The Graciousness of Trees

Down to her frillies 3

I grew up climbing trees. I loved to sit in them to read, and later when I was a teen, sneak up and smoke a stolen cigarette while reading. I appreciated their bounty too, as well as their presence. The many kinds of apples in my grandfather’s small orchard, the four kinds of pear trees in the garden, the raspberry bushes I was allowed to pick from were an important part of my growing up. I was always surrounded by growth and nature.

I realize now that I was extremely fortunate in having this small territory belonging to my family in which to adventure. Safely ensconced on the outskirts of a small town, the land where I grew up had originally been developed and built on by my great grandfather, an amateur horticulturalist. He died before I was born, so I never knew him. However I grew up with its many and various trees as well as the fruit trees, the lilacs and the roses he planted.

His gardens were extensive. His daughter, my Great Aunt Alice with the help of a gardener kept it all going. He certainly had plenty to do, and occasionally had another man to help him. The chickens provided fertilizer and the vegetables were very tasty.

Most fortunately I had the freedom of a good number of acres to roam around in as I pleased. I was given this from the age of around six or so, and I felt quite safe and free. There were lots of kinds of trees to climb. To my mother’s despair I probably ruined more clothes than the average girl, tearing them on branches or staining them with pine pitch and bark. I lived in the country and there were no neighboring children for me to play with. It was as though the trees I climbed and played around were my big friends. I have always been grateful for their company.

My father was a horticulturist by profession. Working for a tree company he supervised the care of the trees and plantings of his many clients.  He would have  the recent articles about how trees communicate with one another and even how they protect one another from invasion by noxious insects. Trees, like animals, deserve more of our respect than they have had in the past. Researchers estimate that if every city dweller spent just 30 minutes per week in nature, depression cases could be reduced by 7 percent.

Trees provide for life on earth, and have been influential in its evolution from the beginning of life here. Scientists have lately begun to understand more about trees’ ecology, studying the way they learn to survive and to thrive in difficult conditions. As we have learned that animals, birds and even insects exhibit signs of intelligence through their behaviors and use of tools, we have gained in respect for them. Now it is the turn of trees. Grinding them up to make paper may become a thing of the past. Trees are sentient beings and perhaps one day we may even learn to speak their language.

 

Summer Through the Years

Diana's Pond ReflectionsAs a child I so looked forward to school vacation and the freedom it brought from discipline, homework and schedules. Whenever weather permitted, my time was spent out doors wandering around the rather large property where my parents and I lived. It belonged to my Great Aunt Alice, whose father had built the grand house she lived in now, as well as the cottage originally intended for the gardener. That was where I, and later on my brothers and sister lived. There was a broad, open field to roam in, trees to climb, and a small marsh bounded by a dyke that kept out most of the distant seawater.

Wildflowers grew in abundance, insects buzzed and birds called. There were trees to climb, and I also spent time high in their branches, reading. I called it my tree house and brought pillows to the platform I had wedged into my favorite tree, a big beech. Summer was a time to play. The property held plenty of room for my imagination to conjure up all kinds of adventures like the ones in the stories I read: Tarzan, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales, and the legends of Greek heroes.

Time passed and I was a young mother. Summer meant days at a nearby beach watching my children play in the sand and splash in the waves. Fortunate to be able to stay home with my children, I hung the laundry in the sun, worked on my tan, and took the them to the local church fairs, the annual carnival, and whatever other amusement the season offered. We had picnics and explored the highways and byways of surrounding towns. Later there were softball and then baseball games they played in to attend. The work of motherhood became a kind of play in summer.

Fast-forward to a different kind of summer life, with a swimming pool to clean and care for and a large garden that took me almost as much time to look after as the children did. Still it was a delight to share the pool as well as the garden with visitors. I didn’t mind the weeding too much, or pruning the shrubs. It was an adventure to tackle the wild rose vine I planted for its delicious scent, without realizing the consequences of its rampant growth. I never knew how many would be sitting down to any meal, because people came and went as I practiced my hospitality. Summer held a different kind of play.

My summers have changed again. With age comes less tolerance for extreme conditions. My bones enjoy my home’s warmth in the cold but not its heat in the muggy weather. I appreciate air conditioning far more than I used to, and I spend much more time indoors than I did in the past. While the long summer hours of light are enjoyable, the effect of the heat on my mind is not. Labor Day signals summer’s closing. Once I welcomed its beginning with open arms, now each year I am more appreciative of summer’s end.

Assumptions are Deceiving

Bell at Wilbraham best I was fortunate to be able to go to a small private school located in an old mansion with lovely grounds. I had gone to the kindergarten in a small, separate building built especially for that purpose. Now I was excited to be in first grade, going to the real school with the big kids. Because the school was in a nearby town, and my dad needed our only automobile, my parents paid for me to ride with others in an old station wagon driven by the school custodian, Mr. Clews.

There was plenty of room on the grounds of the school for swings, seesaws, and a large wooden slide that was packed with snow for sledding in the winter. As well there were places to play hide and seek. All this surrounded a large white building at least three stories high with four columns in the front.

There were long granite steps going up to an impressive front door that opened onto a grand hall with a double staircase curving down on either side of the central fireplace. The principal’s office was in a small room on the right of the door. The secretary’s office with the small school library was on the left.

While at five I was a bit young for my class, I was excited and happy to be learning to read and write. In my small school the first grade was made up of perhaps ten or twelve boys and girls. I can still see the classroom: the desks, in rows of three across and four down were made all in one piece. They were green metal with light brown, slightly curved plywood seats.

High on the walls were long black cardboard strips of the alphabet and the numbers one to nine. There was a green blackboard, and there were two large windows on one side of the room. We learned to read from small boring books about children called Dick and Jane and their dog Spot. We were also given arithmetic workbooks. When I looked at mine I noticed that a mistake had been made and with all of my five-year-old diligence I set out to correct it.

As I looked at the workbook and judged from what I had learned so far, I saw that on pages later in it, something had been left out: the long part of all the plus signs. I took it upon my self to correct these incorrect plus signs, carefully crossing them one by one with my pencil. Unbeknownst to me they were not supposed to be plus signs. I had not yet learned about subtraction, only addition. To my dismay when we got to those pages I had a lot of erasing to do.

This may have been my first introduction to what can happen when I act on an assumption rather than from actual knowledge or understanding. It certainly wasn’t my last. All my life I have had to deal with my tendency to leap to conclusions without looking carefully where I might land. However, as I got to know myself better, watching for this tendency has been helpful in training my mind to pay attention. The problem with assumptions is that once one discovers one has messed up one must invariably clean up the mess.

Tasha Halpert

An Easter Basket of Memories

Rabbit in Cabbage 2On Easter my family usually went to dinner with Great Aunt Alice. Until my sister was born when I was 8, I was always the only child present. Aunt Alice had several toys she would bring out to amuse me. One was a little truck loaded with colorful blocks. They had letters, numbers and pictures on them. Even now I can see that red and yellow toy with a string to pull it by. The bed of the truck was loaded with the blocks, and I was always careful to put them back when it was time to go upstairs to dinner.

The other toy was a very special, ancient rabbit that lived inside a head of cloth lettuce. When it was wound–only adults were allowed to do that, and the golden knob on the side was pulled out, the rabbit head would emerge, extend itself and turn. Its ears would rise into the air. Then it would chew on the small piece of cloth lettuce in its mouth. When it finished, it would retract into the cloth lettuce with a little snap as the ears went back against its head.

I thought of that rabbit when I was contemplating what I would write for this column. I wish I had it now. I remember my children being shown it when they were little. Though I don’t know if they remember it the way I do. I loved patting it. It was covered in soft, white actual fur. It did not play music or do anything more than just that. I believe it had been in the family at least since my Great Aunt was a child. when I was contemplating my column and it leapt vividly into my mind as though I had seen it yesterday.

Once we arrived and took off our coats, the adults stood around and drank cocktails, while I had ginger ale. Aunt Alice, who favored simple appetizers, always served a plate of peanut butter on crackers and there were also nuts in a bowl. Too young to read, I sat on the big rug and played with the blocks. Dinner was served upstairs in a large dining room. The oval mahogany table gleamed with silver and cut glass. The platters and bowls of food were brought in by women in black uniforms with white aprons. There was usually soup, then a roast and vegetables, and finally, dessert, followed by fingerbowls to dip fingers into and cloth napkins to dry them with. My treat would be the chocolates for after dinner, something we never had at home. My mother did not think it was healthy to eat candy and never bought it.

Time is a strange accordion. It can compress decades into years, and years into moments. I can see so clearly the large thick rug I sat on to play with the alphabet blocks and watch again the white bunny with the pink glass eyes rising up out of the faded green cloth leaves. It looks so real as it turns its head, the ears rise into the air and it chews on its bit of green cloth. I can feel again the soft fur as I pat the head and the ears, stiff with wire beneath the fur. What was only yesterday has added itself to now creating an Easter basket of memories for me to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

The Three Bite Rule

When I was growing up there was no such thing in my family as not eating what was put before you, or of getting up from the table before you had finished what was on your plate. The “starving children in China” statement was applied whenever I protested. I learned to swallow pieces of liver as if they were pills, with gulps of milk. However I was unable to cope well with the frequent soft boiled eggs, and finally my mother stopped giving them to me. I have memories of sitting at the table staring at the egg in its shell in the egg cup in front of me. That was one battle I won. Not until I was an adult did I learn to like soft boiled eggs and I never did learn to appreciate liver.

My mother built her cooking around my dad’s taste, so much of what we ate was pretty standard. She believed in providing nutritious food, and though plain, it was. Despite the fact that she really didn’t like to cook, she understood that providing nourishment is an important aspect of caring that nature has built into mothers, and she did her best. All too often family members, like me as a child, do not express appreciation for the family cook’s labors in the kitchen. Though it didn’t occur to me as a child, as an adult I personally think they might be grateful someone has taken the trouble to make a meal for them to eat.

As regular readers of my column know, I have always enjoyed cooking. I find it satisfying as well as enjoyable. One aspect of this is that I prefer to prepare meals from scratch. Some might be surprised to learn I don’t own a microwave, nor do I wish to. I even like chopping food by hand rather than using a machine, peeling my fruit and vegetables, and doing all the hands on work that is required to use completely fresh ingredients rather than prepackaged ones. I do not claim that this is particularly virtuous on my part. It is simply my preference.

This is because putting myself into the meal is part of my joy in the creation of it. My energy goes directly into the chopping, the peeling, the mixing and the stirring. This is my purposeful contribution to the health and welfare of those I love and fix food for. I am fortunate to have an appreciative husband who enjoys whatever I prepare. I had one once who wasn’t and his influence on our younger children made quite a difference in what they were willing to eat. He was a meat and potatoes man and we were on a casserole budget, so complaints were often made. Yet being hungry he still ate whatever it was.

I tried to make interesting meals, and I used to tell my children they had to eat three bites of whatever I served them or I would make them eat the whole thing. Fortunately young children are not logical and none of them ever figured out how if they wouldn’t eat three bites, how could I get them to eat the whole thing? I even did this with their playmates and guests. Today one of my delights is to introduce people to foods they may not have experienced–at least not the way I prepare it. However, I don’t tell them they must eat three bites or I’ll make them eat the whole thing.

Tasha Halpert

Salad and casserole 3

Recipes Can Be Useful by Tasha Halpert

Kitchen ImplementsSometimes I use recipes, sometimes not. I have loved to cook ever since I was a small child when I made up mud and berry pies and added dandelion fluff for decoration. I had a spot in the lilac grove on one side of our yard where I kept my play dishes and utensils. When the wind blew, the boards for shelves I stuck between the branches would fall to the ground along with my dishes. That was a most unsatisfactory pantry. I did not learn to cook with real food until after I was married. . My mother did not allow me to make anything but salads and brownies. She did not consider me responsible enough for meal preparation.

These days in my kitchen a heavy magnet holds a collection of recipes to my refrigerator. There are always more of them than I can reasonably expect to attempt. Some, when I go over them as I must do from time to time will prove too time consuming. Others will require ingredients I don’t have on hand or want to invest in. Still, when I first saw them I had considered making them, and might even have done so were I inspired to.

Every few months, when the collection is beginning to outgrow the magnet I go through it. Then I discard those that, while they seemed tempting no longer appeal to me. Then I generally pull out one or two of the remaining ones to try. Some will become great favorites and get written into my spiral recipe notebook or pressed into the pages of a loose-leaf notebook that holds the recipes I have accumulated over the years. I truly enjoy cooking and like many who do, have collected recipes for most of my adult life. I also create my own recipes for that spiral notebook.

My husband and I are fond of garlic. One day I invented this recipe for fried eggs that is now a real staple. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Cover the bottom with three or four large sliced garlic cloves. Turn the heat down to medium low and break in three or four large eggs. Place fresh basil, cilantro, or in a pinch parsley leaves over the eggs. Cook until whites are firm. Carefully divide and turn eggs over. Cover with slices of your favorite cheese. Take from heat and cover. Let cheese melt, then serve to two.

Mushrooms and eggs go beautifully together for supper. Beat three or four eggs with two tablespoons of water. (Using water greatly enhances their flavor.) Add fresh herbs to taste, or even dried ones. I like tarragon, thyme is lovely, as is parsley or sage. Add a half a cup of cheddar or Swiss cheese squares to the eggs. Melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Slice in 4 or 5 mushrooms of medium size. They should cover the bottom of the pan. stir and turn until they render up their juice and are cooked through. Add and melt another tablespoon or so of butter. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the mushrooms. Turn gently as eggs cook until they are done and serve to two.

The Peddler Woman, Childhood Days A Childhood Reminiscence

Me and mama by Bachrach I was a young child during World War II. As I look back I realize this was a time of great change in American society. Not only were we fighting a large scale war in far away countries, but we were also changing the way things were done at home, especially if one lived in the country as opposed to the city. By living in the country I mean living where if you wanted to purchase anything that was not delivered to the door, you needed a car. Of course there were various catalogs, however for everyday shopping most of what we bought we purchased from the local stores. The internet did not of course exist.

Because like most people we had only one car my mother could not get out to shop all that often. My father worked as a salesman and he usually needed the car to get around. In addition, gas was rationed so no one used it thoughtlessly or took trips just for the fun of it. On Sundays, all the stores were closed. That pretty much left Saturdays and the occasional afternoon when my dad would work at home catching up on paperwork, for my mother to shop anywhere we could not walk to. Living where we did, that would mean a couple of miles trek, and with my short little legs that would have been unrealistic.

Milk was delivered, and ice for the icebox with the pan that accumulated water underneath that had to be emptied regularly. Eventually the milkman added bread to his supplies. In addition there was a woman who walked from town to town lugging a large suitcase with all sorts of small items for sale. She sold what might be termed “dry goods.” The dictionary definition for dry goods is “textiles, ready made clothing, and sundries.” She always stopped at our house. It was exciting for me when she did.

I can still see her coming into our living room and opening her big suitcase. In it were needles and thread, buttons, handkerchiefs and occasionally something rare in those days: nylons. They had seams, and were shear unlike the cotton stockings that were available. My mother would buy thread, pretty hair ribbons for me, and sometimes cotton socks. In the winter the peddler woman sold woolen gloves and hats. In the summer she might have carried the sun bonnets my mother insisted I wear to protect my fair skin.

How different the world is today. The end of WWII brought in a new era in so many ways. How little understanding children growing up today must have of what it is like to buy from a peddler woman, a strap over her shoulder, clutching the handle of her suitcase as she walked from town to town with her notions and dry goods. I don’t remember when she stopped coming and we went instead to the big stores in Beverly to shop. It could have been around the time we got an electric refrigerator to replace the zinc lined icebox by the kitchen door. When one is small, time dissolves into timelessness, and memory delivers images not dates.