Archive for Stories

Fun in CT

May 1980

When my farmer and I were in Connecticut we visited Mystic Seaport. It is a restoration of the famous whaling and ship building community as it was at the height of its prominence during the great clipper ship day of the 1850’s. Located on the Mystic River, whaling ships were built in the harbor, and businesses supplying the ships flourished in the town.

Going aboard the old fishing schooners and whaling ships revealed great wooden pens in the holds storing the catch. The sailor’s quarters were extremely primitive and absolutely no one had any privacy.

The galley (kitchen to us landlubbers) was small and had no counter space. To cook in it would be frustrating. There was a continual scarcity of fresh water. Flour, sugar, salt pork, molasses, beans, rice and vinegar were the only supplies. The guide didn’t mention if the sailors ate fish and I forgot to ask. Probably, they were too sick of the smell to eat them.

When the whaling ships left port the barrels for holding the oil from the captured whales were not assembled in order to save space. Each stove’s position in the barrel was indicated by a Roman numeral carved in the wood. They were then put together at sea, secured by iron rings and bottoms put in. After being filled with whale oil the top circular lid was adjusted and the oil safely stored for the rest of the voyage.

Sometimes the ships left port with old oil barrels filled with water, but the sailors didn’t like the taste the remains of the whale oil gave the water.

In the chandler’s shop, a general store for all shipping supplies, navigation instruments, ship’s lanterns, sextants, chronometers, compasses, and seagoing charts were on display. Here I met Charlie Zuccardy, an age compacted man dressed in sagging tan pants, blue plaid shirt, and a scruffy beige colored sweater. He was working as a guide and told us his story.

“I was born on April 23, 1885 in Italy. That is the birthday of William Shakespeare and Shirley Temple, too. I came to America at the age of seven and my father died soon after wards. We were so poor my brother and I had to help Mom keep our bodies and souls together. We kids scrounged firewood and coal from along the railroad tracks to keep our house warm.”

“We lived in New London, Connecticut,” Charlie said. “Eugene O’Neil, the playwright and I were playmates. When I was about fourteen I met and talked with Mark Twain. I married at the age of eighteen and went to work in the Palmer & Son Shipyard in Noak, Connecticut to support my family. I became a ship’s joiner and did a lot of cabinet work until I retired at the age of 71 in 1956.”

“Not working was hard on me and after seven years of retirement I came here to work seventeen years ago.” Charlie looked with pride at the ship and continued, “Then my wife died. We’d been married 62 years and I almost went out of my mind grieving. All purpose in my life was gone. I walked the streets. I couldn’t stay home. All was dark and life held nothing for me. Finally, after two years of deep despair, I sorted out my thoughts. What I found helped me back to life.

Now I want to tell as any people as I can so they can rescue themselves if they, too, are discouraged.”

As Charlie talked he had looked shriveled and an aged 94 years. Now he straightened his shoulders and with eyes glowing he came straight to the core of his truth.
“Everyone has troubles. You can’t expect to go through life without trouble. To me the troubles of life are like being out on a river rowing a boat against the tide. If you give up and quit rowing you drift out to sea. But if you gather all your strength and keep on rowing the tide will finally change and you will make it ashore. So don’t ever give up. Don’t be discouraged.”

And my farmer and I took his advice with us back to the plains of Kansas.

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Perspectives

It is important to sometimes take a step back and look at things from another perspective. Especially when reflecting on things past to keep from imagining it to be better than it really was.

May 1989

Perspectives shape our views of life

“Gee, you sure live away out in the sticks, don’t you?” said a new acquaintance as I answered the doorbell on a recent evening.

“I never think of it that way,” I replied and we went on with our business. But the more I thought about her remark the more I realized that most things in life are just a matter of perspective.

To her, I lived in the sticks. To me, I live in the best of all possible worlds. I live in a township with good roads and can be in Sedgwick, my home base, in eight minutes. I’m 10 minutes from Halstead and 12 minutes from Newton. The libraries in Sedgwick and Newton keep me supplied with books. If they don’t have a book I want, they send for it from the Central Library in Hutchinson.

The Sedgwick ambulance crew got here in 12 minutes when we needed them. The Sedgwick Fire Department made it in 13 minutes when a hay stack caught on fire.

The Wichita airport is 30 minutes away to connect me with the east coast, where two of my adult children and their families live. If I don’t want to fly, Amtrak gets me to the east coast in about 36 hours and stops in Newton.
I have all this, but also the peace and quiet of the country and good neighbors who are a blessing. I have Emma Creek to walk along. I have peaceful twilight hours. I have the birds, the soft green fields and the wide Kansas skies. I am only lonely if I let myself be.

In thinking of the overpowering importance of perspective, I remember my high school days at Abbyville as happy. Everyone in school was poor. I’m sure we would have been eligible for relief programs if there had been any to apply for. The girls had two cotton dresses for school and a better dress for Sunday. The boys wore overalls that had patches sewed on top of patches.

The high school library was inadequate, but our teachers were dedicated to helping us learn. Honora Becker, who later was a professor of English at Bethel College, introduced all of us country kids to Shakespeare with her detailed teaching of Julius Caesar.

We had just moved back to my mother’s birthplace so, as a freshman, I was the new kid in school. When, at the end of the first week I was elected president of the freshman class, I was elated. From most perspectives this was no big deal, since there were only 10 freshmen. But from my perspective, it was the equivalent of being elected governor of Kansas.

The school was so small everyone who wanted to could be on the first team. I’ll never forget the thrill of winning the Reno County championship in volleyball my senior year. Glen Moore, who still lives in Wichita, was our coach.
As we grow older, there is a temptation to talk of the good old days when everyone was honest, marriages lasted a lifetime and hard work was the key to success.

But from another perspective, how good were the good old days for pioneer families who worked from morning to night? How good were the good old days when women often died in childbirth and babies died of whooping cough, measles and diptheria? When little children were doomed to a life time in a wheelchair from the ravages of polio? When cataracts condemned a person to spend his years in darkness? How good were they for the children who lived out their short lives laboring long hours in the sweatshops? How good were they for the slaves living in fear of lynchings and beatings for no reason at all?

Perhaps the good old days were good if you were a man, white and very rich. But even they died of cholera, pneumonia and tuberculosis just like the women, children and slaves.

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Spring Time

May 14, 1987

With spring settling in and the lawn growing like mad, a garden to plant, the asparagus to pick and freeze, and the social life of a small community to keep up with, May is a month full of activity for most of us.

But I’m going to find time to go quietly outdoors and enjoy the sunshine and the balmy southern breezes. People who aren’t in awe with Kansas call those same breezes hot winds, but I prefer to give them a nice name and enjoy the fresh air they bring in as they blow by.

Here are some recipes that can be made up fairly quick and then reheated in the microwave as you linger outside past the time to start supper.

Rye Bread

1 cup rye flour

1 cup unbleached flour

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon caraway seed

6 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup raisins

Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter with pastry blender. Stir in milk and raisins. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan before removing.

You can also add a half cup of sunflower seeds to this recipe.

I made up a double recipe and had a little trouble adjusting the taste. I’m pretty sure I’ll leave out the raisins next time. It is good served with cheese and also good as toast. After eating it for three days I’m growing more fond of it. Nutritionally, this bread is a good deal.

Several of asked for the recipe for the Spanish Rice thaw was at the Sedgwick-Halstead UMW luncheon meeting. Here it is, but it is one of those recipes that can be varied for individuals taste preferences.

Spanish Rice

1 cup raw rice

1 pound hamburger

1 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons Worcestshire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

5 cups tomato sauce

1 cup cooked cracked wheat

6 cheese slices

Cook rice according to package directions. Cook peppers and onions in the hot oil until translucent. Remove from skillet. Lightly brown hamburger. Drain well. Add rest of ingredients, but just add 2 cups of the tomato sauce. Simmer for 2 hours adding the rest of sauce as needed. After 1 1/2 hours add the cooked cracked wheat.

When sauce is thick add the rice and simmer until blended. Top with cheese and serve.

Bitki

3 slices bread

1 pound hamburger

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups small cooked potatoes

1 cup commercial sour cream

Soak bread in water for five minutes. Drain and mix with hamburger, onion, salt and black pepper. Shape into patties and saute in hot butter. Remove patties to a small casserole and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

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Spice it up this Weekend

After a brief break I’m back. Here is a great article about some family friends along with some great recipes for some Indian dishes.

April 1984

In a white, two- story house high on a hill in a small Connecticut town Kaberi Chakraborty from Calcutta cooks Indian style food in her American style kitchen.

Since her home is the second floor of my kids’ New England house, the savory smells from her kitchen often floated down the indoor stairway while I was visiting there in January. Quite often, to my joy, Kaberi also floated down with a plate of choice morsels to be sampled – sometimes there was enough for a whole family of hungry food samplers.

While we visited it was easy for Kaberi and me to bridge the cultural gap with our mutual interests in both food and children – her two and my grandson whom she cares for during weekdays. Her good command of the English language also helped. Most of Kaberi’s past life spent in Calcutta was far removed from my Midwestern life experiences, but we shared together common concerns about home and family.

She and her husband, Phanindra, and daughter Sangeeta, now sixteen, came to the United States 6 years ago. They are of the higher class Brahmins (though officially abolished in India the caste system still exists) and are Hindus. Kaberi’s mother is an actress. He worked in a bank in India, but is an office manager now.

Phanindra and Kaberi’s marriage was arranged by there families. They never saw each other until their wedding day. According to Sangeeta her parents love and respect each other and the marriage is very successful. After coming to America the Chakrabortys were elated to have a son, Somudra, now five years old. He’s one of the fastest and brightest kids I’ve ever seen.

Phanindra loves to play chess with his men friends and he is in the professional class of bridge players. Like most of his American compatriots he helps with the homework. Kaberi is very influential in the daily affairs of the household, presiding over it graciously in her Indian style clothing. The rest of the family wears American clothes and Sangeeta looks identical to any other American teenager.

Here are the recipes Kaberi is sharing with us:

Samosas (Curried Pastries)

Pastry:

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup ghee (clarified butter)

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk soured with a little lemon juice

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Filling:

6 large potatoes

1 cup green peas

½ cup raisins

½ cup peanuts

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

4 teaspoons cumin powder

2 ½ teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoons ground red pepper

4 tablespoons oil

Peel potatoes and cut in small pieces. Heat oil in heavy pot, add the potatoes, peas, spices, salt and sugar. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes on low flame with the cover on. Add a little water if necessary. Add the peanuts and raisins. Stir well.

Method: Stir the flour in a bowl, rub in the ghee and add the salt. Stir in the soured milk gradually to form a hard dough which is velvety to the touch. Chill.

Break the dough in pieces. Roll out into very thin circles. Cut in half. Spoon a little filling in the center of each semi-circle. Fold in half to make a triangular cone shape, enclosing the filling. Moisten the edges of the dough with sour milk and press together to seal.

Deep-fry in hot oil for about one minute until the pastry is golden brown. Drain. Serve hot..

**Ghee is butter after it has been slowly cooked until light brown. The clear oil poured off from the milky residue and stored to be used when ghee is needed.

Makes about 25.

Puri or Luchi

½ cup whole wheat flour

½ cup white flour

½ cup oil

¼ cup water, approximately

Mix all but water. Add enough water to make a soft pliable dough. Knead until smooth.

Divide into 10 small balls. Roll on floured board into a 4-inch circle. Fry in hot oil. Keep warm in oven while frying others. They will puff up and float to the top while being fried.

Red Lentil Dal

1 cup red lentils

½ teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin powder

3 cups water

1 tablespoon oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 hot yellow or green pepper

Cook first five ingredients until mushy, (approximately 45 minutes). Mix with beater. Fry onion, garlic and pepper in oil. Add to the dal and cook 5 minutes. Serve with rice.

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Couponing

March 1981 

Recently, a Wichita TV station interviewed a woman who saved $150 a month on her grocery bill by devoting only four hours a week to collecting coupons and redeeming refund forms.  During the several days she was on the program she gave listeners a crash merchandising course in how to develop the skills needed to cash in on this remarkable bonanza of $1,800 a year.  Since the time she spent couponing produced almost ten dollars an hour it is obvious couponing has housekeeping beat hollow.

After hearing this advice I know that all anyone needs to do to make money at the grocery store is a good pair of scissors, a strong clipping arm, a shoe box file for the clipped coupons, a sturdy container for the mountains of ripped- off box tops and soaked off labels, a large supply of stamps for mailing in the refund forms, and a still larger supply of patience to wait the six to eight weeks until the new coupons, the merchandise, and the money begin to roll in.

Then, I gather, if by then the housewife still believes in the tooth fairy, but hasn’t save $150 a month she can hurry faster, clip more coupons, soak off more labels, and build more shelves to hold all the items over- flowing the kitchen cupboards.

She can get down to work and concentrate on developing strategy for a triple play to catapult her into the big time.  If this triple play succeeds she should end up with 37 rolls of paper towels at a total cost to her of 19 cents.

She will remember to keep car’s gas tank full in order to quickly drive to another store within forty miles that is having a double coupon day where the rewards of this game are doubled.

She will keep so busy buying Uncle Ben’s Converted Brand Rice with a ten cents off coupon she won’t even notice that ordinary unconverted rice is a much better buy.

Now wouldn’t it be great if John Deere, International harvester, or Massey Ferguson woke up and let our farmer husbands in on this dazzling discovery sweeping the country on how to get something for a scrap of paper and ten box tops?

How would you like to clip a coupon that offers a new combine if you’ll just send in three ripped off old combine tops and an acre of land?  Perhaps, John Deere could put out a refund form good for 75 cents on the price of a new plow if the farmer sends in four rusty plow shares and a copy of Home on the Range. Or better yet, how about a coupon good for an eighty pound bag of fertilizer if the farmer just sends in a slightly worn- out farm wife and his 1980 income tax form?

Then if all this couponing actually gets the economy to zooming skyward the federal government might wake up and offer the Arabs a whole bunch of coupons, each good for either a camel or a camera when they send in a tanker of oil.

Won’t it be Utopia? The people smart enough to coupon will be living for nothing and the ones too dumb to coupon will still be keeping house and farming.

Now, where did I leave my scissors?

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Christmas Cleaning Proves a Snap

How much do you do to get ready for Christmas?

 

December 1989

 

Christmas Cleaning Proves a Snap

 

In the November 11th issue of The Kansan my attention was caught by the headline “Holiday cleaning a snap with right methods.” Now here was a story after my own heart because if there is anything I need right now, just before Christmas, it is learning how to make housecleaning a snap.

In the past the only snap in housecleaning for me has been the snap in my back when I sink to my knees to scrub the kitchen floor. But I pride myself on being open to new ideas, so before I pass judgment on this new snap method of housecleaning. I’d better give it a try.

Reading on I found the first item of instruction was what to do if the guests were on their way and you discover a chip or two in your best crystal.

“Don’t panic,” was the advice, “just use emery paper on the small chips and nicks – use the finest grade available, moisten and rub over the chip until it smooths out.” This sounds sensible so I decided to try it. But first, I had to locate my best crystal (also, my only crystal). After a search I found it hiding behind a miscellaneous assortment of plastic cups and jelly glasses on a top shelf. It passed inspection with a lovely variety of chips that qualified for the smoothing out process.

Now, where was the emery paper? I located some sandpaper, but the article warned against using that – too rough, it said. Finally I discovered a circular piece of paper that I recalled having seen used on an emery wheel a long time ago. With high hopes I set to work. A half an hour later the nicks were still there but the skin had disappeared from the tips of my fingers.

One of the next enumerated jobs called for cleaning the outside of the house with a pressure washer spray that powers off dirt and grime. I sallied forth to check the outside of the house. My spirits lifted. “This will be a snap.” I said, “as soon as I find a pressure washer.”

Years ago we had one for cleaning the milking barn and it worked great when it worked. Now that I needed it I couldn’t find it so I decided to get through the holidays with an unwashed exterior rather than spend the money I had earmarked for Christmas presents for the grandkids on a new pressure sprayer.

Anyway, with my luck if I had the exterior walls of the house immaculate the Christmas Day weather would be too snowy and cold for the guests to gather around the outside of the house and exclaim, “Isn’t this siding the cleanest in all of Harvey County? Not a speck of dust on it.”

I turned my attention back to the paper and read the paragraph about cleaning the fireplace so Santa Claus could step out of it on Christmas morning with all his fur white and shining. Now I don’t have an authentic fireplace, but I do have an open fire in a Franklin stove and I’m sure Santa would not emerge spanking clean from the chimney no matter what gigantic cleaning feat I attempted. No use to try. So it looks like Santa will just have to fly back to the North Pole and put on a fresh suit of clothes after he makes his visit here.

The next instructions for snap cleaning called for shining up the household brass (doorknobs, etc.). They were tantalizingly simple – just use a lemon rind dipped in a little salt, rinse and buff before applying a coat of wax. Feeling a bit tired from all of the decisions I had been making I decided to sit down and make a glass of lemonade out of the juice of the lemon, before the rind and I went to work. When we did, I discovered my brass door knobs were too old to take a shine so I abandoned the lemon rind to the garbage disposal.

Now the final activity before the coming of Christmas was a speedy cleaning of the crystal chandelier in the living room. The directions were to cover each light bulb with a plastic bag securing it with a rubber band before spraying the pendants with glass cleaner. The zing of the rubber band snapping on to the neck of the light bulb might qualify as the elusive snap or the snap might be the housewife’s neck as she fell off the stepladder while stretching to get each pendant covered with spray.

Suddenly, I made a snap decision. If I did all this snap cleaning I’d have to forego buying the Christmas presents, writing notes on the Christmas cards and making the peanut brittle, tea balls and peppernuts that are family traditions. I’d never have the time or strength left to put up and decorate the Christmas tree or go to the Christmas programs or read the grandchildren the story of that long ago night in Bethlehem when Christ was born.

So I’m canceling cleaning the house by the snap method for now. Maybe, next year.

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Brotherly Love

I feel so lucky to have my brother’s reaction to my birth written down to be read and laughed about years later.

October 17, 1984

The October sun filtered down on the streets of Putnam, Connecticut. In the white two story house set high above the busy street the phone rang.

“Hello,” followed by expectant silence.

“Hello. The baby was born just five minutes ago. A girl and everyone is fine. Will you tell Chris?”

“Oh that’s wonderful,” I responded. “I’m so happy and I’ll tell Chris right away. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

Christopher, playing with Castle Grayscull in his bedroom, looked up when I sat down on the bed.

“Chris, Daddy just called and you have a baby sister.”

Christopher’s brown eyes looked right through me and he didn’t bother to answer. Secure in his four- year tenure as top kid in Mom and Dad’s heart his attitude reflected his thought.

“Well, what did you expect? I’ve heard too much about that baby already. Now she’s here. No big deal!” and he went back to his play. That evening when Daddy came home from the hospital Chris didn’t ask about the baby or show any interest in her at all.

The next day, dressed in brown corduroy overalls and matching striped shirt, Christopher went with his Daddy and me to the hospital in Massachusetts. Feeling very independent he scrambled in the car, climbed into his car seat, snapped his seat belt with a brisk click, and rode away, king of all he surveyed. The Interstate stretched through the wooded hills rioting with deep yellow, rusty oranges and brilliant scarlets.

After Daddy parked the car Chris hopped out and holding Daddy’s hand firmly, he trudged up the long steps heading to the tall red brick hospital. He maintained his best man of the world attitude in the elevator and down the hall to Momma’s room.

She, dark curly hair tousled, lay among the pillows in a pink satin negligee.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, Honey. How’s my boy?” Momma reached out and smoothed Chris’ hair.

“Fine.”

“Climb up on the bed so I can hug you,” Momma said as she reached to help him up.

“What’s that?” Chris asked pointing toward the bedside table.

“A thermometer, dear. Daddy has gone to get the baby now so you can see her. Won’t you like that? We’ve named her Carolyn.” And Momma gave him a big hug.

“Daddy bought me a new Gobot. It turns into a submarine. Want to see it?” Chris dug down into his pants pocket to produce the treasured toy.

Just then Daddy and Carolyn came in. “Oh, look, Chris, here’s your baby sister.”

Tenderly his parents showed Carolyn to him and waited expectantly for Chris to melt at her winsome charm and become a proud and protective big brother.

Chris did not melt. He glanced casually at her and began to organize his resources for a complete exploration of the hospital room. He climbed down to the floor, smelled the roses and chrysanthemums on the window ledge, drank out of the water pitcher, turned on the call light and peeked under the curtain at the patient in the next bed.

Room investigation completed, Chris scaled the bed for a two minute cuddle with Momma, slid down to the floor and made ready to move on to bigger challenges. At this point Daddy interceded.

“Chris, would you like to hold Carolyn?”

“No, I’m going to the bathroom,” he said as he turned the knob on the door.

When he came out Daddy tried again. “Carolyn would like for her big brother to kiss her.”

“I want to go home now and watch ‘Masters of the Universe.’” He reached for his coat.

So the visit ended with a brief kiss for Momma and none for Carolyn.

 

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