Sunday, April 29, 2012


When we moved here twenty four years ago (tempus fugit) there was a cotton wood in the back yard.  It was an interesting tree; it may have been three seedlings merged at the base, three fused trunks to the sky; it may have been one trunk that split.  No matter, for a trash tree it had character.

Cottonwoods do have their place.  I left a twenty year old one I’d planted in my Mentor back yard.  Less than a mile from the lake, water table about six inches below ground, that tree was in cottonwood heaven and grew big and tall on its unlimited water supply.  Its leaves were the first to show and the last to fall; it always rustled in the back yard.  A comfortable tree in my Mentor back yard.

The fellow who expanded our septic system and leach bed the fall we moved in offered to take out the cottonwood.  Recalling the rustle, I declined.  So, the cottonwood grew on, at the in front of the oaks and maples that trail off into the woods.

The cottonwood, sixteen years ago

The cottonwood grew and grew.  Erma Bombeck noted the grass is greener over the septic, and I can add that cottonwoods are bigger over the leach bed.  It dominated the back yard; it sent mighty roots over to drink up the cistern water we use for the garden.  The mighty roots became hills in the yard that tripped up the lawn mower.  For all we knew, the mighty roots were tearing away the septic tank walls.  The cottonwood was taking full advantage of its fortunate situation, but our outlook was less fortunate.  New septic systems cost about twenty thousand dollars.  Felling the tree, with some sadness, only nine hundred.

I could not watch it come down, but all the men in the neighborhood made up for my absence.  When I came home from work there was just a stump and the next day that was ground to chips.

The area that was a cotton wood

This maple was behind the cottonwood.  Unknown, unloved, sandwiched between an oak and the cottonwood.  It’s pointing east, taking its advantage of what sun it received.  The woodman offered to take it out, too.  He said it would never have a straight trunk.  No, but such an interesting one.  Go, maple.  It’s put in fifteen or twenty years to get here.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

An anniversary

The pretty little Libester token this week caught me up short and set me thinking about the year I’ve been blogging.  It’s been way over a year since I found blogs, and followed many by bookmarking them.  Never confident enough to comment, completely entranced by the possibilities.

But, what to write about.  There really is nothing new under the sun.  One day in my kitchen I was telling Beth an old family story.  Again.  Again she said “You never told me that!”  Grrrr.  But, there it was.  I could write down as much family history as I remembered or found.  Next time I could say “Go look it up!”

The last ten years my Grandma Rolf lived, (and she lived 95 years), family members would pick her up and bring her to family events.  But she no longer looked involved, and I felt sad about her, alone on the sofa.  I’d sit down and ask her seriously about how she did something when she was young.  As if I’d wound the mainspring, she had stories for hours.  I can still see her become eighty years younger, with far away eyes, floating on air across the parlor floor to the doll on the Christmas tree.  She knew it was hers. 

I heard hours of stories and only looked at it as a way to make Grandma happy she was there. I can recall thinking “I should be writing this down.”  Of course I didn’t. I regret this. Later on, the last few years of Mom’s life, I’d ask her the same kind of questions and spent pleasant Sunday afternoons with her observations and recollections.    “I should be writing this down.”  Of course I didn’t.  I regret this.

Beth gave me a reason and an impetus, but how to start.  Still couldn’t bring myself to jump right in.  I got a blogger page opened, then I went to Pittsburgh with Carol, and this delightful kitten came into my life.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Today I even bought a new office chair, because, as you can see, he no longer fits on the old one.

I love blogs.  I’ve met people from all over the world, seen places I’ll never go, had conversations with people I’ll never meet.  I’m having a good time with the stories, and a good time with the cat who loves everything.  Last night I chased him up the steps.  Chin high, long white streamer between two front legs.  He’s much faster than I, and was around the corner and depositing his treasure in the girls’ room.  A paper towel.   The very first thing my three youngest granddaughters will do in June is crawl around under beds and dressers to get out all the forks, pine cones, spools, yarn, socks, toe people, and now paper towels he’s hidden away.

A year of Toby, who will be one on or about Mothers’ Day, USA:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Harry trees and houses

There is a Harry Potter house at the intersection of US421 and 50, in Versailles, Indiana. North out of Madison, it’s right there on the left.  I used to have a picture.  We hope I sent a copy to Ann and it’s in her big tub of pictures to be scanned.  That will be my job when I next go to Wisconsin.  Where the governor has just quietly signed legislation legalizing lower pay for women.  All the cases of pay discrimination will clog up the courts, he claims. The average American woman earns 77 cents for every male dollar earned.  In Wisconsin it’s 75 cents.  I am very interested in the recall vote coming up in a couple of weeks.

I digress.  There are Harry Potter houses, if I look around, and while I was in Wisconsin last I yelled “Stop the car; it’s a Harry Potter house!” twice, and Ann did.  This white house probably is more Hermione than Harry, but the little round room looks charming.

That makes this brick house with a round foyer more Professor McGonagall than Harry Potter. 

Think of a house of round rooms, all topped off with shingled turrets and that’s my Versailles Harry Potter house.  I’ll find that picture!

For the last nine years I’ve passed a happy Harry Potter tree on the way to work.  It’s right on the township grounds!  This is a Hagrad tree.


Less happy before morning coffee and sunshine.

Ah, going to be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

An award

I’m honoured to be given the Liebster award by River at Drifting through Life.  I read up on the rules, and then I cut and pasted them all from her site, so we all know what we’re talking about.

Liebster is a German word that translates to dearest, beloved or in this case favorite. The idea of the Liebster Award is to give it to an up and coming blog with fewer than 200 followers, in order to create new connections, and bring attention to their wonderful blogs.

The rules require me to present the award to five bloggers who have a following 200 or less and who I feel deserve it.  For myself, I sliced that down a little more, to 100 or less.  Five little frogs in the big pond.

Here are the real conditions that go along with accepting the award;

1. Thank the Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog. (that would be me)

2. Link back to the blogger who presented you the award. (again, me)

3. Copy and paste the Liebster Blog Award on your blog. (don't lose it in amongst your documents and spend hours searching for it ((River's advice))

4. Present the award to 5 bloggers who have a following 200 or less, who you feel deserve it.

5. Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog.

I concur with River.  Picking five is tough.  Lots of us little frogs enjoying blogs.

Pear Tree Log – I found this followed by one of my big frog bloggers.  If I lived in England I’d live right next door to Elaine and learn about gardens and puddings and being nice to everyone.

Some Other Mountain – Molly is Welsh, but sounds much like my English sister-in-law.  Her stories are fun, her countryside is lovely.

Bizarre Scribble – Who couldn’t take a peek at a blog called Bizarre Scribble.  Occasionally I need to look up a word Windsmoke used to tell her she missed the mark.  Guess what.  She doesn’t.

Costa Rica Calling – Another blog I can’t remember finding.  Retired, lives in Costa Rica after the U.K. and France.  When I fell into her blog she bought the donkey next door so some little fellow’s father wouldn’t have to return it (cost too much to keep). ‘Nuff said.

View from the Attic – Pat’s is the very first blog I followed.  My friend Linda gave me the web address and I discovered:  Blogs!  An old friend!  Who could ask for anything more.  Pat is still in the same business I retired from and it's like breathing the old air again.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Goose dressing

Dressing a friend’s goose is the get out of jail card for a left brained person.  There never would be a goose in my yard, although I do confess to a pig, a lamb and a toad.  But a goose in my wild and crazy right brained friend’s yard is open season.

The first winter I sent Goose a green velvet dress for the Christmas parties, and an ermine jacket and muff to keep warm.  Goose needed them badly; it snows so much in upstate New York we identified Goose’s frigid body by her ermine wrap.

When Linda moved her studio to from New York to Ohio in 2003, Goose came, too.  Six Mayflower trucks backed down her street to unload; one thirty pound concrete goose tucked into a corner.  Goose lives in the driveway of the new house.  I once sent Goose an outfit addressed to Goose in the Driveway.  The postman put it in the box.  Either he was short on humor or there are rules.  I suppose these are completely identical.

Many people keep Goose attired.  Linda says goose clothes even arrive anonymously.  When Emily was three years old and lived here she bounced up and down on the back seat all the way to Linda’s.  She had a witch costume to put on Goose for Halloween.

We have an obligation to keep Goose looking her best every day.  A lovely woman on Linda’s street had a stroke two years ago.  Every day the weather is fit she walks on her husband’s arm, two blocks down and two blocks back to see what Goose is wearing.  Last Sunday it rained on and off.  Goose was up for it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The jig is up

Jan and I spent a long weekend at Linda’s one spring when she still lived in New York State, hanging out, working jigsaw puzzles.  That's where we met Goose.  Concrete geese as lawn ornaments were already past their prime when Linda had to have one; nevertheless, she felt such a need that one came home in her van.    

Everything old is new again.  A 1920's goose.
Back then the geese actually were made of concrete, in size extra large.  Those geese moved about on hand carts.  They must have come unpainted, too, because when we first encountered Goose, Linda was negotiating with her daughter to have it painted.  Before we left that weekend, Goose had a lovely white body, a yellow beak, and yellow feet with green grass under them. 

While Cara and her boyfriend put several careful coats of paint on Goose, Jan, Linda and I worked on a complex new puzzle.  In truth, I did little; jig saw puzzles make me crazy.  Jan and Linda, however, have a knack and an obsession.  The last morning I got up much earlier than those two, who had spent the wee hours bent over the puzzle. 

I brushed my teeth and washed my face with a washcloth I found in a cupboard, and fitted maybe half a dozen little pieces when the two of them put in an appearance.  Linda dangled my morning wash cloth off the end of her finger and said just one cupboard over were towels and washcloths; why did I pick an old rag from the rag cupboard.  Over the course of the day, probably also due to my puzzle ineptitude, Linda teased me a whole lot about washing up with a rag.  When it was time to leave, I made sure that rag was tucked away in my suitcase.

Zipping down the New York Thruway going home I told Jan I not only had nicked that rag, I would figure out how to do something with it she couldn’t throw away, or put in the rag bag.  We were tossing a couple of ideas around the front seat when the phone rang in the back seat.  This was 1997, those phones were big and loud.  I jumped a foot, unfastened my seat belt and dug around the back seat while it kept on ringing.

“Hello.”  (No caller ID back then.)

“The jig is up!”

I almost dropped the phone or threw it up in the air on my way back into my seat.  How did she know I took that washcloth!?

“What jig?  What are you talking about?”

“I just put the last piece in the puzzle; the jig is up,” Linda said.

Well, it was sort of funny.  We chatted a couple more minutes and hung up.

“She’s in for it now,” I told Jan.  I stitched a goose on that ratty wash cloth.  Then I had it framed.  In gilt.  The frame shop really didn’t get it; when I picked the piece up they had tucked in the six inch long raggedy ripped off edge.  But they couldn’t hide thin and seer, or the hole.  It really was a fun weekend, and that goose is hanging in her Ohio bathroom now.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Help arrived, just past the nick of time….

But, no mind, Artemis or Butler or Holly will certainly sort it out.  If Fowl escapades delight an eight year old grandchild, do listen.  If eight is the number of hours to drive to Wisconsin, you may want a back up listening plan.

Two or three years ago at Ann’s, we went to a neighboring farm to bring home a litter of kittens.  Back in the kitchen, we set about naming them.  My fail safe sexing test, lift the tail and locate the peas, indicated we would be naming three girls.  To complicate the job, all Ann’s cats must have a Z in their name.  I recall a cat named Pez, later honored with a switch plate that says Chateau du Pez.  I fell in love with a little Siamese with a stubby tail, Zephyr.  There was a calico named Ziggy or Zaggy.  She’s still there.

But, what to name three little girl cats.  One black kitty had four white paws, so Ann immediately named her Maize.  Elizabeth was an easy choice for one.   She was an all black.  The last little calico we named Hazel.

Ann and her husband rescue dogs and cats so often the vet became their personal friend twenty years ago.  When the three little girls kept their life altering date with the vet some time after they came home, he had no reason to doubt the gender attributed to each one, until he had Elizabeth upside down on the table.  Let’s just say her name is now Lizzy, short for Lizard.  Maize did not suffer a name change only because of gender neutrality.  Except for neutering, Hazel remained intact.

I seldom see Hazel or Lizzy when I visit; either they have many farm chores to attend to, or they don’t like me.  Maize arrives from nowhere when I come up the drive, and is up for any walk I take.  My personal farm escort.

Behind the barn

Old out building

Stop for a nail job

Ann’s road

I don’t go in the road

Zola, the porch potato

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On the road with Artemis Fowl

Caroline gave me the adventures of the lawless young fellow for my birthday, so I’ve packed them up to go to Wisconsin tomorrow.  I may know a lot more about butt flaps when I get back in a week.  Or even be deviously accomplished.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

D Bye

Moraine Avenue was a dead end street.  It had a sort of alley at the end that went back to a rental house and then continued on through to Gardendale.  Very convenient for circling the neighborhood.

Mr. and Mrs. Davis lived almost at the end of the street.  The house Jan went to to dry out and miss an afternoon of school after she fell in the puddle.  My parents and the Daviess were friends in the way parents had back then of bringing a chair and their coffee and sitting in some backyard while the kids played and caught fireflies until the street lights came on.

The Davis’ were warmly mysterious.  They were from “the South” and each spoke with warm, soft accents we didn’t hear at home.  They came with names we had never heard.  Rankin and EllDean.  There was a contest on an afternoon radio show; if you had the first name of the day and called the station first, you won something from the local grocery.  EllDean called the station to comment on the unfairness; she would never hear Rankin or EllDean among all the Johns, Larrys, Sues and Marys they called out.  The very next afternoon the name was EllDean!  Everyone on the street listened for her to call, and as the minutes ticked away and someone ran down to find everyone gone at the Davis house, the women of the street began calling in and explaining she wasn’t home but surely would call if she were.  I believe EllDean won their daily prize.

Rankin and EllDean had a Scotty dog.  He came as a pup about the time I was four or five, and joined the neighborhood kids daily as soon as he was big enough to go out and play.  His name:  D Bye.  D Bye ran with the bikes, watched ball games, went off with one bunch of adventurers or another.  Like the rest of us, his basic rule was to be home for bed when the streetlights came on.

D Bye never gave up on kids; when the interests of one set turned to dating or cars, he took up with the younger siblings.  His sturdy terrier legs carried him miles around the neighborhood.  But as he got up in age, his eyesight began failing.  Sadly, Rankin and EllDean confined him to home and got a raggedly little mutt to keep him company.  Ever the terrier escape artist, D Bye left home every day, his mutt in tow.  D Bye eventually became totally blind, but not before he taught his mutt everything.  For years you could still see a totally blind Scotty trotting down the road, his mutt against his shoulder, manning the wheel.

I asked Rankin, years later, what was D Bye’s real name.  He said they’d always just called him D Bye.

“But what does that mean,” I asked.

He enunciated carefully.  “The Boy.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Charge, please

When I was little Mom made most of her purchases at O’Neil’s Department store, right there on Main Street and directly across from Polsky’s, the other major department store.  Shoes, socks, clothing, linens, furniture…if we needed it, Mom went to O’Neil’s.  The clerk would stack the selections on the counter, write up a bill, ring it on the cash register, and then ask “Will that be cash or charge?”  Sometimes Mom took cash from her billfold; sometimes she took out the little blue leatherette case that held her revolving charge card, a small piece of metal the size of a dog tag.  The card went on an imprinter, the top of the written bill went over the card, the handle was pushed down and mother’s name and address imprinted on the top of the bill.  Then the card and the bill went into a metal cylinder and were whisked away by a pneumatic tube, off to the credit office.  The clerk bagged the purchases and chatted with mom, the cylinder whooshed back in the pneumatic tube, credit approved.  Mom signed the bottom and home we went.

Fast forward twenty or so years; I was a young mother and the store was Higbee’s in Cleveland.  Beth was just two, Shelly was imminently due and we were in the dry goods department.  I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I took Beth’s hand and set off for the down escalator.  Just as I had both feet and a very pregnant belly on the escalator, ready to get her onto the step too, Beth yelled “My purse, my purse!”, wrenched her hand away and ran into the crowd.  Every mother’s nightmare.  I rode down the slow, rackety wooden steps, swung around and got straight on the slow, rackety wooden up escalator.    I found her in the middle of dry goods, looking around and realizing at last she was lost, but clutching the little purse she had set down.  We set off again to the lower floor, where I made my final selection and laid it on the counter.  Beth and the clerk chatted like old friends as my purchase was rung up.  Beth flipped my blouse up to my chest and told the clerk “There’s a baby in here.”  I pulled myself back together and took my purse off my shoulder as the clerk asked “Will that be cash or charge?”

“Charge, please,” said Beth, opening her purse and handing a red seat belt retractor up to the counter.  The clerk gravely took it, completed and bagged the purchase and handed Beth back her charge card.  “You take good care of that baby.”

Beth's charge card, the black issue

Monday, April 9, 2012


Our neighborhood dynamic shifted after Yankee died and Mrs.Smith moved into the house next door.  Our house became the neighborhood resource center.  I didn’t consciously realize this, it simply occurred around me.  Mom could distinguish between measles and chicken pox, and could advise being put to bed in a darkened room for the former and vigilance about scratching for the later.   She could calculate when a child was no longer contagious for measles, chicken pox or mumps and welcome back into the group.  The neighborhood crew seemed to congregate in our back yard; the croquet set was up most of the week, until grass mowing time.  There was the blacktop for bicycles and my parents’ couple of vacant lots for ball games.

We chatted yesterday, Jan and Beth and I, while dinner was in the oven.  I asked Jan about the neighborhood dynamic when she was growing up.  She’s ten years younger, and it was surprisingly different.  Mrs. Smith was a given among her group; they avoided her because that’s what you did.  Although a few of them surely were threatened with poison raspberries.

Jan’s best friend was an entire street away, although the trips back and forth were through two back yards.  The world she knew at five was already broader than mine at five.  She reminded me that mom went back to work when she was in kindergarten; mom was not at home; mom was not even in the neighborhood.  Jan’s emergency back-up mother was Mrs. Davis, one of the few stay at home moms on the street.  Jan fell into a puddle once, on the way to school, and was soaked through and through.  An older boy in the neighborhood fished her out and told her to go home for dry clothes.  She went right to Mrs. Davis and spent the afternoon drying out.

Of course mom went back to work.  So did many women on our street, in the late fifties, for various reasons.  There was need for two incomes in some homes, but I think mom was looking for a change.  She had been employed before marriage; and she always worked in her fathers’ business and was his bookkeeper.  She worked for the next twenty five years, during which time she held three different jobs, all of which she loved.

Before she went back out into the business world mom went to a local secretarial school to brush up on her skills.  When Jan mentioned mom going back to work I remembered the school, mom doing homework and mom worried about re-entering the world she left fifteen years before.  Her fears were groundless, of course; mom was a competent person.  She worked for three or four years part time as a church secretary.  Later she took a job downtown in an insurance agency, a job she enjoyed and kept until the agency moved.  She preferred being downtown and finished her career as the secretary to the manager of the building she worked in, the Akron Savings and Loan Building.

Mom’s first job back to work was part time; I recall she had a job, but it made little difference to the household I knew.  We still cleaned the house on Saturday mornings, washed dishes and helped make meals.  Three years later, when I applied for college, mom did go back to work full time.  Jan was almost eight, and being looked after by two brothers when she came home from school was a big change in her life.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fork you

Toby has a skill set unmatched by any kitten/cat who has lived here.  He loves everything and goes to great lengths to examine everything. We keep a whole list of things out of sight, or he takes them.  The little foam pads Tom puts between a couple of his toes show up on the living room floor with such regularity we have christened them Toe People and watch their migration with amusement.

Jan keeps her waste paper basket on a shelf of a cupboard, to keep Toby from upending it to investigate the contents.  I must keep any sock on the needles in a zippered bag, or face the consequences.  Balls of yarn are zipped up. He found the crack in the shelf and learned to extract my wool bed socks.  One at a time.  He could open the empty five inch fabric square drawer and get in.  It’s too full now, and too heavy.  Darn.

He does all of this simply because he can and definitely because he must.  When caught he returns a dismissive stare.  “This is what I do.  Get over it.”

We have more than a few plants about the house, and these always presented a cat dilemma.  A tempting alternate toilet.  We deterred other cats by topping off the pots with pine cones.  Toby doesn’t consider the plants another toilet; I doubt he’d be caught doing that in public.  But every object in a plant pot must be investigated, and when he gets down to the dirt he’s like a little kid splashing a mud puddle.  When done he surveys the dirt on the table and the floor, and leaves, head high.  “My work here is done.  For today.”

Jan loaded the pots up with an accumulation of trinkets.  Sea shells.  Figurines.  The black and white cat flashing through the living room, head high, captive seashell in his mouth, is a side splitter, when the yelling stops.

I ran across a blog a while ago, and I so wish I could remember the name, where a savvy woman inserted plastic forks in her porch pansy pots, to stop birds from making nests.  Brilliant, I thought, bought a box of plastic forks, and told Jan the potential for poking little paws, for deterrence only, of course.  She inserted the first round of forks to the handle hilt, a fork brigade in each pot.  We spent an evening doubled over as the black and white streak took forks from the pots and disappeared with them.

It’s such a good idea we tried again.  Break off the fork handles and bury the tines right to the tips.  Little plant mines.  A sure bet to deter investigative paws.  The black and white flash surveyed the new challenge.   “It was so much easier just to pull them out.  Now I have to DIG them out!”  Which he did.  Knocked over the frog and alerted Jan to the pile of dirt she would find on the floor.

He’s not a year old yet.  He will grow out of this and just be the big black and white curled up on the sofa.  From my lips to God’s ear.

That awkward, gawky stage.  I should still fit here, shouldn't I?

Thursday, April 5, 2012


When we moved to 729 Moraine in the summer of 1945, the houses were different, but all the families were much alike.  Young mothers and fathers starting their families.  At thirty six or seven, my dad may have been the oldest father on the street.  We did move into an established neighborhood, and Yankee, the tiny, dark eyed, dark haired Italian whirlwind of a housewife next door seemed to be the center of it.

Yankee was married to Andy Yankovich, and had two children.  Laureen, my age, and three year old little Andy.  Women gathered for afternoon coffee in her kitchen.  Children were always in her backyard, running among the chickens, but never, ever running in her vegetable garden.  A section of the wire fence between our yards was folded back, and we had the run of both yards.

Events seemed to emanate from Yankee’s back yard, or be centered there.  Summer afternoons mothers brought kitchen chairs and kids and we ate lunch at a long table—boards on sawhorses.   I’m sure we had a variety of lunches, but I do remember spaghetti!

She was first generation; her immigrant parents lived not far away and Yankee and the children were there often, working in her parents’ garden.  I was there once, and to a three or four year old, it seemed like fairy land.  In a standard forty foot wide city lot, her parents grew everything in neat beds.  The wonder was all the fruit trees growing up the perimeter walls.  In my mind’s eye, all the leaves and branches touched overhead and made a leafy ceiling that was filled with sunshine.  Yankee brought peaches, plums, figs, apricots, grapes home from her parent’s house. 

Every so often some of the neighborhood mothers would go to the chicken market at the end of Dan Street.  A little brown glazed brick building full of chickens.  They came home with the neighborhood order, and then the bustle in Yankee’s yard was extreme as the women set to work.  Only years later did I realized all those brown chickens hanging by their feet from the fence were being turned into chicken for dinner.

In the fall all the children were piled into the back of a pickup truck, and two or three mothers in the cab drove to the farms and orchards out on Quick Road.  On the way home we squeezed around bushes of vegetables destined for the canning jar, to supplement the tomatoes from our own gardens.

Laureen and I started kindergarten together, walking hand in hand, supervised by the big kids.  In a few days, of course, we didn’t need them anymore!  We walked home for lunch one September day from our morning kindergarten.  That afternoon Yankee took her two to her parents’ to work in the garden. At home my mom called us in when it began to rain.  I never saw Yankee again.  Over at her parents’, when it began to rain, Yankee reached up to unplug the radio and take it in from the garden when she went in.  Yankee was electrocuted.  I saw Laureen a few times over the next week, but she never went to school with me again, and then they moved away.

I heard that Mr. Yankovich remarried.  I always hoped Laureen got a good stepmother.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mrs. Smith

When I was five years old, my first friend, Laureen Yankovitch moved away.  She left because her mother died and her father took the children to be cared for by relatives.  Mr. and Mrs. Smith bought the house. 

Mr. Smith died during my childhood, but mean old Mrs. Smith took many, many years to go away.   A a screaming, ranting woman charged the line of five year olds eating raspberries from the bushes that lined every back yard when she moved in.  The rake brandishing, screaming demon told us not to eat her berries; she would poison them.  At our next encroachment we learned the berries indeed had been poisoned and we could go home and die.  So, we quit eating her berries.

The house she bought had a tidy Italian vegetable garden but a back yard barren of grass as two small children of the house and all their neighborhood friends ran, slid, rolled and tore through.  Mrs. Smith announced that such a fine Italian gardener as had been in this house would have left fine flower beds; because there were none, all the neighbors had stolen the flowers.

The neighbors were dumfounded.  I was five, but I remember my father finding a large cutting gone from his August lily; it was planted in the yard next door. Mrs. Cole, our neighbor on the other side, had a dense rock garden that suddenly sported large holes and missing chunks of hens and chickens, pinks, and tiger lilies.  Plants up and down the street went missing, and between spring and fall, Mrs. Smith grew a lovely back yard of flowers. Everything disappeared in the middle of the night, and no one caught Mrs. Smith at it.

No one accosted Mrs. Smith, but no one befriended her, either.  On the whole, neighbors let it run its course and pass.  There is a limited amount of room in a forty foot lot and eventually she had to quit.  Then the guarding began.  She was especially bellicose toward my parents and the little widow who lived on the other side of her, Mrs. Reich.  Dad leaving for work in the morning would be confronted by the rake brandishing woman on the other side of the fence, warning him not to take her flowers, or come in her yard.

After dad was gone and Jan and Tom were married and living there, Tom’s encounters with Mrs. Smith were increasingly bizarre.  On his way to his truck in the morning Tom might find Mrs. Smith aiming the garden hose at him.  Mom quit weeding her side of the fence to avoid being hit by Mrs. Smith. 

And then one day Mrs. Smith was gone.  Jan inquired, learned she was hospitalized with a terminal illness.  After considering some, Jan sent her a plant with her best wishes.  Mrs. Smith called.  “Why did you send this plant?”

Jan said she was sorry to learn Mrs. Smith wasn’t able to be out tending the plants she loved and she’d sent one to have in the hospital.  “But you hate me,” Mrs. Smith said.  Jan said she hated no one.  At the end of the call Mrs. Smith said to Jan, “We could always have been friends.”  She lived a month or so from the time she came home, and she and Jan were friends for the rest of her life.  True story.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Two Day Trip

I’ve wanted to make a trip to my dad’s home town, Coalmont, Pennsylvania.  I had grandkids on spring break last week, so Beth and Caroline and I left on Friday and came home yesterday.   It’s a four plus hour drive, ending with some serious mountain road driving.  We went first to our overnight accommodation, a little bed and breakfast tucked up against a mountain, like most every building.

The redbuds are blooming.
We stopped first at the cemetery of my great-great grandparents, and some great uncles, brothers of my grandfather, George Marion.  George may be there too, he was brought back to Pennsylvania by his brother for burial.  I talked to the township secretary to get some understanding of what I would be looking for.  From memory he recited the grave locations to me.  All their records have been lost and he made a map of the cemetery by the remaining markers.  He recited all the standing Lytle markers and says he has not found George Marion Lytle, but believes he’s there.  Caroline spotted many small round markers flush in the ground, with one initial.  He could be one of them. 

John W. Lytle, my great-great grandfather, is next to his wife, Annie E. Crumm, the wisp of a grandmother remembered by my Aunt Laura. 

John W. has his Civil War rank and company on his stone, and the G.A.R. star by his stone, with slots for a flag.   He was wounded at Bull Run and wounded so severely at Antietam that he was discharged after months in hospital recovering, and never of sound health again, according to an account I read.  He lived many more years, however, a school teacher, and elected to a variety of county offices.

We went from the cemetery in Dudley along the ridge roads to Coalmont.  We pulled over several times to let the locals who knew every twist and turn of aptly names roads like 6 Mile Run go past.  It had rained heavily overnight and the river on one side ran high and water still flowed over the mountain rocks on the other. 

I had a map of Coalmont we intended to use when we arrived.  I had located the property on Evans Street my grandparents sold, I assume to buy the house Aunt Laura remembered, across from the school.  The map locates the school on the corner of Daugherty and Watson Streets.  We found a quintessential mountain town, squeezed between the river and the mountain as to north and south, uphill and downhill east and west.

Most fascinating, my late 19th century map was a city planner’s dream map.  All the vacant lots on that map remain vacant.  They don’t even exist.  I believe their existence would have involved excavating a mountain.  No matter.  A home is on the school’s lot.  The house where my dad and his brother Bill sat on a stoop may have been across the street, or anywhere.  It was interesting to circle the streets of a little bit of a town inserted on a mountain ridge.

I taught Caroline to play Roadside Cribbage.  Her very first score, even as I was explaining, was a white horse worth ten points, followed at once by a church doubling the score and another church, doubling again.  She wasn’t too sure of the outcome as we drove around little towns and churches that doubled her points doubled grandma’s points coming back down the street.  Loss of all my points to cemeteries poorly located on grandma’s side sealed her enthusiasm, and by the time we arrived home she was keeping score on a piece of paper and had beat me 38,702 to 20.  I believe that’s a family record.