Thursday, April 21, 2011

Baked Memories

In the 1940s, every household made its own bread products. Mom always tried to make enough to last a week, but sometimes if she had figured wrong, she'd hand me 12 cents and send me off to the store for what she called "that fluffy, junky, worthless stuff the grocers called bread." My sisters and I always loved it because it was such a change from the hearty home made bread we ate every day. And while we informed mom that we thought store bread was a treat, she scoffed at the price. Bad enough, she said, that gasoline had risen to 15 cents a gallon. She sure wasn't paying almost the same amount for a useless loaf to store bread. 

Growing up in a small farm community in southern Minnesota had a lot of pluses. Everyone knew everyone else, the names of their kids, how old they were, and in all probability, the names of their cats and dogs. My sisters and I could play in the front yard without mom coming to check on us every two minutes, walk into town by ourselves--even at night, and go trick or treating without having to let mom rummage through our goody bag to scout out unwrapped cookies or brownies or apples.

But the greatest plus that small community had going for it was the fact that every woman in it knew how to bake. And the champ of them all was my mom.

She bought flour in 50 pound bags, rendered and canned her own lard, and raised chickens just for their eggs. A man with a horse-drawn wagon delivered our milk. Ice for our icebox came the same way--only vicious-looking tongs were involved. The milk came in bottles whose neck was filled with thick cream; the ice kept it fresh, waiting for the one day a week when mom would open her flour bin and begin the mystical process of turning flour, lard, eggs, and cream into something so delicious it would imprint itself on my memory forever. Fresh baked bread.

We three sisters never knew which day would be baking day. We'd head off to school, paying no  attention to whether we'd just finished the last loaf of bread or dusted off the last bite of cinnamon roll. Kids never think about things like that. Moms have to.

The fragrance hit my sisters and me about 5 feet from the front door. Bread. It was baking day. It might seem silly in this day of computers, IPods and Smart Phones, but baking day was our favorite day of the week. We all knew what awaited us inside the house. There, in our large, rectangular kitchen, laid out on all manner of clean white dishcloths, would be bread: loaves, cinnamon buns, parker house rolls, pecan rolls, bread rings and sticky buns. Sometimes the bounty spilled over into the adjacent dining room, depending on whether mom felt like doing a big batch or a huge batch.

My sisters and I knew exactly where to look for our after-school allotment. Whoever got there first was the lucky one. My middle sister and I could vanquish a pan of cinnamon rolls in less time than it takes to tell. Bread Heaven. That's what we were in. Most times we'd chomp up the best of the best, leaving little sister with the plain rolls. She was happy with that for she knew no better. Then came the day mom asked her (in our presence) how she had liked the cinnamon rolls. When she replied that there were no cinnamon rolls, mom's accusing eyes turned immediately in our direction. That was the day rules were laid down. We had to leave some of everything for little sis. From then on it didn't seem so important to head home immediately after school let out. The privilege of rank was gone.

As I grew older I learned to make bread. Good bread. Maybe even great bread. Somewhere along the way of getting married and raising a family, bread baking fell by the wayside. By the time I was a seasoned grandma, I took up bread baking again. No sisters to help me eat a pan of cinnamon rolls this time, but hubby Jim was always up to the task. I'd brew up a pot of fresh coffee, set the plate of steaming sticky buns between us, and tried not to moan as we ate.

Jim had the biggest sweet tooth of anyone I've ever known. Problem was, he could eat anything he wanted and never gain weight. That was something I took personally. When I met him, right out of the navy, he weighed in at 140 lbs. and stood a smidgen under 6 feet.  Along the way, he ate his way up to 165 and never ventured above that for the rest of his life. I always thought that was obscene.

A little aside: bread baking is looked upon as being extremely difficult. Almost a mystery. It isn't. While mom mixed and kneaded all her bread by hand, I use my food processor and get the job done in three blinks of an eye. With the new quick rising yeasts, coming up with loaves of bread is no longer a day-long job. After my husband could no longer work due to the progressing Parkinson disease, I went back to making my own bread. All things considered, each loaf cost about 50 cents. With today's price for flour, it will likely be about 75 cents. My bread is healthier, has no preservatives, and can be frozen and thawed without changing texture. I have a fail safe recipe for beginners, just in case you're interested. I've taught many people to make this recipe and am always thrilled to see the huge smile on their face when it comes out of the oven. They couldn't believe what they had accomplished and how easy it had been.

Copyright by Sandra L Keith, 2011. All rights reserved

Bread photo courtesy of MS Word clip art
Husband photo is the property of the author and may not be reproduced without permission

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Me And The Tag-a-Longs

We three sisters spent a lot of time together after we moved to California. For a while, we had no one but ourselves to hang out with and since I already had my driver's license before leaving Minnesota, we'd all pile in the station wagon and head out. This photo was taken in Tijuana shortly after relocating to CA. That was one place our folks wouldn't let us go by ourselves. That was fine with us.  People kept sneaking up behind us to touch our hair--without even asking. Guess they'd never seen real blondes before. Whatever the reason, none of us liked being the center of attention so we stuffed ourselves between our parents and that ended it. Nobody argued with dad. Didn't matter that he didn't speak Spanish. Just the look he gave them drove them off.

I am the oldest of three girls. Dad always complained that he was surrounded by females but as we grew older, we'd chuck him under the chin and tell him that we knew he liked it. He's laugh and say, "I suppose so."

My middle sister and I have always been about as close as twins, being only 16 months apart. The youngest sister, 5 years my junior, was the typical "little sister." For many years, a big pain in the you-know-what. She lived and breathed to tattle on what we two oldest were doing--especially the day we decided to make clay dolls with full body parts. Her little legs ran so fast that day we hardly had time to tear off the offending parts we didn't want mom to see. In desperation we tried locking her out of our room but it didn't work. The door had no key. We did pull and tug on our overgrown wooden toy box and finally managed to get it in front of the closed door. We looked at one another and said, "There, now we can play in peace." That was right before we heard her feet clamping across the hardwood floors and her mouth screaming, "Mommy, mommy, they won't let me in." 

Thus ended our independence as the two Legler girls.

So now we were three and although the youngest was far removed from our age group, mom always insisted we let her play with us. So we two oldest would play paper dolls or put puzzles together or read books to one another. We loved to paint with watercolors and since baby sister thought she could do as well as us, we gave her an old brush and a leftover paint book. We showed her what to do. She liked our books better. So she scribble painted on our pictures. We complained to mom over and over again and all we got for our trouble was advice to play nice.

 I distinctly remember the last time mom came into our playroom to referee. I boldly told her that if little sister colored on our pages again, we'd paint her. She did; we did. Little as she was, she ran off crying, so ready to tattle again. Mom was most upset seeing her baby all colors of red and blue and green and purple and orange get the picture. We'd painted her good. "Why did you do that?" Mom demanded. Of course you know what I said. "I told you we'd paint her if she bothered her anymore." I got the shame on you lecture and mom took the baby off to the bath tub. Might I say we two oldest never were punished for our colorful body painting. That was the day it dawned on me that if I told someone what I was going to do under certain circumstances, I wouldn't get in trouble. At least I didn't think so.

Sisters 3 and nobody is blonde anymore. As we grew older our hair turned into a muddy blonde none of us liked. So we did something about it. Lady Clairol to the rescue.
We sisters are close. Our parents are long gone but the three of us try our best to stay in touch. We all live within 45 miles of each other and while I had the where-with-all to retire, both sisters continued working. Since they still have jobs, it's not always easy making plans. But while we might not be together in body, we are together in heart and mind. When I'm in the hospital or home recouperating, they drop everything and come alongside me. They'll cook, do laundry, grocery shop, clean the house--whatever is needed and all without being asked or feeling put upon.

 When one sister's husband walked out on her, leaving her with 3 young kids, Jim and I did the same for her. When Jim passed away so suddenly and without warning, baby sister was here within a couple of hours, suitcase in hand, crying with her own grief of losing a brother-in-law who was more a big brother than any kind of in-law. She'd known him since she was the age in the beginning photo--taken about a year before Jim and I eloped. He was part of her life for a long time. I always knew she truly loved him. Both of my sisters did. And he loved them back.

Looking back, I can see that our parents were right in demanding that little sister be part of we two older girls life. How easy it would have been to close her out and go about our playtime as the two Legler girls. After all, she was so much younger. Little by little, she became our same age. I'm not sure how she worked it, but there came the day when we were all married, all moms, all busy with everyday life and no age difference existed between us. We could all hang out together and have such a good time, no one wanted to go home. A strong bond had formed. We were a rope of three cords and not easily broken. When others criticized one of us, the rest of us formed a tight circle, refusing to let further wounds alight. We defended one another, regardless of what our personal feelings might be.

In all of our years together, we have seldom had a fight of any consequences. Not even after our parents had passed away and everybody informed us we'd all fight dividing up their estate. We determined we wouldn't let that happen and it didn't. We were in agreement that whatever each of us personally desired would be granted. Should we all want it, we'd draw straws. Once we three sisters had spoken our choices, we opened the house to our children to take what they wanted. When the bones still weren't picked clean, we let the grandchildren in. The few things that were truly worth money, we kept in the family. Better to pass it down than sell it.

My sisters are my best friends. I've known them longer than I've known my own children. They were beside me before I met Jim and supported me every year thereafter. We have been each others secret keepers, companions, and story tellers. We know things about each other that we'll never reveal. Yet we joke about some of the dumb things we've done--singularly or as a trio. It doesn't take much to get us laughing till the tears run. And while I sometimes refer to them as the Tag-A-Longs on Jim's and my honeymoon, I have never sulked about them being there. In truth, it sort of set the stage for the rest of our lives. For when the kids are grown and the grandkids are busy with school or jobs, and the beloved husband has passed, it just seems comfortable and right to revert to what was in the beginning. The three Legler girls. Still much the same as we once were except that we no longer paint little sister.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companon. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not easily broken."  Ecc 4: 9-12

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L Keith, All rights reserved
Photos are the property of the author and may not be reproduced without permission

Friday, April 1, 2011

My True Wedding Story

This is the month of my wedding anniversary. Were the love of my life still with me rather than with the Lord this past year, we'd be celebrating 54 years together. Be that as it may, I bring up the subject only to tell you the beginning of our life together. I imagine you're wondering why I'd do that. Keep reading and you'll find out. I would hazard a guess that you've never heard another wedding story quite like this one.

I met Jim when I was 16. He was 21 and fresh out of the Navy. Although I'd grown up in Minnesota, the state had determined it needed a new highway right through my parent's property. You don't get far arguing with the state. We were forced to move.

My dad had always wanted to live in California, though how he talked mom into leaving all of her family and moving to the west coast has always been a mystery to me. My folks bought a house in a new development in Carlsbad--right across the street from a family named Keith. Other than to notice that the young man who lived there was older than me and quite handsome, I hadn't paid much attention to him. I was busy trying to fit into a new high school as a junior, when everyone thought I was a freshman and tried their best to make my life miserable. (That didn't last more than a few weeks though for even though I'm short, I'm mighty in word and it didn't take long to set them all straight on how I was to be treated.)

Then came the day my middle sister and I were just heading out of the house on our way to the bus stop for the short trip to Oceanside High School. We'd walked only a few steps when a car pulled out of the Keith driveway and came to a stop. That cute young man asked if we'd like a ride to the bus. Sis and I looked at each other, nodding in agreement. The bus stop was only a block away. But here was a chance to actually talk with that cute guy. We got in the car.

Driving us to the bus stop became an everyday occurence after that. On one of those days, he said "Would you like to go out with me?" I looked at my sister, waiting for her to answer. With her slim little body and her long, blonde hair, she'd never suffered for boys hanging around. And while I'd done my share of dating, I'd never had a string of guys following after me as she'd had. So I sat there, waiting to see what she'd say.

Since neither of us spoke, Jim asked again. "Would you like to go to Disneyland with me?" I noticed he was looking directly at me. So I pointed to myself and asked, "Me?" He nodded yes and I informed him I'd have to ask my parents. That wasn't the usual drill, but since he was so much older than me, I knew I'd need permission. Isn't this story getting romantic?

Mom was most emphatic. "No," she said without even blinking an eye."He's been in the Navy. He's been around. Besides, he's too old for you." Dad said nothing. I guessed it was the end of the conversation. Too bad. Disneyland would have been fun. Later that evening, I overheard dad telling mom that Jim came from a fine family, that they knew the parents, and that he thought I should be able to go. I figured the world must be going to end soon--I'd never been allowed to date anyone more than two years older than me. I was thrilled at the chance. The guys my own age opted for movies and the drive-in. This guy had the moxie to think bigger. I prayed the world wouldn't end before my date with Jim was over.

He and I dated for six months. During that time I turned 17 and he turned 22. He had become serious; I had not. One night as he dropped me off from wherever it was that we'd gone, he told me he loved me. Then he questioned if I loved him too. I was so taken by surprise I could barely speak--which all who know me believe is nearly impossible. I'm usually a chatter-box. I thought for a minute how to answer him. Then I came up with this stunner: "I don't know. I haven't thought about it." So much for love at first sight.

The longer we went together, the more I realized that Jim was different than all the others I'd dated. He was always the gentleman, a snappy dresser, extremely kind and considerate, and his dry sense of humor could send me into gales of laughter. I'd never seen him get angry, even a bit and he had a ready smile that made his sapphire eyes sparkle with mischief. He was tall and navy fit. I was short and had always prefered dating guys who I felt could defend me if need be. One day it dawned on me that I'd become serious too and it was then that I made up my mind not to let this guy get away.

Jim asked my parents permission to marry me. Can't you just envision how that went over? My mom said I had a year of high school left. I was too young. Dad said we didn't know what love was anymore than a pig knew all about heaven. They voiced all their objections. "Absolutely not," they said. "Not for at least a year."

So we eloped.


One Sunday we drove to Yuma and found a wedding chapel, but the minister wanted blood tests. We hadn't known about that. So home we went and two weeks later, tests in hand, we eloped again. I was easier than it sounds. By now my folks had driven back to Minnesota to finish up business with the state and had asked a near-by aunt and uncle to stay at our home so we girls could finish school before spring break came around. Just before my parents left, they found out that Jim had plans to drive to Virginia to visit his oldest sister and family. Being ever thrifty, my mom asked Jim to drive us as far as Minnesota and then continue on his own vacation.

Spring break rolled around and Jim and I, married now, set off on our honeymoon. Jim and me in the front seat; my two sisters in the back seat. Our first day out, I told my sisters that Jim and I were secretely married. Aside from looking like two deer caught in the headlights, they began spewing forth all manner of wisdom. "Mom and dad are gonna be really mad," said one. "I'm glad I'm not you," said the other. I replied with all the wisdom of a now married woman and told them, "Well, it's done. I don't think they can do anything about it."

Do I need to go into detail concerning what my parents said when Jim told them we were married? Mom was just sure everyone would think I'd HAD to get married and found no solace when I told her she was wrong. Dad came up with his pig and heaven quote again. Mom stopped talking to me and went around crying into her handkerchief. Dad was at least plesant. Mom wanted to annul us; dad said no--what was done was done. Fortunately I had a close cousin who talked my parents into giving us a receiption when we returned from Virginia. Good thing. We had absolutely nothing to our names except our clothes. Oh yeah, and a grungy sea bag to keep them in.

My parent's Minnesota friends, who I'd known all my life,  really rallied around and because of all their good hearts, Jim and I ended up with everything we could ever want to set up housekeeping. We were both so thankful my folks had agreed to a reception.

I was never sorry I'd had the wedding I wanted. Neither have I ever been sorry we'd had the honeymoon we did. Being the oldest girl, I knew it would be my mother's wedding--all fancy smanchy, with all of their new California friends sitting in the pews. I'd have no say over anything wedding related and although I wasn't afraid to argue with her, I just plain didn't want to. Truth be told, it had been my idea to elope. I was the one who talked Jim into it. Brazen child that I was. Yet there were times in our life when Jim would question if I wanted a real honeymoon. I always said I was happy the way things were.

When we'd been married 15 years, Jim decided I should have the honeymoon I deserved. He told me to pack a suitcase for a weekend, good clothes and regular clothes. Then he spirited me off to a lovely hotel in Santa Barbara. We walked out on the pier, ate dinner at a extraordinarily pricey restaurant, saw a show, visited the mission, and played on the beach. The kids were home with grandparents. A neighbor was feeding the cat. I don't know where my sisters were--but they sure weren't with us.

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L. Keith  All rights reserved
Photos are the property of the author and may not be reproduced without permission.

 The actual photos are so old and degraded, I apologize for them. I use them only because looking at them still makes me happy for all the memories Jim and I shared over our 53 years as man and wife. I have always felt blessed that the Lord moved me all the way to CA to introduce me to the man who would be my perfect mate.