This was my prayer...a piece of ground not over large with a garden and near to the house a stream of constant water.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The big picture…



    Here is a picture of what is now referred to as “advertising art”. It is one of those 30-plus or so coffee urns used for church suppers, AA meetings, wakes etc. Decades ago, companies would send you really cool stuff like this in exchange for saving up and sending them a specified number of proof of purchases. Well, my mom was a dedicated member of the Wakefield Culture Club. Clubs for women were a major part of life, especially in smallish towns like the one where we lived. The women raised money to do all sorts of good deeds like buying socks and underwear for mental patients at the state hospital nearby. They also had a lot of social activities—card parties, dances, luncheons, meetings with themes like “little treasures for your little treasures” where they had a guest speaker come in and show them the correct way to make an arrangement of flowers in a tea cup.

     The highlight of one year was something called a “Tom Thumb Wedding”. Members’ children were dressed up like members of a wedding (I am still envious of Sally Spotts because she got to be the bride because her mom was president that year). I did not even make “Mother of the Bride” or groom. I had to wear one of my grandmother’s old Easter hats destined for the rummage sale box for that year and was just a “guest”. But there was real wedding cake so it was not a total bummer.

     Because the ladies did so much eating and food-related stuff—covered dish suppers, strawberry and various other dessert specials, teas with dainty sandwiches—there was a completely outfitted kitchen adjoining their club rooms situated on the second floor of the Carnegie Free Library. And the one thing I most admired (given my aforementioned infatuation with “advertising art”) was the coffee urn that looked like a giant can of Maxwell House coffee. Well, darn it if when the ladies club went out existence and their stuff was divvied up, my mom got my beloved urn! She never used it, keeping it wrapped up and stored far back in some closet. I could only dream…

    Then one day, out of the blue, when I was married and began to entertain I asked her for the urn and she gave it to me. Now in my family this was an earthshaking event. There were many odd, psychologically unsettling dynamics in our family and one was that my mother would deliberately withhold from me anything that I expressed even a mild interest in. But she handed me her urn and I just loved it. Walking through my pantry and seeing its bright, shiny oversized label would make me smile and feel happy.

     And then in 1995 my life became a perfect storm. I lost my wonderful job because my employers were trying to get rid of my husband and not having the guts to just can him, my firing was the shot across the bow designed to get him to resign, which he did not do, breaking my heart. Then I became seriously, mysteriously sick and was bedridden. The marriage was in shambles and I was much-too-early menopausal. And my husband came home on a Friday night two days before my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary and said he took care of sick people all day and did not want to come home and do it.

     Of course my mom and dad were the first call I made. Sobbing hysterically, I told them of my devastation.  And the first thing my mother said in a very alarmed voice was “Where is the coffee pot”? Now my head was spinning and I was dazed from what I had just said and my mind could not process what was this thing about the coffee pot. I felt like I was on that old ride at Kennywood where you spin around and the floor slowly drops out from beneath you… And she kept asking me over and over about “her” Maxwell House coffee urn. Every time she talked to me, that damned urn… So I managed to remember to put it in my car and as soon as I pulled up in their driveway, she came out and asked me for it.

     Fast forward a few years… For one of the holidays, I suggested to my mother that she make coffee in her urn to accommodate the company coming. She turned, stared directly at me and said “What urn”? She had given it to Lisa the cleaning lady she told me just like that…

     So what is the point of this story? Well, it is for you to make of it what you will, dear readers. But to end on a happy note, a few years ago I was wandering through the now-gone and much lamented “Ye Olde Curiousity Shoppe” fleatique” here in Ligonier. And there in a dark back room was “my” Maxwell House coffee urn, all shiny and undented just like new. I grabbed it up like I was reaching for a life jacket on the Titanic. It was marked $10 and I did not haggle the price, a treasure to me at any cost. It now sits in a prominent place on top of my refrigerator, gathering dust. (I am five feet tall and one of my basic tenets of housekeeping is I do not dust anything too high that I cannot peer directly at). But it was some small healing for me to find that pot. Has that ever happened to you? I hope so…

Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't you just love UPS? and an interesting little story "If You Go Out in the Woods Today"

     So many things today just don't work. I once wrote a piece called "The 20% Rule" that I have upped to "The 40% Rule"in which I described everything in one month of my life that went wrong (and not of my doing). For example, Fiona my beloved 15-year-old Border collie was suffering from congestive heart failure and was on diuretics. To make sure she never had an accident, I ordered two waterproof pads from WalMart on-line, using their site-to-store delivery option. After a brief wait, I drove the 22-mile round trip to pick up the pads. I opened the box and they were fireproof pads. Now, I checked with my vet and never in the history of veterinary medicine had a Border collie been reported to spontaneously combust. So another round trip to return the WalMart pads. Dare I reorder? I decided to use my refund to buy some cheap plastic/vinyl table cloths from Dollar General and fashion my own peepee pads, using soft old towels and small blankets. God love her, she made it to the very end without an errant drop...I pray I will be able to do the same.

     Anyhow, I have never been disappointed with UPS. I love the sound of their always-washed, shiny big brown trucks, the "thunk" sound their gears make when they are stopping by my walk, the way the delivery person bounds up my steps and raps on the door. UPS always brings small joys and happiness, never bad news or sadness except for the one time they brought me the cremated remains of a beloved kitty. I burst into sobs as the UPS man handed me the package and I explained to him the contents of the small box. He gave me a "there there" pat and told me he had taken gentle care of kitty. UPS never brings letters from the IRS, or bills or other scary mail. The UPS man knows only good things about you unlike the mail carrier who sees ALL of your mail and knows everything from your religion (if you have one), your politics, your debts, your educational level, etc.  Most especially, I look forward to the first sign of changing seasons when the length of the delivery man's (the delivery person is usually a guy) pant legs go up or down. I live next door to a business that gets a lot of all kinds of deliveries in every manner of vehicle, but my heart is with UPS. And they always wave.

     So here is a great UPS story:  Several winters ago, a woman I knew who was quite contrary and seemed to delight in doing things people told her were foolish, took her dog out for a walk about 4:00-ish on a very wintry afternoon. She lived in a heavily-wooded "community" at the foot of the mountain that had been intended as a summer escape in the 1930-40s from the heat and dirt of Pittsburgh. About half of the houses were now permanently occupied, the rest opened up only for the summer. There were still many lots that were uncleared, never built on as air conditioning and air pollution controls in Pittsburgh caused fewer people to flee to the mountains. The small ski slope nearby had been long-closed. The roads through the place remained deliberately "quaintly unpaved" ie., poorly maintained--dust in the summer and ice and ruts in the winter.

     But out she went on that blustery day, snow flurries now falling faster in thick wet blurs. Heavy late-day snow had been predicted. And the small road she chose was one with houses only at the farthest ends. Her wonderful dog was a Springer Spaniel named Mildred Pierce. Mildred was what I call a galumphy dog: rotund, big pawed, whose way of greeting you was to lunge at you and lick you with her slobbery kisses. She had those enormous, droopy, red-rimmed eyes of her breeed. Even those of us who adored Mildred acknowledge that she closely resembled a manatee. Mildred was never leash (or any other way) trained. She was a tugger, especially if she saw one of the many unexpected and dog-driving crazy things that lurked in the woods. 

     And so, Mildred lunged on her leash. Down went my friend with Mildred on top of her. My friend rolled the dog off of herself and was made breathless with pain when she simply tried to move. Mildred began to whimper and lick her mother furiously, a melange of snow, tears and doggy slobber on the human's face (and possibly the dog, too). My friend hollered and yelled. The human sound was blunted by the thickly falling snow, the wind and the forest at whose edge she had landed. She unleashed the dog and pushed and shoved Mildred's rump to try and enocurage her to head back home, like the old "Lassie" episodes when Timmy had fallen down a well.

     Now Mildred was the essence of creature comfort, loving her many soft beds covered with antique quilts, the fireside, cuddling next to humans, endless belly rubs and most of all her food bowl. But Mildred would not budge from her mother's side. The enormous pup wedged herself closer and closer next to the prone body. It is unclear just whom Mildred was trying to keep warm. The dog whimpered and yelped softly. The person yelled. But no one came. By the way, cell phone reception in this leafy glade was non-existent even if this most cantankerous of women had one.

   By now it was almost dark. The wind had picked up considerably and snow was mounding over everything, disguising everything--rocks, rhodendron, tree stumps, dogs and humans. My friend saw that she could die here on this road, frozen to death, unable to move even the tiniest bit.

   Just as she was closing her eyes (have you ever read Jack London's "To Build a Fire"?) she was jolted awake by the familiar "thunk". The much-beloved UPS man for this area was making one last sweep of his route. Only fate and the elaborate UPS routing system led him to turn down this very road. His lights caught Mildred's pleading brown eyes visible through the heavy snow. He saw my friend's hand feebly waving at him from the small drift that had formed over her body. The rest is pretty much a routine rescue/broken hip story. UPS delivered once again!

     BUT THEN, the story gets really interesting. My friend recovering from hip surgery in the hospital received a phone call from a "neighbor", the kind who would normally not even call you if your house was on fire, in her woodsy plan indignantly asking if my friend was going to sue UPS--take those bastards to the cleaners!!! Soon it became apparent that the story had spread throught the village that a woman and her dog had been mowed down by a UPS truck!!! Remember that kiddie game "Gossip" or "Telephone"? Well, a real life version had spontaneously occurred in our small town. And the poor UPS man was stopped on the street and yelled at in the library for nearly killing some poor woman and her dog! Well, the furor finally died down and my friend's hip and Mildred soon recovered.

     However, the "Telephone" mindset appeared unabated. For example, a lovely woman who had lived here forever returned home from a month-long vacation and was bombarded with phone calls and confrontations in the Giant Eagle asking why she had sold her house to Dick Cheney! And I, myself, stopped in to buy a greeting card after having blood drawn from my hand as those are the only skinny veins I have. A huge lump of gauze to stanch the bleeding was taped to my hand (I take blood thinners as does half the world) and the clerk bellowed "Oh my God!! are you getting chemotherapy"??? Then the three other customers (complete strangers) in the small store began to cluck and fuss over me, bombarding me with questions and comments, deaf to my ever louder voice telling them I was not getting chemo! One eyed me and commented that chemo can sometimes cause bloat in the face (what???). Another brushed my somewhat shortish hair as if to check if said hair was starting to fall out. I momentarily thought I was going to have to fight them off to escape the place. Talk about lack of boundaries...

    Anyhow, this season, try to show the UPS folks how much you appreciate how hard they work to make our lives pleasant. Little brown rays of sunshine in my life.

P.S. "If You Go Out in the Woods Today..." is a line from my most favorite song "Teddy Bears" Picnic".


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My best friend (Sue Ellen) since high school bakes a pie for Thanksgiving…



   Today my BFFSHS and I were gabbing about just ordinary stuff and she mentioned how she planned to make a cherry pie to take to her son and daughter-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving. It did not start out well. When she opened the first prepared pie filling can, it was strawberry. At this point I would have considered a mixed berry pie or Marie Callender but Sue and her amazing eight-year-old granddaughter Katie got in their truck (they live in semi-rural Texas) and drove to their nearest convenience store and paid triple for a second can of cherry pie filling, praying it had not been on that shelf for several years. Additionally, she had forgotten that she had used the last of those terrific ready-made pie crusts and laid down another ransom for two packages. Thank God she remembered or another trip back would have been necessary.

     Back home, oven was pre-heated, crusts were fluted, foil sheets put on the newly-cleaned oven floor and 45 minutes until pie Nirvana. Soon the sweet smell of baking pie filled the house. My friend sat down at her computer to pay bills, check e-mail and she found that she needed to call the 800 number of her credit card company. She was chatting with a delightful young man who quickly answered her questions. He was in Baltimore and mentioned that he had had a “girlfriend” in fifth grade who was also named Sue Ellen. He was most likely glad to keep yacking to help the last shift before the holiday pass easily. Out of the corner of her eye Sue spotted flames coming from her oven. “Gotta go” she said to the delightful young man. “My oven is on fire”. “Well, Happy Thanksgiving and I hope I have provided the service our customers expect of us…” responded the well-trained young customer service man. Click! as the house could possibly go up next.

     Sure enough, the oven was on fire. What to do? Open the oven door? Throw salt on the flames, thus ruining the pies (she had ended up making two so as not to waste the strawberries)? Not wanting to panic in front of her granddaughter, she calmly turned off the oven and waited for the flames to subside.  Turns out, apparently, the self-cleaning oven had missed a glob of chicken fat, thus the source of the inferno. But the pies appeared unscathed. With the source of the flames removed, it appeared safe to just keep on baking the pies. The timer was set. Now 40 minutes until pie heaven.

     But no…she had set the temperature and forgotten to push the “start” button so the oven had become ice cold and the pies remained raw. This was one of the “What the hell!” occasions when you make an executive decision, in this case, reheat the oven and finish off the now uncertainly-cooked delicacies (with so much money invested, why not?).

     Well when the crusts appeared brown, out they came. And I, with my well-developed sense of doom and foreboding began to tell her of all the dire possibilities these pies might still face. I mentioned dropping them on the floor, having one of enormous (think Marmaduke or Clifford the Big Red Dog) and usually well-behaved dogs reach up on the counter and eat them, or a food-borne illness (remember I have a Masters degree in Public Health and studied for one semester the tragedies that can occur at even the best-intentioned church suppers). The pies could slide off the car seat during a sudden stop or could mistakenly be sat on. Endless tragedies could befall these pies.

    We discussed what a metaphor for life were these pies. Maybe sometimes the Universe just does not want certain things to happen but we just keep pushing. Think back over your own life and substitute certain life events, decisions, etc. for “pie”.

    Then I thought back to Thanksgivings past at my grandparents. My grandmother had a very old (now vintage) green enamel gas stove that sat up on four little legs. Our jobs as kids was to lay on the floor and run a dust rag under there to clear out the non-existent crumbs and dirt she just knew lurked underneath. It had no light nor timer nor electronic ignition. In fact, the pilot light for the burners and oven were lighted with thick wooden kitchen matches. I was scared of the whooshing and popping sound made when the gas caught fire. My great aunt Angeline was prevented from lighting the oven when she repeatedly singed off her eyebrows and melted her hair net. And the oven door had a spring on it like a wolf trap, capable of snapping child-size forearms in an unsuspecting second. What deliciousness emerged from that tiny space.

     In the lovely Victorian house I was privileged to live in for ten years, I inherited a marvelous Chambers stove (also now highly collectible). It put you in mind of a reclining snowman. It baked the best bread I ever had next to my grandmother’s. But, I replaced it with a six burner, double oven (one convection,) duel-fuel stainless steel sixty inch wide miracle of food preparation. The cost of it could have covered several semesters  at a community college. The ovens had to be constantly recalibrated, the 30,000 BTU burners cooked almost everything to a cinder. The knobs either got stuck or fell off.The stainless tell was impossible to keep gleaming without using nasty chemicals. I hesitated to cook on it as it was so difficult to clean.

   And I now look back on that that appliance lusting as just another example of be careful what you wish for and listen to what the Universe may be telling you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Signs I love!



   Since I was a little kid, I have always liked signs. I remember Mickluses’ store right across the street from our house on Crawford Avenue, full of all kind of signs for various products. I especially loved the “door push” on the front screen door for “Bunny Bread”. You can usually find some of these listed on eBay and they go for beaucoup bucks, regardless of condition in the category of “Advertising Art”. Salada Tea was spelled out in dull gold letters stenciled on the front window. Teaberry Gum advertising consisted of a humongously oversized pack of Teaberrry gum (empty of course). I really hoped Mrs. Micklus would give it to me when Mr. Micklus died and the store was closed, but no dice. There were signs for flour, coffee and every brand of cigarette. Do you remember the two dancing packs of cigarettes that used to be on live, early television? I always wanted to have Halloween costumes like that for me and my older sister. What were the ones you remember? Would love to hear from you on this!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mr. Wu says “No way I’m going out in this weather to trick ‘n treat…”



     Mr. Wu is Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. This is also his new winter coat. He wore it around the house few several hours, a surprise to me as he usually rips off his sweaters. Maybe he was chilled. Love the expression on his face!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Still here...

I have been "radio silent" for a while. All us okay but just not moved by the muse and I had (still have remnants) of a flu-like icky virus. All I could manage was watching CDs of Pee Wee's Playhouse and Downton Abbey. Wild dreams, too. Thought my friend Rose was coming in and out of the house and turning the lights on and off. My porch was full of neon/psychedelic old radios and televisions. I am not sure if it was a fever of 102 or the Nyquil. Will have something up soon or see my article in the Saturday Post-Gazette "Opinion" section. Ciao!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Well I'm finally here in Nantucket...

     I do not write a lot of poetry. I did when I was in junior high but was accused by my Engish teacher of plagiarizing a sweet little poem I had written about "dancing alone by the sea". However, in the summer of 1979, I composed my one and only limerick. I had been miserable with a mysterious tummy problem. But my baby sister Kate had been working at a restaurant in Hyannis Port on the Cape and needed help moving to her apartment at the University of New Hampshire.

     Additionally, I had just met a man and was in that delicate stage of a pre-relationship relationship.
He had been very gracious about my GI issue. So while at the Cape during a side trip to Nantucket, this limerick just popped into my brain and I immediately jotted it down on a postcard and sent it off to the new guy. He was delighted and we dated for a long time...

                                           Well, I'm finally here in Nantucket
                                            Eating lobsters and shrimp by the bucket
                                            I'm feeling just fine
                                            And sending this line
                                            As there's hardly a chance I'll upchuck it!