The Number 69

Sixty-nine arrived on the fifteenth of this month.
It will remain for another three hundred and sixty-four days.
It gave me an unwanted bolt of reality…one not to ignore.

As an adult, a birthday and another year passing was a usual happening.  I even enjoyed birthday presents!  Then, after the one major event which struck out at me seemed to change my world.  I began to feel I was on some precipice scratching for a twig that would steady a slippery slide.  The twig’s hold worked for many months.  Then to my exasperation,  a collection of deleterious ills happened to me.  I thought I had let go of the twig and landed in a huge cup and saucer.  The cup and saucer sat  on a spinning circle that slowed only for a second.  As it slowed, another little lifetime ill had occurred .

I often think–

At fifteen you pine for freedom so that you can do as you wish.
At 20 life cannot hurt you when you meet it head on fearlessly.
At 40 your career blossoms and you smile and count your money!
When 50 rolls around they say you are over-the-hill!  Stupid–
And the next decade begins a slow spiral own to the number 69.
The future is something akin to a crap shoot….Some Win and Some Lose.

Maybe now it is the time for bit more thought:

  • Norman Cousins–
    The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside of us while we live.
  • Robert Frost–
    The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”
  • Me–
    Sometimes to soak myself in my tears and fears, I find that even misery can bring strength back to the mind.
  • John Scalzi—
    The problem with aging is not that it’s one damn thing after another—it’s every damn thing, all at once, all the time.
  • Linda Robinson—
    I have to start loving what comes next and stop hating I won’t be a part of it.
  • My Mother—
    To look backwards  does no good, look forward to Tomorrow and what it may bring.
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Alligator Alley and a 2nd 35th!!

 

It has been many, many weeks since I have made a post. During all of that time I struggled with an idea for the subject. Each time I gave up, it was easier to quit than to think!! Presently, we are traveling across the state to the western side of Florida for a friend’s second thirty-fifth birthday. Even though I know I am traveling through Alligator Alley it feels and looks like any other dismal place I have traveled through.  And, to make matters worse our car’s air condition went on the fritz. We put a thermometer in the car and now it is reading about ninety-eight degrees.

The partly open window, the road noise and the dust make me remember what travel was like before cars had air conditioning. As a child the heat, wind and noise put me to sleep within minutes, although, one trip to South Dakota was so stifling I had difficulty sleeping. My Aunt was along with us. My Father was driving. When he drove he preferred not to stop and if he did stop it was only for two minutes.  My Aunt knew this so she stated that she wanted him to make a stop for a triple dip ice cream cone that would revive her.  She also stated that the rest stop must not be less than fifteen minutes and if he objected she said they should switch places.  She would drive. He could sit in the back and enjoy the debilitating wind, heat and noise. We stopped for twenty minutes. The ice cream was delicious. My Father continued driving.

Back to our trip:  We are entering the ramp for Interstate 75. In another 55 miles we will be at our hotel. Hopefully the hand of God will get me there in half the time. I am thirsty and hot and M. and I are being testy. After we arrive rest will be for a short time, Yet during that time a handy mechanic will check the air conditioner. Who knows if the problem is easy to fix or a major headache.

Regardless of heat, noise, wind aggravation and my thirst,  I now know what Alligator Alley looks like,  I doubt I need to see it many more times than this trip.  All in all, the main purpose of our trip  is paramount to remember!!

JEFF

Remembering Momma’s Birthdays

Momma’s birthday was always a special day, even when I was small.  It was as exciting to me as my own, except that Momma’s was exciting because I planned for weeks what  we should do for her, buy for her or make for her.  For me, even then, it wasn’t a drudgery to do things for Momma that was special.  She loved life and especially loved the days like her birthday to see what we had up our sleeves.  Regardless of what we planned Momma always was estatic and pleased with our choices.  Momma always was fun, loving and appreciative.

When I entered adulthood I didn’t always have the time to give Momma a party or even bake her a cake, but the day was never forgotten; a gift was bought and sent or kept until I would see her, then first thing on the morning of her birthday I called to speak with her.  Usually she and my father had something planned for her birthday, yet Momma always needed to know what I was up to, regardless of birthday’s, Momma always was interested in how I was doing.

After my father died and Momma and I moved to Arizona I began giving her real birthday parties.  Each one was different and each one Momma looked forward to experiencing it.  So many times on the day of her birthday she was anxious to just get it going!!  Her best parties were her 75, 80, 85th and her last her 87th birthday.  I was afraid to not have a party on her 87th for fear it was her last.  It was and now this year I have all of these memories popping forth from my heart.  I don”t know how many times I have turned for Momma, not questioning that she couldn’t be here.  Maybe at all of those times Momma has been here and that is why I turn.

I miss Momma more than anyone can know. 

Momma was and is my anchor, a guiding force for me.  So often now I know Momma’s little hand is guiding me through a task.  She is here with me in all I do and tomorrow I shall be with her to share our memories of a truly remarkable person on her birth date.

I love you Momma and I shall be with you always–
Click to play this Smilebox scrapbook: Remembering Momma

The Cat that Ate the Cake

 

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Each year when our birthdays rolled around Momma started making plans. Rarely did her plans only include the immediately family because there was a grand array of extended family and friends to invite. To not have Uncles or cousins and friends at our house for special occasions would have been strange.

It would have been even stranger if Momma only served Coffee, Cake and Ice Cream. This was her stage and she often became the queen of the festivities when one of her new dishes became the hit of the party. Finally, she would say to herself that their approval was enough to prove that the time spent clipping recipes from the newspaper was necessary. I also think Momma liked the rumble of noise and activity rising from the people seated around the large dining room table.

In the fifties boutique foods were not known, nor did you need to decide between organic or regular. Most people that lived in our little community were “meat and taters” folk and they never attempted to buy or make anything new. I don’t think too many women collected cookbooks or considered subscribing to a home and food magazine. Their basic recipes were all they needed, although some women had the most delicious, one of a kind creations.

My paternal grandmother was one of those women, but she also loved to experiment with food preparation. She required guests and family to be willing to accept a variety of taste treats at her table. Any one who shunned a dish didn’t get by with it! Grandma’s precedent allowed my mother to continue the same philosophy and it worked because she was a good cook.

My grandmother and the community had a hard time accepting my mother since she was not from the same little town. In fact, my mother was from Illinois and to make it even worse she was Italian. The citizens of the little town and the surrounding farmers never accepted someone new. Unknowingly my grandmother helped my mother to become part of the family and welcomed in town. If she ever knew how she helped my mother, I am sure she would have been upset and even angry!

Since my sister was twelve Momma thought that a tiered cake was appropriate. The cake needed to look impressive and pretty, but above all else; it needed to serve many people. First there was to be a dinner for family and some chosen young guests of my sister and then an open house for classmates and their families was held’

The guests at the open house and at dinner enjoyed a tasty yellow cake layered with three filling including fudge and walnut. As children, we looked forward when my mother made a birthday cake, because there were always plenty of trimmings from the tops of the cake layers ate. I always dipped a spatula into the butter cream frosting to spread some on my piece. My sister ate hers plain and if my mother had a small piece, she would slather it with soft, country butter,

The day before the birthday party Momma was up early. First she needed to take care of her daily chores on the farm, then make breakfast for my sister and I, take some time to sit with us as we ate, (which she always did regardless of her schedule) and afterward she began making the cakes. Since she wanted a tiered cake Momma needed to bake a large round cake for the bottom tier. Because any thing larger than an eight or 9-inch cake pan available Momma became creative. Whenever she wanted this big size, she used a 16″ round white, glazed dishpan with a bright red stripe around the perimeter of the pan. We always teased her about making the cake in a dishpan.

Within a short time, Momma had the batter made for one of the layers in the bottom tier. She always prepared the right amount of cake batter for each pan size. The cake went into the oven; the timer set and then Momma continued making more cake batter for the rest of the cake. I have always been amazed that all of this (the enlarging of recipes, the knowledge to know how much batter to make, the knowledge of how to set a tiered cake together and how to decorate a cake) came to Momma naturally. After I had grown, I looked at pictures of the many cakes that she had made. I asked her how she knew how to do all this and answered by saying: “Well, I just did it because I wanted to!” I think that if Momma had pondered the problems of building a tiered cake she would have never succeeded!

While the cake was baking and Momma was making more batter my sister had to get ready to leave for piano lessons and I became entranced, sitting on a chair at the kitchen table-watching Momma make the batter. I also was anxious in anticipation of seeing the big round cake come from the oven. Half way through the baking time a neighbor stopped in to see us. He lived on the farm next to ours. Momma gave him coffee and a homemade cinnamon roll while they chatted. Leon teased my mother and told her he smelled the cake burning. Momma knew how he teased and was ready not to over react. The timer sounded just before Leon was going to leave. Momma checked the cake, first with the finger test and then if the results were questionable she would use a toothpick to test the cake for doneness. She decided it needed a little more time and reset the timer. Leon, in the meantime was preparing to leave, but before he put his glove on he stuck his finger into the cake batter Momma had just made. SMAAAACK, Momma asked if he wanted another smack on his hand. Leon left with a smile on his face and cake batter smeared on his cheek.

The timer sounded again and this time Momma took the cake from the oven and set it on the cooling rack. The warm scents of butter, vanilla and egg rose from the cake making me hungry. Soon, enough time had passed so Momma could remove the cake from the pan. Deftly and quickly, Momma turned the cake out onto a cooling rack and then placed another rack onto the cake so she could turn it over to cool with the raised center up. To cool the cake a little quicker Momma carried the cake outside to a hand-washing stand just outside of the door where she often cooled her cakes and pies. While the cake cooled Momma placed another big round cake in the oven and then continued making more batter. Soon it was time for Momma to bring the cake in because the one in the oven would be ready to cool. The bake, cool, trim and wrap routine began.

Momma first removed the cake from the oven and then set it to cool on the cake rack. Next, she placed some smaller size cakes in the oven and then headed outside for the original large tier. Within just a moment I heard a loud scream and then a fearless order-

“You mangy cat, get-go away-GD how dare you eat my cake!”

Next, I heard the swishing sound of a broom flying overhead and brushing against the wooden post of the washstand. I quickly looked out the window as I saw Momma with broom in hand chasing one of thirty cats that lived in our barn. As the cat, a very well groomed tabby passed the gate leading into the lane that gave the cat a quick get-a-way to the barn.

This cat, as well as, the others lived in the barn. They controlled the mice population on the farm. Each night my mother made their dinner, a large pot of Oatmeal mixed with the day’s table scraps. After Momma prepared their supper she set it aside to cool before she took it to the barn to feed the cats. At feeding time, the felines came tumbling in from their homes in the haymow or in the bins of oats and scampered around her legs until she would divide the food in three different containers. .

As Momma arrived at the gate that allowed the cat a speedy get-a-way, she stopped and leaned onto the gate for just a moment. Head down, broom dragging, she turned and headed back to the house grumbling.

Upon her arrival into the kitchen with the cake I quickly questioned: “Momma, what are you going to do?” Then I looked at the cake and realized the cat had eaten the whole area in the center of the cake that had mounded as it had baked. Momma set the cake down on the table, went to the cupboard for a cup and poured herself a cup of coffee.

She asked me to be quiet and then drank her coffee one tiny sip at a time. Her right foot wrapped around her left foot and somehow she was able to tap the floor; tapping steadily and quietly matched the intense look on her face and how she swallowed each cup. When she finished her coffee, she took the cup to the sink and washed it. As she returned to the table where I was sitting, she picked up her long serrated knife and trimmed a thin layer from the entire cake. Then she smiled at me and said, “Honey, Momma doesn’t have time to make this cake over so we are going to use it! A little cat nibble isn’t going to hurt anything. Help Momma wrap it and then throw these crumbs out! ” Remember little man, we have lots more cake to bake, cool and wrap!”

The morning passed quickly as we continued to bake and wrap the cakes. When the batter was all made Momma told me I was in charge of watching them bake, cooling and then wrapping them. Momma began making the fillings and her special butter cream frosting. When we were all done Momma told me to take a little break and go play. As I reached the door she stopped me and said,

“Buzzie, this is our little secret-No One Needs to Know.”

That afternoon Momma frosted and decorated my sister’s birthday. In the evening, she began cooking for the birthday dinner. During supper, I never said a word. Occasionally Momma would touch me and give me a secret little smile.

At the dinner and then the reception, the cake sat regally in the center of the table, decorated with garlands of white butter cream, pale pink roses and light green leaves. Oh, it was so pretty and I knew it would taste equally as good. Momma was right; there was no need to tell any one. If Momma had decided to throw the cake away, my sister would probably have had a much smaller, less elegant cake. In the end, we were all happy and my Mother was smiling. The guests raved over how great the cake was and how wonderful my mother was at entertaining!

Momma's Birthday Cake, 1957

 The Farm House —- Momma and me.
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Each time I watched my mother cook or bake I became excited and wanted to help so I could learn what she was doing. The different flours were a mystery to me and there was white sugar and more than one brown-colored sugar. The covered crock with a very dark brown sugar was the best. It was soft and moist and tasted like molasses. Sometimes that same sugar dried out and Momma filled a little, plastic container in the shape of a fat chef with water and buried it in the drying sugar to moisten it. I was mesmerized by all Momma made in the kitchen and saw her Angel Food whip/spoon, the spritz cookie press, the electric mixer with its big clear bowl and the nut chopper as clever animated characters that beckoned me to use them. Even though I yearned to be a part of this world I worried if I would ever be adept enough to turn a bowl as easily a Momma did when she was beating a batter; or would my flour covered hands be able to turn a soft, pliant yeast dough as easily as hers.

So often as Momma made graceful swirls with the frosting on a cake I thought, “Just think if I know how to do that, well then, I can lick even more frosting than Momma gives me”. Of course, if I tried to eat too much, she would stop me, but oh, how I wished I could do all those things. Unfortunately I did not understand how much there was to learn if you wanted to cook and bake! I wished, yet somewhere in side me I knew I didn’t realize how much I had to learn, nor did I comprehend how much time would be needed learn all the intricacies of cooking and baking!

I continually daydreamed about cooking and baking, yet I was afraid to ask my parents because I knew my father wouldn’t allow me to anything and unfortunately my mother rarely tried to change his mind.’ I needed a good plan to be successful and finally one formed in my mind.

On the morning of my mother’s birthday in 1957, she and my father left for most of the day. They said they would return in the afternoon. It was the second time they left my sister and I alone on the farm and this time they would be gone a long time; it would be enough time for me to make a cake—a cake for my mother’s birthday.

Just as soon as they left, I begged my sister to turn on the oven for me. She was twelve and I 10. Although we were close in age, she knew how to light the oven. My sister gave me the third degree about the oven and wanted to know what I was going to do. I told her I wanted to make Momma a birthday cake. She questioned how could I since I had never baked. In my little baby brother voice, I asked if she would make sure I read the recipe properly and check if the ingredient’s measurements.

The oven was on. All that I had to do now was get the ingredients ready for my sister to check. Happiness spread across my face in a big grin. Everything was going great! When I was done preparing my sister checked things out and gave me the go ahead. She also told me to be very careful!

As I mixed the ingredients, I questioned the term “cream” next to the butter and the sugar, but continued putting all the ingredients into the bowl all at once. It was difficult for me to stir everything together but I did the best that I could. I put the batter into the pans and placed the cake in the oven. The last thing to do was to set the stove timer so I would not forget to take the cake out in time.

Without another thought, I ran from the house to play in an old summer kitchen that was a distance from the house. Time passed and I continued to play. After a while longer, I glanced at my Roy Rodgers watch and saw that more time had passed than what I had set on the stove time. I returned, breathlessly, to the house and opened the kitchen door with trepidation and excitement. This was my first baking adventure and it had to be good!

As I slowly opened the kitchen door, I smelled something strange. I bent slightly, potholders in hand, to reach for the Roper oven door. I pulled the handle down to look at my cake. Inside the dark Roper oven the shiny aluminum pans, glimmered against the badly burnt and flat cakes inside. The edges were black, as well as the center of the cake. Huge tears flowed down my checks in rivulets of anguish. I cried so loud my sister came running. We both decided it was best to get rid of the evidence. She told me to take the cakes outside and dump them somewhere.

When Momma and Daddy arrived home, the kitchen was clean and cool as it was when they left. Daddy went out by the barn and Momma came to the house. As she entered the house, she stopped immediately, looked at me and asked, “Where is the chocolate cake?” I broke down in tears! Momma took my hand and asked if I had been baking. I nodded yes. She then asked to see what I had made. Eventually I took her hand and led her to the pig bucket under the big tree. Momma looked inside, smiled and motioned to return to the house.

We walked hand in hand back to the house. My tears continued. Inside she wiped the tears from my cheeks and told me if I wanted to bake then she would teach me. Next, she gave me a kiss and a hug. From that day on, every Saturday Momma taught me something new to make. The next Saturday we made the cake. This time Momma had a birthday cake from me!