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Simple Things

I can’t remember hardly anything from my preschool years. Most of my childhood memories are from once I started grade school.  But one of the things I do remember from very early on was playing with lids.  They may have been in a cardboard box or one of those tins that Christmas candy came in back in the 1950’s.  Mom must have saved them all year to collect enough for us to use as toys.  There were jar lids, coffee can lids, milk lids and the list goes on.  I remember stacking them like one would blocks to make all sorts of things.  She collected many colors and shapes and sizes which gave us hours of fun.

I’ve heard it said, and I’ve witnessed this with my own kids growing up, they could have all kinds of toys but give them a cardboard box and they will play with it for hours. Perhaps they will sit in it and pretend it’s their very own car. Maybe they will pull the flaps down over them and jump up like a Jack In The Box or try to scare their siblings. Maybe they will turn it upside down and pretend they are in a tent. The possibilities are as big as their imaginations.  Sometimes it is the simplest things that provide the most joy. I’ve decided to try this out with my grand kids. I’ve been saving for about 6 months now.  I try to pick all sizes: laundry detergent lids are good, peanut butter jar lids, jelly jar lids, butter or margarine lids, gallon milk lids, etc.  By Christmas 2016 I may have enough to package up for my youngest grand kids.  So somewhere mixed in with their Christmas presents will be a brightly wrapped gift, a box or tin of lids. What will they do? Will they just toss it aside and go onto the “real” toys, or will they dump them all out and start to actually build something? I’ll let you know in a year and a half.

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“The Summer looks out from her brazen tower,
Through the flashing bars of July.”
–  Francis Thompson, A Corymbus for Autumn

I grew up in a valley, surrounded by hills, at their greenest in July.  I used to look up and feel as if they were cushions were anyone  to fall from the sky.  They could just bounce off them to the ground and be okay.  A child’s silly thought.  But, the hills, the plush green hills… I can shut my eyes and see them still.  July days in West Virginia were hot!  And as those in June, my days were mostly spent at the pool.   July carried on its breeze the scent of my grandma’s peonies and roses, mulberry trees plump with fruit, cherry trees.  My grand pap’s garden boasted ripe tomatoes, green beans and corn-on-the-cob.  Violets covered the yard and the creek side.

There were summer storms which cut our time short at the pool.  This was when the creek swelled over its banks.  The water ran from the hills, cascading over our upper yard wall from the third and second alleys in waterfalls, gushing through the yard in little streams.  We’d rush outside barefoot and squish through the wet earth to play in the cool rain water.  My grandma captured the rain in buckets to wash her hair.  Sometimes during a thunderstorm we’d sit on the upstairs porch glider with Mom, snuggled in a blanket, to watch the lightning zigzag across the sky, light up the surrounding hills.  Mom used to say when it thundered, the angels were bowling in Heaven, and at the biggest crashes that they got a strike.  I remember the cool misty air after a storm, everything damp and so very green.

July brought fireworks.  In the 1950’s we children were only allowed firecrackers, cap strips which we tapped with hammers to make them go off, snakes, smoke bombs and sparklers.  Safe fireworks.  However, some of the neighborhood boys had bottle rockets and M-80’s which they lit under metal buckets or pots.  They were so loud! And dangerous.  It’s a wonder none of my childhood friends lost any fingers! My dad would take us uptown to Wheeling to see the fireworks.  They were lit off from a barge on the Ohio River.  Wow!  Each firework resounded off the hills.  They seemed to last forever!  And the finale, that was the best of all.  I could still hear the noise in my head all the way home.

July, a special time of the year.  Good memories. Happy memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

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Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.  Al Bernstein

Ah’ June… days of sunlight, picnics, barbecues and swimming pools. June was always a special month in my childhood. The first week of June started with the last day of St. Catherine’s grade school. Then, we children along with a couple nuns, would board the big yellow bus to go on our school picnic outing which was held at Wheeling Park, WV.  I remember the bus ride, all of us kids singing, songs like “25 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and “Found A Peanut”. Upon reaching the park entrance we would drive through the Sonneborn gates past the Madonna of the Trail statue (erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1928). Both still stand today. We’d wind up the road to the parking lot, where the White Palace sat in all its glory to the right.  To the left was a huge aviary full of birds and wonderfully glorious peacocks. There was also a monkey house which at some point the nuns would lead us through. I remember its dark, smelly hall, monkeys screeching on each side of us.

Monkey Business                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
Most of our day was spent on the playground.  Back in the 1950’s playgrounds did not have the soft turf they have today. If you fell off of a swing or came down too fast on a slide, you might get hurt. There were the rides where you put your hands on handles and pulled back and forth and it spun you round and round. The harder you pulled the faster you would go. There were see saws and swings with metal chains to hold onto. And there were several slides, big ones and little ones. The slide was metal so it was pretty darn hot in the summer sun. There were monkey bars too. If you tired of the playground you could go to the pool, which went up to 10 feet and had a high dive and  a low dive. There was also a baby pool for wading. The monkey house was to the right of the pool.  If the wind was just right the not so pleasant smell wafted over the pool.  If you tired of that you could go look at the peacocks who were more than happy to spread their feathers for you in a pompous display or listen to all the chirping birds.
The White Palace held it’s own magic. I can’t remember if the nuns brought sandwiches or grilled on the grills provided by the park, but I do remember them having large coolers of food and drinks. But I also remember going in to the White Palace to buy hot dogs and/or pretzels sticks which we slathered in yellow mustard. They had french fries in the little paper cups, generously salted (sorry Mrs. Obama) and slathered in ketchup. There were snow cones and ice cream bars, and cola. Once you fed your grumbling tummy, you could go in front of the funny mirrors. One mirror made you very short and wide, another made you tall and slim.
The school picnic was an exciting much looked forward to event and by the time the sun was about to sink over the hills, we’d board the bus to come home. Singing songs all the way home.
Ah June… how I miss the innocence and fun of the June’s of my youth!
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May is a sad month for my sisters and me. Mother’s Day is approaching and our mother is no longer here.  I try not to think of the sad memories, of which there are many, especially her last days in the hospital before she passed.  I prefer to think of how much she loved all of us, how she gave of herself time and time again. We all adored her.  I remember how even in her pain and suffering she looked around at all of us gathered in her hospital room and said, I just hate to see you all so sad… And sad we were, even though we tried to put on a happy face. When Mom could no longer communicate with us, we still talked to her, told her stories and sang to her.  I hope she heard us.  I’d like to share a few poems that I wrote for my mother.

The first one is based on an old black and white photograph from the 1950’s.

In the Photo

Mom used to sew. I remember one time going uptown to Wheeling on the bus.  At this time there were just 3 girls. The other 2 siblings had not yet arrived.  We all had on sun dresses she had made us, they were lime green with grey, beige and white kittens all over them. I’m sure Mom got compliments on her 3 lovely girls while she sat there beaming. Here is a short poem I wrote about Mom sewing.

Threading the Needle

Mom was gentle and kind.  She never cussed, or if she did we never heard her.  I remember as a small child walking up to the end of our alley where there was a small stream coming down the hill and picking the wild flowers growing there.  I would bring them home to her and she’d exclaim how pretty they were, then proudly display them in a jar on the table. It didn’t take much to make Mom happy.  You could have given her the simplest thing, like a handful of violets, and you’d of thought that you gave her the moon.

Wrapped Around Her Heart

If you are fortunate enough to still have your mom cherish the time you spend with her.  Give her your unconditional love.   Often times I look up to the sky and I ask, Where are you Mom? Where did you go?  But I already know the answer, although she is no longer here in her physical state she will always be with me, right here in my heart.

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April is here, and Spring! Back where I grew up in Boggs Run, West Virginia, Spring always came with rain. We lived close to the Ohio River; it was just at the mouth of the Run.  I remember many a year when the winter snow and ice thawed and the rains came pouring down, causing the river to rise, reaching many feet above flood stage.   First it would back up through the drains in the underpass that we walked through to go to school. Then it would start backing up Boggs Run Creek.  I remember the green cast of the water, how it backed up through the sewers and filled everyone’s basements. Then it would spill over the banks and fill the road so that no one could get across their bridges unless you were lucky enough to live farther up the Run than where the water reached.  Neighbors would get out their canoes and paddle around the water-covered road.  The water was usually not swift, but calm.   Down on the actual river I’m sure the water ran much swifter. Wheeling Island was almost always flooded.  In the early part of the century, before more flood walls were built, sometimes only the rooftops of the second story houses could be seen. Lower Wheeling and Benwood were especially hard hit too.  Then as silently as it came, the water would recede, leaving the residents a muddy mess to clean up.  Why do they do it? Why do people stay? It says a lot about the resiliency of the people of the area.  Against such odds, they build and build again.  I am a product of that environment.  It made me who I am. Through and through, I’m West Virginia born and proud.  It will always be home to me.

Spring Shower

 

 

 

 

 

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