Seismic moments


The box with our Christmas Dearborn ham

My drive south to Nino Salvagio’s fabulous market in Troy usually takes thirty to forty minutes. Yesterday afternoon, however, Rochester Road south of Tienken teemed with what we locals know as “Light Show traffic.”

Incidentally, the town of Rochester erected a sign to alert southbound motorists just in case we didn’t notice the storefronts alight in brilliant colors. Having observed the swelling popularity of this Christmas spectacle the past decade, I surmised the sunny, mild December day lured folk downtown early for a parking spot.

As my car rolled down Main Street, families and couples strolled sidewalks looking into windows and waiting at corners to cross.

A young couple caught my eye at Fourth Street. I admired her mastery of four-inch heels (perhaps five); his confident stride in skinny jeans. My romantic streak detected obvious signs that the blonde and her date were sweet on one another.

At last I parked close to Nino’s entrance, eager to choose our Dearborn ham and other specialties one finds inside the mammoth store. Of Southern heritage, I dare not attempt to bake biscotti for guests and gifts. Mom’s fruitcake, yes. Her recipe yields three loaves wrapped in brandied cheesecloth: one for my husband and me, and one each for our two daughters.

Perfectamente, as my high-school Spanish teacher would say.

In this joyful mood, I entered the paradise of fruits and vegetables piled high on tables. Praise God for fresh strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries out of season! And pineapple to garnish our main course! For red, green, and orange bell peppers!

Concerned Nino’s might run out of Dearborn boxes, I aimed for the meat department and promptly placed a ten pounder in my cart. Congenial laughter behind the fish counter drew me to the Lake Superior whitefish, my husband’s favorite of all fresh and saltwater food.

“Can I help you?” asked one of the many fish guys.

“Yes, thank you. How many whitefish filets do you recommend for two?”

“Well,” he said, holding up a sample, “whitefish is thin, so I’d say one for each.”

“I’ll take two, please.”

Forty-five minutes later, the check-out bagger packed my order including fresh-baked croissants, Great Northern beans, molasses, and ingredients for Buckeyes (AKA Peanut Butter Balls) and Magic Pan Cookie Bars. Finally, I unloaded the ham box and whitefish and paid my bill.  

Home from the northbound Light Show, I unpacked my groceries and discovered the bagger overlooked our featured dish for Christmas dinner.

“We have it in the cooler,” customer service said when I called.

Now, for almost two years, We the People have experienced a bombardment of unprecedented seismic moments that challenged our equilibrium—our trust in God, neighbor, and government. Another roundtrip to Nino’s didn’t faze my emotional Richter scale.

Indeed, dear Reader, our traditional Christmas ham presented another chance to join again fellow pilgrims in the midst of celebrating this most wonderful season.

Joy to the world! The Light came to us two thousand years ago. Let Heaven and Earth receive their King!

Sublime fury and tender mercies

My daughter Ruth and I on the steps of the Beethoven Platz monument, Vienna, Austria, May 1990

"We mortals with immortal minds are only born for sufferings and joys, and one could almost say that the most excellent receive joy through sufferings.” Ludwig van Beethoven (December 16, 1770 – March 26, 1827) 

If you tuned in to WRCJ’s Dave Wagner and Peter Whorf this past week, you learned a few things.

“Dr. Dave” said Beethoven’s December natal date remains contested. Therefore, they broadcasted the station’s tribute to Ludwig Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, December 15 and 16.

               Brilliant idea—a double portion of my favorite classical composer.

              In honor of his contributions to the symphonic orchestra, Wagner and Whorf included WRCJ’s year-end fundraiser in their programing. In the spirit of good humor, they offered a Beethoven bobble-head and socks. For a small monthly donation, they covered the patron “from head to toe,” as Wagner jested.

             Wednesday, I parked my car behind Romeo Printing as Wagner introduced what I consider the most tender and merciful of the composer’s works. Forgetting its title, the slow piano score nonetheless called me into a hallowed place of rest and reconciliation; comforted me much like King David’s Psalm 23.

“You can feel and hear Beethoven’s tenderness in this slow sonata,” Wagner confirmed at the conclusion. Whorf agreed.

I paid the printer for my order and drove up to Dryden for tea with friends, both excellent vocalists. “Did you know Beethoven was born December 15 or 16?” I asked.

“No,” they replied.

Later, while dabbling in curiosity, I discovered Jane Austen shared Beethoven’s commonly accepted birthdate.

Remarkable. My favorite female novelist took her first breath December 16, 1775. Did Miss Austen hear her contemporary perform his sonata of tender mercies? Was it Beethoven’s sublime piano that provoked Austen to write, “There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart”?

              More fiddling on the web answered, “probably not.” Ludwig and Jane walked in different spheres five hundred miles apart.

Austen left this world on July 18, 1817, ten years before the maestro. At age forty-one, she bequeathed future, world-wide readers a collection of six novels, still best sellers today. A model for every aspiring novelist.

I find it fascinating that Beethoven described the opening four notes of his Fifth symphony as "death knocking upon the door." Although deaf, the musician’s heart heard clearly the human condition surrounding him.

Accordingly, soldiers directed more than 20,000 grieving fans the day the Austrian’s funeral bier passed through the streets of Vienna. I imagine those infamous death notes also knocked upon the hearts of those who mourned.

Most remarkably, documentation confirms the four beats of the Fifth symphony, unintentionally Morse Code for the letter “V” for Victory, played a significant role during Allied broadcasts during WW2.

Ever relevant to our human predicaments, I see in part Beethoven’s journey from suffering to his “Ode to Joy.”

Lastly, dear Reader, this brilliant, often tormented man left all who would hear these wise words: “Do not only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets.”

Ah, to know those mysteries within sublime fury and tender mercies.

Wind in the firs


Somewhere along the Christmas season, Johanna Spyri’s Heidi emerges from memory. Not my blue two-wheeler Dad taught me to ride on Detroit’s Joann Street before he bought his first movie camera—meaning there’s no evidence of my prowess in mastering independence from training wheels.

And not my first pair of roller skates, or the matching baby dolls Santa left under the Christmas tree for my two sisters and me.

            Although I adored these presents with reckless affection, the story of the orphan Heidi and her devoted Grandfather holds the strongest significance of a well-given gift.

For Heidi came to me on a mountainside of my natal home in Kentucky which my family had left several years prior for Dad to barber in Detroit.

Possibly the Yuletide of my tenth year, my sisters, cousins, and I played outdoors in peddle-pushers and shirtsleeves. Dad filmed us mothering our new dolls, the main attraction my cousin Candy’s Patti Playpal—the heart’s desire of every girl in 1959.

Sometime in daylight of that ideal holiday reunion with my McCoy kinfolk—and what would be the last time I would stand in the presence of my pretty cousin Candy—she offered me a package wrapped in red paper.

I remember her smile, the embarrassing contrast of her long, dark ponytail and frilly  dress to my tangled bob and dirty play clothes. With regret, I consider again my disappointment when I opened a box to find a thick book titled Heidi.

I’d enjoyed Heidi’s happy ending in the movie starring Shirley Temple, but I wasn’t a good reader. I can only hope I mustered enough manners to return a “thank you” to my thoughtful and long-forgotten cousin for her long-lost gift.

Typical post WW II parents, neither my mother nor father read literature or took my sisters and me to a local library. They entrusted our reading skills and literary education to our public schools.

Although I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, many Shel Silverstein’s books, and every Christmas Eve Twas the Night Before Christmas to my daughters, I failed to read them Heidi.

Several years ago approaching another Christmas, I at last purchased a 1925 edition of Johanna Spyri’s best seller. One of those lonely Christmases without my children, Heidi, Grandfather, Peter and his goats, Clara, and the wind in the firs kept me in good company.                                                                                               Those jagged peaks that loomed up austere and even terrible in their harsh barrenness became ever more familiar to her as she gazed at them, until they were no longer terrible, but friendly, and it seemed to her that she had known and loved them all her life. (Chapter One, page 42)

Heidi takes me back to the mountainside and grandmother I have known and loved all my life. I hope and pray my cousin Candy knows the same affection.

Dear Reader, inscribed inside my vintage copy of Heidi I find, “Merry Xmas, Uncle Pete and Aunt Tray.”

Christmas. Time to give the gift of the wind in the firs.


Blessings of longevity and purpose


L-R: Iris, co-chair Jeanette Farley, Nancy Schliebe, Lois Koltunowicz

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 KJV

In search of Mom’s Pecan Sandie cookie recipe, I flipped through the “DESSERTS” section of my blue, tattered box. A Christmas gift from our three girls in the early eighties, the lid disintegrated years ago.

I found the card in the very back where I placed it last December for easy access. Every year, I barely recognize my penmanship of forty years ago compared to my cursive today.

Desserts occupy more than 50% of the box’s contents, which represents my favorite course in a meal. However, I’ve also abused my Quiche Lorraine, Mexican Skillet, and Chicken Fricassee recipes.

For these dishes most influenced our family table and history. For instance, Kelly, my California daughter, once suffered the stomach flu after I served Mexican Skillet for dinner. To this day, she cannot think Mexican Skillet without gagging.

Then again, her father and younger sister still crave the simple blend of elbow macaroni and hamburger (or ground venison), flavored with chili powder, homegrown canned tomatoes, and sour cream.

And no savory flavor satisfies our hunger like hot biscuit steamed in lemony Chicken Fricassee sauce.

Yet, Mom’s Pecan Sandie shortbread with my chopped chocolate chip addition remains the supreme Christmas cookie in my household.

A tradition, I carried my Christmas cookie tin to our small Seven Ponds Friends of Herb meeting last Friday. After we assembled fresh, festive decorations for the building, we cleaned up our mess and brewed herbal tea.

L-R: Iris' tin bucket of Pecan Sandies, Jeanette's Golden Cups, Nancy's Caramel Walnut Cookies

Aware of the awful losses within a local community, we shared our sweets and memories they signify—Betty Crocker’s Caramel Walnut Refrigerator Cookie created with the working mother in mind.

And Golden Cups our group’s co-chair learned to master with a sister in their mother’s kitchen where they pressed the dough into mini-cupcake tins. She later embellished the walnut filling with tiny holly and berries for her children.

We lifted one another with blessings of long-lived flavors and meaning. We dared speak our sorrow for the parents of the lost.

For in the midst of oppressive darkness, we evoked the Christmas story and the goodness and light given to us in our childhoods.

God so loved us that He gave us our parents, and His only begotten Son that if we believed in Him we wouldn’t perish but have everlasting life.

A life that perpetuates from a tin bucket my mother purchased for me after a special Christmas Day—all her children and grandchildren gathered within her Kentucky home for supper, fruitcake, and Pecan Sandies.

Gifts given with love, purpose, and longevity.

None of my family foresaw that Christmas Day would be the last we would share with our daughter Becky.

Dear Reader, I believe God sent His Son into the world to heal our brokenness, not condemn us.

              May the eternal light of the babe Jesus bless you with peace, joy, and salvation.