Archive | July 2022

What’s It?

There’s always room for Jell-O!

My big family crowded around the kitchen table to eat supper, enjoying a chance to rest after a long afternoon of hayfield work. As we were cleaning our plates, Mom rose from her chair. Taking a few steps to the cupboard next to the sink, she picked up a 9 X13 cake pan and carried it to the table. It was time for the dessert I had watched her make earlier in the day!

Like watching a science experiment, first Mom dissolved strawberry Jell-O powder into a measured amount of boiling water. Then she chilled the red liquid with ice cubes. After slicing bananas into the liquid, Mom put the pan into the refrigerator. Before calling the family to eat, Mom had whipped sugar and cream from our cows into a thick, white cloud to frost the now jiggly dessert!

After cutting the Jell-O as she would cut a cake, Mom used a spatula to lift out squares for each member of the family. The portion set on my plate, quivered. Remembering a Jell-O commercial on our recently acquired television, I sang, “J-E-L-L-O!”

Mom smiled and reminisced, “I made Jell-O for the first time when Casper was a toddler.” I glanced over at my eldest brother sitting at the end of the table and tried to picture my adult brother as a toddler.

Continuing, Mom described his surprise and reaction. “When I set the Jell-O in front of Casper, he noticed it jiggling. Alarmed, he kept his eyes on it as he stood up in his highchair and frantically questioned, “What’s it? What’s it?”

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Secondhand Embarrassment

One evening after school, I walked into my family’s living room and to my great astonishment, found Jim, my brother-in-law, setting up his television for us to watch. He informed me that he and my sister Agnes and their baby, David, were moving away so they wouldn’t be needing it. “Moving?” I questioned.

Jim kept working on the backside of the second-hand television he was giving us. “Yep,” he answered absent-mindedly, “I’ve reenlisted in the army.”

Being a typical ten-year-old, I never read the front page of the newspaper, or listened to radio news. But that didn’t stop me from knowing something bad was going on. I had heard grownups talk in quiet tones about something called “the Berlin wall crisis.” Being an intelligent kid, I knew that Berlin was a European city located in Germany, the homeland of my grandparents. Just what was going on, I didn’t know.

Trying not to think about my sister moving away, I made a point to learn what shows were available, what days they were on and whether Mom would let me watch them or not. We had only one channel and I wasn’t allowed to turn the television on before 6:30 in the evening. One thing I discovered about watching television was that I needed to turn some knobs to make the picture stop rolling.

My only experience with televisions to that point was occasionally being able to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings while visiting my neighborhood cousins. One memorable afternoon after ice skating on their pond, we watched ‘Zorro’, the masked man with a swift blade who avenged all wrongs.

I loved watching television shows but something weird happened to me very often when they were on. No one else watching with me ever seemed to have the same problem. One evening while watching Mr. Ed the talking horse, the weird thing happened. The show was about Wilbur doing something really stupid because of his horse. Wilbur didn’t want his wife or neighbors to find out what he was doing. As an inevitable confrontation approached, intense anxiety and embarrassment filled me. Feeling like I was going to explode, and not wanting to see the end of the show, I jumped to my feet and raced out of the house.

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Screamed Windows

When Daddy finished the evening milking chores, he went straight to the bathroom to wash up and shave as he always did. During the summer when Daddy was done milking, the sun was still high in the sky. But not today. The house felt unusually dark and shadowed. The air was heavy and humid, as if the world was waiting for something to happen.

I felt restless and uneasy, so I followed Daddy into the bathroom and sat on the edge of the bathtub to watch him lather his face. I chattered to him about my day. He listened with a nod and smile, then wet his special whisker brush and energetically dabbed it on the disk of shaving soap on the bottom of a coffee mug. After spreading the resulting white foam on his whisker stubble, he turned and grinned at me.

There was a flash of lightning. The bathroom light momentarily dimmed. I startled to my feet. Seconds later, a crash of thunder made me press against Daddy. He said, “It’s okay, just a little thunder and lightning.”

Mom nodded, sat forward in her chair, and called, “Kids, it’s time to pray the rosary.” To Daddy she said, “We’ll pray that the storm doesn’t do damage.”

When Daddy’s whiskers were gone and the smell of cows washed away, we went to join Mom in the living room. As he sat down in his favorite chair, he said to Mom, “The storm is moving in fast. I hope it doesn’t bring wind that flattens the oat fields.”

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Dancing in the Moonlight

My sister Mary sat on one end of the davenport reading a thick book. I sat at the other end, twiddling my thumbs. We hadn’t had a new comic book in the house for over a week and I was sick of rereading our collection of old ones. The heat and humidity of the day had zapped all my energy.

Taking a break from household chores, Mom walked into the living room and sat down in her upholstered rocking chair. Picking up a crochet pattern book from the table next to her chair, she fanned her sweat-glistened face and requested, “Kathy, open the windows wider.”

I went to the first window. As I leaned over to slide the aluminum frame up a blast of backyard heat, smelling like cooked lawn, hit me in the face. I gasped, “I don’t think having the windows open wider is going to cool us off. It’s hotter outside than in the house!”

Mom sighed, “I hope it cools off tonight so we can sleep.” She shrugged and picked up her crochet hook, pulled string from a spool on the floor and checked directions in the book. Then she began to make the small, hooked needle in her hand dart rapidly in and out of loops. Before long, a lacy doily began to take shape.

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