Tag Archives: nostalgia

Springtime in the Trailer Park

On frozen days like today, I want to press my nose against the window pane, spread my fingers and push winter away, as I attempted when a preschooler, living in the trailer park.

When spring showed up for real, our mother would no longer imprison my four-year-old brother and me in snowsuits. She’d stop slathering us with Vicks® VapoRub ®. She’d let us go outside.

We didn’t dislike the tiny yellow trailer we called home. The kitchenette smelled like bubbling bean soup and love. Our play area: the closet-sized living room. We slept on the sofa, Ned at one end, and I at the other. Long before ESPN’s kickboxing competitions, we conducted world-class foot fights at bedtime — until the Head Referee called emphatic fouls on us both.

A little later, my sister, brother and I (pictured with my mom) all shared a for-real bedroom in a bigger trailer.

Finally, a hundred robins outside sounded an all-clear. Before sending us outdoors, Mom drilled us: Thou shalt not play around the railroad tracks. Thou shalt look both ways before crossing the drive to the playground. Thou shalt never speak to strangers. But the First Commandment eclipsed them all: Thou shalt not shed thy jacket.

Fully catechized, Ned and I darted to freedom. We stopped and looked both ways before splashing across the gravel road that circled the playground, the center of the trailer court and our world.

Paradise awaited, with a clangy old merry-go-round that spun us into an ecstasy of nausea.  Ned and his buddies defied God, gravity and their mothers, walking the teeter-totters instead of sitting. Kathy and I soared on swings, singing Perry Como’s hit, “Catch a Falling Star,” as we touched heaven with our toes. Sometimes, we all simply galloped like a wild-pony herd around the playground.

As suppertime approached, Ned and I picked up dandelions like golden coins to take to Mommy. When Daddy’s old blue Chevy turned into the drive, we raced toward it. Daddy stopped and threw the back door open. Ned and I rode home, waving to friends as if in a parade.

Eating soup and johnnycakes, we fought sagging eyelids like an enemy. We wanted to watch Rawhide, with our favorite cowboy, Rowdy (a very young Clint Eastwood). I wanted to sit on Daddy’s shoulders, eat popcorn and comb his wavy, Elvis-black hair. But it had been such a long, wonderful … spring … day … zzzz.

What do you mean, fall asleep? Not me! It’s springtime! That lazy, good-for-nothing sun has finally shown up. I’ve got more to-do items on my list than candles on my last birthday cake: garage to clean, closets to organize. Plus, a new book to write …

But first, I’m going out to play.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What childhood spring memories warm your mind?

Mom’s Potato Salad

When the first sleepy daffodils awakened, my mom made potato salad. In her eyes, spring was as good as here.

She taught me her dab-of-this-and-that recipe. Chopping onions wrung a million tears from my eyes, and my weepy attempts couldn’t begin to match her blue-ribbon results. At potlucks, I learned to avoid other cooks’ mushy, bland concoctions sprinkled with scary green things. Thus, I took part in the Great Potato Salad Controversy, far more extensive than I could have imagined at that tender age.

That reality truly hit home when, at 16, I waited on a restaurant customer who ordered German potato salad.

Retrieving the food, I called to the cook, “You forgot the potato salad.”

“You’re crazy. It’s right there.”

The manager corroborated the cook’s absurd claim: the sliced potatoes in gooey stuff with bacon was indeed German potato salad.

When, as a young married woman, I explored recipes, even American potato salad presented controversies. Some cooks insisted on real mayo, as if Miracle Whip were pushed by criminals out to ruin the purity of American cuisine.

Then yogurt and low-calorie radicals intensified the debate.

Add mustard versus no-mustard schools of flavoring, dill versus sweet-pickle/relish, mystical devotion paid to fresh herbs, and religion-sized chasms separated various sects.

Rewind to Mom’s potato salad. I wish she — and I — had conceived the lucrative potential of our culinary endeavors.

According to the New York Daily News, Zack “Danger” Brown challenged viewers of a fundraising website to finance his first attempt at making potato salad.

Expecting $10, he raised $55,000.

Thankfully, Brown was no potato head. He made a huge contribution to his hometown food pantry.

Click to enlarge.

Mom also fought hunger with her potato salad. She regularly filled up a large, voracious family. She shared it with lonely parishioners, troubled teens, ex-prisoners, domestic violence victims, and itinerant preachers. Occasionally feeding 30-40 people at one meal, she made tons of potato salad throughout the decades.

Today, chopping onions and staunching teary eyes, I remember a woman who gave not only cups of water in Jesus’ name, but bowls and bowls of the world’s best potato salad.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What comprises your perfect recipe?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: the Mother–Er, Father–of Our Country

O my God, the first time I saw George Washington’s portrait in my first-grade classroom, I mistook him for Martha. And why did he chop down a tree that produced yummy cherries? That he told his dad was admirable, but not too bright!

Subsequent presidents also have strained my brain, yet, this Presidents’ Day, I appreciate their service. But OMG, I’m grateful that ultimately, You are in charge!

Something Lost in the Love Translation?

Hubby and I attended the prom in 1971.

Years ago, when the tall boy in my high school biology class called, I didn’t understand him at all.

Flattered, I small-talked for five minutes before realizing he hadn’t said a word. I left strategic moments for comments.

Silence.

I babbled about our class’s fruit-fly genetic experiments. My subjects’ Great Escape. The school cafeteria’s subsequent fumigation —

“Well, goodbye.”

Click.

Maybe he wasn’t the scientific type, after all.

Maybe he’d decided I wasn’t his type.

However, he soon called again.

This time, my monologue focused on literature. My English teacher didn’t understand my paper’s crucial insights touting fried chicken’s symbolism throughout Southern literature.

I continued my learned discourse —

“Well, good-bye.”

Click.

 Did this sadist call girls just to hang up on them?

Nevertheless, I had seen a glimmer of this shy guy’s meaning: I like you. Do you like me?

However, I didn’t realize he disliked fried chicken until after our wedding, four years later. I cooked my mom’s special recipe.

He refused it.

This time, he was the one attempting to break lo-o-ong silences. And translate touch-me-and-you-die assurances that I was fine. Fine.

 Hubby seemed aghast that he’d married an alien whose language he’d never understand.

Ditto.

Nevertheless, we’d vowed to love each other.

Against impossible odds, we determined to learn each other’s language.

Hubby now understood that I, like all women, said “fine” only when I meant the opposite. We then grappled with another mysterious word: we. Only two letters, it appeared cozy — until used thusly:

He: Sure, we can feed 237 runners.

She: Yes, we will dig the new church basement.

Eventually, Hubby and I understood that if we valued our lives, we would use accurate pronouns.

Throughout the year, unequal estimates of garage wall/car distances and checkbook balances also challenged our powers of translation. But after three decades of marriage, we finally mastered each other’s languages … until our empty-nest purchase: a tandem bicycle.

Hubby’s “Ma-a-an!” didn’t soften the effects of potholes on my, er, anatomy.

My “Aaaaahhh!” meant little to him, riding in front. Fortunately, the pursuing Dobermans ate only one of my ankles.

The tandem initiated a repeat of Marriage Translation 101.

Hey, everyone needs an occasional refresher course.

And today?

If Hubby’s pondering deep theological, medical, or I.U. basketball issues, a visual reminder, such as a cartwheel, must accompany my “Dinner’s ready.”

I assume he’ll automatically finish my half-sentences, e.g., “Last month’s letter from the IRS …”

After 43 years of marriage, he should read my mind, right?

Fortunately, we aliens rarely need a translator now. Love language hasn’t taken light years to learn, after all.

Only a lifetime.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite mistranslation story?

Soup-er Bowl

Does anything spell h-o-m-e like a kettle of simmering soup?

I grew up in southern Indiana, where winter (aka slop season), gleefully dumped rain, sleet, snow, or all of the above on us. After school, my siblings and I slogged through frozen fogs and bogs. After petting all the wet dogs we could find, we arrived home looking like mud-sicles. The bubbling, meaty fragrance of Mom’s soups thawed us out and cured a host of maladies: lost-library-book anxiety, gym class climb-the-rope deficits, spelling-contest memory loss and flat-chest syndrome. That delectable vapor also scared away any viruses that had followed us home.

Dad, after long days at his construction job, noticed a similar curative effect. His sore muscles unknotted. The what’s-this-economy-coming-to hammer on his temples slowed.

Mom’s soups, consisting of between-paycheck rations, wouldn’t appear on The Food Channel. Teeth-defying beef bits were simmered into submission with potatoes and frozen vegetables from our garden. She boiled ten-cent-a-pound chicken wings, then cooked “slop-and-drop” rivels in the broth. My Southern-born dad looked forward to ham-bone bean soup. Saturdays brought chili, a suppertime ritual sacred as the weekly bath night.

When no meat remained in the freezer, Mom cooked creamy potato soup. Occasionally our family saw several days of bean or potato soup in a row, a silent marquee that proclaimed, “Don’t ask for money.” Still, those soups warmed us up, filled us up and helped us grow up.

Perhaps, by law, every northerner should consume one steaming bowl of soup daily from November through March.

Groucho Marx wouldn’t agree. In the classic 1933 Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup, he elaborated, “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.”

Duck soup? He obviously hadn’t tasted my mom’s soups. Perhaps Groucho had been sampling Chinese bird’s nest soup. This concoction with an unappetizing name — and a literal bird nest— currently costs $30-100 per bowl. Or maybe he ate lunch with a Japanese mountain tribal group who served their soup of bananas, beans, and dirt (twigs included). Perhaps Groucho hadn’t recovered from a trip to the island of Palau, where bat soup — boiled whole and hairy with  ginger, spices, and coconut milk — is considered a delicacy.

I’ll stick with less exotic fare. Tonight, beef vegetable barley soup, using Sunday dinner’s leftover pot roast, plus crusty bread, will take the Groucho out of Hubby and me. And leave us only one pan to wash.

Simple. Cheap. And, as an old canned soup commercial declared, “Mm-mm, good!”

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite soup warms your winter days?

My Crazy History of Christmas Cookies

No matter how old I grow, my stomach will always cherish one hallowed holiday tradition: cut-out, frosted Christmas cookies with colorful sprinkles.

During my childhood, Christmas cookies had such a short life expectancy that baking them hardly seemed worth it. The December appearance of a mixing bowl at our house ignited a war to determine who would “help.” When Mom or I dared take a restroom break, the kitchen was plundered by cookie-starved barbarians.

The first holiday stay at my future in-laws’ home completely muddled my Christmas cookie worldview. Perfect reindeer, Christmas trees and Santas were baked, with no fear of masked marauders. After decorating them like a culinary Michelangelo, my future mother-in-law openly displayed her creations on kitchen counters.

It was like visiting an unguarded art museum.

A kind woman, she chose not to prosecute me. When I married her son, she gave me her recipe!

Forgetting my brothers now lived hundreds of miles away, I baked a typical triple batch. My new husband and I ate little stables and mangers until Valentine’s Day — and loved it.

When our eldest, aged two, took her debut Christmas-cookie-baking lesson, the initial batch of dough hit the floor. Experimenting with the mixer’s beaters, she distributed another batch on the ceiling.  Finally, I shoved a bowlful into the refrigerator to chill. She parked in front of it.

Toddler: Cookies ready yet?

Mommy: No, honey. They have to get cold.

Toddler: (Yanking on fridge door) Don’t want cold cookies!

Mommy: We’ll bake them, but first, they have to get cold.

Toddler: (Suspiciously) Okay.

Mommy: I’ll set the oven timer—

Toddler: For the ’frigerator??

Mommy: (Looking heavenward) When it dings, the cookies will be cold.

Toddler: Okay. (Sits in front of oven.) Timer ready yet?

Later, she mixed frostings so that her mossy green and dark blood-red Christmas cookies could have graced a vampire’s holiday table.

As my slate of helpers grew, I learned to make dough one day, then bake/decorate the next. Using this system, we survived two decades of making Christmas cookies.

New sons-in-law, however, scorned cookie cutters as insults to their rugged individuality. They custom-designed mutant mittens, alien reindeer and Christmas carburetors. With the appearance of additional little helpers over the years, we once again turned out dozens of Christmas vampire cookies.

Worst of all, Grandma sneaked store-bought dough into the equation.

Now, a few years later, the grandchildren make their own — circumventing Grandma’s appalling shortcuts — and bring them to family gatherings.

With them taking charge, our family’s Christmas cookie history should flourish for generations to come.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite cookie will you bake (and sneak) this Christmas?

Boring Old Dad?

Many pay tributes to caring but unexciting dads who worked hard, fixed things, and helped keep them out of trouble — most of the time.

In honor of my dad’s 90th birthday.

My father did the basic dad drill, too. But boring?

Never.

A pastor, he refused to wear neckties. He led his congregation in “Joy to the World” … every Easter. Even my siblings and I listened intently to Dad’s sermons — because we often comprised the subject matter.

As a missionary, Dad approached challenges in ways that wouldn’t make Sunday school storybooks. Take, for example, the Mexican Chicken Wars.

Fifty years ago, our home in Linares, Mexico, featured an outhouse and nightly rat races. Though poor, my folks shared with neighbors living in shacks. Ready to open his thin wallet, Dad still drew the line at “Thou shalt not steal.”

Gilberto, the mission compound caretaker, said thieves targeted our chicken coop, an important income source for the mission. Determined to protect his feathered flock, Dad kept his ax beside his bed at night.

Those who didn’t know the Ten Commandments would learn them fast.

Soon, Dad awoke to the chickens’ squawking, grabbed his ax and headed for the henhouse. Stooping low, he spotted unknown blue-jeaned legs walking through the orange groves. He let loose his war cry, swinging the ax above his head.

The thief saw Dad — a tall, shirtless phantom with burning eyes who wielded a shining blade. The would-be robber dropped shrieking chickens and scaled the mission compound wall like a terrified spider.

Dad returned the chickens — vastly relieved the ax wasn’t meant for them — to their nests.

A week later, Dad awoke to another hen house ruckus. Again, he swung the ax with Old Testament vengeance.

This crook, however, screamed, “Aaron! It’s me, Aaron!”

Gilberto had checked on the chickens’ safety, too. They were fine, but Gilberto nearly lost his head to Dad’s ax.

Throughout his pastoral career, Dad confronted numerous dangerous situations. He housed ex-gang members and ex-prisoners and provided protection for domestic violence victims whose husbands/boyfriends vowed vengeance.

But few scenarios matched the peril Dad faced when, hiding behind church classroom partitions with his fishing pole, he cast a big, sugary doughnut amid members of a weight-watching group.

That incident nearly drove his guardian angel to drinking. Still, Dad survived to finally retire at 77. He now lives in the Louisiana piney woods where he was born and raised. Occasionally the angel chews his nails when Dad, now 90, wields his ax in a forest full of rattlesnakes.

But the angel’s not bored.

Sigh. Neither am I.

 

Your extraordinary ordinary: What’s your favorite dad story?

Oh, Baby!

Each day, young mothers parade past my window, taking children to the nearby elementary school.

I feel for pregnant moms whose steps slow as the months pass. Although decades have gone by, I remember well those exhausting days. I doubt these lovely young women believe their husbands’ reassurance any more than I believed mine, who told me I was beautiful.

What insanity had blinded his usual astute vision? Seven months pregnant with our first child, I felt like a walking ottoman.

“Turn around.” Hubby gave me a gentle push. “Look in the mirror. See? From the rear, you can’t even tell you’re pregnant.”

“So if I just walk backwards, nobody will know?”

“It means you’ll lose weight fast after the baby’s born.” A family practice resident at the local hospital, he knew how to handle cranky women in their last trimester.

I kissed him goodbye. Would I splurge and take the bus to my part-time job or ride my bike through our quiet neighborhood? I grinned. Each time I rode up on my three-speed, Mr. Plunkett, an older man in my office, threw his window open in horror.

Mrs. Phillips!” he shouted. “Come in and put your feet up!”

He always brought me a glass of water. Where was my mother? Did my husband really find this acceptable?

But graying skies made a ride risky. Mr. P. might have a coronary if I rode up amid thunder and lightning. So I decided to take the bus.

I donned my pink maternity outfit and slipped into comfortable shoes I’d bought when I no longer could see my feet. I arrived at the bus stop five minutes early, drifting into daydreams of nursery rhymes and rock-a-bye songs.

“Hey, Pink Pants!” Masculine voices called over my shoulder. Long whistles echoed through the air. “Hey, baby! Oh, baby!”

I stared at my stomach, confused. Sure, I was going to have a baby, but—? I cast a cautious glance behind.

Two linemen, perched atop an electrical pole, hooted at me. And yes, unless I had lost feminine instincts along with my waistline, ear-to-ear lecherous smiles gleamed on their faces.

Blank disbelief washed over me—then a joyous rush of wickedness. But Niceness pointed a finger at me, and I wavered. Should I? Or shouldn’t I?

I turned around and waved sweetly at my admirers, who nearly fell to the ground.

I waddled up the steps onto the bus. As it rolled away, I watched them hugging the pole, trying in vain to hide scarlet, guilty faces.

“Whoa, baby,” I whispered to my stomach. “You’re already knocking ’em off their feet.”

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite prego story?

These James Whitcomb Riley Days

My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Baker, read James Whitcomb Riley poems, along with other Hoosier literature, after noon recess every day.

She brought poems and stories to life in a way that made my ears and mind tingle.

However, she enforced “rest time.” We had to lay our heads on our desks while she read, an indignity that smacked of kindergarten naptime. After all, we were nine-year-olds, soon to reach double digits.

We didn’t need any dumb rest time.

Decades later, I realized that after policing a playground resembling a crash derby without cars, then facing a similar classroom scenario, she might need the break.

Not all of Riley’s poems topped my “favorites” list. Braver classmates asked Mrs. Baker to read “Little Orphant Annie.” Why did they like those repeated references to “gobble-uns” that would get us if we didn’t shape up?

I already slept with my knees near my shoulders to avoid giant spiders lurking at the foot of my bed. Adding gobble-uns to my nighttime freak-out list didn’t induce much sleep.

Even more frightening, Little Orphant Annie had to do lots of housework.

The James Whitcomb Riley poem I liked best was “When the Frost Is on the Punkin’,” which celebrates autumn in Indiana. That poem tasted good, like tangy cider, and still does:

“But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.”

However, James Whitcomb Riley never would have received an A on a grammar test. He would have been the very first down in a spelling bee.

Mrs. Baker and other teachers deluged us with homework, tests and even demerits to ensure my classmates and I spoke and wrote correctly.

Yet my teacher read us his poems almost daily.

Grown-ups never made sense.

Despite my confusion, James Whitcomb Riley’s magic sang in my head and heart. A Hoosier like me, he wrote about the land and life I knew and loved. He instilled pride into us for who we were — kids in a country school in a county where farmers helped feed a nation and the world.

His poems still resonate with me, especially on a crisp, fall Indiana morning with a shimmer of silver on my lawn, and gold, russet, and scarlet leaves flying in the chilly, sunny breeze. James Whitcomb Riley still reminds me of all I cherish in my native state.

Even if he didn’t know how to spell.

 

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did your childhood teachers read to you? What was your favorite read-aloud story/poem?

 

Infallible Camping Lists

When our children were small, I maintained a camping list as complicated as a theological treatise. It grew so wise and wonderful that our daughter, now taking her family camping, borrowed it. “I don’t want to forget anything.”

Ha! Campers always forget something.

I balked at handing over my ragged, penciled/inked, 25-year-old list. Part of me celebrated. No more worries about taking Scooby-Doo Band-Aids, the only kind our five-year-old would accept. But I sniffled anew over our empty nest.

I sobbed, “My camping list. …”

Hubby’s face stiffened in his familiar you’re-insane-but-I-won’t-say-it expression. He didn’t protest, “But you hate lists.” Or even, “You didn’t lose it 25 years ago?”

Still, he couldn’t comprehend how listings of bug spray and Imodium® evoked tender memories a mother could cherish.

He did offer to make a new list.

Eyes shining, he plopped beside me. “What do we want on our camping list?”

“We”? I had sort of wanted to do … anything else.

He read me. “If we collaborate, we won’t forget anything.”

We discovered — gasp! — that we define “essentials” differently.

He cannot survive without disgustingly healthy oatmeal raisin cookies. I refuse to leave the driveway without my beloved Pecan Sandies Shortbread cookies. We do agree that a hike without trail mix is like a cruise — not that we’ve taken one — without a buffet.

Hubby stood firm on one point: no melty, messy chocolate chips.

I stood firm. Trail mix without chocolate is not trail mix.

Believe it or not, we completed the list before Christmas.

In hopes of rescuing your future campouts, I include tips on camping items that should never be forgotten:

  • Rain tarp. Leave behind extra clothing (who cares what you look/smell like?). But don’t forget a rain tarp, for which — at 2 a.m., with water drip-drip-dripping on your forehead and your children/grandchildren floating away — you would pay a million dollars.
  • Buckets. Bailing with your spouse’s shoe will make a tenuous situation worse.
  • Coffee. Overlook a drinker’s joe or means to brew it, and she may tie you to a tree and invite bears to dinner.
  • Entrance rug. Leave it behind just once and you’ll sleep with a stampede of muddy footprints across your pillow.
  • Pillows. You may have included enough bags of marshmallows to substitute, but you’ll share your sleeping bag with a tribe of hungry raccoons.
  • Swimsuit. Bring both pieces.
  • Blanky. Do not forget your child’s blanky, eyeless teddy bear or one-armed Barbie® Doll. If you do, for the sake of the entire campground, be prepared to break into a small-town Walmart at 3 a.m. to find a substitute.
  • Soap. Finally, pack separate soaps. Otherwise, you might find yourself outside the men’s showers, yelling at your dearly beloved to remember your needs, then explaining them to the park ranger.

The good news: even if we’ve forgotten camping list essentials, we’re still married.

But with a new, untried list … with no Scooby-Doo Band-Aids … will we survive the next camping trip?

 Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What item would make the top of your list? (Hint: Room service does not count.)