Archive for November, 2009

My Dad’s mother, my paternal grandmother – had over 50 grandchildren (See: Being a Middle Child #7 of 14). She did her best to make each of her grandchildren feel special, but with that many it was not an easy task. I do remember cheering at a Pee-Wee football game (See: Football Boogie ) and when doing the cheer “Teams in a huddle, Captains at the head. Out comes the coach and this is what he said . . . ” I bent over to be in a huddle and the back seam of my corduroy cheerleading pants ripped. My Dad took me across the street from the park to my grandmother’s house and she stitched up my pants so that I could return to my game. That is one of the few memories I have of being with her alone and having a typical interaction that most grandmothers and granddaughters probably have. Usually there were dozens of cousins there whenever we visited her. I can’t remember sitting on her lap at all or having her visit our house. We had giant family Christmas parties in one uncle’s basement and Grandma would give out 50 envelopes with $1 each in them. All of her grandchildren were remembered equally and fondly, but I missed out on something in that relationship.

Lil at our house for Christmas

I saw my other grandmother only 2 times in my life. She ran off with another man when my mother was a baby and proceeded to rob a train with him. She spent some time in prison (See: Archiving Photos and Videos, But Most Importantly Preserving the Family Story ). She visited our house when I was in 8th grade and I remember almost every minute of that visit, almost like it was a few days ago. My mother  tolerated her mother’s visit, but avoided her hugs and refused to call her “mother”.  She called her Ruby instead. Ruby seemed interested in getting to know us, but didn’t ask detail questions about our activities. She wasn’t around long enough to become very acquainted with the details of our lives.

When I was first married, I heard that Ruby was bitten by a rat while sleeping in her apartment and was hospitalized. Though I didn’t know her, it bothered me that my grandmother was living in such conditions. I received a small bonus at my first job for Christmas and sent her the check that I received. Afterwards, she started writing me telling me bits and pieces about her life.  I visited her  when I was pregnant with my second child. She lived in the projects in Washington, D.C. and when I parked my car to walk to her apartment, I was very nervous. I didn’t know how to start to build a relationship with her. I was intrigued, but didn’t feel I could ask her many questions about her past. We had a pleasant visit for a couple of hours. She did show me a china doll that my mother had when she was a child and introduced me to some of her friends. I wanted to ask her a zillion questions, but instead settled for a few moments of politeness and a short getting-to-know-you session. I remember most that she stuttered when on the telephone, like my mother did, and also made a circle with her thumb and forefinger, weaving them around each other when she was nervous. She was a nice lady, but it was hardly an intimate relationship.

Lil and a Photo of her late husband

While I didn’t have grandmothers present in my life, I did have Lil. She was my mother’s best friend and though not related to us in any way, she was a very special person in our lives. My mother met Lil when my Mom first moved to Ohio to work in factory there. My mother lived with her brother at first, but my uncle moved on and my Mom didn’t know a soul in her new town. She met Lil at her boarding house and they fast became friends. They behaved like sisters.

Lil didn’t drive and lived in an apartment downtown. She was not married and on Sunday, at least twice a month, my Dad would go pick her up and bring her to our house for the day. Lil usually asked him to stop at a grocery store and she would pick up a quarter bag of candy or a box of donuts for our family to share. Sometimes, she would make her famous deviled eggs or pineapple pie to bring. Lil was part of our family celebrations whether it was Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mother’s Day, or all of our birthdays. At the end of the day, we all piled into our car to take Lil home.

One Easter morning, the weather was bad and we were unable to have out Easter egg hunt outside. We improvised and held it indoors. Lil fully participated and allowed us to hide eggs around her chair. Lil was about 5 feet tall probably weighed 200 pounds. She had a very cushy lap to sit on and she was comfortable to cuddle with. That day, we hunted eggs for hours and Lil ended up having an egg in her chest pocket of her shirt dress for quite some time. She laughed until tears rolled down her face, because it should have been obvious that an egg was there. But with her extra padding, no one realized where the egg was hidden until she revealed it. It was an especially good hiding place.

Lil and her pie at Thanksgiving

When I started dating Paul in high school, he and Lil fast became friends. They would conspire against me and gently tease me on her visits. For graduation from high school, she gave me a pearl necklace for a gift. It was very special to get that from her. I knew that she didn’t have much money and that she had sacrificed to give such a gift.

When Lil became older, she had several health problems. I visited her whenever I came home from college. She would sit with me and tell me stories about her life. She told me about her marriage. She knew a man for several years and was deeply in love with him. He was married. He was a doorman for the “mob” during prohibition and made sure that no one entered the speakeasy and gambling facility. My home town was called “Little Chicago” because of the gang activity there during Prohibition. Lil made deposits at the bank for the mob, carrying the money in the pockets of large overcoat to the bank. No one suspected that she was a participant in illegal activity. After several years, he divorced his wife and married Lil. He died after a couple of years of marriage. I heard that the mob family in town paid for her apartment until she died.

Lil died when I was 8 months pregnant with my first child. I lived in Texas and couldn’t return to Ohio for the funeral. Before I left for Texas, she gave me a rattle for my yet-to-be-born baby. My heart ached to not be there for her at the end. She exemplified what it was to have a grandmother. And as Barbara Bush said, “To us, family means putting your arms around each other and just being there.” Lil was there for us.

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My mother cooked meals for our family for many years. She was creative – not by what she could do with the ingredients, but the way she fed our family of 7 with very little money. The pressure cooker was the key. She could put a small piece of a very cheap cut of beef in the pressure cooker and turn it into a delicious family meal. Most of the meals consisted of vegetables from our garden or fruit from our orchards. She re-created meals from her childhood – navy beans and cornbread (see: The Story Part of Family History) She tried every option for our apple from the orchard – fresh apples, apple pies, apple dumplings, fried apples, applesauce, apple cider, Waldorf salad, and apple butter.  She did love to bake and made blueberry cream cheese squares, strawberry Jello pie, orange jello dessert, chocolate mayonnaise cake, pineapple cookies, and zucchini bread, She grew tired of cooking meals for us however, and most meals were repeats from week to week. My dad told her, in a joking way at one meal, “Mary, you really put your heart into this one.”

My mother was the one that kept our household going. She took the ingredients of our life and made sense of things. We counted on her for our substance and she always came through. Dinner was always ready at 5pm, with enough food for 7 of us. When Dad was unemployed, she would scrape bye with what she had. When my Dad was working, she got up at 5am and made his lunch (pickle pimento with Colby cheese sandwiches on white bread, vegetable soup, carrots, and a thermos of coffee). She wrapped the sandwiches in wax paper, placed the warm soup in the short thermos and arranged it all neatly in his metal lunchbox. Her way of cooking was very matter-of-fact and orderly. We counted on her and she came through as expected.

Family Story

Dad helping with Thanksgiving dinner

In a time when most men didn’t cook, my dad was a foodie. He loved to put what little we had into a creative dish. Instead of looking for a recipe as my mother did, he created his own.  He used the Crock Pot to make peach and cherry bread pudding with the fruit that we grew on our property. He experimented to make soda bread from his childhood, finally getting it right to eat at night with jelly and milk. He was spontaneous, and risked making mistakes and being laughed at. His cooking was a perfect example of this. We used to watch him in the kitchen to see what would happen next. It might be entertaining, but waiting for the taste was the best part. My Dad was the fun one. He would take parts of our life and mix them together in ways they had never been put together before.

This was a dish that Dad would cook so he could clean out the refrigerator. He would take all the leftovers from the fridge and put them together with eggs, milk, onions and whatever spices fit the bill. Sometimes he would put A-1 sauce in it and always pepper and salt. He would put everything in a skillet & cook it until the eggs were done. There was usually 2 or 3 kinds of meat, sometimes mashed potatoes, vegetables and whatever else he could find. Amazingly it was very tasty. He called it “schlumgolian”. I’m not sure where the name came from, but it added to the mystery of the dish. We were naive enough to think that every family had schlumgolian made from leftovers.

My Dad would prepare his harvests from his garden (see:My Dad – the Original Organic Gardener),  in special ways. We always had pickled beets – with – eggs – in the refrigerator.  He prepared ground horseradish from home-grown horseradish roots to spice up his home-cooking. He used the crocks bought at auction to turn cabbage into sauerkraut in the basement. His vegetable soup was superb and I still remember how great it tasted – 28 years later.

Family Stories

A picnic for my High School Graduation - with potato salad

He became known at family reunions for his potato salad. It was creamy, crunchy, sweet from the homemade sweet pickle relish, and pungent from the freshly picked dill.  The flavors melded together, blending my father’s creativity and the garden’s freshness. His recipe for potato salad has been recorded and my sisters and I still make it for family gatherings. Both the taste and the process of chopping the ingredients as a family bring back great family memories.

Some of his creations didn’t turn out so well. Let me tell you about my father’s dandelion wine. He tried making wine from the grapes in his small grape harbor. It was tasty, but there weren’t enough grapes after canning grape jelly to make more than a bottle or two. He resolved to picking all the dandelions in the yard and following the recipe from an article in his organic gardening monthly newsletter. It was perplexing to see how weeds from our yard could become a tasty drink. Though I was only 14, I was allowed to taste it. And just as I still remember how great the vegetable soup was, I also remember the awful bitter taste of the dandelion wine. I shuddered profusely and spat it out. Thankfully that was the end of his resourceful wine-making ventures.

Dad taught me that you win some and you lose some – it’s not the end result that’s all that important. Instead, it’s the process of taking what you have and blending it together in creative ways  – with much enthusiasm and with people you love. Thanks Dad!

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Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

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My Dad was a bunch of fun. He was the middle of 14 children (see Being a Middle Child, #7 of 14) and simply craved attention. At family reunions, he held court with his brothers and sisters. He was a favorite uncle to his 50 nieces and nephews – he would get on the floor and play with them. He could pull quarters out of their ear, and he also convinced them that one  of his arms was longer than the other. He would pull his sleeve down over his wrist and pull one arm to make it longer. It was convincing. During the Dukes of Hazzard County years, he became “Luke Duke” and his grandson was  “Bo Tie”, making their get-away in my father’s recliner chair turned “The General Lee”, their imaginary  1969 Dodge Charger . I think my father enjoyed the play-acting more than my nephew did.

Photo scanning

Dad goofing around "playing" the guitar

He was the fun parent too. We didn’t have much money in our family, but it didn’t take money to have laughter in my house. Dad was entertainment director. I learned to dance – standing on his feet while he danced during the Lawrence Welk and Grand Ole Opry shows. He comically would move around the family room floor as long as the music played. He bent over, pushed his rear-end out, and taught us all how to jitter-bug.

When I brought my boyfriend over to our house at age 16, he told Paul that he liked his football team moustache. When Paul asked what he meant, my father quipped, “There are 11 on each side.” Paul laughed while I left the room completely mortified. The morning of my wedding, Dad choreographed a line dance to “Going to the Chapel”. Later that day, he walked me down the aisle, and before giving my arm to my groom, he took a minute to ask him for 5 dollars. Of course he wasn’t serious – he was just making a joke. It didn’t matter to him that it was the middle of my wedding ceremony.

He told the corniest jokes. He died 27 years ago, but I still remember most of those jokes. Maybe because he told them so many times. Certainly not because the jokes were funny.

“Judge, I want a divorce.”
“Do you have grounds for a divorce?”
“Yes, I have 7 acres.”
“No, what I mean is do you have a grudge?”
“Yes, I have 3-car grudge.”
“Sir, what is the foundation of this divorce?”
“Our foundation is concrete, but what does that have to do with a divorce?”
“One final questions: Does your wife beat you up?”
“No, I’m always up before she is.”
“Case closed”.

He told these same jokes to our family, to strangers, and around my friends in high school. My friends loved him. He was the life of my slumber parties. I thought my girlfriends and I would stay in the basement all night as I had games planned for the evening. But they clamored to be around my dad. He held court.

“My favorite salad is a honeymoon salad”.
“What is a honeymoon salad?”
“Just lettuce alone.”
“Second favorite salad is a Little Boy Salad.”
“What is a Little Boy Salad?”
“Lettuce, turnip and pea.”

“What’s a paradox?”
“Two of them.”

“They hired a new coach from China. His name is win-one-soon.”

“How do you call a headless dog?”
“I don’t know”.
“You wouldn’t want to call him anyways, he couldn’t hear you.”

“What’s the difference between a quarter and a henway?”
“What’s a henway?”
“Oh, about two and a half pounds!”

“You have friendly hair, it’s waving at me.”

Photo Scan

My Mom and Dad Visiting

Two months before my Dad died, he came to visit us in our new home in Houston. He came with my Mom to be present when my first baby was to be born. My Dad had suffered a heart attack at his job two weeks earlier, but it was undiagnosed. He must have felt poorly, but he still spent part of his two weeks at my new house putting in a new backyard. He asked me how would I grade it, meaning was it level and would it drain properly? I told him, I would give it a B+. He appreciated my attempt at humor.

We toured the Houston zoo during that week and watched the monkeys groom their babies, pulling off fleas and slicking down their hair.  He teased me and asked me to watch the mother monkeys so I’d know how to take care of my baby. Mom and Dad had to leave before my son was born – I was 2 1/2 weeks late to deliver him. It was the last time I saw my Dad. He suffered a massive heart attack and died before I could get back to my home town.

When I arrived home, my mother was busy planning the funeral. She fussed over her new grandson for a short while, and then returned to making plans. She pondered what to have my father wear. He had two suits, one very formal that he rarely wore and another than was his favorite, a nice brown and blue plaid. She mused out loud that “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid Suits.” It was comic relief for me and my siblings as we roared in laughter that my mother’s comment coincided with Steve Martin’s new movie “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” that came out that week. My father would have loved the humor.

We read the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote at his funeral. It says, “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.”

“Knock Knock
“Who’s there?”
“little old lady…”
“little old lady who?”
Hey! I didn’t know you could yodle…!”

Thanks for keeping us laughing, Dad.

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

  • VHS or reels to DVD
  • Scan your photos or slides
  • Preserve your Memories.


Copyright 2009, All rights reserved.

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