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Saying Good-bye

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.

My September Song

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

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.

The Pizzelle

Probably the quintessential cookie in any Italian-American home is the pizzelle—flat, round, anise-flavored, crisp cookies served at weddings and on holidays.  As a kid, I shunned the pizzella (one pizzella, two pizzelle, etc.) in favor of any other cookie that might be available and even (gasp) walked away from any cookie tray that featured pizzelles.  That cloying anise scent served as a repellent to my palate much the same as bug spray repels bugs.  Now…the fact that pizzelles offended my youthful palate may not be any big deal given my youthful inexperience with culinary treasures, and as I was recently informed by a younger sibling (who shall remain nameless but there’s only one younger than I), I have no palate because I find salmon distasteful. Nevertheless, salmon aside, I have come to recognize the pizzelle as a bit of Italian deliciousness at the end of a meal, or in the afternoon with tea or coffee, or in the evening with a nip or two of vino.

What makes the pizzelle a perfect treat is that it isn’t overly sweet or heavy so if you’ve just finished a big, wonderful pasta dinner, the cookie offers just that little sweetness at the end.  There’s always room for the thin wafer-like cookie because it’s light; it doesn’t fill you up or put you “over the edge.” The crispness of the cookie also gives you a little crunch that may have been absent with the entrée. And because the pizzelle is unassuming in nature, it’s a perfect treat to dress up with other flavors or flourishes to add a little flair to impress and delight.  A scoop of lemon sorbet with a lemon pizzelle tucked in the top is a wonderful after-dinner treat!  Pizzelles sandwiched with chocolate hazelnut spread with a glass of milk is a very satisfying bedtime snack.

As with anything delicious, the place to start is with good ingredients.  Surprisingly, I now enjoy the smell and the taste of anise when used with a light hand and in concert with vanilla.  However, any pure extract or syrup can be used as a flavor enhancement.  Traditionally, though, the flavoring used is anise.  Our great-grandmothers used anise seeds, which they crushed.  Another traditional flavoring is lemon zest/juice because of the abundance of lemons in the Abruzzi region, as well as occasionally orange zest/juice.  Then the usual cast of characters make up the rest of the dough—butter, eggs, flour. When I set up my pizzelle iron to preheat and begin to gather ingredients for the cookie, I think of our grandmothers and their mothers before them going through similar motions to make this delicate treat for their families, our ancestors, and I feel a connection.

The next focus is the pizzelle iron. The first pizzelle irons were made in Abruzzi, our motherland, by blacksmiths in the many years before Christ. Don’t you wonder what little Italian crone with a red “babushka” said:  “Hey, Luigi, go out inna the barna anna make-a me some-a-ting to cook theesa dough wit”? Of course, Luigi did the crone’s bidding and thus, our pizzelle irons have evolved…but not by much.

Those first irons looked very similar to the one used by our Grandmother D’Orazio, which looked pretty close to the ancient ones. Grandma D’Orazio’s iron had a base that fit over the burner of a stove (like a wok base but smaller) and a separate long-handled apparatus consisting of two hinged cast iron metal plates that sandwiched the pizzelle dough.  A small ball of dough was placed on one of the plates, the handles squeezed and flattened the dough and then the iron was placed on the base over the flame.  After a few seconds the plates were flipped and the other side was cooked…very labor-intensive, for sure.  Not to mention, the intense heat conducted through the handles on the plates. Ouch!

The traditional design of the cookie was that of a snowflake or star.  Don’t ask me why…it’s traditional. Pizzelle irons frequently were given as wedding gifts with the family initials or crest etched into the blank spot left on one of the metal plates. When the pizzelle dough was then squeezed between the plates the initials or crest would emboss the cookie.

Today’s pizzelle irons are stand-alone appliances that look much the same as their cousins, the waffle iron.  What makes the pizzelle iron different from the waffle iron is the depth of the grids on the plates.  The grids on the pizzelle are very shallow so the resulting cookie is thin and crisp.  A google search will provide a list of companies that manufacture irons, but I prefer C. Palmer Mfg. Co. Inc. Located in West Newton, PA, C. Palmer is a little mom-and-pop, third-generation company that manufactures the entire pizzelle iron, start-to-finish, in a very nondescript white building at the edge of this small Mon Valley town. There’s no showroom, no fancy windows, just a girl at a desk surrounded by barrels of pieces and parts.  C. Palmer manufactured Mum’s pizzelle iron, my mother-in-law’s pizzelle iron, and Rose Falcone’s (Ken’s Grandma Rose) pizzelle iron.  The company ships irons everywhere in the United States, including “The Strip” in Pittsburgh. You can check out C. Palmer’s Web site for irons and other products at cpalmermfg.com.  I prefer the traditional iron to the non-stick iron, but non-stick irons are available.  I tend to shy away from non-stick cookware because of its fragility.  I actually have two pizzelle irons—one that makes two at a time and one that makes three at a time which are smaller and very, very crisp…yum!

The next thing to consider is the recipe.  Mum used Aunt Dane’s recipe, a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, and a recipe marked “My Favorite Pizzelles.”  All three recipes are in her prized “red” notebooks.  Even though I had the best ingredients, the Palmer pizzelle iron, and the “perfect” recipe, no matter how hard I tried, my pizzelles never matched the quality of Mum’s.  One day, armed with a copy of the “favorite” recipe, I drove to Rural Valley ready to record exactly what Mum did to make her pizzelles.  Turns out another focus should be the execution of the recipe.

Here’s the recipe with Mum’s technique for “My Favorite Pizzelles.”

Begin by melting 1 cup oleo (Mum uses Parkay®); set aside to cool.  Combine and also set aside 3 cups flour (we added ¾ cup more flour that day) and 4 teaspoons baking powder.  In a large bowl, beat 6 large room-temperature eggs (put these in a bowl before melting the oleo) on medium speed of a hand mixer until the eggs turn a pale yellow.  Gradually add, 1 ½ cups of sugar, beating well after each addition.  Then slowly add the cooled, melted butter beating very well to completely incorporate it.  Add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and 2 teaspoons anise extract or oil.  Add the dry ingredients, again slowly, and beat until smooth.  You want the dough to be the consistency of a very soft cookie dough.  You may not need to add all the flour, depending on the humidity that day.  Sometimes Mum has to add ½ cup more flour; sometimes, ¾ cup more flour.  That day we added about 3 ½ cups of flour altogether.  Let the dough “stand” to allow all the flavor to blend. Mum said, “I like to let mine stand for at least an hour” so that’s usually what I do.  While the dough rested, I washed the extra bowls and utensils and I set up Mum’s pizzelle iron and got out the cooling racks.  Mum sprays the pizzelle plates with cooking spray and then plugs in the iron, and closes the lid to preheat.  It takes about 20 minutes to bring the iron up to the correct temperature.  Once the iron is nice and hot, open the lid of the iron.  Place an ice tea spoon-sized dollop of dough on each iron plate.  Close the lid tightly.  Watch the steam until it disappears.  Gently lift the lid and if the pizzelles are golden, quickly remove them to the cooling racks.  Repeat the process until you’ve used all the dough.  The recipe makes 6 to 7 dozen pizzelles…a lot!

A couple of notes about flavoring:  the intense heat cooks out the alcohol from the dough, so use your favorite flavorings liberally.  In addition to extract my favorite thing to do is to add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the flour/baking powder mixture for that hint of somethin’/somethin’ in the background.  I also love the flavor of 2 tablespoons of hazelnut syrup combined with 2 tablespoons of vanilla.  I use butter instead of oleo because I think it makes the cookies crispier.  I add my flavorings to the melted butter while it’s cooling.  As soon as you remove the pizzelles from the hot iron, roll them into a cone or cylindrical shape and dip them into melted chocolate (Kathy does this all the time) and finely chopped roasted walnuts or pecans for a little added flair.  If you roll them into cone shapes, you can fill them with mascarpone cheese with tiny chocolate chips. Or you can sandwich two pizzelles together with your favorite ice cream.

Just remember not to stack the pizzelles while still warm.  I leave mine out on the cooling racks for a couple of hours and then I store them in a metal can with a tight-fitting lid.  You can keep them indefinitely that way.  If they do soften a little, place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put them in a hot oven for just a few minutes to crisp them up.

Trust me—the homemade pizzelles are so much better than anything you can buy in the store.  They’re lighter, crisper, tastier and so worth the effort!  Ken thinks I have the things to focus on out of order (the recipe should be first according to him…really???), but no matter how you consider making pizzelles, just make them!  Would a cookie by any other name be so sweet? Could it?  Buon appetito!  Linda

We’re prone to think of marriage as the sole province of humans. As such, it’s a state that’s frequently riddled with discord in today’s world. It seems harder and harder to find a marital union where both partners mutually benefit from the relationship and plan to make it a lifetime commitment.

However, the dictionary defines marriage as “any close union,” thus, if we broaden our view of marriage to encompass the animal and plant kingdoms our perspective changes and we find many happy marriages that have endured for centuries. Wandering into the realm of nature, we secure a closer look at a few of these unlikely relationships and at what makes them work.

Many stories are told about members of the same species that work together for one reason or another. Birds come together to feed or migrate; bee colonies work for the good of the group; monkeys live together in large bands mostly for protection; and many fish live and work together in well-developed communities. Although monarch butterflies usually migrate singly, they come together to rest at night covering whole trees, giving off an unpleasant odor that singly would be undetectable but as a group it is strong enough to repel enemies. Thus, there is safety in numbers. Similar community relationships exist in many species.

Even more interesting than community living is the sociability between different species. The interrelated dependence among plants and animals is probably one of the most important factors in their continued existence. Again, the reasons for these unions are many: protection, getting food, mating or possibly just for fun.

Scientists refer to the close relationship in which plants, mammals, insects or birds live together and depend on each other as symbiosis, taken from the Greek syn, “together” and bios, “live”. Most agree it must also be a mutually beneficial arrangement, called “mutualism.” But there are also examples of “commensalism,” in which only one organism benefits and the other is unaffected; and “parasitism,” where one is benefited and the other is harmed. We are all aware of these different relationships existing in human relations including marriage, friendships, social and work interactions.

To the casual observer one of the most obvious examples of mutual symbiosis is between flowers and their insect pollinators, one that holds significant consequences for our world. If it weren’t for insects, flowers would not be pollinated, there would be no fruit and much of our plant life would die away. Insects, of course, need blossoming plants rich in nectar for food. Thus, we have a mutually beneficial symbiotic union that takes place in front of our eyes.

Example of “mutualism” symbiosis.

Bees, butterflies and moths all distribute pollen while searching for precious nectar. Many flowers accommodate only one specific pollinator using an assortment of wiles to attract the would-be partner, while others accept any insect interested in doing the job. Many specialties have developed in flowers to attract insects including color, fragrance, and arrangement of blossoms.

Certain long-throated flowers depend on hummingbirds for pollination, as only they are capable of reaching the nectar deep in the trumpet-shaped blossoms. Many of these flowers are bright red, a color that especially attracts the ruby-throated hummingbird. Another interesting example of specialization is the lady slipper orchid. The slipper-shaped blossom traps visiting insects that accidentally pollinate the flower while trying to escape through the one tiny hole at the top of the flower.

Some flowers even stoop to mimicry to attract attention such as the orchid that not only looks like, but smells like, the female counterpart of its specific pollinator. Drawn to the pseudo-mate the insect copulates with the blossom, distributing pollen in the process then moves on to the next blossom, never the wiser. All is fair in the battle to survive.

Symbiotic relationships abound in nature and it would require a lengthy book indeed to describe all of them. Some are as simple as the squirrel and the oak. The tree provides food for the squirrel while the sometimes-forgetful rodent plants many an acorn insuring a steady supply of food for future generations. However, the squirrel will survive without the oak because their food choices are wide ranging: nuts, seeds, fruits, lichens, buds, mushrooms, roots, pine cones, leaves, twigs, bark, black walnuts, oranges, avocados, apples, apricots, corn and flower bulbs! And the oak would survive without the squirrel as well. So although they are helpful to one another it would not be life-threatening if the relationship did not exist.

On the other hand, a very specialized arrangement exists between the yucca moth and the yucca flower or Joshua tree. If their relationship did not exist, neither would either of them. There is no other insect that can pollinate this flower although many visit it, and the moth larvae are dependent on the yucca seeds for food, no other will do. Theirs is most certainly a mutually beneficial arrangement.

The female moth, an inch-long silvery-white insect, visits several flowers before choosing one in which to lay her eggs. She makes a tiny hole in the pistil of the flower, inserts her ovipositor and lays four or five eggs inside. She then places a ball of pollen, which she has collected from several other yucca flowers, on top of the eggs. This pollen insures there will be food for the larvae once they hatch. Her job completed on one blossom, she’s off to collect more pollen and lay more eggs.

Soon the Yucca blossoms turn to seedpods, the larvae hatch and begin eating the seeds that were thoughtfully provided by mother and flower. Each yucca pod contains more than enough seeds for the larvae so there are plenty left for the plant’s propagation. Once the larvae are old enough to leave the pod, they crawl out the hole made in the pistil by their mother and drop to the ground. There they spin a cocoon and develop into adult moths to begin the cycle once again.

A plant doesn’t need to be large or complicated to contribute to a symbiotic relationship. One of the most common examples involves an alga so small that singly it can be seen only under a fairly powerful microscope but en masse it makes a colorful showing. Fungi, another simple plant, have no leaves, stems or flowers and are unable to produce their own food so they team up with the algae that can produce enough food for both of them. The result of this union is called lichen. The fungi support the algae and provide water for both plants. It was once thought that the fungi acted as parasites on the algae, but closer studies showed the algae. to be too healthy to be parasitized.

Some lichens like reindeer moss, are used as food by wildlife and man. Icelanders use lichens in their weaving industry and the manufacture of paper. Lichens also contain rich dyes and have been greatly valued for this reason. Here is one symbiotic relationship among many that is useful to man. Both algae and fungi exist in many other relationships. Most of the antibiotics used today are derived from fungi and their allies. The future possibilities of helpful fungi and algae seem endless as more research is taking place.

Another marriage beneficial to man is one between a bacterium and certain plants of the bean family. Bacteria exist everywhere and although some are harmful to man many are useful and this particular bacterium is one of these. Unable to produce their own food, bacteria must find a partner to feed them. Thus the courtship begins.

Green plants need nitrogen to grow and although plenty is available in the atmosphere they are not able to use it until it undergoes a chemical change. If you were to dig up a clump of clover, peas, beans, or vetch, you would find little nodules on the roots. This is where the bacteria live and convert nitrogen into nitrates usable by the plants. These laboratories benefit the whole plant world because as the plants are harvested and the ground turned over for a new crop, the roots decay dispelling the nitrates through the soil to be used by the next crop.

So the bean plants provide food for the bacteria and in return the bacteria make it possible for these plants to exist; a very important relationship for each and one important to the world food supply.

However, not all symbiotic partnerships are applauded by man. One of nature’s most destructive insects, causing millions of dollars in crop damage, is the aphid. Abhorred by man it is coddled and protected by the ant … strange bedfellows indeed. Aphids get their food by sucking juice from plants. During digestion, part of the juice is changed into a sweet liquid. Ants love this “honeydew” and lovingly care for the aphids in order to ensure a steady supply of the juice.

The ant carries aphid eggs to its nest and when the young are hatched, the ants transport them to a nice juicy plant. They “milk” the aphids by stroking them until they are rewarded with honeydew. The ant is satisfied with his favorite food and in return protects the aphid. This relationship is beneficial to the ant and the aphid but not necessarily to man as many plants can be destroyed in this process.

Successful natural-world partnerships occur in all eco-systems. One of the many symbiotic relationships of the sea is that between the moray eel and the red and white shrimp, another unlikely pair. (Let’s face it, anything except another eel is an unlikely partner for the moray.) Most animals steer clear of the dangerous moray but the shrimp will swim right into the eel’s mouth to glean bits of food from its teeth and what is even more surprising is that the moray lets it. The shrimp is fed and the eel gets free dental care.

The clown fish and anemone live in harmony.

The clown fish and the anemone are another interesting relationship of the sea. The clown fish brings scraps of food to feed the immobile anemone that will not attack its benefactor with its poisonous sting. Hiding among the anemone’s dangerous tentacles, the clown fish is also protected from its enemies. Sustenance and protection make this a working partnership.

A successful union of the desert is that of the saguaro cactus and the Gila woodpecker. Cactus moths are very destructive to the saguaro. The Gila woodpecker, by feeding on the moths, plays a very important role in helping to preserve the vanishing tree. Planning a whole season ahead, the woodpecker chooses a site for its nest, pecks out a hole in the cactus and as scar tissue forms over the soft, wet inner cells of the tree a suitable nest, hard and dry, is prepared for the woodpecker’s breeding season. The woodpecker is provided with food and convenient housing and the saguaro is protected from a destructive pest, the cactus moth. All woodpeckers around the world are effective symbiotic partners.

In all fairness it must be said that all natural-world relationships are not a bed of roses. Relationships in which only one partner benefits and possibly brings harm to the other are known as “parasitic.” Examples are lice and fleas, something most of us have experienced at one time or another. Plants have their parasitic partners, too.

Dodder is a parasitic plant that lacks chlorophyll and is unable to manufacture its own food. The seeds of dodder germinate in the ground but as the young shoots twine around a suitable host plant, these roots die and the plant then sinks parasitic roots into the host plant and begins drawing its nourishment through them. It is now completely dependent on, and survives at the expense of the host plant which often dies. Dodder gives nothing in return for what it takes from the host plant. We can all identify one-sided relationships of this kind.

However, in symbiosis if the other partner is not harmed but merely puts up with the situation, it is called “commensalism.” Such a relationship is the shark and the remora, the hitchhiking fish. The shark doesn’t seem to gain anything from this relationship and it certainly isn’t harmed but it seems to do all the providing. Possibly it enjoys the company of the remora. In any event it makes no attempt to get rid of the small fish while the remora gets a free ride and feeds on scraps of the shark’s dinner.

We can certainly gain new insight into our relationships by listening to the subtle voice of nature. Much cooperation from the largest to the smallest is necessary as plants and animals provide each other with homes, food, transportation and protection. Each living thing makes its contribution to the whole. Each has something to contribute, something needed by another. Symbiotic relationships make sense and make living easier and even possible for many.

And what about the most important symbiotic relationship of all … man’s to nature? Isn’t it the responsibility of each of us to do our share in helping to preserve the fine balance of nature from which we reap so much? Unless we take this partnership seriously and begin to understand and appreciate the benefits we reap and our responsibility to keep it healthy, we could end up in a divorce court where there is no community settlement and everyone ends up a loser.

I would like to begin my story with one of Mom’s springtime poems about the Robin……..it was written March 31, 1942.

 

If the robin is , oh so free,

And can sing upon the tree.

Why should I be afraid to chirp

And be afraid to do my work?

When from sickness I am free,

I again will happy be.

Like the robin who sings to me,

I’m here! I’m here! I’m here!

Never fear, never fear.

Spring is here and so am I.

Just flew in from a warmer sky.

So hurrah! I’m here to stay

And will sing to you each day.

Jeannette Carter Brautigan

Never did I ever dream that one day I would need a whole new hip!  It came as such a surprise/shock the day I found out I needed a new hip .  I never in my wildest dreams thought that would be something I would have to deal with in my lifetime.  I guess I better start from the beginning of my story.

Around 2008, I began noticing as I did my mowing, vacuuming and walking, that after I sat for any period of time, I felt a stiffness in my right hip.  I thought it was just my body’s way of telling me I needed to slow down and pace myself a little better.  It also started to become apparent that it took me longer to accomplish something that took me a short time only a year ago.  Mainly, because I could not move as smoothly as I used to.   Again, I thought to myself, I guess this is how my body is reacting to getting a little older.  When I would mention it to anyone, that is what they would say, “You are getting older and things get stiffer and our bodies just don’t move as well!”  So I thought I would get used to it.

I continued to keep going but I began to notice that my right shin started hurting no matter what I was doing; walking, cleaning, vacuuming, gardening, any kind of activity.  I mentioned it to my family doctor at one of my routine visits and he said it was more than likely shin splints.  He said to take Advil and it should get better.  So I just continued on…..

Time kept marching on and so did I.  2009, 2010 and then it was 2011…..When springtime came, I noticed that after mowing my groin area would hurt and doing the steps was getting a little more difficult but if I took Advil or Aleve and it would usually do the trick and take the pain away.  I did notice I was taking Advil/Aleve more frequently to get relief from the discomfort I was feeling. 

Upon visiting the family doctor, I mentioned to him again about the discomfort and he said it may be coming from my knee.   So I would put ice on my knee and take one of my friends, Advil or Aleve.  Depending on how much I was hurting, I would take one or the other.

I started walking with a limp in early 2011.  It was an easier way for me to walk and not feel the discomfort or aching that I was feeling quite frequently.  In August 2011, Steve and I went to a picnic.  They were having a horseshoe game and one of the other wives asked me if I would be her partner.  I said I didn’t know anything about horseshoes but she said she would show me and it was not something difficult to do.  You just had to throw the horseshoe at the stake.  It sounded easy enough to me, so I said I would give it a try.

Louise threw her horseshoe and then it was my turn.  I threw the first one and all was fine.  When I went to throw the second one, I heard two pops.   It felt like something had broken…..For a minute I could not move or walk……I called for Steve and he walked me to a chair.  As time passed, I felt worse so Steve and I  went home.

I took Advil but it was not helping this time.  I went to see the family doctor but had to see the physicians’ assistant.  She said there was no swelling or bruising so she felt I would be fine in a week.  It was still so uncomfortable to walk, it was just easier to find a place to sit and not try to walk………that is not me though.

My daughter, Becky, suggested that I go see an Orthopeadic doctor.  So I called one in Westminster and got an appointment.  As I sat in the waiting room, I thought to myself it is probably nothing but since it isn’t getting any better I’ll have it checked out.

They called my name and off I went to find out what was going on.  The doctor wanted two x-rays of my hips and that is where my journey and this story began.  After the x-rays they put me in a room to wait for the doctor.  I sat there and waited patiently and before too long he came in.  His first question to me was, “Why are you here for your left hip?”  I said,  “Because it is hurting and does not seem to be getting any better.”  He then told me, I had pulled a tendon and it would heal on its own BUT my right hip was very bad!  I was just looking at him in disbelief and he said I was in denial.  Then he showed me the x-rays.  My right hip was bone on bone and there was an arthritic cyst growing at the top of the hip.  He asked me if I had any shin, knee or groin pain and I replied that I had felt all of that at one time or another or at the same time.  He recommended that I have a total hip replacement.  I just could not seem to understand how that could have happened.  He said it was due to degenerative arthritis.   I asked if there was anything I could do to avoid the surgery and he said he could give me a cortisone shot and see if that would help. 

He scheduled me to come back in two weeks.  By then my left hip was feeling much better and we talked about the cortisone shot.  He scheduled it for the first week of October.  It was amazing the relief I felt almost right away.  I could feel a smoothness when I walked but it would not last a long time.  By the end of November the aching was back again; though not as bad as before the shot.  By the middle of in December, I was walking with a limp and getting more uncomfortable every time I would stand after sitting. 

When I saw him in December he suggested I seriously think about surgery.  It was not going to get better on its own.  I could hardly walk Murphy around the block anymore and we used to walk twice a day.  Now we walked once a day and it was a very short walk.  I felt a constant aching in my right leg.  By the end of the day, I was exhausted just trying to walk.  The doctor told me it was time to have total hip replacement.

So on January 25th, I went to Carroll Hospital Center and Dr. David Silber operated and gave me a whole new hip.  I was in the hospital for three days and before I left the hospital I was up and walking.  It was not quite as easy as I thought it would be but I was managing the exercises and the pain medication helped a lot.  When I arrived home I had almost 5 weeks of home therapy.  The home care nurses were very helpful.  The exercises were not a lot of fun but I did them faithfully twice a day.  Each day I would have a little more movement and range of motion in my leg.  I started out with a walker and after 4 weeks switched to a cane.  I am into my second week of a  walking with a cane.  I am not real stable yet but the cane gives me confidence to walk.  I am hoping that in a couple more weeks, I will be back to normal again. 

I could not have done any of this without the help of my family.  I still have hip restrictions and my family has been a tremendous help.  They have made a difficult situation very easy for me.  I would like to thank them for their kindness, help and thoughtfulness, during this recovery period.  They covered all the bases.  I feel very blessed! 

Today, I saw Dr. Silber for my 6-week check-up.  He is pleased with my progress but will send me to outpatient rehab to help my new joint move better.  I will start the rehab on Thursday.  I will go three days a week.  Hopefully, it will help with the stiffness.   He seemed pleased with my overall recovery.

I am looking forward to springtime when I will be able to walk normal again and this will all be a memory… It will be nice to see the first robin…….kathy

 

 

Birds of a Feather

Each evening around 5 o’clock, condo residents gather on their lanai to watch the nightly performance of anhinga and cormorant, birds that roost in the trees, just beyond the canal.  You can hear the scraping of chairs and snippets of conversation…the clink of silverware on plates…as residents settle in.  After the first dozen or so of birds have settled, we all get quiet and watch as the birds seem to take up the same positions as the night before and the night before that.

Rain or shine (mostly shine), chilly or warm (almost always warm), the birds come.  The first one is always alone…derrrr…it’s the first one.  The others then follow, coming from all directions.  Maybe a lone flier, maybe two, sometimes a small group.  Until finally, the lacey pine trees are dotted with dozens of large black birds, looking like macabre Christmas ornaments.  Cormorant and anhinga (the cormorant’s cousin) come to roost. The first night I witnessed this spectacular roosting ritual, I was riveted to my seat.  Even Luigi, who back then would bark at the slightest provocation, sat on my lap silently and watched in rapt attention, his muscles just quivering with tension.  We both were stunned mute.

Cormorant and anhinga are not small birds, nor do I think they are they particularly attractive.  I find anhinga slightly better looking than the cormorant; though

Cormorant looking for comrads.

in truth, I have difficulty distinguishing which bird is which, even now after watching them for about two months.  The cormorant has all black or dark feathers with a little orange around the throat area. The anhinga is also mostly black with a very long neck, long bill, and long tail.  The female anhinga has a white-ish head and throat while the male anhinga has white on its wings. According to my reading, cormorant are a little smaller than their anhinga cousin but not by many feathers, averaging a length of about 31 inches while the anhinga measure approximately 34 inches.

Here are a couple of differences between the two birds that I’ve worked out, but most of the time I’m confused:  The anhinga arrive silently on the hush of wings and remain quiet; cormorant come in flapping clumsily, grunting like angry pigs.  Cormorant are the more likely to kick a poacher out of the trees, unceremoniously sending an interloper into the canal below or scuttling off to another tree close by, all the while raising a snorting, grunting ruckus.

Anhinga swoop and glide gracefully to stick a beautiful ten-point landing.  The cormorant come in, sometimes feet-first, flapping desperately on a collision course, barely grasping the narrow tree branch then swaying all the way forward with wings wildly beating until somehow they get their balance.  And always, the cormorant end any activity with their distinctive pig grunt. The cormorants’ awkwardness and snorting definitely provide us with a lot laughs!

Both birds are excellent fisherman, though their styles are a little different.  The canal behind our condo is full of fish, frogs, turtles, and the occasional alligator—

An anhinga quietly waiting for the others.

the smaller critters are just the diet of many of the birds that line the shores!  It’s fun and suspenseful to watch the anhinga as they hunt their prey.  Once the anhinga are in the water, only their head and neck appear above the surface, like a tiny Loch Ness monster drifting back and forth.  When they see a tasty morsel, they submerge.  I hold my breath while waiting for them to surface again.  I have no idea what goes on under water, but I have a suspicion that it wouldn’t be pretty.  Cormorant also swim under water to spear their prey, but they look more like ducks on the surface. The cormorant noisily slap their wings on the surface of the water when they attempt their awkward take-off after getting their fill of fish.  The anhinga, however, look like disembodied heads gliding to shore then they waddle out of the water.  Because anhingas’ feathers are so dense, they stand patiently on shore, wings spread and sometimes waving, in order to dry out–They remind me of the nuns who would pick up the skirts of their heavy black habits to run bases when playing softball with us during summer catechism.

While tiny baby alligators fall victim to the anhinga, anhinga in return fall victim to the decidedly larger alligators.  (Needless to say, Luigi and I don’t venture back by the canal…often…and when we do, we tiptoe.)  So I literally hold my breath when watching any of the water birds and turtles along the banks.  I know any of the birds could fall victim to the silent, lurking menace.  I’ve heard gruesome tales of not-so-lucky turtles and egrets.

Something I love about both the anhinga and cormorant, though, is that they mate for life and share parenting and housekeeping duties.  I find that quality endearing, for some reason.  There is at least one mated pair of anhinga that come to roost every evening.  The female flies in first and keeps her head turned toward the west until her mate comes and lands close beside her.  You can almost hear the female sigh with relief when she sees her mate landing beside her.  At least that’s what I imagine.  It seems as though the branch would buckle under the weight of the two birds, but somehow it manages to support them.  The male then moves with a slide-shuffle over to his mate, the branch undulating with each movement, the two rub heads, slide-shuffle apart, bury their heads under a wing, and fall asleep.

One night a great blue heron thought the trees would make a perfect spot, too; but he didn’t last very long.  Despite getting into a verbal altercation with the

Great blue heron taken through the screen on the lanai.

cormorant, raising up to its full height and trumpeting its position, it finally gave up and moved on.  I mean, really, the cormorant are a very crude, dirty lot but what a show they put on!  I was so involved in what was going on outside, my garlic wine sauce got away from me and literally exploded all over the kitchen!  It was not pretty.

I’m told by the locals that as quickly as the anhinga and cormorant appear, they disappear just as quickly sometime in February.  Until their impending departure, though, I plan to continue watching the ritual of their night-time routines.  My enthusiasm has waned these past few weeks and there is a part of me that can’t wait for the birds to disappear as the trees have gone from a pretty shade of ever-green to a dirty shade of gray-white from bird excrement.  In a word…yuk!  I find myself praying for rain, not just because the entire state is perilously dry but because the trees need a good bath!

Even in their murky state, the trees continue to attract some of the most beautiful birds.  Just the other day in the early afternoon, two pelicans swooped in and stayed long enough for me to snap quite a few pictures.  As soon as the filthy birds (cormorant and anhinga) began gathering for the night, the pelicans stood as if

Pelicans...what can I say?

on cue and flew off and have yet to return.  I hope it was nothing the loud-mouthed cormorant said!