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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Somewhat sullenly the little girl walked down the street, hugging her sweater tight around her. It wasn’t that she was cold, but the calendar read “December” so she needed a sweater. At least, that’s what Moma said. Her knobby knees stuck out below the hem of her full-skirted cotton dress as she shuffled along looking for leaves to kick. There weren’t very many as here most of the plants kept their leaves all year long. If only she walked slowly enough her girl friend might catch up with her before she arrived at the schoolyard. Victoria always had answers to questions that she didn’t even know enough to ask about.   That morning had been the usual rush to get out on time with Moma standing at the door holding her sweater and brown-bag lunch trying to make her hurry so that she wouldn’t be late. She’d run across the lawn to the house next door to collect her friend, but had been curtly informed that Victoria wasn’t ready as her hair had yet to be combed so there was no point in waiting.   Here was the final block before the schoolyard and Victoria was nowhere to be seen. She’d have to wait to ask until the walk home.

This school was pretty easy. Her father expected that she be one of the top five scorers in her class. She could do that just by listening, and they didn’t give real homework here. That bothered her parents, but not her. The last assignment had to been to bring in twigs to make a holiday scene to take home as a Christmas decoration. They had each been given a stiff piece of cardboard and a small mirror. She had glued hers to the near right corner of her cardboard.   Then Mrs. Wickford poured a white, slurry into a bowl between each pair of pupils at the shared desks. Each had a small wooden ice cream cup spoon to spread the white glop onto the cardboard and over the edges of the mirror. Then they were to quickly stick their twigs into the glop to create a winter scene with bare trees. Carefully she stuck her twigs toward the top of her project with a scattering closer to the mirror. The boy next to her placed his twigs evenly around his centered mirror. Mrs. Wickford told them to slide, not lift, their project to the upper center of their tables so the white stuff could set while everyone went to lunch. As soon as they had cleaned up they were dismissed. She grabbed her lunch bag and left her sweater. The morning haze was gone and the sun was warm. She and her friends sat at their usual picnic table far from the cafeteria door. The smells from the lunches they served in there were always yucky. She was supposed to buy a container of milk, but that would take time she didn’t want to waste. Getting to the playground was more important. She opened her bag to see what Moma had packed for her today: a wax paper wrapped sandwich, another packet with cookies, and a foil wrapped orange that was pressing on the sandwich. She took a couple of big bites of the dry and orange dented bologna sandwich then she squished the rest back into the waxed paper and moved on to the cookies. Moma never put much mustard on the bread so as to keep it from getting soggy. Moma never used mayonnaise, which could spoil, so the sandwich was dry and difficult to swallow. The cookies were good, but the others were almost done and she hadn’t begun her orange, so she swallowed one almost whole and threw the others back into the bag. There were no pockets in her dress so she couldn’t keep the cookies until the walk home from school. She ate a quarter of the orange, slurped the juice from the next quarter and threw the rest in the bag with the other food that was now trash. They each threw their bags into the trashcan and ran for the bars. You had to eat quickly to get out there and grab a space on the bar. As soon as a line formed it was time to go to the blacktop where foursquare courts were painted. Today she worked herself up to the server’s square and held it for a couple of turns. As always, the bell rang too soon and it was time to return to the classroom.

The girls behind her in line were talking about what they were going to get for Christmas. One said her mother had taken her to a store and they had picked out a couple of dresses, and she had asked for one of the new dolls that looked like grown up ladies. The other girl said she had gotten one of those dolls for her birthday and wanted clothes for it. Neither had visited with Santa.

After school she had walked up the hill with Jean. That was slow going because Jean had had polio and walked with a big limp. Her left leg was a lot shorter than her right. Jean had spent her summer vacation in the hospital where she had had surgery on her short leg. Jean never played foursquare or kick-ball or on the bars. Once in a while the little girl would sit with Jean at the edge of the playground and they would play jacks. She felt sorry that most of the other kids ignored Jean. She knew how it felt to watch the others and not be welcome to join them. By the time she got to the top of the hill most of the other kids had already disappeared. She looked at her watch. Time to run so Moma wouldn’t be upset that she had taken too long to come home from school.

After diner Daddy told Moma that he and the little girl were going out to take care of some business. An errand with Daddy? On a school night? And Moma didn’t protest, just nodded and scooped her little brother up to get him ready for bed. Daddy wouldn’t tell her anything, just kept shushing her and telling her to wait until they were in the car. He even let her ride in the front seat. Everything looked a little different from here so she was quiet for a bit. They drove past the street she walked down to go to school and started down the front of the mesa to the shopping center. As they parked and began walking to the stores, Daddy asked what she thought Moma would want for Christmas. Hadn’t Moma written her own letter to Santa? Daddy explained that they were to be Santa’s helpers and get something Moma would like. By then they were walking into a ladies store. The first thing she noticed was that the store smelled so good. Then there were two mannequins dressed in the New Look.   One of the shop ladies had come up and asked Daddy what she could help him with. He told her that he and his daughter were being Santa for his wife and that they wanted one of the skirts like the one on the mannequin. The lady asked if they knew what size they wanted and Daddy simply put his hands out and drew Moma in the air. The skirt the lady brought was the same style in a beautiful, shimmery emerald green. She put out a cream colored boat necked top with three-quarter length sleeves to go with the skirt. Daddy, looking down to the little girl, asked her if she thought Moma would like them. She gently reached her hand out to touch the cool silky quilted skirt. Oh, yes, it was perfect. The lady carefully wrapped each piece and put them in a box.

Christmas vacation began that Friday after school. She walked home carefully with her snow scene project. Moma put it on the top shelf of a bookcase explaining that her brother wouldn’t be able to reach it there.   Moma washed the dishes and she dried as they cleaned up after dinner. She worried about how to ask Moma her question. Victoria had laughed and told her that she was such a baby to still believe in Santa Claus. She really wanted Santa Claus to be real. Moma had taken her to see him at the store. She had noticed that his beard was tied on. When she asked Moma about it, Moma had explained that Santa was very busy at this time of year and that that person was an elf sent to take messages to Santa. But what about Victoria laughing at her? What about shopping with Daddy? Moma found a couple more things to wash up and the girl finally just blurted out her question: was Santa Claus real? Then she kept babbling about all the hints she had heard that year that led her to think he was just a made up story. Moma stopped, took the towel from her. While drying her hands, Moma gave her one of those slow, quizzical stares. Finally, she put the towel down, sat on a kitchen chair, and put her daughter on her lap. Very softly she said that Santa Claus was a spirit. The spirit of Christmas. Everyone could carry that spirit in their hearts. At this time of year, Santa Claus was a fun way of sharing and giving gifts. As we grew up we each were able to play Santa for those we loved and especially for little ones. Now, the girl could be part of the spirit of Santa Claus and help make things joyful for others and it was her turn to keep the secret.

Christmas Eve, after decorating the tree she and her brother were given their stockings to hang. She showed her little brother how to do it by hanging hers, then helping him to hang his own. She winked and smiled at Moma. The next morning she watched her brother tear into his gifts, and made sure Moma knew who had given her what gifts as she opened her own. Later Moma would supervise as she wrote thank-you notes to each person who had given a gift. Then she watched as Moma opened the gift she and Daddy had gotten. Moma’s eyes widened, and twinkled as she caressed the fabric. Then Moma ran to their bedroom and put on the new outfit.   She looked as beautiful as the ladies in the magazines as she twirled to show how the skirt moved. For the first time the little girl with braids and knobby knees knew what fun it was to embody the spirit of playing Santa Claus.

The last word:

We both wish you a Merry Christmas and the best for the New Year.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

It was a cold morning and she just couldn’t make herself throw back the covers and get up. She’d heard her grandfather come into the house through the basement door and then shovel the coal to throw into the furnace, but the house hadn’t warmed up much yet even though the radiators were starting to make their reassuring little noises.  Her mother was stirring in the kitchen but hadn’t started upstairs as yet so Lois buried herself further under the lovely, warm covers just a while longer.  Oh, there was her grandmother coughing again.  She was always bringing some sickness home from school and MomKate would get it.  This one had been especially bad.  The doctor had quarantined the house for two weeks, so no one but family could come in and they hadn’t seen anyone.  Pop had gone to the bakery to work, but it was harder for Mother as she couldn’t have ladies in for fittings.  She had now finished all of the dresses she had been working on before the doctor visited and slapped the quarantine sign in the window.  Mother’s ladies were beginning to ask how much longer they would need to wait to get their clothes.  Mother was making the best excuses she could, but as long as MomKate and Lois were sick and Pop was at the bakery she wouldn’t leave the house.  They all relied on the income from her sewing so she had to be able to keep the ladies coming back with more alterations and dresses to make.  Her Mother came up the stairs with her quick purposeful steps.  Almost before the board in the landing at the top of the stairs gave its warning creak to announce her arrival, the bedroom door opened.

“Good morning, Sleepy Head.  Just stay where you are for a minute or two more.  The house isn’t very warm yet.”  As usual, Mother was dressed and had done her hair already.  It was important to her to keep up appearances.  Today she had on a big house sweater over her housedress and pocketed apron to ward off the chill.  As she spoke she was opening dresser drawers and getting out clothes for the day.  The under clothes she laid very carefully over the radiator, the dress she draped over the back of the chair next to the radiator where her doll was sitting.  Lois peered over the covers and out the window beyond the radiator where icicles were hanging from the roofs of all of the houses across the street.  They sparkled in the sun, but she knew that it must be really cold out there for them to be that big.

“I’m going across the hall to see how your grandmother is feeling.  I’ll be back in a minute.  Just stay in bed till I get back.”  Katherine left the room as quickly and with as much purpose as she had entered.  It wasn’t easy for her to stay cheerful.  Her husband was in the hospital again.  It was a long ride to get there and she didn’t always have the carfare, so she could only go a few times a month.  When he first came back from the war he seemed to be OK, except that he got sick a lot.  Especially in the winter.  Now, a dozen years later, his trips to the hospital were more frequent and each one seemed longer.  The doctors told her that Ted was suffering the effects of the mustard gas the enemy had used during the battle of the Argonne in the Great War.  She didn’t want to say Germans had done it because many of her aunts, uncles, and cousins still lived over there.  Softly she asked her mother how she was doing this morning.  Scarlet fever this time.  MomKate had insisted on nursing little Lois so that Katherine could continue with her sewing.  The result was that MomKate was now sicker than Lois had been and was having a more difficult time.  She was still fighting the fever and seemed more tired than she ever had.  After assuring her mother that though she was missed she should stay in bed, Katherine quietly closed that bedroom door so her mother could rest.  She would take a tray up later.  It was time for Lois to get up and begin her day.  Katherine walked to the radiator and began picking up under clothes and slipping them under the covers to the lump curled in the middle.  “Put them on while they are still warm.  Then wash your face and comb your hair before coming down to the kitchen for breakfast.  We have a lot to do today.”

One of the best parts about cold mornings was having clothes warmed and then wiggling into them getting out from under the covers.  The warm clothes were like armor against the cold air.  It was one of the few luxuries that Katherine could give her daughter.  Lois slipped on her dress and shoes and rushed to the bathroom, always a cold room, to finish getting ready.  Before going downstairs she quietly opened the door to MomKate’s room.  Her grandmother had gone back to sleep so she closed the door even more quietly and slipped down the stairs.

“Good morning, Leibchen.  Come here and give your Pop a hug.”  With that Pop scooped her into his arms tickled her with the whiskers of his mustache.  The strong scent of his cherry pipe tobacco clung to his whiskers.  It was a pervasive and reassuring scent just like being enveloped in his strong arms.  Even in his early sixties he had more vitality than many younger men.  After a bout of typhoid when he was a young man have had lost all of his sandy brown hair. When his hair grew back it was black and had stayed that way.

Pop and MomKate had come to live with them a year ago last summer when frequent hospital stays had caused Lois’ father, Ted, to stop working.  No employer wanted someone who had to be absent as much as Ted did.  Even when he was well enough to be home, he had less and less energy.  One house was less expensive to run than two, and this one was less than two miles from the bakery.  Pop could bring home the day old-goods from the bakery, where what hadn’t sold was thrown away.  At least they had bread and rolls.  Katherine had become very clever at stretching the food they had, but sometimes there just hadn’t been enough.  Toward the end of the month they would have rice for most of the meals during the week.  She had boiled it, fried it and baked it.  She had gotten to know the butcher at the farmers market very well.  He would save the bones for her.  The marrow had helped make rich soup with barley and carrots that felt warm and filling going down.  When she could afford a chicken it would feed them for three days.  She would roast it, making most of her portion of the crispy skin.  Lois needed the meat to grow strong.  The giblets and wing tips went for stock.  Second night she would chop it into a casserole.  Third night was soup.  She had learned many of her mother’s recipes.  One that helped expand the food budget was spätzle.  If they had any leftover meat she would put a pinch in each noodle, otherwise, boiling it in the stock from the bones and a quick fry when it was time to eat would do.  Just now she was packing down the rolls that Pop had brought home with him.

“Lois, I need you to do the downstairs dusting when you finish your breakfast.  Then I you to take some dresses around for me.”  Dusting was not one of her favorite ways to spend Saturday, but taking dress to different houses was fun.  As soon as she finished eating, she got her dust rag and began in the dining room.  First she took everything off of the sideboard and server.  Then she dusted all of the surfaces being careful to get the dust from the grooves in the feet, because she knew her mother would look there.  Then she carefully picked up each piece and gently dusted it before returning it to its place.  Before moving to the living room she crawled under the dining table and wiped the legs and feet there as well.  There were many knick-knacks in the living room.  Every one had something that teased a warm memory of some event.  There were demitasse spoons with markings from all over, a multi-shelf showcase for the little folk statues from Germany called Hümmel, and vases, and ashtrays.  So much to move and dust.  Little pieces of lint or threads that fell to the carpet needed to be picked up.  By the time she was done, Katherine had wrapped three bundles in brown paper for her to carry to neighbors.

“This package is to be taken to Mrs. Johannsen.  Take it there before lunch.  Remember to ask if she has anything else she wants me to do now.  Don’t forget to wait for the money.  Let me look at you.”  As she brushed a speck of dust from Lois dress, Katherine took a comb from her apron pocket to neaten the little girl’s hair.  Then as Lois buttoned her coat, Katherine tied a scarf around head and neck.

Mrs. Johannsen’s house was next to the railroad tracks.  Lois counted the cars of a freight train that was passing as she walked up the street.  The row houses here had been built just before the depression started and were still all neatly kept.  Most of the families on this side of the street still had fathers who went to work each day.  On their own side of the street three families had no one working and Mr. Hill worked some weeks but not others.  Reaching Mrs. Johannsen’s front door, Lois rang the doorbell and then stood tall as her mother and grandmother had taught her.

“Good morning, Mrs. Johannsen.  How are you today?  Mother sent me with your dress.  Is there anything else you would like her to do for you just now?”

“Oh, Lois.  Come in this instant.  You can’t stand out there in this cold after having been ill.  How is your grandmother?”

As she was talking, Mrs. Johannsen reached for an envelope on the table next to the door.  Before handing over the payment, she reached for the candy dish filled with peppermint pinwheels, which was sitting next to it.  “Have a candy to suck on as you walk home.  I have nothing to give you today.  Tell your mother that I am going into town to get fabric for a new dress for church next week.  If your grandmother is well enough. I’ll come by after that to see what is to be done.  Watch your step now.”  And with that Lois was ushered out the door.

After lunch she was sent to the house furthest away.  She walked down the hill and across the bridge.  The houses on this side of the river were single-family homes.  She walked up to a large brick house with dark shutters at the windows.  Either side of the walkway was guarded by a large tree that at this time of year had no leaves.  Mrs. Coggins asked her in and opened the package while she waited.  Mrs. Coggins shook the dress out and checked the seams and hem.  “Your mother’s work is so fine.  I have this package for you to take back with you.”  She then detailed what she wanted done.  For one dress, a blue faille, she gave no instructions.   “I can’t seem to wear out this fabric, but I won’t wear the dress even one more time.  I’m just sick of it.  Take it.  Maybe your mother can do something with it.”  Katherine often undid the seams and re-cut fabric from dresses like this. Then she would turn them into new clothes for Lois and herself.  They took the brown paper from the dress she had brought and wrapped up the three she was to take back.  Lois buttoned up her coat and started for the door with the larger package.  “Oh, and here is a little something for walking all this way.”  With that, Mrs. Coggins put two nickels in her hand and Lois began her cold walk home.

Down the pretty street to the main road and back toward the bridge she went.  At least the air was still with no wind to blow her body heat away.  On the way she peeped into the windows of the stores that were between the bridge and the hill.  In front of the dime store stood a Salvation Army lady next to her kettle, ringing her bell.  Just seeing her made Lois feel good.  Three years ago at Christmas time, her Dad in the hospital, they had no tree and no presents for anyone.  On Christmas Eve a man and lady from the Salvation Army had rung their doorbell and brought her a gift.  It was a doll.  The most beautiful doll she had ever seen with a sweet face and eyes that closed when you lay the doll down.  The only other gift they got that year was her father coming home from the hospital in time for New Year’s Day.  Since then she had learned to sew by making clothes for the doll from the scraps her mother had.  It was the doll she carefully sat on the chair next to the radiator each time after she played with her.  She played with the doll less and less now, but still liked to see her near.  Lois carefully felt the two nickels she had slipped inside her mittens.  This year her father was due to come home today, they had Pop and MomKate living with them.  There was even a small tree in the sun porch.  She rubbed the nickels together one more time and carefully slipped them from her mittens.  As she dropped them in the kettle and the lady thanked her, she thought that some other little girl must need a gift this Christmas.  For the rest of her life Lois would put change in the Red Kettles at Christmas.

The last word:

The Lois in the story is Suzy’s Mother, who continued to drop coins in the Salvation Army kettles every year.  Now Suzy does it.

May your 2014 be happy and prosperous.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

//

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

The Holiday Season is here.  Hooray for Thanksgiving!  How did you spend your day?  Did you remember to say, “Thank you” to someone?

Norman Rockwell ThanksgivingNot all of us can experience the Thanksgiving in the iconic Norman Rockwell painting, Freedom from Want.  It is an idealistic expression of family and the welcoming feelings of family gatherings.  Yet, annually we strive to create that vignette for ourselves.

When I was in elementary school, in the 1950s, we would draw, cut, paste turkeys, Pilgrims, and Indians.  It was a very short-sighted and syrupy interpretation of what Thanksgiving was and why we celebrate it.  More importantly to our narrowly focused little minds, it was the first vacation from school for that year.  Some had had Columbus Day off, but that was earlier and only the one day.  It seemed ever so long since the freedom of summer.  The grind on our poor little spirits was untenable.  More pragmatically, most schools were heated with coal furnaces and it cost too much to bank them for a Thursday, bring us back for Friday, and then bank them again for the weekend.  Columbus Day, being earlier in the year, didn’t worry the custodian about the care of the furnace. So, Thanksgiving break became a four-day weekend.  Upon dismissal Wednesday afternoon we would be primly marched from the classroom in our silent, straight girl’s and boy’s lines, clutching our Thanksgiving craft project.  Upon exiting the door we would run like the wind.  Need I add that many of the craft projects never got home or if they did they were the worse for wear?

By the time we got up Thursday morning, our mothers were already busy in the kitchen.  There were pies to bake and a big bird to get into the oven.  Some of my favorite Thanksgivings were when Daddy would help Grandmom, Moma’s mother, make pies.  She would add a “dollop” of schnapps to pumpkin and mince pie fillings.  I never knew how much a “dollop” was, and apparently neither did she.  She would ask my father if she had put in enough.  He would make a big show of touching his finger to the filling and tasting, then he would always say no, not enough.  She’d add a drop more and they’d check again.  He, of course, would try to see how much he could entice her to put into the pies.  It was a game for both of them and would set everyone in the kitchen, and it seemed everyone was always there, into giggles.  “Oh, Jimmy!” would put a stop to it.  She never really used much, but it was always a fun by-play for the two of them.

We would spend much of the morning watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV.  One year, when I was still very small and we were in Philadelphia, my grandfather took me in town to see the parade in person.  I can remember being dressed in my forest green leggings, with the forest green coat that had a fitted bodice and a full skirt on the bottom, with a matching hat. The only time he would let go of my hand was when he would lift me so I could see more.  It was noisy, and colorful, and the air was electric.  He bought me a balloon.  I remember watching the vendor carefully free it from the fistful of stings that tethered the multicolored cloud above his head. There were floats and bands and clowns.  A classic parade.  As soon as Santa passed, the crowd began to move and Granddad gripped my hand so hard I thought it would fall off.  He guided us to the subway, which was also crowded with the cheerful holiday throng. But I lost my balloon.  I was used to them being tied to my wrist, and Granddad had simply given it to me to hold.  Foolish me, I’d let go.  So I watched it drift up into the sky.

Thanksgiving was also football games.  They were long and tedious for little people who were excited by the holiday atmosphere and couldn’t sit still.  Whether we would be stationed out of town and it was just Daddy to annoy, or we were home with other family men, they would be riveted to the game and have no time to play.  Soon Moma, or if we were at grandparents’ houses, grandmothers would be telling us it was time to come to the table.  The men would grumble something about it being the end of the fourth quarter.  The women would bemoan the fact that the food was getting cold.  Then we were encouraged to eat until we were ready to burst. It was a feast, we were told.  It was insulting to those who had labored to put it together if we didn’t eat as much as we possibly could.  The skin of the bird was crackly and full of all the flavor from the basting.  If we were with my father’s parents there would be ambrosia salad.  That was a very sweet concoction of fruit cocktail, coconut, and sour cream that just slid down your throat.  At my other grandmother’s house there was a dish of stewed celery, which I thought was about the best vegetable ever.  For dessert we had to have a “sliver” of each variety of pie.  Then the adults would sit and talk for what seemed to be hours.  Children would be excused to go play.  If it was still light, we would slip outside where the brisk fall air would reinvigorate us.

After Walt and I married we faced the dilemma of most young couples:  who gets to make which holiday dinner?  Was it the young bride who, in our case, didn’t know how to cook, or which of the couple’s families get the honor?  Since Moma’s rule had always been the Christmas was for the Children, Walt and I decided that whoever had the youngest child should have Christmas, and Thanksgiving and New Year’s could be split.  That meant that early on, much of Christmas Day was at my parent’s as my sister, 16 years my junior, was still a child.  When we had children of our own, that shifted.  Then our Mothers began alternating who would hold the Thanksgiving dinner.  As my siblings weren’t married that was still relatively simple.  As our mothers aged, they decided to pool their resources and take the melded families to dinner at a nice restaurant.  My brother and sister-in-law do two Thanksgivings in one day to be with both sides of their families, my sister alternates.  Sometimes our sons can join us and sometimes not.  This year we have one home.  We are thankful for these opportunities to share family time and love.  I don’t know how you spent your Thanksgiving Day, but I hope you were able to enjoy some of the warmth evoked by the Rockwell painting.

The last word:

We hope your Thanksgiving was relaxing and your end of year holidays are joyous.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Hallowe’en is the flagship of the fall season.  It means that we have left Daylight Savings Time and the relaxed mood of summer for the hustle and bustle of Standard Time and the working, learning part of the year.  It had meant that through most of my life.  Recently, Daylight Savings Time has come and gone with a much more elastic whim of Congress.

Before starting school, Hallowe’en meant gingersnap cookies and candy corn.  Every once in awhile my father’s mother would stretch a bit and get the harvest mix instead of the plain candy corn.  She was also into the little cardboard figures that Elementary school teachers were wont to put around their classrooms.  There would have one on the refrigerator door, on the door to the basement, a couple on the mirror in the dinning room.  Instead of candy, she gave coins to Trick or Treaters.  How much she gave depended on how well she knew you or your parents.  If she didn’t know you she dropped a penny or two into your bag.  If she knew you lived in the neighborhood, she might pop for a nickel.  If you were the child of a close friend or a relative she bestowed a dime.  She would stop the Trick or Treater at the door and attempt to guess who it was.  She was most generous to those who she knew, but could fool her.  The year I was five was one of the best.  Our costumes were always home made.  We were to choose to be something generic such as a witch, ghost, cowboy or such.  One didn’t dress as a named celebrity or movie character.  That year Moma and her mother made Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy costumes for themselves.  Grandmom, being a couple inches taller, got to be Raggedy Andy.  We had an early dinner and Moma and Grandmom dressed themselves and me amid gales of giggles.  Then we drove from Sharon Hill, where Grandmom lived and we were staying, to Olney, the neighborhood in Philadelphia where my other grandmother lived.  Daddy rolled the car to a stop and parked a block from Grandmom’s corner row house.  They were row houses then, not townhouses.  Cautioning each other to be silent, Moma and Grandmom walked up the street while Daddy and I waited in the car.  We would have been a give-away, and they couldn’t have that!

Grandmom asked, “Do I know you?”  They nodded, yes.

“Do I know you well?”  Again they nodded.

“Do you live on this street?”  They shook their heads, no.

“Do you live between here and 2nd St.?”  Another shake.

“Toward 5th St.?”  Shake no again.

It seemed forever, but must have been only 10 or 15 minutes before they signaled that we would come up.  Not only had my one grandmother been unable to identify her daughter-in-law, but Moma was also her Goddaughter.  My other grandmother had been her best friend through school.  They had dated together and traded off dates with my two grandfathers after World War I.  Everyone laughed until our sides ached.

The first year I went Trick or Treating on my own was with Moma’s grave reservation.  We had always gone only to houses where we were known, in familiar neighborhoods.  But I was in Fourth Grade now, living in San Diego in a brand new development like so many that were sprouting up in the 1950s, and, most critically, Dad was on a carrier in Asia and my brother, Jim, was a toddler of 2.  My best girl friend lived next door.  She and I went as a Dutch boy and girl.  I was in the pantaloons, full blouse and cap into which I stuffed my braids, and she was in a dirndl skirt, apron, and cap with the side points.  After much cautioning about where we could go and that we should stay together and were to be back by our very strict time limit, off we went.   We ran from house to house just as fast as we could so as to cover as much ground as possible.  VickiJo expected quite a haul as she had taken a pillowcase while I had a simple brown grocery bag.  For those of a younger generation, grocery bags were much more generous then, so her pillowcase wasn’t as much an increase in size as in strength.

The fall of my sixth grade found us back in Philadelphia, living with my father’s parents.  Daddy had been transferred to Cuba and we were waiting for our name to come to the top of the list for housing on base.  In the 1950s one did not attempt to remain a child.  The goal was to grow up as soon as the adults would convey to you the various privileges maturation brought.  I decided that I was too grown up to grow Trick or Treating.  I didn’t want to dress up in a costume.  We were too new to the area for me to have “found” a best friend.   The kids in school here were very different from what I had left.  There were undercurrents I could feel but not identify.  Besides this was just a whistle stop until we moved on to Daddy and Cuba, so I wasn’t making a great effort to get to know anyone at school more than casually.  However, Jim was now four, and felt it absolutely necessary to go Trick-or-Treating.  Being too young to go by himself, I became the designated escort.  I adamantly refused a costume and a bag but acquiesced to walking my little brother around.  I probably wasn’t very gracious about it because I still feel a degree of resentment that I had to stave off “growing-up” for one more year.  My grandparents had lived in this house since before my father went to school, and many of their neighbors were still the same people that had seen my father grow up.  I lost track of how many time we heard, “Oh, you’re Louise’s grandchildren.  How is Jimmy (our father, not my brother)?  Here, both of you need a treat.”   I didn’t have enough pockets to put all of the treats into, so as we walked off the front stoop I would slip what I had been given into Jim’s bag.  Most likely one of the few times he had received such largesse of gee-dunk from me.

Jim’s first grade Hallowe’en found us living in Naples, Italy.  Trick-or-Treating was not part of the Italian culture.  The DoD school we attended did the best they could to have a celebration for the elementary students at the end of the school day.  This wasn’t really sufficient to satisfy my brother’s desire to go around in costume.  As we were scattered around the city, evening Trick-or-Treating didn’t occur in the American Ex-pat community.  The apartment building we lived in had one other American family.  The apartment building down the hill had a third family, but they had no children.  Our balcony was on the same level as theirs, so we would wave across the tiny street between us and conduct small conversations.  The gentleman had been the US Consul for Naples and they had decided to spend, at least some part, of their retirement there.  He and his wife shared many little tidbits of information that helped us to enjoy our stay in Naples.  Moma suggested that I take Jim, in his costume, across the way to Trick-or-Treat.  In my usual contrary way, I balked.  I didn’t know these people very well.  They had no kids.  I knew they wouldn’t be expecting a holiday visit.  I felt I would be intruding.  Jim was very eager to wear his costume somewhere.  We went.  As we left the building, Milko, the portiere and his wife gave us a strange look and simply wished us a good evening.  Jim skipped and I walked to the next building where we were greeted with a similar look:  Americani pazzi.   Up the stairs we walked and knocked on their door.  As the door opened, Jim shouted, “Trick or Treat!”  The look on the gentleman’s face was priceless.  His wife scurried over and invited us in as I was trying to back away.  “I’m not prepared.  Just a minute. I’m sure we have something somewhere.  Come in.  Come in.  Come in.”  Jim and I entered a very different home.  They had traveled all over the world for our State Department and furnished their home with pieces from their many assignments.  The hassock was a camel saddle from Arabia.  The coffee table was a huge, beaten brass tray from Iran.  She told me that she wouldn’t buy glass.  Crystal was too easily broken when they would move, so all their cups and goblets were of silver.  They might dent, but they wouldn’t break.  They had purchased their carpets from different Mediterranean countries.  There was a glass-fronted cabinet full of antique weapons which caught Jim’s eye.  There was a large curved scimitar with a deep blood groove, and several very evil looking daggers.  There were some pistols from very different eras.  They insisted we sit and share a snack with them as they delighted us with stories of how they had gotten some of their treasures.    We were the first Hallowe’en visitors in years.  We had a truly wonderful evening.  On the way out Jim was given a small packet of goodies so there would be something in his bag to take home.  It was one of the most unique and delightful holiday visits I’ve had the privilege of enjoying.

By High School, there were a couple of costume parties, but sixth grade had been the last real hoorah until I had children of my own.

When our sons were small I would buy blanket fleece and make their costumes such that they could be used as blanket sleepers that winter.  When we lived in Troy, MI, Walt and the gentleman across the street from us would take our boys and theirs around.  The men would stroll down the center of the street while they boys would run from side to side to knock on every neighbor’s door.  Chris, the other mom in this grouping and I would stay home to pass out treats to those coming to our houses as we shouted across the street to each other.  Weather permitting.  This was Michigan, after all.

By the time our boys reached upper elementary school we had lived in a couple more places and with growing height and age I tried to discourage them from going door to door.  I felt then, and now, as I did when I was a youngster: Hallowe’en Trick or Treating is for young children.   Somewhere over the recent years the culture around Hallowe’en has changed just as its spelling has.  How many remember that that apostrophe used to be required?  How many feel that they should be allowed to wear costumes to work?  We have many neighbors where we currently live who decorate their houses in a manner similar to what they put out at Christmas.  As for me, I most enjoy seeing the little ghosties and goblins coming around.  They are a true delight.  And, I view Hallowe’en as the herald of rapidly approaching Thanksgiving and then Christmas and New Years.

The last word:

Enjoy the holiday season!

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

When we were children, summer was the most anticipated and enjoyable season of the year.  As children we spent the boring bits of class willing the trees to leaf out knowing that the end of the school year wouldn’t be far behind.  At least, I would.

I’d daydream about all of the time I will have to do what I wanted to do when I was free of school, and teachers, and books, and homework.  I would almost be able to feel the luxury of sleeping late. Or, maybe, get up early to be outside with my friends.  We’d be able to get on our bicycles and ride a far as we wanted to go, as long as it was within the limits our parents had set for our meanderings. We might race each other or copy our parents’ driving and use turn signals and stay on the right side of the road.  More often we would just ride and talk.  As we got older, the latter turned into strolling and chatting. We would expect that one of our parents or one of our friends’ parents would be able to take us to the beach or a pool so we could swim, dive, or splash to our hearts content.  There would be endless afternoons of board games where the entire living room would be full of friends spread out on the floor.  At least until a younger sibling came in and moved all of the pieces.  On breezeless afternoons we would be able to sit on the back step and play card games, or take our crayons to our color-books.  I always had either an old cigar box or a smallish shoe box full of all the bits and pieces that I’d saved.  These would have rubbed against each other so much that you would need to rub them on the interior of the box to get to the pure color before you used it on your project.  Styles of coloring would change with age and location.  Sometimes the goal was to color in one direction.  Other times, different pieces of a section were done in different directions for ease or effect. Or, you might want to outline over or inside of the printed lines before coloring.  Maybe the outline perimeter would keep getting smaller until the section was complete.  However it was, one could spend hours coloring.

Summer never turned out to be quite so free of chores and regulations as I would dream, but I always found it pleasurable.  I’ve always been a sun person and there is more sun in the summer.  When I was growing up, parents set a list of chores that were our responsibility of accomplish, but they didn’t schedule all of our time.  We had many enjoyable hours to play and daydream.  Moma never wanted us to disturb the neighbors too early, so chores were mostly to be done before we went out to play.  After lunch, when we were too old to take naps, we were to read for about an hour instead.  As reading became easier that sometimes stretched until a friend showed up to collect us just because it was to hard to put a book down at a good part.  I remember reading the biography of Michelangelo. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, in two afternoons because it just drew me into the story of his life.

I’ve always been able to more than fill my time with things I wanted to do rather than following someone else’s pre-ordained schedule for me.  Summer gave me more time to follow my current druthers.

Summer also brought it’s special treats.  When I was growing up, food was still seasonal so it was the only time to get good tomatoes or watermelon or corn-on-the-cob.  Swimming outside was always so much better than the heavily chlorinated air of an indoor pool.  In cooler climates, grilling was only a summer activity.

My family often went on picnics.  Moma would pack a lunch.  Dad fixed a thermos of lemonade.  We’d go to the beach or just into the countryside.  Wherever we would stop, it was always a place we children could run and play.

Then, there was twilight; the long slow evenings.  Growing up we didn’t have air conditioning, so Moma wanted out of the kitchen and it’s heat as soon as she could.  Soon after Daddy came home from work Moma finished up and served our meal, and then we were all outside with the windows open to release the heat from the house.  That was when, as a young child, we played hide and seek, or tag, or ran races down the alley behind the house.  We would play with the grass cuttings on people’s lawns.  That sounds silly, but somehow it was fun.  Of course, there would be lightening bugs.  We would put them in jars.  Our parents obviously didn’t care for our safety because we would be given an empty, glass mayonnaise jar the lid of which we had poked holes in using the pointed can opener often referred to as a church key.  We’d throw some grass in the bottom of the jar and then set it between our parents’ feet.  It wasn’t that we were afraid to run with it.  We just wanted our hand free to catch the lightening bugs.  We would carefully carry them back to where our parents were sitting.  Whoever was holding the jar would carefully raise the lid so that we could slide the bug into the jar, then put the lid back with only one twist to be prepared for the next bug.  After a bit, we children would compare to see whose jar had the most lightening bugs.  Before we went in for the night we had to let them go free.  That was okay.  Then they would be there for the next night’s play.  When we visited our grandparents, Granddad would walk with us to the ice cream store while Grandmom and Moma finished up in the kitchen.  Children would get an ice cream cone or a snow cone while Granddad would buy just enough scoops for the adults.  By the time we got back, the kitchen was clean and everyone else was waiting for us on the back porch.  We would sit, eating the ice cream, and letting the descending dark engulf us.  Voices seemed to soften into murmurs as the light faded.

Summer had its rhythms.  Memorial Day meant it was upon us.  Independence Day came too soon and, in my mind, always meant the season was half over.  Then, there was Labor Day and that was summer’s last song.  It was the final, sweet note of my favorite season.  It presaged returning to school and schedules and a more rushed and hurried season.  Now it was time for fall clothes, and new pencils, pens, crayons, books, ….  Soon we would have colored leaves and the clean crispness of mornings after a frosty night.  Soon we would have the sweetly acrid smell of burning leaves and the taste of the season’s first crisp apples and ginger snaps.

Labor Day is so sad because it is the end of my favorite season:  summer.  And so sweet because it is the beginning of another favorite:  autumn.

The last word:

I, too, have fond memories of summer with minimal boundaries and, more importantly, little schedule.  Of course there were things that had to get done, but most of it was open for whatever.  Kids, and adults, need time to just daydream.  It is the wellspring of creativity.  I think we punish our children by eliminating that time, and we don’t do ourselves any favors by trying to constantly multi-task with minimal time to just escape to whatever.

Have a great holiday weekend.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy.  I hope you enjoy it.)

Across our world and throughout all written history I’ve ever read about, holiday celebrations are all the same.  Families find time to get together.  Some family members may travel from great distances while others just walk next door.  There are those who quarrel and snipe at each other and those who just bask in the nearness of the entire family.  Some resent not being with their “own” friends.  Others work themselves into a frenzy trying to make the time perfect.  Sometimes family members make new connections that strengthen the family.  Other times the outcomes are not so beneficent.  Those family members who find it impossible to get home during the season due to distance and weather are sorely missed.  As the family grows with marriages some members need to divide their time between their birth family and wedded family.  If space and proximity allow, the best celebrations find a way to incorporate the new branch of family.

Then there is the food.  Every culture has developed its specialties.  Some peoples have created entire menus for every holiday in the year.  If we are referring to a major holiday, it often takes weeks to assemble all the treats that the season requires.  Aromas fill the house contributing to the holiday mood of everyone who comes home.  Some try to sample early, others to hold back until the “correct” setting.  Some offerings are quick and easy, while others may take several days to prepare.  The best require more than one set of hands so that the very preparation of the food becomes a family event.

This is Pop standing in front of his daughter’s house on Barker Avenue in Sharon Hill, PA, circa 1945

Since the time of my great-grandfather, Eustach Kalmbacher (Pop), the religious aspects of life have been held more individually than in a formal church.  It’s a long family story about his fleeing Germany under the threat of excommunication from the Catholic Church.  However, at Christmas there is often a carol sing or mid-night service.  Pop was a baker.  The recipes he learned in the Old Country came to the United States in his head.  As he grew older, first his daughter, Katherine Kalmbacher Sellers Kulhemier, then his granddaughter, Lois Sellers Schlechter, would watch as he would bake and they would write down what they observed.  Some of the versions were more accurate than others.  Some produced far too many cookies for home use.  There was an attempt to pare these down, sometimes with success.  As the years passed and the family grew with marriages and experiences, so did the number of recipes.  Everyone brought a favorite taste treat to the list of what must be prepared to make the holiday complete.  We now have more than we can ever use in any one season.

Since Walt and I have been married, the Christmas baking has begun just after Thanksgiving.  When the boys were babies I wore them in a backpack while I baked, and they “helped.”  They learned to lick the goodies off the beaters at an early age.  I did end up wearing some of the batter in my hair as part of the process.  Later they became cookie decorators frequently letting imagination override tradition.  We share the results of the baking with family and friends, and even so, often have cookies through March.

I’m sorry that in a blog I cannot send you cookies.  Even so, we hope that your holiday season is filled with all the tantalizing aromas of the season and the support and love of family and friends.  We wish you a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

Here is one of Pop’s cookie recipes.

Butter Gebackene  (German butter cookies)

I use a food processor now.  That chops the citron very fine.  A hand mixer works for the batter, but chop the citron first if you use one.  The smaller the citron, the easier it is to cut the cookies later.  I take a cup of the flour and whir it together with the citron.  This keeps the sticky citron from adhering to the sides of the bowl or itself.  Then I transfer it to a small bowl to be added at the appropriate time.  We always use unsalted, real butter when the recipe calls for butter.  It really does bake up differently.

At the top are Lebkuchn, then red and green sugar sprinkled Butter Gegbackene, Pfeffernuesse and Springerle

Cream together
½ pound (that’s 1 cup or 2 sticks) of butter.
1 pound (2 ¼ cups) sugar

Add, all at one time, 4 – 6 eggs  (that’s approximately 1 cup — I’ve always used 4 large eggs)

Add and blend in:
½ teaspoon cinnamon
4 ounces of citron (This is where you use all those little chips you made earlier.)
2 pounds (about 4 cups) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

The dough needs to be refrigerated before rolling and cutting.  For me, it rolls better between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.  Roll it to a short ¼ inch thick.  Cut into holiday shapes.  I use a roller cutter that produces hearts, stars, etc. that are about 1 ½ inches across.  Set the cookies about 1 inch apart on a greased cookie sheet.  Brush with lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with red or green colored sugar.  Bake at 375°F until golden (about 10 minutes).

The last word:

Part of the joy of the season is the great smells that flow from the kitchen at this time of year.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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