Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Practice, Pam

My feet didn't touch the floor. They hung over the edge of the piano bench. Next to me sat my piano teacher Dortha Hunt. It was the same every Saturday. The Loxley girls came to call at her house with the glassed in porch in Greenville. In the summer we sat on the porch waiting for our lessons. During the colder weather, we sat in the hall watching the student ahead of us. Lessons that were a dollar.

I hardly remember the time before piano lessons. I was seven when I started taking from Dortha, continuing for seven more years. First the right hand exercises. Next the left hand. Then, on to big time with both hands. I really didn't like piano lessons. And.....Dortha always knew I hadn't practiced.

The best part of music lessons was afterwards when we stopped for a hamburger, a shake and French fries at the little Hamburger Shop. It was compensation, I'm sure, for making us take lessons. But there was no compensation to when Mom made me take organ lessons. Sure I could play it, but I didn't want to. If I had to have an instrument, mine was piano. I think Mom always thought one of us would play for church. None of her three daughters went on to play the organ in church.

Dortha and I met a couple of times after I was all grown up. I know I was just one of many students who passed through her door. I think perhaps she remembered me because I was such a challenge. I never memorized music for recitals. I never practiced for my lesson. She ran me through the drills telling me the same thing each week. "Practice, Pam." What she didn't know was that she did teach me. She taught me the skills that I used in later years to be a better pianist. I challenged myself with music that was difficult. I bought a piano because I would be lost without one. I taught Carla and Nick a bit of piano when I was in high school, and have gone on to teach my granddaughters. Dortha, you gave me a gift that I cherish. I may not have practiced the music before me, but it has followed me my entire life.

Dortha recently passed. But my memories of sitting on the piano bench next to her will stay with me forever.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Happy Birthday, Margaret

She will be ninety-nine on December 4th. She has been in my life for as long as I can remember. There isn't a day that she isn't in my thoughts. A trip  to Ohio is out of the question right now. But, oh, how I want to be there to give her a daughter's hug and kiss. I want to sit next to her and tell her all that she means to me. Oh, how I love you, Margaret Stager.

Me, Brenda, Mom, Peg, Margaret in Michigan
Stager's lived across the field. Every day I looked out the window from our house back the lane to see what was happening at their house across the corn, the wheat, the tobacco, the snow or whatever blanketed the field. If someone was outside, I usually headed their direction. Brenda and I are best friends. We always wanted to build a house between our houses, so we could play together all day and still see the homes of our parents. In retrospect, it was a lousy idea since neither of us could cook or do laundry. Their home was just like mine. Hollie and Margaret handed out discipline but not as much as they did the love. Brenda and I went fishing with our daddies and stood by as they cleaned a mess of fish. I sat in the kitchen while Margaret canned hoping for a taste of her pickles. We were inseparable, and one home was no different than the one next door.

My other Mom and Dad
I remember walking into the kitchen often to see Margaret corraling her daughters around the sink to wash dishes. Their house echoed our own on who would wash and who would dry. When Brenda pulled out her little oven, Margaret watched over us and tasted the little nasty morsels that we baked.  I always knew that Margaret was my mom, too. I knew she would protect me like her own. I knew she would comfort me as her own.

As the years passed, the love I have for her increased....if that is possible. I was as excited to see their house as I was my own when we drove down Neff Road. And, I wasn't home long before Margaret and the girls came to call. The family was united again. I cherish this family. They are a gift to my life.

When my father passed, Hollie told me that he was my father now. I remember wondering if he knew that he had always resided in that spot. He and Margaret were always my parents. I had enough love for two sets of parents.

Blessings come in many ways. One of my best came with Margaret Stager in my life. Happy Birthday, Mom.  I send you a kiss on the cheek and a warm hand on yours. I love you with the love of a daughter's heart.

BTW, if you would like to wish Margaret a Happy Birthday, she resides at the Brethren Retirement Home in Greenville, Ohio.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thankful for Neff Road

Wild turkeys now roam the countryside where once they were hunted then gone. The idea of hunting a turkey for our Thanksgiving table was about ancient to me as growing maize. A time of pilgrims and simplicity of life. Dad found our turkey looking much like a chicken only a few steps from the house.

Not sure where picture was taken. From the old scrapbook.

The door opened and squeals of happiness erupted. Another Loxley girl was home for the holiday. Dad watched the lane for hours hoping to get the first glimpse of a daughter returning home. We didn't gather often enough. Many times one of us couldn't make it back for one reason or another. Yet this coming home is still something we cherish when we see each other again.

We were greeted with smells of Mom's baking and cooking. Pies sat in a row on the freezer in the garage. She made our favorite pies. Mine was definitely shoo fly pie. We all loved her cream pies and pumpkin. The house was clean but Mom didn't spend time fussing on the house. She fussed in the kitchen, and we reaped the benefits.

Our children once more became reacquainted, tentative at first, best friends at last. Sisters piled into the bathroom for conversations long missed. Husbands found their way to the kitchen table or in the living room visiting with Mom and Dad. Exhausted from travel, we all settled into the womb once more.

I miss my parents deeply at these special times of the year. I miss that my children and grandchildren did not have enough of those experiences with my family. Oregon was just too far away. Distance didn't deter us from keeping the home fires burning. Mom and her daughters started writing a round robin letter keeping up with the news with pictures, news clips and other goodies making the rounds from Ohio to Indiana to Virginia to Oregon. My son decided that he wanted to keep the bond alive for the cousins since rarely did they see one another. For years the letter traveled from Oregon to Mom in Ohio to Indiana to Maryland to Colorado or wherever the cousin lived at the time. Mom loved the letters. They brought the family home again and again. We found them all saved in notebooks when Mom was gone.

The Loxley girls returned home again. Neighbors and relatives opened the doors and squeals rang out again. Long visits over coffee and puzzles. Singing at the piano. Hugging and holding those we missed every day since we had moved to other places. We gathered around the table full of the bounty of the farm and the labor of Mother's hands. Dad blessed our meal and thanked God for these people he seldom saw under the roof of the house back the lane.

Neff Road you are in my heart this Thanksgiving season. If I try real hard I can still smell Mom's chicken roasting full of her wonderful dressing and homemade noodles boiling in rich chicken broth. Once more I am home.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Kalamazoo Stove 1907

They bake, they warm, they clean themselves. Ovens are a marvel to behold. A naked turkey can is basted, stuffed and poked with a timer that allows the oven to bake the bird to perfection. Ah, we've come a long way from when I was a baby.

I sat in my high chair in front of the window overlooking the grape arbor. My grandmother lifted me from my seat as her mother looked on from her rocking chair next to the stove. It is a memory, only one of the three I have of my Grandmother Loxley. A memory long ago etched in time and place.

In 1907 my grandfather bought his bride a new stove. I know because I have the paperwork from the purchase. A receipt from the order sent with a 2¢ stamp. This fancy new stove was every woman's dream. Wood was stacked behind it waiting to be tossed into the chamber that heated the stove. Delicious smells of food mixed with that of burning wood. Much different from what we presently have but a memory of wood smoke and a place to warm oneself on cold winter day. I'm not sure how the stove was delivered let alone carried into the house. I don't know what happened to this wonderful stove when replaced with an electric range. I do know that a turkey would have taken more than a few hours to cook, probably days. Grandad would go to the woodshed to cut pieces of suitable size to replace the burned logs keeping the stove hot and the pile of wood dry and ready. Probably a cast iron kettle sat on a burner adding moisture to the dry winter air. A stove that was more than a stove.

Clothing would be hung by the stove to dry. Boots tucked close enough to erase the rain. Vents from the kitchen to the upper floors would allow warmth to flow into the cold bedrooms along with yummy scents from the kitchen. The stove was more than a place to cook. It was the hub of the house. And, probably in summer, used as little as possible.

My grandmother's life was changed in 1907 as were the lives of other women living around Neff Road. The wood stove would later be replaced with electric. Oil lamps replaced by light bulbs. But the family gathering around the old stove would not be forgotten by those who lived then. A memory of family. A memory of generations of women cooking in the kitchen together.

I look at the brochure that came with the old stove and am warmed with thoughts of a grandmother, a great grandmother, a rocking chair and a huge cast iron stove. It was 1907 when a new stove was delivered back the lane on Byreley Road. The beginning of a new age.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Story Never Told

In my last post, I added a picture of the women of the Johnson family. I sat looking at the picture and was overwhelmed with emotion. It wasn't the first time this has happened. So I have decided to investigate a bit and figure out why this picture of my grandmother affects me as deeply as it does. Who was this woman and who now do I see in her face?

To begin with, I know very little of my maternal grandmother. Mom Johnson was not the warm, sensitive grandma. At least that is what I have heard. She was a tough woman being married to Pop Johnson, my grandfather. I was told the story often of how Pop got so mad at my aunt that he took a horse whip to her. When he was finished, he handed the whip to his son and told him to take his turn. It was a hard day and age and sometimes the men were mean and cruel.

I'd always been told that Mom Johnson was barely a teen when she married Pop, but according to the records, she was seventeen to his twenty years. She raised three daughters and a son. Raising daughters with a man who had no respect for women must have been terrible. I can't begin to imagine her life. She had rebellious daughters who left home as soon as possible leaving my mother who was much younger behind. My uncle was, of course, the apple of the family eye. He would be the one to continue the family name and to work the soil his father had cleared.

The in-laws l to r: Betty Hunt, Sam Fisher, Mom Johnson, my dad, Pop Johnson, Welma Johnson

I see in my grandmother's eyes a tenderness or perhaps a longing. My heart breaks wondering what she endured, knowing that her voice was silenced giving all power to her husband.  She had daughters who demanded their freedom, a freedom she never had in her life. They stretched the limits giving voice to their anger while she had to deny her voice and agree with her husband. There is a sadness in her eyes. One that no one knew was there.

What stirs me most is the familiarity I feel when I see her face. Do I see my own in hers? Do I see that of my sister June? I don't know, but I see a face I recognize today. And, I am drawn to her. Perhaps in some strange way, I am getting to know my grandmother for the first time. Perhaps I am finding compassion for a woman who always was stern and unyielding. I am trying to understand.

We are a present molded from the past. We carry remnants of others in our faces. Our recollections are framed by what we have heard from others. We make our way into a future learning what we can by the bits and pieces of the past. Even a past we can't remember.

I was nine when she died. Today I try to tell a story of a woman I did not know.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Apron Strings

Mom Johnson, Mom, Peggy, Aunt Bess, Aunt Welma, Betty Hunt
I remember standing in Mom Johnson's kitchen while the 'womenfolk' worked around the big oak table that demanded its space in the middle of the room. Aprons hung by the backroom door (along with the bonnets) where everyone could grab one and set to the task of cooking. Aunt Welma, Mom Johnson and Mom, in aprons, moved to an invisible choreographed dance, cooking, preparing the table and never once running into one another. I was small and loved to smell the wonderful aromas that filled those aprons.

Aprons were probably worn to protect one of the few dresses that women owned back then. We didn't do laundry often and had few pieces of clothing. I don't know if we did the 'sniff and wear' test, but I know that we did wear clothing longer than one day. It went along with the baths taken once a week depending on layers of dirt. That's another topic. So Mom in her apron protected a precious dress.

Aprons were used as hot pad holders when transporting a pie from stove to table. They could carry produce from the garden to the kitchen. An apron was a great rag to wave, spooking an escapee cow back to the barnyard. A few eggs could be carried in an apron as well as a few precious morels. Hands could be dried, dust could be removed and tears wiped away.

When I was married, I bought pretty, crisp aprons for the servers to wear. Pretty aprons that couldn't catch a spill much less dry a tear. My mother had several of these aprons as well from weddings past. If I had suggested to my future daughter-in-law that we buy aprons for servers, her reply would be, "What servers? What aprons!?" Yes, the wedding apron has gone by the wayside along with doilies, embroidered pillow cases and, yes, the handkerchief.

I purchased old aprons at estate sales for my granddaughters and their friends to wear when painting. My son has an apron for cooking over the grill. I have an apron for cooking in the closet, er, hanging in the closet for cooking. Hm. I don't like to cook. I don't use the apron.

I made my first apron in 4-H many years ago.......many, many years ago.  I moved it around for years before deciding I would never wear it again. It was white with black polka dots and pockets across the front handy for toting kitchen utensils and envelopes when I went for the mail. For the life of me, I can't remember anything ever finding its way into the apron pockets. I can even remember the apron finding its way around my waist.

The saying "tied to the apron strings" is no longer valid. Evidently we have become tidier cooks no longer in need of these pieces of cloth. The tenderness of a mother's touch wiping a brow or drying a tear with her apron is gone. The smell of the kitchen no longer lies hidden in the cloth. But the memories of the women in my family wearing a well-worn apron, tied in back with a neat bow continues to bring a smile to my face and abundant memories.

I guess I am still tied to the apron strings.