Blog, Family

My Dad – Mr. Fix-It

Our 924 Sq Ft House – It did not look like this back then.

Most of the summers in Ohio were warm, not hot. We lived in a ranch style house with no air conditioning. Summer meant open windows which allowed the air to float a cool breeze – just enough to move the sheer kitchen curtains aside.

My siblings, already moved out, left me the only remaining child at home. Saturdays mom often worked and I cleaned the house while dad puttered in the garage. He loved to work on the car of the moment, always fixing or tuning something to make the car run better.

“Hey, Maggie, bring me a glass of iced tea, will ya?” The request floated through the kitchen window from the garage and I knew what that meant. Dad was thirsty – and lonely.

My Dad was a social creature and he never relished working alone. I knew once I set foot in the garage, I wouldn’t be coming out anytime soon. This was not my first rodeo. I had to creep out there with stealth-like movements so as to set the iced-tea down and get back to the house before dad saw me. It was our ritual.

I almost made it this time. I set the glass down, turned and took one step.

“Where you goin’?” His head popped out of the hood of the car. “Sit with me while I drink my tea.”

I think back and grin. I loved that man so much. From the time I was a little girl and I would nap with him, my arm around his waist ‘keeping his back warm’. I knew we had a special connection. Even with all that, I was a teenager who wanted to talk on the phone and watch Bandstand, but I could never tell him no. I understood what he was feeling.

The other part of the ritual was that I rarely made it back to the house unless it was to do some required chore. Instead I hung out and kept my dad company.

“Hand me that 3/16th, will ya.”

“See if it will turn over now.” Click, click. “Hmm. Could be the alternator.”

Eventually, I would go back to the house tasked with calling the junk yard. My dad rarely went to a parts store unless it was absolutely necessary for the more consumable parts. Oh, how I hated calling the junk yard. They would invariably ask me questions I did not know the answer to. No cell phones then so each question was a trip back to the garage, then back to the house calling the junkyard back.

Points, plugs, starter, brushes, distributor cap, socket wrenches, timing belt – all part of our dialogue. Don’t ask me how an engine works. I would need to look it up. But the part names, I am familiar with.

My dad and I were pals. Buddies to the end. As an adult woman, he was easily my best friend, up until the day he passed away. Now, looking back, I would enjoy hanging out in the garage, handing him a wrench, and listening to the Cleveland Indians game on the radio in the background.

I would not mind one bit.

Blog, Family, Spring

Monday Missive – Our First Hugs

It was a hallmark Weekend for us. We were able to hug my son and my grandchildren for the first time in over a year. Wow. I started to get teary-eyed but held back. I wanted the occasion to be upbeat and joyful. My grandson held me for a long, long time. There is a kind of missing that words do not convey. My granddaughter was a chatterbox trying to catch up after a year of no contact. We delivered Easter baskets and had a nice visit.  I hope to go back and have lunch with them while the kids are still out of school for spring break.

  • I am hopeful we are through our latest cold snap and moving toward gardening weather. It might be time to take the flannel sheets off the beds.
  • Today I plan to start spring cleaning – both inside and outside. My house is barely Covid Clean – the kind of clean that is passable because you know no one will be coming in your house. Deep cleaning is not my jam, as my granddaughter would say.
  • Yesterday I noticed a few of my Irises have started to make an appearance. It will not be long before they are in full bloom.
  • Carpenter bees. Ugh. Love them or hate them, they are important pollinators. Our azaleas are covered with them. Many people cover their homes in pesticides to prevent the damage the bees can wreak on soffits. We use bee traps near the eaves instead of pesticides.
  • Early wildflowers are in bloom. It is so nice to see the earth come alive, changing dramatically every day.
  • I am trying to work up the nerve to go to the salon. My hair is so long now it has become an annoyance.
  • Hubby is ramping up getting ready to go to a Japanese timber frame workshop in late May. It is a week long where they learn the process and erect a structure. It has been postponed twice because of Covid and hopefully, this time it will proceed if the Covid numbers continue to improve.

I hear the cardinals calling. My first chore is to clean out the raised beds so hubby can turn and refresh the soil. If all goes well, we will get a few of the cooler weather plants in the ground. It looks like the end of the week brings the possibility of more rain.

Blog, Family, grandmother

Mam-Maw’s Treasures and Fascinations

My paternal grandmother was always known to us as ‘Mam-Maw’ a fairly common southern term for grandmother. She was a prim and proper lady who always shouldered great burdens throughout her life. Her mother died when she was 16, and she married my grandfather (who was 17 years her senior) only 5 months later. She and my grandfather cared for her younger siblings until they married and moved out on their own. She gave birth to a stillborn child before my father was born and as a result, he was raised as an only child.

My grandmother as a young woman

I have always considered her home as the place where my foundation was established – much of that due to her influence. She was a wonderful cook and worked hard to keep a tidy house. She cared deeply for her belongings and took great care of them, considering everything as precious.

I was the youngest of four children and until I was old enough to venture out with my siblings, I spent a lot of time underfoot. I think she was a sentimentalist, always keeping letters and photos from friends and loved ones neatly tidied away in organized boxes. I loved looking though her things asking her questions. I remember the day I stumbled upon a photo of her as a young woman posed with cigarette in hand. When I asked her if she smoked she was mortified. She sat me down for a long chat explaining she and her friends were pretending to smoke while posing for the photo and how she was ashamed of it. I probably would not remember it at all except for her reaction.

Mam-Maw’s jewelry box was an old cardboard Whitman’s chocolate box. Inside the box were two black cardboard box dividers that fit so snugly against one another they did not appear removable. One day I did discover they lifted out of the box. Underneath was a black hand-sewn pouch containing 5 or 6 silver dollars. That same pouch and those same silver dollars sit in my safe deposit box today.

My grandmother did not have anything besides costume jewelry. Pins decorated with ornate flowers and strands of pale pink or ivory colored ‘pop beads’.  What a delight for a child to pop and un-pop those beads! I was often allowed to wear pop beads to church as long as I did not ‘pop’ them during the sermon.

In her wardrobe were boxes of nylons. When purchased from the store, the nylons were beautiful and in the perfect shape of a woman’s leg and foot. Hers often had seams down the back and when she wore them, they were rolled up just at the base of her knee.

Inside a cardboard shoe box was an old stereograph with two bunches of stereo cards. These double image cards produced a 3-D effect when viewed through the viewer. I would sit for hours amazed at the well dressed Victorian ladies bathing their cherub babies in porcelain wash tubs. There were images of highly decorative hotel lobbies in faraway cities and fields of tobacco in Panama. All images to inspire a child’s imagination. I still have this stereoscope and it still lives in the same shoebox that one day probably protected a new pair of my grandmother’s shoes.

In the room adjoining her bedroom was a box that contained all sorts of thermometers and glass hypodermic needles from her time as a home care nurse. I have two glass thermometers, but I am sure they are not the same ones. I would have loved to have one of the old glass hypodermic needles but somewhere through the years they disappeared.

My grandmother could be strict, although she had a soft spot for her grandchildren. She exercised a great deal pf patience with four small children underfoot day and night. But you would never know it.

My grandmother years later

When I think of her, three images of her come to mind. One of her sweeping away the snow under the forsythia bush to feed the birds, one of her singing hymns while she canned food in the kitchen, and third, sitting in my grandfather’s red recliner peeling apples into a metal pie tin – the peel in one long unbroken strip.

Family, memories

Midnight and Queenie – My Introduction to the Dark Side of Humanity, Part Two

My writing exercise last week had us exploring our experience with loss and grief. For me, it all started with two pets. My first pet was a cat. She was mine. She was dark black and full of love. Her dark coat was the reason I named her Midnight. Queenie, on the other hand, was a family dog, a beagle.

Tuesday, I wrote about Midnight. Today I will write the second part – about Queenie.

I will warn you, this could be triggering for some people.

Part Two, Queenie

I grew up in the country as many of my longtime followers know. Life was different there. We did not have quick and ready access to grocery stores nor did we have an abundance of money to purchase from the store. This meant we raised a large garden and the vegetables were put away (canned in Ball canning jars) for the winter months. Potatoes were harvested and stored in a dark cellar and used throughout the winter. Nothing was wasted.

Our streams were full of rainbow and brown trout, and fishing was also a way of life as was hunting. People hunted for food rather than sport and the abundance of the land and what it provided was highly revered.

My Dad hunted and we ate what was gathered. It was a way of life. When we moved into town, there was less open land in which to hunt. I think my father had a vision of raising hunting dogs. I loved my father a great deal, but often his plans were, well, let’s say flawed, often never coming to fruition.

The house we rented was a small three bedroom built in 1932. There was an alleyway that ran behind the street. The back yard had a deep downward slope. There was a coal chute on the side where coal was delivered and dropped directly into a small basement room off the furnace. Alongside the back yard was a small half-wall made from concrete block. We only had neighbors on one side of us and the lots were substantial.

I am not sure when or where Dad got the beagles, but King and Queenie lived in a chainlink pen in the back yard with a cozy dog house. I cannot even recall how long we had them, but eventually, Queenie had a litter of pups. I can still remember how cute they were. Dad did not want us to get too attached to them so we did not get to play with them or handle them much. But we all loved them dearly.

I am fuzzy on the details, but one morning, Dad got up for work and went out back to feed the dogs as was his routine. He found Queenie and all the puppies dead. They had been poisoned. I am also not sure if King was there or even is King was our dog. He may have been borrowed for breeding. I just do not remember.

What I do remember was this was the second time I realized just how cruel people could be. I have often wondered what possessed someone to come into our yard under the cloak of darkness and purposefully poison the dogs. It is possible Queenie was poisoned and the poison passed through her milk to the pups, but that is supposition on my part. All I know for sure, was that it was an intentional act.

Dad would not let us see the dogs. I think he tried to protect us from the heartache he felt when he saw them. We would not have another dog until I was in junior high school and my boyfriend gave me a Cocker Spaniel my mother named Whiskey, because he was the color of a nice aged whiskey.

Thankfully, we had no other horrendous stories associated with our pets. Two was too many. Far too many.

Blog, Grandfather, memories

More on Pocket Knives

My Paternal Grandfather – Seated

Yesterday’s post about Swiss Army knives brought up a few memories of my paternal grandfather. I grew up in southwest Virginia, and all men carried a pocket knife. Young boys often received pocket knives as a coming of age gift for a birthday or maybe Christmas.

The knives were never like a Swiss Army knife. The one I most remember from my grandfather might have been a Case two-blade knife with a bone handle. He used this knife for everything. My Dad gave me my grandfather’s knife to pass on to my son and I think I may have it locked away in the safe deposit box. (Note to self: Give this knife to my son.)

These folding knives were sometimes known as a jackknife (and may be where the jackknife dive acquired its name). I do not profess to be a knife expert. There are thousands of different styles and types and materials.

Image courtesy of Pixabay (altered)

In thinking about how this knife was used, I was showered with memories. I can close my eyes and see my grandfather sitting on the porch step whittling away. Whittling is a term used to describe the practice of shaping wood using a knife. Unlike carving, whittling usually produced simple objects, often functional in nature.

For example, if we were roasting marshmallows or hot dogs, a branch would be cut from a tree and the leaves and twigs removed with the knife and the end whittled into a point. Stakes were whittled for gardens and often simple toys like whistles were whittled from a good branch.

Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Agriculture in Britain- Life on George Casely’s Farm, Devon, England, 1942 D9817, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Dowsing sticks (also called divining rods or witching sticks) were cut for the practice of finding underground water sources. A dowsing stick is cut from a flexible tree branch that contains a place where the branches fork. The ends were often shaped and designs sometimes carved into the length of the stick. The term ‘water witching’ has nothing to do with magical powers but most likely got its name from the use of a witch hazel branch.

It was important that these knives remained sharp. I remember seeing my grandfathers methodically sharpening their blades on a whet-rock or a whetstone – a finely grained stone used for the purpose of sharpening knives or other tools and implements. (Whetting means to sharpen.) If they had no suitable whet-rock a leather strop was used or even the leather belt they might be wearing.

Beyond cutting branches or rope or vines, the pocket knife was also used to peel or slice an apple out under the apple tree if they were hungry.

The knives were used for grooming, too. I remember my grandfather cutting his nails or cleaning out from under his fingernails with his pocket knife. Might sound gross to think it was also used to cut fruit, but these knives were kept clean and pristine and always sharp.

Memories are certainly a thing of mystery. I never imagined my post yesterday would bring me down this path. All good memories. It’s good to know my synapses are firing.