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Archive for the ‘Reminiscence’ Category

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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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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Uncle Sid's high school graduation photo

Uncle Sid's high school graduation

Integrity first … Service before self … Excellence in all we do

Who will remember us when we’re gone? How many generations until we’re no longer thought of or remembered for our deeds, good and/or bad? These were my thoughts recently when I came across a picture of my uncle, who has been gone for 36 years now. Had he lived he would be 93-years old today. Something that’s hard to imagine; I remember him as he was in the prime of his life.

Uncle Sid was born October 25, 1918, the fourth child, second son of Antonio and Rosa D’Orazio; he was their last child born in the “Black Shanty.”

In January 1915, the new immigrant family of three (one infant had died) moved into a building my mother described as a “row house.” It was called “Black Shanty” and had been built by the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company as temporary housing in the Rose Valley section of this Southwestern PA coal community. Black Shanty was a wooden building, hardly more than a shed, covered with black tar paper sitting up on stilts. New immigrants lived there until one of the newer company houses became available. The D’Orazio’s lived in Black Shanty for three years.

My mother, Uncle Sid’s sister, was born in the Black Shanty in 1916, a year after her infant sister Anina had died of convulsions. Her older brother Uncle Nick (Nickolino) had been born in 1912, in Montenerodomo, Chieti, Abruzzi, Italy before he migrated to the U.S. with my grandmother Rosa. Shortly after the birth of their fourth child Silvio (Uncle Sid) in 1918, my grandfather Antonio and his family moved into the 4-room company house Number 58 “on the hill” in Yatesboro. Uncle Sid grew up in this house, walked to school across the Black Road, and went to church at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church as a young man.

Uncle Sid joins the Air Force

Uncle Sid joins the Air Force

Uncle Sid was my favorite uncle, the handsome, carefree world traveler, appearing mysteriously at our kitchen table from places known to us only in books and from his stories. He never stayed long, an hour or two, occasionally overnight, but he regaled us the entire time with his adventures around the world. He had black, curly hair, hazel eyes, and when he talked it sounded like his words were rubbed over a rasp in his throat before hitting the air; it sounded as though it took great effort to get them out. His laughter trickled out over the same rough course. His “raspy” voice added to his charm in my eyes.

In 1936, at the age of 18, Uncle Sid, like many of the boys his age living in the coal town of Yatesboro, went to work for the Helvetia Coal Mining Company of NuMine, Pennsylvania. He operated a load-side conveyor that hauled coal from the mine entrance to waiting railroad cars. He manipulated levers and buttons to start and stop the belt, and he regulated the speed of the belt; quite a responsibility for an 18 year-old. He operated, cleaned and serviced the machinery until 1941, when, at the age of 23, wanting more for himself, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force, a decision that would change his life forever.

In his 26 years of service in the Air Force, Uncle Sid traveled all over the world from England to Alaska to Germany and in several of the States back home. After Basic Training, and during World War II, he served in England as an Administrative Non-commissioned Officer during the European Air Offensive. He left for England on 27 April 1942, and arrived back in the United States on 3 July 1944.

More than a decade later Ramstein Air Base, Germany, was his home from March 1959 to August 1961. At one time or another he was stationed at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois; Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; Ladd Air Force Base, Alaska and in Air Force bases in South Dakota, Georgia, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. And finally, he served as Administrative Superintendent, the Non-commissioned Officer In Charge at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

On June 4, 1952, he received Top Secret clearance before he was stationed at Ladd Air Force Base, Alaska, near Fairbanks, where he served as an aide to a General whose name has been forgotten by the family. Ladd AFB was the duty station he most treasured in his Air Force Career. He was there as Ladd became involved in the Cold War and was a testing ground for cold-weather clothing and aircraft. The base became a busy operations and logistics center with significantly expanded facilities and personnel strength during the 1950’s. He also needed his Top Secret clearance for his duty in Germany. His Alaska and Germany assignments are cloaked in mystery as to what he did and what he knew about operations at these bases, making him seem even larger in our young eyes. In our imaginations our debonaire uncle was involved in secret operations at the highest levels during a cynical time in U.S. History. He often joked about the “Eyes Only” aspect of his job and his duties as aide to “The General”.

When he voluntarily retired from Patrick Air Force Base, Florida on 31 March 1967, Uncle Sid was a Master Sergeant with 26 years service. During his service, he attended several military schools including one for Military Justice and Administration in 1949, prior to receiving his Top Secret clearance. Other schools were related to his MOS of cleric and finally, towards the end of his career, he attended a recruiting school. He always received “excellent” in his scores and ratings.

Uncle Sid with German shepherds in Alaska

It was a fun time when Uncle Sid came home on leave. He never failed to visit his sister Anne and her husband Joe, our mother and father. Everyone sat around the kitchen table with a steady flow of beer, while Uncle Sid joked with my dad, and told embellished tales of the places he’d been since we last saw him. He made such a big deal of being a ladies man and regaled us with stories of all the women that flocked around him that he had to “brush off.” He never failed to bring a bag of gifts, little mementos of wherever he happened to be: fancy embroidered pillows with gold fringe and the Air Force logo, a large shell from Hawaii, coffee cups with the Air Force emblem, paper weights, or special chocolate treats. He was definitely proud of the work he was doing.

While he was stationed at Ladd Air Force Base in Alaska I was in high school. He’d send me large packets of Alaskan newspapers marking interesting articles he thought I should read and circling advertisements with comments on the prices—things were so much more expensive in Alaska, not yet part of the Union, than in the U.S. His letters told us what he did in his off-time and included pictures of the snow and, later, of the dogs.

Uncle Sid and some of his buddies adopted a couple German Shepherds and a litter of puppies that wandered onto the air base. He was so proud of those dogs and spent a lot of time with them; he joked they had to do something to keep warm in that no-man’s land. He was pretty involved in taking care of the puppies when they arrived. I think that says a lot about his character in spite of his nonchalant pose. He could’ve “brushed them off” like he supposedly did the women that flocked around him but he didn’t. I think those puppies gave him a sense of purpose beyond his job and made him feel connected to something real in that stark, frigid land.

When I’d visit my grandparents in Ohio in the summers and he was home on leave, he’d sunbathe and ask me to sit and talk with him because he was bored. He’d ask me questions about school and what I liked to do. One time he even had me pick the dead skin off his back after a severe sunburn. I wasn’t too happy about that but I didn’t complain because he joked and made me laugh the entire time. In the evenings he’d sometimes take me for a drive to get ice cream. He was kind and interested in all I did and made me feel loved.

Uncle Sid didn’t marry until late in life. His first marriage soon ended in divorce. In November 1966, he was stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, he had a new wife Mary Jane, and he decided to retire from the Air Force effective April 1967. He was never the same again. Uncle Sid loved the structure of the service, the disciplined life, and once he left the Air Force he didn’t know what to do with himself. He became very restless, frustrated, and unhappy.

I saw a man who was very different from the man I loved as a child. I was married with children by this time and saw Uncle Sid only a couple times but it saddened me to see the melancholy in his eyes and the curl of his lip. I wanted only happiness for him but it seemed to elude him at every turn. I wish he could have been happier in his retirement because he was such a good man, always kind, and thoughtful, and definitely deserving of happiness at this time in his life.

Uncle Sid with German shepherd puppies

Uncle Sid was only 52-years old when he died March 16, 1975 in the Veterans Hospital in Butler PA. He is buried with his parents in the Austintown Cemetery, Austintown, Mahoning County OH, in the Garden of Love.

Who will remember us generations from now; who will validate that we existed? Or as poet Gary Soto writes, “Who will know us when we breathe through the grass?” Only those who have loved us; for everyone else, faint memories will fade with time. Silvio Joseph Dorazio, with these words you are remembered today by all you touched in your short life. Happy birthday! And peace …..

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Porch Swing

The family swing still hanging protectively for winter at the family home.

This post is an extension of Kathy’s last one. As she said, we’ve been cleaning out our mother’s home, preparing it for sale. The new owners will take over in another week or two so we’re all going through a transition with Mother, nursing our nostalgia for what was once our family home. I visited this week for the last time to take some pictures before the new owners take over. The porch swing was still hanging where it has hung for many years during the winter months. Mother had moved in February so it didn’t get lowered this year for another year of swinging, singing, and solving the problems of the world. This is the subject of my post.

1993: Our dad and Pudge

Our family has an addiction. It’s in the genes. We’re all victims. No matter how hard we try we can’t stay away from … swings. Yes, since we were tiny toddlers we’ve always had a swing. Most often two swings: one hung on the porch and the other hung in the yard. No rinky-dink plastic swing with padding. No push-button toddler swing. Only large, oak swings that fit three adults with perhaps three toddlers, one on each lap … a 6-person swing. Most of the swings we’ve had in our family have been handmade by our dad. And most of our swings had large springs installed at the top of the chains to give the smoothest, most comfortable swing around.

Our mother and grandchild

When my first child was born, Dad gave me an oak swing on which I could croon my babies to sleep. It hung at three different houses in two counties until we bought our current home. We rocked our four boys to sleep on this swing, they courted their high school sweethearts here, and Bob and I dreamed of an old age together on this swing as one-by-one the boys went off to college and jobs away from home. Finally, after fifty years of highs and lows, toddlers and teens, middle-aged and the elders, it gave way to rot as it hung between two Silver Maple trees at this house that it serviced for forty-three years. At the same time, one of the maple trees that held it also died so it was time … the end of another era for this family.

1952: Duffy_Joanne

1952: Joanne with our littlest brother Dave

As I grew up, the porch swing was the seat of much of our social training and activity. Looking back, it seems as though every house had a porch, and most of my fondest memories are of events that took place on the porch. For instance, in the summertime we ate, visited with relatives, entertained neighbors and friends, played games, courted, read, learned to do needlework, and we even slept on the porch. Loneliness was unknown to our young minds. All you had to do was sit on the porch and soon someone wandered by to join you for a chat as you swung slowly back and forth.

Mom braided the rag rugs that decorated our porch floor. She made them from our old dresses and shirts which she had also made, many from flower sacks that once were made of fabric decorated with bright colors and designs. Most every porch in those days had a swing, an essential piece of porch furniture. Babies were nursed and rocked to sleep on that swing, secrets were shared, problems discussed, dreams dreamed, and sweethearts kissed.

1947: Dad and Kathy enjoy a swing

Walking home from school one could tell who was sitting on the porch by how the swing was going. If it looked like any minute it would fly right off the porch, it was a younger brother or sister trying to touch the ceiling with their feet. If it was a nice, slow medium swing, Mom was probably putting the baby to sleep; and if it was barely moving, Dad was taking a nap or Grandma was visiting. Whoever it was, you had time to plan your entrance so you didn’t get killed if someone did happen to be napping.

1957: Dad and 5-year-old Dave swing away

One of my favorite pastimes was to swing until my feet touched the ceiling all the while singing the popular tunes of the day at the top of my lungs. While I poured my heart into the lyrics of “Now Is the Hour,” “I’m Sending You a Big Bouquet of Roses,” “Sweet Violets,” “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” I dreamed that a talent scout from one of the large movie companies would just happen by our house in his long black limo, hear my melodious voice, and sign me up. It was the heyday of the big production musicals with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair, Shirley Temple, Doris Day, and Judy Garland, movies that we never missed, glamorous lives that we heard about on the radio—so why not me? We dreamed big in those days. The higher the swing went, the bigger the dream.

1953: Linda and one-year-old Dave on porch swing

Innocent times they were. After dark on a summer’s night the only place we were allowed to be was the porch. The backyard that was so much fun during the day and that offered a plethora of delights to every kid that lived in our row of company houses became a forbidden, scary place after dark. When it was really hot, we tormented Mother until she grudgingly went inside and shortly reemerged with a large comforter. We helped her spread it on the grass then we lay on our backs and looked at the stars, but always with the admonition that the first kid to leave the blanket had to go straight to bed.

After what seemed like an eternity of identifying the north star, the big and little dippers, and even trying to count the infinitesimal candles in the sky, we began to catch “falling stars,” or lightning bugs, that came near the blanket. Eventually, feeling very adventurous, we got further and further away from the blanket only to return to show our latest catch to Mother and also Dad who had stopped to kiss us good-bye on his way to the hoot owl shift in the coal mines. Mom, rather than banishing anyone, ended up going into the cellar for a canning jar in which to keep these heavenly critters that had become earthbound just for us. When we had several fireflies in the jar we let them all go at once and squealed enthusiastically at our special fireworks display, the perfect ending to our foray into the wilderness from the sanctuary of the porch. But I digress …..

1950: Chip and Linda share a swing

Speaking of canning jars, we always had a canning jar of wildflowers on the porch railing. Dandelions in spring, then in season, Columbine, Day Lilies, Cardinal Flowers and Goldenrod. And of course, all the house plants came out onto the porch in summer complete with clay pots and wicker stands. They had such descriptive names: Rubber Plant, Snake Plant, Coleus, Philodendron, African Violets. On lazy afternoons we sat on the swing and conjured up stories about the places they came from and how they got their names. We wondered what stories they could tell of exotic places and we giggled as we spoke in strange accents that they might use if they could speak. Margaret Jean ran home for an atlas and we found make-believe jungle homes for our plants all over the world. Then we looked up the countries in which our parents and grandparents and our friend’s parents and grandparents lived before they came to settle in the States. Most of us in that tiny coal mining town were first or second generation Americans.

On that porch swing we learned a lot about life. Every Saturday morning my sister’s job was to scrub the porch, mine was to scrub the two-seater at the back of the yard. We must have been born with those job responsibilities because I don’t remember when we began doing them, we just always took it for granted. Sometimes, for a really big favor, we swapped jobs and I got to clean the porch. But the porch job was really overrated. I found it a lot easier to clean the john. It was smaller and there wasn’t so much stuff to move out of the way—only the roll of toilet paper and the reading material. My parents didn’t care who cleaned what, just so everything was coal-dust free by nine a.m. It amazes me now that we so happily obliged them—but they may remember it differently.

1957: Mum and Joanne on swing with houseplants in background

To keep my sisters and me occupied and out of trouble during those restless summers, Mother taught us all kinds of stitchery while sitting on the porch swing. We learned to crochet, knit, embroider, and we shared a wonderful camaraderie with Mother in our new talents. She had us put lace edges on handkerchiefs and dresser scarves, then embroider pretty designs on them. We made doilies for the furniture and we were so proud when she showed off our accomplishments to company. I’m sure they weren’t that great but to this day I am able to share Mother’s talents with my granddaughters and others who want to learn to knit a scarf or crochet a sweater, and to pass on, not only these dying arts but also to satisfy in others the deeper needs that Mother inadvertently filled in us while teaching our fingers to do complicated stitches. My sisters and I still do needlework today, keeping hands busy and out of trouble while fulfilling the need to create, decorate our homes with unique projects, and give gifts with that special touch.

1970s: Joey and family. Many family photos were taken on the swing

My porch experiences are not unique. The kids I grew up with have similar porch memories. We played jacks, tiddle-winks, marbles, charades. We quarreled, mended fences, laughed, and cried on my porch or theirs. We looked at an upside down world while hanging upside down on the swing that gently swayed back and forth. One could watch the seasons go by within the branches of the large maple trees that hung over the banister and wonder about the mysteries of life beyond the porch while listening to the comforting sounds of Mother’s homemaking coming from inside the house. Granted it was a slower time then, an age of innocence, or so it seems compared to the fast, paced electronic age of our grandchildren.

2011: The country swing in its new city home

Our porch swing has a new home now. But it’s still in the family. Our youngest brother Dave has taken our country swing to his home in the city where it looks perfect and will undoubtedly give him and his friends many pleasant hours of conversation and contemplation while gently swaying back and forth on Dad’s last oak swing. It’s been quite a journey, not only for the swing, but for all of us as well.

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I have a love/hate relationship with most candy but particularly with M&M’s.  I love them for the tiny bits of chocolaty goodness with the hard candy coating that they are, but I hate them because I cannot resist them no matter how I try.  I’m not promoting one candy manufacturer over another.  I’m an equal-opportunity chocoholic.  For me, though, M&M’s represent that one confection that, once I begin popping them in my mouth, I cannot seem to stop eating until every single little one is gone.  It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill.  My obsession begins slowly then gathers momentum.  I have been known to eat an entire “big” bag of M&M’s in one sitting–staring at the empty bag in my lap wondering: “Did I do that?”  Knowing I will spiral out of control, I avoid so much as looking at M&M’s if possible.

I most enjoy the plain M&M’s over the peanut, peanut butter, and pretzel varieties.  I feel you get more candy for your buck with the plain, which is probably not true.  It’s just my perception.  For some reason I don’t enjoy the peanut M&M’s at all.  I think it has to do with my particular (or peculiar) eating method.  I love to put one tiny morsel into my mouth and let it slowly melt.  But if I do that with the peanut variety, I’m left with a naked, unsalted peanut after all the chocolaty goodness has melted away–Yuk!

I have been guilty of hiding M&M’s in my nightstand to keep them away from Jen and Jeff when they were younger.  After all, too much candy is not good for children as we all know, and I was saving them from terrible acne when they were teens.  Oh, please!  Like none of you have hidden anything from your kids!  We’re talkin’ M&M’s here.

Ken’s favorite story to tell about my addiction to M&M’s happened during one Lenten season when were still trying to set good examples for Jen and Jeff who were about 17 and 12 years old respectively.  That Lent we were going to give up something we enjoyed in addition to which we were going to try to do something spiritual.  I chose to give up candy and to pray the rosary.

I decided the best time to pray the rosary would be when I went to bed.  I could turn out the lights, grab my rosary beads, and meditate in the quiet of the night.  I kept my rosary in my nightstand along with my ever-present bag of M&M’s.  I felt the struggle to resist the temptation of the candy would be a good thing.  I think I resisted about two nights–three nights, tops.  Besides, have you ever tried to say a rosary in bed with the lights out?  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get past the first decade without falling into a sound sleep.  Even if I left the lights on, I would be “out like a light” in no time.

In any case, I didn’t let on to anyone in the family that I had succumbed to the siren call of M&M’s in the night.  For all they knew, there were no M&M’s in the house let alone in my nightstand, and I was devotedly saying the rosary.

One day about three weeks into Lent, Ken and I were on our way to work when Ken mentioned he was so impressed with my ability to pray the rosary and stay awake.  He’d been falling asleep with his rosary for weeks.  He said he’d wake up after snoozing over his beads, and he’d hear my beads “clacking” away.  Oooops!  Those weren’t beads he was hearing but a fistful of M&M’s moving from my hand to my mouth! I said nothing.

Jen and Jeff were having difficulty maintaining their Lenten obligations and were complaining at the dinner table.  While Ken and the kids argued back and forth about the importance of sacrifice and faith, I kept my mouth shut.  Then Ken pointed to me and said, “Your mother works hard all day.  She’s exhausted when she goes to bed and yet she stays awake and prays the rosary, night after night.  That’s faith and sacrifice!”  Jen and Jeff hung their heads.  How could I possibly say, “Well, no, that’s actually M&M’s?”  So I just vaguely nodded.

That night when I went to bed I was feeling pretty guilty.  So guilty, in fact, I reached for my bag of M&M’s to assuage my guilt.  When Ken came to bed, he reached under his pillow for his rosary, sighed, and began to pray.  He assumed I had already begun praying my rosary.  I turned the bedside light on, turned to Ken, held up my bag of M&M’s, and shook the bag.  Clack, clack, clack!  “This is what you hear.  The rosary puts me to sleep.  I’ve been worshipping at the altar of M&M’s.  I’m going to Hell.”

Ken looked at the bag and then at me.  “Seriously?” he asked.  “All this time I’ve been in awe of your faith and you’ve been eating M&M’s?”  I shrugged.  The jig was up.

“Are you mad?” I asked him.

“Give me some candy!” he said as he grabbed the bag from my hand.

Amen…Linda



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