THE OLD TREE

THE OLD TREE

Along a trail we found a tree

Gnarly bent and dried,

A relic of what used to be,

No life was left inside.

And yet it stood, and regally,

As if, that it might say,

Do not grieve, I am not gone,

I’ve simply gone astray.

It was a thing of beauty,

Leafless, thorny, stark;

It reached towards the heavens

Bewitching in the dark,

While buried deep in fallen leaves

A tiny acorn grew,

Descendant of the ancient oak,

With DNA that’s true.

           –Sandra Lee Smith

Updated July 1, 2019

AN OLD NEWSPAPER CLIPPING

AN OLD NEWSPAPER CLIPPING

At the bottom of a cedar chest

 That had been my mother’s,

 I found

An old newspaper clipping,

Yellowed with age and so fragile

That bits of it disintegrated

When I picked up the piece of paper,

Which had been folded over twice,

But when I opened it up to lay flat

I could see that

It had been folded and refolded many

Times, over a long period of time.

On one side of the newspaper,

There were ads for patterns

To make ladies dresses and aprons,

And when I turned the paper over

I found birth announcements;

Baffled, I read through the list

Of babies born at St. Mary’s Hospital

During the third week of

September, 1940,

And noticed one circled faintly with

Pencil – a baby girl,

Born on the very same date I was born!

But the name of the mother,

One Genevieve Phillips—

Was not the name of my mother.

How curious, I thought –

Someone named Genevieve Phillips

Had a baby girl the very same date

I was born,

Why did my mother keep this clipping?

Why had I never heard the name

Genevieve Phillips?

And why wasn’t a Mr. Phillips

Listed in the announcement the

Way the rest of the announcements

Were worded?

In the back of my mind, a dark suspicion—

But no, it couldn’t be.  It simply couldn’t be.

My mother would have told me.

Then the nagging thought –

Was the woman I knew as my mother—

Really my mother?

Who was Genevieve Phillips?

I crushed the newspaper clipping

And set fire to it in the kitchen sink,

But even as the old newspaper clipping

Blackened and turned to dust,

I knew I would be forever haunted

By questions—questions for which

There were no answers.

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally written May 12, 2009

Updated June 26, 2018 and

June 12, 2019

SOMETIMES YOU SLIP INTO MY DREAMS

Sometimes you slip into my dreams,

when I least expect it;

I may not think of you for days;

My guard is unprotected;

Then suddenly into a dream,

We’re walking by the seashore,

holding hands and once again,

our lives are like they were before,

then suddenly I waken and I’m

by myself, alone, in bed;

I want to sleep, recapture you,

but sleep, dreamlessly, instead.

Sandra Lee Smith

updated May 18, 2019

GROWING UP POOR

It’s one thing to grow up poor

And know that you are poor

But it’s quite another to

Grow up poor

Without realizing it.

I didn’t realize it until many years later.

We didn’t have much

But we had breakfast every morning,

Sometimes cereal and sometimes pancakes

Sometimes cream of wheat,

Which I did not like

Or

Oatmeal which I did.

We didn’t go to school hungry

Although I often got sick in church

(Services held before school started)

Because having eaten anything sweet,

Like pancakes

Made me nauseous.

We often went to my grandmother’s

For lunch and she fed us well,

And my mother usually made

Some kind of one-dish meals

for supper,

Such as beef stew or

A vegetable soup

Or a favorite of

Green beans with bits of ham

Cooked with carrots and potatoes.

We rarely had dessert

And to this day

I seldom want dessert

After dinner,

Nor have I ever gotten in the habit

Of drinking milk with a meal

Because we were not allowed to eat it

With dinner

Because Billy always spilled his.

We invariably had holes in our shoes

Which were patched with cardboard

Or a piece of linoleum;

You had to make do

Until it was time to get new shoes,

For Easter or Christmas.

I wore a lot of hand-me-downs

But didn’t think anything of it

Because the dresses that were given to me

Were so nice, and when I outgrew them

A younger child would inherit them,

Sometimes my friend Patti

Or my mother may have given to someone else.

I don’t know.

She was in charge of things.

If something disappeared, it was generally

Because she had done something with it.

I mourned the loss of my dollhouse

For years after

My mother gave it away

Without my knowledge.

But my mother was like

The Lord who giveth and

The Lord who taketh away.

Nothing was really your own,

I suppose.

I think I was often hungry

As I think back on it,

And I sometimes stole candy

Or potato chips

From local grocery stores

If we could not find

Enough soda pop bottles

To cash in for 2 cents each.

One time I found a dollar

On the floor in church

As I was waiting for the confessional.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

I spent it all on candy.

Surely it was a sign from God?

He wanted me to have that dollar!

Now when I return to Fairmount

I see it as a poverty-stricken neighborhood,

Much poorer than it was when I was

Growing up.

Many buildings are closed down

And the windows boarded over.

Perhaps it never was much more

Than a poor neighborhood

With many poor residents.

Those who escaped live in better

Neighborhoods or perhaps

They, like myself,

Moved far, far away.

CHASING THE LURE OF OLD COOKBOOKS

One afternoon recently, I began going through some of the bookshelves in the garage library, and realized that some of the very old books I had stored out there were getting – not just dusty – but some kind of dust mites are attacking the bindings and covers.

So, I am in the process of re-packing some of these books and as I went along, I couldn’t resist looking inside some of these cookbooks. One thing that enchants me is the lengthy titles some of these books have. The cover of THE EVERY DAY COOKBOOK/Illustrated is proclaimed on the inside EVERY-DAY COOK-BOOK and ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PRACTICAL RECIPES  by Miss E. Neil and in smaller print below the author is the following “Economical, Reliable and Excellent”  and below THAT Chicago, Ill REGAN PRINTING HOUSE, 1892.

The collection of recipes are mostly short and to the point. I am bemused by one for Rich Bride Cake—is the cake rich or is the bride who is rich?  Another for White Lady Cake has me wondering—is this a “White Lady” or a cake that is white or … you get my point.  There are recipes under Miscellaneous for “an excellent hard soap” include directions for washing woolens, lamp wicks, a cement for stoves (in case your stove is cracked) and directions “ TO MAKE OLD CRAPE LOOK NEARLY EQUAL TO NEW which I couldn’t begin to explain. Does she mean “Crepe” as in a fabric? Someone who sews and is familiar with different kinds of fabrics might know the answer to this. Or does it have to do with the economy in 1892, requiring the lady of the house to make it look nearly equal to new?

Miscellaneous covers such topics as removing ink from carpets, how to make hens lay in winter, moths in carpets, making your own furniture polish, papering whitewashed walls (I can remember my grandmother brushing whitewash onto the lower parts of her fruit trees), renewing old kid gloves, and a wide range of other how to in the medical department—including (I couldn’t resist) a Quinine Cure for Drunkenness.

Another cookbook titled “GOOD COOKING Made Easy and Economical” that is literally falling apart opens to the Inscription “From Mother  to Loyal, April 25th 1944 West Best Wishes on 40th Birthday” and might have been directed towards economic restrictions  imposed during WW2. Good Cooking was compiled by Marjorie Heseltine and Ula M. Dow, in which the co-authors explain the purpose of this second edition and direct the homemaker to the addition of home-canned foods, preserves and jellies and pickles. The USA was in the third year of a World War in 1944, with no end yet in sight. And virtually every thing was rationed, including sugar. (I remember my mother, aunts and grandmother canning apple sauce back in those wartime years, without the addition of sugar.)  The apples were sour apples, and so the applesauce was very tart.  When the war was over—and we still had many quarts of unsweetened apple sauce in the cellar, my mother allowed us to put a small amount of sugar on our serving of applesauce. It is my most distinct memory of  rationing in WW2.

My section on home canning is well-worn from use. Covering equipment and choosing a method for canning.. Maybe Mother gave GOOD COOKING to Loyal to become acquainted with home cooking – then again,  the handwritten recipe for strawberry shortcake is in Mother’s handwriting and is dated May 30th, 1944. There is also a worn out page for Potato Fritters, also in Mother’s handwriting. I like to think that GOOD COOKING is so worn out from Loyal frequently using her mother’s birthday present.

Another cookbook with a lengthy title is A COLLECTION OF COPPER COUNTRY RE CIPES COMPILED BY THE FACULTY WOMEN’S CLUB of the MICHIGAN COLLEGE OF MINING AND TECHNOLOGY Houghton, Michigan, December, 1929. Printing on the cover is illegible—at some time in this cookbook’s past, it appears to have been covered with something that was pasted on.

However, that being said, Copper Country Recipes offers a surprising chapter on Foreign Menus and Recipes, in which I found recipes for Enchiladas and Tamales, Frijoles and Tortillas—recipes I would easily found in a Southern California cookbook—but in one from the Women’s Club of Michigan College of Mining and Technology? That was a surprise. Mind you, this was published in 1929!

Also in Foreign Recipes are Chinese recipes that together make up a Chinese Dinner (Chinese Noodle Soup, Chop Suey, Hundred Year Old Eggs in Spinach (which I have seen  featured on the TV show “Chopped” but will pass on that one), Rice—Chinese Style— and Eight Precious Pudding. For a Chinese Luncheon you will find Egg Foo-Young,  Chicken Chow-Mein, Fried Bean Sprouts and Chinese Almond Cakes. This is just a sampling of the recipes and menus to be found in the section Foreign Recipes. 

Is this a cookbook you would be likely to find on Amazon.com or Alibris.com?  I’ll have to check!

Meantime, I want to share an 1897 cookbook, simply titled COOK BOOK on the cover but on an inside page is another lengthy title called THE PRACTICAL RECEIPT BOOK by Experienced House-Keepers published by THE YOUNG LADIES’ AID SOCIETY at the Methodist Episcopal Church, Sewickley, PA.  and beneath that “Good cooking means economy and enjoyment, Bad cooking means waste of money, time and temper.” And under THAT is the date, 1897. On a blank page is the name, signed by Mrs. H.S. Jackson, 1897.  The cookbook  is in remarkably good condition, given that it is over one hundred years old.

Friends, I did a cursory check on Amazon.com for a couple of these titles—I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for – that being said—there are dozens of other titles to lure you in. I’ll try to provide you with some other titles for old cookbooks as I go through the ones I am packing into boxes.

–Sandy @ sandyscookbookchatter

AN OLD BOOK STORE

It was one of my favorite places to visit,

A dusty and crowded used book store,

Where stacks and stacks of books littered

The aisles in absolute disarray,

And bending down to check out the titles

On the lower shelves,

You never knew

What treasures you might find;

One especially favorite such place

Was in Burbank for many years,

Owned by an older man named Pete,

Who counted my children

Every time we visited his store,

And admonished me to make sure

I left with the same number I came in with;

The children were free to explore

And Chris would always seek out the wash room

Because every place that mama went,

Chris was sure to have to go,

(with me admonishing “don’t touch anything

Except your penis and the sink to wash your hands”)

Along some high shelves in the book store

Were an assortment of very old cameras

That Pete collected,

But this was long before I took up photography

And I paid little attention to those cameras,

Much to my regret, later on.

It was also long before I began collecting  cookbooks;

At Magnolia Park Books,

The children found comic books

Or children’s stories

While I explored,

Looking for books of fiction

And authors I was interested in

Way back when.

One day I told Pete I had a small set of books

A collection of the world’s best fiction,

To which there were, perhaps 20 books in the

entire set of one hundred stories,

But I was missing just one of the books—

It may have been #15 in the set.

You’ll never find it”, Pete warned me,

It would be too hard to find just one book

In the set

And yet as I explored the shelves,

I found exactly that –#15 to the set (and no others!,

Even though it had a different colored binding.

Pete was as amazed as I but

Thinking back on this particular book store,

I think it had a kind of magic about it;

I don’t recall most of the titles in the set,

Except that Crime and Punishment was one

And I waded determinedly through Dostoyevsky.

And then after I had been gone a while –

Perhaps when we moved to Florida in 1979

And back to California in 1982,

I went to visit Pete,

But he was no longer there;

He had passed away, I was told.

The store was being run by relatives

Of his wife.

I never knew there was a wife.

The store continued and I discovered

A huge cache of club and church cookbooks,

Which I began buying–

And then one day when I went to visit

Magnolia Park Books, it wasn’t there.]

Where it had stood was now part of

A furniture store.

I had to find a place to park on busy Magnolia Boulevard

So I could cry.

That was only one of the many used book stores

In Southern California, in particularly the

San Fernando valley,

That no longer exist;

There was a time when I knew where

 all of them were located.

The internet has replaced them

And the used book dealer is becoming one

Of a dying breed.

Oh, Pete, I hope there is a place

In heaven for used book store dealers.

  –Sandra Lee Smith

cc: Ohio Book Store, Cincinnati

LET US EAT CAKE

LET US EAT CAKE*

When the world around you is falling down,

And it’s disaster all around,

Do as I do, for heaven’s sake,

Have a little bite to eat,

And make it cake!

We like cake of every kind,

But chocolate is the best,

All my sons love Angel Food—

Me too, I must confess.

Whenever company comes to call,

Invited or otherwise,

Bring out a cake that’s freshly frosted,

Watch it light up their eyes.

No matter what the time of year,

No matter what the weather,

Slice up some freshly homemade cake,

It’ll make you feel much better!

Sandra Lee Smith

*Let us eat cake is actually a book title by author Sharon Bootstin

And is really a food memoir although it does contain some recipes.