Monday, February 27, 2012

Waxing Nostalgic

It's so important to remember where we come from - the people who gave us life and how their lives affected ours. With that in mind, I share with you such people and times from my own very early life. I hope you don't mind.

Back in the late forties and mid fifties, California was the Promised Land for a lot of Americans. People from all over the United States moved there in droves. My mother and father decided to make that move so our family could have a better life. At the time we were living in northern Minnesota on the Iron Range.  

To pay for plane tickets, Dad spent eight months in Greenland where the U.S. Army had contracted with civilians to build an airstrip. He was able to send home enough for my mother to buy us our first TV. We kids watched Pinky Lee and Howdy Doody. Mom loved Playhouse 90 and the United States Steel Hour. When Dad returned he bought a used Plymouth because he was driving to the West coast with his brother, our Uncle Vern. They would find a place for us to live and get the lay of the land.

Dad had us kids all excited about going to California. He told us about the huge orange groves, the year-round nice weather and a new amusement park called Disneyland. He had a way of making everything seem like a big adventure.

Because I was so young and had this big adventure looming, I guess I didn’t realize what we were leaving. Mom’s folks had a small farm and my dad's sister, Aunt Dee, had a house on Swan Lake. Both places were loads of fun for us kids.

Aunt Dee’s place on the lake actually had two houses, the ‘big house’ and the guesthouse. The big house had a huge kitchen and a living room with a fireplace and a glassed in porch. Wide cement steps led down from the porch to a volleyball court and then to a patio with a big stone barbeque. The dock went about 20 feet out into the lake.

We loved to swim, too, but were afraid of leaches or "bloodsuckers" as we called them. Aunt Dee put salt on them if one of them attached itself to an arm or leg. We’d try to scare each other silly by yelling bloodsucker!! whenever we saw one darting through the water.  The best thing though, was when there was a big cookout going on.  Aunt Dee entertained a lot and her husband, our uncle Tubby, made the best ribs! He really was tubby from partaking from his own excellent cooking and his real first name was Toivo, Finnish in origin, and his Americanized nickname suited him well. When he was at the helm, you knew you were in for some good eating!

The big house also had a sauna in the basement. Being of Scandinavian descent, it was a natural thing for us to go into the steam bath where a big drum held hot rocks. When water was poured over those things billows of steam filled the little room where we sat on wooden benches. We'd hunker down in our swimsuits until we couldn't stand it. Then we'd give each other the eye and charge up the basement stairs running pell mell to the dock where we'd hold our noses and plunge into the lake. It made us feel wonderfully tingly and clean all over.

My uncle also had a nickel slot machine in the basement. We'd beg for nickels so we could pull the handle and maybe win enough money to go to the drug store for a malted milk. The drug store was called Oja’s and we could walk to it from the lake house. Of course that hard earned malted milk was un-surpassed and they always gave you the shiny shaker with the extra bit that wouldn't fit into the glass. Maybe that was our bonus for walking to the store. Sucking it down with a fat paper straw was bliss!

My mom’s folks lived on a small farm just outside of Grand Rapids. I especially liked it when the spring vegetables were ready in the garden. Grandma Blaine cooked them in butter and cream. She had a separator in the kitchen and used the cream right from there. She also did a lot of canning. There was a big trap door in the floor outside the kitchen that led down to the earthy smelling cellar where Grandpa had lined the walls with shelves for the jars. They sparkled like jewels and it was always fun to go down there and pick out a jar of peas or carrots for supper!

The farm also had an outhouse, a two holer. Once, when my younger sister, Sharon, and I went out to use it, a garter snake greeted us when we opened the door. You never saw two little girls high tail it back to the house so fast in your life! I didn’t have pee for hours and hours after that. My bladder probably grew two sizes that day.

Grandpa had a few cows and also had a springhouse where he kept the milk cold. One time I did venture out with my Aunt Doreen, who was only four years older than me. I remember how mysterious it seemed to be in the cool dark building and hear the stream rushing around the metal milk cans. There wasn’t anything for kids to actually do in there, but my curiosity was satisfied, so it was worth the trip.

Eventually with the help of her family and many sad goodbyes’, my mother managed to get us all packed and onto the plane, headed to our new life. There were four of us kids and Mom was pregnant with our brother Jim. I'm still astounded at the courage it must have taken for her to make that trip! We left Minnesota on a snowy day in January and arrived many hours later in sunny Southern California. I still remember walking down the steps onto ground that wasn’t frozen. Dad was there to greet us and couldn't wait to show us around. I was young and excited and all ready for our big new adventure, but I’ll never forget the wonderful times we all had before the Promised Land.  

Image: Idea go                                    

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