Memory Lane


Forgotten Trains

It’s curious how life circles around.

The chemotherapy treatment my mother has been receiving since her midsummer surgery has ravaged this once vibrant woman. Physically she’s as frail as a cricket’s wing. Mentally she’s as scrambled and unpredictable as a toddler. Whether that’s the effects of the chemo, her stroke from years ago, the cancer, dementia, or a combination of them all, no one knows. It little matters.

img_20191007_104111As a young girl my mother used to let me sit beside her on the piano bench as she played music from My Picture book of Songs  with its charming drawings and seasonal themes. We sang of big black choo choo trains, puppies next door, aeroplanes flying, whirly, twirly leaves and dozens of other sweet topics. That song book still exists sans the yellow cover, having miraculously survived a housefire and six other children loving its pages with pencil and crayon. The cellophane tape mom had carefully applied now scars the ragged-edged pages.

I wrote of my love for and experience with this book and its effect on my life, my children’s lives and my grandchildren’s lives several years ago. What I’d never conceived of happening with this book occurred a couple weeks ago as I sat on the front porch with my mother.

The thermometer barely tapped the seventy degree mark, and a light breeze wandered across the porch. That slight wind carried the sound of a train whistle. That was unusual. Sure, there are tracks that run alongside the state highway half a mile away, but I’d never seen a train in all the times I’d visited, let alone heard one. I remarked on that. Then I said, “That reminds me of the train song we used to sing all the time when I was little.”

Mom didn’t remember the train song.

And so, I sang it to her.

“Choo choo choo, what’s coming down the track?

Choo choo choo, it’s something big and black.

See it steaming as it chugs along.

Hear it ringing as it says ding dong.

Choo choo choo there it goes again.

Choo choo choo choo choo choo choo,

It’s a big black train.

Wooooohooo, wooooohooo,

It’s a big black train.”

She hummed along and sang a word or maybe two.

Within those brief words and notes, mother and daughter switched roles.

We enjoyed a few more minutes on the porch swing in silence, taking in the view of the mountains, and an occasional hawk circling. Lulu the Wonder Cat wandered among our legs, thought about jumping onto Mom’s lap, thought better of it.

Inside, Mom surprisingly knew right where to find that old songbook. She sat at her puzzle table while I sat at the piano to play those old songs for her. She hummed along to some of them. I couldn’t sing, as all my effort went toward holding back tears so I could read the notes.

Full circle sure isn’t what I thought it would be.

Categories: Cancer, Family, Memory Lane, mother, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Take a Look at my Etchings

My grandmother kept toys for the grandkids on the attic staircase. We only got these out when the weather disagreed with our plans for outdoor play, or if the cousins, heaven forbid, weren’t around for creating adventures with.

The toys she owned weren’t like any toys we had at our house, so they kept our interest longer than most. My favorite sported a red plastic cover and two white knobs and a gray screen.

From that briefest of descriptions you might assume I favored some early version of a computer game. Not quite.

photo-25 copy 12

A classic!

One knob moved a cursor-like dot up and down. The other knob moved the dot left and right. When the dot moved it left a line in its tiny wake. By moving the knobs I could draw a picture or a design. No colors. Just gray and black. No noises, except the background of my siblings fighting over the other toys.

I never did master the up and down, left and right twists very well.

Such a simple concept, drawing without paper and pencil. For some reason this little device resonated with children. Now, I’m sure to most people, it seems almost laughable and archaic.

Surprisingly, young children today still find it fascinating. At least some of the kids I hang out with sure do.

I had a gaggle of little boys fighting over who got to play with it during a party at my house earlier this year. These boys had a fire to roast marshmallows in, rocks to throw, water to play in and soda and snacks galore. And what did they choose to do? Watch each other draw things on the Etch-A-Sketch! I could hardly believe what I saw.

Don't bother me, I'm busy!

Don’t bother me, I’m busy!

My favorite three-year old, an Angry Birds aficionado, also likes to wield the knobs from time to time. Her attention unwavering and steady as she attempts control of the elusive tiny black dot, little can lure her away.

Why such fascination with such a simple thing? This seems so strange to me.

I suppose it shouldn’t seem odd. I prefer to hold solid words printed on tangible paper bound together in a battery-free device called a book, over the electric limitations of a Kindle or other recently upgraded device. I love the feel of a pen looping and scrolling as I write sentences in cursive. A grocery list or to-do list on a slip of paper tucked inside my pocket feels secure and somehow comforting. I’d rather lift and roll an actual bowling ball than pretend to do so on a Wii. I’d rather walk outdoors than stand in place and aerobicize in air-conditioned comfort.

Call me a luddite. Call these toddlers and children the same. For whatever reason the simple and the basic seem to satisfy something in some of us.

I wonder what other ways in life I could downgrade to simple.

Rather than breathlessly waiting for the next version of the best thing ever, could I simply content myself with something classic and timeless and wonder-filled?

Could you?

An experiment couldn’t hurt. We might even have some fun.

Categories: Family, Memory Lane | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Climbing, Shredding and Burning

Friday Letter to my Kids

Dear J, J, L and L,

I’ve been “on vacation” for the past two weeks. As you know from personal experience that means, (ninety-five percent chance) staying with relatives. That’s not a bad thing; it simply means that most of our vacations involve family, not visiting Europe or going on a cruise or hitting the slopes or the beach.

We did do some of that. We had some good times on the slopes for a few years. In fact big J practically emerged from the womb skiing, and little J took to skiing like a seed to dirt. I still get this ache in my stomach about J breaking his collarbone on the first day of a four-day ski trip. No more snowboarding that season. The pain of the break, I’m guessing, felt like nothing compared to the pain of watching everyone else racing down the mountain while you had to lounge around at the lodge every day.

Ouch! I hope you’ve made up in quality what you missed in quantity on that trip.

Given that you put yourself to sleep at night by boarding down a specific run makes me feel pretty good about all the days you managed to get in on the mountain after that.

We never made it to the ocean with all of us together. L and L enjoyed that singular experience. Spring break, we found out the hard way, isn’t really the ideal time to hang out in the Pacific. Chilly, fierce waves, a strong undertow, but plenty of space on the beach. We managed to get a sunburn, sand stuck in every imaginable and unimaginable spot including the sleeping bags. One of my other favorite photos ever? The sun setting orange over the ocean in a thirty mile an hour breeze, and L and L silhouetted just so. Good times, good times.

More than a few of our camping trips involved rain, a couple of them fairly significant amounts. North Carolina rains pale only in comparison to Oklahoma rains. Either way, we ended up soaked, clothes hanging everywhere inside the tent, muddy boots, big smiles, flooded lakes or streams. Good thing we cooked over a backpacking stove or we’d have eaten cold food all those times. I loved big L’s computer drawing, back in the dark ages of computer graphics, of one of our camping in the rain events. Wish we could find that. It’d make a great children’s book. Especially the mud monster part.

Let’s not forget, L and L, Queen of the Flame and Little Muddy Foot. Those two young girls will forever be tender spots in my heart of camping hearts.

Rock climbing and rappelling figure prominently in our getaways. Little did I know what I set in motion when I took that wilderness adventure course. I look back now and shake my head in amazement that I looked on as your Dad roped you in and let you climb at Index or scrambled all over Spire Rock or swing suspended from whatever boulder, cliff or mountain happened to be handy. Dad still refers to little J as “our Arachnid” for your epic climbing abilities.

Yes, most of our vacations involved camping in a tent, which isn’t bad at all.

You also got plenty of experience with airline travel, surprisingly, which has come in handy tons of times, and has become old hat for others. Little J had the chutzpah to backpack Europe once and visit Paris another time. Big J now travels regularly for work, getting around airports and big cities as if they’re simply different runs at a ski resort.

Many of our vacations involved road trips as well. But that, oh my, that is another story or ten for another day and another letter.

Wish we’d taken you to Yellowstone. And I’m sorry, but I never could make myself feel comfortable with taking you to Grand Canyon, even though it’s been less than half a day’s drive for the past eighteen years. My heart couldn’t bear the thought of you anywhere near the edge of an impossible precipice. And Disneyland remains elusive as a family getaway, even though most of you have managed to get there on your own.

I’d like to think we’ll somehow manage one last ginormous family vacation with all the spouses and *babygrands. Maybe that’s why family reunions happen; attempts at reliving or making up for the past.

I’m pretty sure we made good use of our weekends, summers and holidays. I hope you feel the same. Those rank as some of my favorite memories together.

Would surely love some more evenings by a campfire with ya’ll again sometime.

All my love,



*babygrands = grandbabies or grandchildren

photo-23 copy 5



“…there ain’t no journey what don’t change you some.”

~ David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas




Categories: Friday Letters, Fun, Memory Lane, Outdoors, parenting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Friday Letters: Water Babies

“Always be like a water. Float in the times of pain or dance like waves along the wind which touches its surface.” ~Santosh Kalwar

Dear J, J, L and L,

One hundred four degrees. That’s the forecast high temperature here today. Makes me wish we still had a backyard pool like we had at the Saint Elena house. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have survived our first year or two here in Arizona without it, especially since we arrived in late August. Your ages then: sixteen, fourteen, nine, and five. I think it bridged the age gap between big kids and little kids quite effectively.

photo by: The High Fin Sperm Whale (really)

photo by: The High Fin Sperm Whale (really)

I think it’s really true that water is the stuff of life. If I think about it even a little, water plays an integral part in most of my memories of raising the four of you.

J and J, that little sandbox you played in nearly always ended up filled with water after hours of building roads or tunnels or castles. And the blue plastic play pool? Less than a foot of water and maybe six feet across, it got so hot some days even I sat down in it with you. You even managed to add water to the bouncy times at Grandpa’s and Grandma’s on the trampoline, turning on the sprinkler underneath and getting totally soaked.

Hour long baths highlighted most days and brought them to a stellar, soggy end for you two oldest when you were toddlers. Do you remember the big garden tub that we filled with bubbles and containers? You made it into your personal wave pool and played until the water cooled and you both shivered. I sat nearby on the toilet seat or counter top, usually reading a book, out of reach of your splashing and waterfalls and container experiments. It was my hour of mental escape.

Then when we made the move to the Northwest, about the time L came along, we hung out occasionally at Puget Sound, mucking about along the rocky shore. Once you brought home a pail of barnacles that we set out on the balcony. Nothing else smells quite as bad as dead sea life in a bucket.

Mostly we spent about three hours a day or more at the pool all summer long. You two older kids each wore a red tank top with a built-in inner tube. Fearless, as usual, you launched off the diving board about a hundred times an hour. We often brought lunch and lots and lots of snacks and juice boxes. Poor little L would get tuckered out and we’d put her in the shade in her stroller and let her sleep while we swam even longer. You had the brownest bodies, with tan lines that latest until Christmas.

Camping up near Index we always set up our tent beside that creek which you three oldest kids spent hours splashing and playing in. I think you even attempted to build a small dam to pool the water so you could swim. Too bad the water temperature always hovered near freezing as it flowed down out of the Cascades.

photo by: Michael Conti

photo by: Michael Conti

When we finally landed in the midwest, with its humidity and ever changeable weather, our summer days revolved around the local swimming pool hours and what times our friends would also arrive.

By then the red swim shirt inner tubes fit big L and little L or “fish girl” as we should have called her. At two and half, our golden blond baby leapt off the diving board into twelve feet of water like she was born to do just that. Meanwhile, poor big L hunkered at the edge of the pool, hands in prayer form, tipping herself gingerly into the water in her year-long attempt at mastering diving.

By then J spent his time trying to make his enormous splashes off the diving board land on the life guard. And J, like most teenage girls her age, spent her time working on her tan, chatting with her friends and catching the eye of a few too many guys. Ah, those were the days, huh?

When the diving board lost its entertainment value, I recall sitting in the baby pool, while L and L played beauty salon with me acting the role of the hapless customer. Pretend perms, shampoos and styles seem to last for hours.

The smell of sunscreen conjures such sweet remembrances in me. To drive past a public swimming pool all but makes me laugh. Rarely do I add bubbles to a bath without recalling countless bare bums and smiling faces poking out of mountains of white foam. It seems at least half my memories of each of you involve water somehow.

DaVinci once said, “Water is the driving force in nature.” That’s true on many levels. I know it’s especially true for your growing up years. If ever you feel an emotional drought in your life, I hope you remember as I so often do, the wonderful, water filled memories we shared.

With love and laughter,



“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” ~ Margaret Atwood








Categories: Family, Friday Letters, Memory Lane | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back Flash, Not Quite the Same as a Hot Flash, But Close

This thing is a Thing.

This thing is a Thing.

Saw this car the other day parked across the street that belonged to some parent watching his/her kid practicing soccer. My favorite two-year old couldn’t ignore the thing. In fact she insisted on touching it, tried opening the door, peeked inside, very nearly climbed over the side and into the cute yellow and black plaid seats. Then I suggested a photo-op and she copped a few poses for me. Then she seemed satisfied.

Little did she know I’d just done a back to the future moment during all of that.

I so much wanted to own a VW Thing back in the day. So versatile, I thought. So cool, with it’s convertible roof. I could just picture myself at the beach, my surf board tossed casually in the back after a day of sun and waves. Or just as easily I could envision my backpack and tent piled in the back as I drove to the mountains for a weekend trip. Or even better, imagine me, the famous writer zipping about town in my flashy Thing, to this book signing and that book signing. I’d pop a cassette tape of David Cassidy in the ultra-modern radio console, crank my windows down, put the top back and be the envy of all who saw me.

Not sure how I was going to afford that on my McDonald’s “how may I serve you” salary, but I could surely dream big back then.

I wouldn’t have picked yellow though. Red, fire engine, fingernail, Maverick RED.

And after the dance, the Stomp is what we really called the casual dances, I’d pile my friends inside and we’d head over to the local drive-in and catch a double feature. Wouldn’t that be fun in a Thing? I thought so. Still do.

I liked how different it looked. Not like every other vehicle on the road. Fitting in was for cheerleaders and football players, not smart people.

Flash Back to the here and now. Reality check.

I’m just glad to drive something reliable, even if it’s a bit dated. And, quite frankly, I’ve had my fill of cars that stand out for weird reasons. Fading paint job, a never repaired gash, a window that won’t close, shocks that desperately need replacing on a nearly zeroed out budget.

I’ve been to the beach exactly four times. Closest I came to surfing was a sad imitation of someone boogie boarding. Gave a bunch of people a few good laughs, though.

Camping, I’ve done a ton of that. With MSH and the whole family. There’s some solid good times there. Sometimes all our gear sat atop the tiny Datsun in a totally uncool car top carrier. Sometimes it all fit in the back of the custom van or SUV. Sometimes it took a combination of both.

I met MSH dancing. That turned out okay. We even have a drive-in movie story that’s pretty funny.

We still have a cassette player in the truck we occasionally drive if we have to. There’s some pretty sweet tunes in our cassette collection. Chicago, Vivaldi, Three Dog Night, MoTab, Safety Kids, Brian Adams, Windham Hill, Whitney Houston, Yo Yo Ma, Hercules the Sound Track, Mason Williams, Sharon, Lois and Bram, Bread, Kenny Loggins. I could go on for paragraphs.

No book signings yet, I’m afraid. That would require an actual finished book. Working on that one. So maybe someday…

For the record, nowadays my dream car happens to look like this:

1975 Maverick Grabber

1975 Maverick Grabber

Oh yeah, baby!

Some of us just can’t let go of the past, at least, tiny bits of it. Ah, those were the days!

Categories: Fun, Memory Lane, self-image, Transportation | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Laundry Days

I’ve become reacquainted with the sheets and pillows on my bed thanks to the flu. About all I can do is sleep lately. And edit this bit of writing I did before “Ambush of the Virus Crud” started playing on infinite loop. Enjoy while I go back to sleep some more.


Everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it.

Oh, wait. That’s the weather.

I’m sure there’s some awesome correlations there. But that’s another day.

photo by Michael Gäbler

photo by Michael Gäbler

Actually, I have some ethereal memories of laundry drying on the line when I was a young child. I remember especially the sheets catching the breeze and snapping in the gusts. Walking between the rows of semi-damp jeans, socks, pillow cases, towels, t-shirts and diapers felt adventurous. Getting a face full of sun and air-dried sheet filled my head with the scent of clean. Not some corporate version of “fresh linen” or “mountain air” fakeness.

I yearn for that real smell to envelop me when I snuggle into the covers at night. Imagine dreaming with that oxygen-rich sensation filling your lungs and heart. Imagine being surrounded by a fresh, smooth sun-infused sheet as you drift off each night.


The other laundry smell I remember with fondness happened indoors and coincided with the sound of soap operas. All that sun and air-dried laundry ended up wrinkly and needing the coaxing of heat and steam to smooth out the creases and lines inherent in mostly cotton fabric. Mom had a bottle with small holes she’d fill with water then sprinkle over a pile of laundry to dampen it before setting to work with the iron. She could miraculously turn that dampness into flat, smooth freshly pressed handkerchiefs, workshirts, skirts, dresses and tablecloths in no time.

Or it seemed like no time to me.

Actually the long rather boring long process went faster to the accompaniment of a soap opera or two. I simply recall the steamy scent of fresh laundry filling the house as I sat at the kitchen table eating a tuna sandwich before heading off to kindergarten. Those smells speak of surety and safety, security and softness. I have only to remember Mom standing in the kitchen on those days to instill a sense of all’s right with the world in the center of me.

I don’t know about that idea of “cleanliness being next to godliness,” but I do know that smell of outdoor dried laundry seems like a bit of heaven on earth.

I think it’s against the CC&R’s in our HOA. (Translation: CC&R Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions HOA: Home Owner’s Association.)

No, really, I think it’s against the rules to hang laundry outside in your very own, enclosed and walled in backyard here in my little town. Trashy looking apparently.

To be honest, it’s a ton of work to hang laundry outside. I’ve done it before in a non-HOA environment.  In Oklahoma, I think. I felt ultra domestic. It didn’t last long. We had a spell of  bad weather, or the dryer got fixed or I came to my senses.


Nowadays it would maybe land me at a one on the crunchy mom scale. And then this other thing I used to do might make me extra “crunchy.”

I used cloth diapers back in the day for my first two kids. Not to save the environment, but because we couldn’t afford the fairly new and very pricey luxury of disposable diapers for two children at the same time. Not sure we could even afford them for one child.

I still shudder when I think of washing diapers. That smell memory nearly knocks me off my feet. I did a load of diapers every single day. You can’t let a babe sit around in a soggy cloth diaper without causing actual physical harm to that delicate skin.

To this day, a quarter century later, if I have to use a safety-pin for something I automatically run it through my hair (to pick up a bit of natural oil) so it will slide through the fabric easier. That’s what I did countless times a day for years with the diaper pins I used.

The shudder of that remembered smell still, rather oddly, carries with it sweet memories of two of my babies. I push the negative cloud aside and reach instead for the sound of laughter in the bathtub before bedtime. I see two red noses and chubby cheeks bundled in winter coats and gloves being pulled behind a saucer sled in the snow. I see a sandbox filled with sand castles, roads, water and then little tanned bodies splashing in a plastic play pool.

photo by Hyena (Wikicommons)

photo by Hyena (Wikicommons)

All those fun things we did together created more laundry to wash and dry and fold and put away. And, honestly and truly, it was worth every minute of the work.

I’m in awe at the speed those those far distant and not so distant days disappeared and became these I walk through now.

Amazing. And wonder filled.

Categories: Family, Memory Lane, parenting | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Odd Ways We Say Goodbye

Everything drips with symbolism lately.

photo 2-1 copy 5

Whether shiny, sparkly or pale the gold looked stunning next to green boughs.

I’ve undecorated the tree this afternoon. It’s time to let go. In fact, it’s past time. The needles are dropping faster, brownish tan slowly outshines the evergreen color. Sure, in a certain light, night-time,with just the small twinkle lights on, it looks vibrant and adds such ambience to the room. But in reality, a fire hazard stands in the living room.

When we first became acquainted, this tree sent its voluptuous pine scent wafting about the entire house. I thought it seemed happy here. But truly, it was simply on its last few weeks of a life spent outdoors, gazing at the stars, tucked in under the snow, basking in the sun, drenched in the rain. Then it found its life cut short and quickly waning. For a brief span of time it glowed and sparkled with beauty and light and life, its last bit of energy expended giving joy and lifting hearts.

photo 1 copy 5

A well-lived life draws to a close.

But now, fully spent, its time has come to move on. Perhaps a few of her needles will become part of the mulch that nurtures next autumns flowers into a radiant bloom. Perhaps a chill night will be brightened and warmed by her last few embers. Perhaps in years to come a photo of a decorated tree, fallen over with the weight of too many ornaments and not enough balance, will lighten the heart of an aged woman. Or another photo of that same tree redecorated and standing proud and straight with a sweet smiling man at her side will bring cheer into a grandchild’s mind.

This sweet Christmas tree oversaw a bittersweet holiday.  It did its job with honor and aplomb. If there were medals awarded for Christmas tree service above and beyond the call of duty, this tree would have earned and worn an extras star of honor.

Now a small brass angel oversees the last of the boxing up of the gold and white bulbs, the untangling of the white lights from the branches. Tonight that tree will look up at the stars once again and dream.

photo 4 copy 2

A few baubles waiting to get boxed up for another year.

Tonight, my living room will feel empty. I’ll walk in and feel lost knowing something important is missing. The empty spot will continue feeling empty regardless of the rearranging of furniture or placing of photos and lamps.

Now you see that I’m a silly, melodramatic woman, with far too much time for thinking and not enough to keep my mind and hands occupied.

I keep saying goodbye in such odd ways.

Maybe this year, this new set of twelve months, will be spent doing just that.

Categories: Death, Holiday, Memory Lane, Relationships, Wondering | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Your Face

It’s pie baking day here at La Casa de Tilby. Not quite like the way we did things ten years ago, but then, what’s still the same as it was ten, or even five years ago?

It used to be, well just like I said in this post last year. The whole family got involved in the decisions about which pies, how many, who got to help make which ones. And MSH had to have a whole pan of “leftover” pie dough baked up as pie cookies, with cinnamon and sugar.

Things don’t work that way so much now with the kids scattered to the wind, or at least all living at different addresses than this one.

Apple and Pecan pies in the cooling stages.

Apple and Pecan pies in the cooling stages.

Daughter two dropped by early today and pretty much baked up two delicious and, might I say, picture perfect pies without any help from me. Okay, I held the baby and enjoyed cooing and smiles and changed a diaper. MSH took the two-year old to the park and kept himself and her entertained. Already, the dishes sit washed and drying and two pies cool temptingly on the table. Not sure they’ll survive unscathed until after dinner tomorrow.

Daughter three will drop by shortly to help bake up two or three more pies. I’ll probably be a little more involved this time as there are no babies or tots involved. And yes, MSH, don’t worry, we’ll make some pie cookies for you.

All this pie talk and baking reminded me today of my first pie encounter with My Sweet Husband when we were dating.

Yes, a dating story, from the Jurassic period. Cool, I know!

I had a friend from high school coming to visit me for a weekend at the University. That put a damper on the future MSH’s plans for the weekend, but he adapted and decided to take us both out to a movie and then dessert back at his apartment.

True to guy fashion he’d gone all out and bought a frozen cream pie. Banana. You know the kind with the artificial yellow and simulated banana flavor? The whipped cream edge got smooshed somewhere in the process from the factory to the tabletop. It looked…not very appetizing.

Banana cream pie

This pie looks nothing at all like the actual pie described. This one looks 100x better. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At that time in my life I kind of liked that fake banana flavor. Reminded me of Laffy Taffy or Creamies Frozen Confections. Sure, it wasn’t the fancy over the top date idea of the week that had just gotten a foothold on the dating scene, but it would taste sweet.

Turns out it hadn’t quite thawed all the way yet. So we listened to some records, yes, vinyl LPs. MSH had a sweet stereo set-up with massive speakers and all the latest technology available in the Jurassic period. The three of us listened to tunes and laughed and one-upped each other with silly stories and jokes. We’d worked ourselves into a bit of a state when someone remembered we hadn’t eaten the pie yet.

I don’t recall if it was my idea or my friend’s idea but one of us had what we thought was a hilarious plan. I can’t imagine I would have done anything so mischievous back then. So for brevity’s sake I’m going with her as the instigator. She picked up the pie, swiped a bit of whipped cream off the edge and said something to the effect of, “someone needs to be wearing this pie.” She licked the whipped cream from her finger and laughed maniacally.

Before we knew what was happening MSH had the pie in hand and we had unwittingly become the target. My friend and I shrieked and headed for the door. We somehow managed to escape out to the stairwell where we felt, oddly, safe from the potential onslaught.

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” MSH said in his most innocent and believable look. “Come back inside and let’s eat this pie.” We made out way back up the stairs and headed toward the door.

Before we knew what was happening he had the pie in launch mode balanced on one hand just above his shoulder. We shrieked again. (Why do we do that?) We looked at the pie and the pie launcher and knew we were doomed.

Just as he let the pie fly I had the instinct to duck, and my friend, who stood behind me her caught the banana cream concoction full on in the face. The look of surprise that registered sent MSH and I into paroxysms of laughter. She stood there shocked and immobile.

With yellow goo and whipped cream sliding slowly down her blond hair and dropping to the linoleum, she finally came out of her stunned state and joined in the laughter. She grabbed what little of the muck she could and flung it at me, as if I had been the one who threw the pie! Luckily she wasn’t a very good aim. Little wonder since she could hardly see out through the layer of crust and pudding and cream.

I think we ended up at Denny’s for some pie after quite the effort at damage control.

Ah, those were the days.

If that happened now all anyone could think about would be the mess, the clean up and the waste of a perfectly good pie. Of course, no one is their right mind in this home-baking house of perfectionism would spend good money on such a thing as a frozen banana cream pie.

Although, for old times sake, it could make for some great laughs.


(No real bananas were injured in the making of the blog post.)

A bunch of Bananas.

Categories: Family, Food, Fun, Memory Lane | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Exploding Butter and Other Things That Never Happened

Growing up in a large family as one of the two oldest children I got the chance to babysit fairly often. At least to me it seemed often. Maybe it was only once a week or so. Being in charge of three to five younger siblings who refuse to acknowledge your authority, wisdom and higher rank makes for a tough slog at the babysitting stint.

Maize for popcorn, cultivated in Hungary, prod...

Add a little heat and pressure and voilà!

It gets more complicated if both your older sibling and yourself  get told, “you’re both in charge.” There’s a recipe for disaster right there. The older sibling will invariably try to pull rank based solely on a few extra years. While the younger, wiser sibling will try to lead from the bottom and behind without being noticed.

Much of the time the little ones would go off to bedrooms or already be in bed by time we older two got placed in charge. That made things easier, but it didn’t solve all the potential problems.

It didn’t always go so well.

Try to envision life without a microwave oven, dishwasher, iPad, cell phone, video, remote control anything and five hundred television channels. I know, it’s a stretch to harken back that many decades into the presmarteverything era. It was a dark time.


It was a glorious time, the best ever!

We had FIVE channels to choose from on the television! Most people only had three. The three big C’s showed up on everyone’s TV (ABC, NBC, and CBS.) We enjoyed the thrill of two, yes two, Public Television stations. What a luxurious life we led when the parentals left us in control.

List of U.S. state foods

Once the tiny kids got snuggled safely  away and snoozing we could settle in and watch ANYTHING WE WANTED! And to make things even better we could have popcorn with extra butter! Yum!

The way we popped corn back in the olden days involved a saucepan and lid, vegetable oil and popcorn kernels. It’s still the best way ever to make popcorn, by the way. (That microwave crap will put you in an early grave, believe me.)

If you want to learn how to do this on your own check out this recipe or this website for great instructions. It’s not that tough and you’ll thank me for pointing you toward popcorn perfection.

So we popped our own popcorn all the time. No big deal. Mom and Dad simply wanted us to clean up our mess if we did that.

Mom always melted the butter in a one-cup metal measuring cup that looked like a miniature saucepan. We’d plop an extra dollop or two of butter in there when we were in charge. Being in a hurry, ie trying to get the popcorn popped and buttered during commercials meant we set burner for the butter on medium instead of low.

Here’s where two heads without a real leader went south that evening.

When we heard the commercials end and the show start again both of us left the kitchen and went downstairs. One of us sat on the second to the bottom step in a token, “yeah, yeah, I’m paying attention to what’s going on in the kitchen” gesture, while still being able to see and hear the television.

That gesture served only to alert that child to the presence of a burning smell in the kitchen. One of us screamed and the other came running. On the stove sat a flaming cup of butter. Big flames, one or two feet high it seemed. My brother, being older and generally the one to take action, grabbed a hot pad and gingerly took the flaming butter across the kitchen to the sink.

Nuclear weapons test in Nevada in 1953

Not the actual butter explosion…(Photo credit: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons )

Then he turned the water on to put the flames out.

Water and oil don’t mix. We all know that. Imagine what water and flaming oil does.


The room filled instantly with smoke. And when the smoke finally cleared, the burnt butter appeared splattered all over the kitchen ceiling.

I have no idea how the two of us didn’t get burned. Angels intervening perhaps, or chemistry and physics perhaps. We got lucky. I know that now.

We never went back downstairs to our television show because we spent the evening cleaning off the evidence of our disaster from the kitchen ceiling. If Dad and Mom found out, we’d catch heck and pay a heavy penalty.

As far as we know they never suspected we’d nearly burned up or exploded the kitchen. Phew!

Luckily both my brother and I live in different states from Dad and Mom so when they read this I think we’ll be in the clear.

At least, I hope so.

Categories: Family, Food, Memory Lane | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Surplus And Then Some

On rare occasions, usually with a campout on the horizon, Dad or Mom would take us to this Army surplus store on the outskirts of town. We’d pick out a not-too-dinged-up mess kit, dig through the green canvas-covered canteens to find one that looked semi-cool and  rummage through the clip-together knife fork spoon collection for a set that stayed together and wasn’t bent.

Call of Duty

(Photo credit: Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library)

The place spanned the distance of a couple of football fields set side by side. Army green as far as my near-sighted coke bottle glasses could see. Outside, in the side yards, acres of old army green stuff that I hardly recognized ran row upon row for what looked and seemed like miles.

What’s this?

What’s this and this?

What’d this do?

“What’s this, Dad?” must have been on constant repeat the entire time we spent inside or outside that store.

In my mind, the ghosts of Army guys hung out among the shelves and piles of used or practically new surplus. I would reach into my head for the look and feel of those War documentaries Dad occasionally watched on our television set. Mostly I remembered explosions and white puffs of smoke and the sound of the narrator’s voice, somber and heavy. In the background an occasional military march drummed across my memory. As a child those shows and that collection of army stuff made me wonder, made me worry.

Did all that surplus sit there waiting for another war? Would it would be needed by more than occasional campers out on a weekend jaunt? I hoped not.

Fallout Shelter Sign

But then there were those air raid practices we had a few times. And there were the nuclear fallout shelter signs hanging near the stairwells leading to the basement in our elementary school. I had every reason to worry. I had every reason to wonder about such a huge amount of resources sitting idle. Mostly I didn’t think about it, though. Childhood held too many other wonders to worry much.

I visited that store with two of my sisters yesterday. It’s a favorite haunt of my older brother when he’s in town. Now I understand why. It’s an inventor’s paradise, a treasure hunter’s mother lode, a shopper’s ultimate dream trip. A person could spend several days in there and still not see everything.

It’s changed somewhat from the years when I used to go there. There’s much less surplus piled up outside. And the first thing greeting you as you walk in, besides a massive tool section that’ll suck in even the least handy man in the group, is a candy section that puts full-on candy stores to shame.

Every candy I ever used to covet as a girl waits for me in bins and bowls and boxes and barrels and on shelves and hooks.

photo-18 copy 23Here’s a tiny sampling: Zots, Razzles, Slapstix, Cowtails, Nips, Beemans gum, Bit O’Honey, Lemonheads, Jawbusters, Boston Baked Beans, Blowpops, Square Cinnamon Suckers, you name it, they had it. Of course, I filled a basket with the treasures and felt as if I had captured pieces of my childhood. Penny candy nirvana took over all reason and logic as I loaded up with sugar in all its various forms.

The Older Me also spent significant time in a kitchen implements section that made Bed, Bath and Beyond seem like a mere convenience store. Every shade, shape and color of spatula ever imagined resided there in mass quantities. Every sort of knife, pan, container, widget, kitchen invention, mixer, chopper, timer, seasoning and gadget found itself ensconced and happy as a clam in sauce there among friends. I exercised restraint only because my two checked luggage pieces already overflow.

We ventured in among mountains of hats, walls of gloves and piles of wallets. We skirted past but didn’t delve into the jeans and t-shirts and clothing aisles. We did, after all, have a real life to get back to. Not to mention our feet and backs were getting sore from so much wandering and perusing.

With reluctance we took our purchases to the front and stood in a line beside more fun doodads and curious toys and other memorabilia for sale.

I regret only one thing about yesterday’s visit back in time.

I didn’t go back to the surplus section.


Maybe because war surplus speaks louder now than it did when I was young and naïve. Maybe the ghosts that reside back there have more to say and I couldn’t bear to hear or see them.

I’m sure my mind said something like: “Just let me revel in the childhood I knew. The innocence enlivens and lifts me. The purity of that brief span of childhood, of not knowing about the real world, feels so refreshing.”

Maybe next time I visit there, I’ll also visit the ghosts, if for no other reason than to say “Thank You.”

Categories: Gratitude, Memory Lane | 4 Comments

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