When Prayers Waft Through My Garden Bed

A bit of ground had beckoned once;

Softened, sandy-colored soil;

Rooted deeply, wherein Choice and

Chance diminished symmetry,

Yet offered solace still for me.

Simply, plainly, unadorned…

Tinted leaves in sky-kissed blue.


When prayers waft through my garden bed,

I find the dreams I’d planted there.

A Master’s Hand had long ago

Spread wide the scent-filled plumes,

So I might seek His Opened Arms.

Simply, plainly, unadorned…

Rich honey-golden hues.


When I’m Reduced to Prayer


When weakened by dismay, Lord, remind me that You care.

Restore in me a thankful heart.  Cajole me into prayer!


When weakened by life’s hurts, Lord, remind me that You live.

Restore in me a quiet peace. Teach me to forgive!


When weakened by earth’s trials, Lord, remind me that You know.

Restore in me a calm repose. Feed me; help me grow!


When weakened by life’s games, Lord, remind me You are near.

Restore in me a sense of trust. Protect me from such fear!


When weakened by temptations, Lord, remind me You were man.

Restore in me a humble bent. Call me, take my hand!



I was reminded of Mom, who continued to stand for older people on the bus or in the doctor’s office; she was over seventy years old herself, and we would remind her that she no longer had to give up her seat; in fact, she’d earned it and could safely enjoy staying seated.  She didn’t really acquiesce until her ankles began to weaken and she became unsteady.

Such was the déjà vu moment that spoke to me as I watched the group of older men come forward, each in turn, as their names were called.  This was a moment for decorum…

I watched as the once young soldiers resumed their youthful, military stance; one could almost imagine each reporting for duty as they were called in alphabetical order.   Despite their fragile gaits, each had once again straightened up just enough to return to uniformed days when they had been warmly greeted by their loved ones.

This was a simple but touching ceremony.  Those who walked without a cane or walker stepped forward and stood at attention while the caring woman pinned the red carnation on their lapels and thanked them for their service.  Slightly exuberant but still possessing the shyness of their youth’s generation, each ambled to a nearby seat so as to allow the next Vet his very own moment of recognition.

A couple of them were strong enough to raise themselves up from the wheel chair seats that brought them to their place in line outside the room’s entrance, where they managed to stand ever so briefly but long enough to receive their carnations eye to eye.  They fell carefully back into their wheeled seats and worked their way back to the end of the line so that the next Vet could move forward.

I tried to imagine the individual yesterdays these men had known; some of us who watched the brief proceedings during our lunch were younger by at least thirty to forty years… from my brief encounter with WWII and Korean War history, I could only surmise the reels of memories still rolling inside each of these old soldiers.  I had had older cousins who had served at the same time as these gentlemen. But as in most families, ages tended to stay within ages, and reunions were more difficult to get to these days; I had to admit: I knew very little of my own cousins’ stories.

My membership in a service club had brought me to this senior living residence dining room this week, wherein tradition extolled these precious individuals at least one day each year.  Some of these men had once celebrated Armistice Day; and like my older cousins, they were at least a generation younger than my mother would have been, had she been sitting here at lunch with me.

Like Mom, they understood the simple courtesy of giving up a desired seat so that another older member could take in the brief but respectful place accorded him by the rest of his senior living comrades in arms

Hansel and Gretel; the Retirement Years

Like every child in junior high, all my mother had to do was walk in a room and I experienced “embarrassment”; it didn’t matter…whatever came out of her mouth, no matter how entertaining or engaging for the other adults, would easily direct me under the nearest available  table.

My mother was a genial sort who never failed to entertain my mentors with her laughing, smiling, and congenial personality.  Truth is she never stopped talking, especially when she was nervous.  Hence, her stories and jokes were nothing short of revealing to this twelve year old, especially when she shared a chuckle with my eighth grade art teacher.  Like the day she shared her favorite joke:

Eat every carrot and pea in your dish.

Giggle, giggle, smile, and the eyes twinkled.  My teacher thought it was cute; but then, her parents were of the same generation, so I am sure she had learned to cope much better after she’d passed thirty years of age.  I would not recover from this happenstance for another twenty years…

While Mom thought peas and carrots were funny subjects to joke about, she found little other vegetation amusing, especially that from my father’s backyard garden.  She couldn’t believe the amount of water that Daddy used each month to water and care for the plants; the water bill was easily the sorest subject for her every year.  There were other sore subjects as well; like the mud he always tracked in.

Daddy would come home after working all day, pour himself a glass of red wine, slice a piece of bread, grab a couple of slices of salami or cheese, then stroll down the hallway to the backdoor exit; he was on a mission: time to check his garden.

One could follow my father’s steps by the wine drops and French bread crumbs.  The kitchen door was a more convenient exit, but for some reason, he preferred to walk down the sixteen foot long hall, leaving his markings (I never had any problem believing Hansel and Gretel had marked their way back home; I’d witnessed this a hundred times as a child; bread crumbs are easily seen under any lighting, even on shag carpeting!)

Once he’d completely planted the backyard bed and lined up all the paste buckets for that growing season, Daddy moved forward, focusing on the planting space that remained along the sunnier side of our home.  Tomatoes and pepper plants lined the western side of our house, adjacent to our narrow cemented driveway.  Because of the hours of good hot exposure, some of the best fruits of his labor were produced along this narrow planting strip.

Mom maintained that it would have been cheaper to just run to the Japanese produce stand down on the boulevard.  But Daddy had decided that he would always have his garden.  Sometimes, the tension was very strained during those retirement years.  Each time Mom tried to explain that the cost of growing his own garden was not worth all the trouble, my father was more determined than ever to grow his own vegetables.

This particular day, Mom had had it.  The mud that Daddy tracked in with his prize crop (some of the tomatoes were no bigger than marbles) finally was too much for her to take.  She was tired of all the extra dirt and loudly said so. When she flatly refused to wash any of his garden harvest and told him to take it back outside and wash all the dirt off FIRST, Daddy said “to hell with it” and announced he would cook it himself.

I stopped by after work that afternoon, as sometimes I had a few minutes and, having returned to the area, I could enjoy a short visit a couple times a week before heading on home.  I walked in and Mom informed me that Daddy was outside with “his” vegetables.

I stepped out in back and discovered that Daddy had fired up the charcoal grill.  He was cutting up his prize vegetables and throwing them in a pot of water sitting over the coals; he was making soup.

I’m not helpless…I’ll show her…your mother isn’t the ONLY one that can cook…

Obviously, this was a very serious stance in my father’s eyes. I walked back in the house and noticed Mom was peeking out the back window, watching his every move.  She’d giggle a bit, and then return to her kitchen. Soon after, our neighbor arrived home, closed his garage, and saw Daddy over the wall, standing by the grill.  He walked over and heard the entire story while Daddy proudly showed him his “soup” and reiterated,

The woman thinks I’m helpless, you know…

Our neighbor just chuckled and shook his head, finally taking leave and going home for dinner.

Don’t ask me what Daddy’s soup tasted like.  By this time in my life, I was old enough to understand this particular standoff was far from over; good time for me to split…

We Were Americans

Mom and Dad brought a common heritage to their first and only new home on Rubberneck Avenue.  Our table had the same four food groups from “down the house” like our grandparents‘ home: wine, French bread, salami, and cheese.  The traditional hospitality of offering a casa croute (sharing of the house bread) continued on Rubberneck as well.

While our table often identified us as French descent, herein lay the distinction:  we were Americans first.  We joined the melting pot of other first and second generation families whereby respect and love for country were inherently as important as the November celebrated reason for gathering.   Like the Pilgrims at Plymouth, we ate turkey on Thanksgiving; the main course, however, was followed by the required bit of French bread and blue cheese to enjoy with the last sips of wine, while we listened to the stories that our uncles with accents had to tell.


Author’s Note: plate pictured was always used for salami on holidays!

Time Keeper

Mom was a stickler for being on time.  She’d managed with a couple of alarm clocks, a watch and a bus schedule to get us anywhere we had to be, either the doctor’s office by 1pm or  downtown for shoe shopping and back to the house in time to fix dinner that evening for her family.

Each evening before going to bed, she’d walk over to the television set and clutch the alarm clock in her hand, then carefully wind it up and set it back in its place.  She loved the ticking of these Baby Bens, with the easy to read dials.  She preferred lighter colored dials in her later years, because they were easier to read from afar.

When I returned to the Bay Area, she happily used to call me each weekday morning to make sure I awakened on time and was “up”.  For some reason, she didn’t think I could rely on my home clocks. (Actually, her making sure I arose early enough often guaranteed I’d stop by for coffee on my way in to the office).  Mom kept a chalk board in the kitchen with my name written next to the 6AM wakeup call notation.

This was right up Mom’s alley; still taking care of her children.  She’d never want to hear that her daughter had arrived late to work!  Even after I remarried, Mom asked me if I wanted her to continue to call me in the mornings.  My Rogue thought the whole practice rather cute, so he’d answer the phone on occasion and assure her that I was awake, getting ready for the day, and then spend a short minute chatting with her.

I found it amusing to observe how in later years, she voluntarily became the official time keeper for old friends as well; they truly relied on her to make that reminder phone call telling them to set their clocks back in Fall and forward in Spring.  Of course by this time, we’d all been schooled on changing our clocks before retiring on that particular Saturday evening.

Her punctuality and clock-winding regimens come to mind especially at Daylight Savings Time.  There are days that I wish I could turn my clock back again to relish just a few of those wake up calls, the hugs and the kisses,  and the hot cups of coffee ready and waiting for me …

Clandestine Chicken Skin

It was a simple task, but too tempting to refuse.  I’d come home early enough that Monday evening and decided, because of the heat, a salad would be great and light for dinner.  So, I began the process of boning the left over roast chicken.

The skin; golden, seasoned and succulent – began speaking to my inner kid, the carnivore who never found a bite of meat she didn’t like…    …Eat Me. …. ….Eat Me…. ….Eat… I devoured every bit of skin that remained attached to the leg bones and thighs. One piece of roasted chicken for the bowl, a piece of crispy chicken skin for me, one for the bowl, and so forth; when I realized the pope’s nose still existed, I took a break from the kitchen prep, quickly scarfed that remaining treat, then returned to boning the chicken for dinner.

Habits develop at an early age. Sometimes they stick around, no matter the medical science, new cholesterol data, or your intellectual voice.  That afternoon, I threw all three informational updates into the garbage with the chicken bones.  My only regret was that I’d never taken the time to learn how to tie up a chicken like Mom.

Nothing comes better or sweeter to my taste buds than the outer layer of a roasted chicken, seasoned with the same Mediterranean herbs, salt, and pepper that Mom always used. Toss a couple of onions in the pan and the aromatic fragrance filters to the front door, welcoming family and guests inside.

As a little kid, I just thought Mom didn’t want the chicken to run away. Mom always tied up the chicken.  She claimed that the bird roasted more evenly and stayed juicier with its legs bound and the twine wrapped around the body, securing the wings against the sides.  Whatever.

All I knew was that the string soaked up the pan drippings from the basting during the cooking period.  The string was almost as good as the crispy skin; and more portable. You could pop a piece of the string in your mouth and it lasted longer than the skin.  It was like chewing gum; you eked out all the flavor until the last drop was bleached from the cotton twine…then you disposed of it (properly, of course). My little sister and I used to fight over whose turn it was to get the string.  We would end up splitting what was available.  You hadn’t lived until you’d savored a piece of Mom’s chicken string!

Chicken skin, on the other hand, was more plentiful. It was regarded as part of the meal. One ate what was put on one’s plate – No problem for this carnivore!  Unfortunately, with the heightened awareness and health consciousness that permeates the American kitchen, one now knows better than to partake of animal fat of any kind.  I repeat: One Knows.  Like most habits which are hard to break, I completely disregard that science in the same breath as Darwinian Theory.

All I know is that nothing brings me closer to Mom’s kitchen than roasting a chicken.  Sneaking a clandestine bit of the golden skin during the carving process and popping it into the cook’s mouth while her husband is in the other room is extremely comforting.

What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. No sense introducing him to this particular penchant of mine. In my kitchen, I no longer have to share this special treat with anyone; not even my sister, now that Mom’s no longer watching.