Saturday Morning Glory

WafflesBaconIt was pretty much the same routine every Saturday morning, but, believe me, it never grew old. Really. The kitchen always smelled of waffles and warm maple syrup. Bacon sizzled in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop. The wonderful aromas, along with gospel music from the record player drew us all to the table for breakfast and happy conversation. Sometimes my Grandpa would walk the ten blocks from his house to ours and join us. He loved bacon, and I loved to hear him pray.

Saturday morning household chores were a family affair and everyone was involved – even the dog. Princess was our miniature black and tan dachshund. She had learned very quickly that she could earn a special treat if she gathered up our slippers and delivered them to their respective closets.

Mom always made cleaning and organizing fun. She would get a piece of colored paper and list all of the chores to be tackled. Then, she would cut the paper into strips, fold them, and place them all in a round metal bowl. We would each take a folded piece with a corresponding task. Once the job was done, we’d take another strip, and so on until the bowl was empty. Before we knew it, the house was clean and tidy.

Then there was the yard work. Dad wasn’t so much about making the task fun as just getting the job done. I loved working alongside my Dad and being his helper. He mowed the grass and I raked the clippings. We were a team.

Once all the chores were completed, Mom and I would get dressed and walk to the corner to catch the bus to town.  I had my allowance tucked away in my red purse – 50 cents went a long way, even with 10 cents set aside for church the following morning.  A trip into town usually meant lunch at the JJ Newberry counter and then a little shopping in the store. Of course, it never failed that we would have our pictures taken in the little photo booth. I always got a small white sack filled with favorite candy. Something was inevitably put on layaway for the start of school in September or for Christmas. Mom usually made a few small purchases; embroidery thread, crochet needles, and handkerchiefs for Dad.

After a stroll down the streets of town to do a little window shopping, we happily carried our treasures back onto the bus and made our way home. It had been another wonderful Saturday, with memories made that would last a lifetime and beyond.

The Porch Light

FrontporchlightsBelieve me, if I ever had any inclination of jeopardizing the blessed freedom I had been afforded due to my trustworthy nature, it was quickly banished from my thoughts.  I loved being able to run the neighborhood in the summertime, and I knew how to assure that it stayed that way. It was more than easy. Pay attention to simple instructions, and watch for the porch light at night. Nothing else was quite so important in my young life. I already had it down about strangers and looking both ways before crossing the street.

These were days long before the introduction of cell phones, so it was imperative to remember what you were supposed to do before you left the house. It really wasn’t that difficult. Usually, it was to be home in time for dinner. That left the whole day for a myriad of fun times.

Most of my summer escapades involved a friend or two that lived nearby, and our adventures were endless. We especially loved riding our bikes and screaming to the top of our lungs as the neighborhood dogs chased us down the street. Everyone had a dog, but none of them were even remotely purebred. In fact, most of the dogs in the neighborhood were related to each other. When we got tired and hot, we’d stop for a drink of water from someone’s water hose and a quick run through their sprinklers.  Of course, we’d always make our way to the little neighborhood market for a Popsicle and some penny candy before riding to the pool – we had our swimsuits and plastic swim caps in our bicycle baskets. After several hours of swimming and jumping off the high dive, we’d ride to the school playground for awhile before heading home. According to the watch I got for Christmas the year before, it was almost time for dinner – and I wasn’t about to be late.

Once dinner was over and dishes were done, there was always more playing outside – usually until it was dark. Fireflies, hide n’ seek, and sips of water from the spicket.  Finally, I’d see it. The porch light came on, and I knew exactly what it meant. Good friends exchanged goodbyes and promised more adventures the next day. Ah, memories of summers gone by.

Let’s Have a Picnic!!

ParkMy memory bank is overflowing with happy childhood recollections during the summer season.  Steeped in rich tradition, picnics were celebrated with enthusiasm, good food, and lots of family. There was a peacefulness that surrounded each gathering, a contentment that made you feel good to be a part of a family that had such a great love and respect for each other.

Picnics were a constant, sometimes nothing more than putting a little of this and a little of that together and then making a run to a favorite park.  Of course, there were those special culinary creations that only certain family members could make; these were not to be messed with, and by no means replicated by someone else. All but sacred, they were; Aunt Maggie’s Banana Pudding and Strawberry Shortcake, Aunt Betty’s Potato Salad, Mom’s Baked Beans and Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake, Aunt Johanne’s Macaroni Salad.  Uncle Floyd was the trusted grill master and insured that even a hotdog was cooked to perfection. Dad was the king of homemade ice cream.  Grandpa Gunderson didn’t let too much time go by before he threw out a challenge to a game of horseshoes. When it got dark, there were fireflies begging to be caught in a jar, and game after game of hide n’ seek played until we dropped with exhaustion.  But even then a glass of sweet tea or red Kool-Aid was the fuel needed to start again. Grown-up conversation was rich and could often be heard long into the evening.  And always, there was the sound of laughter.

Stroll Down Memory Lane

RooseveltMarketI took a walk through my neighborhood this afternoon and by my childhood home for what I thought would be a lighthearted trip down memory lane. I was heartbroken to see that a construction team was busy tearing it down and clearing the lot. My look of dismay didn’t go unnoticed and one of the workers asked if I was alright. Alright? Are you serious? You’re dismantling a part of my childhood. How can I be alright?  I know that he couldn’t possibly understand what this house meant to me with all the precious memories still deep within its crumbling walls. I stood for a long while, watching and remembering.

I was nine-years-old when we moved to Boise, Idaho from Vallejo, California in the spring of 1960. The trailer we pulled was loaded to the hilt with furniture and other belongings. It was truly a sight to behold. The car was packed tightly with just enough room for me, Mom, Dad, a golden Labrador puppy and a yellow parakeet in a blue cage. The trek was long, and I wondered if we would ever make it to Boise. But, when we finally arrived I immediately fell in love with the quaint little house in the east end of town. It was only 650 square feet, but it seemed like a mansion to me. I had never seen so many trees in my life. Squirrels were everywhere.

After one week of getting settled in our new environment, I resumed the third grade at Roosevelt Elementary which was a mere two blocks from my house. Several days a week, I visited the Roosevelt Market that was situated directly across the street from the school grounds, leaning on the front counter and selecting my favorite penny candy.

Standing there gazing at the rubble, I couldn’t help but remember the many “pictures” of my mother in my mind: how anxious she was to hear about my day at school; her smile, her laugh; how enthusiastic she was to help me plan backyard carnivals for the neighborhood children; how willing she was to make pink-frosted cupcakes so that I could sell them and make extra spending money; how comforting it was to have her come into my room in the night when I was scared or sick.   And then there were the strong and soothing memories of my Dad.  I loved coming home from school and finding him in his upholstery shop – the old brown Zenith radio playing in the background, the steady hum of a sewing machine, the smell of wood varnish and paint thinner, and the delightful discovery of leftover scraps of fabric on the shop floor that were destined to become articles of clothing for my dolls.  At the close of each evening, my last recollection before drifting off to sleep was hearing my Dad wind the old cuckoo clock and recheck the front door lock.  My, how safe and secure I had felt in that little house.

There was so much happiness in this house; visits from family and friends, celebrations of birthdays and holidays, sleepovers with friends, and backyard picnics. It was also where I first experienced the death of someone dear to me. I loved my Grandpa Gunderson and my memories of him are rich; the way he wore his cap, his steady, fast-paced gait, his love of candy,  the way he prayed before he ate, his dislike of cooked onions, and the long walk he would take to bring me a small brown paper sack filled with sweet treats. The real sweet treat was when he walked to the front steps of our little house and knocked on the door. I loved opening the door and seeing him standing there with a smile. I remember the morning that my bedroom door opened quietly, and Mom told me that Grandpa had passed away during the night.  He was eighty-one.  I was thirteen.  I would miss him deeply.

Ah, memories.  Sweet, precious memories.  I guess I really haven’t given it much thought as to what it will be like to never see the little old house again.  But, I do know that my memories are vivid, and I’m grateful to have had such a delightful place to make so many.

Colorful Field of Memories

050Our memories are not made of days; they are made of moments.  ~ Deborah L. Norris

We sat in our comfy chairs and enjoyed a second cup of coffee together, my 86-year-old Mama and I. Without much notice, she looked over the rim of her cup, and stated with purpose, “Let’s take a little trip upstairs.” Her soft blue eyes twinkled at the thought of a trek to the second floor. I offered to bring a few photographs and select family keepsakes downstairs, hoping to ease what I knew would be a difficult climb for her to the upper level of my home. But, the attempt, albeit honorable on my part, failed to dissuade her this time. She insisted on making the laborious journey, taking her time with each step, fifteen in all. Finally reaching the upper story landing, we walked along the hallway where an impressive display of framed ancestry lines the walls. Unfortunately, most of these behind glass family members had passed away long before I was born. She talked as though she had visited with each of them the week before. Suddenly, strangers with stoic faces and vague histories came to life with her many vivid recollections. She spoke tenderly of her beloved Grandpa Winkle who had a very strict ritual that he adhered to each evening at bedtime. First, he would wind the old clock.  Then, he went to bed – even if company was visiting – wearing long underwear, a shirt, and a tie.  He grew cotton for many years and sold home grown vegetables from a horse drawn cart.  A favorite past time of Grandpa Winkle was a hearty – if not sometimes rather heated – discussion of religion with his son-in-law.  In later years, he traded his strong opinions for long rests on his front porch swing as he lovingly watched his grandchildren play underneath the persimmon trees.

An old photograph of her Grandma Winkle brought another flood of memories, as she fondly remembered her as a very giving person that always found great satisfaction in doing for others.  She was a midwife and assisted with the delivery of many babies.  Where there was a sick child, you would find her – comforting and attempting to make well the young ones in her care.  Unfortunately, she was all but helpless when it came to aiding her own ill child – and at the age of six months, one of her twins passed away suddenly.  She desperately grieved the loss of her baby, and was often times inconsolable.  One night, the story is told of her waking to see the baby playing happily on her bed.  She watched for quite some time, totally enamored by this child she recognized as her own.  She would never be convinced otherwise – that God was keeping her baby safe and had graciously allowed her to see for herself that he was in good hands.  Though she would be forever mindful of the death of her sweet baby boy, this heaven-sent experience would reside deep within her very soul and comfort her for the rest of her days.  Grandchildren always knew that their Grandma Winkle would have something good to eat at her house – whether it was leftover bacon and eggs in the oven, or her specialty; white cake topped with applesauce and red heart candies.  She raised her own turkeys, geese and chickens – and churned her own butter.  It goes without saying that holiday dinners were a most joyous occasion. She could not read or write – although this did not prove to be a significant handicap.  Grandma Winkle owned and operated a market for many years, and due to her inability to read, she devised a rather ingenious system for identifying items and their prices through drawings that she created.

We made our way into one of the guest bedrooms and I removed several handmade items from an old chest of drawers.  Again, there was a heartwarming story from the past that accompanied each treasured keepsake.  I watched as she ran her fingers along the delicate edges of a crocheted doily that was nearly 75- years-old.  The sight of an old, well-worn table cloth that had once graced the little kitchen table in her and Dad’s first apartment brought a tear to her eye.

She journeyed bygone years with ease, like a familiar well-traveled path – and with a strange clarity that often eludes her when she tries to recall what she did earlier in the day.  The places in her mind where she chose to stop and sit for awhile became vibrant stories that she articulated like a gifted orator.  Suddenly, I saw her as an 86-year-old beautifully written novel, pages worn, but rich with prose.  I felt so humbled to “read” with her.

At the end of it all, her expression was one of pure joy.  “Well, that was delightful, now wasn’t it?” She clasped her hands together and smiled sweetly. “I feel like I’ve been on a nice trip.”  Indeed she had.  I had been privileged to accompany her.  A long, beautiful trip through a colorful field of memories.

All About Perspective

CaptureForestGreenA dear lady and very good friend of mine once remarked to me, “Honey, it’s really all in the way you look at things.” I’ve often recalled her words of wisdom, especially during difficult seasons of my life. Obviously, this positive and faith-filled individual had discovered a very precious secret along life’s way which enabled her to view her circumstances through eyes of hope and thankfulness.

When I was  a child, my parents and I would often go camping on the weekend in our small travel trailer. We had a favorite site located next to the river and under the tall Idaho pines. Because our “spot” was almost a hundred miles from home, we would usually arrive long after dark on Friday night. Once we were settled and in bed, I would gaze out the small upper bunk window at the towering pines, thinking to myself just how big and unfriendly they looked in the night shadows. After a time, I’d snuggle deep into my sleeping bag, close my eyes, and dream of morning. When the first rays of sunlight appeared, I would again look out the small window. The huge pines which had seemed so threatening in the dark now glistened in the morning sun. Same scene. Different perspective.

We can make the choice to view our circumstances through eyes of despair and negativity, or we can shift our focus to one of joy and gratitude.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Grist Mill

Take a moment to imagine what it would be like if we expressed gratitude on a daily basis. Researchers say that such thankfulness would certainly be rewarded with better health. Is this true? Can a positive feeling such as gratitude offer physical and mental benefits?  It may be a dramatic departure from what we’ve been taught about how to get healthier, but the connection between gratitude and health actually goes back a long way.  Throughout history, philosophers and religious leaders have praised gratitude as a virtue that is integral to health and well-being. Now, thanks to new research, there is scientific evidence that gratitude is a health enhancer; proven to lower stress, promote a more efficient immune system, improve emotional equilibrium, and enhance deeper relaxation.

Kindness is Healthy

CaptureRedwoods

  • There is little doubt that performing acts of kindness has a profound impact in the lives of others. What you might not be aware of is the many positive health benefits it provides for you, as well. Scientific research strongly suggests that kindness promotes better health physically and mentally. Consider the following:
  • Kindness promotes happiness. Not only do we feel good when we perform an act of kindness, but there is an actual biochemical response that occurs in our brain that is often referred to as “helper’s high.” It is believed that the good feeling is due primarily to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin – known as endogenous opioids. They cause levels of dopamine to rise in the brain which results in a natural high.
  • Kindness enhances heart health. Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of particular interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which expands the vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone. The key is that acts of kindness can produce oxytocin, and therefore kindness can be said to be cardio-protective. 
  • Kindness slows aging. Two known villains of speeding the process of aging are free radicals and inflammation, both of which tend to result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices. Research suggests that oxytocin which we produce through emotional warmth reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.
  • Kindness creates healthier relationships. This is probably one of the most obvious points. We all know that we tend to gravitate towards people who are kind. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people and creates a greater sense of bonding.  Kindness is an inherent human trait. In other words, we are wired to be kind.  Our ancestors had to learn to get along with each other. The stronger the emotional bonds were within the groups, the greater the chances of survival. When we are kind to one another, we feel a connection. Thus, new relationships are formed and existing ones strengthened.
  • Kindness is contagious. When we’re kind, we inspire others to follow suit. As we practice virtues of understanding, compassion, and empathy, we find that goodness returns to us in like manner. Being kind is like paying forward, and the benefits come back in unexpected ways.