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Posts Tagged ‘Family Memories’

Here is a little window into the past, a window somewhat cracked and smudged and incomplete.

In August, 1946, about a month after burying his second wife, Grandad put an ad in the newspaper for a housekeeper. I don’t know the exact wording of the ad, but it must have gone something like this: “Housekeeper wanted, must not smoke or drink. Must be able to play piano.” Perhaps other qualifications included good looks and being able to drive a car.  A number of ladies answered the ad and Grandad saved their letters. Why? Did he regard them as love notes from admirers? Somehow these letters survived the years.

This portrait of Grandad was sketched by an itinerant artist during the Depression.

Grandad was 72 and in good health. He still worked his farm and chopped his own wood. He lived to be 97. But based on housekeeping skills I observed when I knew him, the place was probably a mess by the time he placed the ad.

All the envelopes were addressed to Box R-112, Binghamton Press. Was that common practice then or was Grandad being cautious, afraid of gold diggers? He was not a wealthy man, but he lived in a beautiful Victorian house complete with a seldom used parlor that contained a piano and had gingerbread trim in the gables.

What amazes me is that respectable ladies would put themselves in possible harm’s way, willing to go unaccompanied to the home of a man they knew nothing about. In those days, most women were homemakers and had few marketable skills. Once widowed, unless their husbands left them a comfortable sum, they were dependent on the generosity of relatives. The women who answered the ad were in their 40’s and 50’s, not old enough to collect Social Security. A position as a housekeeper would keep starvation at bay.

(Mrs.) Vina Capron of Brooklyn, Pa. wrote, “Dear Sir: I saw your ad in tonight’s Press for a housekeeper and I am writing to apply for the position. I am a widow, 50 years old. Can play a piano and sing.” She gave the location of her home and her phone number.

Mrs. A. Smith “Saw your ad in last night’s Press. I am a widow, neat, nice looking, play the piano and am a good cook. If interested, I’m at 37 Warren St. up stair apartment. I neither smoke nor drink and can drive a car.”

Mable Walker of Endicott, NY wrote, “I do not drink nor smoke. I play piano some. I also play second for a violin. Would like to know more about the job.” She gave her contact information. “I am a middle aged lady… P.S. I have done housework all my life. You can come here, better phone first.” Did she audition for Grandad on the violin? He was musically inclined. I don’t know if he played piano, but he played the fiddle.

Frances Erekson said, “I do not chew, smoke or drink. But I can play piano. I have since I was four years old… I have a son 19 over sea and a daughter 25… I am looking for a place, either rooms or something similar to your add. I am white and American…49 years of age.” Whether a room was part of the deal or not, I don’t know. Some of these women lived near enough to commute to the job, if they had a car.

Mrs. Lena Fleming’s stationery had a bouquet of flowers in the upper left corner. She wrote, “I am a widow forty-two years of age and don’t smoke or drink as I don’t approve of it. Am a member of the M.E. Church. Am fairly good looking and have a nice personality. Cannot play the piano but would be willing to learn.”

Letter from Lena Fleming

Blanche Page “read your add. It attracted my attention. No smoking or drinking. Maybe no drinking on your part.” (She sounds a little suspicious.) “I used to play the Piano, but haven’t had much time for it lately.” She gave her address and phone number but “If by chance you would like to talk things over, I could meet you at the Y.W.C.A… Due to conditions I hardly know what I want to do myself. I am a widow. Have a home… Can you drive a car? Well, I can if it will go. My troubles are when it won’t go.”

A lady who didn’t give her name wrote, “Although I do not pay piano except some by ear, I do not smoke, drink or swear. Am a refined widow and can cook and keep house. If you are at all interested and care to make an appointment for an interview, you may reach me by phoning any day after 3 P.M. Simply ask for the lady who answered your ad. At that time we can exchange names etc.”

These women had nice, clear handwriting. Not so Mrs. Nellie Bailey. Hers was difficult to decipher. “I now endeavor to write to you to see if you have a lady yet as I wish to get a place like yours… I have cooked in hospitals and I played organ in my church so I can play piano. I want a pleasant home and I can give best of references. I am not to loving and I can cook and I like to dress and I don’t drink or smoke. Some prefer loving girls. And now days they like to have a good time. And some don’t no how to cook or bake. Parents don’t to live right of late years.” Nellie was willing to go to his house to meet him and asked, “Have you a car?”

Despite her poor handwriting and grammar, she got the job. How did Grandad make his decision? Did he turn down the other women or were they deterred by his messy house? Was Nellie more “loving” than she advertised? When and why did their arrangement end? Grandad had a third marriage that ended in divorce. Later, Nellie showed up again as his housekeeper. They made a cute couple, sitting on the porch or walking down the road holding hands.

 

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I’ve acquired some shiitake mushroom spawn and now I’m looking for the right log to inoculate so I can grow my own. On my way to the mailbox today, I spotted a pretty purple mushroom and wondered if it’s edible. That brought memories of collecting mushrooms in my grandmother’s cow pasture when I was a kid.

In late summer when the common field mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) began to pop out of the ground, my sisters and brothers and I would go out in the early morning and gather all we could find. There is no better cuisine than fresh mushrooms sautéed in Grandma’s butter and served hot for breakfast.

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Common Field Mushroom

I remember the cool of the August mornings, dew on the ground, tramping through the pasture while the cows were busy being milked. The mushrooms shone white among the greens of the grass and browns of the cow patties. Often they grew right next to, or in, the cow plops. That didn’t deter us country kids. We always washed the mushrooms when we got home. Sometimes they grew in broken fairy rings, created by the mycelium, the underground part of the plant, ever reaching outward to fertile ground.

fairy ring

Fairy Ring – I don’t know what species

When we gathered more than we could use, we’d package the excess and Grandma would take them town and sell them to her butter customers. That earned us a little spending money. I accompanied her one time. An old lady, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, delighted to get fresh wild mushrooms, peered at them carefully and said, “I’m glad the children know what to look for.”

Today, I’m amazed at her faith in us. Yes, we did know what to look for, but I, the oldest, was not more than twelve. By then I’d been collecting mushrooms for years. I don’t remember when I was first taught or by whom. Probably Dad, but it could have been Grandma, or both. My siblings and I knew the difference between the field mushroom, which is almost identical to the mushrooms sold in grocery stores, and the similar looking but deadly destroying angel (Amanita bisporigara). To us, the two were completely distinct, but a less savvy observer might not see the difference.

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Destroying Angel – Can you tell the difference?

This is why I don’t go mushrooming in Florida. The field mushroom doesn’t grow in this climate. Many other kinds do, but I’ve had no one to teach me. I collect and eat all kinds of wild foods, mostly greens, but I leave the mushrooms alone. I can identify weeds. If I’m not already familiar with a plant, there are books and the internet. I have cookbooks with recipes for wild foods and the website Eat the Weeds http://www.eattheweeds.com/  has a wealth of information. While this author, Green Deane, has information on wild mushrooms, he prefaces it with “Do not eat any mushroom without checking in person with a local, live, mushroom collector.” I take him seriously. On his mushroom page I see some that I’ve found growing in my woods, but I wouldn’t try them (more…)

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People just don’t understand fruitcake. This time of year, when the fruitcake jokes begin making the rounds, I cringe. Every summer when I drive through Claxton, Georgia, the “Fruitcake Capital of the World,” I shake my head in disgust. I’ve considered stopping and setting these well meaning but ill informed people straight. I hardly call those white bricks of sugar, filled with stomach-turning green and red things, fruitcake. I make fruitcake. Real fruitcake.

I got started after receiving an inheritance from my great-grandfather. Grandad made it to 97, outliving three wives and a series of “housekeepers.” He wasn’t quite as bad as Henry VIII. He didn’t behead his wives, but he worried the first two to death and divorced the third in a era when divorce was not quite respectable. It was also not respectable to live with a woman without the blessing of marriage, so Grandad had “housekeepers.”

Grandad was a handsome young man.

His wives were out of the picture by the time I entered the world, but I remember a few of the housekeepers. One had a daughter who had no arms. I remember visiting one day with my grandmother. The girl was washing dishes. I was too small to look into the sink and see just how she did it, but she stood on one leg, her other foot in the sink working in the sudsy water. She wore slip-on shoes so she could slide her feet out easily whenever she needed them for hands. I assume she went to a special school. Her mother told her to show Grandma the necklace her teacher had given her. The girl stood on one foot, lifted the other to her chest and held out the necklace, the same way you or I would with our hands.

Grandad’s house

Years later, Grandad had a housekeeper around his age named Nellie. She and Grandad would sit on the porch together or walk down the road hand in hand. Once Nellie asked me about my family and was amazed that none of our many children had died. When she was young, she said, it wasn’t unusual for a family to lose several children. She told me about a sister who had died. “I really liked that sister.”

Then we moved to Florida. I visited the summer after Grandad died. Aunt Ora Mae was sorting through his effects and gave me a few of his things. Among them was a stained and tattered notebook filled with antique recipes, one of which was Sarah’s Fruitcake.

I have no idea who Sarah was. Apparently she was an acquaintance of whomever kept the recipe book. When I showed the book to Grandma, she didn’t recognize the handwriting, but she was sure it wasn’t my great-grandmother Rebecca’s. She surmised it had belonged to one of Grandad’s subsequent wives or one of the “housekeepers.”

I’m not sure what the standards of kitchen measurement were in those days, but Sarah’s instructions included “coffee” cups of this and that as well as “teaspoons” and “tablespoons” which I’m sure only approximated modern measures. In addition to raisins and other dried fruit, Sarah used citrons. I’m willing to bet they were actual home-preserved citrons, not those plastic green and red things which are passed off as fruitcake ingredients today.

That November, I made my first fruitcakes, shared them with family, and sent some to my grandparents. I used standard measuring cups and spoons and lots of dried fruits, no “citrons.” It was delicious.

I’ve made fruitcake every year since. I’ve modified and improved Sarah’s original recipe, but I still give her credit for what she shared with the unknown woman in Grandad’s life. Here’s the recipe I use now:

  1. Mix together 6 to 8 cups of dried fruit. Suggestions: raisins, golden raisins, diced figs and prunes, cranberries, currants, diced dates and apples, cherries, and pineapple. (I use canned pineapple, drained, of course.) Add 1 to 2 cups of broken pecans.
  2. Mix together and add to the fruit:

2/3 cup butter

1 cup honey (you can use raw sugar)

½ cup sour cream

3 beaten eggs

  1. Combine and add:

3 ½ cups flour (preferably whole wheat)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon orange peel

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon cloves

To incorporate all these dry ingredients into the fruit mixture will be a test of strength, but it’s worth the effort. If the dough is too dry, add a little more sour cream.

  1. Line baking pans with parchment or waxed paper and fill 2/3 full. You can dress up the cakes with a line of pecan halves down the middle. Bake at 275 degrees until a toothpick come out clean.

I use 4 or 5 small loaf pans (7 ½  x 3 ¾). The number of pans needed depends on the volume of fruit and nuts. Cooking time varies by the size of pans. Cakes in small loaf pans take a little over an hour.

Try it. You’ll like it. And maybe next Christmas season, like me, you’ll cringe at those unkind “fruitcake” jokes.

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On this Veteran’a Day, I’m posting a family story about my Dad, in the words of my sister, Sue Rogers Kreikemeier:

“My father, Russell G. Rogers, was a born storyteller. There was no end to his collection of yarns, but like many veterans, he seldom spoke of his war experiences. While most of his stories told of light-hearted adventures, his occasional comments, pieced together with his faded diary and letters home, fill in some of the gaps that he left us with.

Dad was an 18 year old farm boy when he was drafted into the Army during World War II. After basic training and a train ride across the United States, he was shipped out to the Philippines. While the majority of Japanese soldiers had retreated from their strongholds, ‘hold-outs’ existed for some time to come. Dad simply described his assignment there as ‘mop-up duty’. He recalled the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, noting that President Truman’s decision to do so probably saved his life, as his unit was being outfitted with wool uniforms which he suspected was preparation for a land invasion of Japan.

(In this picture, Dad is the short guy on the right, with his schoolmate Marty Zemek. This was not taken in Hawaii, but in my grandparents’ front yard. Dad served in the Seventh Army Air Force.)

After the surrender of the Japanese to the Allied Forces, Dad’s next stop on Oahu must have seemed like landing in paradise! During this time he was assigned the task of cleaning the officers’ quarters on the base. Photos later brought home to the States show the joyful faces of Dad with several of his hometown buddies, unexpectedly reunited thousands of miles and one war later, from home. Having attended a one room country school together, they knew how to make their own fun, and joined him in such antics as ‘borrowing’ officers’ uniforms and visiting the Officers’ Club.

When General Dwight Eisenhower was scheduled to arrive on base and inspect the troops, Dad was assigned to prepare the classiest suite on the base for the General. He, like many of his comrades, greatly admired Eisenhower. I’m sure he did his farm-boy best to make a bed you could bounce a dime off. To his great disappointment, after inspecting the troops, General Eisenhower left the base, opting for the comforts available in Honolulu. In spite of his initial chagrin, Dad was always proud to be known for having made the bed that General Eisenhower never slept in.

These tidbits have led me to explore more about what his war experiences might have included. I’m sure his story is reflective of many other stories, if they had been told, of young farm boys and girls thrown into circumstances beyond their imaginations. I am humbled by the resilience of our ‘Greatest  Generation’, who, in spite of a heavy veil of pain and suffering, were able to find joy and wonder in a hurting world.”

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Our sister Bonnie Rogers Grundel adds:

“So here is a picture of Dad’s military shadow box. Also, he got the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Per Wikipedia: “On 27 October 1943, the War Department formally established the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) and the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) awards in Section I, War Department Circular 269 (27 October 1943): The present war has demonstrated the importance of highly-proficient, tough, hard, and aggressive infantry, which can be obtained only by developing a high degree of individual all-around proficiency on the part of every infantryman. As a means of attaining the high standards desired and to foster esprit de corps in infantry units; the Expert Infantryman and the Combat Infantryman badges are established for infantry personnel.”

Supposedly Dad got an extra $10 a month for obtaining this badge!”

Dad with old Army buddy Frank Ross.

And here’s my contribution: When we were kids, we asked Dad if he ever got shot in the war. With a straight face, he lifted his shirt,  pointed to his belly button, and said, “Yes, here.”

 

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It was a dry year, until the rains came. I had to water my potted plants and raised beds just about every day. Miss a day and someone would die. In late May, the rains came. In June, we’ve had more rain than we had in the eight previous months—since September!

I had so looked forward to June. The weather in May is as perfect as can be, pleasant but not too hot. But not for yard and garden work because of the yellow flies. Their bites are painful. They come in swarms. Some years I can’t sprint from the front door to the car without getting a half dozen bites. They thumb their noses at insect repellent. I can’t work outdoors without wearing armor. June is hotter, but I don’t mind the heat. I had so looked forward to June.

Then the rains came—seven inches one day! With the rains, mosquitoes. I diligently went through my yard dumping anything that held water where mosquitoes could breed. Yet breed they did! I have no idea where, unless the wrigglers can live in humidity alone, and there’s plenty of that. The mosquitoes are so thick I can’t sprint from my front door to the car without getting a dozen bites. They thumb their noses at Skin so Soft. Insect repellent works for barely an hour.

Even if Mosquito Control came back in my woods, I wouldn’t want them to spray. Too many other things live here. Besides, they spray at night. I don’t garden at night but the mosquitoes that bother me are out in the daytime. I had such plans for my yard. I wanted to work on the blueberry patch that inspired me last month. I had so looked forward to June.

Here in the South, we have wondrous creatures called “skeeter hawks” that fly around and devour mosquitoes. Elsewhere they’re called dragonflies. Usually they’ll follow a plague of mosquitoes and make short work of them. So be patient, I told myself. Soon the dragonflies will come and I’ll be able to go outside again. But it’s the end of June and no dragonflies yet.

The Good

Why? I knew dragonflies breed in water, like mosquitoes. A creek runs through my property and there are several ponds in the neighborhood, but they can dry up during drought, so the dragonflies likely had nowhere to breed. Even with all the rain we’ve had this month, my creek is still dry. The land was very thirsty.

When the ponds fill up, the dragonflies should lay eggs, but how long before their babies grow up and eat mosquitoes? I turned to Google. I learned that, unlike mosquitoes, their larvae, called nymphs, live in the water for months or even years before they become adults. Mosquitoes take only a few days to grow up. The nymphs aren’t idle–they eat mosquito larvae in the water, but they’re not ready to take to the air for months or more.

This isn’t the worst plague of mosquitoes I’ve seen. When my family lived in Moore Haven, they were so thick even window screens didn’t protect us. Dad always claimed one mosquito pokes a leg through the screen, another pokes a head through, and so on, then all the parts get together and make a whole mosquito. Enough body parts and you have a swarm of them. Some nights they were so bad in the house I’d sleep with a blanket over my head. In summer. In the Everglades. And we had no air conditioning. But at least those mosquitoes came out mostly at night. During the day, we could safely go outside.

The Bad

Why didn’t dragonflies keep the mosquitoes under control in South Florida? We were surrounded by water—Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, and scads of drainage canals. We were also surrounded by sugarcane fields. Who knows what chemicals they poured into those canals? This was in the 1960’s, long before the EPA, and dragonflies are more susceptible to pollution than mosquitoes. Also, draining the Everglades for agriculture destroyed dragonfly habitat while mosquitoes could still breed in a teaspoon of water.

According to the National Wildlife Foundation, there are 307 species of dragonflies in the US and 15% of them are in danger of extinction. The ones most in danger are the stream dwellers, due to water pollution. Who’d have thought dragonflies could go extinct? Mosquitoes are in no danger of extinction. They outbreed dragonflies.

The most dangerous mosquitoes, that carry things like malaria and Zika, are active during the day when we humans want to be outdoors. Several years ago when I was a social worker, there was an outbreak of West Nile Virus. I drove out into the countryside one day looking for a family and found a little old lady who knew where they lived. She was trying to load some things into her car and I offered to help. I stood with an armload of dishes while she rummaged in her purse for her keys and her mosquitoes chewed my ears and elbows. I couldn’t swat them without dropping her stuff.

Finally, her goodies safely deposited in the car, I could freely swat while she gave me directions. Then she said, “Did you read in the newspaper about the man who caught West Nile Virus? That was my husband.”

Whoa! Did the same mosquitoes trying to devour me bite him first? Fortunately, I escaped that unpleasant fate and lived to be bitten again.

I’ve thought about getting my yard certified as a Wildlife Habitat. https://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx I have everything required except a water feature. (In fact, I have so much of the required vegetation that I need to clear some out to make a human habitat.) Now I think I’ll raise my own home-grown skeeter hawks so I’ll have a head start on the next  mosquito plague. The NWF website has information on building a pond for dragonflies: https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2002/Attracting-Aerial-Acrobats-to-Your-Yard.aspx/.

The Ugly

Amazing how something like this can grow up to be a beautiful dragonfly! But how can I keep mosquitoes from breeding in my pond until the nymphs hatch and eat them? Fish would eat wrigglers and nymphs alike. There is a product called BTi, mosquito dunks, that kills mosquito larvae but won’t harm nymphs. I must get some. I wish I could provide a habitat for the stream dwellers, too, but my little creek dries up when there’s no rain.

 

 

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With the turning of the year, I was reminded of this story, which took place around the New Year, fifty three years ago.

Dad was stationed in the Philippines during World War II. Afterwards, he couldn’t tolerate cold weather. All through childhood, I heard him threaten to move to Florida to get out of those Upstate New York winters. When I was around twelve, he and a friend actually took a trip south to scope things out. There, his car broke down, so he bought a Chrysler New Yorker and brought it home. That car was destined to return to Florida. A few years later, my parents sold the house, paid off debts, and we moved.

This car is similar to the one we took to Florida,

Our car was similar to this one.

It may sound crazy to load up the family and take off on a 1000 mile move with no solid goal (as in job or place to live), but that’s what we did. Of course, there were preparations. Dad built a utility/camping trailer with a canvas top. Clothing and dishes were packed inside and our mattresses laid on top. The canvas lid could be propped up like a lean-to roof, and with a camp stove and ice chest, we had all the comforts of home, right? No need to buy ice—Dad yanked a couple of ice sickles off the eaves of the house. They were as big around as my arm and people in Florida were astounded.

Our other belongings were left with my grandparents or loaded on the back of Dad’s truck which he stored in a friend’s garage. The plan was to return for the truck in a few weeks. (Those few weeks became a few years.)

Dad's old truck years later. It used to be green.

Dad’s old truck years later. It used to be green.

So, one cold day in late December, 1963, we set out in the Chrysler. This was long before mini-vans, and even a station wagon wouldn’t hold all of us. Have you ever traveled with a half dozen or so kids crammed together in the back seat of a car?  It was the middle of winter, so we huddled together for warmth. We didn’t fight among ourselves. We couldn’t. There was no room.

Besides, we were off on an adventure, fulfilling a dream.

In the middle of the night, somewhere in Virginia, Mom was driving and hit a deer. I woke when the car stopped. Mom was in the front seat, but Dad wasn’t. There’d been no damage to the car, but the deer didn’t fare so well. Later, as Dad told the story, another vehicle stopped but they couldn’t find the deer. Suddenly, the injured animal leaped up out of the roadside brush and one of the men whipped out a gun and shot it. Dad thought this was a good time to leave. He said, “Well, boys, you got yourselves a deer!” Then he high-tailed it back to the car, jumped in, and off we went.

With eight kids and limited funds, you don’t stay at motels. We were geared up for camping, but it was too cold, so we kept going. The Interstate Highway System hadn’t been built yet, so travel took more time than it does for most folks nowadays.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with our first taste of Mountain Dew, which at the time was a “hillbilly” soda. I thought it was delicious. The formula has since been changed, and/or my tastes are now more refined.

When we crossed into South Carolina, two very disparate things greeted us: a palm tree and South of the Border, tourist trap extraordinaire. The palm was a sable (or cabbage) palmetto, symbol of the “Palmetto State,” also the state tree of Florida. At the time, South of the Border straddled 301 and sold artifacts from Mexico. Now days, it caters to I-95 traffic and sells cheap souvenirs.

Sabal Palm

Sabal Palm

In Savannah, I got my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. A high bridge took us over the river, and off to the left was a sparkling patch of blue. In much of Georgia, the highway ran through mile after mile of pine forests. My parents commented on the lack of guardrails along the deep, water-filled ditches. If someone went off the road, they’d never be found. We rolled into Florida on January 2nd.

We stopped in the Ocala National Forest, near Salt Springs, for a few days. Dad pulled up to a little country store and asked where we could camp. The proprietor gestured to a tree on the edge of his parking lot and said people sometimes camp there, so we did. The man was very nice, but instead of a Southern drawl, he talked so fast I couldn’t understand him. He might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I wonder if he got tired of us asking, “What?”

We were now in sunny Florida, so we put on shorts and went for a walk down a sandy road through a hammock of palm, oak, and cypress. It was sunny, all right, but it was COLD. An arctic blast had followed us south and we about froze to death. After a day or so, my parents decided to go farther south.

We settled in Moore Haven, on the south side of Lake Okeechobee. You couldn’t see the lake because of the levy around it, and you could get to it only by boating down a canal. We stayed in a campground near the lake until Dad got a job and we rented a house.

In reflection, it’s amazing how much has changed in the last half-century. In some ways, though certainly not all, this was a simpler, more innocent time. Not many children today are privileged to have the remarkable experiences we did.

You can read more about Moore Haven and our other early adventures in Florida in “Hurricane Dora”: https://marieqrogers.com/tag/hurricane-dora/

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Halloween isn’t what it used to be. But then, maybe it never was. When I was a child, we didn’t call it Trick-or-Treat. It was Halloweening. We didn’t dress up and go door to door anonymously collecting loot from strangers. In my neighborhood we had friendlier traditions.

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My family lived in a rural community of small farms and households whose occupants worked in town. The neighborhood encompassed about a square mile, a small school district once served by the one-room schoolhouse, Barnum Hill School. After I finished first grade, the school was closed and we were bussed into town. Since we all rode the same school bus, everyone was acquainted.

Halloweening was a ritual. When we knocked on a door, the family invited us in and tried to guess who we were. That was fun. The better the disguise, the more difficult it was to recognize us. Seldom were costumes store-bought. Usually we made our own. Old sheets became ghosts, scarecrows emerged from rags, and dress-up clothes and hand-me-downs outfitted princesses, witches, and anything else our imaginations could conjure. Some clever mothers sewed elaborate, almost professional, costumes for their offspring. Everyone wore masks or makeup to change their appearance. After the family guessed us right, we unmasked and they gave us our treats.

Walking two or three miles was a lot for one night, especially for small children, so we spread Halloweening over three nights. Two days before Halloween, as soon as we got off the school bus, we’d dress up and head out. One evening we’d walk up East Maine Road, down the road another night, and the third night we’d canvass Reynolds Road. The only time our parents drove us was over to Finch Hollow where Grandma and Grandpa Masters lived. Pretending to be neighborhood kids, instead of calling at the kitchen door as usual, we’d go to the front door and make them guess who we were.

Grandma always made popcorn balls for Halloween. In those days, we didn’t worry about razor blades or poison, because we only went to homes of people we knew. Years later, I was appalled when a friend told me she went through her children’s Halloween bags before they were allowed to eat anything, and she threw out all the homemade treats! But she was one of those who took their children to neighborhoods where they didn’t know anyone, prosperous areas where they could get lots of loot. Better than candy were the homemade goodies from our neighbors, and of course Grandma Masters’ popcorn balls.

Only once did anyone question our arrival before Halloween Night. A new family moved into the neighborhood. We went to their house because their kids rode the school bus and we knew them. “But it’s not Halloween yet,” the man said and refused to give us treats. I’m sure someone set him straight by the following year.

Parents sometimes accompanied their children. My mother went Halloweening with us when we were young. Once she dressed as a scarecrow with a straw hat pulled down over her face. “I bet this is Barbara,” a lady said, as she tugged the hat up, and both of them laughed. Another new neighbor brought her children around so she could get acquainted. When my brothers and I were older, we went by ourselves and took our younger siblings with us. It could turn dark before we got home, but no one worried because all children in the neighborhood were out Halloweening.

One year I made a papier-mache Frankenstein mask at school. Somehow, word got around and my mask became the talk of the neighborhood. I was quite proud of it, but come Halloween, I knew if I wore it, everyone would know who I was, so I dressed as something else. That proved to be a disappointment to neighbors who had been looking forward to seeing “Frank.”

There was always a little mischief in the neighborhood, but nothing serious. Although most homes were modern, a few outhouses remained. Grandad had a little rental cottage with no plumbing, only a well pump and an outhouse, which was routinely tipped over every Halloween.

Ancestral Ourhouse

Ancestral Ourhouse

The schoolhouse had two outhouses, one for the girls and one for the boys. Apparently, the boys’ was adequately secured to its foundation, but when I was in first grade, someone tipped over the girls’ outhouse and we had to use the boys’ until it could be set right again. Today the culprits would be hunted down and charged with criminal mischief, but in those days, it was just part of Halloween.

This outhouse at Purdue Hill, Alabama, is similar to the girls' outhouse at Barnum Hill School.

This outhouse at Purdue Hill, Alabama, is similar to the girls’ outhouse at Barnum Hill School.

Ours was a three-seater, too.

Ours was a three-seater, too.

When I was older, our school district elected a trustee who let his position go to his head. He began making decisions contrary to the wishes of the parents, who got up in arms. The teenagers, aware of their elders’ discontent but too young to vote, took matters into their own hands. On Halloween night, the trustee found out what is meant by “tricks.” No real damage, only toilet paper, eggs, and garbage thrown at his house. He called the police, but as I remember, nothing much came of it except that the next election saw him voted out.

After we moved away, I was disappointed that other people didn’t practice Halloweening. When we went to neighbor’s houses, they’d just shove candy at us and send us on our way, no guessing or socializing.

Today, Halloween has fallen into disrepute. Some people think it has something to do with devil worship. Actually, the old Celts of the British Isles celebrated Sondheim, a harvest festival. They dressed up in costumes to trick the evil spirits, so they could do no harm. The early Christians adopted the holiday and called it All Hallows Eve, meaning the evening before All Hallows or All Saints Day, November 1st. What’s ironic is that those who today substitute “Fall Festivals” for Halloween have returned the holiday to its ancient Celtic purpose—a Harvest Festival!

 

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