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Posts Tagged ‘Grandparents’

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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Every year, the commercial Christmas season seems to distend earlier into autumn. This year, stores set out Christmas decorations before Halloween and soon broadcast Christmas music.

Bah! Humbug! Even store employees agreed.

I remember Grandma Rogers, one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, saying, “I’m going to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses”. This seemed so out of character. She was no Scrooge, but grew up in a family of modest means and reared her children during the Great Depression. The increasing commercialization of Christmas must have grated on her. Now I understand. I find myself making the same threat.

But TODAY is the day after Thanksgiving. The Spirit of Christmas beckons. Don’t worry, you won’t find me at the mall, or even a convenience store. I may or may not glance through the stack of catalogs that have cluttered my mailbox for weeks, but I will start making lists. After almost two months of Scrooge, it is time to welcome Christmas.

This holiday embodies a magic unrelated to material things and goes beyond the joy of giving. Remember the Christmas Truce of 1914? During World War I, Allied and German soldiers in the trenches spontaneously stopped fighting, sang Christmas carols, and crossed battle lines to exchange fellowship, food, and souvenirs. Unsanctioned by their superiors, this event will long be remembered as a triumph, however brief, of love over hate.

The magic of Christmas survives adversity. In 1989, we had an ice storm.  On December 22nd, my children and I visited my parents in Scrambletown, planning to spend one night. My parents didn’t know that my sister Lorraine, a missionary in Africa, was coming home for Christmas.  She arrived with the freezing rain and snow.  Our parents were surprised and overjoyed and no one minded the bitter cold.

 But we cold not get home. The Ocala National Forest is a veritable island, surrounded on two sides by the Ocklawaha River and the St. Johns River on a third. The bridges were iced and closed. The only way out was south through Lake County, but weather conditions made travel inadvisable. Our northern friends may scoff, but they do not want to share icy roads with Floridians. We are a menace.

Sunshine melted the ice and I drove home Christmas Eve. Patches of frost remained on shady areas of roadway, but we arrived safely. We came home to no electricity or heat. Water left in a jar was frozen and my houseplants were history. However, our spirits were not chilled. With a gas stove, we could cook. Somehow I procured a kerosene heater. We survived and celebrated a very happy Christmas.

 Of course, Christmas cannot overcome all misfortune. A neighbor of my parents was killed one Christmas Eve riding home on a mini-bike intended for his children. These things happen. Lesser troubles occur. When I was about eleven, some of my brothers and sisters came down with measles and my mother had to stay home with them while the rest of us visited our grandparents on Christmas. The last year of my marriage, I was heartbroken when my spouse neglected to give me a gift. But my children’s generosity buoyed my spirits.

Christmas brings anxiety. As a parent, I always worried I wasn’t doing enough for my children. Then one year, when my oldest boy was about five, he remarked that he got too many presents. I used to have a recurring dream, that it was Christmas Eve and I did not have gifts for some of my loved ones. After a few years, the dream ceased to bother me. Then one year the dream did not come! I worried that I would actually forget someone.

Most of my memories of Christmas are happy. As a child, we would wake at 3:00 am and find our stockings filled. Santa must have come by at 2:30. One Christmas we woke to a living room full of child-size wicker chairs, one for each of us. I still wonder how Santa managed that.  One season we tried to peek into what our parents had bought us. That ruined our fun and we never did it again. Before we moved to Florida, Christmas lasted all day. We ate breakfast at home and opened presents. Then we went to Grandma Rogers’ for dinner and more gifts. For supper, we went to Grandma Masters’ for aunts, uncles, cousins, and even more presents.

Maybe that’s why I still try to make Christmas last all day. My children were allowed to get their stockings when they woke up, but they were not to open presents until Mama had a cup of coffee. Even then, my preference was to limit it to one gift before breakfast, which of course drove the kids nuts.

Occasionally, we went to the Christmas Eve service at church, but I prefer to spend that night at home. Before my children grew up and moved away, we had a tradition of snacking on hors d’oeuvres and wrapping gifts until bedtime. Last year, my daughter-in-law’s gift was to take me to the Christmas Eve matinee at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre in Jacksonville. The food was delicious and  “White Christmas” brought me to tears. Although the cast faced an evening performance, their spirits were high and some took time to chat with us afterwards and sign autographs for my granddaughter.

The magic didn’t end there. We stopped at the riverfront on the way home and enjoyed the scenery and the cool but pleasant evening. A handful of other pedestrians and bicyclists were abroad. Total strangers, we greeted one another with, “Merry Christmas!”

Today, after I post this, I will start my lists: cards, gifts, cookies, fruitcakes, and groceries. I will retrieve decorations from the attic and stick plastic poinsettias in my houseplants. That makes them happy. In a few weeks I will search the woods for a suitable tree.

Today is the day after Thanksgiving.  Scrooge has been visited by his ghosts. It is now the time to look forward to Christmas.

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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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