Tag Archives: Women’s Stories

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 14 – The Sound of Silence

by Ariela ZuckerSound Wave

”The flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.” ~Simon and Garfunkel.

It is Yom Kippur today, but when I wake up in the morning, the world is going about its regular activities. The hum of the cars on the street as noisy as every other morning, the phone is ringing, people come into our motel lobby for breakfast. It is difficult to remember that this is a special day. For one minute, I close my eyes and try to reconstruct that old feeling I remember so well from my childhood, the sense of touching the sound of silence.

Yom Kippur, when I was a kid growing up in Jerusalem, was always about the quiet. No one drove, and the streets were empty. No music, or TV or phone calls to shatter the silence. It always seemed as if the whole country was holding its breath, and in this quiet, one could hear its own breathing, its deepest thoughts.

I remember the sharp split on both sides of the day. One minute the world was full of noise, then precisely on the declared hour, the noise ceased, and the stillness reigned. The same was the quick change the minute the day was over.

A solemn and weighty day as if in this complete silence, without any noise, one became more visible. As if words had to be chosen with care, and movements carefully match the importance of the day.

The heaviness of the day had a whimsical face to it that as kids, we waited all year for it. Since no one was allowed to drive on Yom Kippur, there were no cars on the road. We could walk in the middle of the street and knew we were safe. The adults spent the day in the synagogue, going over all their bad deeds and asking for forgiveness, while we were free to cruise the streets with our friends. That strange mixture between the sternness of observing the religious rules, versus the freedom that the day gave us children never seemed to create confusion. One thing did not overstep the other.

Until the Yom Kippur of 1973 when all the lines were ruptured.

The morning of October 6th, 1973 was when for the first time in my life, I opened the radio on Yom-Kippur. The silence was interrupted by the announcer on the radio reading in a metallic voice, lists of passwords. All army units that were called in. Two hours later, I was on a bus going north, and at dusk, I saw the first tanks of my armored unit grinding the road with their chains on their way to the Golan Heights.

After that Yom Kippur was never the same.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

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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 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.

September 2 – The Reds and The Yellows

by Ariela Zucker

The lone red leaf on a soft mat of green that I detected this morning, is it a sign of fall?

“One swallow does not a summer make,” (Aristotle), a voice inside me resists.

One red leaf does not herald a season just like one flake of snow is not a sign of a coming storm. I try to talk myself out of the winter coming predictions, but I know I am fooling no one.

The reds and the yellows are a sure sign that the seasons are changing, there is no denying it.

I look at the Goldenrods in my garden, now at the peak of their bloom, but my eyes are drawn to the top of the trees. Up there, I find the incriminating proof in the view of several branches that overnight turned a bronze-red.

“Just the weakest link,” is always a good explanation. Young branches turn red first, so do sick ones, but those resistant and hardened will not change till the end of September.

Almost convinced, I walk in to pick up the motel phone to answer the question that in the following days will become more and more prevalent.

“So, when do you think it will be the best time to come see the leaves?”

The changing leaves, or as we call them, the fall foliage, are the big draw to our area in September and October.

Within a night my husband and I become the ones to consult with regarding leaves. People from all corners of the US and often Europe who plan their fall vacation in our motel depend on our recollections of past years foliage and the forecast for the coming season.

Just like the infamous New-England weather, known for its capricious nature, the foliage can fool even the best of nature enthusiasts.

People reminisce about the good years when the colors were so vibrant, they practically shimmered, and try to figure out the mysterious color quandary so they can predict the colors for the coming fall. The success rate is not very high, especially when the weather, in the last minute, decides to interfere, and a sudden storm knocks off all the leaves overnight.

Once September starts, we hold our breath and pray. For the weather to remain calm, for the winds to stir clear into the ocean. For the rain to hold on till the last leaf will land safely on the ground and for the sun to shine in a clear blue sky.

This, we discovered, is the real secret for the assurance of good colors.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

August 12 – I Forgot

by Christine Ristaino

I forgot. I forgot you weren’t a service dog. You were what they called a “Career Change Dog” because you sat and refused to budge when you were near busy streets. You see, a service dog can’t just do that, you know. But my son needed a dog who could help him sleep, a dog who he could pet, a dog who could relieve the stress that built up before he’d drop to the floor and seize. They were called psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. And you didn’t care. You seemed happy enough in your new career. You were like a sensory blanket, keeping my son warm at night. You were the one he went to when stress was brimming from his bones, through his skin, and outward, before his brain began to seize, you were the one he went to.

Yesterday I took you with me to drop him off at school. He ruffled your fur before he left. Then I wrapped your leash around a chair at the coffee shop to get a warm tea. Who could have predicted the chair would close on your toes, pulling out two toenails and spooking you so you ran, terrified, in all directions, pulling that damn chair through traffic and finally striking a moving car?

I ran after you, but the young store owner sailed past me, gasping as the car hit. I couldn’t have foreseen you would rise from the dead and continue to run, pulling the chair with you toward more cars. It was like a slow-motion movie, where the dog does some crazy, funny, thing, but turns out okay. Only this was real life. I couldn’t watch, couldn’t look, couldn’t see you die. But unexplainably, you weren’t struck again. The store owner dove onto the chair and stopped you, breaking her finger.

I took you to the vet; no broken bones, no internal bleeding, just two toenails. Now, as I type, you are curled by my feet, my son in school. I forgot you weren’t a service dog. I totally forgot!

Christine Ristaino is the author of All the Silent Spaces, a memoir about overcoming violence. She is also a professor of Italian language and culture at Emory University, where she leads workshops on the topics of overcoming violence, leadership, diversity, privilege, writing and talking about difficult topics and creating a public voice.

 

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