Tag Archives: family

Who’ll Turn the Grindstone?

ax-grinding-great-grand-1946

Ax grinding was a necessity 70 years ago. A well sharpened tool made work more satisfying. Skill in ax honing was an art. The man or woman at the grinder peddled foot pumps to turn the grindstone. Notice the grinder’s posture as he leans against the tree and holds the blade at a certain angle. He looks fully focused on the task, perhaps in mindful meditation as he listens to the steel and grindstone in harmony with the motion he creates using his body.

When I feel nostalgia* for times gone by, like this sort of work that was part of rural life before I was born, I wonder if people really felt satisfaction from such tasks. Certainly life moved at a slower pace for most before all our modern conveniences, but was it any more pleasant or annoying than our lives today?

*Nostalgia:  a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. (Mirriam-Webster  Dictionary)

How do you spell ax or axe? Where did the phrase “an ax to grind” originate? What is the story “Who’ll turn the grindstone?”?

By the way, that’s my Great Grandfather Barlow grinding the ax in this image from family archives. He was known for this skill and for growing bountiful vegetable gardens. And this image is my response to this week’s photo challenge:  nostalgia.

For a beautiful photograph of a blade sharpener in a different culture click here. The photo tells a story.

 

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The ringlet

Mom & me ringlets

How Mom worked to get my hair in ringlets! And how I wanted to run off and play! My hair is incredibly thick and not easy to curl. But Mom was determined. This photo looks like we had fun, but it wasn’t always a pleasure to sit while Mom fussed with my hair. Dad is still the jolliest man I know and I bet he took the photo. Dads take the best family photos. I don’t know if we were smiling because we loved the ringlet or because we loved each other and Dad made us laugh so easily. All of it, I’m sure. I still wear big straw hats and long hair but I don’t worry much about getting my curls just so.

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Fun!

 

Life imitates art

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American Gothic Tree Planters

Last summer 2 grandsons and a neighbor helped us plant a maple tree for shade. I want to see how the tree and the boys grow, how we all change over years, so I took some baseline photos with help. The youngsters did most of the work, of course. Working with them is always fun. We thought we looked a little like the American Gothic painting even in the dorky glasses we tried on.

american-gothic

Here’s the original art that inspired us.

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We all know who really did most of the heavy work here. 
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What family was cropped out of the original painting? (Ah! a story idea!)

This is my second post for this week’s photo challenge: “Life imitates art.”. The idea is to find inspiration in a piece of art, and go further: imitate it. You can see more amusing American Gothic remakes here.

My first post for this photo challenge is here.

Tom and Jerry Revival

Tom & Jarry Recipe
Olive and Hugh Addington’s recipe for Tom and Jerry.

Every winter I unpack the Tom and Jerry mugs and Grandma’s recipe. I don’t always make the warm drink but today I will. It feels like I should have a large group of family or friends to share the event. In our family tradition preparing and drinking this is a community event and even though it’s most often done at Christmas or New Years celebrations, I truly feel making and drinking Tom and Jerry is an event in itself and should be celebrated through all the cold darkish winter months.

It’s not simply tradition, it’s family revival, bringing to life again the warmth and friendship and security of times when I didn’t know the other edges of family life, the dark things family can do to one another. We need to revive the kind of nourishing memories we may have buried within us. We need to live in the light of loving experiences as often as we can.  Tom and Jerry can do just that. If it’s new to you, think about starting your own family tradition or revival, if you will.

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I remember asking Grandma for the recipe in about 1975 when I was visiting her. I was married and had 2 children by then and as a young home maker, I wanted to be able to share this recipe with my friends and carry on the tradition in my own home. She wrote it for me from memory, asking Grandpa for validation, and gave me the paper. I’ve kept it in my recipe box, and more recently in my trunk full of Christmas decor, until it has yellowed. Reading her handwriting is like hearing her voice, and her laughter, and breathing in the aroma of home and family.

I know there are other ways of making and serving Tom and Jerry’s but I like it this way the best. A recipe is not just what’s in it, it’s the way of preparing and serving the drink. As children Tom and Jerry is one grow-ups drink we were allowed, though I’m not sure we really had alcohol in ours until maybe we were teenagers, if then. Today I’m going to try to portion it down to serve 2, trying for 2 eggs. I wonder why Grandma used 11 eggs to serve 12 drinks. I’m sure my grandparents used their experience in determining the amounts for ingredients.

Guilded little mugs dedicated to the Tom and Jerry
Guilded little mugs dedicated to the Tom and Jerry

The mug bottoms are stamped “made in Japan”. Many types of pottery and mugs were made in Japan after WW2 when the US helped rebuild the nation we had feated.  Imagine the artisans working in factories hand painting the gold guilded letters on each mug. I tried it once and I was far too unsteady to manage a small lettering brush on a rounded surface. Each mug in my set appears to be uniquely lettered, not stenciled or stamped. I may be wrong about that. I broke the punch bowl in clearly more than 100 pieces moving it from Idaho to Wyoming sometime in the 1970s. No matter, I use only the mugs anyway since I keep the yokes and whites in different bowls for Grandma’s recipe.

I’m always curious about were words or terms and names originate. I like this version found  in an article published in “The Atlantic”:

“The Tom and Jerry’s origin is a bit of a mystery. Ted Haigh, author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, says it was probably invented by Pierce Egan, a British journalist who lived in the 1800s and wrote the popular novel The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom (hence Tom and Jerry). Egan is said to have named the drink after his characters as a publicity stunt. Others hold that a famous American bartender, “Professor” Jerry Thomas, concocted the Tom and Jerry in the 1850s. The recipe credited to him calls for 12 eggs and is served with hot water rather than milk; yet another version suggests mixing the booze and batter with coffee. The only Tom and Jerry certainty is that there is no connection between the drink and the cartoon.

However it began, for about a hundred years, the drink was extremely popular in the United States. So popular that you could buy Tom and Jerry sets, with a large bowl for the batter and matching mugs with “Tom and Jerry” written across them in cursive gold. My family owns two of these and you can still buy the mugs on ebay. People could also order a Tom and Jerry when they went out: throughout the winter, bartenders would whip up a mug to warm a chilled patron.”

You can read the full article here.

Here is another version of the recipe, one in which the yokes and whites are mixed together in the punch bowl before serving. This recipe uses a combination of brandy and rum mixed into the punch. I like my grandparents version instead. They let each drinker decide if they wanted whiskey, brandy, or rum and prepared each drink individually.

Do you drink Tom and Jerry? Please tell me your story and share your recipe.

 

A Box Full of Treasures

box and burn barrel
Treasure was shipped for Mom by a moving company, handled with care as labeled.

Tidying up the music room I’m determined to deal with each unpacked box as I come to it. Don’t just move it somewhere else, but find a place for the contents, even if that place is another box that goes to the thrift store or the burn barrel. This is not the last of several boxes of cards and letters my mom kept from 1977 through 1999. I brought them home when she died in 2006 and I’ve gone through them a little at a time. They’re time capsules.

I spent a few hours sorting this box, making piles to burn, keep, or send to my stepsister or kids or cousins. And as I reflect on these old hand written messages, I’m tempted to pull yet a few back from burning.

We seldom write or keep correspondence today, sent through the mail. Social media has taken the place of hand written letters. Letters, to me, are treasures of my family’s development, markers of growing together through life stages and historical events, signs of what was happening in my country and how people felt about it.

Reflecting on why Mom kept these, why they mattered to her, why they still matter to me, takes time. I don’t take it lightly. Here’s a short list of some things I like from this box of treasures.

I like

  • that Mom’s best friend’s cards and mine have the same style. No wonder and I’m named for her, too.
  • photos that I can hold and touch, not on my computer screen
  • my parents, our family, and their friends have a hilarious sense of humor
  • letters from my kids when they were very young to their grandparents
  • memorial cards from Grandma’s funeral, and those of other relatives who grew old
  • wedding and graduation announcements and thank you notes
  • cursive hand writing, like hearing the sender’s voice speaking to me, I recognize the characters
  • newspaper clippings with pictures and stories of my son and my parents
  • my favorite uncle’s signature initials in beautiful cursive or like our family’s ranch brand
  • my history, even the uncertain times and secrets, and all the love shared through letters
  • news and notes and jokes from all my aunts and uncles and many many of my parents’ friends
  • when people sent letters to say they have nothing new to tell, but wanted to remind us they love us

Today, no surprise, a friend brought me another letter with photos from 1976. I had to take time to think and feel about crafting this writing because after I sorted the letter and photos, making one of the stacks for a cousin, he called. He told me that another cousin’s wife died that day. She died while I was reading through the box of cards and letters, and her memorial will be on Mom’s birthday Saturday. Things like this happen to me often enough that I don’t even question the connections any more. I’m just happy that I am aware and that I recognize what a treasure my gift of connections is. All we have to do is pay attention. This experience was designed to happen the way it did.

In Writing 101 from Blogging U we were assigned to write and post a list, and in another assignment to select one word from a list of six and use it as a prompt. This posts meets both those assignments.

Harv

man walking away on prairie

In the Depression Harv moved around. He didn’t have his own home. Harv stayed with different relatives. He’d stay on one ranch and help them out. Then he moved on to another kin’s place and helped them do chores and fix things. He tried to be handy, but he was more in the way than useful. He stayed a couple of months usually. He wasn’t always appreciated, but he was family, so folks let Harv live with them to help him out. For a while. Harv made the rounds living with one brother or sister, then the next, and that’s how he got by in those days. After several rounds of putting him up,  Fred had had enough of his mooching brother . You see, Harv drank a lot and wasn’t at all helpful.

Fred liked to get up early and get at the chores. There was a skating rink in the town and Harv would go there every night and drink himself blind. He came home, Fred and Letha’s home, when the joint closed and slept it off until late in the morning. Every day. One morning when the shadowed edges were beginning to darken into things we know, Fred took Harv’s knife while he lay sleeping. He walked to the chicken pen in dim lantern light and selected a young hen. He twisted her head until he felt her spinal cord snap and then he cut her throat with the blade. Then he plucked out her feathers , dressed her out, and sliced her in pieces. He dropped the pieces in a pail hanging on the side of the hen house. He tossed the slick innards into the hog pen. And then Fred carefully slipped back into Harv’s bedroom and put the bloody knife back where he found it. Letha came humming across the yard to the hen house swinging a basket for fresh eggs, the way she did every day. She folded up the bottom of her apron forming a pocket and held it tightly in one hand. Then she picked up the bloody chicken parts and dropped them into the fold. She carried the flesh into the kitchen, rinsed them in the sink, and put the pieces in a bowl in the ice box next to the new eggs. They’d have chicken dinner tonight.

When the sun was well up, Harv sat in a kitchen chair waiting for his breakfast the way he did every day. Fred poured a cup of weak coffee for each of them and looked down at his brother. “Harv”, said Fred as he set the cups on the embroidered table cloth, “Were you at the skating rink last night?” “Sure I was” said Harv. “Every night.” Fred looked at Harv for a long silence. “Harv, the Sherriff was here this morning. He wanted to talk to you. Said there was a fight at the skating rink last night and a fellow got stabbed. He didn’t think he’s gonna live. Sherriff wanted to ask you if you saw the fight, if you know anything about it.” Harv looked at his steaming cup for a long silence. He didn’t remember any fight the night before. He didn’t remember much at all from last night. Harv left Fred and Letha’s ranch that day and he never came back. That’s the way Aunt Jewel always tells it about Harv.

About this story: Duree Shiverick, Eagle, Idaho, told me this story in her shop January 22, 2015 while she replaced the string attachment cord on my antique violin. I was wandering the shop examining imaginatively carved fiddle heads while she spoke. And then I sat on a beautifully upholstered chair opposite her while she worked and gave me the tale. I asked her permission to embellish the story and use it in my storytelling bag. Harv’s name is real but I created the others. After telling the story several times it will change. When I am telling stories to an audience, that’s often when the language emerges by itself and makes a better fit. Repetition of words and phrases like “every night” is common in storytelling. I tried to keep the language simple and straight forward. I am putting more dark or magic or mythical elements in my story making since taking a writers workshop last year in a http://www.mccallarts.org/cabinfever program sponsored by the McCall Arts and Humanities Council, and in anticipation of the Horror Writers Workshop in Transylvania this summer.

How this story originated. After I published this story I was contacted by Miki Odendahl who says she is the original author. She says she wrote it in a high school creative writing class. Duree, who gave me the story, is her mother. I put my own storytelling style to it and the tale above is the result. Stories change over time when they are passed down orally. I want to give credit to the young lady who first composed the plot. She owns the story, though her version is much different from this. I am grateful that she came to me and set me straight, and allows me to publish it here.

In the original author’s words:

Duree is my mother. I grew up in Eagle, Idaho–first on Pimlico Drive, then in the cul de sac on North 2nd Street where she now lives with my 96 yo grandmother, Velma.

The story about Harvey was originally written for my creative writing class at Meridian Senior High School, about my own rabbit in the guise of another, and was a tribute to my friend, Valerie Harvey’s, brother who drowned when we were in grade school at Eagle Elementary. Yes, my mother can spin a yarn, and does so often, especially about me (according to her, I’m a serial killer, too), but this particular story was entirely mine.

Your story was forwarded to me by one of my childhood friends, who knows this story well.

About this photo: Someone took this photo of my nephew on either his family ranch near Sweet and Ola, Idaho, or in Wyoming. I adjusted curves and gave it a shape blur in Adobe CS4. I think it gives a ghostly image illustrating Harv leaving that day, although it’s a sunrise shot. Memories and stories retold have a blurry quality, rather dreamlike and that’s the mood I was trying to capture in this photo.