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.

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.

 

 

Paste Buckets and Sweet Peas

Daddy prided himself on his yearly garden.

No paste bucket that had been emptied at the floor covering shop went unused; many came home to be repurposed as part of the vegetable garden; the buckets enabled Daddy to stretch the garden area.  He planted pepper plants, some zucchini plants and even tried growing pole peas in them, allowing the vines to trail upward along the old lattice fence to reach the late afternoon sun.

Because we had only a limited amount of garden bed in the backyard, Daddy used the area well, packing enough tomato plants against the pink stucco wall (side garage wall belonging to next door) to feed the third world …we were constantly amazed at how many plants Daddy could pack into the seven by ten bed!  Radishes, Lettuce, parsley, thyme, some Swiss chard and even kohlrabi – this latter veggie had been introduced to us by our Czech neighbor.   Often, marigolds filled spots in between the edibles to fight the garden pests.

The next door neighbor would drive into his garage, hear my father cussing and look over the wall.  Daddy would be on his knees, pulling the tomato worms off his precious plants, cussing at them as though it would make them leave and never return. Return they did and I can still hear the Italian chuckling and shaking his head, then admonishing Daddy to be sure all the worms were off “his” plants.  A repeated scenario, his reminding Daddy that the property line reached 10 inches deep into our garden was an on-going joke; in our neighbor’s eyes, all the plants against the heat-holding stucco wall were technically his.

Hey, Brochier…make sure you water those plants really well when you get through cussing out the worms…I want to see a good crop this year…

I can’t write verbatim my father’s response as it actually had little to do with gardening.  Suffice it to say that the two bantered on like this for years, one cajoling the other and the other never failing to come back with his best retort.

Daddy wasted nothing.  He kept old coffee cans and other trays and containers from any nurseries to plant garden seeds ahead, so he often dried seeds from his own beefsteak tomatoes and green bell peppers.  He and his buddies even exchanged seeds from year to year, comparing the easiest to grow, the sweetest varieties, and so forth.

One particular year, our cousin dropped off some seeds in an envelope; he told Daddy that they were among the sweetest peas he’d ever grown, so Daddy was really excited to have some of such high quality hybrid peas.  He put them away until sowing time, and then made sure he gave them lots of room to grow in his limited garden bed.  He staked the seedlings and had cross bars he’d made from salvaged wood strips.  Daddy was determined to have some very sweet peas to enjoy this season.

The plants had just the right amount of sunshine; the stucco wall helped bounce back some of the afternoon sun, so the tendrils began climbing up the makeshift lattice in no time!  Daddy was really happy with the progress until the small little pods didn’t grow any longer; instead, the little pods began to open.

Standing tall, smack in the middle of tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard and crawling squash plants fighting for room with the herbs and marigolds were multi-colored blooms of pastel pinks, lavender-blues and creamy white.   What the—! He called my mother out to the back to see; she confirmed what he already suspected:  those very sweet peas that Daddy had imagined he’d soon be harvesting for dinners were indeed sweet peas.

Sweet peas in all their beautiful, delicate glory!!!  Mom was absolutely delighted, as the blooms’ scent perfumed the entire back yard.  Some were even tall enough to cut and take inside to enjoy!

Down at the coffee shop, the guys had been counting the days until Daddy realized this garden “discovery”; you can bet they knew the minute their ears began burning!   My father resigned himself to being the butt of one very clever joke, but remained a good sport always. Obviously, Daddy became especially careful when accepting any future envelopes of “specially” dried seeds from this gang!

Snicker, Snicker

During retirement, Daddy had to get out of the house.  He was not good at staying inside or staying still for very long.  Each morning, he had to renew himself among pals and coffee shop buddies.  He could only afford to go to the race track two or three times a week, so options were limited.

When Mom needed something from the store and the weather was nice, he’d occasionally walk down to the boulevard. Of course, Daddy was only concerned with making sure that he picked up the correct items and brought the correct amount of change back or he’d never hear the end of it.  He knew his math, so focused on the list and the total change received.  So what was the big deal?  In Daddy’s mind, shopping was easy; in fact, there was nothing to it; sort of a slam dunk operation.

Lots of changes had occurred along the boulevard; a second bank, an ATM machine, larger parking lots for the few anchor businesses left (like the Ace Hardware affiliate) and all things coming of age for the small, born-again, thriving shopping district.

The neighborhood had lost the independent grocery store many years before, but still had a major grocery chain within walking distance.  On one of these errands for Mom, it occurred to Daddy that he could walk down the candy aisle and find the little Snickers baggies there; yep, there they were.  His wife had given him plenty of cash…shouldn’t be noticed in the total…so; he picked up one bag and added it to the basket.

He arrived back at 3671 Rubberneck and, seeing that his wife was preoccupied in the kitchen, sidestepped through the dining room and walked straight to his bedroom pillow.  He placed the bag of Snickers carefully behind and out of sight.  There.  All set.  This was one bag of candy that she wouldn’t hide from him.  Then, he entered the kitchen and placed the grocery bag on the end of the counter with the receipt and change for Mom.  No problem.

A few minutes later, Daddy was again playing Solitaire at the card table.  He’d already checked his stocks, so was playing cards and listening to the talk radio program when Mom left the kitchen and entered the front room:

So, Honey, where is the candy?

What candy?  I didn’t buy any candy.

You’d didn’t, huh?

You didn’t have that written down.

No, I didn’t.  But the receipt says candy, $1.79 on it….

What do you mean?  Where?  Let me see…

Right here.  CANDY.  See that?

A few moments quiet as Daddy adjusted his glasses and reviewed the grocery receipt… To his chagrin, he hadn’t noticed the recently introduced line item tabulations that classified each purchase in easy to read print.

(Expletives followed)

And you thought you were being clever, didn’t you?

I witnessed this little exchange and understood exactly how he felt when Mom got the best of us.  Daddy turned to me for support and sympathy.

I can’t win.  I thought for sure I’d gotten the better of her this time, but that mother of yours finds everything…

Same Train, Different Day

How Daddy and my godfather were best friends as young men still eludes me.  When I knew them both, there was nothing similar in either their approaches or attitudes toward life. Still, if opposites attract, then perhaps therein lay the explanation.

My godfather was Italian descent and worked as an accountant for Southern Pacific Railroad.  My godmother worked at a meat packing factory, so she was never a stay-at-home housewife until retirement.  They were married for as many years as my folks, but had raised no children of their own.

Because of different family commitments and schedules, it was seldom that the two couples actually spent much time together socially anymore.  But on occasion, we’d be invited to their home for a Saturday dinner.  Their invitation was special and we young ones were always included! Mom would dress us in our best clothes and wear a nice dress herself.  Even Daddy wore a nice shirt and a sport coat for the occasion!

Fortunately, the two childhood friends married women who truly enjoyed each others’ company.  Once we arrived, Mom spent time visiting in the kitchen.  Theirs was one of the few kitchens in which my mother could actually remain “company”, sitting to enjoy her drink. My godmother was usually finishing up the salad.

Winnie and I were served Shirley Temples for our cocktails, and could choose to stay in the kitchen with Mom or move out front to the living room and listen to my godfather and Daddy going back and forth.  During those evenings, three things were a given:

  • By the middle of the second round of cocktails, the two men would already be at odds over the day’s political issues;
  • The Italian dinner served would be exceptional; and
  • Waiting for us on the coffee table were two brand new coloring books with boxes of Crayola crayons.

Each visit, the books were the same.  The pictures to color were pen and ink illustrations of the sights and sounds found along the SP route.  New boxes of crayons helped make coloring the familiar pictures bearable, but given the colored photos and topics, creativity was limited; orange groves would always be orange. So would the mountains always remain brown and grey, just like their color photograph counterparts included alongside each black and white page.

Ultimately, Daddy and my godfather would begin to run down.  Before we left for home, my godmother would open her freezer and place some small ham steaks, sausages, and bacon from the meat plant in a bag for us to take home to enjoy.

At the end of the evening, we’d hop in the car for the short trip home. Most of the conversation was about how wonderful the night’s dinner had been!  We in the back seat changed the subject by admitting to the folks just how tired we were of coloring oranges and train tracks.  All Mom could do was giggle. Daddy was laughing too, adding that he’d noticed additional pencils, paper tablets, and other supplies his old friend had on hand.  It was obvious to us all that Daddy was still disgusted from the evening’s political arguments.

Daddy was still shaking his head and cussing under his breath when he drove up our driveway…

Plywood

I’m sure my father never thought twice about the plywood he delivered to my junior high school that day; but I remember it on occasion, especially on days like this when I think I haven’t accomplished nearly what I set out to do.

In fact, today was one of those the whole damn day was shot days as Daddy used to call them, walking into the kitchen to reach for the wine bottle and a glass from the cupboard.  This announcement was normally followed by a string of the what went wrongs:  the pattern that arrived was the incorrect color; one of the guys had a flat tire and was two hours late getting to the job site; or somebody forgot about a medical appt. and didn’t show up; or any variation on a theme that might affect a small floor covering business.

Daddy had heard me say that our eighth grade class was pricing wood for the showcase.  That’s all he remembered.  Before the pricing had even begun, I was called out of a morning class and asked to see my science teacher.  I arrived there and, to my great surprise, was told that my father had just dropped off two large sheets of 4 x 8 three-quarter inch plywood; my teacher had been in class, so he missed seeing Daddy, but was informed by a memo that we now owned had two large sheets of plywood-what did he want to do with them? Mr. L., my science teacher, was especially appreciative that Daddy had donated the wood sheets; so he asked me to please make sure to thank my father for the donated sheets.

I was on cloud nine that day…couldn’t believe that Daddy had taken time from his busy, time-sensitive schedule to drive by the school and deliver the plywood sheets.  My father worked.  He owned his own business.  He was a no-nonsense guy when it came to serving the public.  My father was an honest laborer, who made sure that the customer came first; normally, that meant that the family’s wishes were secondary.  Without his “hustling” as Mom called it, we’d have had no income. Neither Winnie nor I were allowed to chat on the phone for anymore than ten minutes tops.  Our home phone was an extension of our family business, so God help the daughter who dawdled and prevented a possible customer from reaching our home!!!

Daddy understood time was money, so made sure we understood it as well.  That day, I realized he had spent an hour traveling from his shop to my school, then making sure the plywood sheets were delivered to the right classroom (I still marvel that he even knew how to find the administrative office!!!)

I would never completely understand all the nuances or the actual costs involved, but I would always remember:  I was important enough for my father to make sure our class had the material to build the showcase for our science project.  There was no describing that emotion; even today, I “tear up” at the thought that my father, the man I saw as normally too focused on making a living to even tune in to his kids’ school projects,  would attempt such an extracurricular delivery; especially during a work day.  But it remains one of my very precious memories.

Perhaps, with any luck at all, I might have touched someone’s heart today…and the day wasn’t a complete loss.  I should be so fortunate…

When the Chimney Shook

Daddy didn’t contemplate life before him in rhetorical terms.  He might ask the questions, but he’d already accepted the circumstances and decided on his necessary role.  His was a tough act to follow; principled, he normally forged ahead with a quiet conviction.

Daddy was extremely loyal to family.  In his view, family was his original siblings.  Mom understood this loyalty, as she shared the same devotion to those “siblings”; their father was her guardian and she lived with them in her teens until marriage to my father. Familial assumptions of responsibility were theirs to share. As number seven’s daughters, we grew up watching this devotion and love for the older ones, Daddy’s name for the six children born before him.

We were ill prepared to influence him very much to think outside of the box. Devotion had become a hereditary virus of sorts; collected from our common good, we were emotionally spent beyond our capacities often under the mantel of doing the right thing.

Infected like the rest, I did the best I could to do my part; sometimes, it took a toll emotionally and I gladly buried my head in my studies and retired most evenings, totally relieved to shut away the day’s responsibilities.

Daddy’s actions always spoke louder than words. He did the right thing; as hard as it might be on him or us all.   Underlying the days’ tasks was the deeper belief and faith that we were doing the best we could; that there was a light at the end of this tunnel and we’d get through it.

Our family provided a home, food, a job and often transportation for a favorite uncle of ours who was an alcoholic.  Somehow, Mom and Daddy managed all this at the same time Only Bro was having his ups and downs, phases during which times his mental stability was very fragile. Daddy pursued, working his business around the needs of his customers, his son’s medical needs and his brother-in-law’s binges, covering the bases to provide for the immediate family with Mom’s support from the home front.

The carport was beyond the chimney and had no room left for an actual car anyway.   Daddy’s seeds and garden equipment, along with his tool bench and storage cabinets filled up what wall space there was.  Our family picnic table sat in the middle, out of the sun and accessible for backyard picnics.

As cars grew in width,   one had to be very cautious not to drive in and break any tomato plant branches or roll over the garden hose.  The drive might have accommodated two smaller cars, but our father drove a station wagon for business and personal use.  So, he rarely used the deepest end of the drive.

We always knew when Daddy had arrived home for the evening; once we felt the rumble, Daddy had hit the chimney; no point in going any further. We raced to the front door and unlocked it. Daddy was home.

What are ya gonna do?

That was Daddy’s summation of his day, as he stood there in the kitchen, pouring his glass of red and grabbing a piece of French bread with a slice of salami before dinner…