Monday, August 30, 2010

Sweet Memories

Published in the Charleston Gazette - August 29, 2010~

A neighbor recently gave my husband and me a big bag of fresh blackberries. The largest blackberries either of us had ever seen, they surely must have been picked from a bush that had been infused with some sort of growth hormone. These berries were the cream of the crop!

My first thought was to freeze them for later use - maybe show them off to the rest of the family at Thanksgiving - but then, I was reminded that I'm constantly advising everyone to live in the moment, and a question came to mind, "Why don't you practice what you preach?" Besides, my taste buds were already starting to tingle at the mere thought of a delectable dessert made from the succulent berries. So, in the spirit of "living for today," I decided to go ahead and make an old-fashioned cobbler. There would be no freezing, no waiting for another day or a special holiday; instead, there would be pure enjoyment right now! After all, who knows what tomorrow may bring?

As the cobbler began to bake and the aroma of the sweet berry mixture started to fill the house, my mind wandered back to delightful memories of my childhood days and the blackberry cobblers my grandmother used to make.

After I started school, my mother went to work. That meant I had to spend summers with my grandparents. They lived in a small coal-mining town in southern West Virginia where my grandfather worked in the mine. My aunt (only three months older) and I had a lot of fun finding ways to entertain ourselves. Some days, we explored the beautiful West Virginia hills that surrounded the tiny community, splashed around in the rippling waters of Paint Creek or visited the Company Store for a peppermint stick. Other days we spent hours picking blackberries in anticipation of some of my grandmother's scrumptious cobbler at the end of the day.

After supper, a bunch of us kids would gather in an open area just down the road to play "Hide and Seek" or "Kick the Can." Screams and giggles echoed throughout the neighborhood until long after dark. When we tired of games, we roasted marshmallows or potatoes over an open fire on the creek bank and sat around the fire telling scary stories. One by one, we were summoned by our mothers and another unforgettable summer evening was over. After splashing creek water on the fire, we'd head home, resembling coal miners ourselves, with faces blackened by smoke that had swirled upward from the blazing fire as it charred potatoes.

But the best evenings for Aunt Betty and me were the ones when, after our baths, my grandmother dished up the mouthwatering cobbler she'd made from our blackberry harvest that day. She covered the warm mixture with milk and, after we devoured it, we were tucked into bed with warm, satisfied tummies, and sleep came quickly.

The "ding" of the oven timer signaled my cobbler was done and jolted me back to reality. Funny how such small occurrences can sometimes fill our hearts with total joy for a brief time. A simple bag of blackberries, given by a generous neighbor, led me on a lovely walk down memory lane that was as sweet as the delicious cobbler made from them!

This piece was also published on USA Deep South

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Quieter This Summer

Published in the Charleston Gazette, June 14, 1979

As hot weather approaches, many people are anxiously anticipating a fun filled time of swimming, tennis, picnics, vacation trips and sunburn. But, as I look forward to a peaceful, uneventful summer, I’m remembering last year when my main objective for the whole spring and summer season was the planning and carrying out of two beautiful church weddings—one in July and the other in August. As the mother of two brides, I was convinced I would not survive the pressure. But I did.

I realize, dear daughters, that you were too caught up in your own oblivious happiness to know or even care what was going through my mind; but now, after almost a year, I’d like to share with you some of the feelings I experienced upon giving up two daughters at the same time.

Each time I watched nervously as the lovely bride floated down the aisle on the arm of a very proud father, knowing full well just how difficult it was for him to “give away” his little girl.

I somehow managed to hold back the tears as I heard the exchange of solemn vows amidst the candlelight and fragrant flowers. But I was touched by sadness when the bride and groom were finally introduced as “Mr. and Mrs. and, flashing radiant smiles, hurried up the aisle and out of the church leaving carefree childhood days behind to enter into the new adventure of married life and responsibility.

Both weddings were undeniably beautiful. Lovely pictures were taken and the receptions came off without a “hitch.” There were delightfully delicious three-tiered cakes, color coordinated punch, dainty rosebud mints, and cool, bubbly champagne. But as the bridesmaid’s bouquets wilted on the table, my mind drifted back to other happy days—not so long ago—when the same two lovely brides were rosy cheeked, golden haired, mischievous little girls. They fought with their brothers and with each other. They imitated everything I did from sweeping the carpet and baking a cake to applying make-up until their faces had to be scrubbed. Some days the task of keeping these two in line was too much for me and I did not spare the rod! Then, when they were fast asleep, tenderness would well up in me and spill over in tears as I’d watch them sleep and marvel at the distinct angelic halos above shining heads.

As they grew older, we played together and worked together, sharing the household chores—which they had learned to do as well as I—and had many endless “girl talks.” We shopped for school clothes and prom dresses and cheered on the high school football team. We grew ever closer instead of being separated by the generation gap like so many parents and teenagers. We worried over each other’s problems and gloried in each other’s triumphs.
 I guess what I’m trying to say, dear daughters, is that it was a pleasure growing up with you.

Even though I miss you terribly at times, I have not experienced a feeling of great loss or an empty, unneeded feeling that the psychology books say is normal. Seeing you both so radiantly happy makes up for all of that. Besides, I have such beautiful memories!

And, after all, I have gained two wonderful sons and the possibility of many grandchildren. Perhaps they, too, will have golden hair and part-time halos!

This story also appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling~

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Beautiful Dream

Published by Charleston Gazette - Sunday, April 29, 2007

       A humble woman with only an eighth grade education, my grandmother was married at sixteen, and soon after her first child was born, she and my grandfather migrated from a farm in Alabama to the coalfields of WV, where he went to work in the coalmines.  As the years passed, they were blessed with more children until there were five—three boys and two girls.

      They didn’t have a lot of money, but my grandmother was resourceful.  She planted and tended a garden, canning her yield at the end of each summer—insuring vegetables for her family all winter.  She also raised chickens and, on Sundays, would pick the fattest hen from the coop, wring its neck with her bare hands, throw it into a galvanized tub, cover it with boiling water, remove the feathers, cut it up and make a tasty platter of golden fried chicken for Sunday dinner. She made clothes for her children, crocheted beautiful afghans, made quilts, and cultivated colorful flower gardens.  She was almost never idle.

      Even so, because my mother worked, I, an only child, was sent to my grandmother’s every spring when school was out for the summer.  My fondest childhood memories are of the summers spent there.  No matter how busy my grandmother was, she always found time to sit on the porch swing with us children on those warm summer nights…telling stories of her childhood, such as the time her brother accidentally chopped her finger off with an ax while chopping wood. She would also sing silly songs—some of which would remain in our impressionable young minds forever…to be passed on to our children and grandchildren.
      Her youngest child was only three months older than I was; therefore, my Aunt Betty was also my playmate and best friend. Together, we made the most unforgettable memories, during the summers of our childhood, in that little coal mining town in the hills of West Virginia.

      When my grandmother died, at 79, Betty shared a letter with her family that she had received from her mother a few years before. In it, this uneducated woman managed to impart her feelings about life as a young wife, mother and grandmother in a way that touched every heart in the room.  Apparently, she was reflecting upon her life and musing about her mortality as she wrote to her youngest daughter.

      She wrote of the happiness she felt as a young bride and the indescribable joy of giving birth to each of her children.  She reminisced about things that happened as they grew to be adults—each of them getting married and starting families of their own.

      In the last paragraph, she mourned for the years that had passed much too quickly, and expressed gratitude for her large family of five children, ten grandchildren, sixteen great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.  Miraculously, she called each one by name; and at the end of her letter she wrote, “It all seems like a dream—a beautiful dream!”

      Some say I'm like my grandmother. I suppose there are some similarities; I also married young, and had five children.  In the early years, I even made some of my children’s clothing, learned to crochet and canned fresh vegetables from our garden.  However, I never had chickens!

       I, too, feel that time has passed much too quickly, and sometimes I ask myself, “Who fast-forwarded from the years of wiping noses, kissing boo-boos, and drying tears to a house that’s much too quiet with only two people living in it?”

       It seems like only yesterday that I took the oldest child for his first day of school, and then, the second, third, fourth and fifth.  Then came the years of homework, ballgames, cheerleading, shopping trips, proms, first dates and broken hearts—and I could never forget the uncontrollable excitement of five children on Christmas morning! Nor could I forget the weddings, the births of each of the seven grandchildren; or the sheer delight I have felt when spending time with them.  At times I have returned to my childhood to play a game of “make believe”, and have been so convincing that a grandson once asked, when he was three years old, “Maw-Maw, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

       I wonder if the three great-grandchildren that have joined our family in recent years will ask the same question.

      Now that I am “a senior citizen”, with both of my parents gone, and my own mortality is becoming a reality, I often reflect upon the past and find myself thinking….

      “It all seems like a dream—a beautiful dream!”

This story also appears in my book, Somewhere In Heaven My Mother Is Smiling~

Friday, August 13, 2010

Simon Says

Published by Charleston Gazette -
Sunday, July 15, 2007~

     When our granddaughter, Danielle, was in the second grade, her Physical Education teacher asked her students to invite a parent or grandparent to come and participate in a PE class with them.  Since her mother couldn’t get away from work, Danielle pestered me until I agreed to go.
      I was reluctant because this event was scheduled for —and I don’t do mornings!  I often stay up until the wee hours and then sleep until the “crack of .”  So, 8:30 a.m. is the middle of the night for me. However, this was my precious granddaughter, and I would grin and bear it, just this once, for her.
     To make matters worse, when I got up on the appointed morning, it was pouring rain and foggy.  I dislike rain almost as much as I dislike mornings.  Together, they are intolerable.
     I barely made it to the school on time, but there was no place to park.  After driving around the block a couple of times, I finally found a space, but it was close to a fire hydrant.  Since I was running late, I maneuvered my car into it anyway… mumbling to myself that I’d probably have a parking ticket when I got back.
      I got inside just in time to find Danielle and her classmates heading for the gym.  I was invited to join them, along with other parents and grandparents.  We sat down and waited while each student proudly introduced his or her guest.
     Then the teacher told us to stand up and form a large circle.  First, we did some stretching exercises, which were easy even for us older folks.  Then she said, “Now we’re going to play a game.  How about Simon Says?”  The kids squealed with delight.

The teacher started:  “Simon says, ‘Clap your hands’.”  Every hand clapped.

Then:  “Simon says, ‘Stomp your feet’.”  All feet stomped.

“Simon says, ‘Stick out your tongue’.” Right on cue, every tongue was out.

“Touch the top of your head.”

     Suddenly, everyone was staring at me and more than a dozen small index fingers pointed in my direction.  I felt my face redden as the sound of raucous laughter filled the room!   I had been the only one tricked.  The teacher clapped her hands loudly to calm the children and said, kindly, “Now, children, don’t laugh at her.  She’s new.”

“Let’s continue”, she said, and thankfully, the room became quiet again.

 “I can do this.” I thought, determined to pay closer attention.

“Simon says, ‘stand on your right foot’.”  Good!

“Simon says, ‘stand on your left foot’.”   Check!

“Simon says, ‘touch your nose’.”   Done!

     By this time, Danielle was watching me closely and I smiled letting her know that I had things under control.

     Still smiling and feeling very confident, I heard….

“Turn around”…and was more than halfway through a 360-degree turn before it occurred to me that Simon didn’t say…and I was the only one turning.

     The laughter was even louder than before, and the fingers pointed more accusingly.  Danielle put her hands on her tiny hips, glared at me impatiently and shouted, “Maw-Maw!”  I wanted to crawl under the bleachers and hide.
     The teacher halted the confusion by saying, “Alright, children, line up and we’ll get a drink of water.”  The class was over.  I said “good-bye” to Danielle and started toward the door, hoping to slip out unnoticed, but the other parents and grandparents rushed toward me—smiles flashing—offering comments like, “Don’t worry about it.” And, “We all make mistakes.” (Although I could swear some were smirking).
     I finally walked through the big front doors into bright sunshine, which lifted my spirits…as it had the fog.  Reaching my car, I was happy to find that there was no parking ticket.  I slid in under the steering wheel, started the car, and burst into laughter.  In spite of everything, I had enjoyed myself.
     I sincerely hope that Danielle forgave me for embarrassing her.  She must have—because  she never mentioned it again—but on the other hand, she never invited me to another school activity either.

This story also appears in my book, Somewhere In Heaven My Mother Is Smiling~

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bye-Bye Birdies – Please!

 Appeared in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, August 24, 2008

        It was not Alfred Hitchcock’s famous movie that caused my fear of birds, although I do feel a certain kinship with Tippi Hedren’s character when I’m working in my yard and hear a noisy twittering in the trees.  It gives me a chill every time!  It all started many years ago when I was very young.
It was common in those days to buy a live turkey for Thanksgiving.  Due to poor refrigeration, it had to be chosen, slaughtered, and made oven-ready right before the “big day”.  As the story goes, my father brought one home for my mother’s approval, and I, a mere toddler, was quite puzzled to find this strange looking creature walking around in our kitchen.  I had no idea what it was but was not about to get close to it, nor would I turn my back on it… and the feeling seemed mutual.
While my parents discussed its size and weight, this huge bird and I sized each other up.  She stared at me and I stared at her.  She took two steps toward me and I took two steps back.  She gobbled.  I shuddered…and we continued the two-step until my dad grabbed the rope that was around her neck and led her outside.
I never wanted to see that big bird again!  But I did when it graced our Thanksgiving table a few days later.
Now, that experience alone may not have done lasting damage, except that I was destined to have more “fowl” experiences.
A few years later, while playing in my grandparents’ yard and enjoying a cone of ice cream, a large rooster appeared unexpectedly and began flogging me like there was no tomorrow!  That rooster was definitely mad at me!  I threw my ice cream in the air and let out a blood-curdling scream that brought my grandmother to my side… fearing that I had met with a terrible accident. However, when she learned what had happened and that the only thing hurt was my pride, she soothed my ruffled feathers with a peck on the cheek and another cone of ice cream.  Reluctantly, I went back to my play—keeping an eye out for that big rooster, to be sure!
That same summer, I visited my maternal grandparents, too.  Unaware that they had acquired a parakeet since my last visit, imagine my surprise when I was introduced to Tweety.  “I guess a bird in a cage is okay,” I thought… but little did I know that Tweety was allowed to “mingle” occasionally.  So when I was sitting in front of the TV one evening and Tweety suddenly came flying into the room and landed on my head….I squealed hysterically until someone got that yellow bird off me and put him back in his cage.  I couldn’t stop shaking, and Tweety lost his mingling privileges until I went home.
There were other avian experiences throughout my childhood, but I managed to grow up in spite of them.  I got married and had a family, and we always had pets—dogs, cats, goldfish, hamsters, and turtles—but never a bird!
My children found my phobia amusing and devised all sorts of ways to mock me.  They’d place bird feathers strategically around the house…inside and out…just to watch my reaction when I found them, and I once discovered a stuffed bird on my pillow when I awakened.  That deed did not go unpunished!
One day, my daughter and I were in the checkout line at a pet store when I felt something brush against my arm.  I turned to look right into the face of a big green parrot sitting on a perch—no cage.  I felt paralyzed!  When I was able to speak, I said, “Let’s go”, and headed for the door putting my intended purchases down as I went.  My daughter enjoyed telling that story at dinner?
Occasionally, a bird falls to its death after colliding with our storm door.  When its limp little body is found, someone usually quips, “Aha! This one was trying to get inside to see you.”
Secretly, I do sometimes believe they are plotting against me.  Recently, I discovered a bird’s nest in a potted plant beside my front door. It had five eggs in it.  Not only are they plotting, but also brazenly increasing their numbers right on my doorstep!