MANY MOONS AGO

Many moons ago,

I was young like  you;

I thought I knew it all;

I confused sexual experience

with maturity,

Not realizing that having one

does not mean you have the other as well.

I chaffed against apron strings

unwilling and unable

to ever see a point of view

other than my own.

 

It has taken many moons

and becoming a parent myself

to understand how difficult

being a parent really is;

It is too late for me

to tell my parents that

I appreciate what they tried to do

for me and my  siblings.

It is not too late for you.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted August 2010

Updated October 13, 2018

THE GREATEST REWARD, MY SONS

As a young wife and mother,

I wanted nothing more than to have children,

and to be there, for them, as they grew up.

I thought that  having newborn babies was

the greatest reward–

but then they became toddlers and I thought

this was the greatest reward–watching them

learn to speak and eat by themselves and

discovering all that life has to offer.

Then they became youngsters going off to school,

learning how to read and write,

and do multiplication tables–

and I thought this was the greatest reward,

as I became involved with their school and became friends

with some of the teachers,

and was a volunteer in their classrooms.

I taught my son, Steve, how to play Scrabble and

took them to book stores and thrift shops

to look for books.

I took all four of them on vacation trips to Ohio

to spend summers with my parents,

and boasted proudly that I could travel

with ease with all of them–including twice

on a Greyhound bus across country.

Then they became older boys and I thought

this was the greatest reward,

because we bought a camper and started

going camping with them.

Then they became young men and I thought

this was the greatest reward as they brought

girls home to meet their mother.

Then they were truly men, with wives

and children of their own–and yes,

I knew that this was the greatest reward,

for now there were grandchildren to love

and share my life with–

so, perhaps, in retrospect–it wasn’t any one

single period of time that was the greatest reward–

perhaps it was being able to recognize

that each stage in their lives

was the greatest reward.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted May 9, 2009

Updated October 7, 2018

OUR TEA PARTY

Our tea party was intended to be

elegant and refined,

with our best white tablecloths,

covering several small round tables,

and mama’s very best cloth napkins,

and her best Noritaki china.

We had several small tea pots,

one for each table,

and watercress sandwiches,

with the crusts cut off.

I had bought two dozen

Petit Fours at the bakery,

that morning, so I knew

they were fresh,

and our guests would have

their choice of several teas.

My sister and I had planned it

down to the last detail and

we were wearing our best

spring dresses,

and I my black patent leather shoes.

Everything was ready for the

guests to arrive.

No one knows to this day

who was responsible for

leaving the back door open,

but the dogs–

those clumsy, doltish golden retrievers–

that my father loved so much–

came barreling in,

and while my sister and I screamed

with horror and dismay,

those dogs tore through the

dining room where the tables were set,

pulling tablecloths and china crashing to the floor.

Ruined! Everything ruined! My mother would

never forgive us,

and my father maintained that the dogs

didn’t know any better.

All we had left were the boxes of

Petit Fours on the kitchen counter,

out of harm’s reach.

We swept up the broken glass

and made a pitcher of Kool-Aid

and we served Petit Fours on

paper plates.

Our girlfriends thought it was a scream.

My mother never thought so.

Don’t ever mention “tea party” in

her presence.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted June, 2009,

updated October 5, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

THE BABY OF THE FAMILY

Billy was indisputably the baby of the family

for twelve years;

Now, there were five of us children

and two adults

sitting around the kitchen table,

the baby sitting in a wooden high chair,

next to mom,

spilling his milk (UNTIL A NEW RULE

WAS PASSED AND NO ONE WAS ALLOWED

TO HAVE MILK DURING SUPPER)

and smearing creamed spinach

on his hands and his face

and the wooden tray-top to

the high chair,

or chewing on a chicken leg.

Additionally, it should be mentioned

that he was born on mom’s birthday

in 1946,

which gave him one-up-manship

that none of the rest of us

could compete with.

How could you compete with

being born on mom’s birthday

when you weren’t?

To make matters worse,

when he was only two or three years old

he became very sick,

and spent what seemed

like a very long time

in the hospital.

At first they thought

he had polio

and then decided

it was a virus.

To the best of my knowledge,

his illness was never fully diagnosed.

He was thin and spindly forever after.

Billy wore a cowboy hat,

and had a cap gun and holster

and would request a new cap gun

and holster for Christmas every

year. His aim was–unquestionably—

to grow up and become a cowboy.

But likeable? oh yes, likeable–

so no one could resent him

for being adorable

or mom’s favorite.  He quite often

wouldn’t go to sleep  until mom

responded to his question “Do you

love me and like me?”

We called him the baby of the family.

And even though two more siblings

were born in 1957 and 1961,

Billy maintained his status

as baby of the family

forever after in our eyes—

and he did become a cowboy.

 

 

WHEN MAMA MAKES SOME CANDY – AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD #11

When the days start getting shorter

and the frost is on the ground,

and the dogs are getting furry,

and the woodpile is a mound,

Near the woodstove cats are lounging,

and the chores have all been done,

we all sit around the table,

while we read our books for fun.

Then one night after the dishes

have been washed and put away,

mama puts aside her darning,

and then gets up and says

What a night for making taffy!”

and you can see our ears perk up,

I shout “I’ll fetch the sugar!”

My sister says “I’ll get the cup

(the one we use to measure things),

and a wooden spoon to stir it up.

mama take out cider vinegar,

I pour molasses in the cup;

into a big old heavy pot

go all the needful things,

and mama stirs til its boiling up,

and then –well here’s another thing;

you have to cook it without stirring

for what seems like the longest wait,

mama tests  a bit in water

till we see it holds its shape,

then we pour it on the platter

and we have to let it cool,

we butter up our fingers

’cause we’re nobody’s fool,

then sis and I pull taffy

till it stretches and its grand;

mama cuts it into pieces

with her scissors and she hands

over all the little pieces

to pa for him to wrap

in wax paper and he twists them

and gives each little piece a snap;

we’ll eat a few small pieces

just to see if they are sweet

mama’s homemade taffy

is the best thing you can eat.

 

TO MAKE MAMA’S MOLASSES TAFFY

YOU WILL NEED:

2 CUPS UNSULFURED MOLASSES

1 CUP SUGAR

2 TBSP BUTTER

2 TBSP APPLE CIDER VINEGAR

Butter a platter or a baking sheet. In large pan combine all the ingredients. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil and cook, without stirring until the mixture reaches 250 degrees Farenheit (the hard ball stage) on a candy thermometer or until a small amount  of mixture dropped into very cold water forms a ball that is hard enough to hold its shape, yet is pliable.

Pour onto the platter.  Have squares of wax paper on hand. let the cooked taffy cool until its barely  cool enough to work with ( if it gets too cool, you can warm it in a 350 degrees oven for 3-4 minutes).  Coat your hands with butter.  Now start  pulling. Working fast, pull a lump of candy between the fingertips of one hand and the other until its about 15  inches long.  Now double it up and pull again. Continue pulling as in step 1 until candy is porous and hard to pull.  Stretch candy into a rope about 3/4″ in diameter. Cut with greased scissors into 1″ pieces. To prevent sticking, wrap each piece individually in a piece of wax paper; twist the ends to seal. Keep wrapped candy in a tightly closed tin.

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted June 11, 2011,

Updated September 18 , 2018

 

UP HOME

“We’re going up home”,

My mama said,

So pack some things together,

You’ll need a change of underwear,

pajamas

and a sweater.”

and so I put some things together

with my toothbrush and some books,

My diary and my bar of soap,

(I care about my looks)

The drive up home took ever bit

of three hours or more,

to reach the upper peninsula

where grandpa had a store;

we loved our grandpa’s general store

He carried quite a lot;

many penny candies and

comic books and pop.

and when we stopped

at Shop-A-Lot

and swarmed into the store

Grandpa call out to ya’all watch out

He’d just waxed up the floor;

from Shop-A-Lot we headed north

To Grandpa’s big old farm,

He had cows and chickens, and horses too,

And a great big old red barn.

Mama fussed about the house

and fussed about the kitchen,

And when grandpa came home to eat

He just refused to listen:

You ought to sell the store,” she said

and this farm and all the rest,

You could come down home with us

to live; Really, Pa, it would be best”

But grandpa didn’t pay no mind and

he went about his ways,

He ran the store and every thing,

till the end of all his days

and when it came, my mama cried,

I knew her heart was sore,

she said that we should pack some things,

We’re going up home once more.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally written June 15, 2010

Updated September 8, 2018

 

 

 

MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN*

In my mother’s kitchen

at 1618 Sutter Street,

We all sat around an old white wooden table

that was covered with oilcloth,

and it was here that my older sister

and brothers and I

did our homework,

while my mother did the ironing

and a small Crosley radio  on top

of our refrigerator

was tuned to the radio “shows”

we listened to every night,

Shows like the Lone Ranger and

Mr & Mrs North,

The Shadow

and Lights Out,

and one of my favorites,

Baby Snooks;

These programs were on every day

and every night

along with shows like Jack Benny

and Amos and Andy.

There were dozens of these programs

which we listened to

while working on essays or

our arithmetic lessons.

My mother’s kitchen was not,

actually, a very large room,

but along one wall, on the

left side,

There was a stove and a

tall narrow cabinet in which

my mother stored things like

spices and bottles of vinegar

and Kitchen Bouquet;

next to this cabinet was

a large built-in cupboard

with curious stained glass,

doors where dishes were stored,

then an open space,

beneath which was a large drawer

where all sorts of things were tossed

from rubber bands to Wilson Evaporated Milk

labels (which could be redeemed for free things

such as pot holders or dish towels) as well as

paper clips an crayons and bobby pins,

pencils, erasers and old used envelopes,

as well as my mother’s one and only cookbook,

Ida Bailey Allen’s Service Cookbook that she

bought at Woolworth’s for a dollar,

a pair of scissors, and World War II ration books

for each of us that she kept long after the war

was over.

When the War was over and anytime you needed

something like string or a rubber band, you looked

inside the kitchen drawer.

Next to this big built-in kitchen cupboard

another large cupboard was beneath it

where, I suppose, pots and pans were

kept, and then there was a space –

not very large – that served as a pantry,

for canned goods. My father ingeniously

cut a square hole in the floor to connect

us with the basement, in which

there were other cupboards my father

had built.

my mother could take laundry

from upstairs and bring it down

stairs to toss into this hole to

save her some time and effort.

The washer and dryer were in the

basement.

Once, my brother Biff got stuck

in the hole when we were playing

hide & seek.

There was a back door outside of

which there was a box where the

milkman left bottles of milk.

Back inside, next to the back door

there was a window and in the corner

the refrigerator. A long wall, including a window,

was on the right wall where we had a mangle

ironer that my mother rarely used.  it was

a catchall for things piled up on top of it.

Then there was the fourth wall opposite

the back door, where the kitchen sink

was, where my sister, brother and I

washed, dried and put away dishes

and learned the lyrics to popular songs

from a weekly songbook that Becky

bought each week for ten cents from

Carl’s Drug Store.

This was my mother’s kitchen where

we ate supper every night at 6 O’clock

sharp and you did not eat if you were not

at the table. I never missed supper and

sat at my mother’s right, Becky at my right,

and on the other side of the table, Bill

first at mom’s left, Biff in the middle, and

Jim at Dad’s right. Biff was frequently late

for supper, for whatever reasons and got sent

upstairs without supper–he didn’t suffer for

it because I and some of the other siblings

would sneak things up to him. He laughs

about it now, saying he ate better than all

of us.

It was in my mother’s kitchen that I began to

learn how to cook, studying the recipes  in the

Ida Bailey Alley cookbook and making sure we

had all of the ingredients in the pantry.  It was

in my mother’s kitchen that I began making

muffins and brownies, peanut butter cookies

and cookies called Hermits, and another called

rocks. I discovered early on that if you could read recipes,

you could cook and bake.

It was also in my mother’s kitchen

that I began to write stories on an

old Underwood typewriter

that my father bought for my

brother, Jim, and me to use. It was

too heavy to carry upstairs so I typed,

using two-fingers, while sitting at the kitchen

table.  These are some of the things I

remember about my mother’s kitchen.

It was, I think, the hub of the house.

Sandra Lee Smith

As written June 5, 2010

Updated September 6, 2018

*Sandy’s food note:  It occurred to me, after writing and re-writing the above, that I didn’t mention anything about the kitchen on Mulberry Street, Where my parents bought a newly-built house around 1955 or 1956.  I’m sure I must have baked cookies or experimented with recipes in the Mulberry Street house–but I never developed the kind of attachment that I had throughout my life to the kitchen on Sutter Street.  Also, I only lived in the Mulberry street house for about 3 years. Shortly after graduating from high school in June of 1958, I got married– primarily to leave  home.  It may have been the hub of the house when my sister Susie was born and grew up in the Mulberry Street house but it was never the hub of the house for me, the short time I lived there, albeit unwillingly.

 

 

 

narrow built-in cabinet

 

 

 

DECEMBER 22, 1853 AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD #1

It was the twenty-second of December, back in Eighteen-fifty-three,

A cold and blustery winter day, as far as you could see,

I was helping mama in the kitchen, fixing soup for midday dinner,

I was slicing mama’s home-made bread, with her jam it was a winner.

Pa was shoeing horses in the barn, an inside chore,

He loved his work completely, never thought it was a bore.

When mama said “What’s keeping Pa? He should be done by now–

You check ‘n see if he’s having problems with that onery sow”–

I took her shawl to wrap around my head and dashed outside–

the icy air made me gasp and tears came to my eyes.

Inside the barn, I shouted out, but did not hear Pa call;

I searched and found him lying, cold and still inside a stall;

I threw a blanket over him, then ran to get my ma.

She sent me to the neighbor’s and men came to move my pa.

They put him in the bedroom and one rode to town for doc;

They made good time and hurried and arrived at one O’clock.

My pa had suffered from a stroke and could not speak or walk,

He could not stand or dress himself –he could not even talk.

So it fell upon my shoulders to take care of all the farm;

Folks said it wasn’t sightly for a girl; my mama said “No harm“;

Come spring, the neighbor’s sons returned; they plowed and planted seed–
Ma told them she would share our crops; they said there was no need.

I worked along those husky lads and soon one caught my eye;

I thought that I would marry him,  someday by-and-by…

But for now there’s ma and me, taking care of pa;

It was a year of hardship, the worst we ever saw.

My mother aged, taking care of him in every way,

While I grew strong and brown-skinned tending to the farm all day,

But came a morning when my ma could not get pa to wake,

He died while she was sleeping; I thought her heart would break.

And after Pa was buried, ma sat in her chair all day,

On the front porch, watching, as the hours whiled away,

Until one day she brightened and she called for me to see–

there’s papa, out there waiting” that’s what she said to me,

And that night she joined him; she wanted me to know,

that where he went, she’d follow; she couldn’t wait to go.

And yes, I wed the neighbor’s son, as soon as it was fittin’

He got me and the farm, and both of us were smitten;

Our first child was a little boy–we named him after Pa,

And when I had a little girl, we named her after ma.

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally written in 2012 in memory of my life partner, Robert, who passed away September 22, 2011. I wanted to write something to go with my American Childhood series and this felt just right.

Updated August, 28, 2018

 

A RENAISSANCE WOMAN

“A RENAISSANCE WOMAN” – “A highly cultivated man (or woman) who is skilled and well versed in many fields of knowledge, work, etc., as in the arts and sciences” – Websters New World College Dictionary”

She was a Renaissance woman

if ever there was one; beautiful,

blond-hair and blue eyes–she could

have been royalty–she carried herself

with regal ease.

Her father was enchanted with her tiny

features and winsome ways. “She’s just

a little doll” he said. “We can call her

Dolly” and so they did.

She took classes once her children were

grown–her specialty was art–oils, charcoal,

she could draw or paint–whatever captivated

her attention.

She wanted to be able to cook the dishes and

desserts that her mother-in-law (my grandmother)

created;  None of those recipes were written down

anywhere; they were all in Grandma’s head.

So, in order to learn, Aunt Dolly–a teenager

at the time–stood at Grandma’s elbow every time

she set out to cook or bake–until the knew them all.

Aunt Dolly became our link between

a grandmother who passed away too soon–

but left behind a legacy of recipes that my

aunt was now skilled at preparing.

I hardly knew Aunt Dolly when I was growing up and

had moved to California when I was twenty-one, – but

I came to appreciate her wit, talent, creativity and

enormous vitality–along with her wonderful gentle laughter’

When I became an adult and my children were grown,

I was able to visit my aunt & uncle’s home on North

Bend Road many times, often with my sister, Becky,

other times with my brother, Bill, and a few times

on my own. (We all adored their home!)

She was the kind of aunt you wanted to have

all to yourself.  I think my siblings and I appreciated

Aunt Dolly more than anyone else and my brothers

(and nephew, Barry) loved to tease her to get her to giggle.

 

When Aunt Dolly was recuperating from spinal

surgery in 2005, I was able to go “take care” of

her for a couple of weeks–and some years later,

in 2012, I was able to go again to her home in

Port Orange, where she had been relocated,

and cook and bake for her.  My visit to Florida

in July, 2012 would be the last time I had the

opportunity to spend with this one-of-a-kind

aunt. By now, I was the cook and I enjoyed

cooking and baking for her.

Throughout my house there are some of

my aunt’s paintings (she was a spectacularly

gifted artist) which I love but the one that I love

the most is a painting of my paternal grand-

mother, Susanna Gengler Schmidt, that Aunt

Dolly copied from an old professional

photograph of my grandmother at a young age.

We think Grandma might have been about

25 or 26 years old at the time that photograph

was taken.

As I was preparing to return to California

in 2005 after my two week visit, my aunt

asked me if I liked that painting of my grandmother.

I replied. ” I love it–it’s one of your best paintings”

Aunt Dolly then asked if I would like to have it.

Like my aunt, the painting of Grandma Schmidt is one of a kind ;

it hangs over my fireplace in Quartz Hill.

My aunt also painted many different lighthouse related

-featuring- small- children canvasses. At one time, Aunt

Dolly would go to New York city with an assortment of her

paintings, to peddle her wares.

One time, when Becky and I were visiting our aunt,

we were out in her studio, admiring the many canvasses

and I said “Aunt Dolly, do you still go to New York

once a year to sell your paintings?”

My aunt giggled in a way only she could–her response?

“Oh, no, Sandy–now they come to me.”

There was one time when my aunt came to visit us

in California, and Bob & I took her north, to some

antique stores, but also to a huge park in Santa Barbara;

we couldn’t keep up with Auntie.  She was a bundle

of energy and could outwalk any of us–while carrying

a gallon bottle of purified water!

There were so many other stories and events in my aunt

and uncle’s lives that would be impossible to do justice

without writing a book about them.  To all of us they

were “Aunt Dolly and Uncle Hans” and dearly loved

by all of us–but I have often thought how much she

was “a Renaissance Woman”.

Aunt Dolly’s professional name was Evelyn Neumeister-

Schmidt -but to all the nieces and nephews she was

always just “Aunt Dolly”.

Aunt Dolly left this world to rejoin her husband, Hans, in January of 2013.

Sandra Lee smith

First compiled February 2015; updated July 24, 2018

WHAT WE CARRY WITH US

My father’s voice is in my head,

to scold or roar with laughter,

My mother’s sense of duty clings,

to do chores first, not after;

dishes always washed and dried,

the tablecloth was shaken,

the kitchen floor must be swept clean,

Tomorrow’s bread was baking;

Order, tidiness prevailed,

All things where they belonged

Children could be seen, not heard,

We all knew right from wrong,

Everyone had chores to do,

and there were no exceptions–

don’t even try to tell a lie,

My mom could smell deceptions.

My grandpa’s love of grapes and wine,

My grandma’s love of cooking,

And grandma loved to travel, too,

My mother was good looking;

One dressed in hose and hat and gloves

to make a trip downtown;

One always had a handkerchief,

Don’t touch things on the ground.

We all learned how to strive and be

the finest in our class,

In competitions always first–

or second, never last.

My father never took off work

Except to take vacations;

He loved to bowl in tournaments–

They filled him with elation.

He never owned a foreign car;

he always had a Chevie,

I never knew him to be sick,

His life was firm and steady.

These are the things we carry with us;

that mold and shape our souls.

All the pieces that define us and

help us reach our final goals.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

October 17, 2009

Updated July 12, 2018