Spring has Sprung

The peepers were putting me to sleep once more; their sweet melodic symphony drifting in my attic window. The sun, now higher in the sky, settled into our bones and by the time Ma turned down the Aladdin lamp on the kitchen table, we were all ready to “hit the hay”.  The brook was bubbling past the house with perhaps a shell of thin ice left over from a cold spring night but that would disappear by the time the noon whistle blew. I had walked on the tufts of brown grass next to the brook just to feel it under my feet after what seemed like months of snow and ice and snuggling my face down into my coat to keep the winds from freezing my nose.

There was always that tinge of “spring fever”..that lethargic feeling that made a person want to sit a few more minutes with the sun on his face. But with the words “spring fever” came my mother in full force with her medicinal supplies to make certain her children did not befall any great health issues with the changing of the blood. My brothers got a liberal dose of Father John’s medicine, but I can’t remember ever getting a taste. At my young age, my mind thought that was for boys only and glad of it. Then came the annual boiling of poplar bark. Ma tromped to the nearest poplar (popple) tree, found a smidgen of loose bark and back to the house and the nearest pan. It bubbled and boiled on the old wood stove amidst the rolling of the eyes of several onlookers. When it cooled, a tablespoon would be administered to each as we lined up in the kitchen. One year, she introduced us to a huge purple pill in lieu of taking the bark dose. I only remember I could not swallow the pill and had purple stain all around my mouth and probably drippng off my chin. Ma stood there, insisting I could swallow the pill and I, on the other hand, insisting and probably babbling with plenty of tears that I could not. Well, hands on hips, she said the alternative was the tablespoon of poplar bark. That tablespoon was nothing compared to the bitterness of that huge purple pill.

And the law went out across the Martin household that all mittens should be gathered from every corner and put in one place. The place was called “under the stairs”, which was nothing but an alcove automatically put in place when my father, never a carpenter ,erected the stairs . The mittens and hats were to stay in place until they were need in the fall season. Of course by the time fall season arrived, the hats and mittens were covered with all sorts of summer gatherings which necessitated a huge mitten hunt amidst grumblings from my mother and several muted mutterings of ” I thought I told you kids…etc etc..”

Spring! The running of the smelts. We were fortunate to have the brook across the road and they came up from Twitchell Pond. Cars gathered with the dusk and men with waders, nets and enthusiasm piled out, all eager to get their limit. There were usually one or two who imbibed in a little Old Narragansett or Pabst Blue Ribbon who slipped into the brook, scaring the smelts, and completely ticking off the rest of the crowd. When Dad was fortunate enough to bring some home in the pail, it was a real treat. Cleaned, Ma rolled them in corn meal, popped into a hot frying pan and they sizzled their way to heaven and into our stomachs.

Meanwhile, across the pasture, Grammy Martin hauled down curtain after curtain and soon her clothesline was just a flutter with white lace. The front parlor rug was hauled on to the front lawn and flung over the line when it wasn’t curtain day. Uncle Louis banged on the rug and the dust flew…well there wasn’t that much dust but it was winter dust and had to be thrown into the outside air forever. Windows and doors were flung open to air the house out and get the winter germs eradicated for another year. Grampa , with his arthritis, could do little to help but served as chief foreman. He sure had a gruff voice!!

Uncle Louis knew it was time to get his tools ready for the season, so as usual called on me to turn the grindstone so he could sharpen his axe. The lower part was part of a tire cut out and filled with water and as I turned the grindstone, he held the axe and stopped occasionally to pour a bit more water. I always loved working with Uncle Louis because he did everything so slowly and methodically and it seemed everything was perfect when he was through. His wood piles were works of art.

Down the road, my Uncle Roy was trying to catch a trout from the brook that ran by his house and was making plans to go logging with my Uncle Louis. It seemed that spring had given everyone new life and they were anxious to get on with it.

Dad’s rhubarb was growing by the old apple tree at the side of the yard and he delighted in breaking off a stalk, wiping the dirt on the side of his britches and eating it on the spot.

That was as far as his gardening went after he lost the battle of the vegetable garden vs deer a few years prior. A bunch of rhubarb took no labor, it came up, he ate it and no animal was there to battle him for his favorite treat.

The ice was out of Twitchell; brook fishing was legal the first day of April and there was that little precious space that all the inhabitants of Greenwood Center enjoyed before the summer people arrived. This was the time of year for Gram’s lilacs to blossom and hang over the ditch by the side of the road. The time of year when we walked the pasture to make sure the spring was nice and clear.

Spring was special. Spring was our season.

 

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Enquiring Mind

me“Young Lady, I am surprised your tongue doesn’t wear out.” Now when Ma called me “young lady” I knew her patience was just about drawn out and she was ready to sit me in the chair. That was the punishment we received most of the time. “Sit yourself in that chair and don’t you get out until I tell you  that you can.” How many times had I had that bounce off me.  I reasoned that it was not my fault that I wanted to know so many things and there should be a reasonable answer for every question I asked.

Every time I walked to our outhouse at the edge of the woods, I wondered why we couldn’t have pretty pictures on the walls. After all, when I was at Grammy Martin’s farm and went to the barn to use hers, the walls were a wonderful display of color. She had cut pictures from magazines and decorated every inch of the walls. It was a place where one could sit and stare for hours just to see all the prettiness!  Ma said as long as the outhouse served the purpose, there was no need to sit there and daydream.

Take the time I decided I wanted to take dance lessons. I have no idea if there were lessons available, but from the advertisements in the back of our comic books, I knew I could be a world famous tap dancer if I put my mind to it. I neatly cut out the ad, enclosed my quarter , sealed the envelope and put three cents in the mailbox for Johnny Howe to slap a stamp in the corner. I would be known world wide as a tapper for sure.

Day in and day out, I waited for the two metal taps to arrive and plotted which shoes I could nail them to without Ma getting in an uproar. School shoes would not do. We had one pair in September to last us til the final school bell in June. I would use last year’s shoes that I used when  I walked through the woods and mud. Oh, at last Johnny brought the little package. Ma and Dad were working at the mill, so up the stairs I went, hammer in hand. Little tacks were enclosed with the metal taps with explicit instructions to make me the world’s best tap dancer. On the toe of one shoe the tap went and soon after, I raised the hammer in victory as now I had a pair of tap shoes.

At last I had the instruction book propped on to a wooden crate, shoes on my feet and music. I had no music. I would hum and tap dance at the same time. “Syncopated Clock” was the song and the attic floor just rattled when the taps hit.

I managed to get through supper without telling Ma and Dad because it would be a tremedous surprise when they found their daughter could tap dance. For some reason, Dad hit the bed early with his western paperback that evening. Well, Ma could still hear the rhythmn, so up the stairs I went, popped on last year’s tap shoes and started humming. About a quarter way through the song, Dad shouted to Ma “What is that ungodly racket coming from upstairs? If it’s a woodpecker, get my gun.” At that point, I figured I should reveal my purchase and intent. Dad sighed, went back to bed. Ma asked me when I would ever learn not to believe all the ads I read and finished by chastising me for ruining my mud shoes. Thus ended  my dreams of a world tour. At least she didn’t remind me of the miniature guitar I bought from Sears the year before when I planned to be the world’s greatest guitarist. Her only remark on that was what did I expect for fifty cents.

Gram seemed to understand that I was a dreamer. She sat on the porch at her treadle machine, quilting and I sat in a rocking chair looking out over Twitchell Pond with neither of us saying a word for hours.

My first experience with the subject of death came from an understanding neighbor. One morning I was just meandering down the tarred road, thinking about fishing or not, when I decided to stop in and visit a neighbor lady if she wasn’t busy. Ma always told us to never bother other people. Well, her bulkhead door was open and I could see her putting laundry into her washing machine. As I turned to go away, she said, “Oh, Sandra, you can come down. Come ahead.” I sat on the cement steps as she continued to load the washer. Suddenly she looked up and said, “My mother passed away this morning.” Young as I was, I knew I should say something because she looked so sad. “I’m sorry” was all I could get out. “Please stay and keep me company,” she said,”it’s nice to have you here.”  After all these years, if I close my eyes, I remember the look on her face and how pleased I felt that she wanted me there, sitting silently on the cement steps as she went on with her chores. I felt wanted.

My mother saw me as a dreamer, one who wanted to know everything and one who drove her to distraction many a time, all the time loving me. My grandmother saw the potential in me when she just let me sit and dream and offered me the chance to take over her newspaper column when I was ten years old. My neighbor lady saw me as a comfort which made me feel that I was worth while.

Greenwood Center was full of good folks. Every house held out its arms to every child that wandered that narrow tarred road. No one was ever turned away if comfort was needed. It was a time for neighbors helping neighbors with each child belonging to everyone , it seems.  Good times, hard times were equally shared.

I was so fortunate to grow up in that time. Were I not, I would not remember all this like a film strip passing before my eyes.

Only the Rich Have Phones

The years of World War II were not easy nor did anyone expect them to be.  Although I was very young, the smell of molasses still takes me back to that little kitchen where my mother worked tirelessly to feed our family of six. Ration stamps controlled almost everything and sugar was a luxury. Oh! The treat of having some oleo on bread topped with a sprinkle of sugar! That was the reward for taking the white oleo in the plastic bag and kneading it until the little yellow capsule within slowly tinted the whole bag yellow to make it a bit more palatable. 

I remember it as a way of life and, being  young, accepted it. I am fortunate to have lived a long life with the comparisons of then and now.  Would today’s generation accept the sacrifices as we did? I don’t know.  The world of technology has spoiled us..yes, even me. I can click a couple times and talk with my sons and daughter in other states. Again, I think back to another time.

Our world of communication depended on our mailman. How we looked forward to the time of day that Johnny Howe pulled up in front of the box and how we raced down the driveway to see what he had left. There were those days when he didn’t stop and disappointed faces passed on the news, “Johnny went right by”and the rest of the afternoon seemed to drag.  Even junk mail was welcome!!

The phone line stopped a half mile up the road at Lester Cole’s farm. Therefore, in my mind, the Lester Cole family was rich. They actually had a phone on the wall that they could call people, find out what was going on, call for the doctor. Even though, in my very young mind, I thought they were rich, the Cole family welcomed many of us in the area below them to use their phone in emergencies. How many times I heard “Run up to Netta and Lester’s and call the doctor.”  I can see my Grammy Martin on the corner hollering “Run up to Lester’s and call Dr. Boynton.  Your grandfather has taken a turn” and off one of us would go, running on hot tar with bare feet, the half mile. The Cole family were the life savers in my mind. They held the key to our survival, so surely they must be rich and have a little kingdom of their own. They had a huge sand pit all their own with a big truck! 

Years later, the phone line was extended down into our branch of the neighborhood. It went right by our house and didn’t stop in for a visit, though. That was because of my Dad. No way was he having one of those things on his wall ringing day and night and you just knew it wouldn’t be for him, but for one of the kids. And so we were phone-less.  Grammy and Grampa Martin had a phone installed and years later their phone was used to call the doctor who ordered him taken to the hospital immediately.

Grammy Martin loved the newspaper and wrote for the Advertiser-Democrat with the reward of a free paper each week. While she was caring for my grandfather, I guess she decided it was just too much and asked if I would like to do it and then pass the paper on to her after I read it. There I was at age 10, gathering up the news of the neighborhood, with Gram’s help, and writing them down on the copy paper the Ad-Dem provided.  How wonderful to receive a newspaper every week and read what was going on around us!

The old Philco radio in the corner provided my father with what news he thought necessary and he coupled that with news he picked up at the mill . If his world seemed to be balanced correctly, he had no quarrel with whatever was going on elsewhere. That changed a bit when he brought home the DuMont black and white television and he watched John Cameron Swazey every night. I am not sure if he was more taken with the news or the watch that kept on ticking commercial.

Our world was very small…small and simple. After the war, we thought that was it. Who would want to go through that again?  We did not have technology nor did we dream that it would be so easy to draw the world in to us as happens today. It was the time of waiting for the mailman after leaving three pennies in the box for a stamp; running a half mile to use the neighbor’s phone in an emergency; reading every word in a weekly newspaper…yes, even the ads.

If only we could somehow combine the two, leaving some of the simplicity and yet having some of the technology…and there I go, dreaming again.

 

The photo is me  taken during  WWII and in the background is my pesky brother, Rex, photo bombing on Dad’s car.

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