Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In the seventies, our family were the befuddled recipients of a feisty black pony with prolific mane and tail, and one large splash of white on her left side (hence the name "Thundercloud"); a white star adorned her forehead and one patch of mane was white.

Thunder in the 1970's

She was an audacious statement of equine good health and ability and stirred her new owner's dreams of being conveyed in this new way by this new friend.  Oldest daughter was attentive to Thundercloud, whom we called Thunder for short, and soon the new acquaintance grew into something more exclusive.

It Was Love and It Was Real

Soon it was safe to plop Baby Sis up and ride off.  What she lacked in pedigree, Thunder made up for in intelligence.

Thunder Loved Pleasing Her Children

When Homer the neighbors' big palomino horse escaped his confines, he always headed straight for Thunder, who would jump her fence and show him to our garage where the sweet grain was stored.  Traditionally this occurred in the wee small hours when hunger seems to trouble everything.  The giveaway was "clip-clops" in our driveway in the dead of night.  It was my responsibility always to correct this situation.  Soon our neighbor Gordon would appear in excited pursuit all apologetic and ready to reclaim his bad boy Homer.  It got to be so routine that we hardly recognized each other not wearing pajamas.  

Homer's Favorite Playmate After an Outing

What a great gift she was to the children and how we all cried when she died in 1989.  Up until she came to us, the family beast of burden was only cooperative sometimes.

Taken Before Husband's Back Gave Out

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I remember Aunt Viola as always behind the wheel, not figuratively but physically.  In gear, hair blowing, and biting her bottom lip.  She was on her way and in a hurry.  Her appearance was instant readiness compared to my mother's long day's preparation into intended perfection.  They were polar opposite sisters, or twisters as they called themselves.

Viola and My Mother at the Beach

Viola had naturally very curly hair, wash and wear, and was a makeup minimalist, until her eyebrows thinned.  At that point, her expressions relied on her artistic prowess of that particular day.  Each visit we were met by either the surprised, quizzical, diabolic, or exasperated Aunt Viola, depending on the artistic brow liner rendition.  No matter what, she came off pretty.

Viola in Her Twenties

My mother's middle sis was always laughing and causing laughter, everyone loved her.  She was the one who caused the black friend taking the girls (as children) fishing, to lose his temper at her moving about the boat:  "Stay where you damn am!" he commanded, and they carried that hilarious admonition with them until they died.  Without life preservers, his concern was understandable.

Viola at About Age 10
My Aunt was the one who took me swimming with her son Gene at Saunder's Beach in Ware Neck.  Those outings were pure joy to a lonely, only child.  She would go in with an inner tube and in her dress, laughing and smoking a cigarette!  It was our little heaven.

As a young adult, I bleached my hair and the result was frightening.  Aunt Viola drove me to her beautician for emergency repair.  On the ride, I covered my effervescent locks with a big fuzzy hat that made me look like a Buckingham Palace Guard.  When a man on the street stared at me I lamented, "Boy, he'd really stare if he could see what's under this hat."  She screamed laughing and so did I.

One of the last times I visited her she said, "There's my baby!"  I was 50 something at the time.  She adored her husband and two sons and lived her time loving and pleasing them.  How we miss her.

Viola in Her Eighties with Me and Grandson Sam

Friday, November 11, 2011


I came into the world while my parents were living and working at Flat Iron Service Station, one of many prototype convenience stores of the Forties, mom-and-pop-stop-along-the-way places providing gas, small inventory groceries and meats, and even lunch items made by proprietors.

Flat Iron in the Forties

They also sold alcoholic beverages to be consumed off premises and installed the pinball machine and juke box, completing the trinity of depravity.  Into this cauldron of sinful consumption I was born, not realizing any of it.  I danced for patrons to the strains of "Pistol Packin' Mama" and was rewarded with money by my fans.  Mother thought I was the next Shirley Temple.  I didn't play the pinball machine, but watched teens bump and whack the thing to influence gravity.  William Johnson used to buy a pack of peanuts, pour them in his cola bottle, shake the mix and watch them explode (I guess the salt reacted with the carbonated water).  I was fascinated by this feat.  My father fumed.

Mother at the Counter

On either side of Flat Iron Service Station, there was Grandfather's shop and his home.  I could choose among my living quarters (two bedrooms, kitchen, and living room); Grandfather's shop (men painting cars, pounding hot metal, welding, or trimming horses' hooves); or Inez (my step grandmother) and her daily household chores.  It was a rich variety and opportunity to learn diverse information.

My First Steps with Aunt Nellie

I tripped about clutching my doll or a vendor-supplied blow-up Jolly Green Giant, courtesy of the canned goods company.  I had a blast with that inflatable playmate.  I kicked him, force-fed him food I didn't like, and ran hand-in-inflatable-hand across the yard sharing joyful play.  He was better than nothing and I miss him.  

Living behind a grocery store had extreme benefits.  We sold Ice cream by the scoop, soft drinks, penny candy, and anything else you might require.  Old men seemed to favor BC Headache Powder (pulverized aspirin), pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco, which intensely aroused my curiosity.  They really seemed to appreciate Apple or Brown Mule Plugs and I thought it must be delicious.  Being prepared to experiment, I pilfered a plug and hid under Inez's back porch to savor the grown-up pleasure.  If not delicious, why would men stain their mouths and chins so unbecomingly?

One bite was a complete education in people, myself included.  Spat that out and formed the conviction that there is no understanding people and what they do.  While curiosity kills cats; it just makes most smarter.  At least those who lived at Flat Iron Service Station.

Aunt Nellie and I in the Sunshine at Flat Iron

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


After my grandmother died in 1933, Grandfather married his second wife, Inez.  She had a sister named kate, whom I never met.  They wrote each other regularly and were close.  One December when I was about 5 years old, Inez presented me with a beautiful beaded bag, sent to me as a Christmas gift by her sister.  I was astonished that someone who never met me would be go generous with such a rare gift.  I felt reluctant and undeserving of such a kind tribute.  I still have it and keep it with another belonging to my grandmother.

The Beaded Bag from Baltimore

My Grandmother's Beaded Bag

Inez was entertaining as a storyteller.  Two of my favorites were "The Pears" and "The Tragedy of the Titanic," which I alternately requested each day.  She never refused and honed her stories for maximum dramatic effect.  I experienced the crescendo of hysterical expectation  when the children, Inez and her siblings, would beg their father for a bite of the forbidden pears ripening in a trunk in the hallway of their home.  Those pears daily grew more irresistable as they blew forth sweet fruity breath seducing everyone into olfactory madness.  "Please, Poppa, please may we try the pears?" was the repeated stanza in her heightening, frenetic childhood autobiography.  I delighted in it every time and squealed with laughter when they finally fell upon those pears.

"The Titanic" was a sad tale of all the many good people who perished on the doomed ship.  It was our little quiet ceremony of remembrance.  It gave us distance from tragedy and gratitude for that, but respect for its ravaging effect on living humans by the sheer numbers.

The Picture on Inez's Wall Used to Tell the Story

When I think of Inez, I think of feeding chickens, picking wild asparagus and making biscuits in a wood stove.  I think of the day her rooster spurred her on the wrist causing massive bleeding; I was there and ran for help.  I remember looking at the sun with my eyes closed and seeing the many colors the light became under my eyelids.  She believed in everyday magic and smiled big when I showed amazement.

She didn't wear makeup, wearing her long, graying hair back in a tuck, but fragrant floral-smelling powder always dressed her cheeks when she went out.  I don't think I will ever quite find that sweet scent anywhere again.  This is just a big thank-you to her for taking time to amuse a child.