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Any serious holiday baker included nut roll on her/his holiday baking list, so I thought it only appropriate to give nut roll its own space.  I think there are as many recipes for nut rolls as there are nuts!  When I was organizing recipes for my mother-in-law, I discovered 17 recipes for nut roll, each just a little different from the others. With the holidays approaching, I remember Mum discussing nut roll “this-and-that” in the lead-up to the actual baking…considering at one time to eliminate it from the list because it was so much work (gasp!).  Eventually, though, Mum succumbed to the inevitability of the nut roll’s appearance on a holiday cookie tray.  I mean, what self-respecting baker didn’t make nut roll? The alternating layers of pastry and nuts of a sliced nut roll is so hard to resist.  Eventually Mum stopped making the large rolls and made the mini-sized nut rolls—equally delicious, equally impressive on a cookie tray and the only recipe that I have to include here.

As a not-so-serious holiday baker these days, I think making either the large nut roll or the mini nut rolls is the only confection a person has to make.  Packaged in a cellophane bag tied with a beautiful ribbon and placed in a basket with a bag of good coffee beans; and you have a very nice, thoughtful gift to give a special friend.  Or have nut roll on hand to serve when unexpected Christmas visitors drop in.  You don’t need an entire tray of cookies when you have nut rolls.  When you look at the “Nut Filling” recipe that follows, notice that you can use either vanilla or maple flavoring.  My personal preference is vanilla because I find maple flavoring overpowering.  Also, using purchased apricot filling instead of nuts is an equally good choice.  If you’re really pressed for time but still want to make nut rolls, you could purchase just about any filling for the dough. Almost all grocery stores have various pastry fillings in addition to the nut variety. We have a wonderful Amish store near us that sells all sorts of delicious-looking fillings in clear plastic pastry-type bags that would be perfect for this recipe.  Of course, then they wouldn’t be “nut rolls”, but would a nut roll by any other filling be as sweet?  Absolutely!

Favorite Nut Rolls

Mix and set aside:
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
In a large bowl, mix:
6 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Cut in as for pie crust:
2 cups shortening
Mix then add to flour mixture:
4 eggs
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
yeast mixture
Using a fork, mix together lightly and well.  Refrigerate overnight.  Roll out, 1/4 at a time on breadboard sprinkled with part flour and granulated sugar.  Cut into 3-inch squares; spread with nut filling.  Roll up; place on greased baking sheet.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 12 minutes.
Nut Filling
Combine in a saucepan:  1 pound ground walnuts, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup evaporated milk, 2 teaspoons vanilla or maple flavoring.  Heat until mixtures comes to a boil, stirring constantly.  Mixture will be thick; cool (or use purchased apricot filling).

The next recipe, Walnut Horn Cookies, is a variation of nut rolls that moves away from the traditional yeast dough in favor of a butter-cream cheese dough.  What could be better than that!  Again, if you’re pressed for time, you could make the dough but purchase the filling to make it easier and less time-consuming.

Walnut Horn Cookies
1 pound butter (no substitutes), softened
2 packages (one 8 oz., one 3 oz. [I think Mum means 4 oz. here]) cream cheese, softened
4 egg yolks
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Filling
4 cups ground walnuts (about 1 pound)
5 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
In a mixing bowl combine butter, cream cheese, egg yolks, and flour; beat until smooth.  Shape into 1-inch balls; place in container with waxed paper separating each layer.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  To make the filling combine ground walnuts, 3 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (the mixture will be dry).  In a small mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form; fold into nut mixture.  Add extracts and a few drops of water if necessary until filling reaches a spreading consistency.  Place remaining sugar in a bowl; roll cream cheese balls in sugar until completely covered.  Place a few balls at a time between two sheets of waxed paper.  Roll balls into 2 1/2-inch circles.  Gently spread about 2 teaspoons filling over each.  Roll up; place seam-side down on ungreased baking sheets.  Curve the ends slightly.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool on wire racks.  Yield: about 8 dozen.

Your house should be filling with heavenly scents if you’re baking along!  –Linda

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Even without the advantage of the Internet or the Food channel, Mum found recipes everywhere—through family and friends; cookbooks; flour or sugar sacks; labels on the packaging of nuts, bakers chocolate, etc.; print newspapers and magazines.  For as long as I can remember, Mum had subscriptions to one magazine or another.  I would wait for McCalls magazine with as much anticipation as Mum did.  Mum poured over the entire magazine while I waited impatiently for her to extract all the cooking, needlework, household, and life wisdom for that particular issue and then hand it off to me.  I would then cut out Betsy McCall, a beautiful one-dimensional paper doll, complete with her new monthly wardrobe. I can still remember being so excited that I wiggled and sang and talked to myself while carefully guiding the scissors so I wouldn’t accidentally cut off one of the precious tabs that kept Betsy’s clothing attached to her body.  I’m pretty sure that was where my love of “women’s” magazines began.

Whatever sources she used, shortly after the Thanksgiving dust settled, Mum began drafting the list of cookies she would make that year.  Once the list was made, she’d gather in the supplies.  I have to admit that I really didn’t pay much attention to what was bought but only that the flour and sugar came in huge sacks.  I remember discussions about the twenty-five pounds of flour (venticinque).  Important discussions that involved numbers or money or our transgressions were always conducted in Italian, which was Greek to me. Buying extra food was not taken lightly in our household, especially on the heels of a food-centric holiday such as Thanksgiving.  And some of the ingredients could be expensive as well as exotic…like dates…to me something very exotic but oh so delicious.

While these date cookies are a little labor-intensive, they are well worth the effort:

Date Cream Cheese Roll-Ups

1 cup butter
1/2 pound cream cheese (8 ounces)
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pitted dates

Cream butter and cream cheese together.  Blend in flour and salt.  Chill for several hours until firm enough to roll.  Roll into 1/8-inch thickness on a board sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar.  Cut in 1 x 3-inch strips.  Put a date in each strip and roll up.  Put seam-side-down on cookie sheet.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Makes 8 dozen

As a sheltered kid growing up in the fifties and early sixties, nothing could be more exotic than alcohol as an ingredient in a cookie.  During cookie-baking season, I can remember the very distinctive bottle of Sicilian Gold being lifted from a nondescript brown paper bag as the choirs sang—“Gloriaaaaaaaaaaa….” (not to be confused with the a very popular Van Morrison hit of the sixties: G-L-O-R-I-A or perhaps, maybe)  The Wine Wreath cookies are delicious!  I loved the kick from the heat of the cinnamon candies used for decoration.  Mum included a note on this recipe that it was Rhonda’s favorite, but I’m afraid I’d have to arm-wrestle Rhonda for any last one of these on the tray.  I think I could take her!

 Wine Wreaths

Cream until light:
1 cup oleo (butter is better)

2/3 cup sugar

Add and beat well:
2 egg yolks

Sift and add:
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Alternating with:
1/4 cup Sicilian Gold (or Galiano) [maybe a heaping fourth cup]

Force through star-shaped pastry tube to form into small rings; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of a sugar/cinnamon mixture or brush with egg white after baking then sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Decorate with red cinnamon candies like a wreath.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 6 to 10 minutes on ungreased sheets.

If you bake only the cookies from yesterday’s and today’s blog, you would have an impressive and pretty plate of cookies to share with anyone stopping by for some Christmas cheer.  Linda

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With only twelve days left until Christmas, I thought I would share twelve cookie recipes from Mum’s vast repertoire of cookie confections.  No…I’m not going to post all twelve at one time, nor am I going to post cookie recipes for the next twelve days.  What I plan to do is to include however many recipes suit my fancy at the time I’m writing.  Already I can see your eyes rolling back into your heads.  Bear with me; maybe you’ll be inspired to go out to the kitchen and whip up a batch of deliciousness!  I know there are those of you who might have even more cookie recipes from Mum than I do, or maybe you’ve developed lists of you own from a combination of sources.  These recipes will be some of my favorite cookie  recipes and standards that I remember Mum baking.

One cookie I love for its short, buttery melt-in-your-mouth goodness is the “spritz” or cookie press cookie.  I could eat the almond-flavored dough right out of the bowl, it’s so good!  Spritz cookies not only taste and smell good, but their tiny size and shape add charm…flair, if you will…to any cookie tray.  Mum would use red and green food coloring at Christmastime to give her spritz cookies a festive touch. When she passed the dough through the press, she would use the discs that she felt represented Christmas flowers or designs.  She passed her cookie press along to me many years ago, still in the original packaging.  I can tell you that that press works better than any of the new and improved “cookie shooters” that are on the market today.  I’ve tried a couple and always go back to that original cookie press handed down to me.

You’ll notice that in this recipe, Butter-Rich Spritz, Mum used oleo. I use butter. The choice is yours, of course; but if it’s named “butter-rich” why not splurge on the fat and calories?  Frankly, I feel a Christmas cookie without butter is like Santa without the “Ho-Ho!” if you get what I mean. I think Mum may have used butter more often than not despite keeping “oleo” in her written recipes.

Butter-Rich Spritz

Cream:

1 cup oleo (butter)

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Blend in:

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla

Add gradually:

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix well.  Press dough through cookie press onto ungreased cookie sheets using any shape.  Bake in 375‑degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes.  Do not brown.

Another cookie that adds a touch of panache to a cookie tray is the Coconut Pom-Poms.  I inherited Mum’s love of coconut.  Cakes, cookies, tea breads—all taste better with the simple addition of coconut in my opinion.  I’m aware not everyone shares this enthusiasm for coconut. Ken, for one, will grudgingly eat something with coconut only if there’s no other choice, but a coconut-laced or coconut-topped cookie would definitely rate number one with me.  Mum used coconut not only within her baked goodies; she used it to garnish any frosted treat.  She made a delicious frosted chocolate cookie topped with coconut!  I don’t ever remember her putting peanut butter in the center of these cookies; but since it appears in the recipe, she must have at some point. Candied cherries are a nice Christmas touch.

Coconut Pom-Poms

Cream:

1 cup oleo (butter)

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

Add:

2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

Shape dough into 1-inch balls, shaping around candied cherries, dates, mints, or peanut butter.  Roll in coconut and place on ungreased sheets.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.

You’ll notice that Mum didn’t concern herself with how many cookies a recipe would yield.  I think that might be because she would make one batch of about twenty different kinds of cookies.  Each tray of cookies would have two to three cookies of each kind, more than enough cookies to savor with morning or afternoon cup of coffee or tea.  Check again soon for a couple more Christmas cookie recipes.  Linda

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ImageOn June 5, our mother Anne suffered a major stroke at 7 pm, at St. Andrew’s Village, where she had been living for the past 2 1/2 years. She never recovered and, while they kept her comfortable and pain-free, she died peacefully about 9 am, Saturday, June 8, at Indiana Regional Medical Center. She was 96-years-old. All six of her children stayed at her bedside through her final journey.

While she never wrote an entry for our blog, she was intricately involved in many aspects of it. She not only eagerly looked forward to reading each entry but if you scroll back through from the beginning you’ll see that she was the subject of many of our reminiscences and a reference for much of what we wrote.

The following, written by Kathy, Linda, and me, is a memorial to our mother. After a busy life we wish her an eternity of peaceful sleep.

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From Black Shanty to “Easy Living”

by Joanne

 Our mother Anne lived her entire life within 1-square-mile of the home in which she was born. And while this diminution influenced the person she became and the provincial life she lived for 96 years, she found many ways to escape the boundaries of her geography.

She began life in 1916, in Rose Valley, in the Black Shanty, a sort of boarding house for new immigrants, who lived there until they could find more permanent housing. The Dorazio’s lived in the Black Shanty from 1915, when my grandmother arrived in this country from Italy, until they moved into an empty company house on The Hill in Yatesboro shortly after Anne was born. The Black Shanty was crude, basic living; it truly was a shanty covered with black tar paper and was furnished with the barest living necessities. The house on The Hill was a short step up as it had four rooms, gas lights, no indoor plumbing, and meals were prepared on a coal-fired kitchen range. Anne would share this house with four siblings, her parents, and several boarders until she left at eighteen to marry our father.

1940_Joanne_Mum

My mother Anne and I when we lived in Tipple Alley.

When Anne and Joe married in 1935, they moved into an upstairs apartment on The Flat, a short distance from her home on The Hill. When their first baby, my brother Joe, was born they moved to a newly renovated apartment in Tipple Alley, just down the hill and up the road from her mother’s home. The buildings had been offices of the mining company that she described as having beautiful hardwood flooring and trim. I, their second child, was born in Tipple Alley and have several first memories of the simple life she and Joe shared there with their neighbors and friends.

Our little family lived in Tipple Alley until 1942 when we moved to House #9 in Yatesboro PA, shortly before my sister Kathy was born. This was a duplex and we lived in one-half: 2 rooms downstairs and 2 up. No bathroom, no central heating, no hot water. When the residents of the other half of our duplex left, our parents bought the entire house and then the fun began. One summer our dad dug out the clay basement, then one-by-one he installed central heating, hot water, and a bathroom, all firsts on The Hill. We lived in our luxurious castle with a large back porch and yard and surrounding woodlands to explore. Three more children would be born in this house: Ron, Linda and Dave.

In 1965, with most of their family out of the house, our parents built a nice ranch home in Rural Valley, just about one mile from our mother’s birth home in Rose Valley. And here she would live until at the age of 94 she moved to “easy living” at St. Andrew’s Village, a nursing home in Indiana PA. While she began life there in Assisted Living, she called it “easy living.”

Why am I going on and on about where our mother spent her life. Well, because she never wanted more. She was happy where she lived and where she was in life. She truly bloomed where she was planted. She loved keeping house, doing all the tasks required of a wife and mother of six, and taking on much more than just what that required. She baked, she canned and she froze fresh produce from the garden, she sewed, she did all kinds of needlework, she read voraciously, and raced through the house as though it was on fire going from one thing to another. I must say we often got in her way as she furiously busied herself with the work at hand. But in the process she taught us many things.

You may think our mother was a simple person. But let me reassure she was not. She was as complex as one can be. Although she completed her formal education with the 11th grade, she continued to learn her entire life by reading anything and everything she could get her hands on. Books arrived regularly in the mail because of the book clubs she belonged to. Magazine subscriptions were countless. And we always received a daily newspaper. So we all learned to read early, and by association, learned to write. To this day every one of her six children read books and magazines and write as easily as we talk. It just came naturally to us because of the availability and the immersion in reading material while we were growing up.

Anne also continued to learn from other women in our small coal mining town. When someone came up with a new idea, a new way to make something, or a new way to decorate, she always had to “get the directions” and try it. She was a visual person and noticed everything. If she visited someone’s home and liked something she saw, she would come home and low and behold! there would be a new way to display a doily, or pictures on the wall, or ivy across the kitchen cabinets. She would try anything she liked and most often succeeded or even bettered what she had seen. She constantly changed the furniture arrangements (much to Dad’s consternation) and tried new recipes in the kitchen. When anyone complained she would say, “Life is change. Get used to it!” A saying that still serves us to this day.

She was a strong-minded women who, it seemed to us, believed in a “my way or the highway” philosophy. She and our dad expected no less than perfection from us. Doing a good job was primary to them and that meant chores, school, or even what we did with our leisure time. And that lesson was well-learned and carried into our adult lives as attested to by the high-achievers that we have become. Nothing is ever finished. There’s always room for improvement. This can be a curse as well as a blessing but we are learning when it’s time to stop and let it be.

1962 and Dave's 10th birthday.

1962 and Dave’s 10th birthday.

Anne lived her beliefs. While she believed in hard work she didn’t preach it. She just showed us. We all had chores to do from an early age and she taught us girls homemaking skills by letting us help her in the kitchen and with cleaning the house. When I was six-years-old she taught me to crochet lace around handkerchiefs one summer to give me something to do. I was also six or seven when I began to help her with the ironing. She layered the clothes in the bushel basket with handkerchiefs and pillow cases on the bottom, blouses and dresses next, and on top were the boys shirts and pants, and finally Dad’s work clothes. She would begin with the larger, heavier pieces, and I would finish with the pillow cases and handkerchiefs, gradually graduating up the layers until I did the entire basket by the time I was eight or nine. For someone who loved ironing she seemed more than willing to turn it over to me. When I was in high school I would mix a large recipe of bread dough before going to school in the morning and she would bake it so that when we got home the house smelled delicious and, as a special treat, a bowl of Johnny Bulls was waiting for us on the table.

When I was twelve or so, the kitchen became mine after the supper dishes were done. I would pull out the Betty Crocker cookbook and bake cakes, pies, or cookies. A couple evenings a week I would whip up something delectable for my brothers and sisters and Dad’s lunch bucket. I never got a compliment but everything sure disappeared. I still use the Betty Crocker cookbook for cakes and pies from scratch and enjoy that time in the kitchen knowing the enjoyment my efforts will bring.

And it wasn’t until after Dad died that we discovered Anne, our mother, had a sense of humor. Joe loved talking and visiting with just about anyone and everyone while Anne stayed in the background, serving drinks, a meal or snacks. She’d sit at the table and listen but didn’t say much. Once Dad was gone, she came into her own and we could talk to her about anything under the sun: family, emotional crisis, books, poetry, world happenings, or politics. And she saw the humor in things, often cracking her own jokes to break the tension of a situation. Even near the end of her life, she had pet names for the aides that cared for her daily and when she talked to them she made them laugh. One day she told me, “If I can lighten the burden of taking care of us, I will.” While it had to be hard for her to let them help her with the most intimate things, she did it with grace and they left her room feeling better about themselves.

Serving one of her delicious spaghetti dinners in 1957 in the "house on The Hill.

Serving one of her delicious spaghetti dinners in 1957 in the “house on The Hill”.

Anne was an enigma in many ways, a study in contradictions. She either loved something or hated it, she loved you or hated you. And when it was the later she didn’t hesitate to let her opinion be known. You didn’t want to make her mad; the sting of her backhand or tongue lashing could last forever. She didn’t show affection (except to our dad) but she would buy you a new dress for the school concert or prepare your favorite supper for your birthday. She didn’t make a big deal out of it, she just did it. It wasn’t until near the end of her life that she would tell us that she loved us. While it sometimes seemed she didn’t have time for us when we were young and at home, in later years she was always there and eager to stop what she was doing to have a good conversation over something good to eat. When you stopped in for a spur-of-the-moment visit, she was always there.

In fact, now that I think about it in those terms, throughout our lives she was always there. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, she was always there. She is, and always will be, missed.

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Memories of Mum

by Kathy

Mum at clothesline

Here’s mum doing what she loved to do.

As I was contemplating what memory I wanted to share about Mum, I got an e-mail from Joan and she said I think this will bring back a lot of good memories….in the e-mail was this poem about clotheslines.

 A clothesline poem

by Marilyn K. Walker

A clothesline was a news forecast
To neighbors passing by,
There were no secrets you could keep
When clothes were hung to dry.

It also was a friendly link
For neighbors always knew
If company had stopped on by
To spend a night or two.

For then you’d see the “fancy sheets”
And towels upon the line;
You’d see the “company table cloths”
With intricate designs.

The line announced a baby’s birth
From folks who lived inside –
As brand new infant clothes were hung,
So carefully with pride!

The ages of the children could
So readily be known
By watching how the sizes changed,
You’d know how much they’d grown!

It also told when illness struck,
As extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes, and a bathrobe, too,
Haphazardly were strung.

It also said, “Gone on vacation now”
When lines hung limp and bare.
It told, “We’re back!” when full lines sagged
With not an inch to spare!

New folks in town were scorned upon
If wash was dingy and gray,
As neighbors carefully raised their brows,
And looked the other way .. . .

But clotheslines now are of the past,
For dryers make work much less.
Now what goes on inside a home
Is anybody’s guess!

I really miss that way of life.
It was a friendly sign
When neighbors knew each other best
By what hung on the line.

As I read this poem, I thought this is a wonderful memory to share.  Mum loved using her clotheslines.

Living in Tipple Alley and washing those work clothes by hand.

Living in Tipple Alley and washing those work clothes by hand.

MUM’S BASIC RULES FOR CLOTHESLINES:

  1. You had to wash the clotheslines(s) before hanging clothes.
  2. You had to hang clothes in a certain order and always hang “whites” with “whites” and “darks” with “darks”.
  3. You never hang a shirt by the shoulders — always by the tail!
  4. Never hang clothes on the weekend.
  5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so you could hide your “unmentionables” in the middle (perverts & busybodies, y’know).
  6. Never leave clothes pins on the line……very tacky!
  7. If you were efficient, you could line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothespins but shared one of the clothespins with the next washed item.
  8. Clothes off the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket and ready to be ironed.

Mum would hang clothes the length of the yard, I believe there were four lines.  Dad used old railroad tracks and made them into a  “T” shape.  He cemented them far into the ground so they would never lean.  He made Mum several clothes props to hold the lines up when they were heavy from sheets or rugs.  I am safe in saying, we had the best lines on the hill!  They lasted as long as we lived at the old house in Yatesboro.  When we moved to Rural Valley, the first thing Dad did was make Mum new lines.  They weren’t as long as the old ones but they were just as sturdy.  They are still there to this day.  Mum got great joy from hanging clothes on the lines.

Mum and clotheslineWhen we lived at the old house the trains would go past our house on their way to NuMine and sometimes the engineer would blow out a huge puff of black smoke and the soot would end up on Mum’s clothes.  She would shake her fist at the train and rattle off  an Italian saying that would make anybody shake……the train would just keep on going.

She had a certain way of hanging her clothes on the line.  All the whites were together, all the darks and it seemed she hung our clothes in birth order.  The clothes were always neatly hung to dry.  When it came time to take the clothes off the line, she had a way of taking each piece off and carefully folding it and putting it in the basket.  She would always tell us when she put fresh sheets on the bed.  Crawling into bed with those fresh sheets was just about as close to heaven as you could get.  The way they smelled and felt you knew that it would be a good night’s sleep that night.

Mum and Kathy on a windy perfect for hanging clothes out.

Mum and Kathy on a windy day perfect for hanging clothes out … but the lines are empty!

Mum would be the first in town to have a dark sun tan and that came from hanging clothes on the line.  It would fade in the fall but come the next spring, she would be a beautiful tan again.

When Mum was learning how to drive, we would take the country roads for her to practice her driving.  She would always notice when people had clothes on the line.  She loved to see the clothes blowing in the wind!

Today, people don’t seem to have time to hang their clothes out to dry.  It is sad because they don’t know what they are missing.  I plan to hang my clothes out to dry as long as my arms will reach my two little lines.

Rest peacefully, Mum………..kathy

 

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My Mother; My Teacher

by Linda

Although the umbilical cord is cut at birth, we’re tethered to our moms forever. Now that Mum has passed, I feel unmoored, temporarily adrift…still attached to the mother ship, but floating aimlessly. I haven’t quite accepted the fact that I won’t be able to ask her about recipes, tell her about the book I’m currently reading, catch up on family news, or make her laugh just to hear the sound. As much as I will always love Mum, she certainly could confound me; but, always, there was a lesson I gleaned from her words or actions, sometimes years later upon reflection!

When I was little (okay, younger), I never understood her practice of group punishment. I’d be minding my own business, swinging outside on a beautiful summer day. The next thing I knew Mum was summoning us all to the porch–now. I knew I was going to get a smack as I walked passed her, but I had no idea why. One day I remember asking her why I was getting punished when I didn’t do anything, which prompted her to give me an extra whack. I learned to accept my fate after that. Another thing that confused me was the group laxative. If one of us was constipated, we were all lined up for that awful tasting medicine, Castor Oil! To this day, I’m very, very reluctant to take any laxative despite the need. I learned much later to rely on the more natural approach.

Mum will never be known for her hair dressing skills as evidenced by most of my school pictures. She never missed an

Dave, Mum and me dressed for the first day of school.

Dave, Mum and me dressed for the first day of school. I was in 4th grade.

opportunity to put a braid somewhere in my hair and only one braid never two. The worst, though, was when I was in seventh grade and Mum decided to give me a perm. Granted I was a pretty homely kid, and I’m sure Mum thought a perm would be an improvement; however, I had naturally curly hair already. I can still remember looking in the mirror after Mum styled (I use that word very loosely) my hair. That’s the first time the expression “oh shit” entered my lexicon. Not only did my hair look horrendous, the residual odor from the perm clung to me like…well, I’m sure you know an appropriate expression. Let’s just say that for almost two months at school the kids called me a very pejorative, unflattering racist name. After that incident, I took my hair into my own hands, so to speak. I may not have looked any better, but at least there was no one to blame but myself.

While still in the hospital Mum showed me how to pick up stitches while recovering from a broken hip.

Showing me how to pick up stitches while recovering from a broken hip.

The one thing that frustrated both Mum and me was her inability to teach me to knit. As a lefty, I was hopelessly confused when Mum had me sit across from her to mimic her movements. I just could not translate what she was doing to my fingers. We would end our knitting sessions both of us upset with me. Finally, one wintery evening I decided that sitting across from Mum just wasn’t working. I sat beside her, took up my working needle in my right hand, and copied her movements. Success! The rest is my knitting history.

Mum taught me to value so much—the pleasure found in a good book, the beauty in nature,

1990, Mum and I enjoying each others company on a regular visit.

1990, Mum and I enjoying each others company on a regular visit.

the pride in a job well done, the satisfaction of cooking or baking to please others, the rewards of curiosity and persistence, a good laugh, a good cry, and knitting something warm and cozy for someone you love. The hardest lessons, though, came near the end of her life. When her eyesight was failing and she could no longer walk, without saying a word, Mum taught me patience. Her determination to accept the limitations imposed on her and yet move beyond them was a true testament to her grace and dignity.

Throughout my life I sought to understand Mum and to be understood by her; but I’m grateful to have grown enough that in the end the little things didn’t matter so much anymore. It was enough to accept each other, to love each other, and to laugh together.

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For most of my sixty-plus years toward the end of August, I begin to anticipate the month of September.  What a perfect month!  The daytime temperatures are warm, even hot; but the evening and nighttime temperatures are a comforting cool that’s perfect for sleeping with the windows open—the night sounds a soothing lullaby.  September has a particular smell all its own.  Go outside on a beautiful September day and just take in a deep breath of fresh air and you’ll understand what I mean.  The chipmunks and squirrels are chattering and scurrying on the quest to ready themselves and their families for the cold winter months.  The have-a-heart trap really gets a workout this time of year!

On Luigi’s last walk of the night, I look up at the stars so bright and close, but it’s the moon that captures my heart, and as I walk with Luigi I sing:  “I see the moon; the moon sees me….”  A song Mum would always sing to us as we cuddled close on the swing at night, the thrum of night insects the background music.

On a beautiful September, with clothes blowing in the autumn breeze, smelling so clean and fresh, Mum would break into song.  Her rich alto voice regaling The September Song.  I love that song and my favorite rendition, I would have to say, is the one Mum would sing.  I would pause whatever I was doing to listen as Mum’s vibrato made goose-bumps on my arms.  I used to feel the song was written for me, September baby that I am.  It wasn’t until I was old enough to understand the words that I came to love its sad, tender poignancy.

When I was very young, September meant birthday cake, and I would mark time through the month with birthday cake.  Joanne’s birthday was celebrated on the twelfth and then Dad’s, the eighteenth.  My birthday followed Dad’s by three days so, more often than not, his birthday cake became my birthday cake, too.

Mum baked and decorated the best birthday cakes!  These were “scratch” cakes, mind you; and she would pipe on shells and stars and write “Happy Birthday” over the icing.  Beautiful and delicious!  The finished cake would sit on a pedestal in all its regal glory for all admiring eyes to see and maybe a small finger here and there dragged through the frosting, the anticipation too much!

September also was the month when I began my love-hate relationship with school.  In September 1954 I began first grade.  All of a sudden I went from waiting for my brothers and sisters to return home from what seemed like a daily eternity to suddenly run-skip-walking to keep up as we headed for the bus stop and the humungous yellow school bus.  Back in those days, there we no “dry runs.”  One day you were at home talking about this mysterious thing called “school,” and the next day your tiny, innocent five-year-old self was smacked right over the head with school—including a scary bus ride!  It was Kathy’s responsibility to lift me up onto the steps until I could manage on my own.  Really, should kids be sent to school before they can even navigate the bus steps?  Of course, for me with my slight vertical challenge, that would have meant not going to school until I was forty.

That September despite getting the knack of, and love for, oral reading, Miss Patterson felt I needed to be with the slow readers in the “blue bird” group to help them along with the hard words instead of being with the faster-reading “red birds.”  While waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for one of my fellow blue-birders to sound out the word “stop,” (for goodness sake already…sss-t-aw‑p…Stop! Stop! Stop!…how hard can it be?) I learned to love day-dreaming!  “Linda,” says Miss Patterson, “you’re supposed to raise your hand if you know the word so you can help your fellow blue birds.  Are you day-dreaming?”  I learned that teachers ask difficult questions just like parents do.  Hmmm…what’s the right answer here?  Yes, I’m day-dreaming?  No, I’m paying attention?  School was not turning out to be “a piece of cake,” so to speak!

First grade was hard!  If that September was the harbinger of days to follow, October through May were going to prove more than a little difficult for me.  I was forever being asked things I knew but was too shy and too scared to give the correct answers.  I couldn’t articulate my feelings to my siblings nor would I have even if I had the words.  I somehow had learned very early that you don’t whine and complain; just learn to deal.  Besides, all the siblings  seemed perfectly adjusted to/in school.  There must be some trick to it that I’d pick up, so I toughed it out and rejoiced when summer vacation began.

Me in my September “marble” carrier dress.

Toward the end of August 1955, Mum went to Wards (Montgomery Ward) and bought school clothes.  I got a new dress that looked like a jumper with a blouse attached.  I loved that dress!  It was a beautiful plaid of fall colors.  That September that dress was my pick for the first day of school and for my school picture.  Mum had some pretty pearl clip-on earrings that she attached to the yoke of the dress.  When I got to school for picture day, Mrs. Mildred Hilliard told me I looked very pretty and I nearly peed my pants with embarrassment!  After recess one boy I really liked asked if I would keep his marbles for him (how provocative is that?).  I was just beside myself with joy!  I took his dusty marbles and mine and put them in the pocket that the yoke of the dress made…marbles being warmed by my tiny chest and warming my little soul.  Even with all that joy, I wasn’t feeling quite well.  I didn’t know what was wrong, but my head just didn’t feel right.

As my birthday approached, I was very excited.  School was going well–Mrs. Hilliard recognized my reading ability and put me with the “fast” readers, I was slowly becoming confident enough to answer questions, and I was even making some really nice friends.  Still—when I woke up in the morning, I couldn’t open my eyes…literally.  The lids seemed to be almost glued shut.  I would lie in bed and pry my eyelids open with my fingers while pain, like a thousand sharp needles, would shoot through my eyes.  I’d run down to the kitchen once I had my eyes open and Mum would take off my pj’s and wash the “sleep” from my eyes, and get me dressed for school.  I really didn’t feel well, but I didn’t want to miss school and Mrs. Hilliard, who for some reason seemed to like me as much as I loved her.  I would lag behind on the way to the bus stop and through most of the school day.  I couldn’t wait to get home just to lie down, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage the pain that made my eyes and nose feel as though they were on fire.

Dad’s birthday, September 18, fell on a weekend that year, and so we celebrated with cake—my name and Dad’s inscribed on the top.  Just looking at my piece of cake made my stomach clutch, but…it was cake.  Who passes up cake?  I was going to be seven years old.  By the standards of the Catholic Church, I had reached the age of reason, and I reasoned a little cake wouldn’t hurt.  But all I could manage was a little cake.

Each day it became increasingly difficult to pry my eyes open to the point that I had to get Mum to intervene.  She would apply a warm wash cloth to my eyes and ta-da!  Eyes open…ready for school.  Still feeling crappy, but trouper that I was, I was still marching off to do battle with the alphabet.

September 21, 1955.  I awoke but no amount of prying would budge my eyelids.  When I put my fingers to my eyes, pain shot through my face. My eyes felt twice their normal size.  I could see just a slit of light through my left eye.  I made my way down to the kitchen, and when Mum saw me she gasped in the middle of wishing me “Happy Birthday.”  I knew then something must be very wrong.  Mum pulled me onto her lap and no amount of warm compresses would pry my eyelids apart.  Mum lay me on a black leather settee that was at the far end of the kitchen (where Dad would eventually build a breakfast nook) and covered me.  The windows and doors were open.  I could smell my beloved September and watch the kitchen curtains billow in with the breeze; but if I moved ever so slightly, the pain would make me want to puke.

That evening Dad carried me to the car, and I lay in the front seat between him and Mum.  This was, of course, before seatbelts; and I’m so glad it was!  I was so comforted there between my parents as we headed for Dr. Wilson’s office in Dayton, PA, my head in Mum’s lap.  Mum and Dad spoke in hushed tones in Italian, presumably about me and my pathetic self.  I assume the older siblings were watching the younger siblings because Duff would have been a mere three years old at the time and Chip would have been only nine years old.  With Joanne in charge and Kathy as her first lieutenant, the boys were in safe hands.

As we waited in Dr. Wilson’s office, Dad went across the street…or somewhere.  When he came back, he whispered in my ear to open my hand.  When I did, he placed the biggest candy bar I’d ever seen through the small slit in my eyes in my hand.  And, he told me, it was all mine; I didn’t have to share it.  How great was that!  You have to know in a family as big as ours being given permission not to share was huge.  Even though I hadn’t eaten all day, I couldn’t bring myself to take a bite.  I treasured that candy bar anyway.

We didn’t get a diagnosis until Mum and Dad took me to the specialist that Dr. Wilson referred us to—Dr. Yocki (spelling?) in Kittanning.  I had herpes zoster—shingles.  Dr. Yocki was so kind and gentle with me.  He told Mum he’d never seen such a brave little girl and that he had seen grown men scream and cry with the pain.  Well, please, I did cry with pain, but I took the compliment anyway.  I didn’t see the shingles themselves until I could finally open my eyes a little and Mum passed me a mirror.  Holy cow!  From my nose up, I looked pretty bad—very bad!  Between the swollen eyes and the shingles, I brought new meaning to being beaten with an ugly stick.

That September passed with no more incidents or surprises.  I survived my bout with shingles with just a few physical scars that have now receded so that they are hardly visible, but the emotional scar that I may one day again experience that pain haunts me.  And, no, I haven’t gotten the shingles shot but have intended to for some time without following through.  And don’t remind me about intentions because I do know where they lead.

As a retired teacher, September has always been a month filled with anticipation.  From the moment Staples would come out with their back-to-school ads and flyers, I was like a kid at Christmas—“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” to coin a phrase.  I couldn’t wait to load up on school supplies! Then there was the excitement and challenge of meeting new students and colleagues, finding out their stories, passing along skills students could use for the rest of their lives (ahem…typing!), enjoying the give and take of a classroom of excited kids, laughing and crying as a new year unfolded were like life-giving waters to me.  I loved settling into the rhythm of school life and the intellectual stimulation of every minute of every hour of the day!  Even now that I’m retired, I have to make a couple of trips to Staples to check out the pocket folders, colored papers, pens, notebooks—oh (and sigh), the calendars and organizers!  I still gravitate toward kids I see in the store to ask about their school year.

Me and the boa…fun times!

It was a September (1971) that brought Ken into my life.  This tall, handsome guy from somewhere around Pittsburgh that all the young girls had a crush on…who saw something in me that I didn’t see and who changed my world.  Who could make me laugh about the silliest things when I was as serious as a heart attack.  Who tricked me into holding a large boa constrictor in front of a gymnasium full of students and then he ran for the door! And who stuck up for me and elevated me when I needed it most.  And who still makes me laugh and still supports me these forty-plus years later.

And it was in September 2001—that awful day—colleagues, friends, and students all struggled to understand how any one group could be so misguided and so filled with hatred and rage.  That September I cried along with everyone else and stood with conviction to recite the pledge to the flag, determined that I would not allow intolerance and ignorance to dictate my response to others.  I remember leaving the school building that day and wondering how it was possible that the sky could be so beautiful, the sun so warm on my skin, in the face of such despair.

That one awful September day made me realize what a gift it is that our family is fortunate to be able to continue making beautiful memories of perfect September days.  And I feel fortunate to be able to tell our 95-year old mother of the memory I have of her singing the September Song, and the warm feeling hearing her singing those familiar lyrics again just recently gives me.  The vibrato may be gone from her voice, but her memory of the words was still strong and touched my heart as never before.       –lcjt

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I have mixed emotions about graffiti.  The “tags” scrawled across buildings, overpasses, fences, etc., without regard for property owners are criminal acts of vandalism, which I am happy are now a punishable misdemeanor in Erie, PA.  That said, when I see the work of people like David Choe, who created a very famous image of Barak Obama, I’m conflicted.  I consider his work very artistic.  Certainly blighted areas benefit from street artists of his caliber.

Traveling north on Interstate 79, as I often do, are two graffiti-covered overpasses that caught my eye and amused me despite my feeling that scrawling is not art.  One scrawl has been on the overpass near mile marker 118 for at least 10 years, perhaps even longer.  I can’t quite remember when I first noticed it, but it has remained untouched for a very long time.  The other more recent graffiti was on an overpass in the vacinity of Grove City, which I noticed about a year ago.  The scrawl near mile marker 118 expresses a sweet sentiment of love.  The one near Grove City expressed a sentiment that was a little eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

Notice I used the words “was” and “expressed” in the previous sentences in reference to the newer graffiti posting?  That’s because the “eyebrow-raising” scrawl was painted over when a new location sign was added to the overpass. The sentiment for all northbound travelers to read was “Fornication is not a sin!!!!!”  I may have misrepresented the number of exclamation points but there were multiple ones.

I raised my eyebrows and guffawed the first time I spotted the sentiment and couldn’t wait to get home to tell Ken about it.  In fact, I laughed almost the entire drive after that.  Grove City, in case you don’t know, has an enclave of Amish within walking distance…or buggy-driving distance…of that overpass.  I just pictured drunken Amish teens during Rumpspringa, fresh from self-discovery and ticked off at the elders for misleading them, dangling over the side of the overpass, scrawling by moonlight or oil lantern.  Come on!  It had to be teens, don’t you think?  And Amish teens in the throes of exploring our hedonistic ways during Rumpspringa.  So…hats askew…either boys or girls…perhaps both…declaring for all northbound travelers to see what we all discover at some point in our lives, some sooner than others, “Fornication is not a sin!!!!!”  Halleluiah! Praise the Lord!

The scrawler could have been a formerly repressed college student from Grove City College.  Students there are held to strict religious standards even in this reality-T.V.-Kardashian-driven society.  So it could have been a chastity pledge gone awry.  But, I’m sticking with the Amish.  We all know American teens are jaded by the time they reach junior high, chastity pledges aside…so Amish teens…had to be. The mental image of the graffiti painting taking place is way better in my mind with Amish perpetrators!  It was probably repressed fundamentalists, though, that insisted the graffiti be painted over when the location sign was attached.  I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that county council meeting!

Farther along I-79, just before mile marker 118, is another overpass.  Once again, I was driving north alone when I spotted the then freshly painted plea:  “Chase the sun with me!”  I know…sweet, right?  Every time I see it, and it must be hundreds of times now, I automatically smile.  That sentiment has been on the overpass for years.  I don’t know exactly how many years it’s been there but enough so that the paint has faded and dulled by the elements.  No one has attempted to cover it or write over it or erase it in any way.  It remains in all its sweetness as an inspiration for all romantics.

I often wonder about people who make huge public proposals…graffiti or otherwise.  How in the world can anyone possibly live up to any grand romantic gesture–one that draws public attention?  I’ll bet Tom Cruise wishes he never saw Oprah’s couch!  How about Angelina wearing Billy Bob’s blood around her neck? That didn’t turn out so well.

But imagine making a gesture to the one you love that is both grandly public and at the same time sweetly private.  Even though the author’s entreaty in this case is quite public (“Chase the sun with me!”), it’s also very private.  Only two people have to know:  the author and the author’s heart’s desire.  They could spend the rest of their lives nodding knowingly to one another while those of us who have seen the sentiment are left to wonder.

Of all the graffiti I have seen scrawled or drawn, “Come chase the sun with me!” still remains my favorite.  If you saw the line scrawled across the side of the overpass, you would be unimpressed with the style because it isn’t pretty.  But for me, it represents perfection.  Most days when I’m traveling north and I see the overpass come into view, I picture the author and his intended still chasing the sun together but returning home and smiling each time they pass under the overpass, fingers entwined.  And then some days I see the graffiti and the needle scrapes across the harp music and I think, “How corny!”  Seriously.  Most times, though, the messy line makes me smile as I speed home to my one true love.

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This morning’s news covered a story of yet another incident of bullying.  This time at a school in Upper Darby, PA.  Six or seven boys attacked another boy, beating and dragging him then hanging him by his feet upside down in a tree.  When the victim fell on his face onto the pavement, the attackers then dragged him to a nearby metal fence and hanged him by his jacket, narrowly missing impaling him and leaving him stranded and demoralized. 

The fact that bullying continues to be fodder for the news doesn’t surprise me.  What takes my breath away each time I see the video of this incident is the brazen-ness of the perpetrators who proudly filmed their actions to share electronically hoping for what–exposure? fame? recognition?  What makes us human is the ability to discern right from wrong, is it not? Granted these were kids, but  where are we as a society when children succumb to pack mentality because it’s fun and may generate buzz on social network sites or maybe even make the evening news?

Let’s face it: bullying has become seemingly acceptable on some levels and so insidious it’s barely recognizable at times.  We’ve come to accept road rage and screaming and interrupting instead of reasoned dialogue and debate in everything from politics to religion to child rearing.  We accept poor service–or no service–in many aspects of our daily lives.  Case in point:  I was at a local grocery store not long ago and decided to use the self-service register to check out.  On that particular day I was purchasing flat-leaf parsley.  Having used the scanner many times, I knew I was going to have to manually input the skew number for flat-leaf parsley.  As I was turning the bag to better view the skew, an overweight, heavily made up twenty-something cashier marched over to me without my asking for assistance, grabbed the parsley out of my hands, shoved me aside, and began rapidly punching buttons.  When I tried to tell her that I knew what I was doing, she ignored me, scanned the parsley, threw the herb into a bag, and flounced back to her post–all without acknowledging me. I was so outraged and embarrassed, I was shaking and couldn’t respond.  I finished scanning my groceries, paid my bill, and left the store quivering with the indignity of being made to feel less significant than a slug by a “Jersey Shore” reject.

Here’s the sad thing: I have become used to being bullied by others just by virtue of my size and gender.  As a shy child unable to speak up for myself, I accepted bullying and learned to avoid it or ignore it.  As an adult, I have endured the bullying by sales staff, as in the example above, more times than I can count simply because I’m short…seriously.  Ken can attest to the truth of that statement because he’s been witness to it many times when we’ve been shopping together.  Sales personnel will ignore me or reach over me altogether to wait on others behind me at the service counter.  Most of the time I will point out the slight as politely as possible, but I’ve come to accept it for what it is.  People bully because they can and because they’ve been bullied themselves.  Just because the bullying isn’t overt, doesn’t make it any less than what it is.

But what about impressionable children?  Like it or not, we are all role models.  Kids take our words and actions literally–and they get their behavior cues from us.  Kids aren’t sophisticated enough to understand nuances in words and deeds until the high school level and even then their judgement is considerably in question.  As difficult as it may be to face, kids reflect us–the images and experiences and impressions and examples we give them.  How can we expect them to be more than what we are or what we project?  I think, too, we can’t continually reward bad behavior through publication.  We might express our indignation at seeing images of kids (and sadly, adults) behaving badly, but we publish them anyway–viewer discretion advised.  You think?

I don’t know. Maybe I expect too much.  There always have been bullies and there will always be bullies.  We’re just more aware through media saturation, I guess.  In the aftermath of the Arizona shootings we heard a cry for a return to civility from politicians, civic leaders, clergy….  We’ve heard that cry before.  Most of us don’t need the reminder.  After all, the ability to choose to be humane is what distinguishes us from inhumane animals, right?    —Linda

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