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Decoration Day and Memorial Day

How will you celebrate Memorial Day?  In recent years, the last Monday in May opened summer.  It offered a three-day weekend to get together with friends and family.  A time to bring out boats and hit the water.  A time to set up tents and cook over a camp fire. 

            Memorial Day weekend is also the time to place flowers on graves of those we have loved.  Some cemeteries host services: an old-time-religion singing, prayers, and preaching.  Some families gather at cemeteries for reunions and to enjoy a meal together. When I was a child, Grannie told me about dinner-on-the-ground gatherings and I imagined a platter of fried chicken set on the ground and eating at chicken leg while sitting beside tombstones.  One time when Grannie and Dad talked of these gatherings, it was mentioned that quilts were spread on the ground under shade trees away from the graves and fried chicken was served on a platter. I was glad to learn that the food platters didn’t actually touch the ground.

            Does anyone else remember this national holiday being called Decoration Day?  In 1868, after the Civil War, a leader of an organization of Northern Civil War veterans, General John A. Logan, proclaimed a national day of remembrance.  He stated, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

            On that first Decoration Day, General James Garfield, then a U. S. representative from Ohio, made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.  The 1868 celebration inspired other communities to remember, to memorialized deceased soldiers, and the term Memorial Day was coined.  By 1890, every state had made this day an official state holiday.

         After World War I, 1914-1918, all those who’d lost their lives during wars were honored during Decoration Day services.  I couldn’t find information that explained why graves of people who weren’t soldiers were decorated nor when this tradition began.  I can only imagine Grannie and her two sisters laying fresh-cut roses on their grandfathers’ graves and doing the same for their grandmothers.  In the mid-1950s, I tagged along with my parents and grandparents as they decorated the graves of their loved ones. 

         In 1971, U S Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and established that Memorial Day, which it was most commonly called then, be celebrated the last Monday of May. Each year, since 1868, Memorial Day is commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery and a small American flag is placed on each grave.  This year soldiers will place approximately 220,000 flags near headstones.

         Memorial Day probably won’t be celebrated with large gatherings as in past years, but I’ll follow the tradition set by my grandparents and parents and place flowers on their graves.  It’s a time to reflect, to remember, to be grateful to those we’ve loved.  I’m glad this tradition lives on.

Salute to Parents of Young Children

“One good thing about being retired and this age is that I’m not home with young children all the time,” my friend said.  We’d been talking about what we were doing during this stay-at-home time and how life is different for our children, the parents of young school-age children. 

            I agreed with my friend.  I’m content being home with just Husband and having in-town Grands and their parents come for supper occasionally.  When one Grand spends the night, I’m happy to play Uno and throw a ball and build Legos and do what this child wants to do.  I cook whatever is requested for breakfast:  pancakes or fried pies or bacon and eggs and biscuits.  And I’m just as happy to help Grands pack their bags to go home.  Happy to give them a good-bye kiss and hug.  A 24-hour visit is easy.

            But full-time parenting is difficult, and right now it’s not what parents usually experience.  When our children were six and eight, my mother told me that this time and the next few years were the best of years as a parent.  There was less physical responsibility because our kids dressed and bathed themselves and they could entertain themselves.  And our kids still liked us and didn’t feel peer pressure yet.

            Mom was right.  Those were good years and they were happy, busy times.  There were ball practices and dance classes and piano lessons and birthday parties and trips to the library and family vacations.  Most days, I took our children to school and helped with their homework.  

            That’s not how it’s been since mid-March for parents whose children are with them all the time.  Parents are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Three meals and two snacks a day.  Early morning awakening time to bedtime.  Parents who never wanted to teach have been expected to do more than check homework.  And some of those parents are working at home, trying to do the job they normally do in a quiet office and with co-workers. 

             Last week, I asked a mother of three children, ages five to nine, how things were going.  She took a deep breath and said, “I guess as well as can be expected – considering there are five people together all the time who usually aren’t and one is trying to work his job and three are always hungry and seem loud and there’s nowhere to go.  We play outside a lot, when it isn’t raining and cold and sometimes when it is.”

            So, if there ever was a time to salute parents of young children, it’s now.  We just celebrated Mother’s Day and will celebrate Father’s Day in June, but parents deserve more than a one-day recognition.  I don’t know how to do that except to say we grandparents appreciate you and know you are doing the best you can.

            My guess is that young children will have happy memories of spring 2020 when everyone was home and they played a lot, sometimes even outside in the cold rain.

Pictures of Mom

As you celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday, picture your mother in your mind. Where is she? My mom could be inside or outside, and she was always busy.  

              Using a needle and thread, she made clothes for herself and me that were finer than those sold on 5th Avenue in New York City, and the living room drapes she sewed hung with perfect pleats. When I heard Mom and Dad discuss money matters and major purchases, I knew that she held the checkbook and it balanced to the penny every month. 

            Mom grew beautiful flowers, especially irises and roses, and even though, Dad, my brother, and I worked in our yard and vegetable garden, Mom was the general.  She made flower arrangements for Sunday church services, and when I was a twelve she opened a flower shop in our home’s basement.  Her skills and talents to create and manage money made the business successful.  So successful that its profits paid for my brother’s and my college educations.

            After retirement, Mom and Dad took up golf and most Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, they and my aunt and uncle were on the golf course.  Those were also the years that Mom began making quilts, all pieced and stitched by hand, one for each of her three grandchildren.

            Many pictures of Mom float through my head, but most vivid are those of her in her kitchen.  She’s wearing an apron, made from a twenty-five-pound flour bag, tied around her waist.  Using her green-handled pastry cutter, she cuts Crisco into Martha White self-rising flour, then adds buttermilk, and stirs just enough to moisten the dry ingredients.  Then she dumps the dough onto a flour-covered pastry cloth and kneads it a few times, rolls it gently with a rolling pin, and cuts out biscuits.

            Mom uses that same biscuit dough to make a favorite wintertime dessert, butter sticks.  While butter melts in a big glass casserole dish in the oven, she cuts the flattened dough into rectangles about the size of a small candy bar.  Then she coats both sides of each piece of dough with melted butter and places them in the dish.  The dough gets a good heavy-handed sprinkling of sugar and bakes while Mom, Dad, my brother, and I eat supper.   

            A big black skillet sits on the front stove eye, and Mom pours oil into it.  She dips chicken pieces in milk and then drops them into a brown paper grocery bag that holds a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper.  Mom hands me the bag to shake and she sprinkles flour onto the oil to test if it’s hot enough for frying chicken.  With tongs, she gently places each chicken piece into the hot oil.  After a few minutes, she turns the chicken to brown to other side and she knows, just by looking, exactly when the chicken is done – crisp on the outside, juicy tender inside.

            There aren’t printed photos of Mom cooking, maybe because it didn’t seem like anything special, but now, I know it was.  Her cooking not only fed my body, it nourished my soul. ####

Fried Pies

Fried Apple Pies

September 1, 2017

After trying several dough recipes, I came up with this.

2 ½ cups plain flour      

1 T. baking powder

1 t. salt

1 T sugar

2 T. Crisco

1 ½ T butter

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup skim milk

Sift dry ingredients.  Cut Crisco and butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter.

Stir in milk only until all dry ingredients are wet. 

On a floured surface, lightly knead the dough a few times.  Cut dough into 14 or 15 equal size balls.

Gently roll each ball into a circle, about 6” diameter.

Place about 2 T dried apple in each circle. 

Fry in electric skillet at 350-375 degrees with about ¼” oil to cover the bottom of the pan.

AUNT DORIS’s recipe  November 20, 2001

1 1/3 cup Self Rising flour

1 cup sifted plain flour with ½ t salt.

2 T Crisco

1 T butter

½ cup buttermilk*

½ cup milk*

*about

Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee

2 ½ cups plain flour

1 T baking powder

1 T sugar

1 t. salt

1/3 cups shorting

1 beaten egg

6 ½ oz can evaportated milk

Chill dough 24 hours

Makes 24 small pies

Chocolate Fried Pies from http://www.southernplate.com

 Ingredients

  • 2 Cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup milk, more if needed

filling

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted

Practice Patience

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” The title of a poem, written in 1836, by Ralph Waldo Emerson is printed on a small flip chart entitled Bright Sayings, a collection of quotes, Bible verses, and inspirational thoughts.  Every year, I read Emerson’s words on March 31st and this year those words struck me hard, to my core.

            Even now, writing this poem title, I take a deep breath.  Patience, as defined in the dictionary, is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.  My patience has been stretched during this pandemic.  I’m ready to get on with my normal life: attend church and club meetings, go to monthly hair appointments, eat lunch with friends, take Grands on field trips around town, visit friends, and all the other many things that filled my calendar.

            By nature, I’m not a patient person.  I keep a book to read in my van because I might have to wait somewhere for 10 minutes, and I’ve fallen into the habit of looking at my phone for entertainment to fill even a few moments of idleness.  Last week, I purposely practiced patience. As I sat in the public library parking lot waiting for a library employee to bring me the books I’d requested online, I didn’t reach for my book or phone.  I watched branches sway in tall trees and saw a few people walk in Dogwood Park, at safe distances from each other.

            I’ve practiced patience as a teacher, parent, and grandparent when children learn new skills or complete a task.  A teacher’s greatest pay is when a student reaches that ‘Ah, ha moment’ of understanding or mastery.  I’ve said, “Push your patience button,” to encourage students, who were loud and wiggly, to be calm while standing in line. Recently, when my five-year-old Grand searched for a jigsaw puzzle piece to complete the border of a 100-piece puzzle, I sat on my hands to avoid pointing to the needed piece.  

            Every day there are times that I need to be patient. But, maybe like some of you, I struggle to wait, to accept, to be tolerate for the easing of restrictions, for face-to-face contact with family and friends.  I tell myself if I had a snotty cold or the flu, I’d keep my distance, and now I could carry the COVID19 virus, but not show symptoms.  I don’t want to make anyone sick.

            Emerson’s eight-stanza poem describes the changes of seasons, and I know from experience that each season unfolds in order. Emerson writes, “All this is provided at a sure and steady pace. Nature is perfect, there’s never a need to race.” 

            Often as I wait, I know the sure and steady pace.  With this virus, I don’t.  Is that why being patient is so difficult?  I’m determined to practice patience. To limit close face-to-face contact with other people.

            Emerson begins his poem with these words: “Walking in Mother Nature, God’s natural kingdom with awareness, will bring you insightful wisdom.”  Seems like good advice as I wait.

When Husbands Grocery Shop

Who’s the designated grocery shopper at your house?  The person who puts on a mask and buys groceries during this pandemic stay-at-home time.  About six weeks ago, Husband and I divided our long list, and we both shopped.  Since then, he’s been our shopper.

            Husband is the logical choice.  He grew up working in his grandfather’s and father’s grocery store so he knows the layout of stores and feels at home among aisles of canned vegetables and bagged pasta and apples and paper napkins.  As we discussed who would shop, he reminded me that he’s a speed shopper and I’m not.  He’s right.  I’ve watched Husband pick up a bunch of bananas and put them in his grocery cart and never stop walking.  He didn’t even slow down. I spend several minutes looking at every bunch to choose the best bananas, and I often break off one that is too green or that is one too many.   

            Not all men are natural grocery shoppers. Vicky’s husband offered to do the grocery shopping.  She doubted his ability, but accepted his offer.  “I’m taking dinner for a family with newborn triplets and I want the mom’s first home meal to be really good so get exactly what I’ve written,” Vicky said.  She explained the list, including French bread, “It’ll be good if the bread is sliced.  I’ll put some spices and butter between slices and wrap the loaf in foil to be heated.”  Her husband brought home a bag of 50 small slices of dried French bread, jumbled in a plastic bag.  It wasn’t easy for Vicky to assembled those little pieces into a loaf.

            With a detailed list, Husband dons his mask and heads out to shop.  Before I can fold and put away a load of clothes, he’s home with enough food to feed a large family, not just the two of us.  And most times, he brings home exactly what I expect.  But once, he bought French style green beans and I expected a can of Allen’s green beans.  He explained, “They didn’t have the Allen’s brand, but I remembered that they were Italian cut so I thought these would probably work.”  I didn’t understand his logic.   Was it that France and Italy are European countries?  When he finally grinned, I realized he was teasing me.

            Husband buys things not on the list:  chips and cookies. I don’t walk down the chips’ aisle because each bag lures me, and when a bag of chips is opened at home, it’s my duty to eat until the bag is empty.  Husband knows that Cheetos – yellow crunchy puffs of cornmeal and oil – are a favorite.  So, guess what he brought me for a treat?   I can’t wash my hands enough to remove the artificial yellow 6 coloring.  And Oreos, with sweet cream filling, are the perfect midnight snack.

            I appreciate Husband’s willingness to do grocery shopping.  When we no longer have to wear a mask and shop more often than once every two weeks, maybe he’ll continue to shop.  Those chips and cookies are mighty tasty.

Heart Tugs are Needed

I promised myself to be mindful of Heart Tugs, the times when heartstrings tighten.  To appreciate happy moments and imprint them in my head and heart.  To make notes so I’ll remember.  I’ve shared Heart Tugs previously, and during this time of upheaval when life isn’t normal, I cherish these moments even more. 

            When all eight Grands were here together in January, they wanted tradition.  (For children, a tradition begins when we do something they like one time.)  “When are we going to the gym and playground?” they asked.  At our church gym, eight-year-old Daniel followed his big cousin, Samuel, who is six years older. Did Samuel realize that Daniel tried to dribble a basketball exactly like he did?  That Daniel stood right beside him and looked up to him?  

            At Heart of the City Playground, five Grands, ages 4-8, played Follow the Leader.  The two eight-year-olds took turns being the leader and the last person in line because, as Lucy told Daniel, “So the little ones will stay between us.” 

            Charlotte, age 4, held Elsie’s hand.  “Gran! Did you know my favorite cousin is Elsie?” Elsie, age 12, smiled and swung hands with her little cousin. While taking a bath, Charlotte hid under a thick layer of bubbles with only her face showing.  “I love bubbles! I love bubbles!” she shouted.  That same exuberance ensured that I’ll continue making dried apple stack cakes.  Charlotte chewed her first bite of cake slowly, leaned her head back, closed her eyes, and then sat up quickly and said, “I love apple cake!”

            A balloon, blown up and tied with a knot, was Henry’s favorite toy for two days.  It was a ball to throw and kick and bat. A pillow to lay his head on.  When it began to lose air, my six-year-old Grand squeezed his balloon until it was flat.  With ceremony, Henry held the deflated balloon over a trashcan and announced, “Well, that was fun! Good-bye balloon!”

            On a cold February day, ten-year-old Annabel and I sat side by side during a journal writing time.  It occurred to me that my Grand was writing on the handmade harvest table that my great-grandparents ate meals on.  That my mother used in her basement for canning beans and soup.  That I use to lay fabric on to make pajama pants for Grands.  And now, Annabel is writing on it.  I held my pen still and looked at Annabel, who said, “Gran, what are you doing? You said to keep writing non-stop for ten minutes.”

            “I’m writing,” I said.  And I wrote, ‘I’m sitting on an old ladder back chair that came from Granny’s house and writing on a table that belonged to her parents, David and Elizabeth Rich.  What a blessing.  Annabel sits beside me.  This table belonged to her great-great-great grandparents and the chairs were her great-great grandmother’s.  A tranquil moment.  Burn it in my heart, my memories.’             Heart Tugs.  I’m catching all I can.

Write Your Memories

During the past few weeks, I have hoped that other people are writing their experiences and thoughts about Spring 2020.  Those writings are for you, your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grands. 

            While I mulled over these thoughts for a columm, two friends shared the same idea and granted me permission to use their words.  Jennie wrote to a group of us who write and share memories. “I urge you to write about what you’re going through.  Write any way you want:  notebook and pen, word document, cell phone notes app. Your descendants may want first-hand accounts of what life was like in the spring of 2020 (for us, both the tornado and coronavirus.)  Equally important is the cathartic benefits of expressing your emotions in writing.  Don’t hold back.  Don’t self-censor.”

            Lori wrote on Facebook. “This is a tough, confusing time, but admit it, there are some bright spots to the slow-down of crazy busy lives and schedules.  I’ve started a ‘Blessings and Burdens’ journal to note down what I’m sad and anxious about and the inevitable bright spots that appear each day.  I want to remember those as a takeaway for this when it becomes a distant memory. And it will become a distant memory.”

            I can hear you say, “That’s easy for them – they’re writers.  No one wants to read my stuff.  I don’t know where to start.  It’s too late.  I should’ve started weeks ago.” 

            If you ever write anything, you’re a writer.  You write grocery lists and to-do lists so make a list of 5-10 things.  What is different today from January 2020? From March 2019?  What wasn’t on the grocery shelves that is always there?  (I was surprised there were empty shelves where flour and cornmeal are usually stacked.) How are you connecting with friends and family since you can’t visit in person? Who and what are you missing most?  Or follow Lori’s practice of listing daily blessings and burdens.

            I guarantee someone will want to read what you write, but maybe not any time soon.  I treasure my parents’ writings, like the story of how Papa and his two sisters bought a pump organ in the early 1900s.  I didn’t appreciate their stories when I was young, just as my Grands don’t value my writings.  I know they will.

            Start with anything that comes to mind. Your first sentence could be that somebody said I should write so I am.  Or I used a paper towel to hold the gas pump handle.  Or I’d really like to bake cookies with my grandchildren.  Or I wore a mask today.

            It’s never too late.  You might think you’ve forgotten, but when you start writing you’ll remember. Don’t be concerned about sentence structure, punctuation, or spelling. If you haven’t been writing, please pull out a pen and paper or put your fingers on a keyboard and write today, even for a few minutes.  Even a few sentences or a list.

            One last suggestion: date and sign every scribble.  Your children and grands will be glad you did.

Connecting with Family and Friends

I’ve never been so thankful for technology.  Since Tuesday, March 3, it’s been a lifeline.  I was sound asleep at 6:00 a.m. that Tuesday morning at Son’s home, when two phones rang.  My first thought wasn’t kind.  Who would call or text so early? 

            I hear Husband say, “Yes, we’re fine,” as I read a text from my Kentucky cousin. “Are you all okay?” he wrote.  I immediately responded, “Why wouldn’t we be?  We’re in Colorado.”  My cousin knew my response meant we were visiting Son’s family, and he simply wrote, “Bad tornado in Putnam County.”  While Husband finished his phone call with a Nashville friend, I scanned Facebook posts and learned about damages west of Cookeville, but none reported near our or Daughter’s homes. 

            As I pulled on my clothes I thought of April, 1974, when a tornado hit Tennessee.  Husband and I lived in Davidson County, and my parents lived in Pickett County. I don’t remember exact details, but I know I called Mom and Dad’s house from the one phone at Old Center Elementary School where I taught and they didn’t answer their phone. Hours later, my principal, Mrs. Granstaff, told me Husband had called the school office, and he’d talked to my parents; they and my grandparents were okay.  With great relief, I cried. 

            How differently we communicate now as compared to 1974.  Husband and I immediately called or texted family and friends in Cookeville, and then out-of-town family and friends, to let them know we were okay, but many people weren’t.  We flew home that day, as planned.

            Then the COVID19 virus pandemic hit and face-to-face meetings discouraged.  Grandparents aren’t hugging grandchildren, some not even visiting them, but we can see them onscreen. Husband and I have Facetimed with our Colorado Grands for years.  We’ve watched them turn somersaults, seen the big gaps in their mouths left from just-pulled teeth, and drunk tea at their pretend tea parties.  We still do that, but now Facetime means even more.

            Last week, we sang “Happy Birthday” to a Grand while other family members watched her blow out 11 candles.  They watched her excitement when she opened gifts they’d wrapped for her.  It wasn’t the same as being together, but it was a birthday celebration that will always be remembered.  Husband and I Facetimed with friends who live a few miles away. We visited from our front porch to their kitchen table.  We compared shopping adventures, projects completed, TV programs watched, toasted technology and friendship, and made plans to “see” each other next week.

            For three Sundays, I’ve “attended” church while sitting at home because First United Methodist, like many churches, has broadcast the morning service electronically.  

            Have you used Zoom, the video conferencing app?  I’d never hear of it until last week.  On Sunday, about thirty Sunday School class members came together for a discussion.  It felt good to see and hear friends and pray together.             I appreciate it all: phone calls, texts, Facebook, Instagram, Facetime, Zoom.   My ways to connect right now.  Thank goodness.

Gran! Stop!

My Grand and I hurried out my back door.  Micah wore his backpack stuffed with all the things a 5-year-old needs for his overnight visit at Husband’s and my home:  pajamas, underwear, a shirt, pants, a Spiderman action figure, a small rubber ball, and a Lego catalog. I juggled a bag of library books, my purse, a letter, and a watering can that I’d put on a garage shelf before getting in the van.

            My morning to-do list was in my head. Put the letter in the mailbox. Go to the bank and return library books.  Take Micah home.  Stop by the grocery for milk and apples and bananas – surely I could remember three items.  I was startled when Micah screamed, “Gran! Stop!”  With straight arms and legs, like he would lay in snow ready to make a snow angel, Micah stood two steps in front of me.  He looked over his shoulder; I think to be sure I had stopped.

            Alarmed, I stood still.  Micah squatted, that position only kids can do.  Flat feet. Knees bent. Bottom touching his heels and almost touching the ground.  He bowed his head.  “I think he’s alive and I almost stepped on him,” my Grand said.  An earthworm lay unmoving on the stone patio.  “Doesn’t he know he should be in the yard?”

            I said that worms tend to crawl around more when the ground is wet and it had rained last night. “So you think he’s been here all night?”  Maybe.  Micah examined him closely.  “A little part of him is smashed, but I think he’s alive.”

            Using his nimble forefinger and thumb, Micah carefully picked up the injured worm and then slung him into the yard.  The worm landed on top of the grass. “Uh, oh,” Micah said and then gently picked up the worm and lay him on dirt, near a flower bed.  Again, Micah squatted beside the worm, watching closely.  I took a deep breath, for patience, and waited.      

            Finally, Micah stood and announced, “He’s wiggling. I think he’ll be okay.”

            Micah comes from a family, including me, who often stops to save worms that have lost their way onto hard surfaces.  Later that morning, I walked to our mailbox and there on our blacktop driveway lay a fat earthworm.  When I touched him, he coiled, to protect himself, but making it harder for my not-so-nimble finger and thumb to grasp him.  On the third try, I finally moved him to dirt and then watched as he burrowed into the ground.

            Micah’s command, “Gran! Stop!” continues to play in my head. It nudges me. To do the things I can – save one little living thing, meet a new neighbor, wash clothes for someone who can’t. To appreciate nature – take in the yellow forsythia, the budding leaves, the chickadees at the birdfeeder. To be patient – accept life as it is, know that physical and emotional healing takes time.  To be joyful – just as a young child.  Just as Micah reminded me. ####