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Archive for August, 2011

Karma and Pickles

When I was growing up, our family ate Shirley Schultz’s pickles. We ate my
mom’s pickles, too, but Shirley’s always went first. Shirley played bridge with
Mom and gave away quarts of pickles as bridge prizes. They didn’t last long at
our house. Not that my mom didn’t make good pickles, but Shirley made perfect
pickles. Tart and crunchy with perfect pucker power, we could finish off a jar
in a day. Of course, Mom got the recipe. She came home with a jug of Shirley’s
water.  She even had pickle lessons at Shirley’s house. They were always good,
but not like Shirley’s. She is the queen of pickles, the guru of gherkins.
Shirley Schultz has pickle karma.

I have always compared every pickle that I’ve eaten to those pickles of my
childhood, and they were never quite as good. When I moved back to Minnesota and
became a Farm Woman, I dreamed of a pantry filled with sparkling jars of
pickles. I could eat as many as I wanted. I would blush as folks raved over
them. I would graciously accept yet another blue ribbon at the county fair. In
real life, it was another bubble burst, another dream shattered. My pickles
looked pretty in the jars lined up in the pantry, but they were just OK. Maybe a
little less than OK, because I just emptied four jars of them outside for the
chickens, and I don’t think they like them, either.

Last year, I attended an outdoor party at the home of my friends Dawn and
Dale Evans. They served the most wonderful  spicy pickled carrots that I had
ever eaten.  I went back for seconds, then thirds. I considered filling my purse
when nobody was looking, they were that good. I decided right then and there. I
WILL MAKE GOOD PICKLES. I will. I got the recipe and tucked it into my purse. I
also got Shirley Schultz’s recipe. I planted pickling cucumbers and carrots in
my garden. Dale gave me pepper plants from his greenhouse. It was time.

I was talking to Dawn about my two recipes for perfect pickles and she
started to smile. Her smile got bigger and bigger, and she laughed. “Didn’t you
know that Shirley Schultz is Dale’s aunt?” she asked. My perfect pickles and
perfect pickled carrots, eaten 35 years apart and good enough to be remembered,
come from the same recipe.

My jars are now lined up in the pantry. They look shiny and oh, so beautiful,
but I can’t sample them for another two weeks. I have garlic dills, hamburger
slices, and large jars filled with cucumbers, hot peppers and carrots. In my
real life, the pantry is in the basement, so the jars don’t sparkle unless I
turn on the lights.  I’m not planning to enter them in the county fair. All I
want is good pickles, and if I think positively and the karma is good, it just
might happen.

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So Long, Farewell

The time had come again for a new crop of young adults to leave for college. Some of you parents are ecstatic, some of you are sad, and most of you are shell-shocked wondering just how the years went by so quickly. You hope you raised them to make good choices.  As you pull out your wallets and credit cards paying for the latest “must have” for the college dorm room or apartment there are a few things to remember:  1) Just because your son/daughter is now a young adult, you still don’t know very much. Unsolicited parental advice will still get shrugs, eye rolling, and fast and furious texting to friends. These friends know everything, and every bit of advice needed will be asked of them, not you.  It may help you to know that the older they get, the smarter you get.  2)  I know right now that you are swallowing a lump in your throat and picturing your cute little cherub on his way to kindergarten class, but please remember not to be too clingy or the little cherub will be 37, living in your basement and playing video games  while you are still washing his dirty socks.  Speaking of dirty laundry, I hope you know that he will come for the first visit home carrying a big bag of it and asking you with puppy dog eyes if you will wash it for him because he is “so tired from all that studying”.  Like he did.  Like you’re not.   You will almost certainly cave in the first few times because you have missed him so much, but hopefully you will realize that while you are doing laundry, he is heading out the door to have some fun with his friends. If you still don’t get it, please reread the part about  dirty socks and your basement.   3)  If he will be moving to an apartment, BEWARE. I know since you are old enough to have a child in college, you may think that you are old enough to start misplacing things, but I can almost guarantee that you are not.  From  your food storage containers to your best paring knife, it will end up in their apartment.  This goes for things like small kitchen appliances and irons, even if they have never touched either a day in their lives. Your soft fluffy bath towels will be lying in a damp heap on their bathroom floor while you are drying yourself on thin, worn out towels destined for the  rag-bag.  Be prepared for big-ticket grocery items to disappear, too.  Bread, cheese, toilet paper, leftover roasts,  laundry detergent, you name it, they’ll “borrow” it.

Note that I have used the words “he” and “they” when writing this column. This is because I didn’t want to use the pronoun “she” in case someone might  think I am writing from the experiences of my own little cherub.  She is now old enough to know that her mother does  indeed have a little bit of sense, and I am old enough to know that she may someday choose my nursing home. I hope I raised her to make good choices.

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Root Beer Summers

I don’t want to come across sounding like Grandma Moses, but when I was a kid, we didn’t open the refrigerator to find cans of pop to drink whenever we were thirsty. Life was simple. For breakfast we drank orange juice. For lunch or supper, milk. If you didn’t want those choices, you got water. Not in a plastic bottle to carry around and add to the landfill, but water from the kitchen faucet. If we were playing outside, we drank out of the garden hose and passed it around from one kid to the next.  Vikan the dog drank right along with us, but I’m not sure that the neighborhood moms knew that.  Sometimes on hot summer Sunday evenings, Dad would drive us to the local A&W for a frosted mug filled with root beer. The car hop would somehow attach a tray to the car’s window, and the whole family would enjoy an icy cold drink while sitting in the car. I would wait for that tray to fall, but it never did.  It sounds strange now, I know, but it was a lot of fun and we looked forward to it.  At least once during the summer and twice if we were lucky, Dad would haul up the big crock from the basement and we would make our own root beer. It was an old-fashioned thing to do, even then.  Mom would mix extract, yeast, sugar, and water and we would take turns stirring it with a long wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar before pouring it into bottles and capping them. We had a large collection of painted-label pop bottles from the 1950’s and 1960’s which we would use over and over. Each of us had our favorite bottles, and my sister or her friends had better not take mine! We had to wait then, for the magic to happen. The root beer had to “ripen” for the fizz to form, then you only had about a week or two to drink it before it got too strong and made the bottles explode. That week or two was a happy time for us, as we got to drink pop every day, sometimes even twice a day. My dad loved it, too, as he had a sweet tooth and liked it as much as we did, often making us root beer floats for a nighttime snack.   We shared this bounty with our friends, and they also loved that strong yeasty flavor of home-made root beer.  After my dad died and Mom was preparing to sell the house, we hauled the crock and the baskets of bottles up one last time for the estate sale. Of all the things we sold, those were the hardest for me to let go.  I wasn’t around for the sale, but some of the neighborhood kids, now adults, told me they bought their favorite bottle to keep as a memory of their childhood.  I already had taken my favorite, though, carefully wrapped and packed into my suitcase.  Ironically, the yellow painted label says “Dad’s Root Beer”.

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Labor of Love

My grandparents owned a gas station in Chisholm, Minnesota and lived in the apartment above.
After Grandpa died in 1960, the station closed. Grandma still lived upstairs, and that’s where we would go to visit her. Since the building took up the whole lot, Grandma had no yard or garden. She had grown up on a farm, so this must have been hard for her, but we never heard her complain. Her outdoor area was a large black tar roof with a clothesline. As a child, I was fascinated by the rooftop view of the houses and neighborhood below.   We were never allowed to go out there by ourselves, for obvious reasons. My cousins have tales to tell of getting scolded for jumping off, so I guess they were either much braver than my sister and I , or they were better at slipping away from watchful adult eyes.

After Grandma died, one of my uncles lived there, but it was old, there was a fire, and the place got condemned and torn down. The empty lot remained.  Of the five sons my grandparents raised, only two remain, the oldest and the youngest. One is 91 and one is 81 and we are blessed to have them both. The younger uncle has come up from Florida the past few summers and has mentioned that he had been planting some flowers in the lot to spruce it up a bit. He has not had a good year, health wise. He feels better but not good. His right foot drags due to an old stroke. His friends are dying. He feels the years, and they don’t feel so good.  His daughter asked if I wanted to come and see what he had done, and perhaps give him a hand.

On the drive over, I wasn’t sure how I would feel.  I had not been there since Grandma’s funeral more than 30 years ago, when it was still a house. To see that empty lot would be sad to say the least, and I wanted to remember it as it was.

What I found was a true labor of love. There are flowers and paths and a stone wall. There are seven trees planted, one for each of his parents, and one for each son they raised. There are benches that welcome a walker to sit and rest, as this is a town where folks still walk downtown for their errands, just as my grandmother did all those years ago.

The three of us hauled stone pavers and pulled weeds. It was hard sweaty work, but it was
good work.  He has done a lot, and has a lot more to do before his job is complete.  He is working hard, and as he works, he remembers. He is leaving his hometown a legacy and not an empty lot.  He is leaving a memory of a family;  of sons who grew up to be athletes and soldiers and fathers.  What I like best is that his mother, my beloved grandmother, who had a big black tar roof instead of a back yard, finally has a beautiful flower garden with seven trees.  I know, as much as I know my own name, that somehow she was watching us today and smiling.

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