THE OLD COUNTRY

They came from the old country, Germany and Hungary,

With a detour to Rumania where they lived for a while,

and family folklore has it that

they bought–and kept–a house there;

Perhaps they never fully intended

to put down roots

in this country,

But they immigrated to the United States

and from Ellis Island they traveled to

Cincinnati, Ohio.

I don’t know why they chose Cincinnati,

but I remember that they had many friends

who spoke their language,

Immigrants themselves,

so perhaps they had friends who cajoled them

to join them in Cincinnati,

Where many of the residents of this city

by the Ohio River

Were also German and Hungarian,

Where you could find German meat markets

and there was a neighborhood called

Over the Rhine,

where displaced Germans and Hungarians

could drink beer

and talk about the old country.

My father was born in a part of downtown Cincinnati

in 1915 followed by a brother, two years later,

and a sister in 1920.

Whatever their original intentions

Along came World War II

and even though I have no memories

of anyone ostracizing us because

our grandparents were German and Hungarian,

I think the end result of World War II

was that they could never go back

to the old country again.

It was a subject my grandmother

preferred not to discuss—

and whatever she thought

or felt about the old country,

she took with her to the grave in 1959.

 

Originally posted June 21, 2010

Updated September 29, 2018

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

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

 

 

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GRANDMOTHER’S TURTA

My grandmother, who lived in Romania for a time

before emigrating to this country,

made a dessert called “turta” in celebration

of the Winter Solstice; it was only baked

at Christmas time  and was made up

of layers of dough, filled with honey

and ground walnuts. In this tradition,

she said, when the wife would be kneading

the dough to make the traditional cake,

she would follow her husband  to their orchard

where he would go from barren tree to tree

threatening to cut down each one.  Each time,

the wife would urge he spare the tree, saying,

“Oh, no, I am sure that this tree will be heavy with

fruit next spring as my fingers are with dough this

day” and she would touch each tree  leaving a

floury fingerprint.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally compiled October 1, 2009

Updated September 9, 2018