FAMILY REUNION MEMORIES

  

I don’t know about you, but my childhood memories are very much a part of who I am especially now that I’m older and I’ve had a lot of time to think about my childhood and how it actually molded me into the person blogging here today.

I have often alluded to my thoughts on  one of the saddest things about families today is that we are spread so far apart many times because of the way the world is now. The old fashioned nuclear family, unless you’re one of the lucky ones, is not intact and not what it used to be. 

A television colleague of mine I worked with back in the 70s recently posted on Facebook a video that brought back so many delightful memories for me of my early summers back in Ohio. Because of my grandparents having 10 children, our parent’s extended family was extremely large so every year we would have a Lewis family reunion at a park in Canton, Ohio called Myers Lake.
  
 My brother and I always looked forward to this one summer’s outing to Myers Lake, not only because we could see all of our aunts and uncles and cousins, but the thoughts of all the great amusement rides that they had in the park. 
  

Sherman and most of my cousins enjoyed the roller coaster, the Ferris wheel and other spinning rides. Just watching everyone go up and down and whirl around made me dizzy. From my beginning motion sickness has been my curse, so I found happiness with a younger cousin in trying to win things. My favorites were all the toss games where you could win prizes. (I still have a prized pussy willow carnival glass vase that I won one year at a Myers Lake concession stand that I recently saw on eBay worth quite a lot). 
  
Aren’t we who we are because of who we were as children and how we interpreted life events? Perhaps those early experiences with compensating for my DNA flaws by ‘winning’ became the foundation for overcoming later life challenges and the embryo of my life’s successes.  

As my grandson said to me the other day during a conversation about November’s election, “Nana, you grew up in the best of times. I think your’s was the greatest generation.” So true. Sadly for the Millenniums, so true. 

Copyright┬ęSandra Hart. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

FROM SUN TO SUN

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Life is all a matter of relativity. As a young widow with three children I thought I had at times a very hard life. But recently certain events within my family brought me to think about the two generations that came before me and my grandmother and grandfather who lived on a farm in Ohio. If I really want to be honest, comparatively, my life, even in the worst of times, was a piece of cake. And I am ashamed to think I might have had a hard row-ever.

Enduring several miscarriages, my grandparents wound up with 10 living children to take care of. So, basically, in those days, my grandmother had the care of 10 children while Grandpa did ‘manly- head-of-household’ duties.

She and my grandfather lived on a farm and not only did she make all of their clothes, she cooked for all the family and farmhands, and on top of that made fresh bread daily. I still remember the flour sticking to her broad-knuckled hands as she wiped them on her apron, cleaning them between each kneading.

She did the seemingly endless farm and family wash by scrubbing on a washboard anchored on a big galvanized wash tub and then hung the laundry out on the line propped up by a pole in the middle to keep the weight of the wet wash from dragging the clothes to the ground. In the winter the clothes would freeze dry and the freezing temperatures made the sheets whiter than white, infusing the towels and clothing with the clean smell of God’s open country air. In the summer sheets would often be laid out on the green grass allowing nature’s bleach, the chlorophyll and sun, to take out any stains. Grandma knew how to make the tools of nature work for her.

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Once the laundry was dry, folded in baskets and brought into the kitchen, Grandma would iron all of the family clothes and sheets with a heavy solid iron heated on the kitchen coal stove top that today I would be pressed to even lift once without complaining.

She planted the vegetable garden every year. I remember helping her hoe the straight rows between the beans, lettuce, and strawberries. I can still see her bending over with her stovepipe bonnet huffing and puffing going about her work. I loved helping her pick strawberries ( one for me, one for the basket) and wondered while I filled my basket how she could gather pea and bean pods by folding up the corners of her long apron to make a sack for the pods.

But, I think, looking back, the best part of the day was when Grandma would let me tag along to the chicken coop in the morning to gather eggs. She taught me how to gently remove the eggs from the nests. I still remember how warm they felt as I caressed them in my hands before placing them in her basket. Sometimes I couldn’t resist putting the warm eggs against my cheeks so that I could feel their warmth on those chilly farm mornings.

“Here chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick.”

I can hear her soft voice calling her chickens as she lovingly allowed her grandchild to awkwardly throw handfuls of feed on the ground and sharing my excitement at watching the chickens run and peck, peck, peck, gobbling up their day’s nutrition.

The last memories I have of her and me together, my sweet grandma, is my sitting by her bedside after school and reading her the jokes from my Weekly Reader. Her gray curly hair pulled back in a pompadour style bun, her head resting on her pillow, she would quietly laugh as though she really liked the comfort I was trying to give her. Even in what would be her last days, Grandma was still working for her family. Giving me her last ounces of love.

My grandmother and those wives and mothers of her generation are the epitome of the adage of what they say, ” From sun to sun, a woman’s work is never done.”

Love you Grandma. I haven’t worked nearly as hard as you, or been loved as deeply as you, but, all things considered, life has been good to me and your other grandchildren. I think you would be happy to know that.

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Copyright Sandra Hart 2014. All rights reserved.

Peanut Butter Icing

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My son posted a video today of the swollen creek running through his property and it brought back this childhood memory of my days in Ohio.

April 1949……….

My mother only got angry with my brother and I once. At least only one time that I can remember. Honestly.

In Ohio our house had a good size creek winding along the property line. It was deep enough to swim in during the summer and had a big rock in the middle that was perfect for cannon balling into the icy waters. And when the spring rains came the muddy bottom of Reeds Mill Creek came alive turning the rapidly swirling water into the color of peanut butter icing.

Nothing was more fun than walking along the swollen winding creek and
throwing sticks into the angry water to watch them swirl and bob wildly as the muddy water carried them uncontrolled, disappearing only to appear again to the surface.

Well, time just stopped for us, I guess, having so much fun and without realizing it were gone all day. When it finally dawned on us that it was almost dinner time, we headed on home.

We opened the door filing in without a care, our stomachs grumbling in anticipation of one of Mother’s great suppers. Unfortunately for us, that day my mother was not serving up a delicious dinner for us, but hiding behind the door with a broom aimed at our bottoms. I will leave the rest to your imaginations.

It was only until I became a mother did I understand her fears and concerns that my brother and I may have drowned in the muddy creek waters.

Don’t ever let anyone convince you that mothering is easy and the job of raising and keeping your children safe is anything but the most important job on this planet.

Copyright Sandra Hart 2014 All rights reserved.

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The Barbizon Years

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Recently I have reconnected with a cousin who has opened the box of memories of my life with her mother and my early years in New York City. She has taken me back to earlier times and memories of good friends.

February 1960…….

Strange how I remember so much about my life in New York and living at the Barbizon Hotel for women, but for the life of me, I can’t even envision what the lobby of that hotel looked like. I close my eyes and try to take myself back, but it has no memory photo shot of the space I walked in and out of for a year. Nothing. A total blank. Pale overly thin models walked about, in and out with their black portfolios, I remember that, but I don’t even have a clue to what that space looked like.

I remember my room in great detail. Actually, not hard because the room was just a bit wider than I was tall and not much longer. One window overlooking Lexington Avenue, a single bed against the wall and a dresser on the other that I probably could access from my bed it was so close. A sink and small closet at the end of the bed. The showers and facilities were down the hall. Basically it was my expensive closet my parents paid for so that I had secure living in New York while attending the Katherine Gibbs School on Park Avenue.

But I was not alone. That’s the way we all lived. My room was not unique. Nancy DuPont, my neighbor, Alice Blair, from Los Angeles down the hall and close by to Lynn’s room, (MCA Lew Wasserman’s daughter). They were all the same. Glorified closets.

Alice would get visits from home, her mother, and high school classmates including Nora Ephron but, for me, other than my parents once, the only other visitor I had now and then was my older cousin, Carolyn, who grew up next door to me in Steubenville. Without notice she would appear.

Carolyn lived at The Barbizon when she came to New York from Ohio and was first a Conover model and then signed with the prestigious Ford Agency. So, in my eyes, she was always the celebrity in our family. I always felt special when she came. Never a hair out of place and always dressed to perfection. She made elegance look so easy. I just remember that Carolyn was so beautiful and how important she made me feel with each visit. But looking back I now realize those visits were in between times for her. She was on her way to somewhere and needed to fill those empty minutes. Why not at the place with which she had comfortable memories and a relationship. At The Barbizon with her little cousin from Steubenville.

Over five decades have now passed for all of those mentioned in my Barbizon memory box. Each would have a story, yet unfolded, yet unscripted in that year of 1960.

I have often thought if I could, if it were possible, would I want to know my future? My answer is always the same. If I had known then all that I and the characters in my Barbizon life would go through after leaving that hotel, I may not have left.

I, for one, certainly have had my struggles as chronicled in my writings. Alice has had a wonderful life, but also with a few hiccups along the way. Carolyn was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and her glamorous life evaporated. Her mystic unveiled to the world by the worst human betrayal possible-and her life ending in poverty and pain. Nora Ephron received such great heights with her talent that was cut short too soon. All things to come in the future that perhaps had we known would have paralyzed us from going forward with our unthetered souls and hopeful plans.
Copyright 2014 Sandra Hart. All rights reserved

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Who Knew?

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My husband and I have often talked about our childhoods and about our years growing up and we both have come to the same conclusion. We had, in our opinions, the ‘luck of the draw’ to be born and live through the best years so far in our American history. Who knew?!

August 1957…….

The wings of Capitol Airlines were carrying me far away from the mundane existence in the steel town where I grew up. I was eighteen and I was never coming back. I was free. At last! Free to live my own dreams, on my own terms. I never wanted to think of those fourteen wasted years of my life in Ohio again.

Youth. Oh my. Youth! Such hubris. How could I have known then that those early formative years on my grandfather’s farm in Bloomingdale and later, the good fortune to live and be educated among an ethnically diversified community like the steel town of Steubenville, Ohio during the 40’s and 50’s would, in hindsight, be the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

I grew up having no fears. I can’t remember ever being afraid of anything, except maybe disobeying my parents. We never locked our shiny new blue Plymouth in the garage out back. Not even when good times brought a powder blue Cadillac convertible in its place. I knew the front door would always be unlocked when I arrived home from the YMCA Swing Haven at night and I easily traveled by myself everywhere on the bus at all hours and walked the two blocks from the bus stop to my home. I felt safe. I was safe.

Our neighbor’s doors were always open to all and it seemed we were always either delivering or on the receiving end of casserole and cake exchanges from one to the other. We genuinely cared about one another. Neighbors were extended family in our blue collar neighborhood. If ever needed, help was just next door at the neighbors house.

High school jobs were easily found for us. My first was in Denmark’s, a family owned department store, where the owner knew my name. I started at Christmas as a wrapper and worked my way up to sales in lingerie. Customers didn’t seem to be agitated during the long wait for the canister carrying their money being sucked up the vacuum tube to accounting and back again with their receipt and correct change. People had patience. We all seemed to take life in stride.

Our high school had our great football team and marching band that gave our town additional purpose and pride beyond the fact that we produced steel that was helping rebuild the country.

We didn’t have to worry about drugs back then. The worst worry for us girls was not having a date to the prom because we had to wait to be asked. The worst whispers were about the boys and ‘wild girls’ who would go to the coal pits outside of town to smoke cigarettes, drink beer and fool around or the girls that would go to “visit” their out-of-town relatives for nine months.

We studied, jitterbugged, ate square pizza and Coke, went to the drive-in and necked and had swirled ice cream with the curl on top at the local Dairy Queen and watched Ed Sullivan on our RCA televisions Sunday nights with our families.

Our parents earned a good living and were prosperous. They had hopes for the future. We as teenagers never had any doubts that we could reach and achieve our dreams. The world was ours if we were willing to work for it.

And the reality of it is, it was all true. Our generation was afforded the best environment for achieving and witnessing the greatness of the American people and their dreams. We were a town of all nationalities, all colors and I never thought or was taught there were any differences between us.

I do believe, though, that our diverse community along the Ohio River was not unique. It was a softer and more gentle time of hope for the future in America. No one thought that it would disappear. Not here.

How were any of us to know we were so very fortunate living in those special times and that this recipe for living would never be duplicated ever again.

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