YOU UNDERSTAND, of course, that year after year I never feel any older. But, every Thanksgiving when the family gathers, all the nieces and nephews have grown so much from the year before that Aunt Marj is flabbergasted.
Young Bob, whose father is Brother Bob, is now taller than I am.
Margie, my namesake, is just as tall. Sandy is grown-up and working downtown. Larry's in the Marines and paid his Thanksgiving visit early in November. Linda, first of the next generation, is so grown-up she arrived with husband and baby, which was a "first" for our Thanksgiving dinners, too.
Right at the height of the "dishing-up"-when Brother Bob was carving the boned, rolled turkey just off the rotisserie, and I was juggling the casseroles and heating the rolls, and I'd put Sandy and her beau, David, to work filling the water glasses, and Young Bob was carrying the extra chairs to the table and I was calling out to everyone that I was coming through their ranks with hot casseroles en route to the buffet and would everybody PLEASE get out of my way!-there was a small voice at my ear.
"Aunt Marj, do you have a pan I can use to warm the baby's bottle?"
That young niece of mine will never know what a surprise that request was. My kitchen is so small, people have to take turns going through it. Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner taxes its limitations to the utmost. But everything was under control because I've had years to perfect the system, mostly by shooing spectators away and yelling, "Out! OUT!"
Bur I forgot all about a tiny baby.
Right in the midst of pouring melted butter over the potatoes that went back into the oven to crisp, and removing the casserole of chicken noodles and the candied sweet potatoes from the oven shelves to the range-top so the cookie sheet of rolls and the crumb-topped vegetables with cheese sauce could go back into the oven for a few minutes, and the rotisserie pan was set aside in my office under the card table which held the strawberry pies and the angel-food cake that Father had brought over earlier in the day from Mother's kitchen-right in the middle of this bustle punctuated with "Out! OUT!" and "Watch it! I'm right behind you with a hot dish!" Aunt Marj found a pan to use to warm the baby's bottle!
This was only one of many surprises on Thanksgiving day, 1964.
Everybody came early-the first ones rolled into the driveway before and the whole clan had gathered before the grandparents arrived - and they're usually the first on hand. Then we guessed the reason for the grand entrance: Mother had on a new dark-red knit suit and her New York Tony hat and her arrival was recorded on color film to surprise her. But it might have been a screen test the way she removed her gray coat out there in the cold weather so her new red suit could show in color! Father, in HIS new green winter pants and shirt to match, just grinned and played chauffeur.
Taken all in all, I guess it was young Martie, also known as Mighty Mouse, who gave Aunt Marj the biggest jolt. Last year and the year before, it had taken three people full time just to keep track of him in the house. He was quick as a minute, and into everything.
This year, Mighty Mouse is three years old-and more adult than his grandparents!
"Happy Thanksgiving!" I called our to each new arrival at my back door. Mighty Mouse solemnly climbed the back steps and I said, "Hello -and welcome to my house."
He nodded. "Hello," he answered, "and thank you." Solemnly he entered, bearing in his hand a paper sack.
"What's that?" said Aunt Marj.
"I brought along my own toys," he said, seriously.
"Would you like to take off your coat and put it In the bedroom?" asked Aunt Marj.
'Yes," he said, doing just that without any fuss. Then he moved quietly about the house, looking but not fingering, and being a perfect model of decorum. "Is he sick?" I asked his mother, who is my little sister, Ruth.
"No," she said, "he's just growing up."
He's the most grown-up three-year-old I've ever encountered. When Linda's husband, Rick, and Brother Bob took trays in front of the TV set to watch the football game, Mighty Mouse came over to me and said, "Aunt Marj, I'd like to eat with the men and watch the game."
Without a word I moved another tray in by the fireside while Martie's mother filled his plate. A little later, Brother Bob came tiptoeing out to me. "Do you know what Mighty Mouse just said to me?" he whispered, with an incredulous look on his face. "When I walked past him, I looked to see if he was getting enough to eat and he looked up at me and said, 'Good dinner!' He's only THREE YEARS OLD!" my brother said to me, shaking his head right in time with mine.
When Grandpa went outside to walk around the yard-his regular custom between dinner and dessert, so he can find room for the pie and cake!-Mighty Mouse joined him and the two men talked of important things, I am convinced of it. They worked up such an appetite, Mighty Mouse had both strawberry pie and a mint chocolate ice cream patty for dessert-and his grandpa had two pieces of pie.
That was Thanksgiving, 1964, at my house: a brand-new baby asleep in the middle of my bed ... a new nephew-in-law in front of the TV ... Linda and Sandy, giggling like the teenagers they are, changing to outdoor slacks and taking a walk up the road ... Young Bob and Margie counting pennies in their annual custom over at the grandparents' house where Mighty Mouse took his nap without complaining (Grandma saves the pennies and the kids get to keep them after they count them each Thanksgiving! ) ... David sound asleep under the afghan on the double chaise ... Brother Bob sound asleep on the couch with pillows piled all around him in such a fashion that his wife, Jackie, and his sister, Ruth, grabbed the camera to take his picture but they fooled around so long he turned over and spoiled the scene ...
Aunt Marj? She was the one with her shoes off, sprawled in the chair by the fireplace, listening to the wonderful sound of an automatic dishwasher!
Family Thanksgiving – 1965
THE WHOLE TRIBE converged on my little red house in the country early Thanksgiving morning and they stayed until the last horn blew. And then they went home with their own little CARE packages of leftovers.
Brother Bob got the cake and some turkey and Jackie got most of the black olives. Sister Ruth, working that holiday as a practical nurse at the hospital, couldn't come to eat but we sent the makings for her own turkey dinner home with her two youngest.
I sneaked some ham and white turkey meat back for a couple sandwiches ... but the rest went home inside my family or in cartons piled in the trunk of the car.
When they were calling out dibs on who wanted what, I remembered to yell, "Save me a little piece of pumpkin pie." And they did-s-oh, they did that! I haven't figured out which one of my relatives thought of it, but after everybody drove out of the driveway and the house settled back on its foundation, I went back inside to put things to rights.
I looked at the wreckage of cake crumbs and icing on the card table I usually set up in my office to take care of the desserts.
Right in the middle was a pie pan. And in that pan was, as advertised, a small piece of pumpkin pie. Small? It measured ONE INCH along the crust and tapered down to nothing at the center. Wait until I get my hands on the culprit who pulled that stunt!
Mother brought the chicken dressing, and angel's food cake and some of her homemade pimiento cheese. Jackie brought the mince and pumpkin pies. Sandy brought her beau, David. Father brought a good appetite which he whetted by raking leaves. Bob and his son, Bob, and David carried in lots of firewood. Marge took charge of setting up the folding chairs and putting them away later.
And four-year-old Martie, also known as Mighty Mouse, was a joy to my day just by being.
A quiet settled down over the whole family in the first few moments after everyone had been past the buffet and heaped plates full of sweet and mashed potatoes, turkey and ham, the vegetable casserole and the stuffed celery, the watermelon pickles and cranberry sauce. I wasn't alarmed. When they aren't talking, they're eating-and when it's THAT quiet, it's a compliment to the food. In that contented quiet, Mighty Mouse spoke up: "Aunt Marj?"
I looked at his solemn little face and wondered what I could get for him at the buffet. (I'd already pulled a boner by offering him a towel to cover his shirt front. He had said then, "No, thanks, I'll use the napkin on my lap.")
"Aunt Marj," repeated Mighty Mouse, "you are a good cooker." That capped the occasion. Any other adult compliment on my culinary accomplishments was anti-climactic.
Between the holiday feast (which is always at because that's when father wants to eat!) and supper (everybody needs to stoke up for the long drive home! ), the relatives were busy watching the football games, napping, walking, snacking, reading and talking. David did his homework and we got into a discussion of Jonathan Swift and the difference between satire and irony and I got all the new current sizes for my Christmas sweater list and listened in amazement to my nephew, Bob, playing the organ without a lesson in his life ... and listened in amusement as the whole family conned Mighty Mouse into taking a nap.
He had all kinds of legitimate excuses. "Aunt Marj," said he to me, "If you need me, I'll be in the pink bathroom." He had to inspect each shoe box, peek behind each pink curtain to see what suits were hanging there, spray the spray cans, tryout the Kleenex, touch all the robes.
We asked him pointblank. "Would you like to take a nap now?" "No thanks," he said.
We pointed out that the big doll he named Julius (changed now to Gomer) needed a nap and that Martie should put him to bed. "No, Julius had his nap," said Martie.
His love for playing hide and seek finally did him in. He put on grandpa's sweater and cap and we all pretended grandpa was there but where was Mighty Mouse? Then he hid under the afghan on the double chaise to wait for David to find him.
"Is he coming?" Martie would call. "He's coming up the road. Sh - be very quiet," one of us would answer, all the while David, not on the road at all, was sitting in a corner with his classwork.
"Is he coming yet?" "He's just turning into the driveway. Shut your eyes so he won't see you."
"Is he coming yet?" "He's right behind the big tree-sh, sh."
We were running out of excuses when Mighty Mouse with that fresh innocent face of childhood sleeping trustfully dropped off.
And then the peace and quiet of a true Thanksgiving holiday enveloped us all ...
Mother - and the Seatbelt
SAFETY BELTS for cars? "I agree all the way with 'em," commented a reader with initials RB. "But for one young woman they aren't safe. She went on a trip, parked her rented car, got out, tripped over her safety belt, ruined her hose, skinned her knees and was embarrassed. How about THAT!"
Tell Big Feet to look where she's going next time.
Or maybe she can do what my father has devised when he and mother go for a ride. It has been my mother's custom for years to open the back door while my father shuts the garage door. Father is not exactly a patient man, so as they near home, she always gets out her door-key so she won't have to stand and search in her purse for it in front of the locked door while father fumes.
The first couple times they used their seat belts, mother would have her door-key in hand but she'd forget to unbuckle and then she'd lose what little advantage in time she had to get to the door before father did.
They've solved the problem now. As they round the next to last curve before they reach home, father begins the count-down.
"Ten, nine, eight ... " His count is firm and deliberate. Mother reaches around for her handbag and opens it.
" ... seven, six, five ... "
Mother finds the door-key and closes the handbag.
" ... four, three ... "
Mother grasps the door-key firmly in hand.
" ... two, one ... "
She puts her other hand on the buckle of her seat belt.
" ... blast-off!"
Dad shuts off the car ignition. Mother flips open her seat belt. They both open their car doors and mother has an even break to beat father to the door!
Mother's Day – 1965
"HOPE YOU don't think I'm too fresh," postcards a Faithful Reader from Darke county, "but I saw you in a Greenville market last Saturday morning, buying enough food for a small army. I overheard you tell the check-our girl that you were feeding your relatives on Mother's day. Aren't you going to write about what happened? Didn't Mighty Mouse attend-or did you forget the mashed potatoes for your sister-in-law, wasn't she the one?"
She was. And you certainly have a long memory, ma'am. I branded my brother's wife years ago when I mentioned how she talked me into adding mashed potatoes to a Thanksgiving feast because she liked them, and how she can eat three helpings of everything and never gains an ounce on her size 7 figure-she still scolds me for that one!
I usually make a vegetable casserole, disguising the vegetables so well with cheese and buttered crumbs of various kinds, that all the kids get their vitamins without knowing it. This time I used Frenched green beans and asparagus tips in a celery sauce and my sister-in-law was well into her second helping when my brother asked what was in the casserol that made it taste so good. When I mentioned asparagus, Jackie couldn't swallow another bite of it. She hates asparagus, and I hadn't known it.
That Mother's day dinner was a humdinger that I'll not forget for a long time. I was so engrossed in preparations that came up at the last minute that I forgot to set a place for myself or even get out a plate for me! Four of the nieces and nephews ate outside under the trees, the others ate at the table on the porch-and Aunt Marj had her dinner on a tray!
At one point, my brother returned from the buffet to whisper: "Don't panic, Sis-bur all the ham's gone, the vegetable casserole is empty and there's only one spoonful of baked beans left."
"I'll clue you, little brother," I replied, "that's all there is!"
That family ate me out of house and home at . And they stayed for supper!
Mother-who said she couldn't face the prospect of cooking for the mob and that's how the job fell to Sister, but she brought over three pies, one cake and a bowl of her pimiento cheese, anyway!-fell in love with the corn sticks and we had a hard time getting her to pass the roll basket and THEN she wanted everybody to eat the cinnamon ones and leave the corn sticks for her!
Mighty Mouse, 3 ½ , kept going in and out the back door at the same time Aunt Marj tried to load the dishwasher-and my kitchen is so small that you either open the back door or the dishwasher door but you can't do both at the same time! So we had a small talk of a serious nature and Mighty Mouse then went in and out the porch door, leaving it ajar each time.
The teenagers spilled Coke on the kitchen floor, Mighty Mouse spilled his supper sandwich on the green leather chairs, Aunt Marj spilled pickle juice down the front of the kitchen drawers-and when Belva came to clean house a few days later, I left her a note saying not to be surprised if she found potato chips under the bed ...
No, ma'am, I don't think I'll write about what happened at that Mother's day dinner. I'm bushed.
Mother - and the Fish
SOMETIMES when the sun is bright and the air sparkles the way it ought to in spring, my mother and I step outside her back porch and across the green grass to the fishing dock where father ties his boat. She has a mission-I merely tag along to watch.
There's a small secluded inlet alongside their yard, a little finger of water off the larger lake. Mother treats it as her own private aquarium. She throws bits of stale bread to the small fry who congregate in a moment as soon as they hear (?) or feel the vibration of her footsteps on the wooden dock.
She gives some of them names. And she talks to them as if they were family pets.
I didn't say anything as I watched a performance of mother feeding the fish the other day. But she must have read my thoughts.
"Oh, yes, I know, Sister," she said. "I'm probably feeding them just to be caught by the neighbors because they're so tame. But I like to watch them race through the water to get the bread. My, they're certainly getting big, aren't they?"
"But," she added firmly, "they aren't getting fat. I'm feeding them diet bread!"
MY FAMILY has the birth certificate to prove I belong to them-but, sometimes, I wonder ...
I stopped in at the family homestead the other day. Father was out in the middle of the lake in a boat, fishing. He was motionless, so was the lake. Even the ducks were coasting. His big white dog, Lady, was stretched out on the spring-green grass, content with the world, watching her master. Father waved once as I walked around to the porch - and Lady raised her head, but neither of them were going to do any more than this in greeting, it was plain to see.
The whole outdoor scene looked like a page from a calendar-the kind you can hang in the kitchen.
I walked into the dining room and said "Hi" to my mother, expecting to find her crocheting baby bootees or another afghan or putting rickrack on an apron. She's always got some kind of handwork under way. She did this day. She wouldn't even look up when she said, "Hello, Sister."
She was standing by the dining room window that overlooks the lake.
She had Father and the dog nicely focused where she could keep an eye on both of them-they HAVE been known to fall in the lake at various times, either by walking on the ice (that's Father), or leaning over too far to take a drink out of the lake (that's Lady! ) ... and mother wants to be ready to sound the alarm if need be.
But this day she had only one eye for the outdoors. She was concentrating mostly on something in her hands. I looked twice. Yes, that's what she was doing. With a scissors, she was carefully cutting white embossed paper dinner napkins into small two-inch squares and making a neat pile on the table.
I know better than to ask silly questions, but I admit she had me interested. Why are you making little napkins out of big ones? I asked.
"They're for my bugs," she said, and went right on cutting and stacking. She was perfectly serious. I knew I had to ask another question but I thought I'd better mull over all the possibilities first before the thing got out of hand. All I could see in my mind's eye was a feast of bug-poison spread before a lot of bugs, each one with a two-inch square of white embossed paper dinner napkin in front of it. This could not be what she meant, it couldn't! But I went forward with caution. What bugs? I asked.
"From that big old tree outside the window," she said, not missing a
stroke with that scissors. "Every year or so, a lot of bugs appear for a couple days and then go away. They get in on my windowsills."
I waited. The silence was companionable, but not enlightening.
My mother suddenly lurched forward, saying, "See? There's one now. Watch."
She picked up a two-inch square of white embossed paper dinner napkin, laid it gently on top the bug reposing on her white stone windowsill, picked up the bug and took it away. I did not follow their progress-I was still shaking my head over what I had witnessed. Mother returned without the bug. "This way I don't waste the big napkins," she said. "Two inches square is all I need."
There was no point in doubling up with laughter, which is what I had in mind, because Mother does not see humor in some things. I simply faded away, leaving her to her scissors, Father to his fishing and Lady to her loafing.
En route home, I stopped off to share this incredible tale with a friend across the same lake. She listened with great interest but instead of a big laugh at the finish, she looked serious and remarked, "Why that's a good idea. Here I've been using paper towels and it's such a waste for one small bug."
I faded away here, too. There was no point in staying around if we two weren't on the same wave length. I hugged my story about the bug rugs to my bosom and waited until I got to the office the next day to share the laugh with another friend.
Not only did I tell the original version but I added the sequel and I was having a good old time! I looked up. There she was, that second friend, eyes wide, head cocked to one side in the attitude of considering a new idea. "That's exactly what I'm going to do. I've been using a whole paper tissue on each of my bugs. Two-inch squares, did you say?"
When things like this happen between my family and me, I always wonder if they found me in a cabbage patch. But when my friends start to take my family's side in these matters, maybe I WAS found under a cabbage leaf, the one with the bugs!
May 7, 1965
HEAR ABOUT the little girl explaining a tombstone to her little sister? "It's a big rock with your name and telephone number on it."