Thursday, August 30, 2012

The way back from Camp Fitch

Cousin Camp, as my daughters call our house in the summer, did not originate with us.  Just carrying on an old family tradition, as some song goes.  Mom had six grandchildren, three of whom lived across the street and dropped in for a drink of water at grandma’s as often as at home.  The other three, my two girls and my niece, came for summers. This pensione arrangement was punctuated by other activities closer to their homes for the three girls. 

Our Lake County Y was my other resource. The big diversion for a couple of years was a week at Camp Fitch, a Y camp in western Pennsylvania, and about an hour east from the house in Mentor, straight out Interstate 90, then a few back roads to the camp.  I dropped them at the lodge on a Sunday afternoon and retrieved them the following Saturday afternoon.

Mom,  my brother Walt and his three boys were visiting one Saturday when it was time to get the girls.  So we all piled into my car, the Dodge Colt wagon, to go to Camp Fitch.  It was possible to fit five children and three adults inside that car, in a configuration that would have all adults imprisoned today.  They were kids; they didn’t know they shouldn’t like sitting cross legged in the back, playing cards for an hour, and signaling passing semi’s to blow the horn.

When the girls were stowed and we were heading out the camp gates, Mom, the queen of alternate routes, told Walt, the driver, take this road and that, not that road and this. We could drive home a short part of the way along US Route 20, right along Lake Erie.

Of course she had an ulterior motive.  In Conneaut, all of five miles from the camp, she told Walt “Pull in at that Dairy Queen®.”  She treated to ice cream all around; five kids and three adults, with ice creams, settled back for the rest of the trip. Walt headed west again, down US 20.  He saw the Dairy Queen® in Ashtabula first, pulled right in and filled up on ice cream again. 

 Five kids hoped they really were in ice cream heaven as we continued down the road. Oh, the speculation.  As we approached Geneva ten eyes were scanning the horizon.  “There it is, Dad!” “It’s just at the next light, Uncle Walt!”  Another Dairy Queen®.  Another round of ice cream.

I’m sure the grown-ups dropped out, but those five kids were up for it.  They found the Dairy Queen® in Painesville, and of course my two knew exactly how to get Uncle Walt to the Dairy Queen® in their home town.

The Great Dairy Queen® run became legend in our family.  All those kids in the Dodge Colt thought Uncle Walt was the hero.  I wonder if they remember Grandma Lytle started it.

Here is most of the gang, a year or two before the JGreat Dairy QueenJ Run.  Walt’s boys, my girls.  Roy, Beth, Grandma Lytle, Shelly, John, and Mark on Mom’s lap. I know this is early; Mark is too young to eat that much ice cream.  I think.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Carol and Frank’s wedding, and the trip home

Frank and Carol were together more than a year when Frank had the epiphany and proposed marriage.  They were married late in February of the next year, 1978.  Saturday, February 25th.  My dad passed away on February 20th, in a bitter, cold winter.  His funeral was over and Mom said “I need a wedding!”, so she rode shotgun and we went to Carol’s wedding with Beth and Shelly in the back seat of my Dodge Colt wagon.

It was a clear, sunny day when we set out from Mentor, Ohio to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.  I remember a small and wonderful wedding.  Carol reminded me they ran out of food, and the photographer was working for his dinner.  No one was flush back then.  Problems with the reception hall are crystal clear in her mind and I only remember a wonderful wedding.  And the memorable trip home.

It was after dark in the mountains, but still early evening when we set out to leave.  We changed from party clothes to winter clothes and boots we brought with us, said our goodbyes and opened the door of the hall to leave.  A gentle snowfall was illuminated in all the streetlights.

We were dressed for the weather; I had snow tires on the wagon, two fifty pound weights in the back, one over each wheel, and Mom for shotgun.  I figured we could cross the three mountain ranges on old US 22 to Pittsburgh and pick up the turnpike before the snow was more than a nuisance.  The turnpike would be clean and green, a trucker term I often heard on my trusty CB radio.

Beth and Shelly were twelve and ten, and seasoned travelers; they folded down the seat in back and went to sleep with their pillows and blankets.  Mom and I chatted our way over the first two mountains.  The little Colt stuck the road, the girls slept on in the back and it had been a lovely wedding.

The last town before the turnpike, we were tested.  A long hill up and the rail road crossed at the top.  Signal lights were flashing and all the cars stopped for the train crossing were gently sliding down the hill.  Mom knew what to do about that.

“Turn left and we’ll keep looking up the side streets until we find one the train has cleared.”  It was the perfect plan and I followed it at once.  Two or three blocks produced a train free crossing up the hill, and I started up in first gear.  Only a third of the way up, we lost traction and slowly slid back down, like cartoon characters in a cartoon car.  At the bottom I revved up some more RPM’s on the little engine, gently engaged gears and started again.  Half way, and the ignominious slide to the bottom.

Determined not to be defeated, I got a few more RPM’s on my side, engaged the clutch and started back up.  Almost as far as the second time, then the gentle slide backwards.  This time I lost control of the back in the drifting snow, the gentle slide turned a little sideways until thump and we stopped with the back bumper against the front bumper of someone’s parked car.  Stuck!  We needed the owner of the car to back up a bit and we would have room to push the Colt free.

I left Mom with the car and the girls and went door to door.  I found the owner pretty far up the hill, at a bachelorette party. She was happy to oblige, Mom gave the front fender an assist and we came back down the hill front first. 

 We went back the way we came, and with plenty of hill climbing experience behind me, tackled the previous street up to the rail way crossing, topped it, and worked our way back to the highway. The hill below was a tangled mess of cars. We kept on US 22 to the turnpike.

Once there I dropped into the line of headlights and tail lights illuminating the night.  Then I pulled into the passing lane, and was immediately blinded by snow that blanketed the air as well as the highway.  I asked Mom if I could pull back.  She couldn’t see a thing, either.  I crept along until my CB roared out, “Breaker, brown car!  If you have a CB pick it up NOW.”  Mom picked up. 

We were, a trucker said, bringing the entire Pennsylvania turnpike to a virtual standstill because the fool in a brown station wagon was straddling the middle line at thirty miles per hour.

“What would you like us to do?” Mom inquired.
“Move the hell over.”
“Now, young man, there’s no need for that.  We want to get home as much as you do, and we can do this together.”
“I’m very sorry, m’am.  Now, if you ease a little to the right you’ll be in your lane.  I’ll pull in ahead of you and you can ride my slip stream for a bit.”

The little brown car and I had no fear behind the semi and stuck like glue back to Ohio, where we said goodbye and headed north and west to home.  We were the only people on the road.  We watched the sun rise as we crunched along about forty miles per hour.  We ate breakfast at an all night truck stop.  We pulled into the drive about noon, and we were all talked out.  It had been a mighty fine wedding.

 Left to right, Joanne, Janice, Beth, Mom.  Probably 1981.  At Carol and Frank's house; one of Carol's memorable Christmas parties.  Beth is not old enough to drink, and proud of it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

We’ll knuckle down and get back to work on Monday

Another beautiful weekend; summer’s last hurrah.  Today was the last day of the Shaker Woods Festival in Columbiana, Ohio, and the girls and I were there.  Linda did not expect to be busy; the last day of a three weekend show typically is not overwhelming, and she intended to put a new warp on her loom to be ready to work next week.  This job is rather mindless and someone to chat with is welcome.

We got there about eleven.  Emily and Laura have been on these grounds before, and were gone before we said Goodbye.  Of course I was looking around for a topic.  I’ve written about Linda’s Farewell Tour already.  Her Betsy Ross flag is interesting, but not beyond four or five words.

Then the painted kids began coming down our path.  There were face painters extraordinaire on duty today!   

I asked a parent for this picture before Spider Man was completely aware.

Spider Man called me back to demonstrate his web casting technique.

This young man was a great cat impersonator.

Then he smiled and he needs his two front teeth for Christmas.

There was a butterfly.

There was a snake.

There was another cat.

But wait, Mom.  She has a tattoo to show off, too.

Laura and Emily came back.  Laura has something awesome on her face.

Emily went for the understatement.  A clef for her place in the band.

And another sister duo piece de resistance. Little girls with curls with curls.

My own sister duo showed up about half an hour before the show closed for another year.  I would have snapped a picture of each of them asleep on the way home, but I was driving the car.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


You going to be home?
I have some errands.  What’s up?
We’re going to Lowe’s.
Take Laura with you; she’ll have more fun.
Why?  Where are you going.
To the bank and the hardware store.
Wait.  What about getting Emily?
She’ll call when they’re done.

The group separates. Turns back.

Oh, wait.  We need the truck.  You take Laura; there’d be four in the cab with Emily.
OK.  She had lunch?
She ate with Tom.  We’ll lock up.  See you later.

What a change in two months.

When Laura was two.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Carrie Nation

Way back in the seventies, when we lived in Mentor and the girls were little, we had birds.  Beth and Shelly  each had a parakeet, I had a canary, and we all had the finch.  We also had cats, so all the bird cages were suspended from a hook in the ceiling.  Our plants were similarly suspended, in front of windows.  My Uncle Hank said he didn't understand how my entire ceiling didn't land on the floor.  Like I didn't know about mollie bolts.  The folks who bought the house certainly had a job fishing those little devices from the drywall.  Perhaps they replaced the ceiling.

The girls each had a name for their birds; the canary’s name was Harry, but the finch just didn’t suit herself to a name.  She was The Finch.  One evening she didn’t look well.  Puny and unhappy.  Jan and I looked in the encyclopedia and pet books we had, and decided she was dying.  We put her in a shoe box with a blanket and a light bulb for warmth, and sat up half the night keeping her warm and giving her water.  In the middle of midnight she laid an egg. 

I went straight to the pet store in the morning and learned as much as I could about taking care of a finch who laid eggs.  At their recommendation I also brought home another finch, extensions for the cage and a nesting box.

The Finch kept laying eggs on the bottom of the cage, and she did not take kindly to the second finch.  She pecked him into a corner and pretty much kept him there.  We named her Carrie Nation, and listened to two finches who each had much to complain of.  Then one day the eggs weren’t on the bottom of the cage, they were in the nesting box.  Carrie Nation settled in on them and the other finch came out of the corner and spelled her.  He was a good father, too, and did his share of baby tending and baby feeding.  There is nothing noisier than hungry baby finches in the kitchen!

When the little finches were big enough I took them to the pet store and traded them for a lot of bird seed.  Carrie Nation sent the other finch back into his corner.  But after some time the two of them were busy tidying up the nesting box. There was a new clutch of eggs, Carrie Nation settled in and the other finch did his job.

The pet store was very nice about taking baby finches back, but I felt a little guilty, and distributed a few around the neighborhood, too.  My next door neighbor, Mary, was happy to take one.  Mary is Christina’s mother.  Their finch lived happily in a corner of their family room for several months and then one morning they found him on the cage floor, dead.  Mary was very distressed, but her husband was very suspicious.  It was a young finch in good health when they went to bed.  Mauricio called the gas company.

Their furnace was leaking carbon monoxide!  Mary was several months pregnant with April at the time, and the whole family could have died of carbon monoxide poisoning without the warning they got from that little finch’s life and death.

Mary and Mauricio took another baby finch from Carrie Nation’s next brood of babies.  That little finch lived a normal finch life for several years.  Carrie Nation did the same.  We took the nesting box away, Carrie Nation kept the other finch away, and eventually he passed away, leaving her queen of the cage for the rest of her years.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Goose’s new duds

My head is unworkable at the moment.  So is my sister’s.  She actually said to me, tonight, “Seventy year old mothers!?”, and she’s ten years younger than I am.  

This run up to school compares well to slogging through a black tunnel of crispy, crunching, crackly cellophane.  Can you believe a TI something calculator costs $118.00!  I have paid so many school fees I conclude pay to play has morphed to pay to learn, and what the heck are they spending my 53 mills of school tax dollars for.

I got new clothes for Goose, and wanted to take Laura and Emily with me to Linda’s to try them on, but just couldn’t work around new student orientation, open house, well child appointments with the doctor, Linda’s show schedule, my work schedule.  That doesn't include learning how to set up school accounts on-line and figuring out the Progress Book, where teachers post student stuff on line.

I did what any seventy year old mother would do.  I went to Linda’s, and we spent the afternoon visiting, drinking coffee, having peppers and cucumbers for lunch.  A great time.  When it was time to leave we helped Goose right out of that bikini and put a back to school outfit on her.

We made sure her rain gear fit.

Then Alberta took a picture of Linda and me, and I got home before the girls and in time to hear what they did in school today. Some Saturday, before the band gets on the bus to go to a football game, I’ll take Emily and Laura to Linda’s to see the new Goose.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sunny has left the building

She certainly lived in a mighty small spot.

And she picked a beautiful weekend to leave.

School starts Wednesday.  Laura is so excited that we went by her school to read her teacher’s name on the door.  She couldn’t wait until open house tomorrow to learn it.  At the orientation last week the school counselor sent all the children off on a scavenger hunt while she talked to the parents. 

Find both gyms.
Which gym has green mats?
What is in the open room in the hall with room 106?

And so on and so on.  Because she spent an hour scouring the school with fellow new students, Laura knows everything!, including the location of her room.  “Easy, peasy, grandma.”

Emily got up at six this morning, to get into the swing of school.  I teased her about having nothing to do and she said she would walk the dog with Uncle Tom.  Now for the brutal part.  For Uncle Tom.  Emily’s bus leaves at 6:45 am and Laura’s leaves at 8:00 am. For the rest of the school year.  But not until Wednesday.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A story prompt

Delores, at The Feathered Nest, posted an observation today that reminded me of a story from my past.  I’m going to owe her pretty soon, but have no idea what.  Thanks, Delores, for a prompt about having a clear out.

This happened a long time ago, as I think my BFF Carol and her husband have been married thirty years, at least.  Frank told me this story; I wonder if Carol remembers this is how it happened.

On a beautiful Saturday morning Frank sat at the kitchen table enjoying the last of the toast and his cup of coffee.  Carol took care of the dishes, then started cleaning the counters and appliances as Frank looked on, making small talk.

Carol didn’t say much as she worked her way around the kitchen and back to the cupboards, which she set upon with ruthless determination.  Plates, bowls, platters came down, the cupboards were wiped clean.  Not everything went back.  Small appliances and crockery he had never seen before suddenly were landing in the trash.

Lazily curious in the warm sunshine and afterglow of a good breakfast, he idly asked why she was throwing out the item about to depart her hand into the waste basket.

Thump! went the crockery.  “If I haven’t found it useful in the last year, it’s going!” Carol informed him as she turned back to cleaning.

Frank said he proposed to Carol on the spot and bought rings that very afternoon.  I know they were married the next February, high in the Alleghany Mountains in Pennsylvania, in a blizzard, which is another story.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Go BIG and LOUD, or go home

New student orientation has been intense this past two weeks.  Lots of new students and their parents, learning about their new schools.  I am the only grandparent I’ve noticed, but I’m not surprised.  Our family is not typical.  I have meet children and parents from Britain, China, Indonesia, Australia, California, New York, Connecticut. 

In the grade school orientation for Laura today the counselor explained the fifth graders could be in orchestra, band, ensemble or chorus.  Or some, or all.  A recess is substituted for each activity.  A low murmur among incoming parents.  The counselor smiled and said Yes, music is big here.

Last night Laura and I went to a band show.  Six local high school bands performing on the field of one high school.  All this playing in August is the prelude to the football season and half time shows.

Uncle Tom is in charge of the band logistics for Emily, and so far exceeds expectation that he stays for every three hour practice he drives her to, goes wherever the band is performing after he gets her on her bus, then goes back to school to pick her up and bring her home.  In two weeks he’s been to five rehearsals and two band shows.  Laura and I went last night, too, to see what it is all about. 

There were six bands, invited by the host school.  All the schools and bands were small, except Emily’s school band.  The bands ranged from twenty to sixty members for the smaller schools; Emily’s school band is 220.  The schools’ enrollments ranged from two to six hundred; Emily’s school has seventeen hundred.

The band members occupied the bleachers opposite the parents, and our band’s numbers were visually striking.  The blue and white took half the bleachers, and the program said they would perform the fifth of six sets.  

Laura took it all in as she worked on her bag of popcorn.  When the fourth band marched onto the field to perform its fifteen minute set, our band began a steady march to their staging area, which Emily told us is The Pit.  No other band had done this.  “That’s how long it takes to move a company of men at a steady pace,” Uncle Tom explained. 

It was a very loud evening, with a lot of great action down on the gridiron.  The blue and white background of the uniforms across the field was striking, but I was most impressed that the band stood and cheered and clapped each of the other bands off the field.  Good sportsmanship. 

There were other small town moments.  A trumpet player on crutches who marched in from the sideline to join his band for one number.  A majorette in a leg brace.

And, Laura will go to the football games with Uncle Tom.  Grandma has done her bleacher time for the year.

Our blue and whites

Flag raising

A small fan

They called themselves The Smallest Band with the Biggest Heart

Our Blue and Whites take the field.  The largest high school marching band in the state of Ohio.

A marching swing band

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Playing in the rain

Delores at the Feathered Nest said, over the weekend,

I guess we did not have to look at the weather channel to know the weather in Ontario Saturday and Sunday.

I have good childhood memories of playing in the rain.  For instance, one time an army of little children clothed generally only in white underpants, under the leadership of “the big boys” carted enough rocks and rubbish to build a magnificent dam at the foot of the road, as the rain fell.  We scurried to orders, reinforcing both ends, making it higher in the middle.  When the dam broke, water rushed down, undercutting the bed of our undedicated road.  “Undedicated” meant the road belonged to the adjacent landowners and the city was not responsible for repairs.  A lot of unhappy fathers trundled in wheelbarrows of sand that night, filling in the void.  I think “the big boys” were put to work, too.  I know a lot of saggy, dirty bottomed underwear attired little kids lined up, watching.

A couple of summers ago, during a week when they were the only cousins at the house, Laura and Emily were out in bathing suits splashing in the dogs’ wading pool.  Later I realized they were running down to the swing, pouring their water bottle contents on the slide, trying for the effect of a water slide.  A valiant effort, with no success. Days later it did rain.  I sent them to get into bathing suits on the double; there was a water slide right down at the swing set.  Oh, the mud on them when they came in.

Sending grandchildren out to play in the rain is not one of our especial Camp 61 activities.  But the first week of this month, Emily was at band camp and the three remaining children kept finding more loose ends than the law allows.    Three children were out bickering each other in our small house. Then one evening it rained.  Hard.  I told them to go out and play.

“It’s raining!”
“I know.”
“Can we really?”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunny exits stage right

I realized, as I pushed the appropriate button in the bank of door uppers and downers, I’ve never taken a picture of the sunflower with our town hall as a backdrop.  It is a wonderful building, wonderfully conserved.

Sunny was a little chewed up today.  Someone’s buffet.  I expect next week there will just be a hole in the pavement.

I looked under at the flower, and found a fat grasshopper.  He probably has not read Aesop’s Fables.

And on the sidewalk into the office, a dragon fly.  He was hard to snap.  When I moved, he moved.  So, we danced a little on the sidewalk in the sun before I went into work.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday afternoon drive

Today is perfect.  After two days’ steady rain the sky is blue, the dust is off the leaves and the world is back right side up.

My friend Kathleen has re-opened her store after a three year hiatus that included too much trouble and sorrow.  Her new shop has been open four weeks, so it was past time to visit. She farmed and had sheep, goats and alpaca when she was in the Cuyahoga Valley.  Oh, and a guard llama, and George Bailey, her standard poodle.  Now she is in a very rural area of Wadsworth, with her basil gardens, her husband John and George Bailey.

Kathleen’s specialties are jams, jellies and herb infused vinegars.  And, in season, basil pesto.  Her shop is the Crooked RiverHerb Farm Shop.  The translation of Cuyahoga is Crooked River, and I believe most of northern Ohio knows the Crooked River is the Cuyahoga River. We loaded up on jelly and basil vinegar.

Mike Cohill, Kathleen’s brother, is almost as famous as Kathleen.  He is the founder of the American Toy Marble Museum in Akron, Ohio.  Marbles were the first mass produced toys in America, and made at the American Toy Marble Company, in Akron.  Mike holds regular classes to teach kids how to shoot marbles.  Kathleen says someone has to teach them.  There are always marbles on her counter.

We caught Kathleen just as the shop opened; a perfect time.  We caught up, had a tour, leaned on the counter and talked some more.  Then customers began to stream in, and we went out Kathleen’s back door, past a wonderful door stop and nasturtiums growing in the cracks between the rocks. 

Kathleen told us about her friend Laurie at a shop in Medina, The Olive Tap, where we could find balsamic vinegars and infused olive oil.   We left there with sour cherry and red raspberry balsamic vinegars. 

A perfect day for a Sunday afternoon drive.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Three good pictures and nothing to make of them

I woke up to rain I had listened to several times during the night.  I saw a hummingbird blob on the feeder pole (20/200 uncorrected vision!).  I took a shower and looked out my window again.  Still there.  In the kitchen to make breakfast; still there.  I went back for the camera, knowing my luck would surely run out.  I opened the kitchen slider, opened the screen.  As I took several pictures I saw three hummingbirds vying for the feeder and this guy is king of the heap.

Toby went to the vet yesterday for his first annual visit.  He is not a vocal cat.  Purrl meows adamantly to be let out; Ryon meows loudly when night falls and is positively obnoxious during the full moon, but Toby is the man of silence.  He said nothing about the carrier; a few short remarks on the car ride to the vet and not one meow thereafter.

This young man sat next to me for the Junior Ranger induction ceremony a couple of weeks ago.  There was a spider on his Croc! 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Old man tree

I went to visit Linda last week, and had my camera ready, just in case Goose had a new outfit.  But, she doesn't.

The little patch of daisies is still in bloom by the gate post, across from Goose.

Alberta’s garden is lovely.  Linda says actually it is so dense in there footing is treacherous.  Nevertheless, we had stuffed peppers and cucumbers for lunch.

But, I really had my eye on her neighbor’s tree.  I’ve wanted  its picture for some time, and Saturday was beautiful.  I went over and sat on a low wall.  The dogs of the house came over and kept me company.  A yellow lab and a black lab.  The yellow laid on my feet; the black leaned on my knee.  I think the tree was amused.