Pomegranates and a Traveling Washer

Unfortunately, a little sister was the last thing that my thirteen year Only Bro wanted “from Santa”.  My arrival changed things considerably; I didn’t score any points arriving on Christmas Eve. Mom had to stay in the hospital; this meant that my fifteen-year-old Big Sis was nominated to cook the turkey for Daddy and Only Bro.  I never stopped hearing him describe how my arrival ruined a perfectly good holiday dinner that year!

Not to worry.  Big Sis loved having a real, live baby doll in the house!  Photos are plentiful and tell enough of a story to assure me that at least one of my older siblings was happy to have me around. To Mom’s dismay, Big Sis spent a good portion of her earnings on very expensive sun suits, tricycles, dressy outfits, and assorted items; all meant for me.  When I was old enough to walk, she took me to neighborhood Easter egg hunts, to Sunday Mass (here was an underlying plan in action; she could watch the boys while using me as a handy decoy), and she even fashioned costumes and applied my makeup for my first few Halloweens.  No doubt about it; except for the weekly decoy stints, I was treated like a princess.  I absolutely adored my Big Sis!

My older brother did his best to get on with life in the house as it now unfolded, cloth diapers included.  I have two photos of his holding me as a toddler.  In either pose he didn’t look too thrilled, but I’m smiling in both, so from all appearances he was slowly assimilating to the “new” baby.  And not a moment too soon, as another baby sister followed two years later.  The men in the house were indeed outnumbered.

It wasn’t long before Big Sis was to marry and move away.  I was now four and old enough to understand that away meant out of the house.  I knew just who to blame, too!  So, I followed the romantic couple out the back door one afternoon and, from the porch, I threw my prized jack in the box right at “Him”.  The toy hit “Him” smack in the back of the head!  There are no photos for reference; I just remember running…

Over the next few years, trips to Sacramento to visit Big Sis and “Him” were fairly routine. I missed her terribly, so each trip was always something to look forward to.  They lived in a small rental in the country, on property with large fruit trees and a chicken coop.  Inside, the walls were wrapped in feathered wallpaper.  I don’t remember all the rooms, but in the kitchen stood a wringer washing machine that came with the rental.  If we were lucky, she’d start a load of wash, and we’d watch its shaking and moving from one side of the very uneven kitchen floor to the opposite end of the room. Fully relocated, the washing cycle was then complete!  Not everyone’s Big Sis had a traveling washer.

When in season, one or two large crates of pomegranates filled the back of our station wagon for the trip back home.  Before we could eat them, Mom would make us change into our play clothes and sit outside on our front porch, so we didn’t stain anything important. We sat on the top step, carefully peeling back the creamy membrane of the fruit to discover all the tiny, plump, juicy seeds.  Pomegranates were a favorite of ours; they kept us busy and happy; we didn’t mind the mess one little bit, and Big Sis didn’t seem so far away.

3671 Rubberneck Avenue

Our living and dining rooms were quite lovely for the time.  The walls were “lumiere green” which is the French term for subtle chartreuse.  The carpeting was green-gold in color; its correct name was Grecian gold; again, more marketing than definitive of the actual shade. The fireplace bricks were painted a dulled red-brown to simulate what we had come to accept as natural for a brick fireplace; that was definitely some good public relations work by the painter (yours truly).

Against this colored backdrop hung several pieces of art, some inherited but all sentimental for one reason or another.  Oil originals of two angels hung on either side of the front picture window.  Two larger, but not original pictures (the actual ones we were once told belong to the Louvre) resided above the sofa in the living room and the buffet in the dining room. Two mirrors, one etched with a flower design and the other a simple oval shape, hung over the fireplace and the piano respectively.

Our mother loved photographs and plants. A small corner shelf and the mantle held the majority of them.  Unfortunately, my mother loved all photographs, even the not-so-flattering ones…she insisted they were cute.  Naturally, I had to daily walk by the one in which I’d had a cold and was sitting next to my cute-as-a-button little sister who was perfectly well that day; both of us wore braids at the time.  Yep.  That one was a real gem and always evoked in me the time-worn adage, “only a mother could love” each time I caught sight of it.

The furniture was scratch-proof.  Any further attempts to wear it out were futile; the collection seemed to wear indefinitely. Two antique chairs, one Victorian slipper chair and the other a Louis- the- something occasional chair sat apart, recently reupholstered.  We had convinced Mom at the upholsterer’s that day that she should go with the more expensive, crushed red velvet.  As garish as that now sounds, they were actually very striking when finished.  The seat on the Victorian didn’t hurt anymore either; the upholsterer had kindly removed all the original horse hair stuffing from that one. Other main accent furniture pieces included a French Provincial table in one corner,  a small, spindle legged table side table, and a taller plant stand with three perched eagles atop its tri-corner legs; the latter two were Early American but had been naturalized French several years earlier.

For recalling those fireside chats from the war era, the family’s Philco floor radio still stood in a little side nook.  Mom had repurposed it into an aquarium stand; the top was the perfect height from which to enjoy the Siamese Fighter’s battles with the less than angelic Angel fish.  Like most possessions in our house, it had long ceased to perform its initial role; but it was old and matched everything else.

Scattered on any available surfaces were a few of the family artifacts: my great-aunt’s vases, an antique candy jar, the grandchildren’s pictures, an orange compote, artificial flowers when real ones refused to bloom, wedding pictures, and on the far end of the dining buffet sat an amber carnival glass pitcher. The pitcher cracked in two from the hot Jell-O Mom was mixing one day; that was the last time the pitcher held any liquid.  It remained standing upright and convincingly in one piece, thanks to the sugar that sealed the cracks!

Add our music books from childhood accordion lessons, one old antique clock that sat atop the piano; it chimed when you knocked into the piano or the washer was on “spin dry”, and, finally, my graduation picture in which, I’m happy to report, I had neither a cold nor braids…you get the picture.

Maturity has helped some; I no longer apologize for the ugly, half-naked angels; in fact, now they hang in my own home…hindsight and some appreciation for the artist’s hand no longer compels me to emphasize how “original” they are.

Gladly, I did not choose to live any longer with the two Louvre prints; once the folks were gone and our family home emptied, the two prints left my life for good.  One had portrayed the French Court; the other, the Spanish Court.  Didn’t matter; when the television repairman who came to adjust our 1964 RCA round screen color console asked if those people in the picture were my relatives, THAT was the last straw!  Absolutely NO more creepy, historic, prints for me!

Been there, done that.

Mine Again

annette-june-2016-b-wider

I’ve heard it before: you can’t go home again.

But as I have in the past, and as I still do in my dreams, I once again drive home and enter the garage, cross the laundry room into the kitchen and leave my keys and glasses on the downstairs kitchen table before climbing the stairs and kicking off my shoes…The clothes are still on the ironing board, but that is okay; I’ll pick up the winter season sorting project again next week.

My porch doesn’t say Halloween this year.  Not yet.  What we have saved for Halloween décor we will drag out in time to enjoy.  We will once again plan to sit on our long covered porch that evening.  There is plenty of room for us to sit comfortably.   My Rogue seems to particularly enjoy sitting outside, talking with the little ones and helping me “keep count”, a somewhat traditional ritual from Rubberneck Avenue.  However, I vowed I would never buy raisins as Mom did, no matter how cute the little boxes are! Nor would My Rogue ever allow it.  I smile, thinking how much he and Daddy would have been in agreement.

This is the Midwest; rain or shine, dedicated parents will accompany their kids around our court as long as the house lights are still on.  Our street is in a newer subdivision, one that parents feel comfortable driving over to visit.

Costumes are not quite as gory as I remember during my early years out west; here, we greet more sports players and cheerleaders; a friendly witch or vampire might appear but the more popular licensed characters will clearly outnumber them.  Multiple legions of Transformers, Spidermans, fairy princesses, and bumblebees will pass through. Many of the garbs are store bought, but a few are homemade and quite clever; like Dorothy carrying Toto in her basket; or the Mad Hatter; why, we’ve even had a bottle of ketchup drop by!

Since we are already outdoors, the little goblins needn’t ring the bell; thus, we make sure to greet them with a “Happy Halloween” to encourage their responsive “Trick or Treat!”  Without exception, all the little critters say “Thank you” upon receiving their candy.

We are lucky enough to have as many as eighty children come to our house.  My Rogue and I encourage the little toddlers (with their parents’ help) to make the one step onto the porch level and then meet them halfway…some are very little, so I am careful not to alarm them and don’t dress up as I did when my own daughter was little.  Now I wear my Halloween cardigan with the jack-o-lantern dangle earrings that my godmother gave me years ago. She knew I enjoyed the holidays and had no doubt I would wear them.

This particular Halloween, I will especially enjoy my front porch seat. I have had enough of downsizing these past few years. I don’t have to make any more choices; I can just sit and enjoy my remaining treasures.  Nor need I fear that I might forget the last of several scenic autumns from our porch.  There are too many factors indicating that we belong in this beautiful home, at least until circumstances indicate otherwise.  Some factors are clearly economic; others are more ethereal. From all indications, My Rogue and I have slowly concluded that any plans to relocate here or anywhere will just have to wait.  We are both feeling a sense of great relief. I liken this feeling to a renewed sense of ownership if you will; as though we’ve been gifted with another season’s tickets for the porch seats we have come to enjoy and call our own. 

So, once this year’s candy is gone, I’ll follow My Rogue inside, shut off the porch lights and climb the stairs where I can kick off my shoes and leave them where they lay…

A June Smile

My fourth birthday photo is a black and white snapshot of my half standing/half bending over my birthday cake; sitting beside me is a lovely lady with an all-embracing smile.  That is one photo I always love to look at; one of many black and white moments that I can cherish as often as I wish.

I don’t actually recall this particular birthday; certainly, I didn’t have many parties as a Christmas Eve birthday can easily pass by unnoticed during such a busy time of year.  But this was definitely my day to shine; and as the years later proved, this lady’s love for life and family meant there was always room for one more celebration and another child close by.

I was ten years old and still trying to figure out just how exactly we were related…she wasn’t a sister to either my father or my mother. Yet her warm welcoming smiles and hugs were there for us all…she definitely had room for an extra “niece” or two.

In our extended families, we cousins had lots of mentors whom we respected and looked forward to seeing each occasion; extended reunions were the norm, and intertwined branches of family and long-time friends appeared and just belonged there; indeed, their absence would have been noted by many of us younger ones who relied on the hugs and kisses to make the day’s reunion complete.

While my mother loved flowers, this lady actually wore them, in beautifully bright, bold and dazzling colors and prints.  They accentuated her olive skin and deep brunette hair, shining bright above the lovely patterns; hers was a stark contrast to my mother’s more classic stripes and small prints.

I was fourteen and attending my first “wake”.  Mom had stated that I was now old enough to attend memorials like this; so, she instructed me to dress up as I would for church.    The big deal for me was wearing my mantilla…a small consolation, but somehow it was very flattering and so, at least, I could look the part and appear more mature than I felt.  I sat quietly there, feeling very uncomfortable and nervous.

 Yes, I was sitting next to Mom, but all I perceived was my mother who was extremely  comfortable in this solemn situation; she had no idea just how very strange it seemed for me, or just how worried I was, were I to accidentally commit a faux pas midst all the adults looking on.

I decided to chance it and look around the room.  I turned around and just a few pews behind me I caught sight of a June smile; the one that was familiar, loving and unconditionally accepting, all at the same time.  She even waved and nudged her hubby to make sure he acknowledged me…just a simple nod and smile.  Sounds hokey, but this very backward teen immediately felt okay and “grown up enough” to sit through this rite of passage.

Such are the memories of a June smile from a lady who crossed my path and influenced me through most of my young adulthood; a mentor who treated friends and family equally; there were none who didn’t get a huge dose of love and hot meals when needed – blood lines or not.

The childlike part of me still craves a smile or a hug to console me; some days, I don’t even know why or what is troubling me, but God seems to provide a certain someone to cross my path.  I may not remember that fourth birthday, but I will always remember that smile.

When one has been lucky enough to have had a June smile come your way, one knows the value that it brings to a child’s heart.  It is incumbent upon one to pass it on…

HONOR THY FATHER

Election Year Ponderings – another campaign is on the horizon, yet my original concerns remain…

Like many of my fellow citizens, I am an American FIRST. I am disgusted and angry with bipartisan compromises from both the federal and state legislatures that continually weaken and undermine our Republic’s foundation. I don’t want bipartisan measures; I want measures consistent with our American Constitution.

Our Constitution was never meant to be maintenance free; yet, we seem to have forgotten the required due diligence regarding its needed protection from those who would do it harm.  In that category, I include the life-time politicians we have continually condoned and returned to their auspicious offices.

With all due respect, I speak to the young as well as old, no matter your party registration; consider the election year opportunities ahead: IT IS TIME TO MAKE OUR AMERICAN VOICES HEARD.

One of the benefits about an election year is the exciting opportunity to vote OUT poor performing and often destructive public servants; especially after a state of the union or state of the state address reminds one just how truly divisive, apologetic, excuse-laden, arrogant and overpaid our political leaders have become over the last fifty years!

Our common American principles have been compromised by the greed and power hungry activists-turned-politicians, some of whom openly subscribe to socialistic or Marxist principles, yet veil themselves under the familiar “moderate” or “progressive” cloaks so as to pander specifically to a poorly educated constituency.

I’ve had enough of dog and pony shows from incompetent, elected officials whose names, financial backing, and further costly indulgences to their special interest supporters are among the few talents they bring to their respective offices.

Americans are a caring people, but we are naïve and overly indulgent!  In our present economic state, we cannot afford to remain ignorant of global market principles, our country’s history, or our government’s lax performance in protecting our leadership position in the greater world marketplace.

America’s business model depends on a free market – independent of government intrusion – in order to support its citizenry. Yet, our federal debt has grown from cleverly disguised, government programs tailored to meet the needs of the less fortunate.  And programs have been tweaked, revised, and, in many cases, legally rewritten to include the masses who have never even contributed into these programs.

For those of us whose immigrant ancestors understood debt and its consequences, do not be deceived: you and I are here because of their decisions to leave the old countries for the greater freedom and opportunities that America offered.  Opportunity is what called them here; American capitalism was built upon the backs of individuals with dreams, skills, and personal discipline, who willingly adopted a new, common language, promoted love for their adopted country,  and proudly earned their American citizenship, then continued to welcome others with the same goals.

Understand the gravity of staying silent and doing nothing.  This November election is critical. Our country needs competent, skilled, and America-loving individuals from all walks of life – elected at each govt. level – in order to reset fiscal priorities.

LET US TAKE BACK OUR DREAMS, SKILLS, AND COMMON GOALS FROM THOSE POLITICAL ELITISTS WHO ARE SELLING OUR CHILDREN’S AND GRANDCHILDREN’S FUTURES INTO 21ST CENTURY SERFDOM.

PARTICIPATE IN THE ELECTORAL PROCESS! VOTE, and JOIN IN MAKING OUR VOICES HEARD IN NOVEMBER!

— “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” — Thomas Jefferson

MULTI-TASKING at THE MANOR

I am slowly facing the reality that I can no longer multi-task; at least, not when it comes to combining my entrepreneurial, social networking with my love for cooking.

My Rogue sat there and didn’t say much last night.  He was gulping down the food in his normal fashion; the joke around here is that he normally ends his meal with “Good as usual, Honey”, then I ask him, “Do you remember what it tasted like?”, but tonight’s meal was anything but normal.  I’m a great cook and have been for years, except when I’m tired: then, I can’t even season boiled water correctly.  This is why I often order the special at any little café…I know the cook put all his effort into that dish, before he tuckered out; the rest of the menu is normally routine, automated, prepped ahead stuff.  I’m not stupid.

My Rogue was almost finished when he began,

Well, I wasn’t sure what it was when I first saw it; it’s still chewable, Honey, but I guess you got so focused, you didn’t hear the timer, huh?

This statement was extremely polite for My Rogue.  Days past, he’d have blurted out,

Good gosh a mighty, what in the world did you do????

And the emphasis would have been on YOU and why I was EVEN ATTEMPTING to cook one of HIS recipes.  After all, macaroni and cheese was not a staple in my childhood home.  I didn’t even know one could find a recipe for it; I just thought Kraft had provided it since the beginning of eternity.

Mom rarely fixed anything that came from a box.  When we did have it in the house, it was for evenings that Mom was too tired to think up another combination, and the Kraft dish accompanied either fish or meat.  Always, always, there were green vegetables to round out the color on the plate.

Like my mother, My Rogue’s mother was a Kansas farm girl who knew how to stretch a budget, but her fare was simply good and nutritious as she didn’t really enjoy cooking as much as she enjoyed other home skills like sewing.  I never had the pleasure of knowing her, but my sister-in-law gave us their mom’s recipe; and My Rogue has made it often.  And I totally enjoyed its buttery finish.  The directions were always reiterated verbally:

Don’t forget to put pats of butter on top!

Last night, I decided to fix an easy dinner. The catch here was that I couldn’t find the recipe, so I opened up my old cookbook for the “old-fashioned” version.  The recipe was not the problem. This one seemed to be close enough, so I followed it with only a couple slight adjustments.

This oven runs on the lower side of the actual temp, so I remembered to raise it by ten degrees.  What I forgot was that once adjusted, I should follow the suggested cooking time, which I didn’t do.  Remembering my oven runs slow, I upped the time.  In my haste, I’d now over compensated (fairly habitual for my worry-wart personality), and completely unthinking, popped the casserole into the oven.  Had some nice fresh green and yellow squash, Arkansas tomatoes and Vidalia onions, so sliced them all very thin, added some cracked pepper and a dash of salt, and some fresh cilantro chopped roughly, then set them on low to sauté in a bit of olive oil for a nice, colorful side dish to go with the baked mac and cheese.

Operative word: baked.  (This poor lot could have used a sunscreen by the time the timer buzzed.) I pulled it out and realized I’d blown this simple, nourishing dish. Back to the table conversation.

“It’s supposed to be macaroni and cheese, Honey. I left it in too long”

“I know what it’s supposed to be; I’m not stupid”.

Thank God it’s still edible.  I’m really sorry…

Nothing to be sorry about.  I just think you were trying to do too many things, Honey.

No kidding.  These days, there was no think; there was just do. Multi-tasking was always a sham; yes, women can do it, but sometimes we just can’t hide the evidence.  This was one of those times and, after many years of serving great meals,  I had now served My Rogue my first prototype for  Mac and Cheese Jerky:  a chewy, buttery, cheesy topped block of carbohydrate and protein easily held in the hand and that could be eaten on the run; cold or warm! My entrepreneurial spirit had already begun to imagine some of the possibilities.

Perhaps if I designed a label and marketed it like a protein bar…

Finding the You

I always believed one could learn from their associates, whether older or younger; moreover, that this mom doesn’t always know what is best or even possible. Such thoughts remind me that motherhood is a blessing, not a skilled artisan’s vocational specialty…and my learning curve is ever evolving.

So it was with my daughter recently, as she succinctly explained to me how living with a chronic disease is an hour at a time, some good days, some not-so-good days, catch as catch can opportunity and gear- shifting journey.

On some days, Mom, my physical needs and limitations take my complete attention; I’ve learned to work with and around them.  But there are times I can’t get beyond the me… to enjoy or take on outside opportunities is wishful at best.  I pursue… but finding the you can be very hard, Mom…

Individuals with a chronic disease can one day awaken and their joints and legs seem to carry them through the morning. The next day, their hands won’t operate the jars quite as easily as they did the day before.  That is when memory seeps in and reminds them that a treat they enjoyed the day before,  i.e. potatoes or perhaps an extra glass of wine and some dark chocolate,  tasted absolutely wonderful going down!  Now, the repercussions from a honed awareness present themselves – one action does indeed produce a direct response; often, a discomfort.

(Shifting,  always shifting…will have to broaden my water intake and some juice from seemingly harmless fruits;  today’s plan is to consume a bit extra absolutely healthy stuff today – no cheating – to get back on track and greet the evening with less pain… )

Such is the expended mental and physical efforts of maintaining.  Some days, the sparkplugs are sputtering and the brain isn’t turning on quite as fast as the body and vice-versa.  I am reminded of the bio-rhythm theories that I studied years ago; and I wonder if my daughter’s personal voyage isn’t scientific proof enough that bio-rhythms are very real indeed.

The delights and life’s surrounding “take-for-granteds” present themselves:  French fries, watching a movie, shopping until we drop, a day at the park with the kids, folding clean laundry, cooking a fresh piece of salmon and garnishing it with a bit of chopped dill, opening one’s mail or completing the lesson plan for the next three weeks for her home-schooled son…all tasks will exact a modicum of presumed health and mental acuity. This is no automatic process.  Her time is engulfed in an on-going, must keep moving mentality, with little room left for the messages that occasionally filter in between the probiotics, the baby’s nap time,  and the freshly made green lemonade.

A friend’s baby has arrived – Yay!  A bit of excitement and momentary joy for a good friend who has safely delivered; newborns are indeed a gift from God!

Perhaps I’ll cook some soup and take it over in a couple of days; once the rain stops, I’ll have to see how my day goes.

The heart’s wants are momentarily interrupting the body’s attention-getting messages.

Yes, I really do know you exist; I share your happiness and your dreams; I embrace your desires, your love for the arts!  I am blessed to call you my friend.

In God’s time and with sunshine to accompany her, she’ll find the you between her days’ respites.  She’ll leave the me behind – just for a bit – to enter into life’s other plane, one laden with normal assumptions and pain free, momentary pleasures…