Monday, November 23, 2020

A Poem: Sled Ride

I wrote this poem about a childhood memory nearly10 years ago. Mother's second husband-to-be lived on a street parallel to our own, separated by Shady Brook Park. On snowy days Mother would often pull my sister and me through the park on a sled. One day we just happened to meet up with a man we didn't know.

Two tiny girls

capped and mittened,

snug on a baby's sled,

Mother's boots squeaking

in the crisp, new snow 

as she pulled us along, 

down the hill

and through the park, 

across the creaky wooden bridge.

The stream trickled slowly

as water stood freezing in the pond.

Bare branches rattled in the ice-blue sky,

clutching at winter as if to hold it close.

Spring was stirring in our mother's frozen heart.

Who was this man we didn't know?

Her smile was warm as April,

her laughter, dazzling as crystals.

Who was this man out walking in the snow?


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Pearl and Oliver, Part 2 of 2

 Oliver and Pearl in 1943, holding my sister, Barbara

That might be my grandfather's DeSoto coupe in the background. He always called this particular car "my machine." As in, "Where did I park my machine?" 


Then one night, sitting on the edge of the bed before his shift began, he angrily threw his blackjack against the wall. Police work apparently didn't suit him either. Next, he opened a pool room. Sometime around World War II, he became the manager of the local Eagles Club.  Among his jobs was tinkering with the slot machines to adjust their payout. The coins would get dumped out on a big oaken table before the tinkering began. Any nickels or dimes that rolled onto the floor were mine. I looked forward the tinkering sessions. I also eagerly anticipated visits from the "otter" (auditor) until I found out he was just an ordinary man. 

Kids weren't allowed to watch the floor shows at the Eagles Club, with the exception of the Christmas show.  As manager, Grampy also had to hire performers through a booking agent in Erie, PA.  I was seven years old and living with my grandparents when I finally got to see a show. There I was in the Big Room, sitting at a table with Grammy, drinking Nehi orange pop and watching a blond tap dancer in a brief, spangly costume. Everything was fine until she tap-danced over to Grampy, plopped herself down on his lap, wrapped her arms around him and planted a big "show-biz" kiss on his forehead.  Everyone else laughed and applauded. I burst into tears. I was outraged. How dare she?

Why was I living with my grandparents?  When I was two, my sister, Barbara, was born, but our parents' marriage was already in trouble.  Often, I would stay with Pearl and Oliver while Mother and Barbara went to White haven, my maternal grandparents' farm. It so happened I was with Pearl and Oliver at the Eagles Club when I caught spinal meningitis at age 3.  The other case in town was a taxi driver, who'd also been at the club. He died. I was in a coma for several days and lost the hearing in my right ear.

Over the next few years, until our parents' divorce, Barbara and I spent part of our time at our parents' house and part of our time at our grandparents' houses. Both of us might be together at the farm, but often I would be by myself at Pearl and Oliver's. By the time I was five, I probably began spending more and more time with them, so that someone could drive me to Mrs. Smith's house for kindergarten. After the divorce in 1947, Mother and Barbara took a train to Miami, FL, where Mother married Charles. I moved in with Pearl and Oliver and lived full time with them until my dad's remarriage in 1949.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Pearl and Oliver, Part 1 of 2

 This is a photo of my paternal grandparents taken the Christmas of 1956 at my dad's and stepmother's new house.  Grandmother would have turned 64 in January, 1957, and Grandfather, 67, in February. 

Pearl Miller and Oliver Rice grew up on neighboring farms in Crider's Corners in Cranberry Township, PA. Oliver was the youngest of nine or ten children. Pearl was the oldest of three. She had a sister, Ruth, and a brother, Jay. Pearl and Oliver left school after 8th grade.  Pearl worked by cleaning, cooking, and caring for children in the neighborhood.  She and Oliver were married on November 2nd, probably in 1911. Oliver chose the date to coincide with the opening of deer season. Pearl was 18 years old. 

After Kenneth (my dad) was born in Ambridge, PA in January 1913, Pearl went back home to her parents (14 miles away). Oliver came to bring her back. She said she didn't want a houseful of children.  Oliver convinced her to return. My Uncle Dale was born in May, 1914.  There were no more children after that. My maternal grandmother told me it was much easier to get an abortion back in those days, if you knew which local doctor to approach. 

Pearl and Oliver were determined that both boys would go to college. Pearl claimed that Kenneth always wanted to be a lawyer and that Dale always wanted to be a doctor. Dale made "candy pills" as a little boy, she said. However, when the boys grew up, both claimed they'd had other ideas.  Kenneth said he'd always wanted to be a businessman. His high school year book characterized him as "a wee business man." During a holiday dinner at Pearl and Oliver's house, I clearly remember Dale saying he had always wanted to be a teacher. 

The young family settled in Meadville, PA, a small town 90 miles north of Ambridge. Oliver tried running a grocery store, a small "Red and White." He lost money until he began making a little during his going-out-of-business sale, but by then it was too late. He tried life as a fireman, but he was a small man who had trouble managing the fire hose. He tried life as a police man. His happiest moment came during one cold night during Prohibition. Patrolling West Street, where the Blacks lived at the time, he entered an abandoned house through a jimmied window to get warm. Inside he found bottles of bootleg liquor, which he quietly took home. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Driving with Carrots

The local supermarket, where someone "hand picks" the items in our order and someone else delivers it to our door, has claimed for three weeks now to be out of 2-pound bags of fresh carrots. Let me say right here I am grateful for this service. However. Instead of normal carrots, they've provided what they think passes for an acceptable  substitute: a two-pound bag of baby carrots, peeled and cut into egg shapes.  To me, these "eggs" look like they've been laid by a sinister reptile. 

Now an 8-ounce bag of baby carrots is probably OK if you have school-age children. They're great for school lunches. But wait! At least around here, kids have not been eating in the school lunchroom for months. See, the trouble with a 2-pound bag of baby carrots for a couple of old folks is they start changing (and not for the better) after a day or two. I'm talking about the carrots. A whitish "skin" blooms on the surface and they start tasting weird.  (It could be my sense of taste is off because of a medicine I take.). I was very unhappy when a second bag of baby carrots showed up the next week as a substitute for regular carrots.

We went to the family cabin in Knox County, OH two weeks ago. We carried all our food in coolers because of the corona virus. I thought maybe I'd cut up the carrots  for vegetable soup, but once I got to the cabin, I got lazy. My husband gamely chomped away on them day by day, but I wasn't having it. Came the day to go home and too many carrots were still hanging around. 

"Oh, just get rid of them! Toss them out for the rabbits."  

"Haven't seen any rabbits around here for years."  

"Well, maybe the chipmunks will like them. Or the raccoons."

Well, he didn't toss them all out because he knew Dilly Dog would immediately gobble all 20 of them up.

So here's what he did. He put them on the top of the Subaru. "They'll fall off on the way home," he said. We could hear them rolling around when we went up hills or around corners and we could see one or two fall off now and then. 

It was very discouraging to drive through rural Ohio one week before Election Day. For every Biden/Harris sign, there were twenty Trump/Pence signs.  It looked like 2016 all over again, back when the President was running against Hillary. We saw only one Confederate flag this year, so that was encouraging, but we also saw a sign that said "Pro God, Pro Life, Pro Gun", and that wasn't. 

We drove in to Washington, PA, just over the line from West Virginia. A billboard  invited us to "rent a machine gun" from Washington County Machine Guns. Well, that got our attention! When I got home, I looked the organization up on line and it turns out to belong to a company that provides individuals and groups with supervised access to the latest in military weaponry and vintage World War II weaponry on the company's shooting range.  Check out their amazing inventory of guns and rocket launchers on line. If you want to fire one of these babies, you have to be at least 16 years old and accompanied by a parent or guardian if you are 18 or under. 

We started our 9-hour trip with a dozen-plus carrots rolling around on the roof of the car. We reached Laurel, MD with two. They'd gotten stuck in wind deflector.