What we carry home

 

Dennis uses a hot knife to melt wax off a frame of capped honey 

After several delays due to disagreeable weather, Dennis and I assembled my honey extractor yesterday afternoon. Well, let’s say I leaned heavily upon my neighbor’s mechanical experience with wingnuts, bolts, and washers.

Many moons had passed since I’d successfully found the right place for each part enclosed in the Ziploc baggie inside the stainless steel bin. Other than the spout that pours the golden honey into bottles, there’s nothing friendly about the machine. The name makes my teeth ache.

                 Since Dennis doesn’t own a honey extractor, months ago I’d offered to host a honey party in my pavilion. The more hands the merrier when it comes to handling sticky honey frames and cleaning up afterward. Before you know it, you’ve spent the day in congenial conversation.

“I don’t know why my colony collapsed last summer,” Dennis said. “They left some good honey.”

“And I don’t why my bees died this past winter,” I replied. “I couldn’t believe my eyes this spring when I counted thirteen frames of capped honey.”

“Then, let’s get you started,” he said.

After a refresher course with the electric, hot knife for melting the wax from the capped honey, I was on my own.

“Hey! Slow down with that knife,” Dennis said while he illustrated the proper method. “And don’t saw the honey. It’s not wood.”

                Within half an hour we had inserted six of my medium frames into the extractor and pressed the “on” button. The noise began as the machine and its stand shimmied, although we’d stabilized the foundation with a cinderblock and rocks.

 Dennis stopped the motor. “The weight of the frames must be unbalanced,” he said, lifted the lid, and rearranged the six frames. Repeatedly. Still, the extractor rattled the two chains that connected it to the stand.

Meanwhile, I leaned my weight upon the lid until we’d spun my thirteen frames.

“Now your honey,” I said.

We discovered his frames heavy with capped honey were too large for my extractor designed for medium frames.

“I thought this might be the case,” Dennis said.

 Well-advised to use the smaller sized frame due to the weight of a box of capped honey, I purchased the medium frame extractor years ago. “After all your help, I’m sorry you’re not taking home a bucket of honey.”

“That’s okay. Let’s do the medium box I brought.”

Simultaneously, we uncapped his honey and talked about our childhoods. “Where’d you grow up?” I asked Dennis.

“Dearborn. One of my buddies introduced me to Rhonda.”

I’ve known Rhonda for forty years. We met in the church we attended in Detroit where I also met Gina, one of Rhonda’s younger sisters. Gina and I were neighbors and often exchanged recipes. She left us her delicious apple cake as her legacy.

“Rhonda’s a gourmet cook,” Dennis said. “I’m the luckiest man in the world. She’ll have a delicious meal ready when I get home.”

“Do you two like asparagus?”

“We love it!”

Dear Reader, Dennis didn’t spin off much honey. Rather, he carried home several pounds of my homegrown asparagus.


It's a beautiful morning

 

Dwarf iris in my lower backyard garden

My sunrise exercise, I fill two water jugs in the basement washtub, pull on my red chicken boots, and open the sliding door-wall. The hens will be good and thirsty.

Stepping into a sunny, newborn day robust with birdsong, the first white dwarf iris to bloom nestled between boulders, greets me. She’s a luscious contrast before the green and flowering landscape—a gardener’s joyful surprise for accidentally planting her rhizomes in the right place.

            I smile and sing, “It’s a beautiful morning, ooh-ahh,” as I walk downhill to the henhouse.

That’s all I remember of the lyrics and determine to find them on the internet after breakfast. And who wrote and sang this soulful ode to daybreak? The tune vaguely relates to the troubled times of my late teens.

The Isa Browns huddle before the closed chute, squawking for liberation into their pen. “I’d be hollering too,” I say. “It’s a beautiful morning!”

            I sing while turning their straw, refreshing their grain bin and waterer in their roosting room. They’ve left me five eggs in the straw, one in the grain feeder—our first flock in fifteen years to manage such a strange thing.

The seventh hen, a retired Isa Brown, hasn’t produced for months. Yet, the matron’s a good influence on her housemates. And I prefer the number seven to six.

            They’ve tipped their waterer again and wet the straw. I head for the pavilion’s storage room for a low stool to stabilize the waterer and minimize my work.

A mother robin flies from a nest built years ago in a wreath hung on a pavilion post. I see two mouths wide open begging for bugs, and their undeveloped eyes. “It’s a beautiful morning, babies. Mama will be back soon.”

When I enter to the hens’ pen and refill their second waterer, those silly girls drink water I spilled on the ground while cleaning the container’s trough! Why bother? 

Later, after a fresh scrambled egg and asparagus meal, I discover Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, wrote the song. Both members of the American rock band they dubbed The Rascals, they claim the inspiration for the lyrics came the morning after a successful performance in Honolulu, Hawaii, in June 1968.

Well, isn’t every morning beautiful morning in Hawaii?

According to Wikipedia, personal interviews, and Facebook, Cavliere and Brigati, my seniors, remain active musicians. Perhaps it’s taking in all that fresh air, and “children with robins and flowers, sunshine caresses each new waking hour,” that keeps them ticking.


 In conclusion, dear Reader, “I think I’ll go outside a while and just smile. It’s my chance to wake up and plan another brand new day. Either way, it’s a beautiful morning.”

“Each bird keeps singing his own song. So long, I’ve got to be on my way, now. I’ve got to cover ground.” There’s my first bleeding heart blooms to welcome.

And there’s Cuddles my cat, drinking from the birdbath again.          

Ahh...what a beautiful morning!

             

Cuddles our cat drinks from the birdbath in the lower garden

           


Ain't got time to die

 

Lapeer County Concert Choir presents their 53rd. Season Spring Concert, May 6, 2022

Erna parked in my driveway at 5:45 p.m., fifteen minutes earlier than our take-off time. A good friend who resides in Romeo with her husband, I appreciate Erna’s punctuality.

She wore a pink jacket and black pants, a floral scarf swathed gracefully around her neck. I chose my yellow-flowered spring coat over a blue floral blouse and black pants. Our love of flowers abides within and upon us.

My guest brought a bag of cookies. “From the freezer,” Erna said. Her freezer’s famous in these parts.

                No, that’s not why I offered her the ticket my husband declined for the 53rd Season Spring Concert by the Lapeer County Concert Choir. Erna would’ve been content in her flower and vegetable gardens, so I was grateful she granted me the last few hours of Friday’s daylight. Companionship makes the concert experience more meaningful.

I’d earlier warned Erna of the embarrassing condition of my perennial island, the focal point of our circle drive. Garlic chives invade the garden again. After fighting that hideous plant for years, I’ve not stepped a foot into the ring this spring. Could it be post-traumatic weed syndrome?

Erna shook her head at the troublesome mess. She knows the labor I face.

Sometimes it comes down to this during growing season: a writer has to choose between glorious, colorful blooms, or submitted stories. I don’t have time for both.

Erna drove. I directed. We admired the landscape going north into Metamora—green as I remembered Ireland.

“How old were you when you left Romania for America?” I asked.

“Thirteen.”

“A tender age for such a journey,” I thought out loud.

Erna’s blue eyes sparkled. “I’ll never forget it.”

“How long did it take to cross the Atlantic?”

“Ten days. I was sea-sick seven days.”

“That’s fast for a transcontinental trip,” I said.

“It was war ship.”

“You weren’t frightened?”

“No. We were so thankful to have a family in America sponsor us.”

“What do you remember most about the voyage?”

                “The food. It was delicious. We all ate in a big hall where the sailors ate.” She says discreetly, “And the stench of the latrines.”

I could imagine.

                Erna parked in the Hunters Creek Community Church lot in time to greet my two favorite Lapeer Concert Choir sopranos, Marilyn Buchman and Anne Roszczewski.

Erna and I claimed our programs and seats. The choir proceeded up the aisle to the platform and opened their books in unison. The director lifted his baton.

Throughout the program of Bluegrass gospel songs, Erna and I glanced to one another in agreement, moved by the American spirituals.

The choir concluded with Hall Johnson’s “Ain’t Got Time to Die”, a credo that reminds me to consider whom I serve.

Lord, I keep so busy servin my Master

Keep so busy servin my Master

Ain’t got time to die

Cause when I’m given my all

I’m servin my Master

Ain’t got time to die

Dear Reader, I keep so busy writin my stories, ain’t got time to weed.  


Daughters of the American Revolution bring the house down

 

Connie on far left with other models of 400 years of American fashion show

“I’m gathering proof of my family lineage to apply to the Daughters of the American Revolution,” my friend Connie said a year ago.

                I wasn’t surprised. Throughout our long, intermittent friendship, I’ve observed her zeal for family history and community service. What little I knew of the DAR, the organization seemed a good fit for her.

                Women of like minds, I recalled my McCoy family history, the infamous Hatfield-McCoy Feud—not as honorable as the George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson legacies.

With these national leaders and literature like Andrea Wulf’s “Founding Gardeners,” my interest in the history of the Revolutionary War, Continental Congress, and Constitutional Convention grew.

However, without my forerunners’ birth and marriage certificates, how could I obtain proof of an “ancestor who aided in achieving American independence”? 

I had little time to pursue such documentation. Sustaining my household, writing life, gardens, a few memberships in those categories, and friendships, consumed my personal resources.  

What would I choose to exchange for achieving proof of my lineage for service in the DAR?

None of the above.

                I forgot the Daughters. Months later, opportunity knocked again when Connie emailed.

Second half of Daughters of American Revolution fashion show

“My Nipissing DAR chapter is hosting a fashion show in Metamora’s Historic Town Hall this Saturday. I’ll be modeling my wedding gown. Would you like to join us? The theme is 400 Years of Fashion.”

                 Well, Connie may not enjoy catching and cleaning fish as her husband and boys do, but she delights in baiting me. My Saturday afternoon was free. I’d complete my household chores before I left.

                “I’ll save you a front row seat. Gail’s coming, too,” Connie added.

                Gail, Connie, and I go way back to the Sixties at Redeemer Baptist Church in Warren. Within three years in the early Seventies, we married the man of our life and promptly went our separate ways.

                Until Connie reconnected us last summer.     

Gail sat next to the chair reserved for me. Daughters, Sons, and Children of the American Revolution milled around the room dressed in fashions spanning four centuries. They chatted, laughed.

Gordie Yax wore a Vietnam War military flight suit. His twin, Ethan, represented the Revolutionary period.

Meanwhile, Connie strolled in her bridal attire, held a bouquet of silk flowers, and smiled as wide as the Mackinac Bridge. She posed by her mother’s wedding dress and veil displayed on a form. I remembered her mother’s beautiful red hair.

Berlin Mattila, granddaughter of chapter’s Registrar, Judy Mattila, led us in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our United States. Veneita Chapin, the chapter’s Regent, offered a prayer of safekeeping for all present.

Judy, also the show’s articulate narrator, began with a women’s garment representing the 1600-1650 Jamestown Settlement. My favorite fashions included the gorgeous Civil War ball gown, the hilarious 1950’s Ladies’ Housedress, and Connie’s 1973 lacy gown.

Marsha Jewett loses her wig and hat

Dear Reader, as if planned to conclude the show, Marsha Jewett tripped and lost her Revolutionary War wig and hat. She plopped both back on her head and brought the house down.

Today, I contacted Judy Mattila.


 


Spaghetti lessons

 

My younger sister Libby (L) and I play in our backyard on Detroit's Yacama Street, circa 1954

Transplanted from eastern Kentucky to Detroit’s Yacama Street the summer of 1954, I scented something like Mom’s canned tomatoes.

“What’s that smell coming from our neighbor’s house?” I asked Mom.

“Why, that’s Italian spaghetti sauce.”

“Does it taste like your stewed tomatoes?”

“Yes, but spicier.”

                I didn’t know what “spicier” meant, but if Italian spaghetti sauce tasted as good as Mom’s stewed tomatoes with elbow macaroni, I’d be happy to try it.

                “Will you cook us spaghetti?” I asked.

Mom frowned. “Your dad won’t eat it.”

A child never forgets such puzzling conversations with grownups. Eventually, I learned the Italian, German, Polish, and Appalachian people on our block wouldn’t eat each other’s food.

            But God is good and grants children the desire of their hearts. The fall of my ninth year, another spaghetti lesson occurred after my family moved to Wagner Street in Warren.

Our elementary school posted the cafeteria’s lunch menu for the week on a wall outside the principal’s office. The word “spaghetti” appeared with the white letters on the black sign. I concentrated to phonetically decipher the “gh” in the word.

Nonetheless, I laughed with everybody else when the boys in my third grade class jumped up and shouted, “Spaghetti! Spaghetti!”

Since Mom packed our lunches with bologna and mustard sandwiches, my sisters and I never ate the cafeteria’s food.

Several years later, Mom befriended Rose Mikla, an Italian neighbor who married an Italian. Rose, a beautician, cooked spaghetti for her five sons and husband.

Mom, an Appalachian who married an Appalachian, fried chicken and breaded pork chops, and baked pot roasts for her five daughters and husband, an Irish barber.

Once a week, Mom walked to Rose’s house for her new hairdo. Spaghetti sauce simmered on Rose’s stove while she washed, set, dried, and styled Mom’s hair.

On Dad’s bowling night, Mom spooned her spaghetti sauce over boiled long, thin noodles. We laughed when our baby sister sucked up the noodles into her mouth, splattering her chubby cheeks with red sauce.

We looked forward to Dad’s bowling night.

The summer of 1970, my father-in-law helped my husband and I move our few earthly possessions from our first apartment to Mom’s house. I smelled her spaghetti sauce before I saw it.

After his second plate, Mr. Underwood said, “Thank you, Sadie, for the delicious meal.”

Several months later, a neighbor in our new apartment building introduced me to garlic’s versatility. Mom’s lack of enthusiasm to my discovery at last revealed she loathed the spice.

But I’d learned this too late.  

When my father showed up hungry on my doorstep one February day in 1995, I served him what  I had—a hot plate of pasta with Bolognese sauce seasoned with onion, garlic, basil, parsley, salt and pepper.

Dear Reader, Dad thanked me and spoke of his forthcoming heart surgery. Several days later, my sisters and I tearfully said our last good-bye to our father.

We never know what meal will be our last. Thank God, the cook, and eat what we don’t like.