I wasn’t able to work on my 52 Ancestors story this week, so instead, I’m sharing something different with you.
I started writing “Sunday Stories” years ago. This is my way of sharing history with my family and descendants, the kind of history I wish I knew about my ancestors. The daily, “what was my life like” kind of history.
I’ve been rather lax lately. My family doesn’t know it, but the 52 Ancestors articles ARE their Sunday stories for right now. Still, from time to time, I write a separate Sunday story when something strikes my fancy. This week, I’m sharing my Sunday Story with you in the hopes it will inspire you to do the same.
Years ago, a man named Mickey used to write Sunday Stories about his life in Italy before he immigrated. He faithfully took the hand-written letter to a copy machine every Monday and mailed a copy to each of his children. Many didn’t even bother to open the envelopes – too busy – just threw them in a drawer. Some even lost them. But when Mickey died, all of a sudden those letters became precious, to the point that the kids had to make a list to see who had which letters and if any, God forbid, were entirely missing.
Mickey would have smiled. I don’t know if he had a father’s intuition and knew that’s exactly what would happen – but he told me he knew they weren’t being read when he sent them. That made my heart sad for him, because I knew how neglected and unappreciated he must have felt.
I saw what happened in Mickey’s family after his death. It was actually kind of humorous in a sad way – all the frantic scrambling. I know they all wished they had paid more attention to Mickey when they had the opportunity.
I decided that Sunday stories were a wonderful idea – and it really doesn’t matter that they aren’t read today, even though I hope they are, because I’m writing them for posterity too. Someday they’ll be read, maybe….and if not…it wasn’t for lack of trying on my part.
Just One More Summer Sunday
What I wouldn’t give for just one more summer Sunday.
Not that Sunday’s were particularly special on the farm, it’s just that we were all home on Sunday. Even if we had moved to town, everyone came home on Sunday afternoon. We talked and joked, sometimes played games like gin rummy, aggravation, dominoes and Yahtzee, and did whatever needed to be done. And we ate, of course. Life on the farm revolved around eating.
No one ever talked about coming home on Sundays, or planned it particularly, it’s just what we did. It evolved. Everyone looked forward to Sunday family time to catch up with what everyone else in the family was doing. It was Facebook face to face.
Sunday afternoons in the summer in Indiana were hot and sticky and uncomfortable. Fans were involved. Sometimes a completely ineffective electrical fan for the entire house, and always, personal fans being waved back and forth made up of anything that moved air. Magazines, cardboard, whatever.
So we sweat together. Sweat bonds people, ya know.
We also cleaned green beans together and shucked corn together, sitting on the metal glider under the old maple tree out back, with the corn silk sticking to our hands and arms because we were “moist,” as my mother used to say. Women didn’t sweat, for Heaven’s sake.
We took the kids along and picked out the best watermelon or musk melon from the melon patch that we had planted one Sunday afternoon in the springtime and brought it to the house. If it was particularly large, the child rode in the red wagon to the garden and the child got to pull the wagon back to the house with the melon in tow. Often, we cut the melon outside to keep the mess out of the kitchen – plus – it was cooler out there in the shade.
We always had a “slop bucket” where any food waste, like melon seeds and rinds, got deposited with a splat. After dinner, we got to go out and feed the hogs who had been looking forward to the slop bucket “treat” since we began the food preparation process. Hogs are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. They knew.
Dad had an old red barbeque grill with the paint peeling off from years of cumulative heat. He put charcoal in the bottom and lit it using lighter fluid with enough time left before “dinner time,” which was lunch on the farm, or “supper time” which was late afternoon, about 5, for the charcoal to ignite, burn bright, then burn down to grey ash with the heat inside. Dad somehow magically knew when the coals were “about right.” Then he put the burgers on the grill. It was a long, involved process and you could easily die of hunger waiting! It didn’t make any sense to me that the coals were better for cooking than the fire, but I’ve learned a lot since then about cooking heat and the fires of life as well.
Before Dad had the red barbeque grill that we got him for one Father’s Day, he had an old barrel cut in half with some kind of grill or wire thing that he had rigged up that sat across the top. Sometimes food fell through the rigged mesh into the charcoal, and you just picked it back up with the tongs and put it back on the grill, after brushing it off of course. If it was too bad, it went in the slop bucket. Nothing was ever wasted.
Much of our life on the farm was “rigged up,” but we never viewed it that way. Today I look back at all of those things Dad made personally and cherish them along with the time he took to make them. Then, they were just life, the way it was and what we did. Nothing special.
Mom and I made the hamburger patties inside and put them on plates and took them outside to Dad to grill. Yes, we used the same plates to bring the grilled burgers back inside, and no one died or even got sick. We made potato or macaroni salad and cut up whatever vegetables were ripe in the garden. By August, we had fresh corn to shuck and together, at the table, after one of the children said Grace, we ate buttered corn on the cob, grilled hamburgers and fresh warm tomatoes from the garden. Life couldn’t have been better. To us, then, it was just normal. Nothing unusual or special.
We chatted about what happened during the week, plans for the next week, school, teachers and oh yes, about the crops, what was ripening next, or was wilting in the heat…and rain, always rain, or lack thereof. It was a farm, after all.
The women discussed who was dating whom, who was potty trained, who was sick, what was on sale this week in town, and church doings of course.
Everyone talked about funerals, births, who bought a new car, or far more exciting, a new tractor, and who was going broke – and in farm country, someone was always going broke.
Oh, and pass me another burger and some of that “mater” too please…
There is absolutely nothing like a plump bright red tomato, fresh picked from the vine, warmed by the sun and sliced, its flavor exploding with the juicy hamburger and a slice of sweet onion too.
Sometimes we had buns, sometimes not – depended on how much we could get at the grocery that week for our $20 bill. Sometimes the choice came down to chocolate or Oreos or buns….and let’s just say that we often ate without buns.
And speaking of chocolate, the best was yet to come. Dad planned ahead and sometimes, on particularly hot Sundays, he would make homemade ice cream for dessert. He churned it by hand, the churn sitting on the back step. Actually, we all took turns since it was no small task and your arms got tired really quickly. He always helped the kids and absorbed way more than his share of the work without anyone noticing and without saying one word.
Because making ice cream was a slow process requiring patience, dessert usually happened about mid-afternoon.
We always made banana ice cream. It was Dad’s favorite, so somehow it became the entire family favorite. No one even suggested any other flavor – ever. That would have been heresy…and besides that…no one even thought of it.
I remember company one time asked about chocolate ice cream and we all just stared at them like they were speaking a foreign tongue we couldn’t comprehend. They said they didn’t like banana ice cream. Mom told them they would like this banana ice cream, because it was “special,” and that was that. I don’t know if they liked it or not, but nary another word was spoken about other flavors!
It seemed like it took FOREVER for that ice cream to set up. And the more you had to crank, the hotter you became, and the more you wanted some of that ice cold ice cream. Sort of seems self-defeating doesn’t it – but ironically – no one ever tried to get out of their turn at the crank. Everyone thought it was fun – a novelty – at least for a little bit – until your arm got tired. Then Dad would come over and “spell you for a bit,” because that’s just the kind of man he was. In reality, we were all “spelling” Dad for a bit, giving him a little break, but we though we were really doing something special!
After what seemed like an eternity, the ice cream would be declared “done,” Dad would crack open the churn and we would finally get to eat the ice cream, whether it was done, meaning set up, or not. Sometimes it was nice and hard. Sometimes it was more like soft serve and I distinctly remember once when it was almost runny, more like pudding, and Dad suggested we put the lid back on and crank some more. He got soundly outvoted and we ate the ice cream just the way it was…with one important addition of course…chocolate topping.
But not just any chocolate topping. Nosireeeee…special hot fudge topping.
You know those buns we sacrificed? Well, instead we bought chocolate fudge topping and then we “doctored it up” by heating it and adding both bittersweet dark chocolate and fresh percolated hot coffee until the fudge topping was thick and rich, but not too sweet. I know, that doesn’t seem to make sense, but it was TO. DIE. FOR.
I wish I had taken some pictures of those days, but back then, picture developing was an expensive luxury and photos were saved for “special occasions,” like when my grandmother’s last living sister, great-aunt Eloise, visited.
Note that by this time, the walkway to the outhouse, visible behind the garage, was semi-paved and Mom and Dad were wearing “good” summer clothes – translated to mean not threadbare and no holes or large stains – at least not that my mother spotted or my Dad would have been sent to change:)
Even though film and developing was expensive, we did of course take photos at Christmas, birthdays and when we had “special” company, but Sunday afternoon on the hottest day of the summer, sweating, eating burgers and cranking ice cream on the farm was nothing special, so not one picture.
Nothing special at all.
Oh, what I would give for just one more summer Sunday afternoon at home with Mom and Dad on the farm….