Memories of simpler times growing up in the 50's and 60's filled my thoughts and my "Dear Babyboomer" blog was born. And..through illustrating many of my posts my "Dear Babyboomer" card series was born. I hope to introduce them here. I hope you will enjoy my memories and will feel free to share some of your own!
Family Camping....what a romantic idea! Bonding—building teamwork-facing challenges together–getting close to God's creation....economical... well...
Preparations for our first camping trip as a family in 1964— destination Lake George, N.Y.— were almost as exciting as the actual trip. Very characteristic of my dad, (Mr.Sawdust) we were going to do this right! One Saturday he escorted my six brothers and me to a large Army-Navy surplus store in Manhattan, a forty minute drive from our home in Upper Montclair, NJ. These stores were equivalent in the 60's to the sports outfitters of today. Each of us was fully equipped with a comfy flannel lined sleeping bag, a denim duffel bag, a compass, a whistle and a flashlight. Every purchase was multiplied nine times-the clerk was loving it! We filed out of the store wearing matching tee shirts and white sailor caps. ...Now if that wasn't a classic scene for the makings of a great family musical! We had collapsible canvas water buckets, even a portable toilet with a curtain for the utmost privacy. All we had to do was dig the hole. After careful consideration, figuring how much room the nine of us (..and the dog) would need for sleeping, Dad purchased a tent that would house a circus. Tents back then were not made of lightweight nylon. They were made of heavy canvas so this tent was not only huge but weighed a ton! I remember the center pole was about nine feet tall when the two hardwood poles were assembled. But not to worry—dad and the boys had built a car top carrier that was so big it would easily transport all we had purchased that day...and much more. It extended the entire length of the top of the Dodge wagon. My dad's excitement was contagious! By the time we returned home that night I felt like I had already been on vacation. The actual camping trip turned out to be much more exciting than that trip to the city for supplies; in fact, it was far more exciting than Dad could have possibly anticipated. That "great family musical" was about to become a hair raising drama. Dad was always proud to have the family together, crowded into the big Dodge station wagon, along with the family dog. Our basset hound, Boots accompanied us on this trip, claiming his spot behind the driver’s seat. He’d position his stubby hind legs on the edge of the back seat and drop a paw over Dad’s shoulder. Hanging his head out the window, he’d let his long, pendulous ears flap in the breeze. He would rest his head on Dad’s shoulder when the ride became wearisome. “How many kids have you got there?” attendants would inquire curiously as we stopped for gas. “Seven! Six boys and one girl!” he’d reply. “She must be treated like a queen,” they’d inevitably respond. It is remarkable how many times I heard that growing up. I guess it was, in fact, true. Taking my place in the middle of six boys, with the understanding that any mistreatment of the one daughter would result in an unhappy situation, made me feel like somewhat of a princess in a strong fortress. I’m sure my “special” position was resented at times, especially on nights when Dad found an interesting movie on television. I would sit up on his lap eating popcorn, slide down from time to time and run up the stairs. “Now, you boys go to bed! We’re downstairs eating popcorn.” I’d skip eagerly back down the stairs. They loved that, I’m sure. Yes, we were well equipped, no doubt, but totally unprepared for the violent storm that blew up and threatened to relocate our enormous tent in the middle of the night. I can still see my Dad leaning the weight of his entire body against the massive wooden center pole, in an attempt to keep it standing. The large canvas tarp that had been attached to the pole at the peak of the tent was being hoisted by the winds. Lightning flashes revealed our frightened faces as we sat clutching pots and pans to catch the dripping water. Thoroughly exhausted from the night, we left the soggy camp site for a site-seeing drive the following morning. The day was damp and chilly and it actually felt good to be back in the crowded station wagon—dog and all. Dad still had his sailor’s cap on, pipe in his mouth, clenched securely between his teeth. He was no doubt a bit shaken by the storm, but didn’t show it. He was still ….on vacation! We drove until lunchtime. “Well, what do you say we head back to….wait a minute—I know where we are! We’ve got to stop up ahead. We’re at the Ausable Chasm!” There was that whisper of suspense in his voice.
Note: See the USA the Easy Way put out by Reader’s Digest describes the Ausable Chasm as follows:
“Here sheer walls of rock rise some 200 feet above the rushing waters of the Ausable River. A tour of the chasm includes a 3/4 mile hike on dangling suspension bridges and winding walkways, past plunging waterfalls and raging rapids, culminating in a boat ride through the swirling waters.
We received a few instructions. I was to keep the dog on his leash, Mom had my youngest brother Chris close by her side. Bruce, Jeff, little Wally and Carl were to follow Dad. We climbed carefully down some boulders, wet and slick with moss, not an easy feat for a basset hound. We could hear the deafening roar of the mighty rapids, rushing furiously due to last nights storm. Soon we could see for ourselves why Dad had made the stop. It was breathtaking!
As we stood together looking warily down into the chasm, I recall my Dad’s words, “I seriously doubt a man could fall in there and come out alive. Let’s head back.” With that, he turned to leave. Seconds later, my brother Bruce, who had been mesmerized by the water, was falling headlong down into the rapids. It was one of those moments in time when you are awakened with a jolt from a terrible dream, so relieved—but this was not a dream. “BRUCE FELL IN!!” I screamed, straining to be heard above the water. Without a moment’s hesitation, Dad made his way to the edge and jumped in. I could see Bruce’s arms flailing out of the water as he was tossed around and pulled under by the rapids. Within seconds, my mother made her way to the edge, jumped in and was pulled down the river as well. I grabbed as many little hands as I could and walked along the chasm, hoping to see all three, remembering all too well my Dad’s ominous words. Would they come out alive? What a wonderful sight it was to see my Dad, sailor cap still on his head, and—I kid you not—pipe in his mouth, standing beyond the rapids in an alcove of rocks, embracing Bruce and Mom. It was a very tearful, thankful, crowded ride back in the station wagon. Bruce cried the loudest however. Thankful, yes, he had not lost his life, but a comparable tragedy to him — he had lost his harmonica. We sat quietly at the picnic table in the stillness of evening, humbled by the day. “Do you see this frail little mantle in this lantern?” Dad asked. We gazed in to see the delicate mantle providing the only light in the campsite. “That is how frail our life is. In one second, it can be taken away!” We were dirty. We were tired. We were sick of being on vacation. But the following morning we filed into the nearest church we could find, just to say, “thank you” that we would all be heading home.
This picture of Boots and me was taken while swimming
in lake George-the day before the incident at the Ausable chasm.
*No wonder my teacher thought I was telling tales when I returned in the fall and turned in my “What I Did on My summer Vacation” essay....and hard to believe there would be a second family camping adventure.
...not in the sense you might think of when I say..."romantic." For example—my kindergarten teacher's name was Miss Bowers. She was up there in years but I did not know it at the time because she smiled a lot and dressed so colorfully. Our bus driver's name was "Mr.Pickle." (I assumed he was old because he was bald) At the end of second grade, Mr.Pickle asked Miss Bowers to marry him. She said "yes" and she became Mrs.Pickle—the kindergarten teacher.
...see what I mean?
But back to kindergarten...early in the spring that year, my older brother Bruce went to his Saturday Cub Scout meeting dressed in his little blue uniform, yellow scarf around his neck, held secure by a little metal ring with a wolf engraved in it— (boy was he proud of that!)
While he was there, he found an injured bird hobbling in the grass. It was a gorgeous red bird with black wings—a Scarlet Tanager. Its wing was injured and it was unable to fly—easy prey for any lurking cat.
I remember him returning home with the bird in a Buster Brown shoe box. He named the bird "Flair" and over the next month Flair became a part of our family. Each morning we would wait at the end of our driveway for the school bus. Flair sat perched on top of Bruce's head. Mr.Pickle would stop, throw open the bus door and smile from ear to ear—delighted at the sight! Flair spent the school day on Bruce's shoulder, patiently watching as he worked. Now today I'm sure there would be a dozen reasons why Flair would not be allowed in school—"fleas...bird flue...the other children do not have a bird like Flair to bring to school..." but in the 50's Flair was more than welcome! After school Bruce sat and watched his afternoon shows—Claude Kirschner and his Terrytoon Circus-cartoon show...the Mousekateers with Annette and Cubby. Flair sat on top of the television set perched on the rabbit ear antenna until they were over.
Weeks went by. Bruce hoped Flair's wing would heal and he would be able to fly again someday —until that day actually came. Each day we would take turns running across the yard with Flair perched on our hand, to see if he would try to fly. One day my brother Jeff took his turn and Flair took off! Bruce was not happy. He wanted to be the one to see Flair off. Flair sat high in a tree top looking down at us, then up toward the sky—hesitant, as if contemplating what to do. Then he was off! Though we always looked for him, we never saw him again.
I'll bet there are a number of Baby Boomers today who remember the year a Scarlet Tanager rode the bus to school with them and attended third grade.
....now tell me that's not a romantic thought!
(my dad with Flair-we all loved him!)
Update February 7, 2017
Thought it would be interesting to post an update on the little Cub Scout-Bruce Kunkel. From the time he could hold a pencil, we knew that he was an artist. If you Google his name "Bruce Kunkel-Gibson Guitar" you will be able to see some of the stunning guitars he has created over the years at the Gibson Custom Shop in Nashville. Here is just one of his many creations:
....Most days started and ended in front of the medicine cabinet, whether it was a school day or Saturday. The medicine cabinet was the place we ran to following those cateclysmic bicycle crashes, to doctor up skinned knees with that wonderful red Merthiolate and half a dozen Band-aids. There were always one or two gruesome scabs on our knees and Mom was right—they did get better before we got married. It was where our mom sent us when we complained of a headache or toothache or sprained ankle with the instruction, “Take an aspirin!” Our moms were wiser than even they were aware of …we’re still being told to "take an aspirin"! And of course we could always find the Vicks-VapoRub there for when we had colds. A little Vicks rubbed on our chests, a cup of hot chocolate—and seven days later we were just about all better. Dad kept his shaving cream and razor in the medicine cabinet and when he left for work in the morning the bathroom smelled delightful—Old Spice aftershave.. Now this was a wonderfully care free time of life but there were some disturbing thoughts that occasionally entered my mind. I knew that my dad disposed of his used razor blades in that little slot in the back of the medicine cabinet made especially for the disposal of used razor blades. You can't see it pictured here, because the door isn't opened wide enough, but it's there.
*....What was going to happen when the wall was FULL of razor blades?!
And I was not the only child haunted by that thought.
*...and that childhood fear has come to haunt us—take a look at this picture taken recently by a Fort Worth Texas home inspector!
(note: the Merthiolate bottle in the medicine cabinet above is the actual bottle that was in my neighbor's medicine cabinet when we were kids...)
Christmas Eve as a child in the 50's was always an exciting night—wondering what we would find under the tree in the morning. Would we awake to a white Christmas? That was always very important to me. This memory—Christmas 1956—is a special one to me.
O come all ye faithful. Joyful and triumphant, O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem.....My eyes were drawn to six stockings hung beneath the mantle and quickly matched each glittered name with a brother singing his very loudest, carols reserved especially for this night. As we encircled the piano, Dad played with purpose, "This is the real meaning of Christmas, " each resounding chord reminded us. Tomorrow at the first glimmer of dawn we would find each stocking overflowing...just as my young heart felt at this moment; my brothers, Dad and Mom, Christmas eve...what more could a five year old girl want? I glanced out the window behind the piano into the night so still. Snow was falling silently, draping our familiar world in soft flannel...It would be a white Christmas for sure!A muffled voice broke through the darkness, as a stranger lost in the storm, desperate for someone to hear. Faintly it came. The playing stopped as we stood motionless, hoping to hear it once again.
"It's a BOY! We have a BOY!"
Dad threw open the window and a gust of chilly winter air swept in the joyous news. Little Nanny Lucy leaned out our neighbor's window, waving her arms ecstatically, heralding the birth of her great grandson. Jimmy John would be a welcome addition to the family of three daughters! Waiting hot chocolate topped off the excitement before heading up to bed.As I lay awake gazing out at the full winter moon I pondered the words we had sung.... "Joy to the world...The Lord is come...Let earth receive her King..."An only son had been born tonight, bringing joy which could not be contained. They wanted to share it with the world...Kind-of like the angels so long ago. God's only son, born on a night such as this...Yet more than just a babe he was...
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
I thought back a year remembering my oldest brother pointing out the silhouette of Santa's reindeer crossing in front of the moon out my window. I was sure I saw it too! How could I sleep? But this year was different.I closed my eyes and slept so peacefully...
I was not looking for reindeer..
....for I had heard the angels sing!
Christmas morning I was thrilled to receive the most beautiful doll I had ever seen.
I was always told she was a large Madame Alexander Doll-but I'm not sure that is what she actually was. I'd love to know!
Update: In August 2011, I received a pleasant surprise. One of my brothers, with the help of a friend found a doll like the one I remember after months of searching. It was like being reunited with an old friend!
This is not my usual light-hearted "nostalgic" post—though the hero I will be writing about is a Baby boomer.
This memory is one I must write about today, October 25th.
It was a day much like today—autumn, sun shining, leaves covering the ground, though the trees not completely bare. Normally, a day I would consider to be among the most beautiful of all the days of the year. But this day began for me at 3am with a phone call—that call we all dread—a police dispatcher on the other end of the line. Of all scenario's I could imagine—the one that was about to unfold, was set aside in my mind as one I could never face. I went to bed at 11 o'clock and woke up at 1am realizing my husband Ed was still at our office two miles away. He had taken his motorcycle and gone in to fix the computer system that was down. He said it might be a long night—it had to be up and running by morning. Our employees were in the middle of a big job that had to ship the following day. I was wakened again at 3am to the sound of a Medevac helicopter. It sounded like it was about a mile away, "Oh my God, he's not home...is this it?" I just found myself praying, "...have mercy on my husband, if this is for him, please spare his life!"
Within a short time the phone rang—the state police dispatcher, "Is this Mrs.Walsh? Your husband has been involved in a motorcycle accident. He has some head injuries and is being Medevaced to the Lehigh Valley Trauma Center. I'm sending some officers to your house, can you give me directions?"
Within minutes two state police officers were walking toward my front door; one holding Ed's helmet and the other his back-pack and the shirt he had been wearing, shredded, in pieces. My son Chris had come upstairs and when he saw them coming started crying, holding me. "We have to be strong for each other," he said. For the first time I started to panic.
The officers told me he had a leg injury and head injury but could not tell me how serious it was. They also had no idea how the accident happened. There was no deer, no car, he had not hit a tree; but there was glass all over the road. They were going to investigate and get back to me.
I went to see Ed in the hospital and amazingly, his injuries were not life threatening. He did, however, break his neck; but thank God it was in such a place that it did not kill him or paralyze him. He had a puncture wound to his shoulder, 50 stitches on his right knee, several broken fingers and dislocated toes. His right side was hit pretty badly, but no broken legs.
While Ed was in the hospital he got a call from a lady, also named Mary. She was so interested in knowing how he was and how badly he was injured. He remembered very little about the accident and she told him this amazing story.
She said she runs a little drive through coffee shop a few miles from here. Every morning at 2:30 she picks up bagels for the business and opens at 4am. She said she was driving down the road which was very dark, very dimly lit and saw what she thought were garbage bags, perhaps dragged into the road by a bear. She slowed down to avoid hitting them and realized it was someone lying face down in the middle of the road with pieces of a wrecked motorcycle all around him. She pulled off the road, put on her 4 way flashers, called 911 but realized if this person stayed there he was going to be run over by a car. As she got out of her car a truck drove by dragging a piece of the bike underneath. He stopped his truck, removed the piece from beneath it—and kept going. She said she went through thinking about how you're never supposed to move an injured person—would she be sued—but then determined she HAD to get him off the road. She tried to talk to him, explained that he had been involved a motorcycle accident and she had to get him off the road. He told her he didn't own a bike—but his leg was injured. Somehow she had him lean on her and use his good leg to help her get him off the road. This was all happening while about ten cars flew by, none stopping to help her. The ambulance arrived, took over and the police told her to "move on," not realizing what she had just been through. She was so traumatized she couldn't drive.
That's not the whole story...
The police determined that this was a hit and run. The glass all over the road at the scene of the accident was from a car. Ed had hit the car and smashed through the glass with his head. Ed did recall riding down the road that night and seeing a car coming in the opposite direction—no blinker—begin to make a left hand turn right in front of him. He tried to slow down, but knew he was going to crash into him—and it was going to be bad. He was going close to 40 mph, slower than usual since it was late and he was tired and watching for deer that often crossed the road in that area. The police believe the car that hit him was yellow because there's yellow paint on parts of the bike.
Ed's bike—after the accident
When I talked to Mary on the phone the following day she said, "I believe in God, but I don't pray very much, so please pray that we find this person! Anyone who could leave a person to die or get run over like that should go to jail!"
It is now ten years since the accident that night. The person who left Ed for dead has never been found. Although Ed has healed from his injuries—following surgery and lots of recovery time—it took a big toll on him. He was a very capable bike rider since we met in 1971. Though he bought another bike when he was recovered, he sold it this past spring. He hardly rode it. Mary still cries when the accident is mentioned. She has suffered with post traumatic stress since then.
But, as Mary wrote in the letter she sends to Ed each year at this time,
"Pray for the person who did this to you, because they need all the prayers you can give. They will have to answer to a higher power one day and answer for what they did."
Mary was honored by our township with an award for her heroic deed that night. She literally put her life on the line to save my husband's life.
Ed Walsh and Mary Hardy
How do you thank a person like this?
One way is to tell this story to at least one person on this day each year— and the deed will never be forgotten.
...It was big—it was real big. Shiny black with a white hard top—rounded fins in the back, rounded trunk—1953, a few years before the lines on the Cadillac became sleek and the fins sharp. It was very classy—but it was just too big.
Mom had learned to drive only the year before. Having grown up and lived in New York City until their move to New Jersey after getting married, she never had the need or desire to drive a car. When the older children were young, milk was delivered to the doorstep, our pediatrician came to the house, even groceries were delivered. But now, with growing children and a home in the country to manage, learning to drive became essential. She learned quickly, and before long was on the road, usually with a carload of kids. "Mr. Sawdust' was now bringing in a substantial income, and he wanted his Jeannie to ride in style.
As I said, the car was just too big for Mom. Maybe it was from where I was sitting in the back but it did appear that Mom looked through that great big steering wheel, rather than over it. She was a good driver, but as you might imagine this required her utmost concentration. And I do believe the car was as wide as it was long. Children in the back were merely 'assumed', because they couldn't be seen in the rear view mirror.
Seat belts had not even entered anyone's mind at the time, and our outings were very "relaxed." A little brother with a bottle hanging from his mouth would ride standing next to Mom, and another would occupy himself with a truck or two on the floor in the back seat. Of course there were not as many cars on the roads and not as many accidents, and we were young and oblivious to such things. I'm afraid we were not the only ones who were oblivious.
I had discovered the joys of an open window at high speeds. I loved leaning my head out and feeling the wind whip my pony tail just like a galloping horse. I'd pull it back in when I started to lose my breath. Then I discovered something even more exciting than that. I would very carefully stand up on the back seat, sit out the open window, hanging on to the roof for dear life. The view was wonderful from up there. I remember doing it several times and feeling quite safe. Apparently an off-duty policeman traveling behind us one afternoon, didn't have the same "safe" feeling. He was blinking his lights and motioning for my Mom to pull off the road. It took a while for her to realize he was behind her. When she finally pulled off the road, he ran over to the car and yelled, "Hey lady, do you want to lose that little girl?" Funny how his exact words have stuck in my mind to this day! Maybe it was that "Now I've seen everything" look that accompanied his words. He allowed me to sit up there just long enough for Mom to turn around and take a good look. She was stunned! I slipped down onto the seat and listened to the frantic conversation, but suddenly was hit with the realization that my Dad would be the next one to find out. This was not a good thought!
Only a few months earlier I had received a spanking from him that was still fresh in my mind. My dad rarely spanked me. It had to be a life threatening situation for him to do so. That casual stroll I took one afternoon with my two best friends, gathering flowers along the busy road in front of our house, was in his mind one of those situations. What would he do when he heard about this?
Funny thing, I don't remember ever receiving a spanking for my little joy rides. Certainly I was in much more danger than picking flowers along the roadside. Now I'm wondering if my Mom ever really told my Dad. I know he knew about it years later.
Maybe she decided not to tell him….for a little while.
….I'll have to ask her about that.
Update-August 12, 2013
My beautiful mother passed away March 23, 2012-a profound loss to me and my entire family. This picture was taken at a car show in 2010 where mom discovered a Cadillac very similar to the one that she owned way back in the 50's! She was so delighted, remembering the car and all the "fun" we had riding together! I regret that I was not able to be with her on that day-she spent the afternoon with her granddaughter Emily and great granddaughter Bella. They had a delightful time!
Home permanents had come a long way by the 50's. But not quite far enough!
This ad promotion from the 50's featured identical twins, with identical looking hair styles. One was done professionally, the other was done at home.
In his role as radio announcer for the long-running mystery series, Casey, Crime Photographer, sponsored by Toni,Bill Cullen would often deliver the commercial as if he was a character in the program. He would ask his radio audience..
"...which girl has the Toni?"
From my one experience as a child, I don't think either one of them did! But before I take you back to the first time I saw my father cry— lets go back to 1909 and the day Karl Nessler's wife Katharine Laible had her very first home permanent. Her husband Karl had been working several years perfecting a method to curl hair using chemical treatments, electrical heating devices and brass rollers each weighing about two pounds. It was a complex system, using countering weights suspended from an overhead chandelier and mounted on a stand to prevent the hot rollers from touching the scalp. The process took at least six hours. History records him using a mixture of cow urine and water. (urban legend? Perhaps!) Now it's hard for me to imagine Katharine willingly subjecting herself to this process. But it is even more unbelievable that she allowed her husband to give her a second permanent after the first one completely burned her hair off, scalding her scalp. .....He didn't quite have it down the second time either–she lost all of her hair again.
He did eventually perfect the method and his electric permanent wave machine was patented in London in 1909 and went into widespread use.
Unlike Karl Nessler's wife, I had only one permanent as a young girl.
By the time it was my turn, Toni had produced a product that women could use at home for $2 (compared to $15 if done professionally at a hair salon) The cow urine was gone-but it had its own distinct smell—not a big improvement.
In April of 1957 my mother was in the hospital after delivering her seventh child, my brother Chris—son #6. At that time mothers were kept in the hospital for at least a week following the delivery of a baby. A live-in baby sitter was hired to help take care of the other six children at home. My Dad thought it would be nice to surprise my mom on Easter Sunday morning with a visit from all of her children. We were not allowed in the hospital, but we could stand outside on the lawn and wave up to her at her window. The babysitter, a very capable elderly woman, thought it would be nice to surprise my dad and give his little girl her very first home permanent. Wouldn't she look nice waving up at the window with all those curls? The picture was not quite as dreamy as she envisioned. When the curlers were removed my head was covered with a mass of frizz and gnarled, kinky curls. When my dad arrived home he took one look at me, covered my head with a towel and escorted me next door. Mrs. McGrady was a nurse and she could fix just about anything.
"Marge! Can you do something?!
"I'll try Wally! I'll try!"
She did try. I remember standing in front of her full length mirror and watching her brush, and brush, and brush— and watching those PERMANENT curls pop right back up to where they were, springing about six inches off the top of my head.
My dad waited outside the door. But sorry to say I looked exactly the same when I walked out.
(ok...it's not an actual photo. There were no pictures taken of me that day)
I'm sure I'm not the only 50's Baby Boomer who had a bad perm experience! We learned to do one thing when we caught a whiff of that pungent Toni solution—
Update: May 21, 2013 I have never seen this photo before today. It is a photo from that day. I think that my Easter hat is covering the rest of the FRIZZ!
“Created to make you the conversation piece at parties. Smashingly different at dances or perfectly packaged at picnics. Wear it anytime...anywhere. Won't last forever...who cares? Wear it for kicks—then give it the air.” - Scott Paper Co. advertisement, 1966
Who could resist? Send $1 to the Scott company and they would send you a paper dress and coupons for some of their products. I couldn't anyway! Here was a dress that you could hem with a pair of scissors-wash a few times (if it held up that long) and toss in the trash when it finally tore. The style was nothing fancy or shapely-a simple shift or tent shape. The Scott company was not prepared for the widespread acceptance of their product-
I once went swimming in my paper dress- or should I say, I went swimming in my paper dress--ONCE.
I'm sure growing up with a dad who considered coffee a staple in his diet made an impact on me as well—he drank it black. At that time in my life, my dad was a salesman—known during the "great do it yourself era" as Mr.Sawdust. He worked for AMF (American Machine and Foundry) demonstrating and selling their DeWalt radial armsaw in the northeast region of the country. He spent a lot of time on the road so he knew all the diners that had the best coffee.
On his return home from a week of traveling he would call my mom from the road and say, "Put on the coffee, Jeannie! I'm comin' home." He'd drive up the driveway and as soon as he walked in the door we would run to greet him. I still remember hugging him—that smell of the road—his aftershave—the excitement of his return home with all the great news. He would give us a rundown of all that had happened that week—all the sales he had made, distributors he had set up. He was excited! He would come in and sit at the big Lazy Susan table and my mom would pour his coffee.
...and it was a great cup of coffee!
Last year I bought an automatic coffeemaker at Christmas time—nice looking twelve cup, with all kinds of bells and whistles. The coffee was.....OK. But after one year of use, it died. It still sits there looking very sleek and utilitarian. The only reason it's still there is that I just can't believe it only lasted for one year. Every once in a while I try it again and conclude that it is in fact...useless.
I thought back to the very first coffee that I recall and the pot that it was perked in. Maybe that is the key—I need to find that pot! Within a week one of my sons found the pot—vintage—perfect condition. We perked a pot of coffee...and it was a really good cup of coffee!
I remembered the coffee pot my husband and I used as newly weds—a Chemex pot, shaped like an hour glass with a wooden band around the center, secured by a leather string. The cone shaped filter was placed in the top half along with the coffee. After pouring the boiling water through the filter we sat and waited...and waited... several minutes for the coffee to drip down into the bottom half. But that was OK. We were so starry eyed in love, we didn't mind waiting.
...it was a great cup of coffee!
(...Baby Boomers always did like "show and tell"–here it is!)
Maybe that first sip of coffee on my mother's lap was not in fact the best coffee around, though I remember it that way. Perhaps it was just that moment in time when mothers were not rushed, so children were not rushed. Most mothers stayed home and we all benefited greatly by their presence in our lives. We had time; time to be kids, to explore— time to imagine, time to create. Maybe it wasn't the coffee after all.
During my dad's final years, living with his failing eyesight and other diabetes related health problems, he spent his days and nights on his computer, engrossed in his writing and genealogy research. He enjoyed it—but maybe it was a distraction from the reality of his decline. He drank coffee, morning, evening it didn't matter; refilling and reheating in the microwave, over and over again, until it took on the likeness of 3-in-1 oil. Not just coffee, instant coffee—if you can believe that! Now this was a man who knew what a good cup of coffee was. I always wondered how he could tolerate it. Maybe I'm beginning to understand.
This morning my husband drove me to Milford PA, a quaint old town situated along the Delaware. I had an appointment with a surgeon, a follow up after some surgery a week ago. It was an operation I had been dreading for over a year, yet it was now all behind me. It went far better than anticipated, which I attribute 100% to finding the right surgeon. I was informed that all reports came back fine.
I had not been able to eat much for the entire week so the suggestion of a breakfast out sounded very appealing. We pulled off the road at an old mill turned restaurant situated along the Sawkill Creek, The Waterwheel Cafe & Bakery, known for its great food and historic atmosphere. It's one of those simple but charming turn of the century buildings, with bare hardwood floors, stone walls and exposed beams—several old glass display cases, one filled with great looking pastries.
As we sat at a small wooden table by the window, watching the snow falling outside through the old glass window panes, I realized my future plans and ideas were returning to me. What a great feeling!
The waitress poured our coffee and as I took a sip looking across the table at my husband—the same one I drank that Chemex coffee with thirty five years ago—there's was only one thing I could say—
...now that's a great cup of coffee!
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