Banana Bread

And March begins. Let’s take stock, how did February go for you? I found the prompt of people to be quite difficult. Some people I had to narrow down by event and other people I just felt that I did not do them justice. There were a few ideas in my notebook, I just didn’t have the ability to remove myself enough to write about yet. I think that prompts that start small seems easier and lend themselves to more detailed written accounts. Hopefully Food does a better job and is a bit more fun. Onward!

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My whole life my mother would make homemade banana bread. She had two loaf pans and when I saw those being prepped with Crisco and flour, I knew what the day would hold. With hindsight and age, I realize she was just not wasting food as I was very particular about the ripe range in which I would eat my banana.

No nuts were ever involved in the bread as my brother did not like nuts. I honestly never even thought about nuts being in the bread until I went out into the world on my own. I am not sure what was better, that first warm slice once it came out from the oven, or the next day toasted with a warm, soft center and slightly crispy outside. They both were delicious.

My son and my mother also made lots of loaves of banana bread together. We would go down for a visit. They would insist that I leave so they could do important grandson and grandma things and I would return to find loaves of fresh bread or a pan of brownies. My mom was the queen of letting a kid be a kid and she would later share pictures of him covered in batter and “helping”.

ok this is brownie batter but you get the idea of how my son helped

We would all devour one loaf and then she would carefully wrap the other one in foil and send it home with us. I would keep it in the freezer and then one day when we both needed a pick me up, take it out and we would feast. She died over eight years ago and we still have the last loaf in the freezer. I am sure it is freezer burnt and not very yummy but it is a reminder of a wonderful time for both of us.

At her visitation, along with the cards of memory, I made copies of the recipe that people could take home with them and attempt a new tradition in their homes in her memory.

front side of the recipe card
side of of the recipe card

Connie Lakes

As I mentioned, I started a brand-new school in first grade. We had moved to the town not that long before the start of school and while I knew a lot of business owners (my parents ran a hobby shop downtown) and the librarians (because they rock), I did not know a lot of people my own age. My mother would help this later by being a leader of my Brownie troop, but I started first grade being the new girl.

Mrs. Lakes was my first-grade teacher. She was young, newly married and working to finish her teaching master’s degree. She had kind eyes and long straight brown hair. I was instantly in love with her and wished if I had an older sister, it would be exactly like her.

Part of finishing her degree needed a student to conduct testing with or something. I honestly have no idea what we did or how long it took or what. All I knew was 1) I was important to be selected because this meant my favorite teacher liked me and 2) she and her husband took me to dinner as a thank you. We were not a family used to going to restaurants. I am sure we did, but I cannot picture the four of us out to dinner. Even when company came, it was always a big meal in the dining room; birthdays were the same way. When we finished, Bill and Connie took me to the mall (45 minutes away) to Morrison’s Cafeteria and they said, pick whatever you want. There was so much food! They let me have my own tray! I could pick ANY DESSERT I WANTED and didn’t have to finish all my food to eat it. It was amazing. I felt like such an adult.

Connie is big on Christmas ornaments. I have never seen her house at Christmas, but she has given me one as a wedding gift with the date on it and one for my brother’s passing. Her mother died the week of my mother’s funeral. She sent a lovely card and note. Telling me that she had always looked up to my mom and was so glad she had her as a scout leader. The tone of the note and the special place my mother had in her life sounded a lot like how I feel about Connie.

We have snail-mailed in the last few years during the pandemic. Talking about getting together and catching up. She lives four houses down from my mother-in-law but still we have not been able to make it work. I do hope it is a summer thing. I would love to pick her brain more about my mother as her scout leader.

This picture not only has Connie (top row, third in) but me (four more pictures over) and two of my husband’s cousins. Oh and of course Charles.

And aside, as much as I love Connie, it was her classroom that one of my sayings has its roots. When something in the nation or at work or in life happens, when the larger masses are punished for the stupidity of a smaller group or one person, I tend to say Charles was throwing scissors. I am old enough that we had room monitors when the teacher left the classroom. One child was appointed to stand in the front middle of the classroom and watch for any infractions in the teacher’s absence. As we learned, it had to be pretty bad for you to tell on the other kids because then you got labeled. However, Charles, who would have benefited from a more one on one style of teaching, would use that opportunity to throw his scissors at the room monitor. This then led to a chorus of CHARLES THREW HIS SCISSORS AT (fill in the blank) when she got back. And then we would all miss recess. With the value of age, I see the point of trying to teach chain of command and not tattling. I will, however, go to my grave using ‘Charles threw scissors’ as an exasperation of managements decisions.

Connie was an amazing teacher and exactly what I needed that first year as the new girl. Hopefully in the coming year I can tell her all that and listen to her stories (ok and also write them down afterwards).

Dad – Music Edition

Some of my best memories of my father involve music.

In my formative years, we attended a Baptist church in the next town. It was a bit fire and brimstone. I remember being quite worried for the preacher as he grew red-faced, sweaty and pounded the pulpit. I never thought of us much as a religious family but more a church going family. Your belief was just expected but not really discussed. Anyway, the choir was a big part of the church as was singing. We had at least 3-4 songs during the service and the choir would sing yet another one. I remember seeing my dad up there in the bass section wearing his mint green leisure suit, singing the parts I could only dream of singing and feeling so proud. I was sure he sang even deeper than Harold Reid.

Growing up we had a record player in a credenza that my father built (and apparently had written loving things to my mother on the inside doors; I only discovered this one day when after the divorce the credenza doors were missing and I saw them burning in the brush pile out back). My father played mostly what I would consider Old Johnny Cash albums and the like. Rock Island Line is probably the Cash song that makes me think of him the most, with Daddy Sang Bass a strong second and Hey Porter rounding out the top three.

I know there are like a million other things to focus on in this picture, but mostly it is the credenza you are to be looking at!

The credenza also held Hank Williams (Sr), Charlie Pride and Jim Reeves LPs. But those make me think of my mother more than my dad.

He got the big black beast; it had shag carpet in the back and an 8 track tape player. When he would pick us up for his weekly visits, we would get to pick what 8 track went in. This expanded our mutual music experience to include The Statler Brothers, Willy Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ricky Scaggs (one of the few of concerts I have attended in my life) and Merle Haggard. His second wife introduced Anne Murray and John Denver to the mix (not going to lie, 30+ years later, I still change the channel if they come on or hit skip).

Me, Dad and the Beast

He plunged deep into Bluegrass as I discovered the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and 80s music. Our relationship was one of varying degrees of closeness and our music tastes ebbing and flowing in similar fashion. Towards the end of his life we were back to suggesting songs to each other. I had just sent him a link to Lyle Lovett’s That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas and he had suggested I check out John Prine.

There are two songs that are not Cash or Statler Brothers related that make me think the most of my dad, and oddly it is because we danced to them at two different weddings. Both songs instantly conjure him in my mind.

The first was at my cousin’s wedding (his niece). He was out on the dance floor cutting a rug, if you will and told me to come out and dance with him. I am not a huge dance person but he insisted, so I joined and we shook it to Love Shack by the B52. I know, you are as surprised as I was that this became a memory. It does make me smirk a bit when it happens.

The last song is Crazy by Patsy Cline. He asked me to dance with him at my step-sister’s wedding. Not on the dance floor but quietly standing in the shadows by the table as we were standing there. Seemed we had come full circle both in our relationship and music-wise.

James David Scharf

My uncle Jim was my mom’s older (by two years) brother. From pictures, it looks like they spent a good deal of time together growing up. This makes sense as they lived down on the Ohio River and there were not a lot of other children around. Their younger brother did not show up until about ten years after my mother.  

Jim and Susan

Later they appeared friendly but there was a distance involved. My uncle was a very driven man. He enlisted in the Army after graduating from Purdue University. He was in the Vietnam War and continued with the military until he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. It was his desire to leave his small hometown see the world, and he did. I feel his siblings never felt that way, their town was plenty big for them, and there were some hard feelings with regards to him leaving. I had similar struggles with my brother and departure from our growing up town, so maybe I am projecting or maybe that is what bound my Uncle and I.

Jim Scharf

My Uncle married Aunt Carolyn and they had three children. Their youngest child, Anne was three months younger than I, and killed by a drunk driver when we were in high school. I could not fathom it in 1985, and I still cannot fathom how that changes a person today.

Jim was big on promises, less big on follow through. That was fine to me as when he did follow through, it was always clutch and amazing. He and Julie (his second wife) would sometimes be at Christmas, sometimes not. One year they dropped in and he said what do you want for Christmas. This was the 80s designer jeans, everything with a name on it and I was a kid that saved her money from working at Ponderosa to buy one pair of Calvin Klein jeans and wore them constantly. I told them a Coca Cola Jean Jacket, knowing it was so far out of my budget I would never ever see one. And yet under the tree, it appeared. I still have that jacket, though it doesn’t quite fit as well.

Me looking quite sassy in my new jean jacket

Like I said, he didn’t always follow through. I know he promised his siblings and mother; things that never appeared, but I feel in my heart he always meant to, just some other idea took over or distracted him. He promised me a sherpa rug for my dorm floor. It never appeared but he was there when I needed him more than things.

I went to a college I had never set foot on campus before I arrived Freshman year. We had enough money to send me on a plane there but neither parent was going with me. At the time Jim and Julie were living in Virginia and they agreed to let me ship my boxes of clothes, etc. to them and then meet me at the airport in Boston to make sure I got settled in. This was at a time when Logan airport was one of the few airports that did not allow non passengers down to the gate (but I did not know that). I got off the plane, 40% excited 60% scared to death and there was no one to meet me. I started to walk knowing that at a minimum I needed to get to baggage claim and get my luggage. And there after walking out of security, they were waiting for me. They picked up my luggage, got me settled into my dorm, took me to dinner, quick stop in the bookstore and then went home. When my Uncle died, Julie sent me the college sweatshirt he had picked up for himself that day. It was well worn and made me smile.

While my grandmother was somewhat interested in family history, my Uncle Jim went through a period of time where he was very devoted to genealogy. He taught me about Soundex and how to figure out what microfilm you needed to review (long before the internet and all its wonderful digitalization). He would have me hunt things where I was and shared finds from the National Archives with me. I still have quite a few compilations that he put together and often think how amazed he would be that it is so much easier to find things. And how excited he would be that I am working in the genealogy center in our library.

He built my first resume for me. Showed me how to do it, what to include, what phrasing to use. At that time not a single family member was literate in this art. He took his time, many drafts and patience to teach me this much needed skill to get my first job. I think about him a lot when I update my resume or help a friend with theirs. He was such a quiet, stable part of my life for being someone I saw rarely and I am not sure I even own a picture of the two of us together.

My mom, Uncle and Grandma Scharf

Mom – Rocking Chair Edition

My mother whistled it seemed, constantly. If I ever lost her in a store, I would just listen for whistling. I learned it meant that all was well in her world. I am not even sure I could pinpoint an actual song or tune, I am sure she knew it, it just wasn’t common to me. I don’t remember her really listening to music or the radio except for maybe LPs when I was little. She had bird song cassettes that my son can remember always being on when he would visit her as a child.

We had an old rocking chair (origins unknown, its whereabouts unknown) that she would sit and rock me (and my brother) and sing to us. Maybe bedtime, maybe when we were sad, maybe when we just needed a break. Just a running soundtrack of song after song, in no order, sometimes repeating. Later I realized they were mostly old girl scout songs and folk songs, she had learned at camp (she was a 25+ year girl scout, me not so much).

End page of 2003 Christmas gift – memory book

In 2003, I found a blank book with Maya Angelou quotes and filled it with pictures and things I had written and gave it to her for Christmas. [An aside, if you do have someone you can write things to now, do it. You remember better and those written now things can trigger other memories when you read them later. It hurts if you get them back when the person has passed; but what a wonderful gift to give someone] The following was one of the pages. I think it shows best how I remember her singing to me and the random of the songs but how they all flowed together. (She would sing the whole song before blending into the next; this was more my remembering parts)

The squeak, the creak, the sigh of the rocking chair

Snuggled close, almost too close to hear the words but only the soft rumble of the sound before it is spoken.

‘sweetly sings the donkey at the break of day, if you do not feed him; dark brown is the river, golden is the sand, they flow along forever; make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold; bed it too small for my tiredness, give me a hilltop with trees; Desert silver moon beneath the pale star light, Coyotes yappin’ lazy on the hill; day is done, gone the sun, from the hills; In Dublin’s fair city, where girls are so pretty; A gypsy’s life is free and gay, O faria; Rise up of flame by thy light glowing; Peace I ask of the oh River, peace, peace, peace, when I learn to live serenely cares will cease; Let every good fellow, now join in our song, Vive la compagnie!; Swinging along the open road under a sky that’s clear. Swinging along the open road in the fall of the year; Follow winding paths through the forest, follow gentle streams to lakes of blue; I love to go a wandering along the mountain track and as I go I love to sing, my knapsack on my back; Zum gali gali gali, Zum gali gali.; whener’ you make a promise consider its importance.’

Cuddled in a quilt, surrounded in song and love, safe and at peace.

Vivian Louise Swartz

My grandmother on my paternal side, wife of Darrel. She was smart, organized and more than a bit sassy. Once she told me that when she turned 80, she was going to stop holding back and she would let everyone know what she thought. I asked, you have been holding back? But again, I get ahead of myself.

Vivian was the only child of Donald and Ethel (Snell) Swartz. She was very matter of fact about the situation “my parents had to get married because I was on the way”, and the math does prove her out. I don’t know about her parents (her father was Pa and her mother died when I was a bit older than two). I am curious about their union; it lasted their lifetimes. Makes me wonder if my grandmother was an oops or a planned oops at times. From small snippets it seemed like her parents came from different worlds … not Hatfield/McCoy more on an education standpoint. But I speculate. I do think she struggled her whole life with if she was wanted or not. She didn’t seem to grow up around other children that I heard her speak of. They always had a dog or so it appears in pictures. Her mother went with her on the train trip to Texas to marry my grandfather. Her young life is such a mystery to me.

Darrel, Vivian and a dog (not a surprise there is a dog)

My brother and I never really went to camp growing up (ok a few girl scout camps I did suffer through), but when we got older we got to spend a week at my grandparents’ house (we each got out own week) and it was amazing. My grandmother would cook (yes brownies but also homemade pizza and fried chicken, fresh green beans cooked for a day with bacon and onion). I would help her in the garden and pick her pansies (that really didn’t need picked but she humored me). I would go with her to her weekly hair appointment for the wash, curlers and tease out (some color also). That was such a magical world. The thing is you could NEVER touch Grandma’s hair except on the night prior to the hairdresser. If I was good, they would let me take out the curlers after her trip under the dryer.

My son, the exception to the no hair touching rule. From the moment of his birth, he was allowed to touch her hair and she laughed it off. As he got older (and a beard) they made it a game of: If you touch my hair, I can touch your beard!

I learned about soap operas, Price is Right, Match Game, Concentration and Gilligan’s Island all on the small black and white TV she had on in the kitchen as she washed clothes (with a ringer washer) and ironed my grandpa’s work shirts. He worked construction every day and every day had a pressed short sleeved dress shirt. I have one I kept in my cedar chest. Weeks at their house were a whole different world and she made me a part of it by including me in their routine that was very comforting especially once my parents divorced.

I have always had horrid allergies; molds, trees, grass, warm blooded animals, pollens, feathers, etc. (thankfully, no food). Neither parent had allergies and I swear they thought I was kidding when I would get all snorky and watery eyed after feeding the chickens and thought I was trying to get out of things). My grandmother had seasonal allergies also. And I loved her for that. I felt so less alone when she and I were snorking together after the grass was mowed.

When I was in still in school, my grandparents started their lives as snow birds, each trip a tad longer until they bought a place in Panama City, FL. Retired military with a base nearby, they made trips to the commissary for groceries. As a non-military child, this place blew my mind. It was long before the days of the big box store and it had everything in it. They spent about half a year in Northern Indiana and the rest down South. After my grandpa died, my grandma did not want to return to the house they had raised a family and built a life together. I understood. That house held so many memories, it still does for me. Even today, I could mentally walk you through each and every room and even describe the furniture. I don’t blame her for not going back. Cleaning it out for sale was so very difficult.

Me with Grandma and Grandpa in front of the garage of their house they lived in for about 50 years.

She stayed in Florida until she fell and broke her hip. She did rehab but she could not live down there alone. The move made her more brittle, her speech became less guarded and she hurt many people with her comments. After my grandfather died, I began to see how much he brought her back to center with his ‘Now, Mother, I don’t think you meant that’ interjections. I think she missed him and was getting to the age where many of her friends were dying and she was getting lonely. She was losing her independence and at times she took it out on people who were just trying to help.

Her assisted living place worked with the local libraryand they dropped off books to her every few weeks. She was never not surrounded by books. Mostly history and biography, but one time I went to visit and she was reading Fifty Shades of Grey (don’t know what all the fuss is about, she said as she rolled her eyes). Like her father, she was always dressed to receive company. Pants, nice top with a broach of some sort (she had zillions of broaches), her lipstick on and of course her hair immaculate. I forgot when she stopped coloring it, but it was the most beautiful white. I do hope I have inherited her late in life hair color!

I would try to visit and even after we couldn’t really go into places as the transfer became too difficult, we would drive around the area to see what had changed. She was born in Winona Lake. Winona Lake in the 1930s was much different than it was in the 2010s. She would point out the house where she was born and other tiny childhood snippets. I should have listened and written them down. We would then take off out of town and each intersection I would have her pick right or left (spoiler, Northern Indiana is pretty grid like, the odds of getting lost are quite slim) and we would drive country roads for 30 minutes to an hour. Sometimes talking, sometimes not just being out. She died at the age of 92 at the nursing home where she was living. We had time to gather and my aunt, uncle and I were there. It was so lovely to see the people who worked there coming in to tell us how she had impacted their lives and how much they would miss her. She passed away quietly while I was holding her hand.

My hand and Grandma’s showing off the latest broach

Darrel M Frantz

I was the first grandchild on my paternal side. My grandparents on that side were 42/45ish when I showed up, just the right age to spoil me to no end. And my dad’s sister was 13, needless to say pictures show (and ok she has told me also) she thought I was pretty neat also.

My grandfather was born in 1923. He was the second born (first male) of five kids. As the story goes, he wanted to go out with my grandmother, but felt he was too old for her. Eventually, they did go out and marry and…I’m getting ahead of myself.

His father was Russell and I know very little about Russell. I met him, I know I did, as he did not pass until 1989 (Random fact for you, my dad’s grandfathers, Russell and the aforementioned Pa, died a day apart, odd that). 1930 census has Russell as a Telegraph Operator and 1940 has him as a farmer. That makes better sense to my brain as I mentally see him as a farmer.

My grandfather finished high school and started work in construction, all he while keeping an eye on the lovely Vivian, three years younger. In September 1942, he enlisted in the Army/Air Corps. Heading off to war, he proposed to my grandmother, and she followed him on a train the Texas to get married as he was there for basic training. She came back to Indiana and he headed to Europe to fly his first mission on D-Day as a bombardier. He survived the war but never spoke of it to me. My grandmother didn’t much either, though she loved to read books on history, WW2, biographies and everything she could find on the English Royal Family and the Kennedys.

When he returned, he worked construction, eventually becoming foreman on projects including many banks, office buildings and even some dorms on the Huntington University campus. I had a hard hat (he spraypainted it purple for me as I loved purple) that I wore when I visited the job site, granted I was only allowed in the trailer, but I thought I was quite something. He was a strong man due to his occupation. Always picking me up and holding me in one hand to bump my head on the ceiling until “Darrel put her DOWN” was heard. He and I would grin.

He always had change in his pocket along with his pocket knife. There was a general store two blocks from their house with glass jars of penny candy. We would walk up after dinner on weeks I stayed with them and I would take forever to spend the random change in his pocket (38 cents or 77 cents, it really made no difference, I think it was more about spoiling me and teaching me a little math), but he would never rush me.

He had no feeling in his ring finger on his left hand (I think it was left hand) because it was cut by a saw blade at one time (long before I came into the picture) the lumpy scar would fascinate me. Again, he never talked about it, just let me run my finger over the scar in fascination and wonder. I think of that sometimes when I see my own knee scar.

There was a Schoolhouse Rock song where they tossed these multiple dips of ice cream, and I was enthralled with this idea of more than one scoop of ice cream. I NEED many scoops of ice cream on one cone. He took me out to get a multi-scoop cone, THREE scoops. One of which was blue bubble gum. I ate like a little piggie and then threw up the whole thing. He cleaned me up, not a lecture to be seen. I have never eaten more than two scoops since then. (Another side note: my cousin who is about 18 years younger than I, told me one time that Grandpa took her to Kmart and they got Icees. When they took them to the table, she got the bottom of the cup caught on the table and the whole thing spilled. I said to her, did he get mad? And she said, nope just that accidents happen; we cleaned it up and he got me a new one).

When staying at their house, he and I would get up quite early. Me, because I was a kid full of excitement, staying with my grandparents and no parents around to enforce weird rules like no brownies for breakfast. Him, because between the military and working construction his internal clock just rang at that hour. We would be so careful to quietly sneak downstairs and have “breakfast”. Him with his coffee and cold hotdogs; me with my milk and brownies. We would be sure to clean up the kitchen and then when Grandma came down to make breakfast, we would eat everything to make sure she did not know of our secret plan. It took me WAY too long to put the pieces together that she knew of this because, duh, how did the brownies get there? Such a great memory of him sitting there, hot coffee, plaid robe, bare feet, listening to me chatter on like a chipmunk.

He was such a solid, quiet anchor in my life, I just assumed he would be around forever. He died in his sleep from heart failure at 71. I know everyone’s vision of afterlife is different, but there have been many a time I have been fixing something and I get stuck and ask him to guide me. And poof the idea of the next step pops in my head; still would be nice if I could call and ask him or give him a hug of thanks.

Mrs. Jones

I have heard it said one good teacher can make up for 3 bad ones. My son had the most amazing Kindergarten teacher. She was such a wonderful start to his education. She even came to his high school graduation party and we exchange Christmas cards. It is not an exaggeration to say she taught my son but also taught me. After the first semester she requested a meeting and told me she thought he should be tested. I had her explain to me what she meant, what was the testing for and then agreed.

He went through the testing and confirmed what his Kindergarten teacher thought; he was a good fit for the system’s T&G program. It would challenge him more and let him use his creativity to a greater extent than the typical classroom. I thought it would be a great idea as he was starting to ask why he didn’t think like the other kids and why was he weird.

Mrs. Jones was his first-grade teacher. She seemed welcoming and the classroom was colorful with stations around the room exploring different things. The incoming class was so large that there was a co-teacher in the room also and half of the students were assigned to her and the rest to Mrs. Jones.

My son, first day of first grade

My son got Mrs. Jones as a teacher.

It started well; he enjoyed being with the other kids and feeling more “normal”. His grades weren’t super, but it was also first grade, so I didn’t give it a thought…until parent teacher conference.

She told me he lacked focus and was easily distracted. That sometimes he seemed to not be paying attention and she would have to repeat things. (I personally thought, um yes, also traits of T&G kids I have read and why this new “learning style” was supposed to be the way to go for him). But I just nodded, slightly shell shocked.

“So, I have put him in a box”

 A box? I asked quite confused. She went on to explain that she had this, science fair board like object that fit around his desk, he could not see the other kids nor the front white board. “I only use it when he needs to focus”. I said I was not comfortable with him being singled out like this and she told me oh she uses them on other children “like him”.  He reminds me of my daughter, she told me, and I had to really buckle down on her. I left the meeting feeling like I had failed my kid. Who elects to put her child in a classroom where the teacher thinks a BOX is a good idea?

I went home that night and talked to him a great deal. Did he like the others in the classroom? How did he feel in the ‘box’? Did he want to go back to the other school he was at prior?  We talked a lot about Mrs. Jones, how she made him feel and if he wanted to stay in her room the rest of the year. And he decided yes, (I personally think I would have told my mom get me OUT of here). We both grew from his experience, and he made friendships with some of the other ‘box’ kids. I kept in close contact with Mrs. Jones and tried to reign her in when I could.

We still talk about it from time to time (he is 22 now) and he will say, Mrs. Jones did NOT like me. And I will agree and say, yes, but she REALLY didn’t like me.

She retired the following year after his first-grade class.

Pa

Welcome to February. The month of people as topics. How did January and items go for you? I found that once I started a notebook and jotted down ideas as they came to me (for that month and future months), my brain had room to think of other things. Just an idea.

***

Pa with my dad (his grandson). They built a small desk together when my dad was young that has been passed down and used by at least 6 kids.

My paternal grandmother’s father was called Pa. Everyone called him Pa. My brother and I might call him Great Grandpa Swartz to his face, but he was always referred to as Pa. He is one of those people I knew (I was 21 when he died) but I didn’t really know him. He was about 65 when I was born and a very quiet man. A farmer by trade and yet what he had on his farm (Cows? Pigs? Did he farm corn or soybeans or both?) I have no idea. I see pictures of the farm, but honestly have no memory of him there, just in his later life at the nursing home.

A tall, thin man, he struggled with dementia and Parkinson’s the last five years of his life. He lived in an assisted living facility near my grandparents. This was years before my mother started to work in a nursing home and the whole idea was so fascinating to me. It was a sprawling facility, all carpeted with small gathering rooms that always had a puzzle going on one of the tables. There was a dining room where they could go for their meals if they chose not to prepare them in their own room. There was a pottery area and room where they volunteered and made braided rugs. Also, a beauty parlor and a shuffleboard area! Oh, how my ten-year-old self loved being able to head down and give it a try.

Pa never missed a birthday or Christmas (ok my adult self realizes that it was my grandmother doing the work but still). I would receive a brand spanking new $5 bill with a card and the shakily written Pa at the bottom. Five dollars! He was hands down the richest man I knew.

My mom, Pa and I (mid/late 1970s)

He was a man who took pride in his appearance. When visiting him, he was always wearing dress pants and a button shirt (mostly short sleeve). Even his slide on slippers (the tremors made tying anything impossible) were subtle yet stylish. His hair was always combed and a tiny black comb near him so he could make sure he looked neat. Later as the tremors grew in intensity, he would always have hard candy near him and a piece in his month as the medicine gave him dry mouth.  

Pa would hold my hand when I talked to him. I remember the feel of his dry, slightly chilly hand gently in mine and from time to time he would pat the top of mine with his other hand. My view of him is through a lens of a child and I am sure I would have different emotions had I been older or known him in a different light like his wife and daughter did, but to me he was quiet, tidy man who always had candy to share when I visited.

The Blue Bowl

You will remember that there were three items I really wanted from my mom’s house: Bear Bank, Rolling Pin and The Blue Bowl.

Spoiler alert, I lost out on the Rolling Pin. My brother got it. Alas, two out of three isn’t bad. I do have such delightful memories of that rolling pin. It made a very specific noise when she would use it to roll out pie crusts. Like it wanted you to know how hard it was working but also comforting like an old rocking chair. When my mom made pie crust, she would bake the leftover pieces of dough with a tad of butter and cinnamon sugar. Hands down the best snack ever! She also would roll out biscuit dough and then cover the whole thing in butter and cinnamon sugar (see a childhood trend there?) then roll the rectangle into a snake, cut the ends off into discs and make the most amazing breakfast rolls.

Do not cry for me Argentina, I did get The Blue Bowl.

As seems to be a theme with the “things” this month, the blue bowl has no unique markings and I have no idea of its origin. I do know however; it made the BEST bread. Long before it was cool (or pandemic driven), my mom made bread. And not healthy wheat bread, nope it was fluffy, delicious white bread. She would mix it in the bowl, kneed it on the counter and then put it back in the bowl to rise in the oven. Once it was the correct height, she would punch it down, kneed it again and then put it in loaf pans to bake. Fresh from the oven, every inch of the surface buttered, piece of bread was such an amazing snack.

I did go through a bread baking phase with the bowl. Ok, my first attempt I rushed a bit and she and I called it doorstop bread, because it was a tad brick-esque.  I learned to be more patient, and I then moved on to wheat flour. I made loaves and loaves of honey wheat bread. They were yummy and fluffy, but never quite as amazing of my memory of my mother’s bread.

I use the blue bowl mostly for cookies. Chocolate chip cookies during the year. Peanut butter with kisses, chocolate with Andes mint pieces, shortbread thumbprint cookies with raspberry jam, oatmeal scotchies, brown sugar cookies, and chocolate covered cherry cookies just to name a few during the holiday season. I am pretty sure my son thinks of it as the cookie making bowl when it comes out of the pantry, like the way I used to see it on the counter and think ‘oh GOOD warm bread is on the horizon’.