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.



Hope restored


My wedding gown and my father's Marine uniform in Mom's hope chest

Dave the plumber arrived at 11:30 a.m. Monday morning and followed my husband to the basement posthaste.

The sounds of drilling and flowing water through pipes from below soon provoked a smile. After the smelly, inconvenient emergency of leaky sewage pipes, the repair progressed.

Within an hour Dave bounded up the steps. Considering my mother’s motto, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” I asked what caused the problem.

“Follow me,” Dave said and returned to his completed project.

He eyed the large pipe along the wall where I’d recently noticed broken plastic brackets that had supported the pipes for thirty-two years. Dave pointed to new metal brackets. That’s what the drilling was about.

“Those supports won’t break,” Dave said. “The pipes are back in position and everything’s good.”

With this assurance, Tuesday morning I returned to our disinfected basement and applied Howard Restore-a-Finish to the exterior of Mom’s cedar chest.

It hurt to see the wood badly abused. Considering the history of my heirloom, the numerous Kentucky and Michigan basements where forgotten, my TLC was decades overdue.

The refinishing application dried while I revisited the chest’s contents—what Mom and I once thought significant to save for posterity. I found the darling yellow crocheted infant sweater and tammy hat on the narrow shelf attached to the underside of the lid.

Everything in my mother’s cedar chest tells a story I well know, except this darling handmade gift that welcomed me into our family.

Three Carter’s baby shirts from 1970, 1975, and 1976 also occupy the upper shelf. Becky, Kelly, and Ruth, my children, wore those teeny “kimonos,” as their Nana called them.

Mom's cedar chest in process of restoration

I dug within the chest and discovered the long, white gloves, muff, and red velvet dress I wore as Maid of Honor for my older sister’s wedding December 28, 1968.

Mom accommodated a houseful of out-of-town guests for her firstborn’s wedding. Her brother wrote a timed schedule for our one bathroom and taped it to the door to ensure we all made it to the church on time, bathed and shaved.

In March of 1946 when my mother wed, how could she imagine such a family celebration when she filled her Lane with linens and other wedding gifts?  

And how could I foresee my wedding gown would occupy the same trousseau with my father’s two Marine informs? One the military brown shirt with blue pants, the other a blue jacket with red piping and brass buttons.

Three generations weave together my family history with the scent of cedar, lavender, and wool. Each item speaks hope restored, even in the deep loneliness of separation and death.

Dear Reader, someday, after I’ve refinished my heirloom to the best of my ability, I will elevate my inherited Lane to my master bedroom. I have more keepsakes to add.

Meanwhile, my treasure chest is safe in the basement. Dave said no more leaky pipes. And I’m taking him at his word.

Giving, the key to happiness

(L) Roland Hermann, assistant, and Sebastian Lombardo, maple syrup maker
I gladly accepted Sebastian’s invitation to participate in this season’s production of maple syrup. A labor intensive and scientific branch of husbandry, I’d heard the sugar shack is congenial ground to gather come March.

 Who could resist the warmth and friendship of a blazing wood fire on a chilly, drizzly afternoon?

Sebastian and our fellow neighbor, Roland, had wrapped up another batch of syrup. A pizza on a platter sat on top of the bottles they’d filled.

“Where do you tap your trees?” I asked.

“Our property on Howard Lake Road in Leonard. Friends help with the main line tubing system with a vacuum pump on the end to increase production. One hundred twenty to one hundred sixty gallons syrup equals about 1,100 – 1,300 taps.” Sebastian grinned. “My buddies are hooked on my maple syrup.”

The expression on Roland’s face indicated he’s amongst that number.

“What do you do with your syrup?” I asked.

“Give most of it away to business associates, friends, and family.” Sebastian flashed another smile. “Giving is the key to happiness.”

I agreed.

The massive, sophisticated equipment demonstrated Sebastian’s experience and skill as a builder. Roland did not exaggerate when he said our neighbor had designed something I had to see.

“What motivated you to make this commitment?” I asked.

“I got itchy fingers several years ago when my neighbor tapped her trees. I like a good hobby, to tinker, and it’s usually nothing small or simple.”

I said a silent “amen” to that.

“There are many facets of making syrup I enjoy,” Sebastian said. “Improving the equipment as I learn, for one. The vacuum filter removes the niter, or impurities, from the sap. I learned to boil the sap to seven degrees above the boiling point for a higher sugar and less water content.”

I admired my neighbor’s determination to relish life while he’s “young and strong,” as he sees it. He’s hunted Montana’s back country with his hunting buddies who consider his maple syrup “their spinach.”

“This is our informal social activity. We unwind,” Sebastian added.

I’m amazed. “Who and what influenced you to work this hard at giving to people?”

“My dad worked with his hands and taught me generosity by example. He grew an apple orchard and gave away apples and cider to his business associates. This had a strong impact on my life. If someone didn’t receive their apples and cider, Dad heard about it.”

A toast to the sweet labor of a sugarhouse 

Sebastian poured us samples of his syrup in small plastic cups. We toasted and tasted.

His father would be proud.

“I remember a teaching moment,” Sebastian said. “Dad insisted my brother and I handle his apples with care. He corrected us when we bruised them. He demanded nothing but top notch for everyone. Those are the best values of our Italian culture.”

Dear Reader, I left with four bottles of maple syrup tapped and made in Leonard, Michigan. That equals about thirty gallons of sap to yield one-half gallon worth of his labor.

Three bottles to share. One to keep.