Thursday, February 14, 2008

Excerpt from 'Dominoes to Davy Crockett'

...After our move, we were closer to the center of town and different relatives. My grandmother also moved, this time to the home of Uncle Bill and Aunt Rose. On many Sundays, we'd go over to Oak Street to visit them. Nana would watch the Yankees or play dominos with us---but never at the same time. The other four adults would play Samba, Bolivia, or a similar canasta-based card game. Nana went to bed around 7 pm (she arose around 5 am,) so she didn't watch night games, and we kids had plenty of time to play games by ourselves in the kitchen.

Partners were family oriented, with my Mom and Uncle Bill (her brother) against my Dad and Aunt Rose (his sister.) While they played, we were treated to the aroma of the simmering tomato sauce, meatballs, and sausages prepared by Aunt Rose. In the living room, Billy was usually reading a sample from his vast supply of comic books, or else running around the neighborhood somewhere. When we were there at other times, I'd sit quietly reading his comic books.

I never bought any comic books myself, so Billy's stash was a good reading supply. And he had a lot of them. All kinds. Mickey Mouse with Minnie, Mortimer, Goofy, Horace, and Clarabell. Donald Duck and his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Little Lulu with Tubby, Annie, and Izzie. Archie and his classmates Jughead, Veronica, Betty and Reggie. Superheroes called Superman, Superboy, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Green Arrow, Batman and Robin, or Aquaman. Casper the Friendly Ghost and his brother ghosts. Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Daffy Duck. Henry the Chicken Hawk with Foghorn Leghorn. Scrooge McDuck and the Beasley Boys. Korean War comics---virtually everything published except the gory horror and romance types. I think Uncle Bill actually bought them for Billy. And the pile in the living room corner was about three feet tall!

In the kitchen, Mary Anne, my cousin Ginger (Virginia,) and me were usually playing a game: Sorry, Parchisi, Checkers, Dominos, Chinese checkers, Monopoly---or a card game of Canasta, rummy, Authors or Old Maid. Canasta was similar but simpler than the one our parents were playing. Ours was also friendlier. We laughed a lot. Uncle Bill, on the other hand, had a tendency to yell at Aunt Rose even though she wasn't his partner. We got used to it. But the food was always great and plentiful. These Sunday activities were usually lengthy. Our parents enjoyed playing until late at night---or at least late to us. I doubt their games went past 10 pm. They only drank---and that rarely---homemade anisette and rosette. Otherwise coffee, tea, soda, and iced tea were the drinks du jeur.

If Ginger and Mary Anne weren't around or didn't want to play games, I went out to the back porch. Uncle Bill and Aunt Rose had an old Victrola out there. The top opened for playing records with an older style needle and holder, and the cabinet had some records. I had to feed energy into it from a crank on the side, and I played and listened to the records---incorrectly apparently. The player had a steel stylus, which should be replaced after each record is played. I didn't know that, and I have my doubts that Uncle Bill or Aunt Rose did either. But cranking it up, putting a record on, and setting the heavy tone arm, sound box, and stylus on the record was an intriguing thing to my young mind. My aunt and uncle never had a problem with my playing the Victrola, and I don't know what happened to it. They probably sold it when they moved to Cottage Street a few years later.

Every year or so, the four of them would get together, alternating homes, and make a batch of the liqueurs anisette and rosette. Neutral grain spirits were hard to find but always there (or there wouldn't have been a preparation to prepare,) and the sugar and flavorings were easily obtained. I remember the use of the sink and jugs and hot water and the spirits, liquid and solid flavorings, and then they had to age for a while---about ten seconds before someone had a taste. After a few months, they were ready for imbibing in small amounts for celebratory purposes only. I mean they took all night to make, and they didn't make gallons of the stuff. Supplies were limited. I think all four of them expected the Middletown police to break in at any time and arrest them. It probably added to the preparation's mystique. But, it's my understanding that their efforts were perfectly legal. The few times I managed a taste was a sweet experience, because that's what they were: sweet liqueurs.

Aunt Rose was a fine cook. As a treat, she'd fry dough for us---pizza fritte. I liked it best plain with a little salt. Dunking it into the simmering sauce never occurred to me. The spaghetti or macaroni, meatballs, and sausages, were just the icing on the cake, as it were. I'm very surprised I remained so thin as a young kid and teen, since the aroma was a treat in itself.

Uncle Bill did have an annoying habit. When seated at the table, he'd rock his right leg continuously. It gained in momentum while he sat there, and sometimes he was able to shake the whole room and everyone in it. I kept waiting for the take-off. He did that until Aunt Rose finally yelled at him. No one else dared, except for Nana, his Mom. Then we'd have a welcomed pause until he started again. I think he did it unconsciously or maybe to get Aunt Rose riled. Who knows?

Nana made a lot of cakes, but her specialty was pineapple cake [my favorite anyway.] She made a white or yellow layer cake from scratch and there was a pineapple filling between the layers and on the top. Nana's recipes---of which there were plenty---were rather un-specific: a pinch of this, a pinch of that, a handful of this, etc. That pineapple filling was made from a can of crushed pineapple, coconut, and flour [to soak up and thicken the pineapple juice.)] For those of you who want to try making that concoction, it has to be heated long enough to cook the flour. Otherwise, you'd have a strange tasting mess. Nana's cakes were great stuff, especially the pineapple and the pineapple upside down cake. That cake always looked great with the pineapple rings and cherries on the top---err bottom. Her other recipes, as prepared by Mom, were taste sensations as well, especially turkey stuffing made with eggs, sage and unsliced bread; fruitcake [a holiday treat because it was dark and tasty---also soaked with rum for a month]; bread pudding with a sweet sauce, macaroni and cheese, and various soups and stews.

During those years we tinkered with arts and crafts. Naturally, we finger painted, colored with crayons, and built things from Popsicle sticks [we had to save them ourselves as bags of them weren't available to us.] We also used a little plastic, hollow tube with four points we called a “Knitty Knobby,” although it was officially known as a “Knitting Knobby.” We'd use that little doo-dad to knit narrow tubes, usually with no known purpose, although some people circled the tube and sewed it together to form a potholder or something. We just made the tube, and continued on, usually because we didn't know how to end the damn thing. We'd also be unable to start them without help.

It took more knitting knowledge than we had. Aunt Rose would always help us. She ran a local dressmaking factory and knew all about sewing. Mom was no slouch either. She made many of our clothes and costumes, and she altered even more to fit the person or occasion---read “hand-me-downs.”

When we couldn't find the plastic forms, we could use a large, wooden thread spool and a couple of brads tapped into one end. We could always find knitting needles or use the plastic ones included with the sets. We certainly bought and lost enough of them. Our family circle was thus filled with these long, knitted snakes. They became temporary necklaces, bracelets, wristlets, and anything else you can fashion from a long tube of knit thread.

Another of our crafts was the weaving of potholders from cloth loops. We bought the latter in bags. They were pretty much all the same (though some were more elastic than others,) and with the little square loom we made little woven cloth squares. I suppose if you connected them, they could make something bigger, but we never knew how to do that. Consequently, we made potholders---lots of potholders. We kids were a cottage business. The Turi and Stevens Families were awash in well-made and poorly made, cloth-loop, potholders.

We only knew how to use a small crochet needle to finish the edges and give the potholders a final cloth loop hook. We weren't able to put them together to make larger items. Since the loops came in various colors, we could also make a myriad of designs...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Random Thoughts

Many years ago, before the four-wheeled behemoths, chrome, tail fins, Edsels, sameness, SUVs, tiny, tinny deathtraps, and hybrids took over the automobile industry, there were grand cars with doors opening in a better way than they do now. I'm referring to the front opening doors in the rear. You know, so they can both latch in the middle of the car. You can see them in action in the older movies. To me, they're much easier to get into and out of. Perhaps the modern day dresses, being shorter and less flowing, make the difference? Perhaps the designers just wanted things uniform? Aerodynamics? 'Must make a change from year to year---any change.' Who knows? But it would be nice to see them again.

I like puns, especially good ones. But, I always worry about people who cringe, groan, and roll their eyes when hearing a pun, no matter whether its good or bad. But they're hypocrites, I say! They may groan, but they really like them. Any chance they get, they'll form their own and bring attention to them by saying: 'No pun intended.' 'No pun intended' my foot. They intend them. And who's the biggest user of puns? No contest. Headline writers for newspapers and online efforts use them all the time, sometimes to draw attention, sometimes because the writer falls in love with his own words. Long live good puns! They're a sign of intelligence---a rare comodity in the average news writer. Please, provide toleration-only for bad puns. But, for the most part, puns take a conscious effort from the speaker or writer, and that's always to be praised.

Imagination in the movies or on TV---from the viewer, that is---is generally no longer permitted to exist. You want death, gore, guts, and blood? Well, they're no longer going to be referred to, they're going to be shown in all their glory. Fade out for a love scene? Not any more. We're seeing all the hot and heavy details. If I want porn, I can go to the proper movie. If I want a story and good acting, I once found it in the movie theaters. Too bad that isn't quite the case anymore. Would old-time radio shows have any adherents today? Would anyone understand them or be able to visualize the storyline? Orson Welles' Mercury Theater version of 'War of the Worlds' would never scare anyone today. A quick check on the Internet would blow the whole thing---unless you check out Area 51.

Now that I think of it, who are 'they?' That's what I've heard all my life. the ubiquitous and undeterminable 'they.' 'They' do this. 'They' do that. [singular or plural] If 'they' can reach the moon, why can't... 'It was the sixties, and they all did it.' And no one owns up to being 'they', whether the contextual precept is right or wrong; so I guess whoever 'they' are, they'll remain in their linguistic limbo for some time yet. 'Chickens! Come forth and identify!'

I'm being turned off by televised sporting events. With all the flashbacks, in-game interviews, instant replays, and annoying graphics, there's little enough time left for the actual game or race. When I tune in, I have no idea what's going on. A guy hits a homer, and I see the thing replayed a dozen times, not to mention the flashbacks to a previous inning, earlier in the year, or previous years--but, then I did mention them, didn't I? How many times can a guy score the same touchdown without confusing the audience? As for the playoffs and all star games? Forget it. I've seen three-ring circuses with less pomposity, garishness, and self congratulation from the advertisers, commentators, and players. And don't get me started on the 'pre-game shows.' Bombastic, condescending, and sometimes arrogant are the usual know-it-all participants. Who can speak [yell] the loudest? Voice-over reaches a whole new level.

Older movies [as I get older, I watch older movies; you know, the 'one time' modern ones] and much current TV often include death and death scenes. But, does anyone talk about them? Noooo! 'Is Mr X dead?' asks the girl breathlessly, through tears of sadness. The doctor either stares at her, starts reciting a lengthy preamble, or gives a gentle nod---the latter being of the type of action that could mean almost anything: Don't ask me; I don't know; I'll call you later; No, he's not dead, he's leading an aerobics class; No, he's gone to better things: taming the 'Ghost Riders in the Sky'; Who are you?; Are you busy tomorrow night? Or what am I doing here? Fade out. Anything but a straight answer: 'He's dead. I'm sorry.'

Why can't TV chefs understand the old kitchen tricks? Do they really think no one could cook before they showed up? Why must they act as if they're the only ones who know how to perform in a kitchen? Case in point: putting oil atop the water being boiled for pasta cooking. History knows that oil calms an angry sea or boiling water. [Sure, it fouls the sea and kills vegetation, but it does prevent the sea from roiling over.] Hey guys! It's not added for flavor, but to keep the cooking pasta and water from boiling all over the stove. Do these 'experts' actually think the average home cook always uses the proper sized pot of water in a professional cooking-staged area, thus preventing a boil-over? I doubt it. So, take heart readers, the TV chefs don't always know what they're talking about when they attack old kitchen secrets, such as our adding of oil for cooking pasta. The starch in the pasta can cause a boil-over if the pot isn't big enough or the amount of water is too small---a normal occurrence in many households.

I wish sporting event promoters would engage talented amateurs to sing the National Anthem before the games or races. The tune demands and expects effort of the highest quality. The so-called professionals and 'stars' generally mangle it, have lousy voices without the electronics, turn it into their own poorly-voiced style, or don't even know the song. 'What National Anthem?' The occasional amateurs usually do a great job. I know it's a difficult song, but the amateurs put effort into the singing of it, while the professionals usually throw it off as a 'photo op' or publicity action.

The word is H-a-lloween, with an 'a', and not H-o-lloween with an 'o'. I was listening to a major TV station newscast about that time, and everyone involved---including the interviewees---pronounced it incorrectly. But, then, that's been the case for years, and all my comments have fallen on hollow ears. And the correct name is Sleepy Hollow, and the headless horseman still tosses a pumpkin on H-a-lloween. Remember, it's 'All Hallow's Eve' and not 'All Hollow's Eve.' Departed souls are not usually 'hollow.'

Words 'they' or 'their' or 'them' are constantly misused as pronouns for a singular noun. My son is not a 'they', but a he, him or in the possessive, his. Your daughter is not a 'they', but a she or her, or hers. Your child is not a 'they' but a him or her. Ability to properly speak with agreeing nouns and verbs is a reasonable expectation from the media, as it is from the average American. It's amazing what vocal errors come out of mouths with the annoying, pure white teeth on the screen. 'Look! See me in the dark!' It really doesn't take too much extra effort to speak correctly---when you know how to do it. [Advertising executives take note.] Sentences can easily be reformed to make the needed point. [Don't leave school early!]

Thus are my random thoughts for today. When my brain gets older and more wrinkly, I'll voice some more.