Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Like many I never considered what hard work it was to be a Mother until I had children of my own. I never thought to thank my mother for the gifts of love, life, patience, understanding, laughter, and her never-ending desire to help, no matter what was needed. She is gone now... but I think she might be "around" in some sense... so...
Mom, I love you and THANK YOU for the life you gave me, the values you taught me, the rights and wrongs you instilled in me, and thank you for loving me unconditionally... just as I love you.

To all of the mothers out there, and to all of the children of those mothers, I offer this;

What is a Mother

A mother is a girl who has grown up, and who still desires to play with baby dolls. Her baby dolls do indeed wet, and cry, and demand to be fed - at will.

A mother will sacrifice for her child. For nine months her body is not her own. Instead it is a vessel within which she carries a priceless treasure: her baby. She is awakened, usually, in the morning with "morning sickness." As the baby grows, she is sure to be awakened at all hours of the night with the urge to visit the restroom, where she does not rest, but instead wearily awaits the next call of nature. The smell of certain foods is sure to bring out the worst bout of nausea. The sight of certain foods, even those that may have once been her favorite, cause her nausea.
Her feet swell. Her skin breaks out. Her body turns traitor to her, causing miserable aches and pains in places she might never have known she had.
As the pregnancy continues, well into the fifth month or so, and even sooner, her clothes don't fit. Now instead of wearing those nice slacks and a nice shirt, she's traded in for maternity smocks, and elastic waisted slacks with this huge spandex panel sewn in the front that will stretch over what is becoming a rather large, and increasingly uncomfortable belly.
No more heels, either. The increased size of her stomach throws the entire rest of her body totally off kilter... Yep, for the next few months it has to be flats, with arch supports, of course, to off-set the heavier frame.
The cravings don't help with keeping that weight under control, and hence even more weight added to the once slim, trim, and svelte frame. Oh yes. Ice cream, with or without dill pickles, chocolate covered donuts, entire loaves of bread with strawberry jam, cake, potato chips, french fries with a side of ketchup, or chocolate sauce, depending on what that little being inside happens to 'want'. Maybe it's fruit, but entire baskets - not the reasonable or sensible one or two pieces, and juice, milk, water - by the 50 gallon drum.

By the ninth month she can't sit without assistance, nor can she rise without the same. There is no more snuggling into the pillow face down - there is now a basketball sized lump between you and the mattress. And besides, it's easier to sleep on the side because then you can just roll out of bed for the fifty times during the night that you're going to have to go pee since the baby is resting comfortably on your bladder with it's feet propped rather firmly against your diaphram, and both hands are playing the xylophone with your ribs.
Occasionally there is the very insistent kick, just to remind you in case your forget, that baby is indeed there...

Then, when there is just too many things to do and you wonder how you will get it all done, it's time to add one more thing to the list - labor and delivery. Pain. Discomfort. Pain. Deciding at that moment that you've changed your mind and don't want to go through with it, unfortunately, is not an option. Baby is coming and Bill Cosby said it best - it is like trying to stretch your lower lip over the top of your own head.

Then, finally, the baby is born. There is crying, and tears of joy, and tears of relief... and it is as if something magic happened the instant that the baby is outside of it's warm little coccoon... None of the pain, misery, discomfort, and sickness is remembered. It's as if it happened, but so long ago that it is a hazy memory at best. All that matters is the now and the cry of that living, breathing, precious baby doll, that you carried inside of you for nine months.

For the next 18 years, or so, you will spend wondering what the heck happened to that sweet little baby boy, or baby girl... Past the stage of cuddly infancy, they quickly learn to walk and talk, and run and sass, and throw temper tantrums and baseballs and rocks through windows... They learn to pull the dogs tail, and carry the cat around by a hind leg. They learn that pudding tastes better than vegetables and refuse to offer any consent to having their hair combed or their faces washed. There is no perfectly good reason that they should have to wear clean clothes just because they're going somewhere - but if they must, and especially if it's a girl, you should expect a minimum of no less than 4 shirts, skirts, dresses, and underwear try-ons in order to get the right outfit. Boys will present their own issues- no one will notice if the socks don't match or even if there is only one sock on as long as he has on his shoes. Check those pockets too - now and then a favorite caterpillar or lizard has been known to stowaway with his consent, only to be brought to the dinner table at grandma's house - with no appreciation from the other dinner guests, I might add.

They grow up and they grow away and you're left with memories. And on Mother's Day they send or bring a card, maybe some flowers, and maybe some other token of their love, and it makes your heart smile - just like it did the day they were born.

So what -is- a mother.

She sacrifices her body and her life for nine months to carry a child. There is no gratitude from the baby for this... there are only demands and mother meets each one. At any time she is expected to, and does, relinquish a moment of peace and quiet to change a diaper, to warm a bottle, to walk, and rock and pat and soothe and comfort her little one.
She will sit up, without rest, all night long with her child if he or she is sick, and she does it without thinking of herself. A mother will go without so that her baby has what it needs.

A mother is a nurse, a doctor, a teacher, a friend, a confidante, a companion, a disciplinarian, a heroine, a co-conspirator, a playmate, and a comforter.
She will laugh at the silliest and corniest jokes, even if there isn't really a punch line.
She will cry when her child cries and would gladly, and eagerly, trade places with her child if she could, so that her little one doesn't have to suffer.
She doesn't hesitate to wipe away tears, to try and kiss away scrapes and bumps, and she knows that band-aids only hide the wound - it's her kiss that heals it.

When her children are grown and when they have thier own children, they will understand the true meaning of Mother's Day...and you'll know that even if they didn't say it, they appreciate everything you went through to get them to where they are. And they also understand, without fail, what you meant when you said " I hope that you have a child just like yourself when you grow up!"

A mother = Love, personified.

Happy Mother's Day!!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Letting go of Ideals

I posted something on Facebook the other day and my daughter actually called and said "What did you mean by that? I was just wondering." The post was this: "Sometimes we have to let go of our ideals and then we can become open to the ideal."
Well, as I explained to her it had everything to do with making something out of what you had if you couldn't realistically get what you want.
Don't get me wrong; There is nothing wrong with striving and nothing wrong with pursuing a 'dream'. But sometimes, as we all know, things are a little out of reach, and we have to accept that. My particular post was regarding my gardening work. I would love to have enough money to put in luscious flower beds, very ornate edges, lush green grass and have to do nothing more than to sit back and 'watch the grass grow' to use a very tired cliche. But that isn't possible. So I used what I had. That amounted to a random mish-mash of old river stones, some old brick, and plants that had escaped their original beds and had decided to re-locate out in the lawn. As I worked I began to forget how lazy I wanted to be and began to appreciate how much I actually enjoyed feeling the dirt on my hands and began to see that what I was doing was more satisfying than what my original "ideal" was. After hours of labor intensive work I stood back and saw what I had done- all by myself, and had to sigh with content and found a smile etched on my face.
The rocks looked perfect, the new flower bed I had created with a few of the escapees and the addition of some very simple little bedding plants looked as if they belonged... as if they were meant to be there. And they were. Each plant was mine, it knew my soil, the rocks were weathered and soft looking and the old bricks had an inviting coat of soft green mossy algae. It looked old, and comfortable, and settled. Rather like myself, I'll admit.
Too often we forget that not all that glitters is gold, and I mean gold as in good. Sometimes the aged, worn, and lacking the shine of newness is cast aside, left to ruin, uncared for, and forgotten about in search of the exciting and new sports cars, new furniture, modern art, and sometimes even people.
The old masters will never cease to impress the true art lover. The glow of old oils can't be duplicated or outdone. It's easy to stare for long moments, even hours, at a painting centuries old because there is depth, warmth, a melding of colors that almost perfectly mimic nature or real life. You can almost watch the blush begin to blossom in the cheeks of a young girl, and practically smell the fragrance of a vase of flowers on the old, deeply polished table in a still life painting. You can hear the leaves rustle over the blacksmith in that famous painting. There is a reason that these paintings are hanging in museums - they are timeless classics... Timeless class.

Old cars - They don't build them like they used to.

Ask the collector who scours the country looking for the old Chevelles, or the Corvettes. They run good, they're dependable, they're easy to fix... The new cars are sleek, fast, shiny, expensive, and they look good and run good for a year or two. Eventually the switch is going to go out that rolls the window down, or the electronic ignition will go bad - the "brain" in the new computerized cars can die, and then you're looking at a few hundred, if not a thousand or more to get your new and improved model running again. The older classics might need a new knob on the window crank handle, it might need a new radiator hose, a new oil filter or maybe even a new transmission on occasion... but they're all fixable, easy to repair, and usually you can fix them right in your own back yard. Not the new models. You have to practically own a mini NASA to figure out the problem and then the left wing of a major hospital to do the surgery to repair the 5000.00 water pump as well as 14 hours to get to it.

Ask the guy who hungers for one of the earlier Harley Davidsons. He'd pass by a thousand new ones on the showroom floor to get to the old model because they're classic, they're precious, they're unique, and they're worth every dime he'll spend.
The new motorcycles, or "Bikes" as they are called cost thousands, and occasionally they cost thousands to repair when they break down and they break down far more frequently than they ought to for the money they cost.

The ideal is to own the newest, the fastest, the brightest, that most modern - at least for some people. For awhile I longed for a sweet little sporty looking Jaguar. I wanted a forest green exterior with a white leather interior. One day on the interstate I passed "my" car... broke down on the side of the road, the hood up, and I cruised by in my little old Neon, just as happy as I could be. Further down the road I saw another one... broke down and the driver angrily slamming the door and walking around to the hood.

My ideal changed. I loved my little Neon right then more than I ever did. She's old and beat up, her paint is dulling a little, her headlights are dim, but I know when I put the key in she is going to start and she is going to go as long as I need for her to go. I give her some gas, some oil, some TLC now and then, and we get by just fine. In fact we got by those two Jaguars at 55 MPH without a hitch.

When it comes to people some of us are guilty of wanting the sleek, the shiny, the fast, the smooth and the classy. Good looks, great smiles, nice hair, - hair- period, slim, trim, flawless, beards, no beards, muscles, great bodies - nice feet, nice hands, blondes (usually bleached), and a great tan with vivid tan lines...

But those ideal people, those that were absolutely the perfect guy or the perfect girl, will eventually break down. The smile will be framed by tiny little wrinkles, the hair will thin and disappear, the tan will fade, the great body will give way to gravity, the slim trimness will require constant dieting as the body ages, and the muscles will sag, soften, and the feet and hands will roughen with use - and if they don't then you're going to be putting out a lot of money on a maid or a gardener... But you have to ask yourself, if all of that which attracted you to that "ideal" person were to disappear or fade, and if all you were left with was what was inside, is it something you can live with? If those lovely 'perks' required a constant investment to keep it and if you fell on tough times and couldn't afford it, would you like what was under that shiny coat of paint?

Honesty, good sense, decency, a good heart, a happy attitude, the ability to accept and be comfortable with who they are and who you are, the total lack of the need for constant ego stroking, the lack of dependence on the dollar to be who they really are, and the incentive to do what it takes to keep you happy instead of the other way around - That's classic. That's collectible. That is timeless... That is what you should raise your ideals to...

My parents were young once. Pretty and handsome... but that was what was outside. My mother could cook.  My daddy knew how to make a living. They were real. When times were hard they worked together to make it through... When mom got sick, daddy took over and took care of her. He invested a little TLC and polished her, gave her what she needed, and never faltered in his love for her. He didn't care that she'd grown old and gray, fat, wrinkled and slow. He loved her. She was his classic collectible, if you will.

When he took sick, she loved him. She cared for him. She bathed him, and held him when he was so sick from the chemotherapy. She loved him even after his beautiful curly hair fell out years earlier and he was almost bald. She loved him even more when the drugs took all of his hair.When he was young and strong, she loved him when he spent hours in the shed building her bookcases and record cabinets and his boats,  and she loved him when he lost his strong muscles and had only a weak back and sore, calloused hands from constant hoeing in the garden.
Sometimes the ideal is only a pretty shell and what is inside can be dark and colorless and even ugly - Bad attitudes, discontent, a tendency to be malicious and hurtful, selfish and self centered, thoughtless, and a disregard for the feelings of others can be hidden by a sweet smile and a nice appearance...

So don't set your standards on what you see. Look inside, ask yourself if your choice - your ideal, will be able to weather the tests and trials of life and time. Can you count on them? Do you want them to count on you? Will they stand beside you and behind you when the storms rage and when life isn't a bowl of peaches?

The old weathered rock lining my flower bed will be there LONG after the cute little wooden or plastic border edging that I'd originally thought would be best for my garden...It's sturdy, strong, beautiful in it's varied color and form and it's a compliment to the shrubs and flowers that it contains.

I realized my ideal wasn't what I wanted after all. It was what I had...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pass the Biscuits, Please!

My cousin, Carlene, posted a picture of a pan of biscuits that she'd made - and if I could have, I would have reached right through the screen and helped myself to a couple of them; they looked that good and that inviting.
A conversation ensued about biscuits and who could make them, and did, and who couldn't but wanted to (me) and who would rather just enjoy them (all of us). Carlene's mother, my Aunt Margaret, could  and apparently did, make homemade biscuits regularly. My mother made them every day - and as the kids grew up and left home, eventually weened it down to once every other day or once every two days. In between the days she made them we had leftover biscuits. For breakfast they were sliced in half and dotted with margarine and slid under the broiler for biscuit toast. Typically those were served with homeade blackberry jam. My daddy always fussed about the seeds getting under his dentures. Tenacious as he was, he simply got up, rinsed them off, and put them back in before sitting down for the next one.

Carlene's biscuits served to remind me of how hard our mothers worked to keep us fed... and how much we take for granted today.

Sometimes there wasn't a loaf of bread in our house. If there was, sometimes it would just be the heels of the bread and no one wanted them... As kids, you just barely tolerated the crust on the edge of the bread and there was NO way you were going to break down and eat of piece of bread that was nothing but crust.
So if we were hungry, we went to the little green bread/biscuit keeper and got a biscuit. If there was a slice of fatback or ham left over from supper or breakfast, we tucked it into the biscuit, squirted a little yellow mustard in there for company, and off we went. Sometimes we buttered and jellied it, and that was good too. The neighborhood kids always came to our house for biscuits. None of the other moms made them, I guess. I know that the Kennedy's had loaf bread. I was treated to a chicken leg wrapped in a slice of Sunbeam bread one day for lunch there... I'd never had it like that before and it was the best chicken leg I ever ate!

For my mom, opening a can of biscuits and popping them in the oven wasn't an option. Thank goodness! (sorry Mom, I know it would have been easier but it wouldn't have been nearly as good!)

We grew up on biscuits and cornbread - from scratch. I hear people talking about biscuits and milk gravy as if it were some kind of gourmet dish. For us it was a staple. Now you can buy the powdered gravy mix in the grocery store, beside the other gravy mixes and chili mixes. I've never bought one, and never intend to. I'm pretty sure there could be no comparison to the real thing... and I've had plenty of it as a child. There were two kinds of gravy in our house. Milk gravy and red-eye gravy. If Mom had fried sausage for breakfast, she used the sausage grease and some flour and a can of evaporated milk to make the gravy, and that was sausage gravy - breakfast gravy. She crumbled up three or four sausage patties in it, and that was served over homemade biscuits. There wasn't any of that 'sausage flavored' business. You knew you had a hunk of sausage in that gravy - you didn't have to stir around to find it either. That was heaven. If it was supper time, it was plain milk gravy and it was served over rice, or mashed potatoes.  If she fried ham for breakfast, the ham grease was left in the pan and a pot of hot, strong coffee was added, stirred, and that was ladled over grits, and biscuits. Red-eye gravy was my daddy's favorite. I wasn't extremely fond of it although I did eat it and would eat it again.
I remember going into the sunshine yellow kitchen on Dewey Hill and sitting at the table next to daddy. He'd already had his breakfast of ham, biscuits and gravy and was sipping the rest of his coffee. He drank his coffee black, but he would slide his saucer over to me, along with the little sugar bowl, and the canned milk, and poured some of his coffee in the saucer for me. No cup. I drank it right out of the saucer! That was almost as good as a dish of ice cream! It was sweet, and warm, and creamy, and it was coffee - ' an adult beverage'.

The breakfast of a king and his little princesses was biscuits, gravy, jelly and creamy, warm, sweet coffee.

Once my older sister was working for a restaurant that was going to host the cast of Land of The Giants. For some reason they were coming to Charleston. My sister had the idea of making little miniscule sized biscuits for the cast and crew... and Mama spent at least half a day it seemed making a hundred or more penny sized biscuits. My sister later reported that my mother's biscuits were the star of the show. And there were none left over.

Thank you Carlene for taking such a simple pan of biscuits and turning them into a trip down memory lane.
They looked wonderful and I swear I could almost smell them;  that tangy saltiness of the buttermilk and the warm buttery crust ...

I still like my coffee sweet, and creamy and hot. I still love biscuits and gravy, and if I only had one thing that I could go back and ask my mother to teach me it would be how to make biscuits like hers. They were soft and light, and tasty, and delicious! I can only tell you that she used Red Band flour, buttermilk, and lard. Armor Star lard.

You can't find lard in the supermarket in the oils and shortening aisle anymore. I had to go into the ethnic aisle and found it next to the Masa and corn husks, but find it I did, and I bought it.

Now if I could just figure out how she made those golden, warm, buttermilk biscuits... I'm convinced that it isn't something you could read and do like a cake recipe. Not biscuits like hers - there was never a recipe book in front of her. She made them from scratch and she made them from memory, in a big wooden bowl and without biscuit cutters or a rolling pin. She kneaded the dough in the bowl, and pinched the biscuits off, rolled them, patted them into the pan, put her three fingerprint pat on them to press them, and into the oven they went... all seemingly without thought!

I can't complain that I don't have any biscuits. I can buy some fairly decent ones from the store in the frozen food section. It's easy enough to preheat the oven and pop them in for 12-15 minutes or so...And I can make some mean sausage gravy - I'm always 'volunteered' to make the gravy for our contractor breakfasts. I'm told it tastes "authentic - like the real thing!" (It is!)  But I'd give anything I own today to go back to my Mama's kitchen on Dewey Hill, and stand in the chair next to her so I could see her while she worked, and watch, and learn, how to make those biscuits!

Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Eve

It's New Year's Eve - It's the day that people fret and stress over because most of them feel as if they need to make a "New Year's Resolution". Half of the issue is making the resolution. The other half is suffering the angst of knowing you won't keep it.
I've made resolutions. I can't think of any that I actually kept. The problem is that I usually forget the resolution I made as soon as something happens that causes me to forget that I made a resolution not to do that particular thing anymore.
If I made the resolution to lose weight, invariably I would get a box of chocolates on Valentines day... It would've been rude not to eat them, right? Well, of course it would have been, so once the top was off of the box, it was over.
If I made a resolution not to curse anymore, someone or something would push my buttons, twang my last nerve, twist my chain, or tangle my undies and that would be the end of -that- resolution.
If I made a resolution to quit smoking, unforgiveable things happened in mass quantities, and of course the only cure for a bad day was a good cigarette.
I've resolved not to smoke, not to curse, not to over eat, not to be rude, not to be gullible, not to be a fool, not to overspend, not to be gluttonous, not to be wasteful, not to be lazy, not to overdo it, not to underestimate, not to be taken advantage of, not to fall into the abyss of self pity, not to be this way or not to do this or that... You've all made the same ones, and most of you have broken them.
So - what is the answer to the dilemma? Everyone makes a resolution, right? I've finally decided that the best resolution to make is NOT TO MAKE ONE.  But that's almost like having Christmas without presents or packages or bows, boxes, or bags... Yeah, yeah, I know. Christmas DOES come from the heart, but explain to a kid that "Your Christmas this year is that I love you..." So, on New Year's eve, we really should consider all the things we aren't doing right, and all the things we are doing wrong... We should consider how we can do things better, and how we can make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. We should give serious thought to what it means to be happy, and give thought to what it means to have what we have... and what would our lives be like if we had less. At some point you'd have to realize that what you do have is probably more than what you really need.
All winter I've complained that my house is cold because my heat pump just doesn't do a good job of keeping it warm. But I sat down and thought about a picture I had taken of the house my granny lived in before I was born. It sits, even now, on the side of the highway between Athens and Greensboro, Georgia. It's covered in Kudzu vines. I, along with my cousins, stopped one day and managed to tear away enough vines to be able to get the door open. Door - planks of wood nailed side by side to a piece of wood. You could see through the cracks... Once we got the door open we all stuck our heads inside and wondered aloud how a mother, and her son and youngest daughter could have lived in such a place. The walls didn't exist, per se. There were wooden studs, and you could see the planks that were the siding, and you could see daylight between them. In a few places there were slabs of old cardboard nailed to them and you knew that even though the cardboard had been replaced time after time through the years, that there had never been anything better, or more substantial to serve as walls inside that humble abode.  The roof was the ceiling. You could look up and see the rafters, and beyond the rafters, you saw the underside of the metal roofing that had been the only thing to protect them from the rain, the snow, the blazing sun... and you could see tiny little holes where the nails had rusted away and left tiny little holes that let in spears of sunlight. Nowhere was there a sign of drywall, or insulation. In the living room that also served as a kitchen, was a meager little fireplace. In the two bedrooms there was nothing to provide heat. And in the bedrooms the walls were equally drafty, knotholes of the pine planks had fallen into, or out of the room, and chinks in the planks would have let in all kinds of drafts, and insects. The floors were wood, not tongue and grooved, but planks cut and nailed side by side to the joists below, and over time the wood had dried and shrunk and pulled apart so that there were large gaps in the flooring. My sister told me that when they spent the night there once, that they were able to lay on pallets on the floor and see the stars through the roof. Granny had an "ice box" that should not be confused with a refrigerator. It was a box that held a block of ice, and any food that could spoil was kep on a shelf below the ice so that it wouldn't spoil as fast. This morning Granny had gotten up and fired up the wood stove and fried up a hearty breakfast of ham that had gone over just a bit... But as she was so poor, that was all she had, and all that she could offer, so that was all they could eat.
I look around at my walls, and I can't see daylight through any holes in them. I can look up and see my white ceiling, and my nice ceiling fan that whirs and stirs the air. I look down at my floor and I can't see the dirt beneath my house through the holes in the plank floors. I can't see anything through the linoleum, carpet and oak flooring...From my computer, where I can send letters or comments to people I want to communicate with,  I can see my refrigerator that is keeping my food fresh, and safe. I can walk over and get ice cubes out of the freezer, or pour a cold glass of milk that won't go sour for a couple of weeks at least,  and take out the pork roast that I slow roasted in my oven last night, and I can make a sandwich after I heat the pork in the microwave. I can go over and turn the thermostat up a little today and keep the house cozy enough since it isn't freezing outside. If it were any colder, I could plug in a small ceramic heater that I borrowed from work, and I'd be fine. When it rains, it won't come through my roof. When an insect gets in my house it hasn't come through a hole in the floor.
I haven't any right to complain.

So, my resolution this year

 #1 : Be thankful and grateful.
Thankful for what I have. A home. Food. A job. Good health. A car. Wonderful kids. Beautiful grandkids. Family that I love and that love me. Friends that I can count on. Enough and Enough to share occasionally. Good sense. Common sense. Peace in my life. Independence.

Grateful for what I don't. Huge bills, unrealistic obligations or commitments, an unhappy marriage, personal tragedies (Cancer or other devastating illness, critically ill family members, special needs children or grandchildren, etc.)

Resolution #2:
Remember # 1.

Happy New Year.
Make your resolution to have what you need, to be rid of what you don't, grateful for all that you don't have and to be thankful for what you do.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Western Flyer bicycles, Icicles, and Christmas

I have been meaning to get on here and write this but the Holidays sure do come around faster than they used to when I was a kid. There's so much to do, and so little time. I mean, it takes awhile to pen those letters to Santa you know... You know?

It's been bitter cold, for Charleston, these last few days. Early on this month we were in the 20's and with my old heat pump completely overwhelmed by the cold, and unable to get the house a comfortable "warm", the wintery mornings reminded me of growing up on Dewey Hill, with that old oil furnace in the living room that never managed to heat up any room but that I went back in time... Back to

1962 - 1963

It was a tremendously cold winter - not just in Charleston, S,C, where I lived but all across the south... But who cared? It was December and Santa was coming and THAT was all we could think about. Letters to Santa seemed to fly from the crayons with a will of their own and I suppose Mama despaired of ever having a stamp to mail a regular letter... I was intent on getting Santa's attention. 

I wanted a bicycle. A shiny one, preferably red, with lots of chrome and a horn, and those fantastic streamers that hung from the rubber grip on the handle bars. I'd seen it at Western Auto when I had gone with Daddy and Mama on one of our trips to Pinehaven. Pinehaven was like Times Square in New York! There was a huge concrete platform in the middle of the parking lot and there were a dozen stores surrounding it. There was an Edward's 5 and 10, Western Auto, Ann's Vogue, Three Sisters, an appliance repair shop, a Singer Sewing Machine store, and others... But at Christmas they strung strings of lights from the base of the concrete pad to the top of the thirty foot pole embedded in the center. Multi colored lights, the huge old fashioned bulbs that screwed into the little sockets... And at the top was a HUGE star. When that was all lit up, there was no doubt that Christmas was officially on the way! It was like the official start of Christmas when Santa rides in on the Thanksgiving parade. "Let's ride over to Pinehaven" was like saying "Let's go take a look at Christmas!" to my ears.

Oh, and I wanted a doll. A baby doll. There was nothing that smelled so much like Christmas as the rubberized plastic of a new baby doll. You very seldom find them that smell that way anymore. Once in a blue moon, although rarely, I'll pick up a baby doll in the store and hold it to my nose. Even more rarely, it will smell like baby dolls did when I was a child and I get a trip back to my childhood, waking on Christmas morning, running into the living room and the feeling that my eyes should have been about twenty times bigger in order to take in all the glimmering lights reflecting from the tree onto shiny plastic, ribbons, bows, beautiful wrapping paper, tags that read " To: Sue - Love, Santa". I never noticed that his handwriting was just like my mother's. But there, snug in her beautiful pink and white box, a plastic window separating her from the rest of the world, was my doll, my baby doll... my Patty. I had already named her you see... because I had already FOUND her in my parent's closet. I suppose I must have had a slight tiny, eensy weensey smidgen of doubt about Santa...otherwise I mightn't have been hunting, right?  Carefully I had snooped and snuck and found her, and had even taken her out of her box and cuddled and loved her and named her... and just as carefully I had always put her back and Mama was never the wiser for it. Luckily she never tagged the doll as being "From Santa". Whew!

Try as I might, I couldn't find a bicycle. Not even a hint of one! I looked. I missed one place though. In my dad's woodshop in a corner, he had a big old wooden crate that he had built and in that crate he had old scraps of lumber, bits and pieces of plywood, and he kept it pretty full. I had lost interest in anything inside that old crate and I noticed that Daddy had thrown an old piece of dirty canvas on top of it that winter. I never thought to look under it. And I am glad because that particular Christmas morning, that bicycle was parked in front of the tree, a fire engine red Western Flyer, chromed out, the tag reading " To Sue from Santa" and streamers glistening pink and white and yellow and blue beckoning from the handlebars... and there, every child's safety net, attached to the back wheel, were training wheels. In my excitement of wanting a bike, I completely forgot that I didn't really know how to ride one.
Eventually all of the presents were opened, baby dolls were loved and hugged and tucked into bed, and it was off to Front Street to ride the bike. Oh, I loved it! It was the prettiest bike in the neighborhood (so I was a little partial) and the fastest. (I was also a little delusional, perhaps)
I rode and rode and nearly froze my fingers off. I'd go home for a few minutes to warm my fingers up and then it was out again, braving the sharp needles of icy air that pricked my cheeks, and stung my eyes and caused my chest to hurt when I breathed in that cold air while flying down the road... For days this went on and on. And the temperatures got colder, and colder. One morning we awoke to enormous icicles hanging from the eves of the house. I'm sure that they were at least a foot long. It was painfully cold. But it wasn't cold enough to deter me from my new bike. So I dressed warm, gloves, coat, a knit hat, socks and shoes, pants, and I went outside and took my bike off of the porch. And my Daddy came outside and told me to wait a minute while he did something... and the dreaded wrench and pliers appeared and he took the training wheels off!!! I'm reminded of a song that old Archie Campbell used to sing on Hee Haw - " Gloom, Despair and agony on me... Deep dark depression excessive misery..." I was devastated!! He couldn't! He wouldn't! He could. He did. " Now, ride" he said. Of course our yard was mostly sandy dirt with some dead grass and I couldn't even start off with a good pedaling. All of my excuses fell on deaf ears. He grabbed the back of the seat and walked me and my bike back up to Front Street - the ONLY paved road in our neighborhood. It was so cold that the trees were still frosty white and all of the houses sported honest to goodness long icicles, and breathing was like inhaling a spear of ice. Frosted breath fogged the air as I pleaded with Daddy to put the training wheels back on the bike, to no avail. "You're too old to be riding with these training wheels" he said, and that was that. I'd had them about a week, you know... No doubt I had quickly outgrown them! So he got me situated on the bike, and he held the handlebars, and ran with me a few feet to get me going and then gave me a little push as he let go, and I rode about 5 feet and toppled over. Again, and again, and yet again he pushed, and I pedaled and then either fell, or straddled the bike before I could fall. Coordinating a pedaling action, steering and then applying brakes was a LOT to achieve... It seemed I might be able to do one thing at a time. Pedal, or steer, or brake and fall. I was getting the hang of it, and Daddy went home and left me to my own, but with my brother there to oversee. I remember being launched from my brother's hold on the seat of the bike and then pedaling. Fast and faster and 10 feet, then 20 feet and then 50 feet and I was flying down the road, and then the wobbles hit. I wobbled, and teetered and wobbled some more and I tried to brake gracefully because I knew without a doubt that I was going to fall, and fall hard if I didn't. But the bike was having no part of that brake deal... No sir. She dumped my shivering frozen icicle self right on that pavement and she tossed me in such a way that I landed on my hands and knees and skidded a short distance. The road was coated in a thin skin of ice, but not enough that it smoothed out the rocks that made up the asphalt. My pants were torn on both knees and both knees were torn, and so were the palms of my hands. The strange thing was that I didn't feel it. I was so cold, so frozen, that aside from the jolt of the fall, I didn't feel the scraped knees and hands. I was pretty banged up, but when my brother finally got to me, and tried to make me go home, I refused, and got on the bike and rode away from him, and I never fell again. When I finally ached from the cold and my teeth were chattering so hard that I couldn't say a word that didn't sound like morse code, I conceded and we went home. Tincture of Merthiolate. Do you remember that? There was Merthiolate and Mercurachrome. Both were orange and one of them stung like fire and one didn't. We had the one that did. *sigh* Both knees required extensive cleaning and painting and bandaids and so did my palms.
I don't remember another winter that was so cold as that one in our little drafty wood clapboard house, with our old oil furnace and drafty windows, a twinkling Christmas tree, peppermints and oranges spilling out of stockings, and sparkling ornaments casting prisms of cheer across the room...But I don't remember any that were any warmer and cozier, either.