A Chewy Gooey Christmas

Silver and gold candy balls the size of BB’s bounced across the table top. My sister Teresa and I scrambled under the table to round up the balls which was like trying to herd a trail of ants to one opening. Mom hated it when she stepped on the one that got away, making that crushed sugar sound on her perfectly waxed floor.

Rounded up, we didn’t worry that they were once on the floor. They still found their places as the knockers of bell shaped cookies or on the end of Santa’s hat on his namesake shapes and stand-ins for ornaments on green sugar coated Christmas trees.

Wire cooling racks sat on top of wax paper protecting the kitchen table. Red and green sugar grains covered the table along with a few more run-away candy balls.

It is the annual Christmas cookie decorating day, which, will soon be followed by the popcorn ball making night. Dad is the captain of the cookies, Mom, the popcorn balls. Two traditions, if I had a time machine I would enjoy reliving again.

I don’t know when the tradition started. When Teresa and I were old enough to help out, it was already an established event. Tom and Mary had their time in the production line, but they were eventually replaced by younger labor but only after passing off certain decorating skills and responsibilities.

Dad would start the Christmas cookie process well before the house showed any signs of the holiday. There was no last minute scramble to complete the baking by this Master Sergeant. I suspect he had it plotted out with the skill of a military tactician and the execution of the plan was carried out with the experience of a seasoned commander.

Nights before the baking marathon you could find dad, a white flour infused apron covering his usual pale blue short-sleeve shirt, khaki slacks (we never saw dad in blue jeans until later years) and dark brown house slippers, sitting at the kitchen table. A bowl in his lap, the apron spilling over each leg, with practice precision, cutting dates into small pieces all in preparation for his date pinwheel cookies. As the pile of cut dates grew in his lap so did the pile of date pits and discarded pieces climb on the table.

The next night, Dad would mix the dough, spread it out on a cutting board that had an old ribbed undershirt stretched tight over it and held on each end with two thick U.S. Postal Department issue rubber bands. Once the dough was rolled out, he painted the cut dates on the dough and then rolled it all together spiraling the date mixture through the rolled dough.

When baked the pinwheels were never round. He shaped them to form a half circle, flat on the bottom. My suspicion is some Casey sibling, prior to Teresa and I, must have tried turning them into real pinwheels, and thus, the new shape.

During the baking days, the house smelled like a bakery on a Saturday morning when they are making the treats for Sunday patrons. No one could be in a bad mood with that fragrance in the air. Chocolate chip, anise seed, oatmeal, sugar cookies and one of my favorite, orange slice cookies rounded out the dozens and dozens of cookies baked.

Living in a house of creative people meant that cookie decorating took on extreme importance. Candy cane shaped cookies received artistically sprinkled red stripes and Santa’s hat always had enough red sugar to mark where the white fur started. It was also a race to see who could claim the most cookies decorated before they went to the oven. Dad would cut the cookies from his dough using cookie cutters seasoned from years of use. A regular rhythm of press, lift, and one jerk deposited a flour tinged shape just waiting for the production crew to tackle.

When we closed up the house after Dad’s passing, ( read Behind Closed Doors, posted 11/3/14) Teresa and I saved the cookie cutters from potential auction house separation. Someday, some Casey will press and use them again.

When most of the cookies were baked, they were put away for Christmas Eve. Dad had an old tin box with a red lid and cream colored bottom that housed our supply of cookies. The tin kept any roaming mice or other sweat-toothed creatures from nibbling our creations. The box was stored in the basement under the steps until Christmas Eve. (read The World Down Under, posted 12/3/14) This same tin box I use today to store the nativity set from home. The crèche was one of the first things the folks purchased as a married couple at Woolworth Store on Stone Street.

I mentioned most of the cookies found their way to the hideaway, but, not all of them.

Dad was known, throughout town as a master cookie baker. Neighbors, his fellow postal employees, priest and nuns, and the few aunts and uncles in town, all shared in the Christmas cookie excess. Many trips were made in “Black Beauty” balancing plates of wax paper wrapped plates of cookies, each with a store bought bow taped to the top. If the recipients weren’t home, no problem, they knew who the cookies were from.

On Christmas Eve, when others might be feasting on the seven fish or making preparations for Midnight Mass, the Casey’s were sipping on oyster stew or chicken noodle soup and eating celery strips and carrots. When we ate enough of the listed menu to qualify as a meal, the Christmas cookies made their first of many trips from the basement to the cookie tray in the kitchen.

Once again the kitchen was alive with red and green sugar trailing from the cookie box to the tray and then to the table. Those little gold and silver balls more than once popped from Santa’s hat and rolled across the table and hit the floor where they always wanted to be in the first place.

The cookies were not Dad’s only creations. Every year he worked at perfecting peanut brittle, and his constant project, the Martha Washington fruitcake. One winter night I was tasked with taking out the garbage to the burning barrel at the end of the yard. Instead of putting on my winter coat I grabbed dad’s heavy canvas work jacket. Halfway back from the barrel I discovered a flat bottle of rum in the pocket. I thought “Oh my God, my dad is secret drinker, we heard about this kind in school health class.” It wasn’t until I confessed to Mom what I found that I was relieved to find out, the rum was what Dad took to the basement and poured through the cheese cloth, soaking the Martha Washington cake. I knew then why they never offered me a piece.

Closer to Christmas it was popcorn ball time. If you have never had a homemade popcorn ball, thick with kernels, held together with gooey Karo syrup, then, I am sure your dentist is thanking you. But if you have, then you know how good the combination of sugar and corn can be. You know the fun of working each piece free that is stuck to the roof of your mouth and between your back teeth. It is a treat that keeps on long after the last bite. They are the best snack to shove in your coat pocket when you are heading to snowy woods squirrel hunting or just something to nibble on while sledding down Eighteenth Street from the Paulson old place at the top down to Jim Rider’s house on the corner. If they were crushed in a mid-hill sled crash no big deal, you could just turn your pocket inside out and pick the pieces apart and still enjoy.

Popcorn ball making was as much a Christmas tradition as cookie decorating. On the designated evening, Mom would pop enough corn to fill two granite roaster. I can’t say I ever remember the roaster being used for anything other than to hold the popcorn on this night. Next coffee cups lined with Crisco, one for each of us, were scattered around the table. Once this was done, Mom started brewing the binding of syrup, sugar, butter, vanilla and food coloring. When this was ready, she drizzled one roaster with green syrup the other with red. Then, the race was on. Mom pushing us to go fast before the syrup cement hardened.  With greased hands we dove into the roaster scooping up handfuls of popped corn and pressed the glob into the greased cups. Your hands would get little shocks of burn from the hot syrup as you pressed and formed almost perfect balls.

Greased hands and hot syrup, it is a wonder that anyone in the Casey family has readable finger prints.

As you completed your sculpture it was placed on one of the wire cooling racks that earlier held a variety of cookies. With the production complete, pale red and green balls decorated the table. When the popcorn balls cooled, they found a hiding place in the basement somewhere between the cookies and Martha Washington until they too, climbed the steep stairs from the basement on Christmas Eve.

Years later, when all of us except Tom scattered to different states the “cookie man” and Mom employed the postal service to deliver our quota of cookies. Teresa, Mary and I, could always count on a box, expertly cushioned with popcorn, (not the Styrofoam kind, the real thing) filled with an abundance of cookies, popcorn balls, and fudge. The cookies arrived with such regularity the mailmen on this end knew when to expect them and treated them with the reverence and respect they deserved, never just leaving them on our door step or tossing them from the truck.

We have gone a couple years now without any “cookie man” Christmas cookies and even longer without popcorn balls sticking to our teeth. Maybe this will need to be the year we fill the old tin box and make a few trips to the dentist to dig out misguided kernels.

If we do, it will be a nice trip back to…all part of growing up.

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“How Much is that Doggie in the Window?”

This edition is dedicated to Dickens, a Golden Retriever who served his family well and was a friend to all he came in contact with.

Dickens

Dickens

“So Brian, what would you like for your sixtieth birthday?”

That was a question posed to me by Tina sometime in August or September of 2014. It didn’t take me long to respond to the question. I immediately said,

“A dog.”

After reassuring her that I was serious, the discussion started on the pros and cons of dog ownership.

We went through all of the usual arguments of why we shouldn’t be dog owners. The list of reasons why not to have a dog was long and included our schedule, housing, veterinary expenses, lack of experience and the restrictions that come with a pet. They were all good arguments but ones that I also had some good countering responses for.

After mustering up my best sad face and throwing in a few promises, which I have yet to fulfill, I won the debate.

In October, we visited a breeder and selected a six week old female miniature schnauzer named Bella. Bella, would eventually come home with us sometime in December.

Our first meeting with Bella

Our first meeting with Bella

Bella's first night in her new home

Bella’s first night in her new home

It wasn’t until we picked up Bella that I realized I was preparing for a puppy much of my life plus how much dogs have been a part my of growing years.

We never had a dog in the family. We had pigeons, chipmunks, an alligator, even a praying mantis that lived a very healthy life in captivity on tomato worms and grasshoppers and, there were even a few dime store turtles, but no dogs.

The closest to having a dog was a few strays that followed Dad home from his mail route. They would stick around a few days, never really giving in to ownership then they would move on once they realized this was not the family for them. I think of them now as the hobo’s of the dog world. They were free to roam where they wanted and find food from generous handouts by sympathetic humans.

Mom was probably the biggest opponent to a dog in the family. She tolerated the creatures listed above and I never remember her saying no to any of them. I know she was not fond of the snakes Tom brought home from Scout Camp but they made it in to the house despite her arguments. One by one they disappeared from the basement. To this day, I believe the garter, bull, and black racer snakes that inhabit the old neighborhood are all descendants of those basement snakes.

It was mom that helped me stitch up a racing pigeon when he came home with his crop split from one wing to the other. I held the bird while mom, an expert seamstress, stitched the old boy back together in between douses of peroxide that turned his whole front blonder than Marilyn Monroe platinum. So she had a sympathy and understanding for creatures, just not those that might eventually boss her around.

Then, Banjo came on the scene. Banjo belonged to the Grimes family who lived across the alley. I can’t tell you the breed of Banjo, not sure if he was any particular breed, but I hesitate to label him a mutt because he was much more than that. Banjo was a short legged, black curly haired creature who’s eyes were always covered with tangles of curls and his tongue always hanging out looking for a hand to slather with a good licking.

Banjo was ready to play just by hollering his name. He roamed the neighborhood ready to chase balls, cats, our pigeons or just roll over for a good belly rub. But, what was special about Banjo was his relationship with Mom.

Banjo and Mom had an understanding early on in his introduction to our yard. Mom had no problem with Banjo running at will through the yard and even now and then begging a drink from the garden hose while she watered her flowers. However, it only took a few attempts on Banjo’s part to follow her up the porch steps to learn he had crossed the line.

If you remember, the porch was part of the house, it was a room without walls and that meant it was no place for dogs. It was Mom’s claim that she taught Banjo to stop at the steps and come no farther into her territory. She was the first dog whisper that I ever knew. With a look and a stern no, Banjo quickly learned to respect the boundaries.

For his reward, Mom labeled him the best dog she ever knew. Mom would remark often how well trained this dog was to not venture on “her porch.” When Banjo mysteriously disappeared, as often is the case with free roaming dogs, it was Mom who missed him more than us kids. Even years later when we were all adults and talk would turn to dogs, Mom always brought up the legacy that Banjo left behind that no other dog matched.

As I got older, I needed a source of money that would supplement the grass and snow shoveling business. Dog walking became the weatherproof business. When the grass stopped growing and the snow was not flying, dogs still needed to be walked.

When I came home from school I had a regular circuit of house-bound dogs to tend to. One was Paddy, a young beagle full of energy and blessed with a typical beagle voice. The closer I would get to Paddy’s house, which was just a half a block down Morton Street, I could hear him wailing as if he was hot on the trail of a rabbit. I could struggled to get Paddy out the door and hooked to his exercise line because he was so happy to be outside. Once Paddy expelled his energy along with a few other things, it was time to move on to Bugle.

Bugle was a grossly overweight beagle basset hound mix. Bugle was the dog of one of the county judges and they both shared what I would list as a mansion on Lane Street. It was house filled with old wood, winding staircases and memorabilia from the Judges years of public service as well as his stints with some very famous Jazz artist. The house was later destroyed to make room for a modern grocery store. When I go home and visit the store, I can still picture back in the corner where the deli ends and the milk coolers start, that this is where the back door to the mansion would be. The back door is where Bugle and I would start our walks.

The judge never locked the back door. Many folks in town did not. I would open the back door, step inside the entrance parlor, and holler for Bugle. With the utterance of his name came the response from several flights of stairs above me of a bugle charged bark that would make any fox and hound fan proud. Barking at a volume that could be used as a warning siren, Bugle came slopping down the steps his nails scratching the wooden runners and his belly making a sweeping sound as it hung up on each one. Finally at the bottom he was exhausted. His exercise for the day was finished in his mind but the orders from the Judge were to walk him despite his opposition.

Unfortunately, Bugle was not in the habit of taking orders from the Judge or from me. Bugle would oblige me my job of attaching his lead and complying by walking down a few more steps off the back stoop. From there it was a tug of war between wills and dog fat.

One time I made the mistake of walking Bugle across Harlan Street. If you have followed previous stories, you know that Harlan was the main highway through town. Not busy all the time, but enough that one should probably not try to walk a reluctant dog across. In the middle of Harlan, Bugle decided to exert his rank as the dog of the high ranking county official and planted himself in the middle of the highway. We had tractor trailers passing us on one side and monster combine machines with their tentacle arms pointing at us on the other. Bugle was just taking it all in as if this was his kingdom and he wanted his subjects to see he was in control. All I could picture was a life in the jail on top of the courthouse where the Judge sent me for risking the life of his only family member.

Bugle and I eventually came to an understanding and returned to the mansion, never to speak of this event again. Bugle and I continued our relationship for a few more years and then, Bugle’s rich and lazy lifestyle eventually caught up with him. I tried to warn him but he never listened.

The early years with dogs did not always bring about the best results.

One night, mom, Teresa and I were walking down 19th street only a block away from the house. I was on the outside next to the street, where mom taught me gentlemen are supposed to be when walking with a lady, Teresa and Mom were on the inside. As we passed a house I noticed a black lab stretched out on the front stoop. With no warning the lab came out around Teresa and Mom and sunk his teeth into my, at that time plumb rear, and hung on as I ran down the street. The dog eventually released his bite on what was to him a tasty morsel and for me at that age a near death experience. I think to this day I still have two canine scars in my rear but I have never had anyone verify that.

When Mom and Teresa arrived home, trust me, I beat them home, my cuts were painted with methylate, the cure-all for any cuts. Later dad went over to the house, armed with Tom’s single shot .22 ready to defend himself against the monster. As he approached the house carrying the rifle, a well-meaning neighbor called the sheriff thinking dad was up to no good. The sheriff at the time was Dad’s half uncle (which is a whole new family history story.) Turns out the dog had selected another victim earlier in the evening, so the sheriff was really there to investigate. The poor dog was later moved out to the country where he was free to take on any creature that got in his way. He was probably secretly hoping his antics would get him out of town and out where he could roam free and pursue his wolf instincts.

Then there was Ginger. Ginger was Scoutmaster Bill’s Golden Retriever. Ginger went on every campout with the troop and if you bunked with Bill, you also bunked with Ginger. Ginger liked to roam the campsite at night checking on her boys. This meant that throughout the night, you had to tolerate Ginger stepping on you as she made her way in and out of your tent.

It was Ginger that taught me about pheasant and quail hunting. Bill, who would often call to take me hunting and he always brought Ginger along. Ginger was trained as great gun dog ready to flush out quail and pheasants and then retrieve the kill when a bird was brought down. If Ginger flushed a covey of quail and I missed them all, she would give me a look of “really, I worked hard and you missed them!”

Eventually Ginger taught me to be ready for what she was sniffing out along with the etiquette and respect that is required when using a working dog.

The seminary years brought a few more dogs to help in the dog education. Cheri, a German Shepard and Murphy an adventuresome Beagle.

Cheri roamed the halls of the seminary with free access to any room or quarter in the building. She was everyone’s dog and was happy resting in the TV room with the guys or visiting the faculty in their exclusive dining room. Cheri never ventured into the chapel. Like Banjo, somewhere along the line she learned this was crossing the line, but every morning and evening when prayers were finished, she was waiting outside ready to find someone to play with.

We don’t know how Cheri got pregnant. Well we know, but just couldn’t explain when she participated in activities outside the walls. Late one night, while sleeping over in one of the guy’s rooms, Cheri decided it was time to introduce her nine puppies to seminary life. That was the first time many of us witnessed a live birth. (For men preparing for a celibate life, it was most likely the last time.) The puppies were all dispatched to homes around the seminary and Cheri in proper time, resumed caring for her men in the seminary.

Murphy was a different type of dog. He was independent and had an adventurer’s spirit. Murphy would take off on journeys and sometimes be gone for weeks. When he returned, he was celebrated like the prodigal son returning. Announcements were made that Murphy was in the building and guys started feeding him scraps from their plates as encouragement to stick closer to home. Sometimes when Murphy returned home there was less of him. Often when he returned he was very thin, or maybe part of his ear would be missing. One time he came home with part of another creatures tooth lodged in a delicate part of the male dog anatomy.

Murphy did not roam the building like Cheri. He held court on the well-worn leather sofa in the game room. If you wanted to see him, you had to go to him. You were welcome to have a seat next to him but don’t try to encourage him to follow you from that spot.

One day Murphy left the seminary grounds and we never heard from him again.

Years later the “teacher” arrived on scene. The Buddhist have a saying that goes something like “the Teacher will arrive when it is time.” The pup that opened the door for future dog ownership was a little black schnauzer named Shadow. The grandsons thought that Grandpap needed a dog to keep him company. The idea set well with everyone except Grandpap. In less than a week, Shadow found a home with Craig the oldest grandson. Shadow endeared herself into the family and it wasn’t long till she was an expected member at any family gathering. Tina, who was never a real fan of dogs and even by her own admission was a little fearful of them, because she didn’t know how to act around the four legged ambassadors of licks and kisses. Shadow and Tina bonded to the point that she became a guest in our house for several dog sitting sessions. It was not unusual for Tina and Shadow to be curled up on the couch both enjoying forty-winks on a Sunday afternoon.

The teacher had arrived.

Next in line came the Berdoodle, King Tut Casey, Cleopatra and Christmas Wren, all dogs of our son’s family. Tut was never little. From the time we met him he was a big boy and soon grew to a size that would display his St. Bernard roots. What he had in size he also had in love. He only wanted to be near people and please those around him. Tina took to Tut with no fear of this large gentle giant. Shadow had prepared her well. Cleopatra was to Tut in size what a house cat would be to a tiger. The two made a Mutt and Jeff pair that was comical and loveable. Tut wanted to be the lapdog that Cleo was, and Cleo thought she was the size of Tut when it came to standing her ground.

King Tut Casey

King Tut Casey

Then Adam and Laura rescued Wren. A little thing that could easily fit in a shirt pocket. She needed round the clock care with feeding carefully monitored and room temperature kept high. It wasn’t long before she was included with the pack and the three musketeers became sources of entertainment no reality show could match.

Now we are back to Bella. With Shadow as the teacher and Tut, Cleo and Wren following to round out the class, it wasn’t hard to make room for Bella. She quickly made herself at home and I believe still it was Bella that adopted us, not the other way around.

Bella has brought life and comedy to the house. She has her routines which quickly became our routines. Her toys can sometimes be scattered from the bedrooms, down the steps and into the kitchen. More than once I have walked into a dark room only to kiss the ceiling after stepping on squeaky toy. Even as I type the words she is sitting on my lap fixed on the cursor and words as they pop on the screen.

With Bella I have been forced out on cold mornings before the sun climbs over the mountains behind Springfield Pike. Bella has given me a chance to view the constellations I’ve missed for years. Watching her wonder at a fly for the first time or the smell of grass greening up reminds me how fast life has become. Catching her wonder at birds chasing each other in the burning bushes and the predawn song of the robin sitting on the power line over the alley reminds me there is more entertainment than what I pay the cable company for. We’ve been out in the rain and snow together and according to Bella, it is okay to get wet and it reminds me how delicious snowflakes taste and how good the smell of rain really is.

Bella today

Bella today

A dog, I am convinced, takes you back to just far enough that you can start over again.

One afternoon I had Bella out in the front yard for exercise. A car passed with a young boy in the back seat. His gazed was fixed on Bella as they passed. He turned back to his parents in the front seat and the car was still close enough for me to see him mouth, “I want one.”

Hang in there kid, it will happen sooner or later, it may take sixty years, but it is just all part of growing up.

1.How Much is that Doggie in the Window? Bob Merrill 1953

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Memory Hooks

Funny how one word, image or sound will trigger a memory. Glimpses I thought were long gone came back quickly when I started cataloging memories. One memory morsel seemed to spawn the next.

The “Sound of Music” song,  “My Favorite Things” is a directory of memory images. Many of them are universal or at least the process it triggers is. You can’t listen to the song without having some memory ignited.

My list is not as universal and it would never make a good song but it might start a memory song for you.

  1. Grandma Casey’s Corner

Grandma Casey had a garden with raspberry bushes growing on both sides of a wooden planked path which stretched from one end of the garden to the other. When you stepped on the first plank it rose like a happy dog wanting to jump in to your arms. When the plank came back down it slammed a hollow spot starting a cadence of footsteps all the way down the path. With each rise and fall of the planks, a hint of raspberry touched the air.

I can still taste the cold milk and sugar mixed in a bowl of black raspberries all held in a heavy white ceramic bowl.

At the end of the wooden tightrope path was a two-hole outhouse and garden shed. It was years later I learned that Grandma built the shed herself. Grandma’s house was my halfway stop while walking from kindergarten to home.  I went to afternoon kindergarten and by three o’clock and a bottle of the coldest milk sucked through a paper straw, I was probably ready for a bathroom stop. The door of the shed never closed tight as you did your business. A ray of light through the door would drop on the dark wood making it look black as golden dust fairies descended on it from the outside. A hint of dill growing alongside the shed along with cherry trees dropping blossoms around the door covered any odor.

Grandma's outhouse/shed

Grandma’s outhouse/shed

Who needed air fresheners?

Grandma always had filled wafer cookies waiting for me in the kitchen ice box and it WAS an ice box. Or, for a special treat she had Hostess Snow Balls. their thick coconut covering always fell on the floor no matter how neat I tried to be. To make it to the kitchen I had to pass through a back porch with windows usually covered by sheets of foggy plastic. It was Dad’s job every fall to go up and “put up the storm windows.”

Hanging inside the door to the kitchen was Grandma’s outside apron. It always had smudges of dirt and a few clothes pins in the pocket.

Morton Street in front of Grandma’s was a dirt road for many years. Morton Street came to an end there and if you stepped off the street at that end you were in a field that sometimes was planted with corn or was often used as a temporary pasture for a few cows. It was also a favorite place to fly kites; many Casey experimental kites had their first solo in the field.

Usually once a year the road was oiled to keep the dust down. After fresh oil the road would shine like a street of gold. If the rain came shortly after oiling, there were oil slick rainbow reflection up and down Grandma’s street. The colors would reflect up on the white houses lining the street giving the whole block a “Wizard of Oz” effect.

The Old Oak, King of Morton Street

The Old Oak, King of Morton Street

A big oak sat on Grandma’s corner and stretched limps over the road as if it was holding an umbrella to protect the neighbors. It was the first tree on Morton Street and it ruled like a king. In an effort to show his dominance and title as well as to fight the intrusion on his territory, the oak raised the sidewalk walk which stretched across his roots. His powerful arms reached deep into the yard like a rescuer holding on desperately with one hand while stretching the other to save a passer in distress. The city decided not to honor his valor and instead opted to flatten the walk to make it safer for walkers. In the process they sliced the roots and the tree died a slow death but not until Grandma moved out of the house. He hung in there long enough to give her cool shade in the summer and plenty of leaves to burn in the fall. He arched over a patch of peonies  that bloomed every Memorial Day with a perfume that made roses weep with envy and the lilac hedge on the side of yard turn and bow in submission.

Grandma’s house is gone.

The oak is gone and lesser maples have replaced the oak along the now cemented street.

A double wide sits where Grandma’s house once filled the yard.

Three bunches of peonies and a lone lilac bush still stand on the corner and every spring they let the rest of the neighborhood know they are now the seniors on the block.

I can see the oak and Grandma sitting on the corner taking it all in together.

  1. Fishing at Stanton Lake

Many summer days were spent fishing at Stanton Lake on the west end of town. The lake was an easy ride from home on a bike and not a hard walk if you decided to take that path. the walking route took you straight up Morton and turned at Grandma’s corner then right on Harlan till you reached North School, past the water tower then down the long divided entrance to the lake park. The hardest part of the walk was coming back up the entrance lane. It was one of the few “hills” in town and it taxed your calf muscles climbing back up.

The long hill out of Stanton Lake

The long hill out of Stanton Lake

The lake was a place for many family picnics, a few rocket launches and numerous sunburns.

Stanton Lake didn’t contain any fancy game fish like bass or trout. It was a working man’s lake filled with carp, catfish and bullhead. The kind of fish you go after when you just want to sit and relax and let fish do all of the work.

There were two lakes on the property, a small lake which yielded mainly bullhead and few respectable carp. The big lake was where the big fish roamed but we rarely fished it, opting for the privacy and calmness of the smaller lake.

The small lake is all dried up now but in it’s day, it was surrounded by waist high grass that was cut away at favorite fishing spots around the banks. During the day it was in full Nebraska sun. Sometimes it felt like you were at mirage you see in cartoons where the dry dust crawler comes upon a lake in his sun baked surroundings.

By late day this changed.

When the sun dropped lower in the west the trees growing along the railroad tracks cast cooling shadows first on the west side of the lake then they rolled across the banks to give some relief to the opposite shore. The sun coming through the cottonwoods cast gold coins on the lake while swallows made strafing runs for insects venturing out in the cool water.

Your bobber would sit there in the midst of the entertainment. Not really a part of the natural order but allowed by its occupation and purpose. Focusing on a red and white bobber undulating in the trivial ripples of the lake tends to blocks out the rest of the world. You become absorbed in a slow motion world that squeezes troubles out and allows the drone of a dragon fly’s wings to be the loudest vibration. Even the Burlington Northern coal trains coming through on the tracks did not drown the water lapping sounds of the Zen zoned Buddhist fisherman.

a slow day at Stanton Lake

a slow day at Stanton Lake

As fish passed by and bumped the hook or took a nibble of Dad’s special doughball bait dangling from the surface bobber, radiating rings like code signals from deep in the watery world would begin to spread out. This indicator was usually followed by the bobber diving under like a panicked swimmer then immediately popping back up for another suck of air then, diving right back down as if it lost something on the bottom.

The unfortunate fish that took the bait was usually released to fight another day. The fun was in the wait and reward, not in the killing and eating. Besides, we were never sure if we were just catching the same fish over and over, or if there were more fish in the little pond than we anticipated.

  1. Movie Popcorn

As a Casey, you were raised on popcorn. Not popcorn thrown in a microwave or popcorn from a bag stacked on a convenience store shelf. No, we had popcorn created on the stove in a pot that was “the popcorn pot.” Mom stored the popcorn in the fridge in a sealed jar thinking that kept it fresh and popped larger kernels.

Friday night was usually popcorn night.

Mom would pull out the pot, corn, vegetable oil and an assortment of ceramic bowls, one bowl for each person. You knew you reached the age of maturity when on Friday night, you got your own popcorn bowl.

Mom was always in charge of the popping process until years later when she taught me the secret and I took over. Dad’s job was to crush the ice for the soft drinks. For some reason they were big on crushed ice. The manual ice crusher hung on the door frame going from the kitchen into the pantry/downstairs bathroom. Dad would fill the funnel shaped reservoir with ice cubes then on Mom’s command, he would start cranking the handle like he was trying to wind the prop on Lindbergh’s plane. Once contact with the ice was made the whole north side of the house felt the vibrations through the walls and down into the foundation. The crushed ice, timed perfect for the end of the popping process, was poured into tall glasses each with a knitted booty attached to the bottom to protect the furniture.

No one ever received a full can of soft drink. With the crushed ice almost three quarters of the way up the glass, Dad was able to fill three glasses from one can. A full can of soda was another great revelation when I went to the seminary. I never realized some people actually drank the whole can!

But

All of this ritual did not compare to the taste, smell and process of popcorn served at the Rivoli Theater up on Stone Street. If you didn’t know what was showing or even if you had no real desire to see a movie, the essence of popcorn lured you in like a puppy seeking a favorite chew toy. It was a smell and texture that had to be satisfied.

The lobby of the Rivoli was lined with posters in glass cases imbedded in the walls. Each one listed an exciting coming attractions. A glass ticket booth decorated with ornate iron work around the top jutted out into the center of the lobby. You paid maybe a quarter or fifty cents to one of the senior members of the managing family. The ticket booth was connected to a the refreshment counter filled with Snowcaps, Jujubes, licorice, Gum Drops and assorted chocolate bars and soft drinks.

But,

at the end of the counter was the crowning glory, the perfume factory extraordinaire, a buttery swirl of popped kernels and salt that could get you through the worst movie or provide you with a sense of calm and all is right with the world on a cold wet Saturday.

Rivoli popcorn rated so high on the approval scale with the Casey connoisseurs of popcorn that trips were made to the Rivoli, not for a movie but just to buy popcorn which, leads into my last favorite thing.

The Rivoli on Stone Street

The Rivoli on Stone Street

  1. People Watching

If you are not from a small town you might think this is an odd pastime, but in small communities across the country, people watching is cherished pastime.

On Thursday nights, when the stores on Stone Street were open late, Dad would park “Black Beauty” on his way home from work, feed the meter with plenty of dimes then come on home for supper. As a family, we would walk back up town and meet up with the car on the street in front of the Woolworth store between 17th and 16th street. Dad would load the meter with more dimes then Dad and I would walk to the Rivoli a block north and buy a bag of popcorn for everyone in the car. Mom and Dad would comment on the people passing wondering where so and so was tonight, or every once in a while, one of Dad’s guard buddies would walk past, stop and talk for a minute through the car window then rejoin their family.

You didn’t eat handfuls of the Rivoli popcorn. You savored one popped kernel at a time. The longer you could make the bag of popcorn last the longer we stayed parked enjoying the lights of town as they sparked on, the nighthawks chasing bugs above and the lounge chair size back seat of the old Desoto.

Thursday night’s, not Fridays are popcorn nights for Tina and I. We still pop it on the stove with the official popcorn pot. I store the popcorn in the fridge just like mom and I still use her timing for a perfect pop of almost every kernel. I still have  a hard time finishing a whole can of soft drink.

I haven’t wet a fishing line in years, but every year I say I am going to.

I zero in on Grandma’s corner using Google Earth just to check on the peonies but they have yet to add fragrance to the program so it just not the same.

Some things change, others don’t, it is just…all part of growing up.

Illustrations by BWC

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (really, it was)

We often fail to realize how lives interact. Many times, the intersections by strangers, lead to life changing events. The impact of these occurrences are often not recognized until years later when we start to comprehend how each of us is connected in some way. Part of growing up is looking back and learning how to connect the dots of experience. The marks on my timeline connected recently when I considered an incident which changed the way I would view the world, changed the town and touched the life of every citizen capable of logging it as a memory.

This is not going to be a fun trip backwards. There are occurrences which place in the role of witness. Because of this role, we are required to relate the story so that it is never lost. Sometimes we are the main character in the story, other times but we are simply called to give witness and honor those involved. Hopefully, when finished, the details by this witness will spark a significant memory in your life; a crossing of lives which changed who you are today.

August 6, 1966 I was eleven, soon to be twelve in November. It was a Saturday. It had all the makings of a typical Nebraska August day. The sky was the color of watered down milk. Cicada’s droned as they do when they are sending a warning of more heat to follow. There was a breeze, but only enough to move the hard leaves of the elm trees on the front terrace. When they moved, it sounded like onions frying in a pan of grease.

Everyone and everything was moist like a used bath towel.

Neighborhood dogs could still roam freely but each gave up their freedom of travel in favor of curling up under shaded porches or next to their water dishes.

Flowers arched over waiting for their evening watering.

Dad was working in the basement getting an early start on his Saturday chores. Our cousin, Bob Morrison was visiting with Tom so we had an extra member in the house for the weekend. Being eleven, I was still free from any real adult responsibility. There was no grass to cut which was my only real job.  By this time in the summer, lawns looked like burlap bags spread out in random order across terraces and backyards.  I was most likely sitting on the back porch doodling in a sketch book or re-reading comic books.

Dad’s project for the morning was draining an air compressor in the basement. Tom needed the compressor to pump air to the top floor to help with his daily treatments for Cystic Fibrosis. When the compressor kicked on, our house sounded like the local tire shop when they needed air pressure. We had to make sure we warned any visitors of its sporadic cycle.

To accomplish the draining, dad needed to lean the blue bellied tank towards him. When he tipped it on this morning, the compressor slipped and fell towards him. A piece of the compressor caught him  above his right eye. He came to the top of the basement stairs bloody and mad at the accident. Dad rarely showed anger, unless it was directed toward some inanimate object. I never heard a foul word come out of his mouth, rather his disgust was displayed in a look or an occasional “for crying out loud.” On this morning, we saw and heard both.

My memory is foggy how Dad went to the hospital to be stitched but I know Mom stayed home with Teresa and me. Dad’s little accident was probably the most exciting incident the emergency staff dealt with at this point; before the day was over, this record would be different.

The day moved on like many other August days.

By noon, Dad was back home and spent much of the afternoon holding a cold compress on his cut and being disgusted that his day was interrupted.

The sky continued to deepen in color and soon resembled an old gray suit draped over the city and a musty smell like wet dog, was working its way in to the day.  By evening, the usual weather alerts were being posted on the TV.

It wouldn’t surprise me if supper that night was sloppy joes. That was a favorite and easy dish for Mom to prepare on the rare occasion we had someone other than a true blood Casey in the house. Often when I brought guys home from the seminary it was, sloppy joes with a side of tater tots. I never want to give the impression that Mom was not a good cook. She just felt she never needed to put on a show to impress any one. We always ate well and I don’t remember anyone refusing seconds and you could always count on a piece of homemade pie or cookies for dessert. If you were special company like my friend Joe Traynor or Teresa’s husband Tim, you were allowed two pieces of pie, one of each selection.

After supper, the evening most likely included porch sitting.

Nebraska evenings with looming storms provide entertainment free of charge. You could sit on the porch and look to the open southwest sky broken only by the stucco house on the corner and watch a light display no laser show today could duplicate. Thunder trolled in the distance like a hollow barrel rolling slowly over a far off cobblestone street.

Four words were spoken by Dad, “Going to storm tonight.” Someone would answer as a response, “yep.”

There were times when we were all masters of the obvious.

Since Bob was staying with us, I lost my bed in the room Tom and I shared. I slept down stairs on a cot in what we always referred to as the “playroom.” It was a room that had windows on both the south and west sides of the house. A perfect storm watching room. The storm predicted earlier came over Falls City with the fury of rabid dog. Lighting flashed almost continuous like a dying light bulb and thunder barked back and finished off with a teeth baring throaty growl. Rain beat against the windows with the force of a shower head.

Jim Rider’s pickup truck (Read, “A World Down Under” blog 12/3/14) broke the storm drama like a misplaced relative at a family reunion. His truck had a distinctive sound which was known in the neighborhood. I looked out the south window without getting out of my cot and watched him pass the house and then followed him up 18th in the west window until he was lost on Harlan Street. As he passed the side of the house his volunteer fireman’s red light, mounted on the bumper mixed with the flashes of blue white lighting and rain soaked street creating a moving watercolor painting. The front wheels pushed the river of water away like the bow of a warship on a mission. He racked through the gears of the old truck hitting fourth by the time he passed the intersection.  A muffled fire siren sounded on Harlan Street indicating a truck pulling out of the station. I laid back down, the excitement was over and the storm was beginning to back into its dog house.

The next morning we followed the usual Sunday morning routine. We all gathered on the back porch while Dad pulled the Dodge Dart up to the side walk on the terrace. We had to step around the brave earthworms stretched out on the sidewalk tempting every available robin in the neighborhood. Dad never made Mom or any of us walk down to the garage and meet him. I think he believed it demonstrated more class to bring the car to this family.

We found our usual Casey pew. As good Catholics we never budged from that spot. Years later, when the church was demolished due to structure problems, Mass was moved to the school gym and even then, we sat in the same row of chairs on the gym floor.

Fr. Bill Kalin started the Mass with no indication anything was different. When the time arrived for his homily, he started with, “I just gave last rights to forty-two souls.” There was a collective gasp which spread through the church.

I could see the fatigue in Father’s face as he explained what occurred through the night. Even at eleven, I can remember seeing the ache in the man’s face and the slump of his shoulders as he told us that a jet liner crashed during last night’s storm. The plane came down just north of town in a soybean field owned by Tony Schawang. I don’t believe any of the congregation focused on the Mass after this announcement.

The days that followed, unified conversations were held around kitchen tables, gas stations and counter stools of the One Stop Café or Chat-N-Nibble on Stone Street. TV crews and newspaper people were all over town looking for anyone who might be a witness. The Stephenson Hotel filled fast with relatives and others concerned about the fate of Braniff Flight 250.

Pictures of the mud caked wreckage appeared on TV stations out of Omaha and Kansas City. The local newspaper, The Falls City Journal, ran pictures from the crash scene. Mom and Dad would not let Teresa and I look at the pictures. But as any resourceful eleven year old would, I found a way.

Rumors of a bomb on board began to spread. Every person had their own theory as to what happened. Stories of what was found at the crash scene also became exaggerated in a way that worked their way into local “factual lies.” You heard more than once from people with no knowledge about what happened, “I know for a fact,” and then they would knock out a string of half facts doused with a generous portion of speculation.

I can only imagine what Jim Rider and the other volunteers experienced walking into the mire of a soybean field, slopping through sticky mud that held them back like a scared wives, not wanting their husbands stepping into danger. Or picturing Father Kalin, unaware what he was facing when he walked into a field that hours before was a symbol of profit and growth, was now a stage of dim flashlights, bouncing seemingly in midair disconnected from their handlers. Or, the Schawang family witnessing smoke thicker than morning fog, mixed with steam, jet fuel and more human conversation than the field had ever experienced.

When Captain Donald Pauly and First Officer James L. Hilliker, the crew and passensgers lifted off from Kansas City heading to Omaha, none of them knew Jim Rider, Fr. Kalin, Falls City, or Tony Schawang, but now they all met in the most unlikely meeting place available.

In Omaha, anxious relatives ask what happened. When word spreads of the flight’s fate, more questions.

Where is Falls City? How did this happen? Any survivors?

Volunteers carefully combed the field for the souls who rested splashed by
Continue reading

The Art of Forty Winks

It is almost impossible to watch TV for more than an hour and not be subjected to a mattress ad. If you watch a little longer you will be exposed to various sleep aid prescriptions all of which carry side effects longer than the commercial itself. Or, open most popular magazines and you will find articles on how to achieve the proper amount of sleep, how to fall asleep quicker and wake up more refreshed.

I have one response for all of these suggestions and products.

Amateurs.

When you have perfected the art of napping the way we were trained in the Casey household, all of the sleep aids and suggestions border on the ridiculous. There are tools the true siesta professional utilizes which the market has ignored. No company has launched a campaign to save the Sunday paper and use it as a heat reflecting napping blanket for the forty winks between Sunday morning breakfast and afternoon porch sitting. None of the big book retailers are marketing their best sellers as a sleep aids with the guarantee that minutes after opening the book you will be treated to a relaxing drug free snooze. Lawn chairs on a porch, cool cement floors, and warm air vents on cold winter afternoons, all have the potential to be marketed as sleep inducers, but it is obvious the big name companies research and development people have not caught on.

Napping, in the Casey house, was considered a right and an obligation. You were required to find your own style and posture. Once you had a routine, no one would argue with a proclamation of, “I will get to that after I take a nap.” If a person with evil intent slithered into the Casey house on any given Sunday morning between breakfast and lunch they would think someone beat them to the punch. They would have witnessed bodies scattered from recliners to rockers, mouths open like fly traps and heads contorted in ways one would never hold in a conscious position; a scent of fried bacon, eggs and coffee would be in the air and sections of the Omaha World Herald covering bodies as if purposely placed to cover the most vital organs of the unconscious victims. The only thing missing from the crime scene would be a chalk outline on the living room floor.

Sunday morning forty winks

Sunday morning forty winks

The fine art of napping followed each of us as we ventured out to find our fame and fortune. It also became a quality anyone wishing to spend time with us, was compelled to accept. This can be a little tenuous when your chosen mate does not come from a sleep valued tradition. Fortunately, each new member of the Casey family soon learned it was easier to join the movement rather than fight it.

The best endorsement of this snoozing habit came from one my professors in the seminary. He was a wise man, blessed by God with insight and understanding. He made a statement one day which gave credibility to every nap, forty winks, catnap, and siesta that has ever been or every will be. He said, “Men…(with a long pause for effect,) sleep is a gift from God to those who have a clear conscience.” With that, the sandman and I became close personal friends and together we have embarked on some truly amazing journeys, not always with the best outcomes, but restful if nothing else.

I am a firm believer in the best place to enjoy one of God’s gifts is in His house. It was from the long theological drenched homilies in the seminary that I first learned to appreciate His gift. Each priest would try to out preach the other with their homilies, droning on and on like a senate filibuster. If you were fortunate enough to be seated at the back of the chapel, it was an easy task to roll your handkerchief into a ball that fit between your chin and chest. This gave your head a great resting place and provided a reverent tilt to your posture that appeared to the faculty seated behind you that you were an open receptor to the message being delivered. The only trick, you needed to be conscious enough when the preaching was finished you stood with the rest of your brothers. There were a few awkward times when brothers who claimed, “all for one” let me sleep a few seconds to long while they stood for the next portion of Mass.

With little shame, I still find sleeping in church one of the best snoozes that can be found. It is usually quiet, comfortable and as long as I don’t snore, I am not a distraction to anyone else. However, this is not without embarrassment for Tina.

One Saturday night Mass, I was enjoying a particularly generous blessing of God’s gift of sleep. It was a long day of work and we arrived for Mass very early for the purpose of winding down and enjoying some quiet meditation.

You can imagine what happened.

Within minutes of me saying my hello prayers to Jesus, I was deep in dreamland. We were in our usual Catholic appointed spot, second row from the front, center aisle, end seats. While napping, the church filled behind us to almost full capacity which is typical for a Saturday night. Deep in my relaxation I had a dream in which someone was poking me on my left arm. I am sure you have experienced a dream when what is happening in your dream, is happening outside your dream state in reality, phone ringing, alarm going off, someone calling you, you get the picture. In my dream state I turned to the person poking me, and, in a very agitated voice I said, “What the hell do you want.” Yes, regrettably I said those very words.

Now, I didn’t just whisper this question to my distracter, and no, I didn’t say it just in dreamland, no, I said it with power and volume, to a little altar server standing in the center aisle tapping me on my shoulder. The phrase echoed back through a quiet church quickly followed by gasps and laughter. Tina, sitting beside me slid under the pew with embarrassment and I am sure at that point considered the practicality of an annulment. The little server, looking at me with saucer size eyes and nervous voice said, “Father wants to know if you will read tonight?” As I wiped the drool from my face, I told him I would be back there in a minute. I turned to Tina and it was a very easy read on her face of “I can’t believe you.”

I took my place on the altar, a little embarrassed, but not ashamed of enjoying a gift.

So, you might think this is the pinnacle of sleep embarrassment but it doesn’t stop there.

On one of my many solo trips to Nebraska, my flight was delayed and plans rerouted because of storms and air traffic. A trip that should only take a few hours to Kansas City, turned into a twenty-four hour adventure. Part of the trip back-tracked me to Philadelphia arriving there around midnight.

Midnight in Philadelphia International is a lonely experience. I walked down the gate ramp under the greenish cast of inconsistent fluorescent lights flickering like a set from a cheap horror movie. As I sauntered up the ramp, my tag-a-long clicking over the tiles I believed the next skycap or maintenance man would be Freddie Kruger in an airport uniform. Conditions at the gate were not much better. The lights were out because it would not be used until 8:00AM for my flight. The only illumination was drifting in from the hallway. A peaceful scene of runway lights and rolling aircraft filled the window of the gate and contrasted against the Friday the 13th movie set I was stuck in.

A Nebraska cowboy spirit kicked in from somewhere. I found a row of seats that would double as a bed, fluffed up my computer bag as a pillow and shoved my wallet where I won’t go into right now, slung my tag-a-long over the other end of the row as a place to prop my feet and pulled my sport coat over me like the bed roll it was becoming. The only thing missing was a campfire with a tin coffee pot hanging over it. Thanks to my years of perfecting the art of sleeping anywhere and in any position, it didn’t take long to drift off.

When I woke up the next morning, the gate was packed. Mothers were pointing at the bum camped out taking up more seats than he should and admonishing their little children to not grow up and be like that man. I calmly wiped dribble from my cheek and sleep from my eyes, double checked my wallet, (without giving up its location,) gathered my gear and made a graceful exit. I thought about bowing but that would have been even more inappropriate at the time.

One last story but there are more in my arsenal.

My primary job for the seminary community was managing the photo lab. I was the official school photographer which meant hours in the darkroom. Back in the days of 35mm film, processing was done first in total darkness, then under a red light until all photos were finished. Total darkness, means absolutely no light, you cannot see your hands in front of your face. To accomplish your tasks, you practiced the movements with the lights on, then switched to darkness when you removed the film from the canister.

One night, after a few beers at the local pub, I realized there were rolls of film which needed processed for printing. I made all of the necessary preparations under the watchful eye of the overhead light. When it was time to move to total blackout, I positioned myself in a chair with the intention of loading several rolls at a time. Murphy’s Law kicked in when the lights went out. With two rolls of film out of their containers, the developing canister hit the floor. At this point, no lights can be turned on. After many frustrating minutes, I finally found the mischievous canister and settled back in the chair.

It must have been the beer or the lateness of the night, either way, I drifted off for a little nap. Nothing unusual there. When I woke up, I had no idea where I was. In total darkness what you see with your eyes closed is the same as your eyes wide open. Well, I must have had more beer than I should because the first panic which swept over me was… “Oh my God, I am blind!” and another question immediately followed… “And where am I?” Thankfully, reality settle in and with my heart thumping in my ears, I completed my task of feeding the film into the developing canister and was never so happy to see the dawning of red light.

There are two more stories, one involving a Philadelphia subway and the other a giant pig on a Nebraska highway. If you would like to hear those stories subscribe and send me your email for a personal version.

Right now, I am seriously thinking of taking a nap and I am sure I have caused a yawn once or twice with all of this talk of sleep.

After all, a good nap is….all part of growing up.

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A World Down Under

Grandma’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon; sauce bubbling on the stove and steam coating the windows; a favorite easy chair worn in the proper places with a light beside it that cast just the right amber glow of an old incandescent, which is the perfect illumination for reading well into the late hours; the back porch of the old homestead, (read The Corner of 18th and Morton.) Everyone has a favorite place and most of us have more than one.

Anyone who lives in an old house knows the pros and cons of an old sandstone basement. It is a portion of the house rarely seen by company. There is nothing in these old dugouts worth showing to visitors. It is also where things go that are out of service and forgotten until it is time for the neighborhood yard sale.

Old basements are the dwelling places of the fire breathing monsters that come to life and roar just as you get your hands on the can of cream corn mom sent you to fetch. You hit the first step with the speed of an Olympian and close the door tight behind at the top of the stairs. The upstairs world is much safer but not nearly as entertaining.

The basement is a hiding place from the storms which plagued the plains and it is also what requires bailing out when the rains become so intense and the sandstone turns to sponge allowing all the surface water to poor through its walls.

With all of its challenges, the basement of our old house, is still one my favorite places.

Ours was a sandstone basement with a cement floor. Family legend has it when the house was built over one hundred years ago, the original owners lived in the basement until they could build the upper floors. Under the steps, in the darkest corner of the dungeon, was an old hand water pump remnants of the days when this was the most modern of conveniences, a form of indoor plumbing. The ceiling was a good ten feet high and lined with all of the wires and pipes snaking to the rest of the house.

The steps of the sandstone hole ran nearly straight up from the basement. When you stood at the top it was almost like you were going to jump to the lower level. At the bottom was a landing with three short steps to the basement floor. Somewhere along the line, the steps and railing was painted a light robin egg blue. That color did not show up anywhere else in the house, which leads me to believe it was a purposeful color choice. The walls to the right of the steps were lined with peg board on which held everything from mom’s favorite popcorn pot to dad’s flour infused baking apron. The ledge below the peg board was lined with car waxes that had seen better days, bug sprays, and a few mixtures of Miracle Grow that I think might still be fermenting under the watchful eye of the new owners. Since the house did not have a pantry (that space was turned into a second bathroom) the basement ledge and wall was a sufficient stand in.

The last three steps served as my work bench for many years. I was too short to work at dad’s bench so any sawing or hammering was done on those step using them as my sawhorses. Many kite ribs were fashioned there along with a few homemade skateboards and pigeon perches. Each of the last steps carries scars from my over cuts with the hand saw. Mom was convinced I was going to saw right through the steps someday, but they held up ok in spite of my poor carpentry.

The “ground level” was divided into four rooms, each having its own purpose and history. The main room housed dad’s workbench and several sub benches dedicated to different sanders and saws for his toy making projects. Off the main room was the home of the monster. It sat like Jabba the Hut with tentacles reaching to all parts of the house. It had an opening where you could look into the pit of Hell as it fired up to heat the house. It erupted to life on a regular basis but every once in a while it required dad to pay it some special attention just like Mr. Parker “the Old Man” in “The Christmas story.”

When the house was updated with a new gas furnace, dad and I spent several days dismantling the old furnace. Tearing it apart was like being the victor of an epic battle and now we were allowed in to see the secret workings of the enemy. A few hard blows with a sledge hammer brought Jabba to his knees and we carried him out piece by piece and spread him out on the yard for all to see his defeat. We loaded the heavy pieces in Jim Riders old lime green 1948 Ford truck. (This truck will play a key role in a future story Flight 250) We had the back bumper almost scraping the road when we took the pieces to the scrap yard. My share of the scrap bought my first pair of pigeons.

What was left behind in the basement was now a room matching the size of the main room with the exception of a pit better than a foot deep and almost six feet across. There was a tunnel leading from the pit which was the cold air return when the monster was alive. Dad challenged me to crawl in which I did, making it all of the way to the upturned shaft. After a brief panic of how do I get out of here now, dad talked me back to the light of day but I knew I had been where no man had gone before and never will again. The pit was filled in with cement but the tunnel was blocked to save on the slurry mixture. Someday when the house comes down, they will find the tunnel and wonder if anyone ever explored this part of the planet.

The space left behind was eventually sectioned off and one part became a “Ham Shack” for Tom’s amateur radio hobby the other side became an additional workroom for dad. This workspace was more for finishing work on his toys, making new patterns from ideas he gathered from books and magazines as well as some of his writing and sketching.

At the end of the newly created workspace was what was always referred to as the monstrosity, the real name for it was a Hoosier Cabinet. What was a piece of prairie kitchen luxury with all of its cupboards, pull out cutting boards and flour dispenser, now housed pens, brushes, countless sheets of tracing paper, tobacco and a few pipes.

Dad worked in this space often late in the evenings when he couldn’t make noise with the power tools in the main room. The space was also directly below the cold air return in the “playroom.” When dad would smoke his pipe, the sweet scent of pipe tobacco came up through the gates and if positioned yourself just right, you could look down on dad sitting in his chair working his perfect penmanship recording some of the family history or putting the finishing touches with fine brushes on his latest toy creation.

The main room was where dad’s primary work bench was stationed. Two windows high up on the wall opened to the brick patio on the east side of the house. The windows looked down on the bench like two bright eyes of a face the objects on the wall filled in for a nose and the bench itself provided a smirk of a smile turned up on one end by a large vise. It was a space you walked into bathed with creativity and turpentine. Books lined the wall to the right of the bench. Each book took the creator into a world of ferris wheels, merry go rounds, and wooden puzzles. Tacked to the wall were tracings ready to be moved to wood someday. All around finished toys, boxes, puzzles and various creations sat ready for a new home or a view of the upstairs world for a few weeks, or until mom got tired of dusting.

Dads basement work bench.

Dads basement work bench.

It was from this bench that dad crafted a treasure box presented to me one Christmas. It is not an easy task making a wooden box. Anyone who has worked in a house where they thought the room was square, can appreciate the accuracy of making a small wooden box that meets on all corners. This box has lasted through countless yearly cleanups, moves, and numerous fits of “should I keep this.” The purpose was to place things inside that I valued. Over the years that changed but in writing this, I pulled it out to see just what remained. Some items I can tell you with no hesitation why I saved them, others I have no idea other than it had some importance at one time.

wpid-img_20141202_072304184.jpg

Creations from this bench have found their way across much of America. In later years when there seemed to be more visitors to the house, the inventory of wooden toys, and other creations began to find new homes. Many times dad was asked if he would sell his creations but that was a process he refused. However, if you wanted or admired a piece it was yours. As Teresa’s friends started spending time in the house on college breaks, dad would bring his latest construction up from the lower level. This usually prompted a visit down under to see the rest of Santa’s workshop. When a piece left the house it fulfilled two important roles. It relieved mom of having to say, “When are you going to start clearing some of these out? and…it made additional space for a new model.

You could leave the basement by way of the outside cellar door. You need to understand in the Casey vocabulary, there is a difference between a cellar and the basement. If you wanted to go into the basement you went down the death defying steps through the downstairs half bath. If you were going to the cellar, it was outside, open the cellar door, never called the basement door, and go down the always cold, slimy wet steps to a “cellar way” which was actually the space under the back porch. Along the cellar way you passed a window to nowhere, once again a remnant of days when they lived in the basement. This was probably their only real view of the world while trapped in the subterranean chamber.

At the end of the cellar way was the door leading into the basement. It was childproof in that you had to have reached some level of physical maturity to be able to bust through the door as it swelled shut with dampness and stretching of old wood. The cellar way was the safe haven from storms. Many nights we were rousted from bed to the sounds of sirens blaring a warning of approaching storms. Huddled in the cellar way you could hear the rain slamming the porch side of the house and an occasion crack of a branch from the numerous Dutch elm trees lining the 18th street side of the house. Once the all clear was signaled, we made the trek back up the incline and worked on trying to get back to sleep.

In 1973, the basement took on a new character. A deluge settled itself over Falls City and the rain came as if it was trying to float the Ark once again. It was a late August storm which sometimes is Mother Nature trying to get her last licks in before Jack Frost moves in to claim his territory. This makes for a lot of showing off among the nature gods. Well, the old basement had enough of this and gave up the fight. Water poured through the sandstone with more fury than the mighty Missouri River at spring thaw. What was the area of the old hand pump became reactivated from the spring underneath. Water poured through the walls and bubbled up from the floor. The bucket brigade of Caseys trying to bail a sinking ship and dodging lightning bolts when pitching buckets outside would have made a good 60 Minute segment. Bucket after bucket carried across the floor, up the cellar way, pitched to the yard, repeat…turned the haven of peace and relaxation into a cement swamp of floating sawdust, never to be used again bath towels and grass brought in from the yard. The next day, I loaded up with fourteen other guys from Nebraska and took off for a seminary in Kentucky. The rain of the night before was quickly climbing back to its homeland as steam from the August heat. The folks were dead tired, Teresa was spent, and I was just ready to start a new adventure. Scared as heck, but ready.

It was, all part of growing up.

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The Corner of 18th and Morton

 

No one speaks.

There’s no need, there is enough other conversation going on.

Crickets are chirping signaling a muggy night. Nighthawks screech in their search for high-flying insects. The ghost of a breeze blows across legs, tickling as well as refreshing. The wind brings with it a mildewed perfume from the journey over the Nemaha River.

A coal train out of Colorado passing through on the way to an eastern seaport, blows a horn as it comes to the Fulton street crossing south of town. The tap click tap click of the wheels crossing the joints talks back to the crickets. The train fades, passing through cornfields surrounding town.

A chain on the empty flag pole in the neighbor’s yard across the street sends a sporadic ping as the draught convinces it to move.

The fragrance from a bowl of tobacco makes the rounds of those gathered for the evening. The earthy smoke gives a hint of fall, a season still far off.

Occasionally a car passes. Not fast, just passes.

….That is what a night on the Casey back porch was like.

Back Porch

Back Porch

All of the stories which I have shared so far dealt with events. Actions and situations are what shape our lives and let emotions live outside our bodies. From the comments, which I cherish, I know the stories have triggered happy memories for readers. Now, I am going to change it up for a couple of weeks and talk about special places that fashioned my growth pattern.

I invite you to share in the comments section your favorite places or the secret corners you retreated to.

If I could visit one room of the old house it would be the back porch. The room was screened on all sides and supplied with the most comfortable chairs of the house. It was easier to fall asleep on the porch chairs than it was on the living room sofa.  Mom guarded those chairs with more care than her indoor furniture. Every year they received a thorough washing down as well as a nightly rub off with an old wash cloth that was stored by the back door. Like any good screen porch it had a screen door with a spring when stretched played its own distinctive tune.  If you didn’t catch the door on its return, it would wake the cat-napping residents with a loud slap. I believe mothers across the country share a common phrase which I heard over and over, “Don’t let the door slam.”

A set of wind chimes hung in the corner. Over the years they became pitted from acid rain and dents from windstorms. When you called home to talk to the folks, who were usually on the porch, the chimes would invite themselves into the conversation. Their music seemed to improve with natures shaping and each season they played a different tune.

The porch floor was made of tongue and groove wood that was painted dark green every couple of years. Sometimes mom took on the job but most of the time it fell to dad. In later years the task was surrendered and old bones and arthritis won the fight preventing the usual maintenance. When we finally sold the house after dad’s passing, paint was peeling and the porch deck lost much of the gloss of the latest painting.

Between the two chairs was a small round stand covered on top with a left over piece of the kitchen linoleum. Permanent items on the table were dad’s pipe of the day, a fingernail file to manicure his perfect nails, the ashtray that looked like a rubber tire from a lawn mower (which found a way to my smoke stand) and a newspaper folded around the crossword puzzle that dad would work on until the day’s light faded.

Mom’s contribution to the porch were a few potted geraniums which she nursed through the hot summers. A blue plastic watering can was kept in the corner where a broom stood at parade rest waiting for the next order. Sitting beside this working class team was a plastic jug filled with the latest concoction guaranteed to nurse the geraniums to their full bloom. I think each year mom tried a different potion. To be honest, each year looked just as nice as the last.

The porch faced due south with the east and west sides being just as open as the front. This openness gave the porch perched participant (say that three times fast) full view of the neighborhood of Morton Street as well as the activity in numerous backyards. On the porch you were blessed with an unobstructed view west of the traffic on highway 73 and a good perspective east up 18th street towards Saints Peter and Paul Church.  If nothing was happening in any of those directions your entertainment was in the backyard which was filled with the attics of rabbits, the high wire acts of the squirrels and the popular bird bath along the back walk. The bird bath was the great critter equalizer. It was like the watering holes of the African Serengeti. No creature dared violate the code of fresh water which belonged to everyone, although, I do believe a few ornery blue jays tapped on the kitchen window from time to time wondering when dad was going to refill the bowl.

Looking up 18th Street

Looking up 18th Street

If you positioned yourself just right on the porch, you could command the neighborhoods coming and goings like Oz behind the curtain. If Mrs. Young across the street let her dog out, that was logged. If the guy renting the apartment down the street above Butch’s grandmother’s place pulled out, you knew he was making a cigarette or beer run. The people living in the old Saul place on the adjacent corner all worked different shifts. One would come home, park the pickup and within minutes, it was moving again for the next shift worker. There was never a need for a clock on the porch. The neighbor activity was as reliable as a sundial.

On summer days, before air-conditioning, the porch was where you went to feel some real air. When the folks grew older and blood became thinner, they would retreat to the porch to warm up while the rest of us weaklings opted for the fake air of the house. There is a fact about Nebraska and that is the wind always blows. It is not always a cooling breeze, but at least it is air moving. Wind in Nebraska feels like turning a blow dryer on your face. On the porch you could at least position yourself to feel some of the breeze over your sweaty skin. On hot days you were often accompanied on the porch by metal drink tumblers filled with ice water or lemonade. I think they kept drinks colder than any modern attempt at insulating. The cups themselves would sweat as much or more than us. By the time you finished your drink, you had a trail of drips up your shirt from the wet tumbler as well as a substantial puddle on the table.

The Casey porch was a family room, counseling center, neighborhood gathering place and also a place you were confined to if you deliberately violated one of mom’s rules. More than once I heard the words, “If you get off this porch before I tell you, you will be in bigger trouble.”

The porch was the place to enjoy mom or dad’s dessert of the week. The dessert menu was always planned in the house well before the main courses. Dad made sure there was always a bread or a batch of cookies, mom covered the pies and cakes. Dessert was considered as much a part of the meal as pass the salt please. For that reason, it was always served before the kitchen was picked up and the dishes washed. No fancy trays made their way to the outside. Every person carried their cake and coffee delicately balancing them passing through the door to the porch. Once outside, we settled in to monitoring the neighborhood activity until someone declared bath time. At that point the porch population would come and go depending on whose turn it was in the tub. When a freshly bathed family member returned, they declared a ritual saying, “Now I am the cleanest one in the house.”

When mom passed, the porch lost some of its attraction. Dad kept up the porch tradition. He maintained his chair and the geraniums with the same attention that mom would extend. As Teresa and I would come and go spending time with him, the porch was a retreat with him. Teresa and dad would share a love of reading while spending time together on the porch. Dad and I would share the evening smoking our pipes and every once in a while, he would share a childhood memory maybe evoked by the gentle roll of tobacco smoke.

Francis Casey and his pipe

Francis Casey and his pipe

The night before dad’s funeral, as a family, we all gathered on the porch for a true Irish wake. Combinations of alcohol, stories and booze inspired philosophical declarations carried us well into the early morning hours. The porch was put to rest in the same way as the last of the Casey clan would be the next day.

Time spent on the porch was… all part of growing up.

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Midnight 911

If you have never attended Midnight Mass you are missing a beautiful event. Next to Easter it is one of the most anticipated celebrations on the calendar. Regardless of the denomination, Easter and Christmas are the two days when the churches are packed with parishioners spilling out to the aisles.

Midnight Mass is also one of the most decorated of all the Masses. The sanctuary is adorned with pine, poinsettias, trees and other trappings of Christmas. In many churches, the transformation from the repentant Advent season morphs into the beauty of the season almost overnight by an army of volunteers. Those volunteers are proud, rightfully so, of their accomplishment. All of this work adds to the beauty of the celebration.

As a young altar server, to be selected to serve at this pinnacle of the season was an honor and as you can imagine…my story unfolds from here.

I started my career on the altar when we were still required to memorize the Latin prayers. Sister Marie, (from the blog “Your Hand will Stick out of the Grave 10/10/14 fame) was the examiner testing our proficiency with the prayers. You didn’t step on the altar until she gave her approval.

Once you mastered the Latin responses and went through the drills to learn your duties and positions on the altar, you were placed on the schedule of Sunday and weekly morning Masses. The early morning Masses were the real challenge. It meant getting up well before normal school time and then walking up the four blocks to church in the dark. If you were dependable in these early mornings, it wasn’t long before you were moved up the scale of serving at funerals, which got you out of a couple hours of class and put you in line for an occasional wedding on the weekends.

I soon turned altar serving into a for profit position. I was the server called on for funerals, weddings and special occasions. The pastors, of which I went through three in my tenure, soon turned to me as their master of ceremonies for all of the liturgical events. It was my responsibility to make sure everyone knew their place, the altar was ready to go, and we had enough personnel to carry out the celebration. For this service, I was usually slipped a few bucks by the priest, the family of the bride or the local funeral director.

Not a bad part-time job.

The first Midnight Mass of my MC career arrived. The church was decorated with Christmas trees on each of the side altars. Poinsettias were in every nook and cranny of St. Peter and Paul. The back altar with a carved wood back drop climbed to the ceiling. Injected at each level was a shelf holding a candelabra surrounded by poinsettias and the statues of the patron saints, Peter and Paul.

As midnight drew closer the church filled from front to back, quite opposite of the usual pattern of Sunday mornings. The church was dark with the exception of the red sanctuary light which cast a strange glow on those in the first pews. Around 11:30 the tradition of the living Rosary started. Students from the high school would walk in carrying blue or red votive candles depicting their role in the rosary decades. When it was over, the church took on the warm glow of mixed colors blended with the soft sounds of the choir. The atmosphere that inspired “Silent Night” settled on the whole congregation.

The time to light up the altar arrived. As the oldest server, and also the tallest, the honor and duty of lighting all of the candles fell to me. The candles on the lower front altar were no challenge. As the candle flames multiplied, so did the light cast from the sanctuary.

The next task was the candles on the back altar. Again, those on the lower back altar proved to be easy to light. Now it was time to tackle those on the next level.

With the candle lighter extended to maximum length, I was able to reach the highest candle by stretching myself out to my longest length.

Now if you employ a little knowledge of physics you can understand some of the dynamics of the actions that follow. When you have a pole reaching out six or seven feet, movement of several inches at one end transmits to twelve inches or better on the other end. If you stick a flame on the end of it, it now looks like a bouncing tongue of flame in the darkness.

With a full church behind me and nothing more for them to do than watch this process, I had the congregation’s full attention. Mothers grasped fathers with vise grip fear while they covered the eyes of sleepy little children with their free hand. The bouncing flame moved from one candle to the next each time coming closer to the dry wooden altar façade. Each level up required more of a stretch and with each stretch the ability to hit the target candle lessened.

With one miss swing the flame touched the leaf of the closest Christmas flower. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that poinsettias are not flammable. A collection of ooOOs and aaAAHHs rose from the crowd behind me. You would think they were attending the July 4th fireworks, not the December 24th holy celebration. The poinsettia went up in a flash and in my mind I pictured the entire back altar going up in a blazing apocalypse.

Thank God, this was pre-cell phone days. I am sure the thumbs would have been hitting 911 before the first leaf went up. Once again my guardian angel was tested. He must have flown up and with one mighty blow, extinguished the flower as quickly as it erupted. A blackened pot sat there as obvious as a black dog in a snow storm. This was fortunately the last of the candles to be lit. There was nowhere for me to hide. I only had one recourse and that was to retreat to the sacristy with the hope that Fr. Chonta was not paying attention to the congregation’s reactions.

All was fine until the opening procession for the Mass. As we approached the altar Fr. Chonta had to be blind not to see the glaring charred pot sitting under the statue of St. Peter. Being the saintly man that he was, he never mentioned the obvious eyesore. I think we were both secretly thankful St. Peter was a rock and not one of the wooden statues of the side altars.

Midnight Mass was…all part of growing up.

Altar Boy

By James Metcalfe

“Garden of my Heart”

(One my mother’s meditation books)

 In cassock and surplice white…He takes his privileged place…To serve the priest at Holy Mass…With reverence and grace…He kneels and stands with folded hands…And piously he shares…The Latin words and phrases of… Profound liturgical prayers… He moves the missal and the cloth… He sounds the altar chimes…The designated times…At benedictions he is there…To swing the censer high…And waft the fragrant incense to…The angels in the sky…He is the acolyte of God…Whose special time is spent…In serving Mass and being near…The Blessed Sacrament.

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Behind Closed Doors

The stories many could tell about what went on behind the closed doors of their homes could fill volumes. To select which of those stories to share or better yet, which stories are shareable is a delicate task. Parents cringe when children start to tell a story that borders on “too much information.” I have little doubt people wondered what went on behind the doors of 1804 Morton Street. Few stories leaked out through the cracks of casual conversation because as kids we were well trained in the art of what happened in the house stayed in the house.

Mom and dad were not real social butterflies. I can’t recall people coming by the house for parties or the folks visiting friends just for the sake of a visit. Mom never worked outside of the house so there was never a meeting of work colleagues or business meeting in the house. She did a stint as a 4-H moderator which at times filled the house with an occasional ban of teenage girls. During these meetings I was required to stay in the basement. I don’t know if this was my mom’s rule or my sister’s request. There must have been an Igor like quality about me that they wanted to hide.

Dad worked a split shift at the Post Office and was a member of the local National Guard unit. Like mom, he never had a reason to have work buddies at the house. We heard the names of the other carriers but never really put a face to them. While dad was with the guards he helped with the Explorer Scouts sponsored by the guard company. This pretty much sums up the extent of the community outreach from the Casey household.

A visit by a relative to our house was a rare event. Even the few that lived in Falls City were only seen at Sunday Mass, funerals and an occasional catch up conversation at the local Hinky Dinky grocery store. The exception to this was mom’s sister Aunt Betty. She was good for a weekly visit to the house. Aunt Betty would pull up and I knew for the next two hours the house would be filled with the smell of cigarette smoke and coffee. Betty would go through numerous cigarettes while mom downed cups of coffee poured from the green glass percolator on the stove. While this was going on, I would sit listening to these two sisters complain about their siblings, recall stories about their parents and share recipes back and forth.

Neither mom nor dad’s families were big on reunions. Mom’s family tried to have a few reunions but that soon fizzled out or maybe they just stopped telling us when and where they were having them. If you asked me to pick out relatives in a line up, I would be hard pressed to identify the right suspects.

Allow me to illustrate:

One summer day while home alone, the phone rang with the disturbing ring characteristic of the old rotary dial phones. The caller said, “We are from California and we are just passing through Falls City and Rose Schlosser said to give you a call and say hi.”

I politely informed the caller that they must have the wrong number, and that we did not know any Rose Schlosser.

Within minutes the caller rang again. This time they verified they were calling the right number. In the most polite way I could muster, I assured them that we did not know anyone by that name.

That evening, we were sitting around the supper table just having casual conversation. I shared with the folks the strange phone call I intercepted while they were gone. I told mom and dad I reassured the caller that we did not know any Rose Schlosser.

Mom, sitting to the left of me, was getting that look on her face of, “Oh no, my special son has struck again.” With her typical calm but you knew your where in trouble look she said, “you idiot, (this was the only time I ever heard mom use this word) that is my sister in California!”

How was I to know? I never heard about her and I certainly never met her.

You know, I don’t ever recall hearing about her from that point on either.

When holidays came around we never had to round up extra chairs and there was no such thing as needing an extra freezer or refrigerator to store large amounts of food. Occasionally we were visited by one or both of the grandmothers but even that was a rare event. Most often it was the six of us around the table enjoying a simple holiday meal. Mom was not into any fancy dishes and it wasn’t until I married into my wife’s Italian family that I found out there was more food than turkey and ham for holidays.

We did however celebrate holidays and special occasions in ways that would make those around us wonder what was going on in our house. St. Patrick’s Day was always a special day in the house. On St. Patrick’s Day the house was loaded with shamrocks, leprechauns and green top hats. Dad would bake his special Irish tea bread served with orange marmalade. Mom would set out cold cuts, cheese and crackers and we were allowed to drink a whole bottle of root beer or cream soda. To make the day even more special, dad would fly the Irish flag from the back porch and place stereo speakers in the upstairs window with the goal of filling the neighborhood with Irish melodies.

Halloween was another special day in the Casey house. Dad was always cooking up something special for the day. One year between the characters he created and the sound effects produced by Tom, there was very little candy passed out. You could see mothers and fathers moving their little goblins across the street to safety.

For several years in a row, the Casey kids took top costume prize in the annual Halloween Parade. The costumes that dad created in his basement workshop were some of the most anticipated creations of the season. Of course we won’t go in to the details of dads little disturbing the peace incident years ago at a local parade. Let’s just say it involved a costume that the horses didn’t like. His defense, the riders should have had more control of their horses.

Two of dads Halloween creations. Teresa and Brian

Two of dads Halloween creations.
Teresa and Brian

Despite some of the evil and twisted tendency you might be attributing to the Casey clan from the previous stories, we were for the most part a spiritual family. Prayer was always a part of life and I am sure it is what inspired my years in the seminary.

The four weeks of Advent season leading up to Christmas was probably the most solemn and challenging for the Casey spirituality. Every year at the start of Advent mom would drag the Advent wreath from storage. She took special care in decorating the base with pine and pine-cones gather from the area. Once it was set up, every evening after supper, we would retreat to the living room to pray the rosary. All the lights were out but as the weeks progressed, the room was filled with more light as additional candles were lit marking off the days till Christmas. Dad would lead the rosary saying the first half of the prayers in a droning monotone, (that I wish I could hear today) followed by our response to the second half of the prayer.

This appeared to be a very pious ritual. If someone was spying through the windows they would see this religious family gathered together around the holy candles praying.

That is what they would see.

What they didn’t see was Tom, who was quite adept at making shadow puppets, expressing his talents on the opposite wall. They couldn’t hear the snickers which we were able to contain until about the third decade of the rosary. From that point, an infectious laugh caught us all and no one could stop laughing in the darkness. I don’t remember if it was dad’s determination to get through one full rosary that broke us up or if it was Tom’s wall antics. If the peeping tom stayed at the window, they would see there were very few times when the rosary was completed in one sitting.

These are memories we share as a family. Memories that people outside the walls maybe suspected but never had enough courage to ask about. For us, it is what made home so special and leaving it so hard.

Years ago I thanked the folks for creating a childhood filled with so many memories that it was painful to leave behind. I always felt a little sorry for my friends when they claimed never to be homesick.

For me, being homesick was the best compliment I could give to my parents.

It was after all, all part of growing up.

 

The Last Leaving

 Our old house watches as we pull away for the last time.

The furniture is gone.

Mom and Dad are gone,

Their souls stand at the window.

 

We all know this is the last leaving, but no one has the courage to speak.

 

The old girl knows she will be alone on cold Nebraska nights.

Her eves droop as she wonders;

Who will watch out for me when the storms blow?

Who will I protect?

Who will dress me for the change of seasons?

 

She stares at the back of the car like a kindergarten student left on the corner waiting for the bus.

She knows we won’t be back for her and life will be different.

She has done her job well.

The flowers around the foundation reach up to hug her trying to convince “it will be okay.”

The new oak in the front lawn doesn’t understand.He is too young to know what is happening and giggles his leaves as he waves his lower branch, “good bye, see you again.”

As we pass the last block before the highway, her handkerchief shade flaps reluctantly like a loved one waving good-bye.  She dips the shade back occasionally to wipe a tear from the corner of her door.

Good-bye kids she whispers through screens.

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