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Celebrate D-Day and Life

June 6 is a date that I’ve always remembered. When I was young, Mom baked a cake and fried chicken for Granny’s birthday meal, and she stuffed the chicken liver inside the back, Granny’s favorite piece. Etta Juda Rich, was born June 6, 1886. Granny liked birthday celebrations. On her 80th birthday, our family hosted a big party for family and friends, and we continued to celebrate Granny’s birthday with family for the next fifteen years.   

            In 1969, I graduated from Tennessee Tech and have remembered the date because it was Granny’s birthday. Although she didn’t attend the graduation ceremony, she sent a card with a $5 bill. The next year on June 6, wearing a long yellow bridesmaid dress, I stood beside my friend, Tommy Sue, as she and Butch married. 

            As a student, junior high or high school, I think I first heard about D-Day, June 6, 1944.  The day during World War II that the Allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches, Nazi-occupied France, and successfully began the end of Adolph Hitler’s hold on Europe.  The picture that has stuck with me is of huge ships and soldiers, wearing helmets and carrying backpacks and weapons, walking ashore from the ships. Maybe such a photo was in my high school history book.  

            I struggle to comprehend the event. The numbers are overwhelming.  According to history.com, 156,115 Allied troops stormed 50 miles of beaches with 6,939 ships, and 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders delivered Allies. The German forces were ready for battle. Allied losses were estimated to be over 4,000 on that day and because the Battle of Normandy continued until August, all deaths totaled 226,000.  D-Day marked a decisive turning point in the war.

             While writing this and searching for facts, I’ve side tracked many times. I listened to the radio broadcasts of the initial hours of D-Day that my parents and grandparents must have heard. I read a letter dated June 14, 1944 that Dad wrote to Mom while he was stationed at Camp Reynolds, Greenville, PA.  Most of the letter is personal about his searching for an apartment so Mom and my brother could join him.  But he ends with these words:  I’ve listened to the news while writing.  Sounds pretty good all the time now.  Hope it continues so this thing gets finished.

             June 6, a day I remember personal happy events.  I think of Granny and appreciate her, and the many quilts she stitched that are in my closet and on my beds. I remember wearing a cap and gown and receiving a diploma in the Tennessee Tech gym. And I wish Tommy Sue and Butch congratulations and enjoy seeing the many good wishes to them on Facebook. 

            And on this 75th anniversary of D-Day, my heart is heavy with gratitude to all who sacrificed for our War World II victory.  What if the outcome had been different?  Life wouldn’t have been the same. ####

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Strawberry Picking Day

            “Gran, is this one okay?”  Jesse gently held a bright red strawberry that was attached to a plant.  A berry perfect for picking.  I nodded and he put it in his white gallon bucket.  “How about this one?”  My Grand, almost five years old, pointed to a berry that was pink with a white tip. 

            “Not that one. Pick the bright red ones,” I said as I handed him a big, juicy, red berry.  “Taste this one.  It’s ripe and ready to eat.” 

            Jesse bit and red juice dribbled from both sides of his mouth, his eyes widened, and he chewed.  After he swallowed, he said, “That’s yummy!”  And he ate the whole berry except the small green cap.  “Can I eat more?” He could and I suggested he pick enough berries to cover the bottom of his bucket before eating another.  “Is this one okay?” He pointed to a half ripe berry.

            It was Jesse’s first time to pick strawberries and I relished the time that just he and I could be together.  And I was thankful that Amazing Acres welcomed pickers, even young pickers.  My plan was to pick 3 or 4 gallons to make freezer jam and berries to eat fresh for a few days.  If I approved each and every berry Jesse picked, we might be in the strawberry patch all day.  Again, we compared ripe and unripe berries and I began picking quickly.

            Jesse examined a tall weed with barbs that grew in the path between the rows of strawberries.  “What’s this?” he asked.  A thistle. “Does it have sticker things so nothing will eat it?” Yes.  “Does it protect the strawberries?  Can I touch it?”  After a thorough examination of the weed, my Grand noticed my full bucket of berries.  “Gran, how about I pick berries out of your bucket?”  I shook my head and reminded him that he could pick berries from the plants.

            When Jesse accidentally kicked his bucket, strawberries spilled onto the ground.  He heaved with frustration. “They’ll be easier to pick from the ground,” I said.  He carefully placed every berry back in his bucket.  “Gran, can I spill yours?  I’ll pick them up.”

            We counted the cows in the field beside the strawberry patch and looked for the barbed wire fence surrounding the pasture.  We identified a cloud dinosaur and a cloud train engine puffing smoke.  When Jesse asked for a drink of water, I suggested he chew a strawberry for a long time and it might taste like strawberry juice.  It did and he had several drinks.

            As we carried filled buckets out of the field, Jesse warned me to not touch the tall sticker plants and not step in the mud.  “Be careful, Gran.  Follow me,” he said. We sat on the grass to rest a few minutes.  Looking at four gallons of berries, Jesse said, “Now that’s SOME STRAWBERRIES!”

            At home, Jesse told his siblings that he worked really hard to pick the best strawberries.  “I got the most humongous bright red ones,” he said.  I agreed.

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Walk a Mile

My new button says “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” For a few hours, I shadowed Kelsee, a Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist at Cookeville Regional Medical Center.  I followed her to the Cath Lab, the Cardiac Catherization Laboratory, where doctors perform tests and procedures to diagnose and treat the heart.

            As Kelsee and I walked the hospital hallway she said, “I’m excited to introduce you to the others on my team.  We’ve got three patients, three procedures this morning.  I’m helping with the first one so my friends will take care of you.” Kelsee’s words foreshadowed the time I spent with her. 

            My preconceived vision of a Cath Lab was a small room with four white bare walls where doctors, nurses, and staff quietly and solemnly do their work. I was wrong.  Supplies for the procedures line three walls.  The other is a bank of windows to an adjoining room where staff members monitor computer screens showing the patient’s vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure, and blood oxygen saturation.

            Kelsee said, “First, we’re going to replace a pacemaker.  Want to see what one looks like?  Mike can show you.”  Mike is a rep, a representative, for the manufacturer of the small device that helps regulate the heart’s rhythm.  A shiny silver device, the size of a book of matches.   

            Why was Mike wearing a head covering and lab coat to go into the Cath Lab?  “When a device from my company is used, I’m here to make sure the pacemaker is operating properly and make programmed adjustments if needed.”  He explained that the patient’s pacemaker was ten years old and its battery no longer functioned well. 

            Kelsee stood on one side of the operating room bed and Dr. Wathen, a cardiac Electrophysiologist, on the other.  Three Cath Lab staff members and I watched and they explained the procedure, the vital readings, and answered my questions.  Through the headset I wore, I heard Dr. Wathen explain what he was doing and reassure the patient.  “You’ve got a good group here with you today.  We’re doing everything we can to get you feeling better,” he said.

            After connecting the pacemaker to the leads implanted in the patient’s heart, Dr. Wathen said, “Mrs. Ray, look, it’s here in place,” and he looked toward the windows.  Later, we visited briefly. “This is the easiest thing we do. This team works together well.”  We walked down the hallway to the Electrophysiology Laboratory.  “Here’s the E.P Lab. It’s is closed this week to be updated.  Come back again and watch a more complex procedure,” he said.

            Walk A Mile is offered for us laypeople to see what happens at our hospital.  I observed a pacemaker replacement and two cardiac catheterizations to diagnose heart ailments.  But I was most impressed by the enthusiasm and teamwork of the hospital employees who are friends and take pride in their jobs.            

Thank you CRMC for this opportunity.  If I need heart care, I want Kelsee and her friends beside my bed.  I’ll wear my button so they’ll know I’ve watched through a window.

What’s the Best Strawberry Shortcake?

“How about strawberry shortcake?” my friend Diane asked. Strawberry shortcake, a perfect springtime dessert. My mouth watered remembering how Mom made it. A square serving of a one layer yellow cake, cut in half. The bottom half covered with fresh sliced strawberries that had been mixed with sugar and refrigerated to make syrup. The other cake half placed on top, then more strawberries and extra juice drizzled to saturate the cake. And topped with a dollop of homemade whipped cream.

I reminded myself that everyone didn’t make this dessert like Mom did when Diane served her mother’s version. A sweet biscuit sliced in half, served side by side. Topped with slice sweetened strawberries and Cool Whip and garnished with a big berry. It was good. Diane and I discussed and laughed about how we cook like our mothers.

One time I took shortcuts and served sweetened strawberries piled onto dessert shells, those round yellow store-bought cakes packaged in cellophane. I squirted whipped topping and put a berry on top. It wasn’t what my taste buds were trained to expect when my ears hear the words strawberry shortcake.

I’ve seen and eaten many variations of this dessert. Trifle bowls layered with cubes of angel food cake, dry sliced strawberries, and whipped topping. Meringue shells filled with berries. A two layer white or yellow cake with crushed sweet berries and whipped cream between layers and on top. Even pound cake, vanilla ice cream, and sweeten sliced berries.

With so many variables no wonder there are many recipes. Cake or biscuit or shortcake or meringue? Sliced or whole berries? Sweeten or not? Juicy berries or not? Whipped cream or whipped topping or ice cream?

I googled strawberry shortcake recipes and about 9,900,000 results are available. The very first one was a combination of Diane and my mothers’ recipes. Mom’s sliced sweetened berries with juice and real whipped cream, and Diane’s mother’s sweet biscuit. And I learned the definition of shortcake is a sweetened biscuit.

The first known recipe for strawberry cakes was published in an 1845 Columbus, Ohio newspaper. It was a British version with an unleavened biscuit, layered with strawberries, covered with a hard icing, and topped with more strawberries.  The addition of whipped cream came much later. And the recipe for strawberry shortcake with a sweet biscuit or cake, berries, and whipped cream is an American creation, first published in1862 in Rochester, New York.

Classic strawberry shortcake is made with sliced and sweetened strawberries. According to Betty Crocker, macerated berries. Macerating infuses flavor into food, usually fruit, by soaking it in a liquid. So when berries are tossed with sugar, the juices are drawn out and their flavor enhanced. Toss the berries with sugar an hour or two before serving for juicy firm berries.

While strawberries are in season, maybe I’ll try the recipe with traditional sweet biscuits, sliced juicy berries, and real whipped cream. But it won’t be like Mom’s strawberry shortcake, the world’s best strawberry shortcake.

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A Day with Mom

My memories of time with Mom are jumbled. Playing cards. Waxing floors. Working in vegetable and flower gardens. Learning to sew and cook with Mom at my shoulder. There are a few clear pictures, and one is a day fifty years ago when Mom and I shopped for my wedding dress.

The time and place for our wedding were set. He’d wear a white jacket, with a black bow tie and black pants. I’d wear a long white dress and short veil. His attire would be rented, but Mom would make my dress because the cost of a ready made one was exorbitant. She’d save money and make my dress fit perfectly.

Mom and I planned a shopping trip to Nashville. I’d try on dresses and we’d pick our favorite part of each. Mom carried a drawing pad to sketch details: necklines, sleeves, waistlines, skirts, even hemlines. We’d shop at Cain-Sloan, Harvey’s, and a Church Street bridal store. We’d eat a late lunch at the B&W cafeteria, and agree on the dress style and fabric. Our goal was to come home with a drawing, a pattern, and fabric.

First stop was Cain-Sloan. After choosing a few dresses, we were led to the dressing room. The only problem was getting the sales clerk out of the room so Mom could draw and make notes. We probably hurt her feelings, but she left us alone.

I put on a dress that we’d chosen for its silk organza sleeves and overlay skirt, both with wide tucks. While standing on a circle platform surrounded by mirrors, I felt like a princess. The dress fit well and the sleeves and skirt and lace bodice were beautiful, but I wished it didn’t have a high neckline. Mom said she could make a jewel neckline, and we’d need to find the lace for the front bodice.

I tried on other dresses; none compared to the one with tucks. I put the dress on again and loved it – even the neckline was okay. Mom handed rejected dresses to the sales clerk who then came into the dressing room and, of course, oohed and aahed that this was my perfect dress. Mom asked the price. $160. The dress was discounted because it had make-up smudges on the neckline. But $160 was a lot of money in 1969.

Left alone again, Mom and I discussed that she could make fewer tucks and change the neckline. I didn’t want to take the dress off. Then Mom shocked me. “Maybe we could buy this dress, “ she said. If she’d turned somersaults in the middle of the store, I wouldn’t have been as surprised.

Mom paid for my dress with two $100 bills, and she had more in her billfold. Only then did I realize that she had hoped to buy a dress, and not fabric. We did buy tulle and lace for a veil, and our shopping was finished.

This day is my one of my fondest memories of time with Mom. I hold it close to celebrate Mother’s Day.

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Aren’t Sock a Fun Gift?

“More dumb socks!” Molly shouted and threw the pink ruffled socks and cute tennis shoe socks across her living room. Then she ran to her bedroom. Her mother, feeding Molly’s newborn brother, shook her head and apologized.

I laughed and accepted the apology. As I had shopped for a baby gift, I chose socks for Molly and put them in a brightly colored, girly gift bag. Molly was four, adjusting to life as a big sister, and more dumb socks were not going to make her life easier. Better that she threw the socks than her baby brother.

Molly’s mother found her hiding in the back corner of her bedroom closet. No doubt, Molly knew throwing socks and screaming weren’t acceptable behavior. She flung herself into her mother’s arms and wiped her tears and nose on her mother’s shoulder. After a few minutes, Molly muttered, “I’m sorry,” and eventually held her head high and smiled.

I watched Molly grow up in church. She lit candles as an acolyte and sang with children’s and youth choirs. She led the congregation in worship as liturgist. Molly was a leader – confident and friendly to everyone: children, her peers, and adults. Her smile was exactly the same as when I handed her a gift bag years ago.

Last May when Molly graduated from high school, my traditional gift of a beach towel wouldn’t be in her gift bag. I found a pair of bright colored argyle winter socks, perfect dumb socks, on the sale rack, and I hoped the gift card, hidden inside one sock, wouldn’t be overlooked or thrown into the trash.

Husband delivered the gift bag to Molly’s father at his workplace, and I looked forward to hearing that Molly’s family’s sense of humor kicked in when she opened her gift. But I never heard from them. Not a word. Husband assured me he’d put the gift in Molly’s father’s hand and he’d expressed appreciation. Did he forget to give it to Molly? Was she angry that I’d given more socks? Did she find the gift card? I couldn’t bring myself to call her mother to ask.

Months later, Molly’s mother and I visited during a church gathering. “Did you get Molly’s thank you note for her graduation gift?” she asked. Silently, I breathed relief that she’d received the gift, and I hated to shake my head. “Oh, no. I was afraid of that. She loved the gift. We all laughed! Dumb socks is a family joke at our house.” Again, I was relieved.

“Molly wrote a note and I offered to mail it,” Molly’s mom said. “I had guessed you didn’t get it. I probably never mailed it. I’m so sorry.”

A week later, I received Molly’s note. Written beautifully and a P. S. stating, “I do LOVE the socks! J”  And her mother had written on the outside of the envelope, “I finally found it!”

Molly is now a college student and when she receives another diploma, she’ll get another pair of dumb socks. Maybe polka dot ones.

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Most Delightful Meal

“Gran, let’s play tea,” Ann said. My 4-year-old Grand invited me for tea at her play kitchen table. Carefully, I balanced on the toddler-size chair. “What color would you like?” Ann asked pointing to plastic plates. “Pink? Yellow? Blue? And that’s supposed to be green, but it’s not.” I chose yellow – not the aqua-green plate that Ann put back in the play kitchen cabinet. “Now, what will we eat? We’re drinking tea.”

Ann rummaged through a basket of plastic food and laid a banana and a donut on my plate. She chose a cookie and an orange for herself. She poured invisible tea into our cups and after one sip declared that it wasn’t hot enough so she put both cups in her play microwave, counted to twenty (skipping 14) and announced, “That should be just right.”

We sipped tea and talked about the buzzing bees outside the window. Ann’s older brother Neil left his Hot Wheels cars scattered on the floor and joined us. “Can I play restaurant, too?” With great drama, Ann explained that we weren’t in a restaurant; we were home having tea. “But if you want to play restaurant, bring Mickey and Minnie and I’ll wash the dishes.”

Ann stacked the plates and cups into her play sink. She wiggled all ten fingers over the dishes, hummed, and then sang, “Voila! Done!” Meanwhile, my 5 ½ year old Grand sat stuffed Mickey on a chair beside me and put Minnie in a toy shopping cart and pushed it to the table. “We don’t have a high chair so this works for Baby,” Neil said.

Ann set the table with all four plates and cups and silverware. She held her left palm up and pointed her right index finger toward it and asked, “What’ll you have?”

“Minnie would like strawberry baby food. Mickey and me want rice,” Neil said.

“Oh, good,” said Ann, “I got strawberry baby food yesterday.” She put a strawberry on Minnie’s pink plate. “Baby needs a cup with a lid and I’m pouring her milk because she needs it.”

Neil nodded and we both watched as Ann served a strawberry and poured pretend milk from a carton. Neil surveyed the choices in the food box. “I’ll also have an orange and French fries and everyone want donuts and chocolate for dessert.”

Ann served and added a hamburger to Neil’s order. “Be careful. It’s hot. Do you want ketchup? Would Baby like some chips?”

“Okay. Crunch them so she won’t choke,” Neil said. “Where’s my rice?”

“We don’t have any. The big kids ate all of it,” Ann explained. She put food on Mickey’s plate and mine. “I’m going to make a phone call to Mom real quick,” and my Grand turned her back to us and held a toy phone.

Neil pretended to bite the food and then slid it under his shirt. He whispered, “Gran, don’t tell Ann. I’ll put everything back in the food box, and she’ll think we ate it.”

When all the plates were emptied, Ann pointed to the kitchen sink and said, “This is where the dirty dishes go. Now, where’s my money?” I placed make-believe money in her hand, and Ann announced, “We’re done!”

This was my most delightful meal of the day.

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