Look Mom, No Hands!

Sometimes we moms wonder if all the repeated teachings we perform as loving parents are ever really understood; emphasis on ever.  During her upbringing, My Only received every family storyline and set of values, including the proper respect one should show for the colors.

At our next downtown parade, I arranged to take her along with her little buddy. The kids had great seats because I worked right on the parade route; I could have the two of them sit along the curb and enjoy the parade until my shift began. As each unit passed by, I made the two of them stand up if the particular club or service group had an American flag color guard.  I explained that we were showing respect for the flag and the military who had served under it by our standing quietly at attention.  By the time the parade ended two hours later, both children said they never wanted to go to another parade with me again; they were too tired from standing up so many times!!!

More often than not, children do understand when we least expect it; to our great joy, their comprehension is often greater than the initial credit we give them at so young an age.   Such was the case during a patriotic assembly at my daughter’s elementary school years ago.

The program was in full swing.  The next grade to enter was my daughter’s third grade class.  Nothing unusual; I saw that My Only was standing in line next to her best friend; both seemed ready and willing to participate.  We two mothers were sitting together, remarking how cute the girls looked, dressed in their Sunday best.  The girls filed onto the stage with their classmates.

It was then I took a double take and let out a small gasp!  I remained sitting, somewhat speechless. When I recovered enough to look at my friend, she knew immediately what had taken me by surprise.  We both began to smile, tempering the glee that we felt as we turned our attention again to the stage.

My Only was wearing her one pair of white gloves.  She was singing with all her heart, her true blue friend standing right by her side.  When the pledge was recited, the small, white clad hand held over her heart was even more visible!

I sensed neither pretense nor any foolishness from my little lady’s countenance that day.  She was a genuinely focused, good student. My friend remarked that it was obvious that my daughter had comprehended the desired sense of decorum all the teachers had tried to instill to the school children for this patriotic assembly. We agreed; My Only appeared to be somewhat of a trend-setter, seemingly poised and very much at peace with herself, having accessorized her own outfit.  This was all more than we could absorb; the giggling began and soon we moms were almost out of control, trying very hard to retain a bit of dignity ourselves!

To this day, I don’t believe either of us even remembers much of the assembly; but I can still remember my joy and delight at the sight of my daughter’s white gloved hands.

 

Kitchen Hopping

On a regular basis, Winnie eagerly climbed the fence two doors away to spend time with Butch and her poodles.  I had many choices:  I could visit with Alice and her father, Mr. W., and sit in the kitchen learning embroidery under Alice’s tutelage, or cross the street to visit Anastasia while she prepared the evening meal for her family of four.  She liked having me visit because she had boys.

I could also venture up to Marian’s house and visit in the kitchen there, too, if her grandmother were visiting.  Mrs. L would be cooking, and would still talk with us while she did. I never knew my own grandparents, so I often found others’ grandparents truly fascinating; I’d surmise just how my own grandmother might have fit in to the various personalities of the older ones I met. I liked Mrs. L. She had white hair and dressed like a grandmother.

The woman with reddish-tinted hair who rented the upstairs apartment was not my idea of a grandmother, yet she had several grandchildren. For sure, my grandmother would not have worn formals in which she had to stuff herself into them and ask neighbors (like my mother and me) to zip her up so she could attend the next installation at her club events!  I found this wholly vile; of course, I was extremely opinionated at age eight regarding just how a grandmother should conduct herself.  How would she hug her grandchildren if she wore scratchy formals???

But most of the time, I simply walked across the driveway to our Italian neighbors back door.  They were like my second family, and I could sit on the kitchen stool, pour my heart out on all the serious issues facing me at so young an age while she finished preparing that night’s dinner, and wait until the mechanic came home from work; when he came through the kitchen door, I always got a big hug and kiss! He was always happy to have me around.  I could even sit at the kitchen table and have a bite of dinner with them.  I couldn’t eat so much that I wouldn’t be able to eat dinner when I returned home.

Hah! Like that was a problem for this food-loving little girl…

A Mother’s Thoughts

It’s a choice to cry again, my dear one, for as you cry unknowingly

My heartstrings’ tempo recognizes two-part harmony

 

Others now still once walked before us; stumbled, felled time and again

Understood the child within, anxiously searching for a friend

 

Some lived the same foreboding life, cried long but healing did not find

Nor does watching you repeat despair; such wounds reopen yours and mine

 

Refuse all hurtful dregs! Ignore the sabotaging din!

Reach in and calm the child, caress the babe who lies within

 

It’s assurance that we yearn for, when days dawn less bright, more gray

“But when”, you ask, “will my tears dry? When will they finally go away?”

 

Remember, dear one, you are complete and perfect in His eyes

Your song is music to His ears; this is your time to rise!

 

Enough with choruses of fears and verses from a darkened moon

Compose! Rewrite with humble talents a new verse; a brand new tune!

 

Confirm within your heart and soul a melody you seek

Quell the sharpened tongues with confirmation, quiet and meek

 

Only you can stop the off-key discord… Only you can build and travel over

A bridge that’s waiting to be built, a path you choose toward Heaven’s clover

 

My child, you are complete and whole; you need simply take your place

Beneath his ever-present arms: Sing, Child! You are covered by His grace.

 

 

 

Rejoicing on Rubberneck Avenue

Fifty years ago, in my small little world of Rubberneck Avenue, I understood that families with German heritage “were Lutheran only” and the remaining European descent around the block were customarily of the Roman Catholic faith.  Obviously, I’d lost something in the finer details about the Reformation.

Not to worry…on our block, one of our families had Native American blood; this was particularly significant to a few of us! Wow…imagine having bloodlines to the Old West!  At that time, a term like indigenous didn’t describe people, only landscapes.  This particular favorite family hailed from the Midwest and were of the Protestant faith; Presbyterian actually.  They shared their church and fellowship with me at an early age.  I was frightened a bit on my first visit; hearing one give a testimony regarding his born-again experience during a church service was almost foreign in concept from my familiar milieu, the Mass; no one spoke out in Mass unless the priest spoke first!  But I was intrigued, none the less.

I have old Kodak photos in my childhood album from earlier Easter times.  Big Sis would dress me up in my Easter finery, complete with bonnet and lace-trimmed little white socks to accessorize the requisite party dress for a toddler.  We would then walk up the street to the local elementary school for the annual Easter Egg Hunt.  Memories of well-meaning adults pointing toward the evergreen hedges and whispering,

What do I see there???

helped toddlers like me and my “big” friend on the block, Marion, find enough eggs to return home smiling from our cloud nine experiences!  There are photos of Marion and me, proudly standing together on Rubberneck, still clutching our baskets and comparing our precious findings.  Marion was a beautiful little girl, with thick bangs and perfectly formed curls.  She too was dressed in her Easter finest; only her braced leg is a reminder of the very real polio epidemic that persisted still among children of our generation.

Another favorite photo of mine is of a later Easter with my cousins. The boys are in suits and the girls all with bonnets and bows, standing near the fishpond in my neighbor’s backyard, smiling for the camera.  I am at my happiest, standing among my most beloved cousins.  (The Brat was obviously too little so is not included in this shot; yes, my smile is wide…no sad feelings about my little sister missing from the moment)

As Winnie and I grew older, we would plan our own Easter egg hunts for our first little nieces and nephews.  John and Big Sis would come by early that Sunday morning so we could run our hunt, then they’d leave to enjoy Easter at their own dinner table.  When the kids were too old for egg hunts, they sometimes joined us in the evening for an Easter visit and dessert.

I think back on the many Easter tables filled with wonderful food and drink.  Traditional dishes graced our table; there was barbequed leg of lamb and a ham, with the requisite side dishes that Mom insisted must be included to complete a proper, holiday dinner.  One or two might not eat lamb, but they’d work around it.  Hospitality in our Rubberneck home was plentiful though not very flexible; food allergies aside, any recently announced vegetarians could really throw Mom’s balance off …

Are you sure that the potatoes, cheeses and the green salad are going to be enough for you?

Aunts and uncles arrived each year, early and with wines and sometimes a dream cake for dessert!  Only Bro and his family would also be there for dinner, (normally running late but Daddy had learned to expect the phone call from Only Bro telling us that his all girl family were still getting ready) so our two littlest nieces were the next generation to experience a homemade egg hunt!  They walked in the front door dressed like little dolls, much credit to their mother who not only sewed beautifully, but also baked the absolutely best homemade pies for dessert!  Being a reasonable man, Daddy eyed the pies and immediately forgave the late arrival; no penance was necessary!  Only Bro often brought a bottle of his favorite white, Wente Brothers Grey Riesling, chilled and ready to enjoy during the first course.

Ours was a home to drop by; Might be slightly nerve-wracking, but the loving intentions easily obscured the initial shock waves from the daily Punch and Judy reruns, compliments of my parents.  Cousins originally in bonnets, bows and suits were now old enough to drive; they’d stop by to wish Auntie and Uncle a Happy Easter; this was not a have-to visit despite the family dictates…being around my folks was a want-to, if only for the cheap entertainment!

We shared our casa croute (translated loosely as the house bread) with whoever honored us with a visit on Easter Sunday. Daddy would set up the bar in the kitchen and stay out of Mom’s cooking territory.  Neighbors walked in and out, enjoying a cocktail before having to drive over the hill to be with their daughter’s family, or walk back across the street to prepare for guests of their own.

We passed along traditions, not hatred, on Rubberneck.  We were several different families, celebrating our common heritage in our homes, unencumbered by protocols, politically correct admonishments, or charlatan’s accusations…our credo was simply: Live and let live.

The static photos in my album are black and white; but the shared good times and humble simplicity of expectations still play vividly in full Technicolor brilliance in this writer’s reverie…

He is Risen!

Accordionist Angst

I began music lessons on April 9.  The good news was that I had talent and an ear for music.  The bad news was that I chose to learn the accordion…in the Year of our Lord 1961.

My father was delighted!!! An Accordion carried the melody…it was a REAL instrument.  So, at the age of nine and for the next seven years, I committed to lessons every Saturday.  What had begun as a means of fitting in (my best friend from third grade played accordion, too) eventually backfired; the Beatles arrived on the American scene in 1964.  Music was changing; cultural changes were “blowin’ in the wind” and by sixteen, I was beginning to realize: I was definitely outside my generation’s norm.  My “era” was quickly passing me by.  I would never actually “fit”.

I had made my choice.  My musical ability wowed the folks and their generation!  I could live with it; just another way of making people happy…no harm in that, I thought.  I would eventually sail through this rite of passage and become a normal, functioning citizen of society.

Gradually, I began to realize that there were some logical, though not very serious, side effects from having spent Saturdays with a keyboard during my early formative years.  So, I sought therapy as others my age did.  It was time to find myself.  I shared the following concerns with my therapist:

Make yourself comfortable, Annette.  What brings you in?

All in all, Doctor, I like to think of myself as a fairly average, well-adjusted individual.

What causes you to question yourself?

In hindsight, I can identify some terribly hurtful and/or embarrassing moments for me that started to domino once I committed to taking accordion lessons…

Tell me about it.

Well, Doctor, for example:

The day came to “pick” my own junior size accordion!  I had graduated from the very small, rented, marbleized red one, so I gravitated toward the black with the shiny silver trim! It was beautiful!   Immediately, I was reprimanded,   “What’s the matter with you?  The white and gold-trimmed accordions are for girls, Annette…” so, I chose the white one instead and said I liked it when I really didn’t.   I never confessed this until now, not even in confession.

Sounds like a simple case of Gender Confusion, Annette.  Go on…

Auditions were open the next year for our elementary school music.  I was very excited to tell our school’s music teacher that I already played accordion!  I would love to participate in his class.  When I shared this with him, he responded in no uncertain terms:  “We don’t allow accordions; you’ll drown out the orchestra! “  My fellow school mates laughed at me.

But my baby sister Winifred learned from my humiliation.  She was always daring, so she kept her mouth shut about her accordion experience, and two years later chose the violin; she successfully eased right on through the school orchestra application process.  Even our cousins were impressed and thought she was really cool, especially working with cat guts and all…

I see; so you were Shunned by Public School Music Teachers and Humiliated by Peer Pressure; please continue…

After a couple of years, Winifred exceeded my musical talents… the folks would later take my original instrument for her, but they promised me a larger accordion of my own.  Daddy came home one day and presented me with a very expensive but second hand full size accordion he’d purchased from one of his floor covering customers.  Apparently, their daughter didn’t want the instrument around anymore.  Her father claimed she hadn’t played it in several years.   I was now the proud new owner of this fancy, silver-trimmed, white accordion with their daughter’s name TINA emblazoned boldly down the front in silver lettering.  We were supposed to replace it (sniff..sniff) with my own name (sniff…) but we never did…

I understand, Annette…you were simply experiencing an early Identity Crisis; it’s very common.  Here’s some Kleenex…feel free to continue when you are ready…

Thank you, Doctor… (sniff…sniff…)   It wasn’t long before I began to realize that I had other talents my school friends didn’t.   Why, I could win at game shows, not just with my grade student aptitude (in the ninetieth percentile) but also with my secret arsenal of knowledge…

Secret arsenal?  Annette, what did you have in this knowledge bank of yours?

My best category was Polkas for $500.00.  What a thrill it was for me to take the lead, sitting at home and “name dropping” composer Strauss the Younger or recording artists The Andrews Sisters or the popular Beer Barrel Polka during an evening’s rerun!  What I didn’t tell them was that my worst category was Musicians from the Sixties. By the time I “discovered” Jerry Garcia, he was designing ties for Macy’s and very soon after, he WAS dead!  So didn’t that count?

Looks like our time is up for today, Annette…

A Palm Sunday Snow Day

Palm Sunday was always one of my favorite days; I loved receiving the beautifully flexible palm frond; I had absolutely no trouble believing it was indeed as much a biblical treasure as that day’s communion.  What a lovely hand-held item to commemorate such a glorious day in the church!  We’d walk home with Mom, enjoying the sunny warmth and slightly overheated by the time we entered the house.  Anxious to place the new palm frond behind our own crucifix, we’d quickly change clothes so we could dig into the salami, cheese and bread Daddy had spread out in their original deli wraps on the breakfast nook table for him and the Mechanic to enjoy over a highball…

Decades later, here I am in the Midwest at FrogHaven and it is snowing today.  I am no longer a church regular so I am home bonding with my crock pot.  Weird…and getting weirder.  It’s supposed to be spring, yet today we are told to expect SIX inches of snow???  Snow on Palm Sunday!  The church is probably disbursing hand- woven “shovels” instead of the tenderly-woven “crosses” that are so much a part of this mainstream…

What is it about snow that brings out the squirrel in me?

Snow in Twain Harte years ago…we would be staying another night because of the roads, so I began about the kitchen scraping and foraging for everything and anything edible…color was the key; didn’t Mom always say the more color on your plate  the more nutritious?

So, I began with what was left: butter, some broccoli, some celery and carrots, a bit of leftover anything that I could combine…I concocted what was one of the best cream of broccoli soups I ever produced – under snowfall duress, mind you – yet I never wrote down the exact ingredients or their quantities; to this day, I have failed to fully duplicate that soup.

I came close once, and my mother-in-law asked me to give her my recipe.  I did but, without the fear of being snowed in and dying an untimely death, the recipe didn’t exactly compute like the version she had tasted – that time, under in-law distress – so, even she admitted,

It just wasn’t as good as yours….

Hah! If she only knew the chef humor involved.  And why I fully understand that if any chef is offering a special anywhere I roam that day, I’d better take advantage of such a treat!  I know firsthand that I may never again have the chance of experiencing such creativity or gourmand pleasure.

Snow is still rather foreign to this native Westerner.  I love watching it fall and the cardinals and wrens are beautiful – no artist can fully capture for me the heavy hand of Snow, an equal opportunity Duster, distributing its lovely white phenomenon beauty on limbs, patio tables, and decking…  Thank you, God, that You’ve once again made light of global warming worries and put such climate change discussion on hold for another day!  I only wish my sisters were here to share the crock pot serendipity on my kitchen island.

Waste not, want not.

Repeatedly, Mom never threw out anything that was still “good”.  But she only knew soups, not casseroles, so our family kitchen beheld many course meals or soup; nothing much in between, unless Daddy was going to the Italian Club that evening with the guys.  Then, Brat and I could talk her into buying us a treat from the local market: a frozen Swanson’s Dinner!  Mom was almost apologetic as she checked out, remarking she never thought she’d purchase her children a frozen dinner of any kind…school lunches were about as close as we ever came to fast food in those days under Mom’s watchful eye and budget.  Otherwise, forget anything “new” from Kraft or Swanson’s or even Chef Boyardee…they’d have to rely for their taste-testing by someone else’s children, not hers.

Yes, history if not weather is repeating itself today for this cook; I’ve foraged and gathered up lots of colorful broths and veggies; by this time in my cooking career, I’m far better prepared and even have a bit of ham to finely dice and scatter throughout the butternut squash and cream potato base.  Limas and some corn add that bit of Mardi Gras festivity to what would otherwise be just another found meal; I’ve gathered up all the extra nutrition that comes from knowing how to combine and savor every little bit of seasoning…some ground pepper and perhaps a little bit of butter will dollop the final plate.

For sure, I’ll take out some of my squirreled-away crusty bread from the freezer…this snowy Palm Sunday calls for some carbs and comfort and a glass of wine while I work on taxes.  This chef is no fool…but surely grateful that somewhere in the woodpile a frog met up with a squirrel…and a soup pot would never be the same.

 

Bi-Lingual Gig

During junior and senior high, I took French in school; much to my dismay, I wasn’t a “natural” at it, despite or because of my mother’s own pronunciation, which frequently differed with my teachers’ Parisian-style “proper” French accents.  I found it difficult to feel at ease speaking in class and at home. I found it embarrassing as well, because I was very often one of only two French descent students in French class, and my language gene wasn’t kicking in!

Raised in a home wherein English was spoken and either Pig Latin or French was used only by the adults to conceal subjects that they didn’t want “little ears” to hear, I picked up very few useful words or phrases en francais.

Should I ever find myself on a stranded island or lost in a strange part of the world, knowing how to ask for the salt and pepper or comply with the demanded  Open the window (compulsory in a one and a half bath California bungalow without fans) wasn’t going to help me survive the elements.  I consoled myself that knowing how to recite the months and days of the week would at least help me keep a diary of sorts until I was rescued.  I had also decided that under no circumstances would I request any kind of seafood; the pronunciations and spellings of fish and poison were too close for my comfort zone.  With much practice, I concluded that Hello, Please, and Thank you accompanied by endearing smiles could break the ice, at least figuratively.

Translations were absolutely no good for the hilarious jokes my uncle would tell en francais; too often, the expressions and underlying street smarts of the old country could not be correctly translated to American culture or mindset.  All the adults sitting around the dining table would be howling! I finally gave up asking What was so funny?  The translated punch lines were anything but.

Priests and nuns, however, were favorite topics of ridicule in French culture, and their implied antics survived the French to English transfer extremely well; enough so, that the Church servants became one of my most beloved objects of ridicule.  Eventually, as a practicing Protestant, I had to be fair about this and make sure ministers and even rabbis were included on occasion; but in my versions, the priest or nun was always the foiled character.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing defective about my beaucoup love- for- good- food- gene…it kicked into overdrive at an early age and has remained.  Today, I not only enjoy Mardi Gras, but also partake Lundi, Mercredi, Jeudi, Vendredi and most weekends…

C’est la vie