Friday, December 2, 2016

Busy, Busy, Busy
With meetings and holiday meals, my schedule is becoming ever fuller. There is so much to be accomplished yet. The Christmas tree stands half decorated, but then again not everyone has box after box of ornaments to hang on their trees. The lights and garland are on as well as several smaller boxes of ornaments. Most of the ornaments bring to mind a special person or a special memory. There are ornaments from my parents, Carl and Sybil Beck. Some are from my mother-in-law and father-in-law, Bud and Retha Morrison. There are tender memories of ornaments that I or my kids bought or my wife, Cindy and some are ornaments bought for me by her or the kids. Let me slow down for a minute and reflect.
The buying of Christmas ornaments went back to a decision Cindy and I mad long ago, buying an ornament each Yuletide Season for each child. As they grew, each kid was responsible for choosing a spot to hang it on the tree to hang it. For years, the bottom of the tree was overdosed with ornaments, but that was okay. It was their tree and their ornaments. The decorations grew year after year. Some were things that the kids made to hang on the tree and some were gifts from others.

The randomness of these thoughts is reflected in the randomness of their placement on the tree. Each year, claiming a new perch for the holiday. Sometimes, one ornament speaks more loudly than it has in the past, bringing to mind a smile or a tear, but isn’t that what a Christmas becomes; good memories and sad memories of past Christmases and of things that have become imbedded in our hearts and minds?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Hunting I Will Go
Monday morning, the first day of buck season, I went to my brother’s place for a day in the woods. It was a chilly twenty-one degrees. We were to hunt in opposite directions, but I needed to use his four wheeled ATV to get to the area to watch. The spot I wanted was about a mile back an old logging road filled with ruts, some of which were water filled. After parking it, I had to walk the last quarter of a mile to stand at the crest of a hill overlooking a flat bottom area with a promising area behind.
The sun was the first to greet me, peeking over the horizon with the promise of warmth in its coral glow. A frisky gray squirrel soon clambered down a tree, chirred and twerked its tail before scurrying down some fallen trees and disappearing in to the trees below me. Later, as I surveyed the woods, I saw a movement. It was one of the gray wraiths of Pennsylvania. A small doe was moving almost silently, no antlers. In a short period of time, two more ambled, browsing along the same path.
A hawk swooped up from the valley below, and settled in a tree in front of me. It surveyed the vale before flying on. Several crows flew overhead with their raucous calling. The woods quieted and I moved slightly to see behind a bit easier. I decided to sit on a wide, moss covered tree for a rest. After I settled, I saw movement again. Two more does, but they were moving in the opposite direction from the first three. Ambling ever closer, I scarcely dared to breathe. They took a few steps, then glanced around before nibbling at some plant. They walked past my perch only twelve yards away, before wandering off in another direction.
Later a spot of white caught my eye. It hadn’t been there earlier. My brother said there was an albino doe and that is what it was. There was also a buck travelling with her. I could hear him snort every so often. Today, she was protecting him as much as she was him. Each time they came into an open area, he was on her far side. When he wandered ahead of her, the brush was too thick to risk a shot. Slowly they meandered off.

Later, I got my buck. I think my brother chased it out as he came to check on me. Six points, but it was quite a haul to get it out. The hills were rocky, slippery, wet leaf covered and steep. Thank goodness, another logging road wasn’t too far away and the “impossible” journey was made just a bit easier.

Monday, November 28, 2016

This morning as hunters go off on their quests to bag a buck, I thought that I’d share this piece I wrote  several years ago.
Gray Ghosts of Pennsylvania
            I was reminded of these ghostly creatures as I drove home from my daughter Amanda’s home after eating a wonderful evening meal of roast beef, whipped potatoes, and corn.  There are several ways I could have driven, but I prefer to take the ones less traveled. At night, headlights from oncoming cars, especially those new bright-white ones, play havoc with my vision.
            As I drove along a straight-away that was forested on one side and scattered homes on the other, suddenly one of those ghosts appeared in my headlights, moving at breakneck speed, barely missing the front end of my car. One second it was there and the next, it had disappeared into the darkness outside the beams of my headlights. It was almost as though I’d imagined it, but my racing heart told me otherwise.
            My second reminder of these wraith-like creatures came last evening as I drove home after a meeting with friends, fellow writers, and a meal. I was again reminded of them by the sudden appearance and almost immediate disappearance of these woodland wraiths, twice on my journey home. Their reminders occurred at different, separate wooded areas.
            By now, you’ve probably guessed the identity of these beasts to be the Pennsylvania whitetail deer. A gentle creature in most folks eyes, but a beast that can wreak havoc with a vehicle, destroy a summer garden, or browse into oblivion the landscaping around homes. Almost silent, these herbivores wander through the forests and suburbs with equal ease.

            I do hunt, harvest, butcher, and eat their meat, actually preferring to do that that to purchase what is offered at the neighborhood stores. Their almost silent stealth-mode sometimes makes it difficult to locate them in the brown, leaf strewn woods. Their coloration camouflages them makes them difficult to see in the clutter and debris of the trees. Sleek and slender, juicy and tender, these are the gray ghosts of Pennsylvania.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

An advertisement on television shared the information that this year, The Grinch That Stole Christmas special would be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of airing on the television. It is so hard to believe that this wonderful Dr. Seuss Christmas classic has been around as a part of the holiday season for that long. I can remember my kids spellbound and growing up to the message of the Grinch’s attempt to steal the joy of Christmas. He, of course failed, and finally joined the residents of Whoville, realizing the true spirit of Christmas. When the Grinch saw that Christmas was a celebration separate from the gifts, food, and decorations, he returned all the outward trappings that he had stolen, mistakenly thinking that they were the essence of the season.
One central character was named Cindy Lou Who. She was a major reason for the changing of the Grinch’s mind about the holiday. Her innocence did much to change the Grinch’s view of Christmas and for him to return the roast beast, the wreaths, and the assorted toys and gifts.
My wife’s name was Cynthia, but preferred to be called Cindy. Each Christmas she would get the additional moniker of Cindy Lou Who and it lasted until the last Jing Tingler, Flu Flooper, Who Hoover, Gar Ginker, and Trum Trumpet were unwrapped and enjoyed by the children.

Cindy Lou Who was put away after each Christmas and was resurrected as soon as The Grinch That Stole Christmas would march across the television set. Happy fiftieth anniversary to the Grinch, to Max his dog, and to Cindy Lou Who.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Food Storage
The memories of how my grandparents canned and stored food was sparked when I posted that I’d made three pies and a cranberry Jell-o salad. Someone asked, “How would I keep them fresh?” I explained that I have them stored on an unheated, closed in back porch. I recall that unheated parts of the older generations often used parts of their houses as refrigerators during the winter months: an unused stair well landing could be closed off, a back porch, or a room in the basement. Cold cellars and root cellars would keep things from spoiling for months.
Smoking meats was another way of storing meats. Sometimes salt and pepper was applied to the outside of hams, bacon, or ribs and hung in the smokehouse to be infused with the rich down-to-earth flavors of cherry or hickory smoke. The fumes of a smoldering fire were directed into a shack filled with the curing meats.
Bits and pieces of the butchered hogs were cut from the bones or collected orts of flesh too small to be part of a meal by themselves were processed through a meat grinder. The ground up pork was seasoned, mixed, then stuffed into the animal’s casing to make link sausage. Grandma would cut and fill mason jars with sausage links, then can them. She didn’t use canning lids like we do today, but topped the jars with zinc lids and a thick layer of lard. I can still remember seeing the pale grease about an inch thick covering the juicy sausage inside.
Later, when Grandma bought a freezer, everything changed. The farm’s harvested pork, beef and chickens were wrapped and frozen until they were needed. The smokehouse was repurposed for storage and the glass jars were used to can fruits and vegetables. The meat grinder was still kept busy making hamburger and sausage. The ground beef and sausage were made into patties and frozen.

The memories and flavors as well as the texture and richness of the canned sausage were lost. But that was the trade off for modern conveniences. Much of the cutting and saving the meat was hard work. Even as a youth, I can recall helping where I could. It was necessary for all to help to have food available for the family, only buying things that were an absolute necessity.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

It’s That Time of Year Again
Now that I am older, snow is just another four letter word. It’s appearing after such a long run of sunny warm days is an insult to my system. Some people despise the word, while others love it. Me, I just tolerate it, but not caring for the cold winds that accompanies it. It does seem strange that when we were children, the snow didn’t bother s nearly as much and we even looked forward to its return. The snow provided all the materials that we needed to build snowmen, snow forts, igloos, snow caves, have snowball fights and of course hours of sledding. Our play outfits were layer after layer of normal clothes almost to the point that they restricted breathing and limited movement.
When I was a kid, we didn’t own skis or snow boards. Sleds were a necessity. We were proud of our Flexible Flyers, but weren’t always satisfied, often trying to build toboggans from pieces of wood, straightened, used nails, and scraps of metal. The first toboggan I can recall helping to build started with a wide plank, a car’s steering wheel, and the chrome trim from several scrapped vehicles for runners. Constructing it was a formidable accomplishment. The bulky contraption did slide fairly well downhill, but it took all of us to tug and drag it back up the hill because of its weight. The toboggan wasn’t very pretty to look at and was of the Little Rascal, piecemeal design.
The second toboggan that we made several years later was much lighter. It was a ten feet long sheet of corrugated metal roofing. Curling back the one end, it made an almost perfect toboggan, light and speedy.

As kids, we would wake up to a snow storm and would huddle around the black and white television set, hoping and praying for a school cancelation. The anticipated announcement would give us a twenty-four hour reprieve from teachers, books, and homework. It allowed another day for us to revel in the winter wonderland.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Teenager Remembers
I shared a postcard today of Daytona Beach, Florida. It was bought the first time that we visited my uncle Amos Jacob and my aunt Helen Irene Stahl after the family moves from Indian Head, Pennsylvania to Orlando, Florida. Jake was a cement mason and with a family of six, it was difficult to make ends meet with seasonal work. My parents kept one daughter, Anna Gail here until she graduated her senior year from high school, but back to the story.
Back then, driving and parking on Daytona Beach was permitted. After visiting my uncle on Mercado Avenue, my dad decided that it was time to drive to the beach to see the ocean. My brother, Ken, my sister Kathy, and I were ecstatic, wearing our swim suits under our regular clothing and clutching towels in our arms. There were no seat belts to curb our enthusiasm and we would often sit forward in the back seat to look out of the windshield to look for our first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean.
After what seemed like hours, we were at the beach. Dad drove the car down onto the packed sand. As we started down the slope to the beach, what to my wandering eyes should appear….no not Santa, but I did see a dear. She was shapely and clad in a bikini, the first I’d ever seen. The bottom was just a swathe of cloth and the top seemed little more than bottle caps covering the tips of her breasts. It was a jarring sight for a teenage boy. At the beach, it became just another part of the beautiful scenery as other walked around similarly clad.

It wasn’t all fun and games. The day was overcast and being pale people of the north, I soon had a second degree sunburn covering my upper back. It actually made me ill and ruined the rest of the visit. On our way back to Pennsylvania, it did earn me a front seat where I could lean forward away from the seat and the torture of a brother and sister. In the back seat, my mom Sybil wasn’t a happy camper either, wedged between two kids and earned my dad, Carl, the nickname Zoom-zoom.