Life Before Sesame Street


29 Jul 2011 09:17 pm

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Life before fast food was slower.
 
It sure was a much more meandering pace for our family. For the readers who were not born during the fifties: there were no microwaves, but there were stoves and ovens and ice boxes (refrigerators). Although many women did go to work during and after World War ll, most women were still at home raising children during the early fifties.

  1. They were cooking. Cleaning. Reading cookbooks. Cracking eggs. Chasing their kids around the house outside with a switch when they didn’t behave themselves. (hmm umm)

The food may have even tasted better.
 
I remember taking my own good time at the supper table. I liked to linger and count the peas left on my plate. Make faces at my little sister. The food was pretty simple back then but it was fixed by my Mother who just happened to be one of the best cooks in the world.

Anyway, I thought so. My mother graduated from high school and married my Dad several weeks later. When I came along she was already an accomplished cook because, as she told me, she made straight ‘A’s in Home Economics.

Mother could cook anything without measuring cups or spoons but she always had her high school home economics text book on the kitchen counter which helped her to prepare wholesome, healthy meals. I always liked books even before I could read and I remember poring over the menu section. Mother never cooked duck that I can remember but I used to wonder what it tasted like. In the cookbook were menu suggestions for everyday of the week and for holidays.

I remember one menu for a January dinner:

Avocado Cocktail salad, Duck with Sauerkraut, carrot and celery souffle and Hot Mince Pie with Rum Sauce for dessert.

The only way we ate saurekraut at our house was with weiners. It wasn’t one of my favorite dishes. Being a Baptist family, household rum wasn’t consumed but I often wondered how Mince Meat Pie tasted with Rum sauce. That sounded yummy to me.

Anyway, there were, of course, grocery stores in the fifties. I remember going with my Mother a few times when I was really little but she usually managed to do that chore without us. We had chickens and ducks when we were young and I recall gathering eggs and bringing them in to the kitchen. We had a milkman who would deliver milk in glass bottles. I used to watch in a mixture of horror and awe as my mother cut up a chicken. To this day I cannot do it. I just don’t have the pioneer spirit I suppose.

We were of English/Scotch/Irish stock and when it came to the partaking of meals, we called them: breakfast, dinner and supper. No one had lunch. That was for people who lived in Missouri.

My Dad was a finicky eater so when my Mother strayed from the meat and potatoes route she received scant appreciation. She used her creative passions (and she had a lot of them) on her desserts. Mother made the best date candy, pumpkin, and apple pies, cobblers and cakes.

When the cupboard was bare Mother still managed to whip up magic with the use of a little white cornmeal, sugar, milk and hot water. I was fascinated by an old cookbook Mother inherited from her New England grandfather. I spent many hours thumbing through the cookbook to find exotic receipts such as Turtle Soup and Johnnycakes. Yes, my Mother made the Johnnycakes from the recipes she found in Grandfather Whitmarsh’s cookbook. So, it’s true, a little bit of Yankee cooking was handed down through the family.

We didn’t drink soft drinks or eat potato chips. Mother taught us that vegetables and fruit should reflect the color wheel during our daily meals. She enforced the drinking of milk unfortunately. I always hated milk. The first thing I did when I went away to college was  stop drinking it.

Food was cooked from scratch.
 
There were no mixes, no MSG, no shortcuts in our family’s larder. According to some food writers and experts the time after World War ll brought many modern conveniences to fifties housewives with processed foods such as Cheeze Whiz and frozen products. They tended to be too pricey and lacked nutritional value for my Mother’s uses. Sometimes I would find myself sitting on the front porch swing shucking corn or snapping green beans.

My favorite meal was a dish my Mother called, Arkansas Pie, which was yellow cornbread covered with butter beans, and topped with a slice of onion and a dollop of ketchup.

Along with the Arkansas Pie we had fresh cooked green beans, fried ham, and coleslaw. There were usually tomatoes from the garden. Daddy was a frustrated farmer who always had something growing: kale, asparagus, corn or tomatoes.

Sometimes on the weekends, Mother would make banana pudding which she always served with meringue topping.

  • No, none of us had weight problems. We weren’t couch potatoes, there was no such term back in the fifties. We were active, busy kids, spending most of our time outside.

Oh, but the fifties pressure cooker. It was a big, aluminum pot that scared me something awful when Mother had it going. It hissed and splattered and seemed to always be on the edge of exploding. But Mother operated it like a cool scientist who understood her science. She used the cooker often to cook chicken and other meats. When she finished preparing the chicken the dumplings she made after wards were worth the terror the pressure cooker caused. Mother wouldn’t allow us in the kitchen when the pressure cooker was at work.

It never did blow up on us, although it did explode many times in my imagination.

Another delicious dish Mother made in the pressure cooker was her beef and vegetable stew. Mother put pretty tough slices of beef in the cooker, along with tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery and other vegetables and within twenty minutes or so, have a great stew. The meat was tender and tasty and most of us were right on time when called to the table for supper.

Leftover roast beef was made into a special treat by the use of a hand-crank meat grinder that clamped onto the side of a counter. Feeding the ingredients into the little mechanical miracle was some kind of thrill for me and I was always up for helping my mother make the roast beef salad. She added chopped pickles, salt and pepper and mayonnaise. We served it up on Wonder Bread and it was delicious. My siblings liked to have a side of cottage cheese with the roast beef salad sandwich but it made me gag. The sandwich alone was good enough for me.

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Fishing at Silver Bridge

My grandparents were fishermen so we went fishing a lot when we were young. The family’s favorite destination was a place up in the Boston Mountains called Silver Bridge. Most of the fish fries occurred at our grandparents’ house, but I got the feeling my Mother didn’t much care for cooking fish. Still, she made great Salmon croquettes. The salmon fillets came from a can but she managed to make it taste like something special by adding green onions, an egg, bread crumbs (or crackers) and frying it in some vegetable oil.

We were never allowed to eat much popcorn or peanut butter because our family doctor advised against it. He suspected that popcorn and peanut butter might cause appendicitis. Anyway, that’s what Mother told us. After I grew up I made up for that deprivation. I love popcorn.

When t.v. dinners came along they were too expensive for my parents’ budget and my Mother wasn’t convinced that they were nutritious. I remember wanting to try the Mexican t.v. dinners once for my birthday so Mother made an exception for that. There was a little Mexican Tamale place downtown and occasionally our Grandfather would pick up some tamales and bring them over to us. The t.v. dinners didn’t compare to the downtown tamales so I never asked for Mexican t.v. dinners for my birthday again.

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In the fifties people didn’t go out to dinner that often. Sometimes when Mother took us downtown to see our grandparents at their dry-cleaning shop, The Rightway Cleaners, on Garrison Avenue we were treated to dinner at Woolworth’s counter. My sister and I loved their mashed potatoes and brown gravy and rolls, which is what we always ordered.

  • My Mother and Grandmother could always be counted on to go down the block to The Wide Awake Cafe to get a cup of coffee. I hated milk but loved the cream that was served with the coffee and my Grandmother always shared her cream with me. I also loved the red headed waitress who always served us. That was my Aunt Jeanine.

The Fun Guy in the Kitchen
 

  • My Dad never ventured into the kitchen unless our Mother was really sick and the only foods he knew how to make were fried potatoes and pancakes. He’d open up a can of pork and beans and serve it along with the fried potatoes and his children thought he was some kind of cool chef from outer space. He made his pancakes in the shape of animals.

Lucy and the Liver

  • When my Mother fixed liver for supper my sister, Lucy hightailed it over the little foot bridge to our neighbor, Ellen’s house and hid in her room. She couldn’t stand the smell of liver. My Mother would send us out looking for her. We knew where she was but would take our time looking for her because we knew there would be the usual scene at the table. Lucy was really clumsy and spilled her milk at almost every meal. She didn’t do it on purpose either.

Unlike my sister, I liked my Mother’s Liver and Onions. In fact, it had something to do with my romance with my future husband. One of the first times Bob came over to our house my Mother was making Liver and Onions for dinner. I was sort of embarrassed about the humble food she was preparing but Bob’s eyes lit up and he invited himself to eat. Mother had fixed mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade biscuits, the liver and onions, peas, etc. Bob was smitten.

He sat down in the onlooker’s chair. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Onlooker’s Chair
 

  • The Onlooker’s chair was just an extra chair at the dinner table that a neighbor or friend who dropped by unexpectedly was invited to sit down in to have a meal with us. It became the “onlooker’s chair” one day when our friend,Tommy came over.  When we invited him to eat supper with us, he said,”no, I already ate, I’ll just look.”
08 May 2011 10:22 am

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My Mother has always been there for all four of her sons and daughters. She spent her life teaching us to love each other.

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She once told me that she and my Dad didn’t really know what true love was until they had had their children.

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My Mother encouraged and helped all of us to be the best at whatever we chose to do. She read to us, had nightly prayers with us, taught us to shine our shoes, fold our clothes, take care of our pets, crack the eggs, put the bridle on the horse, and show us where middle C was on the piano.

She also pulled the horse out of the ditch when it was flooding, faced down the burro when he cornered her in the shed, killed a Water Moccasin that came up out of the ditch, chased me down with a switch when I needed a switching, comforted me all night long when I had a broken heart, watched over us when we had high fevers, protected us when a crazy man was stalking our home, took in our cousins for a year when their parents needed to leave to stay at the hospital in a distant city with their critically injured daughter. So much good our Mother has done in her life that it would require a book. (which might be a good idea)

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I know Mother must have been exhausted with so many little ones so close in age but I never saw it when I was a child. I didn’t realize it until I became a Mother myself and I was up all night with my own babies.

Mothers don’t cease being Mothers when their children grow up. They have their ways of keeping in touch. My Mother calls me everyday if I don’t call her first. She has learned how to use her cell phone but hasn’t yet perfected the use of voice mail. (or maybe she has)

When she leaves me a voice mail message, she pauses a little while, I hear all the static and sounds in the background and then, her voice, “This is your Mother,” then, after a while, maybe another word or two, then, click. Another variation, is, “It’s your Mother calling.”

There’s the love in the voice. Always the love.

Happy Mothers’ Day Mother.

I am blessed.

25 Feb 2009 01:58 pm

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Tilles Park back in the day

When I was a child, my brothers, sister and I spent a great deal of time at Tilles Park, a park about six blocks away from our home. Our parents took us to play on the swings, and the slides and to swim in the “wading pool.” We brought our pets to Tilles Park for the Pet Competitions. Our cats, our dog, Cookie, our horse, Scout and even our turtle, Squeaky came home with ribbons. Our parents entered us in the summer park competitions. I won Miss Tilles Park one summer. My sister outdid me, winning Miss Tilles Park and going on to win the all city competition, Miss City Park.

Tilles Park was a fun and safe park back then. We had picnics there. We loved climbing on the big cannon. We went to Easter Egg Hunts and had fun looking at the unique rock formed Japanese architecture. Back in 1978 when I was asked to illustrate a calender for the Fort Smith Junior League I included Tilles Park for one of my months.

The park lost its place as a safe and fun family destination in the sixties when the culture started to destruct. Hippies took over the park with their drugs. Later, the younger brothers and sisters of the hippies moved in, then came the gangs and meth users and not long after homosexuals started to meet each other in the park. Today the neighborhoods surrounding the park are rundown and most are rentals, not single family homes.

Parents don’t let their children go to the park to play anymore so why in the world would they take their handicapped children to the park?

Of all the parks in our city why in the world are there plans to put in a 40,000 dollar playground for physically challenged children at Tilles Park? Who asked for this money? Why is it part of the stimulus?

The school where I teach art just had a big renovation, adding a new cafeteria and lots of new classrooms. What pitiful playground equipment there was had to be taken out to make room for construction. The parents were naturally outraged and started a fundraiser but so far have only raised five thousand dollars.

That only takes care of one piece of playground equipment. That stuff costs big bucks anymore. When I was a child the only thing we had on our “playground” were swings and the old seesaws. I used to love it when the kid on the other end of the seesaw jumped off and I landed with a big bump. I don’t know why, but I did. The arbiters of the political correct don’t allow that type of childrens’ playground equipment anymore, along with the harsh play ground games like Dodge Ball. (which I loved) Gone from our city parks are the merry go rounds where kids could sit on a round bench and push each other round and round, getting dizzy. (as portrayed in the drawing above) That equipment was taken out. In its place are a bunch of individual spring riders which aren’t very satisfying to the little ones.

Most of the kids at our school would really enjoy the $40,000 playground that is going to be put in at a park a few blocks away that will be trashed almost as soon as it is put in.

Talk about a waste of money.

29 Jan 2009 09:52 pm

Now, this is more like it.

From Yankee Magazine Online, New England’s Website, (a website I highly recommend) is a deeply felt and carefully drawn tribute to the great American painter, Andrew Wyeth.

The Ghost of Andrew Wyeth

America’s Most Beloved Painter is Gone

by Edgar Allen Beem

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Trodden Weed,” self-portrait by Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth is dead. He reportedly passed away peacefully in his sleep at the great age of 91. Had this been summer, he probably would have drifted away in Port Clyde, Maine, but, as it is winter, his final resting place was Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, the little hamlet where he was born in 1917. America’s most famous and most popular artist, Wyeth was also its most misunderstood.

Andrew Wyeth lived a charmed but cloistered life. His world was largely limited to the two poles of his existence - Chadds Ford and Maine, where the Wyeth clan owns properties in Cushing and Port Clyde, including several private islands. He preferred “going deep” to scattering his attentions far and wide. As such, he created internationally-known art out of the lives and landscapes of these two rural outposts.

There is much more to read in this very insightful tribute so please do. The last paragraph is the most meaningful in this piece as it expresses what I believe is the reason Andrew Wyeth will transcend the critics in the art establishment just as Vincent van Gogh did.

If you’re going to live a deep life rather than a shallow one, you have to embrace your roots. Wyeth was trained by his father, the great illustrator N.C. Wyeth, and when he came to paint his oblique 1951 self-portrait, “Trodden Weed,” he portrayed himself walking the land of his forebears wearing boots that once belonged to his father’s teacher, Howard Pyle. We all inhabit the past. We live among ghosts. And now Andrew Wyeth, who knew this better than anyone, is himself history.

I discovered Andrew Wyeth in a high school English textbook when I was a sophomore. His painting, Christina’s World was opposite a poem by Robert Frost. I remember being in awe of the painting, carrying the book home from school that day, not to read, but simply to stare at the painting, taking in all the rich details, lines, and subtle colors.

The discovery of the painter, Andrew Wyeth ranks as one of five thrilling discoveries in art in my young life: Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, Michelangelo’s David, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and Monet’s Haystacks.

17 Dec 2008 02:01 am

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My brother, Bobby and I, visiting Santa when we were three and four years old.

I was never a practical little girl.

One Christmas Season when I was ten years old I was jittery with excitement because I was going to get to go Christmas shopping for the first time in my life, with money I had earned. I had saved the money and was going to spend it on my mother.

My mother was going to be the recipient of my hard earned money. I cannot remember how I earned it but I suspect it must have had something to do with my paternal grandmother. She was everyone’s fairy godmother in our family and, for that matter, everyone who lived within ten miles of her were beneficiaries of her kindness.

My grandmother was a one woman Salvation Army. She most likely put me to work separating buttons or safety pins from straight pins or something like that at her dry cleaners. I was always eager to work and earn some money.

So when I found out that we were going Christmas shopping, I decided to spend my Christmas money on my mother. I asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She told me that she wanted something practical for the kitchen. That suggestion went in one ear and out the other. I can’t even remember what that practical something was and I doubt I even remembered back then. I knew I had no plans to give my mother anything that even remotely resembled a small household appliance.

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Santa always came last.

We went downtown one evening for the annual Christmas parade and had plans to shop afterwards. Back then there were no malls, no big shopping centers, no K-Marts, no Wal-Marts, no Marts at all. Just the Kress Store, McCrorys, Woolworths and the elegant Boston Store where we would have our picture taken with Santa Claus.

The city merchants firmly believed in decorating their windows for Christmas. I was in awe of the lights and sounds as we walked down the main street of town. There were crowds of people but they were not unruly. Moms and Dads had their children firmly in hand. Families and kids walked down the sidewalks peering in the windows resplendent with merchandise of all kinds. Beautiful dolls, dollhouses, and elegant clothing were displayed in windows. I paused to look and almost found myself lost until I got a tug on my shoulder. My little brother always had to play the big brother with me.

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Christmas in 1957. My brother was five, I was six, and my doll loving, little sister was three years old.

On to another store. We went from window shopping to serious store shopping. This became much more serious. So much more serious for a very unpractical young lady with five dollars burning a hole in her handbag.

My mother kept steering us by the practical kitchen things and I kept wandering away from them. Potato peelers were boring. Collanders were boring. All of my hard earned money was not going to be spent for something so work-a-day.

I wanted to get my Mother something pretty.

My mother’s Aunt Ivy was very rich. When we went to visit her home she always had beautiful dishes set on her tables. On the rare occasions Aunt Ivy came to visit us my Mother was always in a full state of panic, urging us to clean our rooms and have everything in our tiny home perfect. I wanted to find one pretty platter that Mother could set on the table with pride. Surely McCrory’s would have something like that. I saw an eight inch milk white round platter with gold trim. It had a price tag that was within my price range. I looked at it and turned and walked away.

I suppose I wanted to do some comparison shopping. I found myself in the doll aisle. McCrory’s didn’t carry Madame Alexander dolls, only The Boston Store carried that kind of elegant doll. I wanted a Jo doll more than anything. Jo was the practical sister in Louisia May Alcott’s Little Women series and since I had already read the book I was captivated by the main character, Jo.

I’d had a glimpse of Jo earlier in the week when we’d taken the bus downtown to visit my maternal grandparents at their business, The Rightway Cleaners. As always, Mamaw Webster took us to The Wide Awake Cafe for coffee and cream and then we went to the Boston Store.

My grandmother picked out some beautiful blue velvet fabric to make some pretty dresses for my sister and me. While there, we passed through the toy department and I saw the section full of the inimitable blue boxes. I hoped there were still some Jo dolls left. I didn’t care for Amy or Beth or Meg. They were fine of course being Alcott characters but Jo was the character that captured my imagination because she thought for herself and was a tomboy.

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The Fletcher Kids going to Church in 1957, my snaggletooth smile brought to you by my brother’s left hook

I was a tomboy too. I was the second fastest female runner in school. At that age I could outrun my brother. I’d put on boxing gloves and boxed my brother when I was seven years old. So what if he’d knocked out my front tooth and I’d swallowed it, missing the visit of the tooth fairy? I got him back a few years later when he didn’t want to go to football practice. I put on his football uniform, put my hair up under the helmet and went to his practice. I’d managed to fool the coach until I got tackled and the hair fell out of my helmet.

I also identified with Jo in Alcott’s depiction of the March sisters’ haughty, Aunt March. I’d thought of my Aunt Ivy when I first read about Jo’s wealthy aunt. Of course, all my silly notions were part and parcel of my vivid imagination. Except for Santa, I’d told no one that I wanted Jo for Christmas. Not even my sister, Lucy. I pretty much lived inside my head back in those days.

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Still, my mother always seemed to know everything. If I didn’t tell her about something that was worrying me she seemed to read my mind anyway because she was a quiet person who always had her eyes on her children and was always listening to us.

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The Fletcher Family in 1956, thanks to Kodacolor

In the Boston Store I passed by the boxes of dolls and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a Jo doll inside one of them. My brother tugged me on the arm and we walked back to the Rightway Cleaners where I found the little wooden box toy my Grandfather always had for me to play with. I thought about the doll a lot since that day and the pretty satin dress and blue and white striped pinafore she was wearing. She would be a perfect Christmas present. Why hadn’t I told my family about her anyway?

I wandered around the aisles of McCrory’s, looking at the china figurines. None of them would do. My mother really wouldn’t like them because they would serve no useful purpose whatsoever. I sensed that somehow. I knew that my Aunt Ivy would turn her nose up at them and sniff something about dime store pottery and how would that help my mother? Besides, my mother’s mashed potatoes were delicious the way they were. She really didn’t need a new potato masher or peeler, but that pretty milk white glass platter with the gold trim needed another look.

Looking back I was a natural at rationalization.

We can bake some delicious peppermint cookies, I thought, with white icing and sprinkles and then we’ll place them on the platter next Christmas and when Aunt Ivy and Uncle Roy come over they will see how delicious and pretty they look.

I walked back to the aisle and picked up the white platter and examined it again. It was made in Japan. There were platters just like it that were in boxes under the shelves so I picked up one of them and headed to the cash register. I made my purchase and looked for my brother. He was buying a gift for our Dad. I can’t remember what it was but it probably had something to do with sports.

We met up with our parents and little sister and went home. As I wrapped the present for my mother I imagined how happy she would be when she opened her gift. I tried to make the wrapping as pretty as I could. I painted a watercolor picture for a card.

Christmas couldn’t come soon enough. My brother and sister and I counted the days. We went outside at night to breathe the cold December air and look at the Christmas scene our Dad had created.

We looked up into the sky for the star of Bethlehem.

When Daddy came home with a new issue of Christmas Ideals we gathered around to see it. Later Mother would pull out an older issue which had the illustrated version of The Little Match Girl. That story had quickly become a tradition in our family. The line drawings illustrating the poor little girl in that particular issue still stay in my memory and spurred me on in my desire to be an artist.

When there was a newly wrapped gift under the tree we were worse than our dog, Cookie at sniffing around it. When our mother wasn’t looking we picked up the gift to examine it. One of the bolder siblings would shake the gift. A certain little sister would actually take the tape off the end of the box and with her skillful fingers would open up the paper to discover the treasure inside the box.

I preferred the element of surprise.

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On Christmas morning I woke up early, but not as early as my little brother. I crept into the living room and there he was, asleep under the tree. He did it every year. He woke up sometime during the night excited about Christmas and went into the living room to wait on everyone to wake up, then when we didn’t wake up, he would fall asleep under the tree.

So there was my brother under the tree.

And there was Jo.

Santa had listened. I knew he would. Even though kids at school had argued with me, telling me, I was stupid, I was a little kid, and I needed to grow up, I wouldn’t listen to them, I argued with them that there is a Santa Claus. I had more than one reason to believe you see. I was the oldest in our family. I had had my doubts and skepticisms but for the sake of my little brothers and my sister I chose to believe.

And that Christmas morning I had proof. There was my Jo, my Madame Alexander Doll. Yes, there were also some other sweet gifts too. A jewelry box, and a bride doll. (I’ve always loved bride dolls) And as always, the night before at our traditional Christmas Eve get together at my paternal grandparents’ house I had received a pair of knitted socks from my great grandmother, Kathryn Ford Mackey Morrison. Other things too but those knitted socks I could always depend upon.

I woke up my brother and we both went to wake up our sister, Lucy but we had to wait on our parents to awaken because we had a year old baby brother who was sleeping.

I couldn’t wait for my mother to open up her present from me. Meanwhile we could enjoy all the presents Santa had left for us because they were not wrapped. We three kids whispered oohs and ahhs until we got too loud and our bleary eyed parents came walking into the room with our little brother Guy.

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Now there were four of us

That Christmas morning was bliss. Mother made hot chocolate and biscuits. We opened our wrapped presents and laughed as Guy opened his presents. Daddy asked Lucy and me to sing some Christmas carols. We had discovered our ability to harmonize and we were regular wrens, singing all the time around the house.

Then the moment came. It was time for our parents to open their presents. I don’t remember what my father received from my brother. The only thing remembered from that Christmas is what I gave and what I received. I wish I could say that my mother beamed with joy when she saw the beautiful white platter with gold trim but I would be fibbing.

It wouldn’t be true. My Mother smiled at me, and gave me a hug and said thanks but later in the kitchen she reminded me that she had asked for something practical.

My heart sank.

I had failed my first big test of giving and the irony was that this was the Christmas that I had received my most favorite gift. I was heart sick that I had let my mother down. I hadn’t listened to her when she told me what she wanted for Christmas. She had explained to me that she wanted something practical because there was not enough money for her to spend anything on kitchen things so she wanted them as gifts. I had ignored that. My parents were always generous with us but not so with themselves. I remember wondering why my mother wore the same coat for five years in a row.

Now I knew.

So my Mother didn’t pretend to be overjoyed by the milk white round platter with gold trim. My mother was always honest with me. That is how our parents raised us.

Unpractical little girls can learn.

The next Christmas I listened when my mother mentioned in passing what she wanted for Christmas. I wrote her wishes down in my diary. I saved my money and I bought what she wanted and yes, it was a practical kitchen appliance. She was very happy with her gift. My mother was always a skillful and ambitious cook and the things she wanted for her kitchen made it easier for her to cook. And bake. And what a mighty baker was she! My mother’s pies are still in demand.

One day Aunt Ivy came over and as usual we scurried around to clean up the house before she arrived. I walked into the living room and there on the coffee table was the eight inch milk white round platter with gold trim. We weren’t given enough notice to make homemade cookies so we had to make do with Lemon sandwich cookies.

In recent years I’ve discovered that I am my Mother in more ways than one. I’ve caught myself being too frank and honest when I have received a gift from my children that wasn’t quite up to my hopes or standards. (although, I will admit, I never give them much guidance) That it is more blessed to give than to receive is so true. I admit I love to give to those I love. I have found joy in giving gifts to friends and family.

To this very day the eight inch milk white round platter with gold trim has a place of honor on the center shelf of my Mother’s china cabinet. I noticed it a couple of years ago and it brought back the remembrance of my first Christmas shopping trip. I remain hopelessly impractical but I am thankful my Mother gave me the guidance, direction, advice and practicality I needed when I was growing up.

Christmas is about God coming down to earth from Heaven in the person of a tiny baby. Through Jesus Christ the world gained pure Love, forgiveness, and reconciliation to God through Him. In our little Fletcher Family we experienced all that joy every Christmas, no matter how much or how little we had and we continue to do so but that Christmas when I was ten, I began to awaken to the world, and to get a small glimpse of the worries and the sacrifices that Mothers and Fathers make for their children because of their great love for them.

That was the last year I asked Santa for a doll but it wasn’t the last year I asked Santa for a present. My doll, Jo wisely supervised my daughter’s dolls as they grew up and she sits in the pink room in our house, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our granddaughter this coming March.

Merry Christmas!

Welcome visitors from The Carnival of Christmas!

19 May 2007 02:43 am

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I am three years old in this picture and still remember that dress. It was red. I always insisted on wearing dresses, my mother tells me. But the star of this photo is the 48′ Chevy in the background..

For as long as I can remember, my Dad had the forty-eight Chevy. Every Sunday afternoon he would load us and our black cocker spaniel, Cookie into the Chevy for a ride to the park. Many times we got ice cream.

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Every upstanding little girl must be fashionably dressed while digging worms.

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Bathrobes were a must for little girls who were posing in the front yard with their brother and dog but boys will be boys.

We had a fence too, even a gate. At night our Dad would let our horse, Scout, out of the pasture so he could roam around in our yard. Many mornings I would wake up to see Scout’s nose pressed against the window screen. (we didn’t have air conditioning back then but I rarely remember being hot. How is that?) There’s nothing like being awakened by a sneezing horse.

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Our Dad went to New Orleans while he was in Louisiana for the Fast Pitch Mens’ Regional Tournament but all my brother got was a cute little stinker teeshirt.

I find myself turning away from the news today, looking through old family pictures on our family’s internet site. My parents are holding on to all the albums of the past, treasuring them like rare jewels. When any of us manage to make off with a photo we have to promise to return it.

I’ve been thinking of our old homeplace for a while now. Like many neighborhoods, apartments were built down the block in the late sixties, nice at first but by the mid-seventies, attracting all the wrong sort. My parents bought another house the year I married but held on to the land and the little house.

This past winter they sold the land. The house had been moved out to the country several years ago.

So now, memories are all that is left of a happy childhood. (and photos) There’s no more picket fence, Scout the horse, or romping through the woods playing cowboys and Army. No more 1948 Chevy. Or bicycle races. The neighborhood has turned ugly, with slummy apartments full of neglected children and drug pushers roaming the streets.

Once we had few neighbors, only open fields, trees and a house on the end of the block with an elderly couple who befriended our parents.

I remember when our Italian neighbors, the Portas, moved into their newly constructed house. We became friends with their four children immediately. Mr. Porta was a generous man who would bring home leftovers from his restaurant to feed the cats, dogs and chickens who lived in our neighborhood. He liked to drive his car with the driver side window open so he could hang his arm out. He did it so often the paint wore off on the side, leaving an imprint of his arm.

When there was a death in our family, Mr. Porta brought over his wonderful hickory smoked beef with his delicious secret recipe barbecue sauce. The Portas were Catholics and through them, I learned about Catholic beliefs and customs. I watched Mrs. Porta pray her rosary faithfully when her son, Butch, was in Vietnam.

One day, my brother and I were invited to go visit the Porta kids’ grandmother, who was an immigrant from Italy. Being a widow, she always wore black and invariably seemed to have her rosary in her hand. Her house was very close to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. She had lace curtains in her windows. I liked to listen to her voice; it was low and husky. Grandmother Porta was the wonder behind her four amazing sons, who all had successful restaurants. The aromas in her kitchen were wonderful. It smelled of delectable Italian ingredients: tomatoes, oregano, and garlic.

Mr. Porta’s restaurant was small and people sometimes had to stand in line to get a seat. Mr. Porta had a hand written sign posted on the glass dessert case. It read: “Duncan Hines never ate here. He couldn’t find a seat.”

The neighborhood lives in my memory and it’s sad that many children will never know the fun we had pre-Sesame Street. My sister and I loved to make mud pies. We perfected our “recipe” to the point that our mud cookies looked just like Vanilla Wafers.

One day, we took real Vanilla Wafers outside and were sitting munching on them when Ellen, Mr. Porta’s daughter, came over. We knew she could never resist a cookie so when she asked for one, my sister gave her the matching mud cookie. She took one bite, threw the cookie down, burst into tears and ran home.

Thus began, the Lucy-Ellen feud, which lasted about a week. Between our house and the Porta’s house was a large ditch about the size of a moat. Mr. Porta had hired an Indian man named “Chief” to build a bridge over the ditch. On that bridge, Ellen and Lucy would leave nasty messages to each other until they got tired of it, began to miss each other and made up.

Ellen was a bridesmaid in my wedding and a dear, precious friend. When my brother joined the National Guard, Ellen’s older brother, Mark, did too.

I introduced Mark to my best friend, Janie on our front porch. They’ve been married for thirty six years and have four children.

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My cousin, Gary, practicing in our yard. Gary won a baseball scholarship to SMU and played in the minor leagues until his wife convinced him to quit. Next to him is Tommy Across the Street. My youngest brother, Guy is sitting on the ground. Try to find Santa Claus in the photo.

There were other neighborhood kids who joined our gang. One, we called Tommy Across the Street because he lived across the street and his name was Tommy. His mother was a single mom who worked hard at her job and doted on Tommy. He had been struck with cancer when he was three years old and his eye had to be removed. The doctors couldn’t replace his eye with anything because so much tissue had to be removed so he had to wear a patch over his eye. Tommy joined our neighborhood group and spent all of his time playing at our house. He was so comfortable with us he didn’t wear the patch.

When he was twenty-three years old, the cancer struck again. We lost Tommy. I was home from Germany at the time, expecting our second child and was too devastated to go to the funeral. My brothers were pallbearers. Tommy’s mother was so grief-stricken that she moved away. We never heard from her again.

The life we lived as children during the fifties and sixties can’t be replicated now. Too many restraints have been put in place. Families have fractured. Parents seem to have different expectations of their children and not enough time.

Our parents played with us, disciplined us, read to us and prayed with us. They let us run around the neighborhood as long as it was only next door or across the street. They were at every performance at school dressed to the hilt. I remember my mother going to PTA meetings in a dress with a nice necklace on. All the other mothers were dressed the same way.

Perhaps I am romanticizing our childhood but I don’t think so. The liberal culture hates the Ozzie and Harriet era but we lived it and it was good.