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Posts Tagged ‘Family Memories’

djibouti-map

Djibouti is a tiny country in the Horn of Africa, sandwiched between Eritrea and Somalia, where the Red Sea flows into the Gulf of Aden. If you look at a map, the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula points right to it. The capital city is also named Djibouti. My sister Lorraine and her family live there.

I visited them in 2004.  At the time, they lived in a two story house surrounded by a gated wall, a typical residence for well-to-do Djiboutians and middle-class expatriates. Next door, in a similar house, was the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Although Djibouti enjoys peace and good relations with the Western world and has not been a victim of the unrest that plagues the nations around it, I found it a little unsettling, at first, to stay next door to the Saudi Embassy. Not to worry, Lorraine and John assured me. They got along quite well with their neighbors. Indeed they did. When I wanted a sample of my name in Arabic, Lorraine sent their watchman next door and someone at the embassy wrote it on a piece of paper for me.

However, I hadn’t been there more than a few days, when one night I was jarred from sleep by explosions and lights flashing in the sky. I jumped out of bed and ran to my window, certain that we were under attack, that the wars raging throughout the Middle East had invaded peaceful little Djibouti, or the embassy next door was being bombed, but I couldn’t see anything except flashes of light. I knew it was no thunderstorm. So I ran to another window.

I’m not sure whether John’s sleep was disturbed by the explosions or by my running through the house. He accosted me on my way to a third window and said, “It’s all right! It’s all right. It’s only fireworks.” And so it was. We couldn’t get a clear view of them, only enough to know we weren’t about to die. Afterwards, we had a good laugh.

This is what it sounded like that night.

This is what it sounded like that night.

At home, I can hear the Fourth of July celebration eleven miles away in Lake Butler. My neighbors shoot off fireworks every July 4th, New Year’s Eve, or whenever they have a party. Those don’t alarm me. But we Americans can hardly wait until dark for the pyrotechnics to begin, and that night in Djibouti, not only was it well after dark, it was late enough that we were in bed asleep. There’d been no notice of a fireworks display and we never did learn what the occasion was. Someone in the city was celebrating something and fireworks was part of the entertainment. I wonder how many other people woke in alarm that night thinking the city was being bombed.

But it wasn’t. Did my expectations that this part of the world was dangerous cause my reaction? Or was my alarm reasonable? I’ll never forget the terror of the moment, yet I was safe. When I think about people who live in actual war zones, whose days and nights are disturbed, not by festive fireworks, but by actual bombs, my heart goes out to them. If the unexpected sounds of that night remain etched in my mind twelve years later, I can’t begin to imagine what effect it has on those who are exposed to violence on a continuous basis. Here in the USA, we have so much to be grateful for.

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The first time I watched the movie Labyrinth with David Bowie, I recognized those ugly little things disguised as Muppets. They had plagued me during my most dire illness.

I was in high school when I came down with strep throat. I’d never been so sick in my life. For an entire week, I went to school with a sore throat and low grade fever because I hated to miss school. Instead of shaking it off, which I might have done had I stayed home a few days to rest, I became too ill to go anywhere but to a doctor. I lost a week of school and a noticeable amount of weight. During the worst of my ailment, I suffered hallucinations.

It was winter and our house didn’t have central heat. My bedroom being the coldest, I was allowed to sleep on the living room couch, near the fireplace. Only I couldn’t sleep. Every time I dozed off, goblins would fly out from behind the couch, fill the room, and squawk loud enough to wake the dead. I didn’t know how anyone else in the family could sleep. I was too sick to be frightened by them, too sick even to wonder at their existence. (The goblins didn’t bring David Bowie with them, but even if they had, I was too sick to care.)

Could you sleep with these guys in the room?

Could you sleep with these guys in the room?

Finally, I got up and went to my parents’ room to tell them I couldn’t sleep because, “Those things in there are making too much noise.” What things? I got no sympathy. The goblins’ racket apparently hadn’t disturbed their slumber, but I had. I was told to go back to bed. They didn’t even get up and shine a flashlight behind the couch to show me nothing was there. Maybe they thought I was old enough to figure it out for myself.

During the day, with sunlight to chase the goblins away, I was finally able to rest. Lying in the living room in my feverish malaise, I heard my little sisters whispering. An elderly friend of ours had recently died. My sisters thought I was asleep and couldn’t hear them. One of them (You know who you are!) said, “Is she going to die like Mrs. Brant?” I actually was miserable enough to die, but since I was more amused than offended by what they said, I didn’t wish for the Goblin King to carry them away.

The medication kicked in. The congestion in my throat began to break up and I started to cough up phlegm. With it came copious amounts of blood, too much for a few tissues to handle. I ended up in the bathroom. Too sick to stand at the sink, I sat on the floor by the tub, hacking and spitting. With all that blood, I thought I really was dying, but my parents didn’t act very concerned. As I hung over the bathtub, coughing up my guts, I saw something I’d never noticed before.

Our house was old and the bathtub probably older still. Our well water contained so much iron it stained everything. The tub, originally white, was almost entirely orange. Many months of diligent scrubbing had reduced the stain somewhat, and as I stared at it for what seemed hours, I saw that beneath the stains were pictures— black ink drawings of cowboys, as though someone had painted them on the bottom of the tub before the artwork was covered by iron deposits. I marveled how those pictures had survived years of staining and scrubbing. I wondered why no one had noticed them before.

When my throat took a breather from shedding bloody phlegm, I told my mother about the pictures. She must have thought I was crazy. As my fever receded, so did the drawings on the bottom of the tub. What had been so distinct was no longer apparent. After my recovery, I searched the floor of the bathtub for anything, even a rust stain, that could be mistaken for a cowboy, but I found nothing.

Fortunately I didn’t develop schizophrenia or any other delusional condition and haven’t hallucinated since. From time to time, like everyone, I see things that turn out to be something else at second glance, such as a stick mistaken as a snake. But I tell you, at the time, those goblins and cowboys were as real to my vision as the words on this page.

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I was sixteen when we settled in our house in Scrambletown, Florida, and probably in college by the time my family acquired another dog. They owned a series of them, including Rattler, Dammit, and some whose names I have forgotten. My little sisters (I won’t mention any names, but you know who you are) immortalized three dogs in a little skit they’d perform for the family. The girls would march onto the stage on all fours and chant:

We’re three dogs. Ruff, ruff, ruff.

My name is Speckles.

My name is Blackie.

My name is Jake.

We’re three dogs. Ruff, ruff, ruff.

After this, they would exit on all fours, keeping in step.

Speckles was white with black spots and Blackie was, of course, a white dog.

I finished college, moved on with life, and became a mere visitor to the homestead. Whenever I arrived, my family’s dogs never greeted me with hostility. They might bark to let everyone else know someone was there, but they seemed to sense that I was not an intruder, that I somehow belonged.

Duke was Dad’s special dog, his companion. Duke was a black Labrador, very intelligent and talented. He could climb trees–can you imagine a large black dog halfway up a live oak tree? Although Dad was not a biker, he had a motorcycle that he’d ride around for fun and into the woods to check his beehives. Duke would ride behind him on the bike. Somehow, he could balance and hold on. That was a sight to see.

Duke on a ladder

I couldn’t find a picture of Duke on the motorcycle or in the tree, but here he is climbing a ladder. He could climb down, too.

Dad’s last dog was a Rottweiler named Bee Bear. Actually she was half Lab, but she looked full Rottweiler. My only previous experience with a Rottweiler was brief and unpleasant. One day as I returned to my car in a parking lot and started to open the door, I heard a vicious snarling that made me recoil with alarm. A Rottweiler sat in the passenger seat of the car beside me.  He was probably only protecting his owner’s property, but if not restrained by that closed door, I think he would have attacked me. Upon reflection, I sure the poor dog had been mistreated because his reaction to me was brutal, not a mere territorial barking.

On the contrary, Bee Bear was a sweet, gentle dog. Only her appearance was fierce. I was never afraid of her. Dad took Bee Bear everywhere with him. She rode on the back of his truck on trips to Arkansas and other places. No one would bother his truck as long as Bee Bear sat there! Dad was not a cat person. He’d tell Bee Bear that a cat was a bear, and she would chase the cat, but I don’t think she ever harmed one.

Bee Bear and girls

This is Bee Bear with some of my nieces. These are not the girls who performed “We’re Three Dogs,” but are the offspring of one of them. (I still won’t mention any names.)

I remember when Bee Bear passed away. She was quite an old dog. It was Dad’s 80th birthday. Every one of his children surprised him by showing up at the farm in Arkansas. Even my sister Lorraine flew in from Djibouti. But Bee Bear was dying that day. Sadly, she died on his birthday, but at least he had family around. We buried Bee Bear in the back yard and my bother Ed, who is a preacher, gave a brief service over her grave. Surrounded by all his children, I think Dad had a good day despite his grief.

The last dog my parents owned was Valerie, a tiny part-hound who was terrified of thunderstorms. She would whimper and hide under the desk, and no one could comfort her. After my father died, Valerie was caught harassing the neighbor’s livestock, and she had to go. My mother is not a dog person.

Next week I will write about dogs I owned in my adult life.

(PS If you look for Scrambletown on a map of Florida, you won’t find it. It’s one of those places with no legal designation, but it has a colorful history. Google “Scrambletown” and you can find out how it earned its curious name.)

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Until I was about ten, my family lived upstairs in my grandparents’ house. When we were little, my brother and I shared a bedroom. On the wall above the bed hung a photograph of a young boy, Dad’s brother Donald, who died many years before I was born. That photo remained on the wall for decades, until my grandparents sold their farm and moved to Florida.
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I could not find that picture, but here is Uncle Donald and his baby brother Russell with their grandfather, George Brown.

In their cellar, hanging on the back wall under a thick layer of dust, was Uncle Donald’s bicycle. No one rode it. Even when my siblings and I were old enough to want bicycles, Donald’s stayed on the wall. No one offered it to us and I doubt any of us asked to ride it.

Who was this young man whose spirit remained a living presence in the lives of those who knew him? Donald was my father’s only brother, about three years older than he. He was a well-behaved child and a good student. By comparison, my dad was the wild one, mischievous, non-compliant. But he loved his brother more than he could express in words. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t talk much about Donald.

Uncle Donald suffered from health problems but no one seemed to know what was wrong with him. We only know that he died in his mother’s arms. Donald was only seventeen and had just graduated from high school. My dad was about fourteen. Losing his brother threw Dad into a tailspin he never seemed to recover from. In the middle of World War II, he quit school, joined the army, and was sent to the Pacific theater. I can only imagine my grandparents’ anguish, their only remaining child fighting in a war half-way around the world.

When my youngest brother was small, he developed a seizure disorder. I remember my father’s panic when Billy had seizures. That was uncharacteristic. Dad was quick to anger but not to panic. I remember him yelling that his brother died of a seizure. This alarmed me no end, so I asked my mother. She said Donald had seizures, but that was not what killed him.

One day I broke the code of secrecy and asked Grandma what Donald’s medical condition had been. She didn’t know its name, but said when he got sick he would have albumin in his blood. His doctor knew what to give him for it, but in his last illness, the doctor was out of town. Under the care of another physician, unfamiliar with Donald’s disorder or its proper treatment, and probably refusing to listen to the patient’s mother, he died.

My grandparents hoarded Donald’s possessions until the end of their lives. After they died, my parents packed up and moved from Scrambletown in the Ocala National Forest, where they lived for over thirty years, to Blackfork, Arkansas, where they’d bought a farm. Dad built a big house on the farm, large enough to store two lifetimes of accumulated treasures. Among them were Donald’s belongings, but I had no idea of their existence until this summer.

At our biennial family reunions, we always have an auction to raise money for the next one. Family heirlooms are in great demand. Before our reunion this summer, Mom and my sisters went through boxes of old pictures, ledgers, letters, knick-knacks, and diaries. None of these has much monetary value, but to us they are precious. They went to the auction block where they garnered high prices. Among them were Uncle Donald’s belongings.

From the handsome but sickly boy who had a bicycle, Uncle Donald emerged as a full human being. His high school class ring was among the auction items, in pristine condition, of course, since he didn’t live long enough to wear it out.

Books, lots of books. Apparently, Donald liked to read. What survived was a collection of popular fiction for boys, among them: Army Boys in France, Working Hard to Win, Young Eagles, and Penrod Jashber by Booth Tarkington. These were gifts from various relatives and even neighbors. The books are not in pristine condition—they have been read, probably by many people.

Perhaps the most interesting relic was Uncle Donald’s baseball. We knew he was a farm boy as well as a scholar, but an athlete? Those were the days when kids used a stick for a bat and anything they could throw, including rocks, for a ball. Uncle Donald must have been fortunate to own a baseball.

He and my father attended a one-room schoolhouse, Barnum Hill School. Dad told a story about Barnum Hill’s undefeated baseball season—they played one game with Deyo Hill School, and won. We surmise this was the game ball from that historic event.

I find it interesting that my father and his family talked freely about other relatives long gone, yet they were almost silent about Uncle Donald. Historically, the Rogers have not handled grief well. Unspoken memories of Donald were gathered in their hearts much as his belongings were stored in boxes. Not until the last person who knew Donald was gone, did these tidbits come into the open. Although Donald’s life was as unremarkable as it was short, he touched deeply the hearts of those who knew him, and he continues to live on in our memories today.

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I’ve been reminded of my mortality. My cousin Michael died recently. I hadn’t seen him in years, yet it saddens me. Mike was only two years older than I, too young to die. I’m told he drank himself to death.

Mike hardly lead a charmed life—his mother died in childbirth. Uncle Buck remarried to a widow from Alabama who had two daughters. Aunt Ora Mae was no southern belle, but a scrappy gal who gave him two additional sons.

Mike grew up believing Aunt Ora Mae was his biological mother, until some “well-meaning” relative told him otherwise. Although given the same love and attention as the other children, Mike seemed to feel out of place. He was the only child in the home who’d been born to a different mother. I remember a conversation between him and his brother when they were very young. Uncle Buck, frustrated as parents sometimes get, had threatened to put the boys in a juvenile home. Paul, too young to know better at the time, bragged that his mother could get him out of the home but not Mike because he wasn’t hers. Ouch.

He was actually my father’s first cousin. Dad was born to Grandad’s oldest son and Mike to his youngest. With only a few years’ difference between them, my dad and Uncle Buck were buddies. Both served in World War II, came home, married, and started families. When I was born, Mike was only two and couldn’t pronounce my name. He called me “Tishie” which stuck as a nickname until I was a teenager. Then I decided I no longer wanted to be called that, but by my real name. Somehow I bent most of my relatives to my will and was able to change my appellation.

When I started school, Mike was put in charge of my safety, to walk me to our one-room schoolhouse each morning. He and I were among the last students to attend that school. After it was closed we rode the bus together to the city schools, but following Mike through the academic ranks was not easy. I was a well-behaved scholar and he was not. In junior high, one teacher asked if I was related to Mike Rogers. When I said yes, that I was his cousin, the teacher said only, “Oh.” That one word spoke volumes.

I had an English teacher who never seemed to like me. I got along well with most teachers because I was a good student. I was a favorite of English teachers, especially, because I enjoyed reading. I couldn’t figure out why this teacher never warmed up to me. Later, I learned that Mike had previously been in her class. He told me he got in trouble when she found girlie books in his desk. How unfair! After nine months of school, you’d think this teacher could have figured out that I was quite different from my cousin.

Mike’s family lived in an apartment upstairs in Grandad’s house, just up the hill from us. He and his brothers, and my brothers and I, were childhood playmates. In winter, we would ice skate on his grandfather’s pond and during summer we played baseball in my grandparents’ field.

Then time and distance separated us. My family moved to Florida and I saw Mike only a few times when we returned to visit. I did not know him as an adult. He married and moved to California, and I did not see him for a lifetime. I never met his wife or children.

I had led a rather sheltered childhood. The only people I knew who died were old people who had lived out their years. Even during the Viet Nam Era, most of those around me avoided the draft and I lost no one I knew well. At my 40th high school reunion I was shocked to learn that some of our classmates’ lives had been snuffed out, at least one by suicide. Mike’s death was similarly unexpected.

When my grandparents were still with us, I made a point of visiting them often. I didn’t want to regret not spending enough time with them while they were alive. After I became interested in genealogy and family history, I found holes in my knowledge and often wish I could ask my elders about this or that person or event. Despite my efforts, I have regrets.

In the summer of 2009, Mike accompanied Uncle Buck to our family reunion. I had not seen him in over forty years and would not have recognized him on the street. He’d turned into an old codger with a grizzled beard. With over a hundred other relatives in attendance, I didn’t have much time to visit with Mike. I didn’t know I would never see him again. He was not supposed to die so soon.

And so I regret not having made more effort to know my cousin Michael. I also wish I had collected his stories. Living in close proximity to Grandad, what family history did Mike know that died with him? And with two more years at Barnum Hill School, what memories did he have that I lack? Must we always regret such missed opportunities?

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Grandma Rogers loved flowers. On the south side of her house, where the winter sun warmed the cinder-block wall of the garage, she had a large flower bed. I could not name all she grew there, but I remember roses, and pansies, which she loved because they looked like little faces, and the bright yellow and orange blossoms we called snow flowers. We so named them because one autumn while they were in full bloom, we had an early snow. The snow flowers were undeterred. They did not turn brown and die, but continued to bloom through the snow, subsequent thaw, and past Indian summer, until winter claimed them at last. Later in life, I learned that our snow flowers are called Calendulas.

Last year I came across some Calendula seeds at a store. I remembered Grandma’s snow flowers and thought it would be nice to plant some. They grew and bloomed bravely in the cool weather. Calendulas like full sun and my yard is shady, but when the oak trees shed their leaves, the flowers enjoyed winter sunshine. Then came spring and the oaks’ new foliage cast shadows over the flower bed. With summer, my Calendulas seemed to melt in the Florida heat and humidity.

In the meantime, I learned more about these amazing flowers. Their petals and leaves are edible and Calendula officinalis, has medicinal properties. To my knowledge, my grandmother never used Calendula for food or medicine. This puzzles me. Dandelion greens were an annual spring ritual and, despite limited formal education, Grandma was a skilled practical nurse. I was a recipient of her herbal skills when, as a colicky infant, she soothed me with catnip tea. Catnip is still my favorite medicinal herb. One plant thrives in the same shady bed where the snow flowers melted.

Calendula is related to the marigold and called Pot Marigold because the Germans used the petals in soup. Other European and Asian cultures used them in various dishes, to color butter, for tea, and as a dye. The flowers are also an important nectar and pollen source for bees and other pollinators, including butterflies.

We planted Calendula in a butterfly plot at the local elementary school. The other day, the children and I surveyed the butterfly beds where cassia, fennel, and salvia had succumbed to frost. All that remained were dry brown sticks and a few seed heads. I explained to the children that the plants weren’t dead. Only the tops had frozen, but the roots, safe below the soil, were alive and would send out new growth come spring. I pointed out some leaves that had already emerged on brown stems and said we would wait a little longer to be sure what was dead before we cut them back.

Then, around on the south side of the school, in full sunshine, one Calendula stood against the brown of winter, bright yellow flowers and green leaves belying the season.

My grandmother’s Calendula came to mind and I told the children the story of her snow flowers. I am now resolved to plant more Calendula.

 

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When I was a teenager, we lived in Scrambletown, Florida, a small community in the Ocala National Forest. Scrambletown is a tale unto its self which I may tell one day. Living some twenty miles from the nearest city, there was little an adolescent without a car could do to earn money. Even the adults had to be creative to make a living. One Mr. Godwin, who lived a few miles from us, dealt in Deer Tongue, among other pursuits.

Deer Tongue, which goes by many names, including Vanilla Plant, is a wildflower. A rosette of basal leaves grows close to the ground. These are long and shaped, I suppose, like a deer’s tongue. In its second year, a tall stem shoots up and produces a spike of beautiful purple flowers. If you brush against the plant it emits a pleasant fragrance. In the past it was used as a tobacco additive and in some cosmetics.

Picking Deer Tongue was a way for us country kids to make spending money. My brothers and sisters and I would go out into the woods with burlap bags in search of the plants. We would collect the basal leaves and go home once the sack was full. My dad would take our harvest to Mr. Godwin, who would pay us by the pound. If you went to his house, you would see his front yard covered with Deer Tongue leaves drying in the sun. Once dry, he would sell them to tobacco companies.

Even as a kid, I was mindful of the need for these plants to reseed themselves, so I was careful not to disturb the flowering stalks, but I doubt that every picker was so vigilant. As the years went by, Deer Tongue became harder to find. But I grew up and went on to greater pursuits.

Deer Tongue grows in the woods where I now live. Occasionally I catch a whiff of its fragrance. One day I noticed some growing on the margin of my son’s yard, close to a stand of pine trees.

“When I was a kid…” I went on to tell him the story about picking Deer Tongue for money. He listened patiently as I related this bit of family lore.

Then he said, “When I was a kid, when I visited my grandparents, Grandpa would send me and my cousins out into the woods to pick Deer Tongue. Then he would pay us for it. He dried it and sold it somewhere.”

Well. What can I say?

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          I must have been six or seven when Grandma Masters made this skirt for me out of brown corduroy. She cut several autumn leaves out of brightly colored fabric and applied them to the front, where they appeared to drift down from waist to hem like falling leaves. I was proud of that skirt. It was unique. But Grandpa Rogers would tease me every time he saw me wear it. He’d say something like, “There you go again, with that old patched-up skirt.” I’d argue and try to tell him that they were leaves, not patches. Of course, he’d tease me just to hear me protest.

            Grandma must have put a large hem in the skirt to be let out as I grew taller, which took quite some time. Even today I’m often accused of lying about my height.

I remember the teachers at Harry L. School saying that I was a nervous child. They would tell me not to “ring” my hands. I had no idea what they were talking about and they never explained. Of course I was a nervous child. After attending a one-room school house in the first grade, I was out of my element in the big city school. None of my schoolmates from Barnum Hill School were in my second grade class. I was alone with the more savvy city kids and strange new customs and rules.  I was suffering from mild PTSD long before such a label was thought of!

Eventually, I grew enough for the hem to be let out of my skirt. I’m not sure if Mom didn’t have the time to press it (which I doubt because she always ironed) or if the crease was just so ingrained by then that it couldn’t be pressed out. I remember fingering the hem and crease to keep my hands busy at school. I guess the teacher thought I had put the crease in the skirt by playing with it. “Now look at what you’ve done,” she scolded. I don’t remember being allowed to say anything in my defense.

It’s a wonder I ever learned anything under those conditions.

 

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Almost 150 years ago, a boy wanted to ride a carousel, but he was too poor to buy a ticket. He must have been fascinated by the brightly painted horses that galloped around and around to the cheery music. He made himself a promise that if he ever became rich, he would build carousels for children to ride for free.
When he grew up, he became an industrialist and owned several factories. He was a good employer and a benefactor to the communities that housed his factories. Among many other things, he built parks and donated carousels to the parks. There was one condition, that the cities would never charge money for riding his carousels.
This is a true story. My grandfather worked in one of those factories, and as a child, I rode those carousels.
My siblings and I were very fortunate. We lived out in the country where we could climb trees, swim in ponds, wade in creeks, catch fish, and roam about the fields and woods. The city children had to be content only with playgrounds. I’m sure that going out to the country was as much a treat to them as going to a playground was for us. But they were able to walk to their parks, and we depended on adults to take us there, so going to a playground was only an occasional pleasure for us.
The swings and slides were fun, of course, but the best of all were the merry-go-rounds. They were magic. The horses came in all colors and styles and there were also lions, tigers, and other wild beasts. For parents with babies too small to sit on a horse, there were chariots where they could be seated and enjoy the ride. Being a fan of the Black Stallion books, my mount of choice would usually be a black horse with a flowing mane.
My favorite merry-go-round had music from a Wurlitzer band organ. In my memory, it played one tune over and over but I never got tired of it. I do not know the name of the song but I can recall the melody and the words I put to it in my head. Beside the organ was a bass drum. A mechanical arm would strike the drum to the beat of the music. The drumstick had hit that drumhead so many times, it had worn a hole in the center, which was patched with tape.
Riding around and around with the music in my head, in my fantasies I was riding a real horse. When the ride ended, we would all exit and run around the pavilion to line up for another ride, over and over again, until we had to go home.
This summer, my son Joel told me he wanted to show his family where I had lived as a child and where his grandparents and mine had lived, worked, and gone to school. I did not tell him about the carousels before we made the trip. I wanted it to be a surprise. My favorite was closed for repairs, which is forgivable after nearly 100 years of delighting children, but my second choice was open and running.
This merry-go-round was in pristine condition. The pavilion it is housed in looked newly painted. Inside, around the top of the carousel, the panels painted with pastoral scenes and faces of Indians and frontiersmen looked as fresh as they had when they were first made. There were no wild animals to ride, but the horses were beautiful. They were of all colors and styles: some tossing their heads, some with fierce defiance in their eyes, and some intent on racing forward. The old music had been replaced with a modern sound system. This music was more varied, but it was still instrumental, with no lyrics to impinge on a private fantasy.
My son pointed out what a feat of engineering the carousel was. As a child I had never taken note of this. The large, round platform held 72 horses, four abreast. Each horse was suspended on a pole from a jointed rod which extended from the center pole. As this rod turned, each horse galloped independently of its mates. Platform, horses, hardware, and riders were all supported by guy rods from the single pole in the center. A motor turned the whole mechanism through a complex series of gears. Our ancestors managed to work wonders without the help of computers.
With still no admission price, and no posted age limit, I mounted a horse beside my grandson James and was carried away. The magic is still there.
I did not ride over and over again like I had when I was a child. Once or twice was enough. I wanted to take pictures, which was a challenge since the merry-go-round moves faster than my shutter finger, but it was pleasant to sit on a bench alongside the wall and watch my child and his enjoying themselves.
I look forward to going back again to ride the merry-go-rounds. Of course, it would be best if I were to take grandchildren with me.

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In my childhood, sweets were not as readily available as they are today. One of my pleasant memories is of getting to lick the bowl after someone had mixed up a cake or a batch of cookies. Today, as I was beating some batter, I remembered a time a few years ago when my grandson Tristan was visiting. One day I made a cake. As I was pouring the batter into the pan, I asked him, “Who should I be today? Grandma Masters or Grandma Rogers?”

You see, my grandmothers were quite different individuals, but there were lessons to be learned from each. Both were strong women who reared their families during the Great Depression and made sacrifices during World War II.

Grandma Masters was French Canadian, one of 11 children who grew up on a farm. She once told me that when she was a child she had only one dress. On washday, she had to hide in a corner until it was clean and dry. Life was more comfortable after she married my grandfather, a factory worker, but they still had to be frugal. During the war when sugar was rationed, they used saccharine in their coffee. After the war, they continued this habit for the rest of their lives. Grandma Masters was also very clean and I swear you could eat off her floor. It was not surprising, then, that after she finished making cookies, she would scrape the bowl so clean it hardly needed to be washed. There was little left for an eager child to lick.

Grandma Rogers was one of two surviving children whose father was a wall paper hanger. She did not suffer as much privation as a child, but she married a farmer and the Depression hit them hard. She never talked much about the war when her only surviving son was a soldier in the Pacific theater. I can only imagine her anguish. She, too, was not one to waste anything, but when she finished a bowl, she would leave a satisfying amount of batter in it. I don’t know if it was because her arthritis made it harder for her to scrape the bowl clean, or if she was only trying to please a treasured grandchild.

Anyway, I briefly explained to Tristan the differences between my two grandmothers. Again I asked him which one he wanted me to be that day. Not surprisingly, he chose Grandma Rogers. I obliged him and left a generous amount in the bowl for him.

Today as I poured my batter, with no grandchild in attendance, I declared, “I should be Grandma Masters today.” Actually though, my performance fell short. Scrape though I might, I still had to wash the bowl.

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