Category Archives: Memoir

A Different Kind of Mayday

Mayday is the universal emergency distress signal. Every pilot or captain knows the word but hopes to never have to utter Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

Long ago, or as some fairy tales begin, once upon a time, May Day was a happy occasion. Near the end of April, Mrs. Buffington, my first-grade teacher, distributed construction paper, scissors, and glue. She showed us how to fold the paper into a triangle or a diagonal shape, somewhat like a flattened ice cream cone. When the glue dried, she punched a hole on either side with an awl. If the hole wasn’t large enough for the ribbon pieces she had cut for handles, she pushed a sharpened #2 lead pencil point up to the yellow paint. When the dismissal bell rang, I took my basket home, eager to surprise an unsuspecting neighbor on May Day—sometimes called May Basket Day.

Early on the morning of May 1, my mother gathered a few spring flowers still wet with dew, cut the stems the right length to stand up in my basket, and arranged them so the paper wouldn’t tear when I hung the basket.  Off I went, skipping diagonally across the street where an elderly lady lived. My goal was to make a clean getaway and peek around our front boxed hedges to see her delight. I hung the basket on the uncooperative screen door handle and pressed the doorbell. I pivoted, hopped down the steps, and ran like a wild banshee—a term one of my nephews assigned to my gallop—arms flapping like a baby bird trying to get airborne.

Before I reached the street, a voice behind me stopped me. (Who knew old people could get to the door that quick?) I turned back. She stood in the doorway without noticing the basket dangling sideways on the screen door. “I caught you,” she said. “Why are you ringing my doorbell so early and running away?” I had to go back, take the basket off the door, and hold it up where she could see the flowers.

The next May Day, a wise second-grader, I chose our next door neighbor as my target. I hung the flower-filled paper basket, hit the doorbell, and high-tailed it across the wet grass home. Mission accomplished.

I never knew if they found the basket before the flowers wilted from the heat because I couldn’t see their front door from my safe hiding place on our front porch.

 

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Reader’s Digest Research behind Times

First, a clarifier. RD is always behind the times because that’s the magazine’s goal—to collect information about things that have happened. So I’m not whining about Brandon Specktor waiting for research before publishing “50 Everyday Mistakes and How to Fix Them.” No, this is about exploring tasks that didn’t need research.

Take #39 for example. The American Academy of Dermatology advises that children ages 6-11 don’t need a daily bath. Once or twice a week is plenty. No need to spend time and research grant funds to learn that. My mother already knew that.

Back then our 20-gallon water heater was sufficient to fill a galvanized #3 wash tub at least to the half-ring. Mama centered the tub in the kitchen floor and carried pots of water from the faucet at the sink. In went the first kid with a washcloth and a bar of soap. Out with that child wrapped in a towel and in with the second child while the water was still warm. Different wash cloth. Same bar of soap. In between, Mama kept a teakettle of hot water just in case the first child soaked too long.

Then we modernized with indoor plumbing. I was proud of a flushable commode. No more trips to the outhouse in the dark. And that new claw-foot tub was a gleaming jewel. The main difference in the routine was less work for Mama. No more filling and emptying the bathtub. Hot water flowed from the spout at the beginning. Each bather pulled the chain attached to a round rubber plug to let the water flow down the drain when finished.

My ritual for a weekly bath began when I draped the thin washcloth over the side of the tub, dropped the floating Ivory soap into the water, and stepped into the tub. I sat a few minutes, then I lay back like floating in a swimming pool. I kicked my feet and thrashed my arms in a make-believe backstroke. In that tub, a child afraid of deep water, I became an Olympic swimmer. My glory ended too soon when all that activity chilled the water—and me.

Now here’s something Mr. Specktor might look into. Do children in age group 6-11 who play in the bathtub release more endorphins that reduce stress and delay depression?

 

Reference: Reader’s Digest, April 2017, page 71, print edition

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Wearing of the Green – a Day to be Irish

St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious feast observance on the supposed date of death of a patron saint (c. AD 385–461), missionary  to Ireland. That continues for a few. For the rest of us, this day is about luck, prosperity, a bright future, and wearing of the green.

My childhood memories of St. Patrick’s Day were filled with stories about green clover, leaping leprechauns, and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These traditions were handed down to me at school or by friends, even from window shopping at local stores, but not at home.

I grew up during the “pinching days.” If no green was visible, childhood friends pinched the other child on the arm. Emerald green wasn’t a color in the homemade wardrobe Mama sewed for her young twins. If I forgot to pin a clover from our yard to my dress, I became the most pinched girl of the day.

When I married a Moore who relished his Irish ancestry, St. Patrick’s Day became a joyful time without the pinches. Decades later when I became a foster parent, construction paper clover and leprechaun stickers resurfaced. I baked cookies sprinkled with shimmering green sugar. I added drops of green food coloring to dinner dessert. It was fun to be Irish for a day. Then single again, I continued to sport the tiny plastic shamrock I’d worn for more than twenty years. Last March I lost it while shopping.

My twin participated in the Parker lineage DNA project. The results were surprising. Thomas Bryant Parker, our second great grandfather, was Irish. Now that I have a drop of Irish blood in me, perhaps I’ll buy a new shamrock pin.

Oh, yes. I’m one clover leaf ahead of St. Patrick because history says he was Romano-British, not Irish.

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Happy Cock-a-doodle-do New Year

rooster-2017

chinese-cheongsam-patternNeighbors in my senior apartment community celebrated the Chinese lunar New Year 2017 yesterday. A few sang solos in Mandarin while others danced. They floated across the floor dressed from traditional Chinese to casual California. I salivated from the aroma of Chinese food while a costumed woman stood in front of the buffet and welcomed all. She explained the traditions associated with the holiday. A woman dressed in an embroidered cheongsam translated into her broken English for those who understood no Mandarin.

Before the speech, the man sitting next to me had told me in his slow English that this was the year of the cock—something I already knew. Then he explained that a cock is a rooster—something I knew too well from my childhood.

chicken_crossingNeighbors had green lawns topped with badminton nets or metal croquet hoops stabbed into the grass. We had a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and a chicken pen. While people on both sides of us lounged on patio chairs, played games and barbecued in the back yard, my parents labored for our food.

Mother enjoyed raising the chickens, but her favorite activity was taking care of newborn chicks. In storms—back when it rained frequently in California—she braved the rain and lightning to check the safety of the chicks. Perhaps her motherly nature, but maybe so they would grow into laying hens and produce eggs for our table.

Our Leghorn rooster had aged, so Mama added a Bantam Rooster to the flock. The Banty was a series of reds—the color of the Chinese New Year although we didn’t know it then—opposed to the stark white feathers of the Leghorn. His only contribution to the Chinese tradition was a fiery red comb that centered his head splitting jealous eyes as he watched the small rooster invade his kingdom. The Leghorn crowed strong every morning, earlier than usual it seemed, or perhaps to show his dominion of the chicken yard.

Although I didn’t like chickens and stayed away from the pens as much as possible, I loved Mama’s chicken recipes. One evening I snuggled under several of Mama’s quilts after gorging on chicken and dumplings and fried pies. The next morning, the Bantam rooster crowed his version of cock-a-doodle-do to announce a new day.

At the Chinese celebration buffet yesterday, I spooned the vegetarian dishes onto my plate and skipped the chicken.

Fortune Cookie-Pixabay

 

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Noble Nuts

shelled-walnuts-cashews-pixabayChomping on a handful of cashews and almonds today reminded me of my father’s penchant for buying nuts for Christmas. Here’s a glimpse from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014), a memoir I have retold many times, many ways, many years.

 

At Red’s Market, Papa selects a few groceries, writes each item in a pocket size notebook, and places the food into the shopping cart. A silent moment, as if thinking, follows after he totals the amount. He dips a metal scoop into an open bin of a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspects each nut and discards those with damaged shells or blemishes. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal scoop into a small brown paper bag, then transfers the bag to the hanging scale. He checks the weight, calculates the price, and writes it in his notebook.

At home after the meager groceries are unloaded and put away, Papa takes the small brown bag of walnuts and disappears into the cellar through the trap door in the dining room floor. I hear him place the bag into a metal can. He returns empty handed.

As the holidays approach, my brother Clyde brings almonds from the orchard near his home. Papa adds Brazil nuts and filberts and deposits all into the can.

This morning, Papa goes into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the can. Today is Christmas.

 

walnut-cracker-basket-pixabymixed-nuts-bowl-pixabayMy father’s holiday snacks required a long wait from the time they were sealed in a 25-gallon storage can in the cellar until Christmas morning. A nutcracker and picks were always nearby in the kitchen, but Papa retrieved a hammer from the handmade wooden toolbox in the cellar. My nephews cracked the almonds and English walnuts in their strong hands and freed the Brazil nuts and filberts with a single tap of the hammer. I tried my luck at both. I had to use the hammer to open all but the almonds. My awkward slams resulted in nut pieces, seldom a half or whole nutmeat.

I purchased shelled ready-to-eat nuts for the holidays. I ignored my father’s disdain of peanuts at Christmas, but I didn’t mix them with the others. After all, peanuts are legumes, not noble nuts.

peanuts-pixaby

 

 

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Escaping Christmas Kitchen Duty

cooking-utensilsLong ago, pots and pans rattled in our kitchen on Christmas Eve. Pungent sage escaped the 11 x 13 inch rectangular glass Pyrex dish filled with dressing baking in the oven. Homemade pie crust snuggled inside a nine-inch round glass plate on the linoleum counter top. Crimped dough, pinched between Mama’s right thumb and forefinger, fluted the pie’s edge. Mincemeat filling rested in a bowl ready to be spooned into the crust. A baked lemon pie cooled and waited to be crowned with meringue on Christmas morning. Mama moved from one task to the next as smooth as a restaurant chef.

Pocket WatchChildhood memories are reminders of a homemade life. Everything from scratch from killing the chicken in the backyard, plucking and cleaning it in the kitchen early Christmas Eve to dipping flour from the tip-out bin for making rolls. Days of work for Christmas lunch (You may remember from previous postings that my father insisting on eating at 12 Noon by his pocket watch) followed by hand washing and drying dishes and sweeping the kitchen and dining room floors.

cheeseballMy own adult memories of baking banana bread, dredging chopped dried fruit for the annual fruitcake, and baking cornbread for southern-style dressing, and homemade cheese balls rolled in fresh-shelled, chopped pecans prepped the holiday scene. Labor-intense hours in the kitchen on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning remind me of those special days.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Recent holiday memories are toil free. If invited to dine with others, I bring a relish plate of veggies and olives. If I decline the invitation as I did this year, Denny’s is my go-to place. My twin and I attended church then headed to the nearby restaurant. It was packed with families, even one group we knew, who escaped Christmas kitchen duty.

 

 

 

 

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A Different Thanksgiving

TurkeyMy mother always began preparations on Wednesday for our abundant home-cooked Thanksgiving feast with a main dish of turkey, ham, chicken, duck, or goose–sometimes more than one. Deviled eggs, black olives, pickles and cranberry sauce nestled among bowls brimming with homemade dressing, potato salad, and green beans. Mincemeat, apple, and sweet potato pies covered the kitchen counter. Occasionally, a fresh coconut cake towered over the pies, giving it bragging rights. Mama made room for other side dishes brought by my married siblings just before noon. Papa was serious about the precise time. We ate at noon by his pocket watch—not one minute earlier or later.

The adults sat with Papa around the food-laden table in the dining room. Mama seated the younger children at the square drop-leaf table in the kitchen. I ate in the living room with my twin sister and nieces and nephews our age, balancing our plates on our knees. Mama served everyone first and ate later. After lunch, the women washed and dried dishes. Children played on the covered porch. Men gathered in the tiny living room to talk. A couple of my brothers drifted outside for an afternoon smoke, forbidden inside our home.

chicken_crossingOne eve of Thanksgiving, the smell of chicken frying in a cast-iron skillet wafted from the kitchen in place of baking turkey. The sweet smell of fried apple turnovers replaced the aroma of pies. I listened from the open doorway as my parents talked about working on Thanksgiving Day. Oh, no! It can’t be!

The next morning after breakfast, Mama packed the refrigerated chicken and fried pies in a sturdy cardboard box and covered it with a tablecloth just as Frank, my oldest brother, arrived to take us to work.

I stepped down from the old Model A Ford running board. On the ground, I pulled the strap of my cotton sack over my head and under my left arm, and shook eight feet of canvas between two rows of late-blooming white cotton basking in the early morning sun.

Pocket WatchFive minutes before twelve, Mama stopped picking and spread the tablecloth on a patch of flat ground. Papa removed his hat, wiped his perspiring forehead with a handkerchief and checked his pocket watch. At noon he nodded to Frank to say a blessing for the food.

“Thank you, Lord, for family gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day. Bless this food to the nourishments of our bodies so we can finish this field before dark. Bless the farmer who allowed us to work today. Prosper him abundantly for his kindness. Amen.”

Bless the farmer? Without him we’d be home heaping our plates with turkey and dressing and eyeing the tantalizing desserts, not eating cold fried chicken in a cotton field. My complaining thoughts were interrupted by my nephew’s voice.

“Please pass another piece of Grandma’s fried chicken,” he said. “It’s the best I ever ate. And, could you hand me a couple more fried apple pies. Grandma knows how to make them just right.”

The next year we gathered at home for our traditional Thanksgiving meal. One of my brothers mentioned Frank’s prayer from the previous year.

“That prayer must have worked,” he said. “That farmer did so well he bought a cotton-picking machine and put all of us out of work.”

Cottton Picker Machine

 

Violet Carr Moore, adapted from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014)

Posted at 12 noon, Pacific Standard Time, in honor of my father’s tradition

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