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...

1 comment:

Stephen R. Maloney said...

What a beautiful blog -- and the pictures are absolutely fascinating. Keep up the great work.

steve maloney
ambridge, pa