Sauced by Cranberries

Most holidays had several things in common when I was a little girl:  lots of company, extra church time, presents, and no school.  We had little holidays like Memorial Day, those were more like snow days for spring time, just a parade, no company, no special food and no extra cleaning, and no church either.  Thanksgiving was different: no church, no presents.  Of course if there was a holiday and company over, that meant lots and lots of extra cleaning and cooking.  I had tons of work to do before the fun began.

First there was all kinds of cleaning.  That’s the way it always was with holidays; that’s the first clue I had that a celebration’s coming.  Clean, clean, clean.  Deep down clean:  mop and wax the linoleum, vacuum under the furniture, starch the curtains with those darned prickly curtain stretchers, iron all the clothes, Continue reading

Camping It Old-Style

In the Michigan Immense Public Park (Sleeping ...

Image via Wikipedia

Setting up camp for a week of camping is quite a project even today.  Back when I was a little girl there was no high-tech, lightweight fabric or flex-cord aluminum rods, no coolers on wheels, and very little pre-packaged food.

Our tent was like a small canvas circus tent, with poles made of wood and no floor.  The cots we slept on were canvas and wood, and Mom brought along a large cupboard with enough food to feed a small army.  Come to think of it, we were a small army.  Once a fellow camper stopped by and asked Dad how he got all his kids to pitch in and work together so smoothly.  A slow grin spread up one side of his face and lit up his eyes, then washed over the other side of his face before Dad said, “Oh that’s easy.  No one can go to the bathroom until we get camp set up.”  Dad had all kinds of ways to motivate kids without raising his voice.

I loved to go to Sleeping Bear Dunes to camp.  For one thing it was a little closer than Brimley, so it didn’t take us a week of Sunday’s to get there; for another thing, the beach was all white sand and we got to set up camp on a site right on the beach.  That was the berries.  The only down side was that campsite was at the top of a sandy hill that we had to lug all that gear up.  Geez-o-Pete’s, that was tough.  Oh yeah, and getting steaks to hold firm in all that sand was kinda tough, too; but that was Dad’s job; I just had to hold the poles steady while he figured it all out.

Dad drove around and around the campground until he found just the right site for us.  It had to be pretty close to the bathrooms, ’cause one Little Kid was in diapers and another was getting potty-trained; but not too close to the bathrooms or people would be traipsing over our lot.  That was no good.  Then Mom walked around and around the site until she found just the right place for the tent.  She told Dad exactly how to put the tent, where the door should face, and how close to a shade tree.  Then Dad set the tent up with all us kids helping.  Nobody in this world could set that tent up by himself, not even two people could do it.  Sometimes it took two Big Kids just to hold one wooden pole steady.  Once the main poles were up and the ropes staked in, me and Deanna and Bonita put in the wall poles, that was pretty easy.  That tent never, ever ended up exactly where Mom wanted it, but once it was up, there was no way in blue blazes it was getting moved.

Lots of times Bonita and I worked together to put the army cots together.  That was pretty easy until we got to the last peg in the hole for the cross-bar, then Bonita held on tight and braced her feet against the legs of the cot and I pulled hard as I could to get that canvas stretched tight and finally: pop, the last cross-bar was in place.  Vickie and Loren carried the cots into the tent, one at the head, and one at the foot, singing ‘We are Marching to Pretoria” or some other song Mom taught us, and Mom got everything all organized and neat, with all the cots in a row, and everybody’s beer box of clothes underneath.  Little Kids slept toe to toe on one cot, ’cause there was no sense in wasting space.  Mom and Dad had this huge double cot with metal mesh and a thin mattress on top; they always slept together, that’s what married people do.

Mom put the cupboard and the icebox in place, right outside the tent door, and the stove on the picnic table, and finally, we were on Easy Street.  Just beach and sand and cookies and ice cream and adventure.  Sure I still had to help with dishes, making supper, and watch Little Kids, but I liked that stuff anyway; well except for the dishes.  Even doing dishes was fun when I was outside.    I told Dad that in the old days, people just used sand to scrub pans, ”cause Brillo pads weren’t invented.  He said that was a great idea, so I should give it a try.

Carefree Camping

After that we never packed Brillo pads, ’cause sand worked super, and it was a lot more fun scrubbing a pan on the beach, with the sound of the waves and the seagulls all around me.    Dad said that was the best idea ever, and I knew he meant it, ’cause those blue eyes of his never ever lied.  Anytime something got burned on, I volunteered to go scrub the pan.  That happened a lot, ’cause when we were camping, Dad cooked breakfast every day: hot Tang ’cause it seemed like it was always cold and rainy outside in the morning when we camped, bacon, eggs, and the best of all things, bread fried in bacon grease.  That was the most delicious breakfast in the whole wide world.   Once Bonita begged Dad to cook that breakfast at home for us.  It about made me want to throw-up.  I guess some things are only delicious when you’re outside all day and you are really, really hungry, and there’s no Cheerios and fresh milk handy.

A big orange canvas tent with wooden stakes. See the portable cupboard Dad made for Mom.

Most of the time we all just ran around, built camps in the scrub-brush, jumped waves and swam all day.  I tell you, every kid should have the chance to vacation like that:  no TV, no radio, hardly any chores to do, just each other.  We got to know each other in a whole different relaxed way.  Want an ice cream cone?  Let’s walk.  So what if it’s three miles?  We’ve got all day with nothing on the schedule.  Now that’s the berries.

The Last of Supper

Every family has rituals whether  planned or just developed over time.  When I was a little girl, going to church on Sunday, a  candy treat afterwards at Glebe’s, and going for  ice cream cones in the summer were all rituals that got passed on from one generation to the next.  Supper turned out of  those everyday rituals that came to be almost sacred to me.

As I hauled up the hill after school, over the ruts Dad filled with black walnuts to get those oily husks off and so he could save on gravel,  the smell of Mom’s cooking made my mouth feel all slippery inside.  Unless she was making liver and onions, then my spit-juices got all thick and my stomach tried to get out my throat.  Or potato pancakes, those made my nose tried to shrink down to a nub and I had to cover my mouth, so I wouldn’t throw up.  I told Mom over and over, those things made me sick, but she thought I was just being dramatic, whatever that meant.  Once, when renters still lived in the frunchroom and my family still fit in the kitchen for supper and I was stuck in behind the table, sitting up tight against the wall, Continue reading

Lost and Found (re-post)

When I was a little girl, I got lost a lot.  I remember getting lost at the beach and lost in the museum.  I was never afraid when I was lost, because I never knew I was lost.

I got lost at the beach when I was really little.  I just kept walking along the beach, playing with different kids.  Once my foot got stuck down in the sand and a wave came along and pushed me under.  I blew the water out in big bubbles and looked around at the seaweed.  I guess I can swim now, I thought.  Nobody I played with could swim yet; I was first to learn.  A lady picked me up and asked me if I was lost.

“No.” I said.  She smelled just like shredded coconut and baby oil.

“Where’s your Mommy and Daddy?”  said the lady who picked me up.  She had on a black bathing suit with lots of skin up front on view and her bowls were great-big, giant bowls,  just coming right out of the front of her bathing suit.  I never saw anything like that on any of the ladies I knew, not my friends’ mothers, nobody at church, not Mom, for sure, not Mom.  This was before I went to school, otherwise, maybe Mrs. Brown, my kindergarten teacher had bowls that big, but hers were hanging way down, not like this lady, who’s bowls were pushed together and just bursting out like a big, pink, bare butt sitting up there in front. Continue reading

Re-post: Easter, Palms Down, the Best Time of the Year

I never thought much about whether or not I liked going to church when I was a little girl.  That would be like asking myself whether I liked to breathe or eat.  It was just something I did every Sunday; everybody went to church on Sunday.

Most of Mass was in Latin, the language that Jesus spoke.  I didn’t know Latin, so I just let my mind wander or said the rosary, which was about the same thing, ’cause after so many Hail Marys, my mind kinda drifted away from the words anyway.  Every once in a while, I had to stand up or kneel down, which jolted my mind in a new direction.

I thought Mass was a little bit like the football games Grandpa liked to watch.  There was a whole lot of boring at the beginning and at the end, but at half-time the band came out and that was terrific.  At church, half-time was when the stories got  told; those were in English.  Everybody marked their missal with the red string, snapped them shut like a joint period at the end of a sentence, and all rosary-sayers, like me, clamped down on one bead to hold their place, until Father started up in Latin again. Then we knew half-time was over.

First Father stood on the left side and read the Epistle:  that’s a letter some holy guy wrote  in ancient times telling everybody how Jesus meant we should live, like cover up our head in church, and women stay in the back, and never-mind the old rules, ’cause now that Jesus was around, new rules are here to stay;  before, no pork in the house, and now, no eating any meat on Friday, and before the Sabbath was Saturday and now it’s Sunday.

Father always started by telling us who wrote the letter and who got the letter.  It seemed to me that there were so many rules around, it was impossible to keep track of them all.  I guessed that’s why Purgatory was so darned crowded.  I liked Paul’s letters the best ’cause he mainly just said love everyone and that was pretty easy to understand.  Sister told us Paul was a bad guy before he got holy;  I liked Paul  ’cause I knew if a bad guy could straighten up and become a saint, there was still hope for me.

When the Epistle was over, Father walked to the middle, knelt down a couple of seconds, then walked over to the other side and read the Gospel.  That’s another rule, whenever you cross the middle, you gotta kneel, one knee was okay, but absolutely no skipping this part, even if you’re just in the church just to clean it, even if nobody is there to see.   Father crossing the middle was the signal to stand at attention, ’cause now we got a story about Jesus’s actual life.  He had a super adventurous life, better than Lone Ranger, and Cochise, and Davy Crockett combined.

After the Gospel, Father said, in his own words, what everything meant, just in case we missed it.  That’s about when my mind started wandering again.  I thought Father should have written it all down in a letter like those other holy guys, then I could read it later when I had nothing to do and I didn’t want to tell Mom I was bored for fear of what she might think up for me to do to cure the boredom.  If I said I was busy reading Father’s Epistle, she’d probably be really proud and brag about it to her friends.

Palm Sunday was super-exciting and sad.  First everybody in ancient times celebrated with a big parade and said how Jesus was the best thing since sliced bread, then everybody started turning against him; I thought they just couldn’t stand that Jesus was so darned good all the time.

For some reason, Jesus didn’t stand up for himself, when of course he could.  For Pete’s sake, he was out in the desert with no food and water for 40 days and 40 nights and still had enough energy to argue with the devil:  If I was Jesus, I’d have saved some breath and just told the devil, “Who put you down in hell, anyway?  My dad, that’s who.  So just leave me alone, or I’ll tell Dad.”

One candle in the desert

It probably made him saddest that people in his own town turned against him, and some of his best friends, too, and he just thought what’s the use, no matter how simple I make it…I even said just be like children, and everyone tried to make it more complicated. Jesus must have felt so alone. He got all beat up, and teased, and spat on, and then the king asked him to do some tricks to prove he could really do miracles. Bonita once said that Jesus should have just done one miracle and saved his skin.  But not Jesus, he was a little bull-headed, which I could understand, sometimes I dug my feet in, too.

I got a palm on Palm Sunday, and I kept it behind the crucifix hanging up above my bed for the whole year.  I had mixed feelings about that palm, ’cause first it felt like a celebration, then it felt like maybe I could be like the people turning against Jesus, ’cause I have to admit, there were some other pretty spectacular things about Palm Sunday:  First, because the story was so long, and we stood at attention until it seemed like our feet would go to sleep, Father gave us a break and skipped his talk; second, Lent was almost over, and I could almost hear the Easter Bunny hopping down the bunny trail.  That made me feel a lot like Peter, Jesus’s number one friend, the one he trusted so much he wanted him to build the first church, and even Peter turned his back on Jesus for a while.

This year, I’m all set with my new Easter dress and the house is decorated.  All the Easter treats are planned for the grand-children, and the church schedule is posted on the board.  For the rest of the week, I’ll be writing about my favorite time of the year, Easter time, with no particular lesson I’ve learned at the end, except maybe this invitation:  just be like children.

Sweet Sixteen

Welcome Guest Blogger Lori Markuson

My first memory of the smooth, sleek bottle was around the age of four or five. It was a brilliant design, slimmer in the middle for my chubby little hand to grasp, and flared out to a solid base for less chance of tipping. The green tinted glass made it even more appealing. Coca-Cola, printed in script on both sides of the bottle, forever etching the trademark into my developing brain. Sweet, syrupy, Coca-Cola.

My Dad was the only person in the family who could make a legitimate claim on the Coke bottles. At the time, Coke was expensive and, at least for our family, a luxury. It came in packs of eight, four bottles on each side of the cardboard carrier. They bumped together against Dad’s leg, tinkling happy anticipation.  Continue reading

Slippery Through the Ice

Dad and his brothers were fine story-tellers.   Uncle Glenn told me how the bunch of them caught Catfish  in the river near their house.   Uncle Gerald, the youngest of the brothers, loved that fish, named it Blue, and taught it tricks.  Uncle Gerald even trained that fish to walk on dry land and roll over and beg like a dog.  Grandma wanted to cook that Catfish up for dinner, but Uncle Gerald cried so hard, she didn’t have the heart to do it.  He kept Blue around in a bucket of river water for a few day, and then one morning the pail was empty:  the fish got so good at walking on dry land, it up and walked back to the river.  Anytime Uncle Glenn told that story, Uncle Gerald would nod in agreement, and one of the six brothers would say, “Yup, that Blue was the smartest fish I ever saw.”  Six sets of blue eyes sparkled like stars and six lips pulled up in the corner in almost the exact, same way.  Aunt Barbara just looked down at her folded hands and shook her head, then the corner of her lip started to twitch up too.  My uncles were darned good story-tellers, and they never let on which parts were true and which were tall tales.

I caught myself a pet fish when I was a little girl.  As near as I can tell, this story is all true.  Still, I was a very little girl, almost before memories had language.  I caught that fish on the one and only time I remember ice-fishing outside a cabin at a lake I barely recall.

Mom bundled me up in woolen snow pants, coat, hat and mittens.  She pushed and prodded to help me with my red rubber boots; I stamped down hard to push the last couple inches of my heel my boot.  In a few short years, I’d be helping Little Kids the same way Mom helped me then, but of course Continue reading