Tag Archives: Family

December 2 – It’s Fruitcake Weather!

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Tears stream down my cheeks, splattering upon the keyboard as I write this.  ‘Tis the holiday season, you see, and I delight in the memories of my childhood yuletides.  One such memory stands out as clearly as the glittering angel atop my Christmas tree.

November’s blustery winds arrived weaving frost spider webs onto Mother’s kitchen window. “Oh, my,” she’d invariably say, staring at their intricate designs, “It’s fruitcake weather! I’ve much to do!” Yes, ours was a blessed fruitcake house.

I can still see Mother and me driving into town lugging home packages of my favorite things: candied cherries, candied pineapple, figs, walnuts, pecans, raisins, dates, and candied citron.  Back in her kitchen, we chopped the nuts, the candied fruits, the dates, and figs, blending them with the heavy batter, and dumping the glorious mixture into fluted cake and loaf pans.

Three hours later, the cakes emerged from the oven only to be wrapped in cheesecloth; doused in peach brandy; then stored in every nook and cranny Mother could find.  Every few minutes, it seemed, I pestered her.  “Are they done yet, Mother?”

“No, not yet. They must age.”

After what seemed like months (It was really only three to four weeks.), she’d proclaim, “The fruitcakes are ready for wrapping.”

Out came the rolls of wax paper, aluminum foil, ribbon, and the mailing cartons.  Having bundled up our packages of cheer, we took them to the post office.  On the way home we dropped off mini fruitcakes to neighbors, teachers, and friends then tootled home, warmed with the knowledge we’d brightened the Christmas of friends and family.  My head sank into my pillow dancing with visions of folks unwrapping our fruitcakes; sniffing the cinnamon, cloves, and peach brandy; and eating a slice of our dense, sweet fruitcake topped with a dollop of thick whipped cream.

Folks felt blessed by Mother’s thoughtfulness, and soon our mailbox was stuffed with cards and notes of gratitude.

Even now, I love eating fruitcake and don’t understand why they’re underappreciated and maligned, often being referred to as bricks, paperweights, or doorstops.  They also bear the brunt of many holiday jokes. I remember the first fruitcake joke I heard.  “The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake,” cracked Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and year-after-year people send to one another.”

“Sure, Johnny, considering how long a properly made and stored fruitcake can last, it’s quite possible. The alcohol alone acts as a preservative, allowing people to keep or regift it for years.”

If only I’d known. I would’ve kept some of Mother’s fruitcakes; and when the holiday season arrived, I’d retrieve one from my freezer; thaw it, and re-douse it with peach brandy.  I don’t have Mother’s fruitcakes.  Instead, I have our fruitcake-making memories. I’m heartened that Mother loved making those fruitcakes, and I’m touched with how thoughtfully she involved me in a decades-old family holiday tradition, a tradition I revisit every year when it’s fruitcake weather.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

October 28 – Maui Sunrise

by Linda C. Wisniewski

I had forgotten light arrives before the sunrise, that the sun sends beams in advance of its peek above the horizon, so slowly there is no single moment when darkness turns to light. Dawn is a gradual process, like my sons growing up before my eyes.

I saw it coming when they ran long-legged like colts in the spring. I glimpsed their adult bodies when they stood before me clean-shaven in jackets and ties, their little boy faces still there somewhere, if I squinted hard.

I saw it coming as we stood together at the summit of Mt. Haleakala, the clouds parting and green treetops appearing below us in the growing light. The younger one had driven us there in his rental car, three hours in predawn darkness on a winding road, higher and higher, the lights of Maui like glimmering jewels falling far below.

When he was four, he sat in the back of a gray Toyota as it climbed to the top of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. While his father drove, I read the warning sign aloud: “If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience.” He begged us to stop, and we turned around as soon as it was safe, secretly relieved. Now he was the one reassuring me as I imagined the symptoms of altitude sickness.

At the top of the peak, safe and slightly short of breath, I gazed at my boys with pride and wonder. They have called me for advice when choosing an apartment, a job, a new car. But at twenty-nine and forty-two, they can do these things without me and we all know it. They have jobs I barely understand using tools that didn’t exist when I was young.

Once they were sullen-faced teenagers who chafed at my words. Now they end our phone calls with “Love you!” They cried when I left them with a babysitter. I cried when they left home for college. Now they have homes of their own.

The older one brought me a blanket and wrapped it around me as I shivered in the wind. Once I zipped his jacket, put on his mittens, wiped his runny nose. I was freezing now, waiting for the sun. His brother said to let them know when I wanted to call it. Now I was the protected one. My two boys stood taller than I, their precious heads back-lit by the sunrise we all knew would come.

Linda C. Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, PA. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published by Pearlsong Press. Linda has been a member of Story Circle Network for many years and a longer version of this blog appears on her personal website. She blogs at www.lindawis.com.

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October 7 – Remembering the Landline

by Sara Etgen-Baker

 

Though landline phones may be on the endangered species list, in the 1950s and before, they were the lifeline of communities. For nearly 100 years, the landline was how we talked with someone who wasn’t in the room with us.

We had only one telephone, a black rotary one, that sat on a built-in phone cubby. There was no caller ID, no robocalls or telemarketers intruding in our lives. So when the phone rang, we were curious. The caller could’ve been anybody, but in truth, the caller was usually one of four or five people who had our telephone number. Morning calls were certain people; probably neighbors and evening calls were relatives. No one called before 9 a.m. or after 10 p.m., and we lived in fear of any call after midnight.

The phone didn’t ring a dozen times a day, and its sound was a kind of minor event. We kids didn’t pick up the phone and answer it, nor did we make a phone call without first asking permission. Father didn’t answer the telephone; answering it fell under the duties of the homemaker. When Mother answered the telephone, we didn’t listen to her conversation, but we knew by her tone whom she was talking with. When we were teenagers, my brothers and I were allowed to make limited telephone calls and answer the telephone.

There’s a wonderous landline moment that doesn’t exist today. The telephone rang after dinner one evening. My brother answered the phone. “Hello,” he said. After a moment, he hollered loud enough to notify the entire household, “Sara, it’s for you; a phrase that is long gone because no one shares a phone anymore. Using his phone etiquette, my brother asked, “Who’s calling?” Then he yelled, “It’s Robert,” a name that had never been said aloud before in our house and the sound of which piqued my parents’ interest. I sprinted to the telephone cubby. “It’s Robert,” he shouted, “that boy from school!” I yanked the phone from him, ignoring his satisfied grin. “Hello,” I said softly. Robert needed to know what time he was picking me up for the sophomore dance. I was tongue-tied and embarrassed, answering him in monosyllables: yes, no, okay, sure, yes. Bye.

Standing at the phone cubby in a household with a landline, the news was now public. I had a crush on Robert, and he was taking me to the dance. The village had been alerted.

There are no such shared moments like these in our homes today. No one stops and listens to the phone ring, wondering who the caller might be. Robocalls, caller ID, and telemarketers have killed our curiosity. Cell phones and instantaneous texting have made the landline extinct. Yet, I yearn for those days of removing the phone’s handset from the cradle, listening for the dial tone, placing my fingers in the number hole, rotating the dial and waiting for that almost magical connection to be made and hearing someone on the other end answer, “Hello.”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

September 16 – Mom on the Fly

Advice to my Grown Daughter

by Susan Rudnick

photo by BreakingPic at pexels.com

Standing on West 56th Street in Manhattan, I give myself a moment to look across the street at Carnegie Hall before heading to my dentist’s office to have my mouth numbed.  My cell phone rings, and “#1 daughter” comes up, the way she had jokingly entered her number on my phone.  And she is #1. My only one.

Motherhood came to me late. For so many years I had longed to be one but wasn’t sure I would be able to make it happen. It was a miracle gift when my daughter’s birth mother entrusted her to me and I became a mother through adoption at age 43.  I have loved being a mother through every stage of my daughter’s life.

My daughter is 31 now, and recently married to a lovely man.  We live over an hour away from each other, so it has been through phone calls that we have some of our most meaningful conversations. I have received calls in the gym locker room, in my car just about to go somewhere, at 11:30 in the morning and 9:20 at night. It might be “just saying hi”, or it’s the “do you have time to talk?”   In two seconds, when I know it’s the latter, I have learned to listen, and to weigh in judiciously if given permission.

I have learned to regard these calls as little windows to pass on whatever wisdom I can. Lately, as my 75th birthday approaches, I feel more of an urgency to share whatever wisdom I have.  How much longer will I have to be there for her?  What have I not said that would be helpful?  What does she still need from me?

In the past, there were many calls about whether she should break up with a boyfriend who had addiction issues. “Of course,” I would want to say.  “You deserve better.” But I knew that until she was ready to let go, that wouldn’t work. I chose instead to remind her of all the efforts she had made to help him stop.

Thankfully, we are now past those calls. We are dealing with the trip to Georgia to visit her in-laws or the contractor who walked away without finishing a project for the business she is starting.

I have said these things before, but would it be helpful to say them again?

  • Your in-laws are your husband’s parents.
  • Listen to your doubts, they have something to say.
  • Don’t let anyone talk you out of what you feel is right.
  • Try not to take things personally.
  • For everyone who disappoints you, there will be an unexpected gift of someone who shows up for you.
  • If you decide to become a mother, know it’s for life.
  • I will always be in your heart after I’m gone.

I press down the key.

“Mom, do you have a minute to talk?”

“Of course,” I say.

Susan Rudnick is the author of the memoir Edna’s Gift: How My Broken Sister Taught Me To Be Whole.  She is a published haiku poet, and her recent essay appeared in the NY Times: The Power of a Name: My Secret Life With M.R.K.H. She has been a psychotherapist in NYC for the past forty years.

September 9 – Monday Was Wash Day

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Helen Morain Stainbrook

Last Thursday my washer quit spinning, leaving in its wake a tub full of wet, heavy clothes. I grumbled and stared inside the washer, knowing I lacked the arm strength to wring out the excess water in each item of clothing. What I wouldn’t have given at that moment to have my grandmother’s old wringer washer.

I can still picture her standing beside her wringer washer that sat on a little back porch behind her kitchen. Come rain, shine, cold winter days, or hot summer afternoons, she washed clothes EVERY Monday. She rose extra early, built a fire, and heated wash water. She filled the washer and twin rinsing tubs with scalding hot water; hand scrubbed each individual item, using a washboard to remove bad stains. Once clothes were scrubbed, washed, rinsed, and sent through the wringer, Granny hung her laundry to dry on clotheslines strung between two tall posts. As I recall, there were some basic clothesline rules she and women of her time followed.

•       Clotheslines were cleaned before hanging any clothes. She walked the length of the line using a damp cloth, removing dust, dirt, and bird poop.

•       Clothes were hung in a certain order: “Whites” with “whites,” always first.

•       Sheets and towels were hung on the outside lines. “Unmentionables” were in the middle out of public view.

•       Shirts were hung by the shoulders; NEVER by the tail.

•       Socks were hung by the toes, NOT the tops.

•       Pants were hung by the BOTTOM or the cuffs, NOT the waistbands.

•       Hang clothes out to dry on Mondays only. Never on Sunday! For heaven’s sake!

•       After taking down dry clothes, ALWAYS gather up the clothespins. Pins left on the lines look tacky.

Although using a wringer washing machine took a lot of time and required tremendous body strength, my grandmother thought she was lucky to have a wringer washer. At the end of wash day, Granny sat on her stoop occasionally recollecting her youth when she built a wood fire under an iron pot where she washed clothes with lye soap; something she did in the early years of her marriage during WWII when it was impossible to buy a wringer washing machine.

I take a lot for granted these days. I have an automatic washer and can wash clothes any day of the week and at any time of the day or night. I have an electric clothes dryer so I don’t have to tote laundry baskets full of wet clothes outside in all kinds of weather and hang them out to dry. In fact, drying clothes on a line is rarely seen these days.

Granny certainly wouldn’t have much patience with me for complaining about my automatic washer having gone on the fritz. She’d be shocked knowing I’d gone soft, lacking the strength to lift wet clothes out of my washer and wring out the excess water. She’d probably fuss at me, too, saying, “Why the heck are you washing clothes on Thursday anyway? Shame on you!”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

August 5 – Turning Pointe

by Sara Etgen-Baker

“Point your feet! Rotate! Don’t stick your butts out! Stay out of your heels.” I looked up from where I was sitting.  There was no music; only the thump-thud sound of the dancers en pointe and the ballet master shouting. “Dance to the tips of your fingers and toes! Plié! Spot!”

Ann obeyed, sweat running down her face. “Tours chaînés déboulés,” the master barked. She struggled, her sleek muscles quivering with exhaustion. I’d never seen my aunt rehearsing. So, the contrast between seeing her stage performance where she glided effortlessly on the tips of her pointe shoes and seeing her studio rehearsal baffled me.

“Rond de Jambe en l’air and Frappé.” The master paused; the dancers gathered at the barre. “Fifth position, preparation sur le cou de pied. Single frappe en croix each position getting two counts.”  He strolled around the dance studio.

“Close Fifth position front.” Ann panted for breath. “Single rond de jambe en l’air en dehors twice at 45°.” Her corded tendons stood out like insulated cable. …“Now close to sous-sus front.

But when the curtain rose later that winter evening, there stood my aunt; her feathery light body rose en pointe.

Ann lifted her arms, breathed in the music sending it through her torso, arms, and legs. She surrendered to the music and spun like the wind across Swan Lake; her tutu fluttering like the wings of a bird at dawn. Dancing became her body’s song, and Ann sang it beautifully, her body telling the story of Odette, the Swan Queen, and her love for Prince Siegfried.

Backstage afterward, I cringed when Ann removed her pointe shoes revealing calluses, misshapen toes, black nails, and reddish-purple flesh. The contrast between her beautiful pointe shoes and her battered, ugly feet startled me.

“I didn’t know how ballet dancing was so painful!” I searched her eyes. “How can you endure so much pain?”

Ann silently walked over to her dressing table, wrapped her pointe shoes in soft tissue paper, and placed them in a pink satin drawstring bag. She scribbled a note, tucking it inside the bag. “I’m not quite sure how to explain it to you, but take these. I want you to have them. One day, you’ll understand.”

I left the performance hall and opened the drawstring bag, running my fingers over the pointe shoes’ pink satiny smooth surface and read her note.  “Each time you see these, remember life, like dance, is a beautiful art form. It’s hard work. It’s painful. It’s ugly. You sweat. You fail. You succeed. You try again. You push. You fight. But always remain graceful.”

At the time I didn’t understand the wisdom in my aunt’s message. Now, though, I recognize my aunt’s gift was not her pointe shoes; rather it was her enduring words that served as a turning point in my young life when I learned that life, like ballet, is a battle between beauty and pain.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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July 15 – Collecting and Connecting

by Kalí Rourke
I recently mentioned to my husband that in light of our multiple downsizings, we were fortunate that neither of us is a collector.

My husband smiled and said, “I think you do have a collection. You have collected the people and ancestry in your family!”

“And yours,” I responded with a grin.

People ask, “How did you get into genealogy? Did your family talk about its history?”

“Not really.” My maternal grandmother (Nana) claimed that we were descendants of Myles Standish of the Mayflower through her father William Herbert Standish. He died young in a carriage accident and was the great love of her three-times married mother, Nellie Holley Standish Kidder Smalley. When Nellie died, her wish was to be buried with William.

Actually, we all just smiled and humored her when Nana claimed the Standish connection. No one took it seriously.

December of 2006 I was goofing around on the Internet. I stumbled on Ancestry.com and it gave access to the Name Bulletin Boards. This is a hit and miss way to research because the conversations are in threads and can meander, but I was fascinated! I tried my maternal grandfather’s name, Baskett. I plowed through with an investigator’s zeal and finally, there it was.

Dorene Standish from Oregon had posted that she was looking for the family of Lorena May Standish Baskett. I shrieked with glee! That was us! I commented that I was a granddaughter of Lorena through her daughter Marie and I would love to correspond. Dorene was incredibly generous with her knowledge and time and she encouraged me to dig into my family tree. She had accomplished the heavy lifting, getting her husband George (Nana’s nephew!) approved for General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) membership. All I had to do was document the generations between Nellie Holley/William Herbert Standish through me. I could do that!

I started gathering hard copy documentation. Birth, marriage, death certificates, divorces, multiple states, and it occurred to me that I was seeing many headstones online but I didn’t see any for my family.

Dorene solved the mystery for me. Our family had not been wealthy and nice markers were not possible. Concrete with basic information on it was what we found.

She checked the local monument makers and we decided to share costs while she and George would coordinate the replacements. We decided on granite with more engraved detail and soon, it was done.

In 2013 my husband and I traveled to Washington and drove to the Woodlawn Cemetery where so many of my family rest. As we searched through the headstones of all sizes, and some markers so old they had sunken under the soil, I felt blessed that we had been able to help make this lasting improvement. Future genealogists will have an easier time tracing the trail and I was able to say goodbye one more time to Nana (Who was right all along!).

I love owning this particular “collection.”

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and serves as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance. Kalí is a philanthropist with Impact Austin and the Austin Community Foundation Women’s Fund. She blogs at Kalí’s Musings and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. A longer version of this post appears on Kalí’s Musings.

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