Riding an Elephant

 

 “Lo-o-ook, Mimi, Look!!” five year-old Charlie shouted out of breath. Putting down the cookie cutter, dusting off my hands, I took his while he hurried me out the front door into the yard. “… what to my wondering eyes should appear?” How could this be? The only circuses I knew anything about were set up under big coliseum domes with bright lights, sound systems, and…

Here in our little town was a circus parade! Down the street marched a small band stepping high in rather worn uniforms; the drummer pounding out his cadence, and the bugles blaring. Next came the animals: lions, tigers in their cages, a man on high stilts, another playing with monkeys perched on his shoulders while two others held his hands laughing and sneering at the audience gathering next to the street. The monkeys, switching places with each other incessantly, looked more like they were leading the man, than he leading them.

Finally, we saw the elephants, not like Zenobia drunk with ale, but friendly elephants with babies holding their mothers’ tails by their trunks. A clown whirling cartwheels, ran over to the sidewalk handing out leaflets. My grandson and granddaughter grabbed the papers, then almost tore them from my hands. “What does it say? Where will it be? Can we go, oh, can we go, Mimi?”

Amazing! The leaflet invited us to watch, even help, as the circus set up. Just to entice us even more, they offered a ride on the elephants. Who could resist? Sugar cookies can wait. We piled in the car and drove to the circus set. Electricity filled the air. Jubilation soared! Stifling smells of animal dung and sweaty men coarsed our nostrils, but no one cared.

The tent lay flat on the ground; clowns, gymnasts, every member of the troupe worked hard. Brittney, almost three now, grabbed my hand. A scruffy looking man walked over, “Would ya like a ride little girl…little boy?” Two children jumping up and down on tippy toes two minutes before, suddenly became wimps, hiding behind their grandmother on either side.

Looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, the man assured us, “Lucy can take all three of you right up there. I’ll put the little girl on Lucy’s head after you are up, you can hold onto her, and I’ll lift the little feller. He can sit behind and hold onto you.” That’s the way we did it. Lucy gently wrapped her strong trunk around my body, lifting me slowly onto her shoulder.  With Lucy’s strong, tough trunk around my waist, floating up onto her back felt primordial. Spiritual. Our motherhood, once girlish youth seemed one. She was calm and confident. So much so, I, too, felt confident, trusted and trusting. It seemed Lucy, the children and I had entered a nether world, still and quiet like a dream, calm and soothing. The cheers of the crowd, the yells of the working crew faded.

Lucy took us for a slow ambling lap around the park. After a second lap around, our matronal Lucy lowered her front feet and trunk to the ground as the kindly scruff helped us off one by one. We patted and hugged her saying good-bye, assuring her we would be back for the evening show.

Standing for a moment, we watched as she sauntered slowly away with another set of children, turning her head and batting her eyelids fondly toward us. Waving in reply we turned toward the supine tent.

Even filling water buckets for the animals was fun. Of course, we didn’t know if we were stepping in spilled water or something else. Soon everyone in the troupe took their place around the tent. The elephants were staggered around the corners with ropes placed around their back legs. Slowly as they moved forward, the tent seemed to magically float into the air. We watched in amazement as the tent grew stable and inviting. We left knowing that however great the evening might be, it would not surpass our experience this morning. Unsuspecting in our waking hours, we lived that day joyfully in a time warp, now faded history.

From Mimi, BJ, to Kay and Charlie.

Wake Up Call

Sunrise-Photo by Hud

“Everybody asleep, raise your right hand.” Sunlight creeping through sheers and bottom windows shone just a little brighter as a small right hand slipped from under the cover high into the air on each bed in the cozy bedroom sisters, Nancy and Judith Harkins, shared. “Everybody asleep, raise your left foot.” Two little left feet flew out of the covers high into the air.

As sure as morning dawned, Mr. Harkins began stropping his straight razor while his wife, Susan, prepared breakfast. The smell of biscuits in the oven, frying bacon and fresh perked coffee wafted through the house across the pretty pink yo-yo quilts where Nancy and Judith lay possuming in the front bedroom down the hall. Without opening their eyes or budging, they listened to sounds of crackling bacon and the rhythmic swish, swish of the razor as their dad turned the handle on his safety sharpener.

Morning delighted the Franz Harkins’ household. Standing in the bathroom doorway, Franz announced, “Honey, I know that everyone in this house is asleep.” Down the hallway, two little girls snuggled deeper under the covers, stifling pint-sized giggles. Once their hands and feet were teased out of the covers, Franz ventured, “Well, Honey, if everyone is asleep, then no one will win the race.”

Four little feet instantly hit the floor running. Off to the bathroom, scrubbing faces, running to the closet, changing into freshly ironed dresses for school, pulling up anklets and tying brown oxfords, sheets and quilts pulled tight while pillows received a quick frump and fluff. Finally PJs were tucked underneath. A quick glance around the room for any stray clothes or dolls left out the night before told the sisters which one would make it to the hallway door first.

Daddy looked up, “Oh, it’s Nancy.” Daddy cupped his hands to his mouth provoking an imaginary trumpet sound, “Toot, too, dooo!” “Nancy is the winner of the first race!” Nancy literally slid in across the kitchen floor next to her Daddy. Together they trumpeted and shouted, “The winner of the second race,” Judith slid in all smiles, too.

Then Dad ran across the room to the doorway, while Judith and Nancy stood together trumpeting and shouting, “Toot-too-too!” “The winner of the third race.” Daddy slid all the way across the kitchen floor to his chair. He never won the first or second race. It was always the third race. The girls figured that out some time later. Back at the table, he paused, “Honey, is everything ready?” “Goodness gracious, Franz, you’re going to break your neck someday sliding in here that way.” With a gentle pat to her rump, Franz held Mother’s chair and then took his seat. Holding hands around the table one family member one day, and another the next, thanked the Lord and asked God’s blessings for the day ahead.  

My cousin and forever friend shared this true oral story about her childhood during Easter. Thank you, Nancy. Wish I had been so imaginative with my boys.

The Legend of the BlueBonnet

Photo by Hud

Lush blue horizons burst in profusion across Central and South Texas this April, creating a feast for travelers’ eyes. Our cold, wet winter gave us one of nature’s grandest shows. Delayed March winds rustle in undulating patterns through fields of blue buffalo clover. Wading carefully trying not to crush even one precious head, the fragrant scent so subtle and unique leaves a memory never to be forgotten.

Legends of the blue phenomenon abound in this land held precious by all who live on it. The Indians knew that buffalo were drawn to these delicate fields they called buffalo clover. They and the flowers were here before Europeans from Spain and France, then Mexico and later Germany, Holland, Ireland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, England and others set foot on this land. Enclaves and sometimes quaint communities still exist where the flowers bloom while customs and languages of these countries thrive just miles from booming industrial giants. A cultural mélange savoring its differences.

Yet the legends survive. The Tejanos called the flower conejo because it reminded them of the cottontail rabbits. Pioneers called them bluebonnets envisioning the sun bonnets worn by the women.  The most popular legend and civil by all means made immortal believe it or not, by a yankee. MS Word red lined this word, am I supposed to capitalize? 🙂 Now, what Texan would do that?

When Tomie dePaola came to the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center outside of Austin, I drove to Austin, bought twenty something Legend of the BlueBonnets and Legend of the Indian PaintBrushes which he graciously signed. They are now in schools and the hands of children I love. Who knows, maybe he will come again. The beautiful story of an unselfish orphan sacrificing her prized doll for the good of her people is cherished by children all across the nation. The bluebonnet legacy left by her treasured doll’s blue jay feathers is just reward for such a noble act.

Yet other legends also survive. J. Frank Dobie, born in Live Oak County, Texas famous for writing about Texas Legends asked Mrs. Bruce Reid to share her collection in his book, Legends of Texas: Pirates’ Gold and Other Tales. These are not for the fainthearted, and the link here does not include the end of the last story, (A purchase, maybe.) but one can garner the many facets of the legend. During my tenacious search for the quintessential bluebonnet legend, my favorite find is the story of the Pinks which shows so vivily the inner conflict of the Tejanos during the revolution. I’m still trying to locate a 1926 copy of Mary Dagget-Lake’s book. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas immortalized her work. They have a library on the Alamo complex that houses many wonderful artifacts and historical archives.

And so the legend lives on. May our children, theirs and theirs continually enjoy the beauty we see today.

From BJ to everyone who loves the Texas Bluebonnets.

Spring in South Texas

Photo by Hud

 

Springtime is here with all its charm! No matter where one lives, flowers bloom forth in glorious color arrays. On the way to South Texas and family for Easter, lush fields of azure bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes of crimson, wild yellow mustard and gentian colored phlox float past our windows bidding us to pause in our much too hurried journey. With other travelers, we take timeless pictures of scenes waning all too soon like the clouds passing but once. Every Texan, new or native, lives all year for April and the blanketed fields that affirm, “This is your home! Tejas, the friendly land is alive again.”

I love my husband’s family. They treat everyone like one of them. At Sis’s house all of the relatives young and old gather on the day before Easter. Mothers with children gather around a long table filled with dozens of real boiled eggs and every imaginable dye in cups. The kids love all the tricks like writing names on the shells with a white or clear wax crayon so that shells magically turn beautiful blues, purples, oranges and greens, but names show up clear and bright because the wax keeps it so. Then there are the really clever creations mixed with colors beyond our wildest imagination. Mary and Sis present pretty prize bags full of chocolate bunnies and whatever is new so that nearly every child gets something.

The next day all dress to worship together. The choir lifts voices in a cantata that fills our hearts with wonder and hope for the resurrection. Cousin Don speaks in contrasted meaningful and comical notes, as is his nature. Then everyone proceeds to his and Jamie’s for a scrumptious dinner of ham, brisket and sausage followed by the proverbial Easter egg hunt. Cascarones, eggs full of confetti , are broken on all heads for good luck, outside if you please. Somehow there’s still plenty of confetti that makes its way to the floor inside.

Next, it is time for the first born gift shower. For years now there have been new babies around to receive the congratulations and rewards of a large and loving family. Just wonder who will have next year’s baby?

From BJ: May your family be as blessed as ours.

Eggstatic-super Easter or post-Easter fun

If you have any real boiled eggs left or feel like doing some more, here’s a sure way to add unforgettable fun to yesterday’s Easter Egg Hunt. Prior to doing this stunt gather:

  • a jar that has a mouth just big enough for a boiled egg to rest on top. The mouth of the jar must also not be much smaller. The old milk quart jars were perfect. The pointy end of the egg should fit down in the mouth of the jar.
  • a peeled, boiled egg
  • a safety lighter
  • a piece of paper torn from anything like a napkin or newspaper. Tear it about 1” wide and two or three inches long. Warning: Do not use a large piece of paper or wad of paper.
  • Next, gather the kids and proceed:

1)       Light the paper with the safety lighter and place it down in the jar.

2)       Quickly place the egg back on top of the jar.

3)       When the paper quits burning, there will be the loudest explosion!  

4)       Kids always look to the ceiling to see where the egg landed, expecting to see one huge mess.

5)       They find nothing there.

6)       Looking back at the jar, they find the egg intact at the bottom of the jar.

Your young scientists will figure this out very soon. Be careful who tries it next; they need supervision. Have fun. This can be done anytime of the year, but it just seems to be more fun at Easter.

From BJ to the kid in all of us.

Final Four and Wedding Bells

Wedding Bells

Now just how does a wedding tie into a basketball story? Read on.

My youngest and his bride married on March 6. She is from a little town just about 20 miles south of my original home town. She and Sam met on the internet. Imagine that! They grew up so close, but never knew each other until someone invented a new world of communication. Alto is a wonderful little community of loving people. I am so happy for Sam to have chosen to make his home there with Patti.

She belongs to Hilltop Baptist Church, a church which bought the original school grounds. The school was razed, but the church decided to keep the gymnasium facility which included the auditorium stage, home economics department, where we had the rehearsal dinner, the ag department classrooms and, of course, the gym.

A beautifully modern reception hall welcomes members and friends where once half of the gym, the bleacher space, the cafeteria and the stage served eager teens. As we took our rehearsal dinner foods to the home ec area through the hall, we were suddenly in the other half of the now antiquated gym which is waiting for its facelift. I didn’t think much of it at first.

The next trip through that gym, there was time to look around. There to my complete astonishment, was the gym I used to play in with my high school team. We either played the Alto Yellow Jacket girls team or others in tournaments, not at all auspicious like the Baylor Lady Bears or the men’s Final Four, but we had fun. Trouble is, the Alto girls usually beat us. Alto had a harder time with our boys’ teams, but we girls just couldn’t hold a light to theirs. Looking at the aged floors, I could almost hear the sounds of voices echoing up and down the court. Somehow some pretty sweaty smells came into that journey down memory lane, ugh! However today, football reins king for the Jackets.

After Sam walked me down the aisle the next day, he took his place with Charles, Jacob, Dan and Patti’s brother. Hud and I sat down and looked up there to see our handsome men looking like Il Divo. It was just too much. The tears welled up and poured down. How stupid! The bride’s mother is supposed to cry, not the groom’s. The only way to hide it was to laugh at myself. Someone had thoughtfully placed a pretty square box of tissues at the end of each pew.

Sam and Patti brought both her mother and me a lovely long-stemmed rose. Now this is one of the other great things about a small town. Two weeks later, that rose from the Alto Florist  remained beautiful even though it didn’t get water for at least nine or ten hours. Roses usually wilt by the next day. What a great surprise! Well, Patti’s brother pronounced Sam and Patti man and wife in spite of the weepy groom’s mother and the ring bearer who wouldn’t come to the altar.

Thanks Sam and Patti for a beautiful wedding. May you raise a basketball team and have many beautiful years together.

Final Four-A Contagious Fever

Dr. James Naismith saved me. That’s what he did. Even though he died in 1939, long before I was born.

The Navy extended my husband of just five months instead of discharging him at the appropriate time saying he was soon to be on his way to the Mediterranean. Not wanting me to be in Florida alone, my husband drove our boxer and me across a treacherous mountain trip over frozen highways and black ice from Jacksonville, Florida to West Virginia, so that I could stay with his parents until Uncle Sam relented.

I soon began substituting in the one and two room school program still existing in the mountains of Wayne County, WVA at that time. First assignment: one room school up on Big Lynn, a hollow formed by a creek running down off the mountain. My first day was one of those rare days in February when the sun is shining. The eighth grade history lesson brought all the classroom into the circle to hear more about the history of basketball. The little guys just kept inching up closer until I motioned them all to join us. The book said, basketball began with a real basket. Points were made when the ball landed in the basket. Someone had to climb a ladder to retrieve the ball. (Guffaws from the kids.)

Hey, we had a basketball. One of the boys went home at lunch for a bushel basket. He cut the bottom out before returning with our new found goal. During our afternoon recess, we measured to just the right spot and nailed the basket up high on the back of the coal bin next to the playground, divided into teams, and you can imagine the rest. Even the little ones stood on the periphery to catch the ball and throw it back to the players in the middle.

We must have made a lot of noise. Pretty soon, my husband’s cousin, Bobby and a couple of other farmers from over the hills showed up in their pickups. When they joined us, the game went into overtime, just like our recess, as we played the first basketball game on Big Lynn. Now who wouldn’t love teaching or being a student for that matter with a start like that? Every pretty day, and some that weren’t so much, after that, each recess spawned a new game of basketball.

1936 American Gold

Dr. Naismith conceived his game in 1891. He would be amazed to see us click on these highlighted phrases to retrieve his full story, as much as he would by March Madness. After inventing this game ,that gives us heart attacks in March and April as we go madly toward the Final Four every year, Dr. Naismith watched the first Olympic basketball competition in 1936, at the Berlin Olympics.

From BJ to all those wonderful students on Big Lynn, cousins too :), and everyone with March Madness!

Final Four!

 Three points!! What’s more exciting than winning in the last seconds with a long distance shot through the net? Or more hair raising than watching a dull thud against the backboard, descend into a reverberating roll, in and out and around the rim while that orange orb makes up its infernal mind to go in or pummel off the side! Every breath in the stands hangs suspended while the big guys (or gals) vie for possession before the squeak of Nike Hypermax follows a sudden instantaneous trajectory. Nothing moves so fast or can change so quickly. Skill, discipline, practice and heart rolled into one conglomerate with talent. That’s basketball.

Basketball fans wait for the Final Four  each year. This year, however, is exceptional. There is warranted pleasure in seeing the Mountaineers, or ‘Eers if you care. Not since 1959 have they garnered this much respect for coach, team and staff. The whole Mountaineer Nation is proud.

Two of my sons were born in West Virginia . Even though we’ve been gone for too many years, West Virginia and Marshall, one of my alma maters, still feel like home. Most all the time the whole year around, West Virginia University’s Mountaineers and Marshall University’s Thundering Herd revel in their arch rivalry. Just put one of them on the national stage; their virtual brotherhood unites. Today, in Huntington, it’s all, “Go Mountaineers!” “All the way, Eers.” A few years back, the Mountaineers in Morgantown and our nation mourned and then cheered The Thundering Herd made legendary by their inimitable spirit, resulting in the movie, “We Are Marshall” with Matthew McConaughey.

This weekend we are counting on you, WVA show your stuff. “Go Mountaineers!”

Hmmm, a comment from the Mountaineers’ winning opponent took a jab in July at my last comment to him in March…”Mountaineers prevail.” Sorry, guy if you don’t understand. Win or lose, the Mountaineers have strength of character. They prevail, they work hard. They will win another day. Congratulations to your team for 2010.

Cuisine-Mimi’s Cookbook

Photo by Hud

Mimi and the girls prepared simple meals on quilting days. Sometimes a neighbor like Mrs. Mehutki dropped in to help. She usually brought some of her special Finnish Butter Cookies. The butter cookies became a family favorite. They are so delicate and light, they just melt in your mouth.

The meal usually consisted of stew or soup, sometimes cornbread sandwiches or just plain cornbread and milk. Mimi’s family liked buttermilk. I’ve tried milk and cornbread. It is a long way from a favorite; the buttermilk and cornbread is completely distasteful. Maybe it was good to those who grew up not having all of the convenient snacks and sugar that spoil us so today. One thing for sure, no eating or drinking was allowed near that precious quilt being made for family or friends.

My mother’s 1917 Hoosier (a portable cabinet with separate flour and meal grinders)is a treasured appointment in our family dining area. A few years ago, one of the drawers just quit closing. After trying in every other way, I pulled the drawer all the way out. Behind it were two cookbooks which had been there, heaven only knows how long. One was a 1936 issue of the JR Watkins Cookbook which sold for a whopping one dollar. JR Watkins has graciously given consent to share their recipes. I will write more about them in later posts. The other was a 1918 handwritten cookbook kept by my Mimi. It cost her a buffalo nickel.

Leafing carefully through those pages soon to be one hundred years old, feelings of connection unknown before flooded my soul. The paper is very fragile. It is apparent that handling will cause disintegration rapidly. But there written in Mimi’s hand are recipes my mother prepared over and over. Since Mimi was gone before my memory, I never knew those recipes were from so long ago. I prepared some of them for my boys and then their families never knowing they were third generation, at least. Charles’ Kay and Chuck laughed at me about the Candlestick Salad, thinking it was too far out.

Keeping this precious book for posterity is a priority. Hud carefully scanned each page.

Poppy and Mimi used available commodities to care for their family. Many of the recipes seem strange to us today. However, I have to tell you that Green Tomato Pie is scrumptious if you like tart. Choosing tomatoes already white just before the pink starts yields a little less tartness. This was one of Mother’s specialties. 

A few recipes at the end of the collection were tucked into the back of the book by my mother. We included them simply because that is the way we found the book.

If you are part of my family, this is a treasure it warms my heart to share with you. If you are a friend, you are now part of our larger family and that makes the journey all the more special.

As soon as our brander helps, we will have Mimi’s Cookbook here for you to peruse.

Weddings-Quilts

Photo by Hud

 

How about using a quilt for a wedding register? This was the idea my husband to be and I settled on for our wedding. Wedding registers usually get packed away and seldom even looked at again. When we started planning our wedding, we wanted something that would really be special from each of us. Something that showed we

Photo by Hud

 were pledging our lives to each other. How to

find the quilt? There was enough to do without looking for a quilt.

Coming home from school shortly after the idea began to surf, I found the latest copy of Domestications catalog in the mail. Gasping, I stared at the quilt on the cover. It

was perfect; a beautiful pastel Trip Around the World with inset florals and zigzag border. There were lots of white squares. I hastily ordered it and then bought blue fine pointed sharpies.

At the wedding we placed the quilt on the table by the entrance. One of my granddaughters asked each person to sign with name, birth month and day. After the wedding, I transferred each name onto a calendar. At the first of each year we place them on a new calendar. As time allows, we call to give greetings to our friends on their birthdays. Over and over we are asked, “How did you know?” until this year when writing this book keeps our days running together and the time slips away. Maybe next year we’ll do better.

Each March, the month of our anniversary, the quilt is placed on our bed to remind us of that special event. And by the way, my husband never forgets our anniversary.

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