Construction Ahead

I want to say Happy Father’s Day to my Dad. And I’m sure my children would like to take this time to thank him for the inside joke that I constantly throw out, even though they weren’t even born when the joke originated, and it’s one they don’t really “get,” but they laugh along with me anyway. Of course, their laughter is likely just a way to placate their eccentric mother since we’re always in the car with me driving at the time of said joke, and they do have their safety and well-being to consider.

I’ll share a bit of nostalgia with you and let you in on the inside joke – there are actually two. And which joke gets repeated on which outing depends entirely on which road construction sign I happen to see at the time.  I know, I know, make jokes about construction signs, you say? Who on earth can come up with jokes about road construction signs?  Well, my Dad can. And little did he know they would drive off into the future at full speed to infect his grandchildren.

I have no idea if these happened all on the same long family trip, though I think they did. I think my Dad just happened to be on a “roll” during this one lengthy excursion with a Great-Aunt in tow – honestly, it all happened so long ago that I can’t remember exactly.  There are a great many parts of my childhood that I remember only in fragments, not getting the whole picture, but rather just fractured bits. I believe on this particular occasion, we were taking my Great Aunt Bunny to West Virginia with us, and both the long drive and the looming visit itself would have made her an anxiety ridden nervous wreck, such things always did. Which would make sense – IF that’s the trip I’m remembering – because my Dad would have been doing what he could, in his own silly way, to ease my Aunt’s nerves. The jokes I’m going to tell you about, however, those stand out in my mind.

The trip to West Virginia from our house back in those days took a solid 8 hours, and more often than not, there was road construction along the way. Going through an area of construction, with all of its delays and issues, during an already 8-hour trip – with two pains in the ass children, can never be an easy thing, but on this particular trip in question, my Dad decided to take his comic show on the road, as it were, and lighten the mood.

Coming upon a section of road construction that required rerouting of the lanes, there was a safety sign duly posted informing all and sundry of a “flag man ahead.” Now most people would slow down, follow the “flag man’s” direction and just move on, right? Not my Dad. He stopped, rolled down his window (this was in a time when you really did roll down a window) and cheerily greeted the guy: “Hi, Mr. Man!”  After we drove on, and I suppose due to the looks of confusion from all of his passengers – except my mother, I don’t even what to know what look she was giving him – he says, “Well, I don’t know him well enough to call him Flag!”  Rolling eyes and groaning laughter ensued. And the joke has lived on into infamy. Although, my version keeps the window tightly closed, with me just shouting through the glass, but in a good way, not like when there is an errant jaywalker or a driver who has apparently never heard of a turn signal.

The next sign that encouraged my Dad to act was a bit more hearty and enthusiastic, or rather, his reaction was at any rate. For seemingly no reason whatsoever, and certainly with no warning, my Dad threw out his hand and grabbed my mother by the top of her head. I wish, for the life of me, that I could remember the look on my mother’s face at that instant, but what I conjure (based on personal experience with the woman), it would’ve been a hoot, and not exactly a look of adoration towards my father either. In his defense, he pointed to the “Stop Ahead,” sign we were passing…I mean, he was only following directions, right?

My kids are 25 and 18, and I kid you not, they know exactly what is going to happen when we pass construction or road work that has one of these signs posted. Oh, they may forget in the moment as they text or watch videos on the phone, but whoever is in the front passenger seat is sure to have their head accosted, or to be startled into thinking we’ve seen someone we know, each and every time…and when they search the surrounding area for the sign and find it, they smile a pacifying smile and then go back to their business.

It makes no difference to me if my kids don’t share in my joke. I think it’s hilarious and sometimes, dammit, I just do things because they amuse ME, not necessarily those around me. And more than being amusing, it reminds me of family, of times gone by, and while I can’t grasp the full memory of that road trip from so many years ago – only bits and pieces remain, what does stick in my head is the fact that my Dad was on a comedic roll for the entire drive. Who knew his Dad jokes would get passed down through the generations? I guarantee you that while they may not repeat the jokes themselves, till their dying day, my kids will never be able to pass road construction without at least going over those wisecracks in their head. And maybe, just maybe, when they have kids, this bit of Dad-silliness will live on.

So, thank you Dad…it’s not enough that you’ve had my back since I was born or that you constantly watch out for me. Your casually tossed out pieces of comedic genius have stayed with me over the years and have been the source of great joy, in so many ways. Here’s to family road trips from back in the day. Here’s to lasting memories. Happy Father’s Day! I love you.

dad in his element

The Best Room Ever

Okay, I need everyone to pay attention because what I’m about to tell you may be the single most important argument to ever be made in the history of debate…

The kitchen is the best room in any house. Period.

Now I know I’ve started a frenzy among all the “man cave,” “she shed,” “bedroom” loving people, but I hereby stick to my claim that the kitchen is the best room in any house ever.

Think about it! The kitchen really is the focal point for all the activity inside any house or dwelling. It’s where all the action takes place. Sure, the living room sees a lot of feet shuffling through and a lot of butts on furniture but the entertainment is mostly derived from the television. All the *real* action is happening inside the kitchen.

I’ll break it down for you because I’m not leaving until I’ve convinced every single one of you that I’m right… Okay, granted, you could close this blog at any time so I guess I can’t really enforce that… so… I’ll just let it go and continue with making my point… hopefully you’ll stick around.

Let me start with a little background –

Growing up, we would visit my grandparents every summer. Both sets of grandparents, as loyal readers already know, lived in rural West Virginia, my parents’ old stomping ground. My maternal grandparents (Grandma Mooney and company!) had a pseudo-living/sitting room set up where the dining room should have been – but it was more of an extension of the kitchen. It’s just how the old farm-house was made. The first floor was just one big room basically, with the kitchen proper to the right and the dining room/sitting room to the left – no walls in between and close enough that you could fling a coffee cup from the sitting room and hit my grandmother in the head as she made breakfast (not that I would suggest doing that, however, if you wanted to live past the first serving of eggs). The centerpiece of the sitting room was a huge, round dining table made out of solid wood that I remember always had a green gingham vinyl, felt-backed tablecloth in place.

If you ever peeked in the windows, you would find everyone sitting around that table, playing cards, chattering up a storm, eating fried eggs, or watching the smallest t.v. I think I’ve ever seen. I’m not even sure it was in color. It got maybe three channels. There was a living room in the house – but it was on the second floor. And I never once saw anyone up there, except for me when I was playing house. No, being near the kitchen was the place to be.

In my childhood home, there is a family room and my parents are quite happy there whenever they’re watching t.v. But when company comes – including my grownup self – we sit at the kitchen table, coffee cups in hand, hopefully potato soup (if I’m lucky) or some other gastronomical treat from my mother’s massive repertoire in front of us, and talk the day away.

Like my parents, a great-aunt (Grandma Mooney’s daughter) of mine moved from West Virginia to the concrete jungle of the city, Baltimore to be exact. My parents eventually opted for a more suburban route, but my aunt and her family stayed in the city. My aunt kept her country ways though and sure enough, life took place in the kitchen. Visiting her every Sunday saw us sitting around the kitchen table, eating homemade crab cakes, polish sausage, and drinking coffee or sweet tea.

Now, speaking of kitchens, West Virginia women know how to cook. Between my great-grandmother, my grandmothers, my mother, and my great-aunt…these ladies took comfort food to a whole new level. So who wouldn’t want to hang out in the kitchen and be a taste-tester or gobble up the so-called rejects of whatever meal they were preparing? Or if you were brave, sneak something off a serving plate before it made its way out to the table?

But there is more to it than food, so much more. For me the heart of the house is the kitchen. We’re a family in the kitchen. Good news, bad news, shared joys and sorrows – all happened in the kitchen. Oh, we had food, we’re a family that loves food, but in the kitchens of my childhood, we also had camaraderie – we shared laughter and gossip, tears and heart to heart talks. Life was lived in the kitchen. Still is, in so many ways.

So, for those of you trying to make it work in that cramped two-bedroom apartment the size of a photo-booth, and especially those of you with lots of room to spread out (you know who you are…you can go a full day and not see another member of your household or family) – here’s a piece of advice for whatever it’s worth.

Hang out in the kitchen. Maybe cook dinner together every once in a while, or throw together some snacks and play cards or a board game at the table – whip up something awesome, and I’m not just talking food.

Grandma Mooney’s Spooky and Wonderful Gift

I’ve been thinking a lot of my beloved Grandma Mooney (great-grandmother to those just tuning in).  Thank you for letting me share her stories with you all; I think you’ll agree she was a very rare and highly entertaining individual indeed.

Now, I do dabble a bit in the occult.  I love giving or receiving tarot card readings.  I also strongly believe in ghosts to the point that I would never dare make one angry, or even dream of playing the Ouija board alone.  I strongly believe there is more to this world than our limited five senses can ever know or that science can prove or disprove, at least for now – I mean we’re learning more and more every day about the world around us, right? Who knows what they may find out.  I also strongly believe that you should agree with me, or I will use my ancient Voodoo magic to hex you.  Nah, just kidding on that one, but I am a firm believer in the paranormal in general.

Grandma Mooney had a unique ability that luckily, I did NOT inherit…it can’t have been pleasant.  It wasn’t a super power like flying, freezing time, or moving things with her mind (seriously though, how cool would that be!?), but it was a spooky gift for sure.  Grandma Mooney always knew when someone was dying.  She never got upset; she was completely matter of fact about it.  She’d get the feeling in her bones (I assume it was her bones at any rate), and just nonchalantly announce, “John’s dying.  Gotta go,” and then she’d be off, to go help the family.  Without fail, whoever the unfortunate soul was that she would name would either be on their deathbed or dead before she even got there.  Of course, back then there was no Facebook, no cell phone texting, and no emails; this gift was pure intuition. She was always accurate, and it was really, very creepy.

While we’re on the subject of death and dying, did I tell you about the time I almost killed Grandma Mooney?  If it wasn’t my fault, it might have been her sheer orneriness. Let me explain…and spoiler…there was a happy ending, no Grandmothers were hurt in this story.

My grandfather, god bless him – I loved him to pieces – enjoyed three things in his life: playing the banjo, singing, and drinking beer. He drank beer like some people drink soda pop or ice tea. And for the most part, he could handle his alcohol. Later on in life, he decided he’d had enough and just stopped, cold turkey, and never looked back. But back in the day, when he was especially deep into his cups, he liked to get out the banjo and entertain all and sundry – with bluegrass and hymns being his favorite music of choice. The more beer he drank, the more boisterous his hymns and bluegrass songs would become.

This one particular day, when I was 7 or 8 years old, Grandpa Walker was really going at it with his hymns while Grandma Mooney ate a piece of cornbread.  You may know, old-school cornbread was really dry and would fall apart when you ate it.  Anyway, I got really carried away by grandfather’s music this day, and before you know it, I was howling like a dog on the front porch. Yeah, I was an ornery child. Like great-grandmother like great-granddaughter.

This tickled Grandma Mooney to the point of laughing her ass off, but as luck would have it, she started choking on her cornbread.  I was so scared that I ran away for the rest of the afternoon.  No way was I going to stick around to see what happened!  All I know is Grandma Mooney was laughing and choking, so I did what any reasonable 7 or 8-year-old kid would do; I ran for the hills.  Not my bravest moment, to be sure.

One thing was guaranteed.  If she actually did die choking on cornbread, she would definitely come back to haunt me.  And if she didn’t…

…she was definitely going to kick my ass.

Of Myth and Moonshine

When most people think of great-grandparents, there is a perception of elderly, slightly demented people with mints and Kleenex in their pockets.  They sit on the couch knitting or telling stories of the “good old days,” their pasts a delicious whirl of somewhat ordinary lives well lived.

Enter my Grandma Mooney.

I have talked before of her exploits.  Her Vinegar Valentines, her sketchy use of Halloween masks to frighten a neighborhood boy and her subsequent lying about it to the boy’s parents. I won’t even get into the whole moth fiasco. There was an even deeper layer to Grandma Mooney (great-Grandmother if I’m being completely accurate), though, every bit as fascinating as the ones we’ve already uncovered.

Job opportunities back in the day weren’t quite what they are today, especially in the country, and when you have a houseful of hungry people, you do what you need to in order to survive and feed your family.  I think, in times like this, bending the law a little is easily excused.  And, in Grandma Mooney’s case, bending it until it broke was a way of life.

Grandma Mooney was a purveyor of frowned upon refreshments.  Okay, fine, she sold and stored moonshine.

In the days of prohibition and the depression, moonshine was a profitable enterprise. In fact, it still is today.

Well, as the story goes, moonshine runners would drop off their inventory to Grandma Mooney – she’d sell some, she’d store some, she’d…well, never mind. The great thing about Grandma Mooney is she wouldn’t have needed an enforcer to help protect her shady business. Everyone around for miles was already afraid of her. So, there was some money saved on personnel.

To stock brew, this ingenious old lady had a special crawlspace in the floor of her kitchen that she used just for this purpose. No external storeroom fees or the inconvenient industrial spy to get rid of. I’m telling you, she had the whole theory of commerce locked down.

In fact, she had just one serious concern. Government officials. Cue the supervillain music…Dun-Dun-Duuuun! Oh wait. Grandma Mooney is the supervillain in this tale. Nevermind.

One thing about the government; it never changes. In search of their fair share – I mean violators, yes of course, violators – agents would wander door to door, foaming at the mouth in the hopes that they could catch someone with illegal contraband.

Normal law-abiding citizens would have no reason to be afraid of these visits, but Grandma Mooney wasn’t exactly a normal law-abiding citizen.  I’m not sure she was ever afraid of anything, it just wasn’t in her nature. But knowing she would get into serious trouble if she were caught with white lightning, she devised a fiendishly clever plan to hide the storage space. And again, with the government being what it is, her plan went perfectly. Every. Single. Time.

Whenever these agents came to the house, she’d stick her youngest daughter Wanita, aka Neda – Needie to friends and family — into the bathtub, and put the bathtub over the crawlspace door.  The bathtub, it should be noted, was basically just a large metal bucket that was used for baths, dishes, laundry, and anything else that required a large-ish supply of water.

She used this wonderfully creative plan repeatedly over the course of frequent government raids, and her secret storage space was never discovered. Ahh…government agents – the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the finest civil servants you can ever find. Yeah, right.

The government agents were never quite bright enough to realize that every time they paid a “visit,” Needie was in the tub.  Now, I’m not sure if they thought Grandma Mooney was obsessed with cleanliness, or maybe they thought that Needie was simply a kid who enjoyed playing in mud and wrestling skunks – but whatever their thinking was, it never crossed their minds that Grandma Mooney was involved in the highest form of trickery and deception.

Maybe their money would’ve been better spent had they just put Grandma Mooney on the payroll as an agent.

Phone Home

I was visiting my mom recently and relaxing, when my eye fell upon her hallway phone. it’s a land-line; an old-fashioned, on-the-wall phone, with an incredibly long cord so my mom, back in the day before the advent of cordless phones, could make her way from the hallway into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and never have to hang up.

mom-phone-1

behold! the hallway phone!

I remember when she GOT this phone. At one point too many years ago to admit to, it was the ultimate in telephone technology – a push button dialer in the most modern cream color which replaced a black, rotary dial phone that had hung in that very same location but with a much, much shorter cord. Not only did the push dial make life a breeze, but the longer cord sure made catching wayward children who, at the sound of the phone ringing, were off like a flash to engage in some nefarious deed or other figuring Mom would be occupied for a few minutes.

at one time, the latest and greatest in communications technology

Would this modern generation even recognize a rotary phone, I wonder? I suppose they would have at least seen them in movies – if not the homes of their grandparents. And speaking of movies – just how many movies have been rendered obsolete by today’s technology?  I mean, there could never be a movie made in the present day called “Dial” M for Murder, since phones don’t have dials anymore! “Press” M for Murder just doesn’t carry the same weight or suspense if you ask me.  But I digress.

Just that one look at my mom’s phone and I found myself awash in nostalgia. Of course when we wax nostalgic we usually think about the good things of our childhood…being able to watch 5 straight hours of cartoons on a Saturday morning at a time when there were only 3, maybe 5, channels to watch, for example. Hell, I remember when cable t.v. first made the scene opening a veritable vista of programming possibilities.  Yeah. I’m that old.

Dressing in my pajamas and going in the car to see a drive-in movie (okay, don’t roll your eyes, I was little at the time)…or just being able to lay down in the back seat to take a nap while we made the long drive “home” to West Virginia – no seatbelt needed!

I can remember when I could turn off my car, then decide that I wanted to roll down the window – and then do it! Imagine that!? Today of course windows are electronically controlled and you have to start the car again if you want to crack a window…and parents nowadays can “lock” the windows so kids in the backseat can’t even open them. Couldn’t do that back in my day. No tossing your brother’s stuff out the back window while on long trips or sticking your head out the window one last time even after dad has warned “I’ll turn this car around!”  Sheesh. Kids have no fun these days.

But nostalgia is a two-way street, of course.

I remember waiting in line for gas during the 1970s when there was that gas embargo. Of course, this was much harder on my parents than it ever was on me. I just went along for the early morning ride – I didn’t have the stress of worrying about having enough gas to get to work for the week.

Going to the library to do some research – and needing to look through the card catalog for hours and then reading book upon book upon book till finding just the right passage to quote for that handwritten ten-page essay. Oh, yeah. Good times.

I remember having to actually get up to change the channels on a TV, instead of using the remote control…even if I wasn’t the one watching it.

I go to my mother’s house quite frequently and of course the hallway phone is there each and every time – being cemented to the wall in all of its permanent glory as it is. It’s hard to miss. I’m not sure why this particular visit affected me so.  But it seems like once one memory is triggered, a flurry of others start to fall through one’s mind like confetti. Not an entirely unpleasant experience I’m happy to say.

Kid in a Candy Store

Went to a very cool candy store the other day with my daughter…in addition to the upscale staples like Godiva and Lindor, this place had all sorts of “retro” candy. While it sent me into a vortex of memories and constant outbursts of “I remember those!” I was also left explaining to Sarah that yes, kids did in fact eat those sugary, often wax covered, messes that passed for candy in our day.  And with a smile to boot.  Oh, and if we didn’t have a smile for whatever reason, we always had wax lips to give others the impression we were smiling. Or vampires. Or old men. Or had some serious lip plumper surgery. Changing our identity through candy products was easy-peasy back in the day.

I was surprised to see candy cigarettes.  I thought those would’ve gone out the window when the powers that be stopped showing people smoking in movies and ads.  But nope.  They were there too.  Sarah actually remembers playing with and eating those.  Not sure what that says about me as a parent.

This fit of nostalgia was well-timed. I needed a little boost in my day and besides being surrounded by candy, which in itself is always uplifting, the trip down memory lane succeeded in making me smile.  When he was younger and through the teenage years, my brother played Little League baseball.  He was a pretty talented pitcher (don’t let him know I said that) and my Dad often coached. Not to be left behind in a boring house, my mother always attended the games which meant my attendance at these weekly games was forced as well.  A family affair.

Most of my time was spent with a friend who also had a brother on the team and if we weren’t at her house swimming in a green, stagnant pool or roaming the surrounding area for free puppies to bring home, we were at the concession stand.  I loved the concession stand. Hot dogs, cardboard pizza, snowballs. And candy.  Gigantic pixie sticks which I have no doubt had my mother shaking her head upon my return to our seats as she imagined the meltdown sure to come once the sugar rush wore off.  Wax lips?  Of course.  Wax soda bottles filled with some unknown liquid that tasted nothing like soda and I wouldn’t touch with a broom stick nowadays? Yep. Those too.

My favorite, which also happens to be Sarah’s favorite, were candy necklaces.  Although my friends and I had bracelets too.  I didn’t see those at the store Sarah and I recently visited. Ahhh, the memories. I tell you, there’s nothing like wearing bits of candy against your 10-year old naked neck or wrapped tightly around a filthy wrist in 90-degree weather as you run chaotically around a park that’s made up of busy, red-earth filled baseball fields and where even the parking lot was made of loose clay, thus having clouds of red dust and dirt continually blooming up into your face, on your hands from being an “active kid,” and every other exposed body part (and from the looks of my socks after a game, even some body parts that weren’t exposed) that mixed nicely with the inevitable sweat to create a thin (or not so thin) sheen of grime along your skin, then eating said candy.  Oh yeah.  Good times.

those were the gum chewing days

those were the gum chewing days

 

not even sure what the hell that liquid inside even is

not even sure what the hell that liquid inside even is

 

excuse me while I change my identity by gnawing on bits of colored wax

excuse me while I change my identity by gnawing on bits of colored wax

 

dots of ...sugar flavored sugar, always a good idea

dots of …sugar flavored sugar, always a good idea for small children

 

teaching bad habits early...that was apparently the idea

teaching bad habits early…that was apparently the idea

 

oh yes, always a yummy treat

oh yes, always a yummy treat

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