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Archive for the ‘Family and friends’ Category

William Glackens The Soda Fountain1-2-324-25-ExplorePAHistory-a0b1n0-a_349The musical tunes of an ice cream truck coming down the street still gives me the urge to run inside for pocket change and the promise of a Good Humor Bar. Long lines at Dairy Queen bring back fond memories of my dad and our ice cream summer; the year he took us out every Saturday night, to a different place each week, for ice cream. The first of the Saturdays was my introduction to a chocolate dipped ice cream cone.

The other day, running errands and dosed with decongestants and antibiotics, I stopped at the local MacDonald’s for something to quench my thirst. A carbonated soda. I know. I know. They aren’t good for me, but, at $1, any size, a diet Coke was ordered at the drive-up window. Soda in hand, I pulled into a parking space to unleash the papered straw. As I backed out of the space, I glanced at the cherry red economy car parked next to me. The window was rolled down and there, inside, sat two very intense girls, neither a day younger than 80. Their perfectly coifed hair was as white as the ice cream cones they were eagerly licking. These were women on a mission. I watched them engaged in what looked like pure girlish bliss, not a word between them for all I could tell, as they tackled their 49 cent cones, and I’ll just bet they had a pact not to tell a soul what they had been up do.

I wonder what it is about ice cream that brings out the child in us?

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The garden gods DID smile down upon us, and the day dawned with promise. An overcast sky allowed homeowners to open their gates and vendors to unload their wares without theDSCN5318 heat of the sun beating down. Later, the clouds lifted, the sun came out, the humidity dropped and it was a most excellent day for a garden walk.

The ladies of the club, the Elmhurst Garden Club that is, and their sons, daughters, husbands, nephews and friends arrived to help, bring coffee, set up welcoming ticket tables at the featured gardens  (and decorate them with flowers and hard candy). Area organizations volunteer at these entry tables. Scholarship winners were available in Wilder Mansion where members were available and where many of members brought floral arrangements they crafted for sale. Isn’t it amazing how a vase of flowers can bring a smile to one’s face?

All-in-all, it was a delightful affair – our Afternoon in the Garden. Please, come with me, through the garden gate, and see a bit of what I saw along the way – and please accept my gratitude for all your well wishes. :)

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Here’s Ezra, out on the grassy knoll, having a fun time running around the back acreage, getting all sweaty and exploring our simple life on the Cutoff with his big sister, Kezzie, and cousins Jake and Scott (who shared a great big bag of Thomas the Train and all of Thomas’ friends). The camera “caught” our young lad rounding the wildlife habitat. 

 

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What a busy, long weekend was had; decorating a cake for Papa’s birthday with Auntie Jenny, and “funning” around the backyard,

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and taking a walk at Lake Katherine, then visiting the Plush Horse for big scoops of ice cream. Kezzie shared a small table with another little lass while Ezra dipped into ice cream for the very first time.

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All-in-all, ’twas just plain old fashioned enjoyment with family gathered together, here on the Cutoff.

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Where’s Ezra?

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It starts with low, grumbling, motor rumbles around 11:15 am. The revving of golf carts, motorcycles and ATV’s mumble next. Then, a rush of cars heading down the Cutoff before, well, before they are cut off from the road once the parade begins. By 11:30, a slow caravan of antique tractors, vintage cars and patriotically decorated bikes, trykes, and wagons begin to assemble behind the shiny red fire engine.

 

Tom and I, maybe two or three other neighbors, haul out our folding lawn chairs holding something cool to drink in midday sun. We are the offiical spectators. With most of the residents in the procession, someone has to cheer them all on.
So it goes, my friend, as the best 4th of July parade ever commences here along a two mile road where we enjoy a semi-pastoral life along the Cutoff.

 

Let the parade begin! All six minutes of it.

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002008There I was, walking around Jackson Square Mall in downtown La Grange with three of my very dear friends;  antique sleuths, each and every one. We were talking and teasing, “Penny, you really need to have this” or “my mother had one of these” in the companionable way of old friends.

As we walked toward my favorite booth crammed with used books, nestled in a nook that was probably a closet in a previous life, I squeezed in and I glanced up at the cookbooks. in the far corner.  What should be staring back?  “The Stillmeadow Cookbook” by Gladys Taber. Well, dear reader, Gladys’ book jumped into my greedy little hands like a puppy who’s been left home alone all afternoon. Squeaking like a mouse, I gingerly opened the pages of this well-preserved, hard bound edition – and promptly declared it was mine, all mine!

You may recall that I adore Gladys Taber and her writings about Stillmeadow Farm. My introduction to her was at the very same Jackson Square Mall where this cookbook emerged, on the same shelf where my first introduction to Gladys Taber’s words was.  When I wrote that first post, I quickly learned through generous comments of others that there were more than 50 books written by Gladys Taber and that there was well-establish organization of Taber fans;  aptly called the Friends of Gladys Taber. I keep meaning to sign up for their newsletter, which I understand is quite wonderful.

Since that first discovery of Gladys Taber and her common sense wisdom and wit and words that are filled with the simpler things in life and country living, I have acquired a baker’s dozen worth of her homespun books, filled with stories and articles that were published in the likes of Good Housekeeping Magazine and other periodicals. How I miss those days of short story installments and serial essays that used to be in women’s magazines. Ah well, dear friend, those days are past, but, we can still find words in books, some of which sit patiently on shelves in used book stores and booths, just waiting to be discovered.

 

 

 

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Arbor house stained through snowball bushI worked alongside Esther. She worked for the father, I for the son. Almost 20 years older than me, she was my mentor and confidante. I was a fledgling in commercial insurance with two young daughters and the tug of pulling my load as Tom started up a business. We worked hard, laughed often, cried occasionally and danced the rhythms of life and work for almost six years.

We shared a love of family and of books. She delighted in hearing of the escapades of our daughters, especially Katy, who loved playing softball and disliked wearing dresses. In all the time I worked with Esther, I never saw her in a skirt or dress – and this was the era of padded shoulders and the hit television series,  Dallas!

I had the first lunch hour, sometimes eating in the small break room or downstairs in the cafeteria, more often than not running errands or tending to motherly pursuits. Several summers had me driving home, dropping the girls off at the community swimming pool, then eating in the car as I returned to work, checking in with Tom before I got back to my duties (this was before cell phones).

Esther had the second lunch hour, usually eating a sandwich she brought from home and the purchase of a bowl of soup from the cafeteria. Esther ate soup for lunch almost every day. When she returned to her desk, the first thing she did was call her elderly mother to see how her day was going.

Esther, as the story was told to me, once had a prestigious job downtown, in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Her father developed a life-threatening illness needing surgery, a long recovery, treatments – and had no health insurance. Esther resigned from her position, cashed her pension, and used it to pay for her father’s health care, then she started her work life all over again. She never complained, never felt sorry for herself, and carried on.

She gave me comfort and encouragement in those six years; when my mother died of cancer only two weeks after being hospitalized, when my uncle Joe died a few months later, Jennifer becoming ill for a spell, then Katy losing part of finger, and Tom’s long battle with his first bout with diabetic retinopathy and his mother passing away. I gave her big hugs, books, home baked goodies and as many doses of encouragement  I could while she battled shingles, then cancer and a long series of chemotherapy treatments.

I thought of Esther today, and of the afternoon, not unlike this afternoon, shortly after the 1993 inauguration of Bill Clinton, when she came back from lunch, called her mother, then looked at me and said, “Penny, I want you to read this book I just finished. It is by Maya Angelou. I know you appreciated her inauguration poem and now you must read  this book she wrote a long time ago,.”Why the Caged Bird Sings” . . .  and so, I did.

I thought of Esther today, as the news broke of the death of Maya Angelou, and felt a wave of gratitude that they both entered my life, each in their own unique way.

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A gift borne on the waves of forty-one years, I caught the scent as I walked down the stairs this morning. One step, then another, the fragrance rose up as I began my descent into the day. The sweet essence reminded me to bring down the anniversary card I had hidden where all my good cards go to hide. Back up, from the landing I went, snatched the card, and slowly drifted downward to a sea of lilies, lisianthus and love. So began the 41st year of our life together.

Happy Anniversary, Tom!

Jennifer and Jason, Heather and Andrew, who share May anniversaries with us, mere days apart – you all work hard to catch up to us!

 


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Bleeding hearts. Dicentra spectabilis. One of the sweetest of the spring blooms, it is an ethereal charmer, with wispy sprays of fern-like leaves and arching strings of heart shaped flowers.

As I wandered the front gardens on Mother’s Day, thinking of my own mother, I noticed the bleeding hearts in full dress, and I recalled the mentors and caretakers, teachers and friends; the other women of my life who guided and comforted me along the way.

Aunt Christina; my father’s sister. Her eldest son is my cousin Ted, whose name often appears on the pages of this blog. My aunt was the one who showed me how to wear a sanitary napkin when my own mother wasn’t home and she bought me my first pair of nylons and garter belt. She also soothed my fears when our younger daughter had a serious hand injury, saying “Penny, have a good cry now, then move on!” Survival.

Mrs. Cannella; a friend’s mother who was both my champion and confidante. She would greet me at her back door with “Hello, Penny. How’s Tom?” –  just to see me light up like a lamp. She called me, every year, around Mother’s Day, for 20+ years, just to see how I was and have a bit of chat. At my bridal shower, she purposefully sat next to someone who did not approve of our marriage and made a point of expounding on how much everyone loved Penny and what a good wife she would be. Loyalty

Another-One-Yia Yia; my great-aunt, was the sister of my own Yia Yia. Another-One-Yia Yia had no grandchildren of her own, so, took on my sister and I as if we were her granddaughters as well. She would torture us with tickles whenever she came over. She always remembered us with gifts on our birthdays and Christmas – most of which were surely bought on Maxwell Street. I’ve written before about Another-One and the peony pink pouf of a dress that she gave me for my birthday when I was in sixth grade. It finally fit me for my 8th grade graduation. I still have the picture and can assure you, I was a walking wonderment that attracted more butterflies than boys.  You can imagine my shock when a woman came up to me at Another-One’s funeral and said “It’s too bad she had the heart attack going to get her hair done for your shower. ”  To make matters even more dramatic, Another-One-Yia Yia already had a gift before she died, which I opened at the shower, tears hanging in my eyes. I still use the silverware 41 years later. Undying love.

There are more hearts in my story, of course. I’ve been blessed with a bouquet of women who have graced my life and new ones who continue to bloom for me. They loved me, gave me strength, showed unbroken loyalty. They cried with me, laughed with me, gifted me, encouraged me, and have enriched my life in more ways than I count.

Do you have a Dicentra Spectabilis (in either plant or human form)?

(To read more about Another-One-Yia Yia, go to http://lifeonthecutoff.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/another-one-yia-yia/)

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One of the funniest, and saddest, family scenes is from a movie I adore, Avalon, which premiered in 1990.

Avalon opens with Sam Krichinsky, a Polish-Jewish immigrant,  recalling the sights and sounds as he first walked on American soil, on what seems to be the Fourth of July. To Sam it was as if all the lights of the city had turned on for him alone, with sounds of firecrackers exclaiming his presence, the future before him in the promised land.  Can you imagine such a welcome?

I came to America in 1914 – by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I didn’t know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What a welcome it was, what a welcome!  Sam Krichinsky, Opening of Avalon

We follow the Krichinsky family through their years in Avalon, with Sam and his older brother Gabriel, Sam’s son Jules, the cousins, wives who are not of their family heritage, the younger generation changing their surnames to sound more “American“.

Who said names were supposed to be easy to say? What are you, a candy bar? Sam upon hearing son Jules’ choice of names.

We watch the family change and grow, become educated, pay for and sponsor other family members on their journey to the USA, and as the family prospers, changes come, including members of the family moving from Avalon to the suburbs, where the television replaces conversation around the table and relatives no longer live together.

It is the scene of carving the turkey before Gabriel and his wife arrive that is one of the more poignant ones in the movie. The long chain of tables from one room to the next so that everyone can sit. The children’s table. The chatter and comments – and the one relative who is always late for family meals. I can identify with this. Can you?

In this scene, for the first time, in a new home in the suburbs, the turkey is carved before Gabriel arrives. Gabriel is furious and vows to never come for Thanksgiving again. Of course, it is more than the turkey that has him so angry; it is the changes in his life, his culture, his family – and all that progress can bring, both the good and the bad.

I’m sure many of us have had, or still do have, a Gabriel in their family. Do you? Have you seen this movie?


 

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