Monday, October 17, 2011

Gert's Flowers

Anyone who walks by my house might notice these yellow flowers which bloom each fall, usually while the other blooms of most plants are dying off.
I've had many people mention that in the past.
What I think of each year when I see them budding is Gert.  Well, I think of Gert and the fact that winter will be here soon.
Gert and her husband Charlie lived next door to us when I was growing up.  I was about 10 when they moved in. I was very busy with my hula hoop.
They were the old people; you know, probably in their 50s.
Our dog, Smokey, made a point of traipsing back and forth between our house and theirs and getting in all the extra attention from Charlie, who would sit on a seat near their side door and pet Smokey for hours. Of course, they added doggie treats to their grocery list because of Smokey. Charlie had health problems and had trouble with breathing, so he'd sit and talk to Smokey and watch us play.
After working in the yard lots of summer nights, my parents would be invited over to Gert's house, where she would offer coffee or cold drinks and some snack, such as cheese and crackers, or some other treat.
I remember that Gert had lost a daughter who came down with an illness and passed on.  I think she said the girl was about 12.  Gert was always proper and kind and I always remember her using the phrase "Oh, you don't want to do that....because"  Being a kid, I began to think that she was being bossy, stepping over the line, telling me what I "didn't want to do".  Other than that, I thought she was very pleasant and caring. I realized later that it was just a phrase that was a part of her speech.
There was an incline on her land, which led up to our yard. My parents tried to get me to head down our steep driveway, down to the street, then up Gert's driveway, just to walk about 50 feet.  I thought that was ridiculous; but my parents didn't like me or anyone walking on their grass.  And that would be considered impolite to walk on Gert and Charlie's grass, also.
Speaking of Charlie, he always told me his stories of when he was in World War I.  He's the only person I ever knew who had been in the service such a long time ago. He'd get out this clear paperweight and show me the metal bullet encased in the middle.  He never even knew that he had it lodged in his back for years.  As he got older and complained about pain, some doctor found that he had a bullet in his back, and removed it.
We had no fence at all, then a split rail fence that separated our property lines for years.  Then my father came up with the idea.  He was going to have a fence company come down and fence in the entire back yard in stockade fencing. (privacy fencing) I know that we didn't need to fence in any animals, or fence anyone out; but that was his new idea of how the yard should look.  The plan was to use the tall privacy fence across the back yard, then coming down to the side yards, the fence would be lower, slanting down; but it was still stockade fencing.
I can still remember Gert's pleas: "Oh, Jim, please don't do that.  How will I get up to the back yard to sit at night?  Could you have them put a gate there, please?  Please don't fence that area in."
A poor, older lady, clearly disturbed because she had made a series of steps from her back yard, up to our back yard, with flowers on each side.  Now she would have steps in her back yard leading to nowhere but the blank wall of a stockade fence.  But my father wouldn't give in.  He wanted that style of fencing in the back yard.  I guess it didn't occur to my parents that it would be more difficult to go out and sit on summer evenings if the steps from Gert's yard to ours were closed off.  That, and how ridiculous it would look in Gert's yard to have steps made from railroad ties securely put into place and surrounded by beautiful flowers...leading to nowhere. I guess it just didn't matter to them, because the fence was installed as planned.
They still visited on summer evenings and had their snacks, but the convenience of a quick walk to the other yard was diminished.
After I grew up and got married, I only saw Gert a couple of times.  She was always pleasant and encouraging, as she had been when I was young.
When she heard that I had my own home, she uprooted these yellow flowers which bloomed ferociously at her house, and sent them, via my mother, over to my house.  I gladly planted them under my front window. That was in 1976.
They bloom every fall, and every fall I look at them and say "Gert's flowers are blooming, before we know it, it will be winter."
Then I heard that in the winter of Gert's life she lost her other two children.  First her husband, Charlie passed on with his breathing problems worsening, and he is now petting my Smokey in Heaven, I like to think. Gert's son died of cancer.   In her 90s, Gert was residing with her daughter and one day her daughter died.  I think she had a stroke.  I remember that she told my mother that she called to her daughter and when she didn't answer, she went up to her daughter's bedroom and found her slumped against a wall.  I remember that she said to my mother, "Oh, it was awful!"
Gert lived a few more years after that, having reached close to 100, as her father had done before her.
I don't know how many people remember Gert, or think of her anymore.  I always think of her politeness, caring and kindness....and how that fence, that damn fence just shut her off from our back yard so cruelly.
I've passed by those flowers each fall, growing under my front window, and they are a reminder.  A clock ticking, in a way.
Now I am one of the "older" ladies in our neighborhood, just like Gert was when I was a child.
I think of her each and every time that those flowers she sent me begin to bloom.
I planted the few uprooted clumps that she sent to me and they have spread in a line, under my front window.  The house has been painted, stained, shutters added and the front window has been replaced, with workers stomping in that area with work boots.
But it's fall again, and Gert's flowers are still blooming , reminding me of a lot of things--mostly of her kindness.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dear Blog....I've missed you.

I used to take the time to check my blog almost daily and try to keep up with the latest on here.
Now, it seems that I am taking that time and relaying the information on Facebook to people there.
Sorry, little blog.  I will try to make amends.

So, recently I spent the week at my daughter and son-in-law's house while they were away.  I took care of their dog and cat and brought in the mail.
I got to spend more time with their elderly cat, who is going on 16 years old, and their American Mastiff who is 5.

I found that she dislikes the TruGreen Lawn truck and man who drives it, and that had I opened the front door, she would most definitely have taken him down in a heartbeat.
She is a good watchdog! (and BIG)

I had a quiet week while my family was walking around Disney World in Florida.
I decided to have a nice lunch ready for them when they arrived back home.  They were very hungry when they returned, so that worked out perfectly.  I went to the store ahead of time and made a favorite recipe in my daughter's crock pot, when I finally found it.

That chicken recipe is to put boneless chicken in the crockpot (I always boil mine a little first).  Then mix up a bowl of one envelope of onion soup mix, a bottle of Russian salad dressing, which is sometimes hard to find.  It is sort of a peachy color and I keep that in mind when scanning the grocery shelves for that dressing.  There's Italian, French, Honey Mustard, Oil and Vinegar, Spicy Italian, Vinaigrette, Ranch -- and so on.
There are regular dressings and fat-free.  I have given up reading the labels when looking for the Russian dressing.  I just scan row after row, looking for the color of the bottle.
Finally, at Hannaford, I reached behind a Ranch dressing bottle, and there it was!  The last one.

OK, so back to the preparation:  In a bowl, you mix the onion soup mix, the Russian dressing and a small jar of apricot preserves.  Pour this mixture over the pieces of chicken in the crock pot and cook on low for several hours. You could do 6 hours or so; but like I said, I do boil the chicken a short while before I start, so I didn't need that much time.

I like to serve this with rice, although Pennsylvania Dutch noodles would be great, too.  And I made some fresh green beans, which I love -- for a vegetable.  When you scoop the chicken out of the crock pot, do make a point of scooping out some of the sauce to put over the chicken on each plate, and it is especially yummy to put a little over the rice, too.

Our two year old asked for seconds, and our 7 year old was caught licking her plate!  I was happy to see this, because sometimes children are a little standoffish about eating a new flavor, or trying a new recipe.  Most children just eat white rice, either plain or with a little butter on it.

We had them at a Chinese restaurant one time and the kids ordered the white rice.  The waitress said to them "Just like in China -- the kids only want the white rice!"