Long Distance Call

I will admit, since last October, life has been weird. I appreciate all of you sticking with me during my “sporadic writing phase.” It’s kind of like Picasso’s “blue period,” just not as… well, blue. Or paint-y. Definitely not as paint-y. Or hanging in a museum. Okay, fine. So, it’s not like Picasso’s blue period. Happy now? Sheesh.

Today would’ve been my Dad’s 78th birthday. Yeah. It’s still all so strange. We had his memorial last month. We’d been holding off for a number of reasons, not least of which, we simply did not want to officially say goodbye. There were military honors, and they gave my Mom a flag. One of his siblings spoke about his life. It was a lovely ceremony. I wanted to speak as well, but my severe anxiety, as it so often does, got the best of me. I think my Dad would’ve understood though. Neither of us were known for lengthy conversations, though we knew the love was there. That, we had in spades. As they are wont to say, we have closure, whatever the hell that means. All I know is, my heart still hurts.

And now, it’s summer. In our family, we all knew what that meant.

Hope the fishing’s good where you are, Dad.

There’s No Crying in the Dollar Store

So. Do you ever look at something that in and of itself is completely benign and straight forward, but taken into context with the memories that item brings to mind can leave you awash with forgotten emotions? At best you feel a twinge of heartbreak or perhaps a smile from some long ago happy day or at worst you’re left blubbering in the seasonal candy aisle in the Dollar General Store in town.  Which is exactly where I found myself a few days ago.

Now I’ve never bought candy at the Dollar General Store in my town as I’m something of a candy aficionado and I prefer the “good stuff.” Quite often you’ll find me at the Cracker Barrel for the old-fashioned candy they sell (Peanut Chews, Maple Leaves, and a good brand of old-style Almond Brittle are among my favorites) or I scour the internet for the chocolates I can’t find elsewhere (Ice Cubes come to mind) and of course the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in the outlets near me see my face quite frequently because I admittedly covet their chocolate covered strawberries and other decadent goodies.  But I digress. Deliberately so.

Anyway.  While at the dollar store, I stumbled across two types of candy that I would often purchase this time of year for my Great-Aunt Bunny while she was in a nursing home.  You guys may remember Aunt Bunny, I’ve talked about her before. She’s from the West Virginia crew of Mooney girls who tried the patience of their mother and are now undoubtedly livening up the realms of Heaven.

Well, for Christmas, I would send her this huge care package of goodies that included the best kinds of her favorite candy but other treats as well that she wasn’t supposed to have…but no one could take away from her since it was in the form of a present.  This tickled her to no end.  We’re talking a huge box full of stuff, it looked like I was preparing her for a trip through the Serengeti. If it was a trip to be sustained on sugar and junk food that is.  I took my self-imposed obligation seriously and my search for the perfect candies and snacks to include each holiday started early, probably right around this time of year. Which is why seeing the candies at the Dollar General Store hit me so hard I guess.

Aunt Bunny was never crazy about chocolate although I always sent her a bit…one year it was Chocolate Peppermint Penguins and one year it was Buckeyes, always something different.  Mostly her stash was filled with things like Claeys’ Hard Candies of all sorts (licorice, lemon, horehound, rootbeer), old-fashioned Ribbon Candy, a type of old-style hard candy as shown in the photo below, peppermint sticks, Divinity, Maple Leaves, and, because it couldn’t be all sweet-stuff, I’d include pork rinds and the like as an extra tasty treat.  Bless her heart, Aunt Bunny always tried to eat everything immediately, but eventually she had to hoard it and ration it out piece-meal so as to enjoy it longer. Although I don’t think it ever lasted much past the New Year.

I think I enjoyed finding the items to include in her goodie box as much as Aunt Bunny enjoyed eating them.   I won’t be doing it again this year.

And that’s how I ended up a teary-eyed fool at my local dollar store. I’m sure I was a sight.

Strangely enough, I had a dream about Aunt Bunny the next night. She was giving away all of her things. Something she routinely did in life – we couldn’t leave her house on a Sunday afternoon without being burdened down with food, drinks, some knick-knack or another. She never wanted someone to leave empty-handed. At least not us. It became a running joke in my family. I miss that joke. I miss searching for Claeys’ Hard Candies.  And I guess for a while, I’ll be avoiding the Dollar General Store.

 

hard candy

Dollar Store Trigger

 

Bunny & Family 1968

Bunny & Family 1968

Ode to a Mischief Maker

This entry is for my Aunt Bunny.  She passed away a couple of weeks ago.  Her “real” name was Blanche but no one ever called her that.  As a matter of fact I remember as a kid when my mother bought Aunt Bunny a washing machine and was giving the salesman the name and address for delivery, I didn’t quite believe her when she said yes, that’s really Aunt Bunny’s name. I still had my doubts.  She was actually my Great-Aunt.  In more ways than one. This month would have marked her 90th birthday.

Aunt Bunny was like a second Mom to my mother.  And as I hear the stories of when my Mom and Dad first moved up here as tender young newlyweds, I realize just how instrumental my Great-Aunt was in keeping my family afloat.  But then I think she did that for a lot of people.  Every Sunday from when I was a little girl to high school we would go visit Aunt Bunny like clockwork and a number of times, I spent the night.

Sleepovers at her house were always weird and exciting at the same time.  She lived in the city in a row-house on the waterfront – before waterfront became cool – and across from a diner where all manner of people could be found…so it was always fascinating for me to hang out of her window at night and listen to the fights, the sirens, the drunk trying to make his way home who happened to be quite musically inclined, and the general flurry of activity in her neighborhood.  Let me tell you, I saw things I would definitely never see in my nice suburban home.

I’m not sure why, but the metal cabinet in her kitchen aka dining room aka sitting room always held a fascination for me.  I loved going through it and seeing what I could find….tins full of buttons, years old political pins (Vote for Wallace!), and gosh knows what all.  I loved that cabinet. When Aunt Bunny moved into a nursing home, she gave me that cabinet and when I looked at it in my own house it just didn’t hold that same fascination….it was as if it were a different cabinet altogether. Taking it out of her home, away from childhood memories, and into the light of day changed it somehow. It made me sad.

She lived smack in the middle of the city, so her backyard was actually just a small swath of concrete.  She did have a raised garden in the corner that had a rose bush in it.  And a turtle.  She had a box turtle that she fed hamburger meat and tomatoes.  I’m not sure how long that turtle lived in that tiny bit of flora, but he was spoiled, I know that.  And how exactly does a turtle even find his way into a place like that?  I never found the answer to that one.

It’s odd when I think of this woman flourishing in a cityscape considering the fact that she was born and bred in the hills of West Virginia.  Coal country.  Mountains, streams, lots of green. The surroundings in which she found herself as a grown woman couldn’t have been a larger contrast to her childhood home.  I often wondered if she was happy surrounded by brick and concrete or if she spent her life missing the open space, the green.  She never said.  At least not to me.

Bunny & Family

Bunny & Family 1968 – City Life

I was raised in the suburbs.  Not exactly the hills of West Virginia but definitely a far cry from the city life.  So any time I stayed at Aunt Bunny’s house, it was thrilling.  I badgered her constantly to give me some freedom and let me wander around.  Okay, now as an aside…this is the same Great-Aunt who came to stay with me when I was caught out in the horseback riding lie.  She wasn’t exactly the kind of person who would let her niece go gallivanting around the city on her own.   Until the day she did.  Finally!  I was allowed to walk to the corner store on my own!  Yay me!!  If memory serves (and there’s no promise there), I might’ve been 10.  And she let me walk to the corner store all by myself. It was only a few blocks away but it was also around the corner which meant I would be out of sight from anyone in the world who knew who I was. Big deal, right? Hell, knowing what I know now as an adult, I don’t think I’d let my own daughter do that if she were the same age. Aunt Bunny was really going out on a limb.

Or so I thought.

Now I truly thought I was old enough to handle the voyage on my lonesome (what ten-year old doesn’t, right??). On top of that, I thought I was getting away with something my Mother would’ve blown her top about.  Even better, right!?  And Aunt Bunny let me keep that illusion, bless her heart. In reality she had enlisted a whole network of spies (she called them neighbors. yeah, right.) who watched me every step of the way from their living room windows. Every invisible check-point I would pass would call in and tell Aunt Bunny that all was quiet on the Western front. Wendy still hasn’t messed up the act of walking down the sidewalk. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had the damn store owner call her up and let her know I was okay.  Another aside…little did I know at the time that while it was the “big, bad city,” Aunt Bunny’s little section of it was really quite tight and the neighbors looked out for each other.

There are a lot of memories wrapped up in that Montford Avenue row-house.  Amazing homemade crab cakes eaten on crackers, and polish sausage wrapped up in a slice of bread with mustard, hyacinths bought at Easter time, and ice tea made out of a powder mix.  My deep, deep regret, as I carry with me regarding several family members, is that I did not spend enough time with her after I grew up.  I should’ve been there more than I was.  Especially at the end.

Aunt Bunny had four sisters including my Grandma Jimmie.  Sadly, they have all passed as well.  Oh and their mother?  None other than Grandma Mooney of the Vinegar Valentines…so the sisters’ personalities were earned honestly.  Eccentric mischief makers come to mind, but that description really does not do them any justice at all.  Suffice it to say that each and every one of those Mooney girls was a real hoot.  Bunny’s departure from this life means she’s back with her four sisters and mother, and I can only imagine how crazy Heaven must’ve been that day with their reunion.  But if anyone can take it, I bet the Lord Almighty can. Still, I hope he has earplugs…and a good sense of humor.

Eternal rest with familiar views of home.