PLACES IN OUR LIVES (Spring Break, 2012)

What can I write about “places” today?

I’ve witnessed so much and  now I can say

that life in the desert is different from most,

at times it’s a place of which I’d not boast,

but one time we drove, my grandkids and I,

over the desert, under deep, blue  clear skies,

the canyons were green, a myriad of shades,

with creeks and  lakes and deep canyon glades,

In places, we saw golden poppies in bloom,

and wondered if it were not a bit soon….

We came to the ocean and here we were met

with startling sunrises, breathtaking sunsets;

I told them the story of grandpa and me,

and the times we had spent, here by the sea.

Throughout the world there are places like this,

Enchanted places that fill us with bliss,

and all of your life, there’ll be places to love,

the kind you will cherish all others above,

In your heart  you will keep memories like these,

to remember forever, whenever you please;

“remember the time”– you’ll say to your brother,

or sister, or maybe a friend or a lover;

Remember the time we went to the beach?

and recall the memories, all within your reach.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

FOR SAVANNAH &  ETHAN

Originally posted June, 2012

Updated October 17, 2018

THE HOUSE OF SPIRITS

it was a house of spirits

but somehow we always knew

they were a gentle kind of ghosts

who never meant any harm.

They never broke things or

made disturbances

but simple made their

presence known from

time to time,

like the time

when my nephew, Ryan, was a toddler

and was in the living room

alone but talking to someone;

his mother asked him

who he was talking to and

he said “the boy in the ceiling”;

“Oh” I said “He has seen the

house ghost”

We used the term singularly

but I came to believe

we had many such spirits

sharing our house and

gardens on Arleta Avenue.

Once, a girl my youngest son was acquainted

with came to the house and walked

around the back  yard, saying

she sensed a presence and thought

it was an Indian boy.

And once, when Kelly was very

young, a voice called out to him

one night from his bedroom window,

asking him to come out and play.

When he told me about the voice

I said “Just don’t go outside at night”.

Another time, a psychic friend of mine

was visiting and as she sat in the

living room on the sofa, she said “You

know there is a cold spot here”

to which I blandly replied, “so,

sit somewhere else”

I knew the spirits were there;

I knew they enjoyed my presence

amongst them and were happy

with the changes we made to

the old house and the yard.

Everything we planted flourished

and trees grew were none were

planted – simply volunteers.

I surmised that the seeds were

flying about and thought oh,

this looks like a good place

to land.  We had volunteer

peach, loquat and nectarine

trees.

We knew that an old couple had

lived in that house at one time

perhaps when the original part

of the house had been built.

I often thought I could sense

a presence when I was working

in the kitchen.

It was a house of spirits and my

heart aches, wondering what has

become of them and whether or

not they are still happy spirits.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted June 17, 2010

Updated October 16, 2018

MY EMANCIPATION

Now my story  can be told since we got

the emancipation and Mr. Lincoln done

freed all the slaves. He died for that,

you know.  That actor fella up and

shot and killed the President but we

had already been declared free. But

this all happened long ago and that

Great War seemed to go on forever.

afore that war ever got started,

we was slaves.

There was my brother, Moses, and me

and we escaped from Alabama, you

see, with just the clothes on our backs,

but Moses had a knife and I had my

banjo. I couldn’t hardly leave my

banjo behind,  you know.  Moses

laughed at me over that.

We snuck off in the middle of the

night, goin’ through rivers and criks

to throw off the dogs and I can tell

you, I was scared of the water

moccasins and alligators but you

are more scared of the dogs and the

men and their guns and ropes

so you just keep goin’ because  you

know, sure as God made lil’ green

apples that if you get caught you

will be beat to death or wish you had.

We just kept goin’.

I hated to leave Susanna behind like

that but she was a house slave and

a’sides, she was gonna have our

baby.  Moses and me, we made it to

Louisiana but you know, you are

still not safe.  We stole potatoes in

some fields and green corn that is

not too good to eat when you have

to keep moving; we just kept goin’.

Then from New Orleans, we headed

north following the big Mississippi river.

We didn’t always know which way to go

but we just didn’t know any better.

And we had heard tell  that if you

follow the big river long enough,

you will get away from the south

and slavery.  So, that’s what we did.

We hid in the grass and weeds by

day and we trudged forward,

north, by night.

sometimes we could hear the dogs,

from a great distance.  We was both

bit up from the mosquitos.  We

was hungry and we was tired but

we kept going, doing all that we

could to keep from  getting caught.

sometimes we laid down in the river

and breathed through reeds

whenever we heard anybody

getting too close.  It was a

terrible time, let me tell you.

In Springfield, we found refuge

and when a young white feller

said he was going to California

and that there warn’t no slavery

in that place, Moses and I ast

if we could go along with him.

He said we had to pretend we

was his slaves and tho’ Moses

and I didn’t much like the idea

We could see the sense of it.

This fella knew someone who

made up fake papers for us,

and got us some better looking

trousers and shirts so we didnt

look so raggedy, and we

traveled along some more

until we made it to St Joseph

where we joined a wagon train

going to California and we all

worked hard to pay our way

and be allowed to travel

with this group.  and our

friend, he turned out to be

a good feller.

At night there would be fires

around the wagons and I’d

get out my banjo and play

everything I knew and all

the white folks on that

wagon train, you know,

they all liked to hear my

music.

Come hard times, crossing prairie

and mountains and desert,

rivers and all sorts of places

on that trail that you would

not believe unless you saw it,

and those white folk would moan

and complain about how hard it

was, Moses and me, we’d just

smile to our selves ’cause white

folk don’t know nothing about

a hard road.  We could tell them

plenty about a hard road.

Acourse we didn’t try to tell

any of them anything.

Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry

for me. I had a dream and

you were running down the

hill to greet me and when I

had that dream, I told Moses

I knew you were dead.

Moses and me, we done

made it to the promise land.

It is called California. And

that feller who helped us out,

he found gold in California and

got rich.  He gave us our fake

papers and that helped us get by.

Nobody really cares about those

things in California. Everybody is

busy getting rich.

Moses and me, we worked

for a woman who did laundry

and got rich doing that.

Can you picture it?  People

got rich doing every manner

of thing, and at night we went

to the saloons and I played my

banjo for the white folk.  They

clapped their hands and tapped

their feet.  I played  Oh Susanna

don’t you cry for me  I came from

Alabama with my banjo on my knee.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted May 26m 2010

Updated October 16, 2018

 

 

 

MUSTARD

For some reason that I no longer can recall,

I once bought a big gallon plastic jar of mustard; this

must have been sometime in 1993, perhaps we

had a big BBQ party or I bought it for the 1993

Christmas holidays–or the mustard was on sale

for a good price. It had been opened and being

such a big jar, it was stored in the laundry room

refrigerator in our Arleta home.

Early one morning on January 17, at 4:30 a.m.

we were awakened by an earthquake that shook

the house and, as I stood in the doorway of my

bedroom, I could hear things falling, glass breaking.

When the shaking stopped, I called out to my brother

who had been visiting us and was sleeping in Bob’s

room while Bob shared mine.

There was no electricity and it was before dawn, so

Bob went in search of flashlights and his camping

lantern.

We began to assess the damage while my brother

continued his preparations for a flight out of

Los Angeles to Oakland that morning. He soon left

in his rental car but would discover that Los Angeles

Airport was closed down until it could be inspected

for damage, so Jim–my brother–retrieved his rental

car and drove to John Wayne airport, where he caught

a flight to Oakland and was on time for a business meeting.

Meantime, we discovered that thousands of books and

jars of jelly had fallen in the spare bedroom and would

take hours to clean up.  Bob brought in a trash can and

we began sweeping up broken glass.

We were dumbstruck to discover that none of my cookie

jars had broken–with the exception of two cookie jar lids that had

jumped off a bookshelf and crashed to the floor.

It was not until much later that I opened the door

to the laundry room refrigerator and the gallon jar

of mustard (along with other things) fell out and

landed on the floor.  The mustard fell with such

force that the lid to the mustard flew off and

sprayed, with, great velocity, all over the laundry

room–the walls and ceiling and floor were covered

with mustard.  It took a great deal of time to clean

it all up but the stains on the ceiling would never

come off.  In the pantry (which adjoined the laundry

room) jars and cans had fallen.  Anything made of

glass had broken, including jars of liqueurs I was

brewing–it was an overwhelming smell

but nothing–no nothing could compared with

yellow mustard on floor, ceiling, and walls.

I have never even liked mustard very much

but now I liked it even less.  I never bought

a gallon of mustard ever again

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Remembering January 17, 1994

Updated October 5, 2018

Sandra’s footnote: the damage from the Northridge Earthquake was widespread and entire buildings collapsed in Northridge, about 12 miles west of us.  We soon had electricity, never lost our gas and water and for about a week, friends and friends’ adult children would call to ask if they could take a shower at my place. They would bring their own soap and towels and we had a steady parade of shower-takers until their own utilities were restored.

There was damage to a freeway overpass and a motorcycle policeman was killed where the overpass had separated. It had not even occurred to me or my brother that the 405 freeway might not have been safe to drive on but he continued on his way and along with other would-be travelers planning to fly out of LAX, went to another airport that was unaffected by the earthquake.  I was reminded of the mustard for years afterwards–until Bob finally repainted the ceiling and  walls to the laundry room.

 

MAMA AND THE KITCHEN; AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD #13

Mama and the kitchen, went hand-in-hand, I’d say;

There’s where you always found her, almost any time of day,

She’d be kneading dough or stirring up a pot of ham ‘n’ beans,

Or maybe washing up a bowl of fresh-picked dandelion greens

she might be baking cookies, or chopping apples to make pies,

Or making doughnuts  that might have inside some kind of small surprise;

She could be drying fresh-picked parsley or the tops of celery leaves,

we would welcome them in winter when the garden patch would freeze;

Or she might be drying noodles on the backs of kitchen chairs,

or fixing to can ripe fruits such as apples, plums, and pears.

In the morning  you could smell the coffee boiling in a pot,

along with fried potatoes and a slice of ham cooked hot,

then mama would get busy baking bread or shelling beans,

And send me to the garden to collect the freshest greens;

We butchered hogs late in the fall, though papa did the most,

but mama made the sausages of which she’d proudly boast;

No one around could make a sausage quite as good as she,

And she cooked down the strained-out lard, as white as it could be,

the pantry shelves were lined with jars with food that we could savor,

the cellar filled and overflowing with the fruits of mama’s labors;

Living on a country farm was hard and rough at best

and it took someone like mama to stand up to the test;

throughout my life I saw her there, always in the kitchen,

And you never knew what next mama might be fixing.

 

My mama died as she had lived, her apron still tied on her;

we found her on the kitchen floor, coffee beans spilled all around her.

SANDY’S FOODNOTE:  fyi – the mama in this poem is actually based on my paternal grandmother; she was the one always busy in the kitchen and it was  she who dried noodles on the backs of kitchen chairs. I remember that well. She had sour cooking apple trees out back from which she made the most delicious strudels. In the fall, grandma & grandpa had a hog to butcher (I have no idea where it came from; my sister Becky remembered how the men made sausages down in the cellar; it was a good thing I never saw any of that; I would have become a vegetarian for all of my life. my grandpa also had a crop of grape vines and made his own grape wine.. I’ll have to nag my brother Jim for other memories; he is the only other sibling older than me and all the aunts and uncles are gone, now. – sls

Originally posted June 28, 2010

Updated September 21, 2018AN

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.

 

 

PROGRESS

My grandparents’ lives

were relatively simple

compared to that of

my parents,

and in the adult lives

of myself and

my siblings;

My grandparents had

no social security numbers,

no telephone numbers–at least

not in the beginning–

and when telephones became

available, the numbers were easy

to remember–GRanville 2334 or

Kirby 8846 (the first was Grandma’s

number and the Kirby exchange was

ours)

Their address was 1957 Baltimore Street

and a zip code was only two numbers;

their was 25.

It cost a penny to mail a letter. (When

I was a child, a first class stamp to

mail a letter was 3 cents.

There were streetcars (often called

trolley car) to take you where ever

you wanted to go. the fare was

five cents and you could ask for

a free transfer slip if you needed]

to change to another car.  There

was no need for my grandfather

to drive a car; a streetcar could

take him where he needed to go.

I think my father was the first

in the family to buy and drive a car.

My memory is that of a 1953 Chevrolet

that my father bought–he was loyal

to Chevrolet for many years.

My grandfather enjoyed a successful

career as a tailor; he created men’s

suits.

My grandmother was a cook in

the home of a well-to-do family

before she married and settled down

to be a housewife and mother.

She could be bossy and opinionated

but never with her grandchildren

who all adored her.  I think it’s

safe to say, she adored us, too.

My parents were both born

in Cincinnati, Ohio, and all

of their children were born here

as well. It was a fairly simple life

in Cincinnati when my grandparents

were young adults , where you paid

cash for everything. There were no

credit cards. They had a house payment

and once a month

grandma went downtown to pay

the utility bills and house payment

in person, with cash.

My parents met when they were both

teenagers, and my father had a metal

social security card with his number

stamped on it.

My parents’ marriage began

at the tail end of the Great Depression,

an event that greatly influenced my

mother’s entire life;  she would

always be frugal and reuse everything

that could be recycled and used again,

and sometimes more than twice,

items such as newspaper, wax paper,

aluminum foil and definitely all leftovers

from a meal.

It took them 9 years to save up enough

money to buy their first home,

at 1618 Sutter Street; this is the home

where my memory begins; I was going

on 5 years old when we moved into

the Sutter Street house;

My mother was one of a few working

mothers in the 1940s when most mothers

stayed at home.

My mother also took in laundry and I was

often corralled to iron hankies and other

simple items; mom also sold greeting cards

from Cardinal Craftsman and would send

me to pick up her order at 8th and State

since my car fare was only a nickel whereas

hers would have been a dime.  I also sold her

greeting cards to the neighbors generally

for five cents each.    My mother was as

frugal as it is for a person to be; she

bought our Christmas tree on Christmas

eve when very little was left on the lot

and she could get a tree for a quarter.

But mom had a charge-a-plate for Shillitoes

and sometimes sent me downtown to shop

for her.  she sent me downtown every

Saturday for several months to pay a

dollar a week for a new coat she had in

layaway at Lerner’s. (When I was older

and getting married, I bought my wedding

dress at Lerner’s too).

In 1955 my parents bought a brand-new

house; it was their dream house at

7099 Mulberry Steet; It was unfinished  inside

and unpainted–we children sanded woodwork

and they waited a long time before painting

the walls. (I believe someone told them it

was better to wait a year before painting

indoor walls).

All that being said, my father loved new

gadgets and we had the first television set

on our street. He bought a new Chevrolet

every few years.

My father retired from Formica –the only

place he ever worked at and my parents

retired in Florida in a mobile home park.

I obtained my social security card when I was 16,

to have it when I started searching for part time

jobs and found my first full-time job at Western

Southern Insurance a few months after my high

school graduation.

My married life began in 1958

and in 1961 my husband and I

and our one year old son

drove across country  to California.

I find in my life

we have a great deal more

to remember besides

a social security card–

along with

addresses

telephone numbers,

cell phone numbers,

account numbers for credit cards

We are a generation of numbers

and computers

digital cameras,

cell phones

but in 008

I bought a house

that is all numbers *yikes!)

this is, I think, Progress

where a woman

(and not a young one)

can buy a house–

My grandmother would

applaud me if she were

still alive.

Maybe she did..

and maybe she had a hand

in helping me buy my house.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted Day 3, October 3, 2009

Updated September 14, 2018

 

 

n

 

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

 

 

 

REFLECTIONS

The following was written by me in the 1970s when I took over compiling the BEACHY BANNER, the elementary newsletter published by mimeograph by the school my children attended in Arleta, California. . I began writing about my experiences as a volunteer at the school, working in Mrs. Ranslow’s first grade class. After we moved farther away from Beachy School, I would drive the children to and from school; having a little extra time waiting for school to end for the day, I began volunteering in the first grade classroom.   The following was one of my first columns which I called “REFLECTIONS”

We passed an empty lot the other day. It had a big chain link fence all around it and large signs ominously warning that trespassers would be prosecuted. It’s hard to find an empty lot nowadays.  There just aren’t any.

In my father’s boyhood, the empty lot–usually one at the corner–was a source of a great deal of entertainment. Boys got up baseball games. They played kick the can and run sheepie run.  In the winter time, they would build up a big bonfire and hang around it to keep warm.  Amazingly, they never got arrested for building fires in the empty lot.  It was generally accepted that empty lots and young boys belonged together.

There were still a lot of empty lots to be found when I was a child in Ohio.  There was one particularly large empty lot  down at Denim street,   at which festivals and carnivals would be held, sponsored by various local organizations.  The rest of the year, we would search painstakingly through weeds  and brush, our efforts sometimes rewarded with the finding of a half-buried coin or trinket left over from the last carnival.

My favorite empty lot stood at the corner of Pulte street (one block over from Sutter Street, where I  lived) On this corner there were a barber shop (where we traded comic books) and a saloon.  There was this big empty lot behind the two buildings, a portion of which was paved with a smooth cement.  It was a most ideal “skating rink” in the neighborhood and we would skate around in circles for hours, pretending to be at real skating rinks.  Sometimes we even had roller skates on. There was always something to do at an empty lot.

I sighed as we passed the chain link fence with its no trespassing signs.  “It’s such a shame that the empty lots are gone” I said.

“Is that a singing group?” one of my sons inquired.

“What happened?” his younger brother asked. “Did they die?”

 

Sandra Lee smith

Originally written February, 1977 – True story!!

*If this is something enough of my readers enjoy, I will continue telling more of my “Reflection” stories.  Let me know!! — sls

THE SOUND OF YOUR VOICE

I trust by now you realize,

I have no claim on you,

You’ve gone your way

and I’ve gone mine,

This much I know is true.

My life has changed most drastically,

There is no place for you,

There was a time when we exchanged

The stories that were the glue

and fabric of our lives, we talked

With someone there to listen,

If that was love, then it was love,

To hear you was my mission;

No better audience was I,

Assuring you were heard,

As for me, I clung onto

Your each and every word.

Perhaps somebody else is there

To share your life and hear,

Everything you want to say–

It isn’t me, I fear.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

posted March, 2012

Updated September 3, 2018