pulled and assembled into the final character from the “dress up” drawers each year.

Dress Up was a popular pastime and fairly cheap; especially if a Big Sis used to sew or had been a bridesmaid several times. There were usually some really good skirts and formals to choose from.  Mom was very creative when it came to costumes.  Unfortunately, her creativity didn’t kick in until the last minute each year…we never knew what we were going “to be” until we “became” a teacher, a ghost, a princess, whatever Mom convinced us we looked like; and believe me, Mom could convince you!

I’d have given my eye teeth to have had the Red Riding Hood costume that a friend’s mother had made for her in the third grade!  She had a red hooded cape with a basket of goodies, including the obligatory napkin covering the contents; just like all the story books!  My friend was a sweet girl to begin with. I could almost believe that she had indeed been Red Riding Hood at one time!

By sixth grade, when our cousins had outgrown some really neat stuff, I was lucky enough to wear a Spanish Senorita black lace dress.  That was particularly special.  With my dark, long hair allowed to hang loose instead of braided that day, I felt very pretty, very Spanish, and very special.  A mantilla over my tresses and this was enough to satisfy this little girl’s fantasy at eleven years old.

I was now in sixth grade, so this would be my swan song. Mom was adamant.  Once I entered junior high, I would be too old to trick or treat.  My role would transition into staying at home, being more “adult” and handing out candy to the little critters from thereafter.

 

DNA of Carpetbaggers

I was really captured by the Great Society Program begun by President Johnson.  I told Daddy that I thought this was the correct thing to do: to give our country’s citizens a fair shake at a new beginning; it just seemed relative to the Civil Rights movement, and I saw the president’s vision as nothing short of admirable.

Daddy was a fair man but a bit more cautious; he agreed that President Johnson’s ideas were based on many good and righteous things. No one could argue against a war on poverty; but in Daddy’s experience, he argued that giving something to people in need didn’t necessarily make them stronger; nor did it teach them to take care of themselves. Daddy understood the human limitations in the president’s vision.

So, what did the Great Society actually accomplish?

Unfortunately, carpetbaggers selling a great society still exist some forty years later; some as intimidating and as mesmerizing as filmdom’s Elmer Gantry…perhaps that classic should be written into the curriculum for the junior high level.  I say junior high because of the great number of emotions and popular fads that tend to distract an already difficult and distracting decade for teenagers.

Sadly, one needn’t research Hollywood’s files to recognize the DNA of carpetbaggers.  They exist in current pop culture as well as political arenas; unfortunately, the more fantastic the dog and pony show, the more effective; especially on the lesser educated masses.

How our country has cheated our native born youth is despicable.  My assumption that all American children had access to an excellent education was quickly corrected once I experienced some conversations in a nation-wide call center. For over ten years, I discovered an ever decreasing, socially inept group of individuals from all races and ethnicities (no one region of our country was left untouched). Sadly, on any given day a number of calls would display the following traits:

Ignorant; these individuals thru no fault of their own could not read at a third grade level; they often struggled to read the manuals and, in some cases, had to be walked through the simplest instructions.  Funny how polite and thankful they could be…

Stupid; these individuals had, to their own credit, honed a “you can’t teach me anything; I already know” attitude; odd that several of them were degreed and in the professions; their natural layman’s sixth sense had been woefully affected by too many tight neck ties …

Illiterate; these individuals were often harder to discern; one had to listen carefully; then, when they walked through the step by step instructions referencing only the illustrations, it was at that point the light bulb went on! One realized just how dependent they were on others to survive in our written word world.  They rarely admitted their inability; often, they profusely thanked me for being so patient.

Uncivil; in this group, individuals could sling insults and four letter words at an incredible speed! They hurled them at both men and women representatives (they were extremely even-handed in their brusque manner).  As the years passed, their language (always unprintable) increased beyond incredible!!!

Apparently, arrogance has slowly replaced much of the civility of social graces; like mob rule. Supported by a group mentality, a bad attitude offers not only strength in numbers but also bi-partisan money-making opportunities by keeping victims at hand.  A few irresponsible individuals in protest, available to argue their talking point entitlements, make for great drama, especially on YouTube.

Perhaps we need to redefine the term: Affirmative Action.

Let America’s citizenry affirm:

  • That legal Americans only (by birth or process of naturalization) can work to further their education.
  • Let the border states uphold both their own states’ laws and the constitutional republic’s laws.
  • When possible, subject captured illegals to either deportation or community service – let them work for the money our country gives them in hospital care and other program services.

We have youth of all ethnic groups that were born here.  They are being used, demeaned, and ignored while politicians clamor for this year’s electoral votes.  I am appalled that we are still cheating the youth of this country, just because they do not meet the “hot minority of the moment”.

You are being used by politically savvy mouthpieces… wake up! Demand better! Or, better yet, leave the party and vote independently…YOUR voice of disgust and embarrassment over these political hacks must be heard!

We don’t need Spain sending representatives over to count our ballot boxes.  We need upstanding citizens answering to their local county clerk and volunteering to count the ballots.  If you remember nothing else, a constitutional republic begins with WE THE PEOPLE.  Exert your independent voice and get involved before your citizenship is declared moot.

When Life’s Dreams Are Interrupted

There was no doubt in my mind; the effect must have been the same…

I’ll bet you never thought you’d live through anything like this again.

No, I never imagined…thought we’d seen it all….

That was the conversation between my ex mother-in-law and me on Wednesday morning, September 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Towers fell.

For her, 9-11 was the second time she’d witnessed infamy on American shores; she and others her age remembered the radio address that alerted a sleeping giant about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then President Roosevelt had called December 7th, 1941, a day of infamy.  That description would sear itself into History’s future chronicles.

Like many young-marrieds of that decade, her husband would later leave to serve in the Pacific.  She would stay behind, living close to family, raising their first born, the son who had arrived in ’43.  True to character, she worked at the army base located in the local airport of the small, Northern Californian town.

And like most military wives (then and now), she relied on help; often from a favorite cousin, who made sure that she and the little guy had enough to eat.  With rationing and a family of his own to feed, this cousin often hunted as did his friends to bring home extra meat.  She admitted to me that had it not been for him, she and her son would have made do with much less. When I first met them, the mutual devotion was apparent, even after thirty years.

Wartime and necessity had changed her.  She’d always been rather spunky, but she became a real fighter if need be on behalf of her baby son’s needs. When her little boy needed new shoes (he was fast outgrowing the only pair he had), she’d tried all the normal avenues to no avail; a toddler’s shoe wasn’t necessarily regarded as priority in a very limited, wartime marketplace; sizes and specific items were difficult to come by.

Neither the doctor nor the local authorities were any match for this young tigress. She personally presented her son’s curled little toes inside his only shoes to whatever authority would listen, and did so until she’d obtained a correctly fitted, newer pair of shoes for her son.

The Greatest Generation?  Likely true.  History does repeat itself, however, and that should not preclude us from supporting our own greatest:  the volunteer sons and daughters who currently serve under our flag.  Those of us born after World War II would view September 11 as the closest we had come to living with war on our country’s shores.

More than ten years later, it thankfully remains the closest experience for Americans in our homeland.  We are still safe to plan and dream here. Much credit goes to the many servants in and out of uniform who are diligently fighting the undeclared war against our Judeo- Christian heritage.

Loaves and Stripes

Having been raised by older parents who lived through the Great Depression and WWII,  I was keenly aware what America and its values and opportunities had afforded them and their immigrant parents.  Lessons were repeated year-round, during big and small occasions, on everything from soup to nuts or, in the case of our home, from bread to uniforms.

I was very young and had helped Mommy carry home some of the groceries that day.  I was tall enough now to help unload the items, so she instructed me to put the fresh loaf of French bread on top of the washer, a surface that was often used for spillover storage in our kitchen.  So, I pulled out the long loaf and plopped it down.  Mommy immediately picked up the loaf and, turning the label and bread right-side up, gently replaced it back onto the washer’s surface, explaining to me as she did:

We never put a loaf of bread upside down or treat it roughly, Annette.  You should always lay it down with its top crust facing up; this is a matter of showing the proper respect and thanks for the food we have on our table. We need to appreciate all we have, Honey…

That made quite an impression on me; but the story wasn’t finished.  Mommy shared how when my grandfather had first come to America, he tasted the soft white bread and thought it was cake.  Throughout my growing years, Mom’s grocery lists always differentiated between French bread and American Bread, i.e. normally either Roman Meal or Wonder Bread.

Testimonials from Hollywood stars were in full swing; commercials first appeared in black and white on families’ original round screen televisions; those families who didn’t yet have their own TV could congregate down on the boulevard and watch the exciting new technology through Uncle Al’s TV Sales and Repair shop window.   Even Annie Oakley solemnly stood there and, with conviction, promised the parents just how good Wonder Bread could be for their children; it helped build strong bodies in eight ways!  What parent could dispute that?

Many years later, I married a man eight years older than I; one of my more enjoyable one-liners was reminding him in front of others that by the time I was born, food science had advanced so much that Wonder Bread now promised to build strong bodies twelve ways!   The line was simple but effective.

Then of course there were the men who wore uniforms – police, military, didn’t matter.  We were to address them with absolute respect.    Regarding the veterans around us, I was instructed by both parents not to ask any questions about their war years.  Daddy would later clarify:

The ones that seem to talk a lot are usually the ones that saw the least; don’t believe everything you hear.  Learn to watch who the quiet ones are, Annette; they are most likely the men who experienced the horrors of war and saw the most hell.  You’ll never hear them admit how bad it was, or even talk about their experiences, not even after years have passed…

Most of Daddy’s peers had either served in the war or had worn a uniform in some capacity.  Daddy was too old to enlist, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t serve in some capacity, so he left his pattern-making job and helped build semis for the war effort.  I grew up hearing stories of how my family and others learned to live with rationing of such things as sugar, meat, fuel,  ladies hosiery…nothing that I would ever really comprehend well, since Mommy and I just walked down the boulevard to pick up sugar when we needed it.

The war may have ended, but the life style habits were deeply rooted and affected our upbringing.  We wasted little in our home, and we were grateful for everything, no matter how minor the item might be in the greater scheme of things.  Whether in private or in public view, we children were expected to behave at all times, which included please, thank you, and responding when spoken to.  We celebrated Thanksgiving and all American holidays, flying the flag on each day that the local merchant’s calendar instructed us to do so!

Our American Flag even flew from our front window sill on July 20th, 1969, when man first walked on the moon.  Mom and Dad insisted and I obliged, as it was easier now for me to reach the holder fastened above shoulder level.  Among that summer’s snapshots is a photo of our flag on display in front of our home; there are no markings on the back, but I know it was taken on that same day because it meant so much for our family to share in our country’s pride and greatness.

 

 

Heaven Will Never Be The Same

It is The Fourth of July, 2019, and our country is celebrating the 243rd Independence Day.  Other anniversaries thus far this year will have included the 75th Anniversary of D-Day on June 6th and the coming 50th Anniversary of Man Landing on the Moon on July 20th.

As with every morning, our radio is on and I’ve awakened to a plethora of patriotic music.  I still recognize the military anthems of each branch; unlike most of my generation, I actually played a couple of them on my accordion.  Such were the expectations of my childhood home; in retrospect, apparently God and Daddy knew what was best for me; the music lessons proved to be character-building.  As a Baby Boomer, however, guitar lessons would have been the preferred choice to “fit in” among peers in The Sixties.  After forty years, I have since recovered from adolescent embarrassment…kinda.

 Today on this July 4th, I am mourning the loss of two men whom I admired greatly and who admittedly influenced this writer’s belief in the American Dream and my religious perspective.  Both were independent thinkers and not afraid to take risks that challenged traditional practices in their very different professional fields.

One I never had the pleasure of meeting, but he once gained national interest when he challenged the American public: “If you can find a better car, buy it!” 

The other was a preacher whose intellect and service to His Savior engaged and befriended this soon-to-be-divorced mother of one; he and his wife welcomed us into their church family.

With his wife at his side and five little critters to tend to, this pastor challenged the traditional practices and availed himself to the greater community.  He didn’t wait for the spiritually hungry to enter the church. He walked out among the neighborhoods and met people where he found them. He joined community service organizations and learned about each town’s dynamics. 

He was a student always, an articulate speaker who found God’s truths and built future sermons from his library which included vintage Catholic writings as well as from some of Sunday’s comic strips.  A voracious reader, he once admitted he couldn’t spell well and depended heavily on spell check.   Once this admission was voiced, I wasted no time in secretly presenting him with a Scrabble game for his next birthday.  Eventually I was forced to confess (an old Catholic habit) and the chuckles and much detested board game remained in his household even after several moves to other pastoral assignments!

I had the pleasure of his friendship for more than thirty years.  He proofed my first published book and, in his signature dry humor, admitted that he would allow it in his church library, with the caveat, “But what do I know, I’m just a heretic” (wink, wink).

Other memories remain, not the least was our final get together here in our Washington, Missouri home.  It had been fifteen years since we’d seen each other but always, always, the occasional email picked up where we left off. And I was allowed to once again banter back and forth, trading barbs and dry wit, enjoying the fellowship with our spouses’ smiling approval. 

Health issues presented themselves, spine deterioration and hearing loss which forced him to retire after thirty-three years of ministry.  But he pursued and, with the successful medical technology of cochlear implants, regained “his life again” (his words) and continued to mentor young pastors and former students, in addition to teaching high school math and history; in some cases developing the curriculum for on-line courses.

He was my first “adopted minister” and, as he was quick to point out to me, certainly the MOST entertaining! His passing has left me heartbroken but comforted and grateful that God’s plan allowed us one final fellowship.  In true dry wit form, I’m smiling at his arrival in Heaven on the same day as that CEO…  

May the angels never run out of vitamins…

Got Juice?

Husbands and wives have lots to learn about housekeeping practices, including the manner in which the family refrigerator is organized. Take designer containers, juice keepers, bottles or pitchers; do you know which ones are normally used for breakfast juice or leftover coffee at your love nest address?

My father learned this the hard way, having mistakenly heated up the contents of a covered glass jar and served it to my mother for her Sunday morning coffee.  Unfortunately, olive juice does not taste anything like coffee, even with added cream and sugar.  Fast forward a few years ago.  My Rogue arrived home before me and during the course of the evening commented on how “very sweet” that juice is, but he’d get used to it.  My immediate reaction was to ask “What juice?”, but after he had described the particular pitcher, I made an immediate beeline to the kitchen.  No need to panic, I assured myself.  I removed the pitcher from the refrigerator, filled the hummingbird feeder, and then settled in for my weekend’s quiet vigil.

Seven Sure Signs that my hubby mistakenly drank from the pitcher containing hummingbird syrup:

Number 7:  When his favorite barber asked, “Want the usual?” he responded “No, just feather the sides, please.”

Number 6:  He changed his voter registration to the Green Party.

Number 5:  He was the only fan sitting at the tennis match who moved his entire body from side to side during each and every rally.

Number 4:  He insisted on our choosing a garden theme with lots of red accents for the master suite.

Number 3:  He now prefers Landscaper’s Challenge to Monday Night Football.

Number 2:  He showed an unusual and renewed curiosity in my old houseplants.

Number 1:  He continually switches from chair to loveseat to sofa and back to chair during cocktails.

Innocent Bystander

For the most part, my father was a very unassuming man in attitude and countenance.  It didn’t help him at the age of ten to have been compared to his older, more handsome siblings.  All nine were lined up in front of some old French woman who had decided it was her position in the small community to rate the physical attractiveness of each child.  She began with the girls, remarking how tres jolie each one was, and similarly with the young beaus of the family, when she came to my father.  This was the English translation:

“This one’s homely, but he’ll improve”.

To hear Daddy tell this story many years later, he said he immediately hung his head down in shame.  A remark like that stuck.  He could laugh about it now, and for the better part of his life he adapted a self-deprecating nature.  He could be competitive, however! He excelled in sports and was a great ball room dancer, so he made his own mark in the pool of available young men in West Oakland.

Daddy was still a rather bashful young man, often turning down a drink with the requisite Non, Merci (en francais), rarely accepting anything unless he was completely comfortable in the situation.  Years later,  he shared how he had learned his lesson the hard way, having passed up lots of good port and sherry over the years at Mom’s aunt’s house, wherein a guest would only hear an offer once per visit (and visits could be as long as two or three hours).  Daddy smartened up after a few times and quickly accepted whatever cocktail was first offered! My guess is that his desperate Yes, please was more than likely uttered in English; his French was very poor (as Mom reminded him and constantly corrected his pronunciation).

Clothes figured in there somewhere, but the young man who had once cut a slender form in the required barbershop jacket and straw hat had succumbed to the more comfortable striped overalls and gunmetal work pants that so expressed his tradesman persona.  This was the man I knew; the one who was lovingly cared for by Mom.

Overalls saved the knees from linoleum laying wear and tear. Daddy in overalls saved Mom a lot of fussing; for one thing, she didn’t have to constantly remind him to Pull up your pants! Also, as Mom continually emphasized to him, the stripes made him look thinner. Seriously, for a man standing at five foot four and one hundred eighty, this was somewhat of a stretch in my view.

But dear Mom wasn’t through with my father yet!  She already scolded him when he didn’t part his hair just perfectly.   As Daddy once retorted:

I could be lying in the box and you’d still be complaining my hair wasn’t combed just right!

For Daddy, Mom’s corrections became a game.  Regarding his French accent; he’d repeat her corrected sentence and dramatically extend the last syllable, emphasizing the rolling r’s and the lingering a’s just to irk Mom… This worked; Mom might be shaking her head in dismay, but she was laughing as we, at his irreverent, playful responses!

Daddy had never been a scholar, but his wood working and cabinetry were among the best of his class. He was not exactly a Jesus the Carpenter type as depicted by European artisans, but he was a man whose skilled hands, work ethic, and compassionate demeanor were evident in his countenance. My father was without pretense and very unassuming, even when he had reason to be extremely proud of his accomplishments as a son, a husband, a father, and not the least of these, a first generation born American.

Thus, I always found it comical that, no matter the occasion or the opportunity,  most of our family pictures with Daddy included his sitting or standing among us, looking as though he ‘d accidentally walked into the wrong group photo… as though he were an innocent bystander who just happened to get caught in that particular Kodak moment…