Still Sorting, After All These Years

They never owned a car and they didn’t drive, so someone made a special effort to bring Grandma and Grandpa – my father’s parents – to my third birthday celebration.

For most occasions and on nearly every weekend, we were the ones who traveled the thirty-five miles to their home, a modest frame house in one of Iowa’s tiny coal-mining communities. Why the routine was broken here I can’t say, but I cherish the snapshot, my only image of this improbable couple sitting next to one another.

Born in Sweden, they traveled to America as strangers on the same ship. After meeting and marrying in Minneapolis, they moved to Iowa, struggled through the Depression, raised six children and delighted in their grand-children. Then, they were gone.

Loving and attentive to his wife and family, Grandpa still preferred time in his workshop to household routines.

His shop fascinated me. Along one edge of the work bench, chisels and awls marched in perfect formation, arranged from tallest to least.  Secured to a wall, saws, axes and adze gleamed in the faint light, rust-free and ready for work. A small cubby held tacks, nails and screws in assorted tins, and a small cigar box containing a scattering of nickels and pennies sat by the unlocked door, next to a pack of cigarettes and matches.

In those days of penny candy, the contents of the cigar box represented a fortune to a child. When I asked – very casually and with studied disinterest – whom the money belonged to, Grandpa said it had been left by friends who’d stopped by for a smoke.  Decades later, I realized the truth. The “friends” he spoke of were men riding the rails, men stopping off where they hoped to find a meal, a day’s work, and perhaps even a cigarette – men who contributed what they could to ensure a smoke for the next man off the rails.

While the men busied themselves in the back yard, the women clustered on the front porch, stitching smiling radishes and dancing tomatoes across acres of cotton sacking. Sometimes, they gathered in the kitchen for pie-baking or putting up preserves.

While they worked, I snapped beans, sorted thread or wandered off to indulge myself in a long-standing family ritual called Checking Out The Pantry. Long and narrow, lit by a single hanging bulb and lined with treasure-laden shelves that climbed higher than any child’s sight, Grandma’s pantry was a marvel.

On the right, jars of home-canned vegetables and fruits, jellies and jams, spiced crabapples and luscious bread-and-butter pickles shimmered in the dim light.

To the left, saltines and gingersnaps snuggled up against cupcakes and rolls from the Omar man. Jewel Tea premiums – pie plates, pitchers and baking dishes – shared shelf space with  store-bought cookies (almond windmills, iced oatmeal) and homemade pies. A footed cake plate with an aluminum cover sat next to my favorite kitchen tool – a glass whipping bowl with a combination  lid and beaters that served as reward for any child patient enough to whip the cream.

There were fennel and caraway seeds for limpa bread, tins of sprats, bags of salt for cod and ice cream.  Because the rule for the house was the rule for the pantry – children could look, but not touch – we spent hours looking, just as we looked at each of our Grandmother’s wonders:  her collection of  porcelain figurines in the living room,  the colored glass bottles lining the kitchen windows, rickety shelves of canned peaches and bins of potatoes in the root cellar.

But life with Grandma entailed more than “just looking”.  In her mind, any child with time enough to stand around in a pantry was a child with time to help out, especially with cleaning.

Dish-washing, dusting and sweeping were part of our daily routine and didn’t qualify as cleaning. Serious house-cleaning took place according to some mysterious schedule that was impossible to predict.  Grandma could clean with the best of them when she put her mind to it, but she often had other, more interesting things on her mind. Still, when the spirit moved her and she declared “Time to Clean!” the process was a wonder to behold.

Spring and autumn were dedicated to window washing, rug-beating, curtain laundering and porch-painting.  With windows thrown open to air the house, passers-by could get a whiff of the latest  project –  fresh lavender for the drawers, Spic-N-Span for the linoleum, lemon oil for furniture and vinegar for glass.

In winter, a different kind of cleaning took place. Between Christmas and the first days of the New Year, Grandma set aside her dusting and sweeping for a project terrifying in its scope.

While Grandpa fled the house and neighbors gave her a wide berth, Grandma went to work with a zeal that reminded my father of Sherman’s March to the Sea. She  inventoried every closet, emptied and rearranged every drawer, looked under every bed and sorted through every piece of paper and clothing in the house,  seeking the forgotten, the unused and the unnecessary.

Karin Larsson at the Linen Cupboard - Carl Larsson

She was by nature a saver, frugal and self-sufficient, but she also believed that if we hadn’t used it, looked at it or remembered it in the past year, we didn’t need it.   If we’d forgotten we had something, someone else should receive it.  If we no longer used an item, its usefulness should be extended to another home.  If we no longer knew the source of some little knick-knack no one enjoyed, we should pass it on to someone who would find it a delight.

Of course her definitions of “useful” and “necessary” were remarkably elastic. Boxes of rarely viewed photographs, letters written during the Wars, greeting cards from  grandchildren and postcards from friends in the “old country” were to be saved forever.  Worn towels, outgrown clothing, lace trim from old bed linens and fabric scraps could be transformed into quilts or rugs. A roaster used once a year stayed. Wooden barrels stayed. Buttons and bias tape stayed.

But unclaimed dishes from a year’s worth of potlucks? Costumes for dolls that had been broken or given away? Unread magazines? Outgrown shoes or broken mirrors? Their fate was sealed. 

In the end, very little was thrown away and very little more was given away, but Grandma entered each New Year knowing precisely what her house contained, and precisely where to find it.

Looking back, I’m not surprised the family rolled its collective eyes when Grandma did battle with her clutter. But she was determined to maintain her annual ritual and, since I was available during Christmas vacation, she often suggested I help.

We spent hours working together – shoving and carrying, lifting and rearranging. No matter how tedious the labor, no matter how frustrating the hours I spent working rather than playing, when we were done I felt a bit lighter myself, as though all that excess, all those  unnecessary accretions had been a burden pressing down on my own young life. 

And that, I suppose, was her point.  In the end, the unnecessary and the unwanted turn out to be burdens, and it’s always best to enter the New Year with as few burdens as possible.

As New Year’s Day draws closer, memories of my grandmother and her routine begin to overtake me.

For years those memories have caused me to do my own digging through closets and drawers – looking things over, sorting them out, making decisions with a certain sense of urgency, as though Grandma herself might suddenly step through the door, ready to judge my efforts.

This year, with so much sorting and digging and dispersing behind me, household clutter isn’t an issue. But the impulse remains, and so I find myself pondering a new question. Why not approach life itself as my Grandmother approached her house? What if her lessons about the unnecessary, the useless and the unwanted have broader application?

Intrigued by the notion, I begin looking around my mental premises. Reaching back into the cabinets of my mind, I open drawers filled with a lifetime of preconceptions.  Piles of prejudices mouldering in the back of the closet looked as though they might stand a good sorting out. I pull a few passions and interests from under the bed, rearrange the stacks of leftover convictions on their shelves and even check to see what might be hiding in that little stash of irrationalities and neuroses.

Broadening my view, I see tendrils of laziness beginning to choke out projects I’ve left potted on the windowsill.  My little carpet of accomplishment, neatly rolled out across the floor, is littered with bits of anxiety and frustration.  A light film of anger clings to one window, dimming the light, and a grudge or two I’d meant to throw out still are there, waiting to be tripped over.

Standing in the midst of my adult years, looking at my life with my grandmother’s eyes, I already feel lighter. The New Year is coming. It’s time to clean house.

Comments always are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, just click below.  Please – no Reblogging.

107 thoughts on “Still Sorting, After All These Years

    1. Z,

      And you are extravagant with your praise – but I do thank you. I’m looking forward to the new year, in a variety of ways. I think it will be a good one for us both.

      I did find myself wondering what would happen if someone combined my grandmother’s routine and your Ecuadorian custom of “ano viejo” effigies. I’ve heard a person or two, confronted by their own household chaos, say, “Maybe I ought to just throw a match in here.” That would be quite an example of “when cultures collide”!

      Happy New Year – to you, your Muse and your colander!


      1. that would be so funny! If I didn’t have so many other tasks to do today (finding a leak in a waterline is one!) then I’d throw on brakes and find plenty of worthy items for that type of finale! ahem; the colander is doing a poor job today. i’ve been trying to send this reply for hours!

  1. Hi Linda:

    Wow! What a way to say Good Bye to 2013 and Hello to 2014. I’m licking my chops after reading your excellent narrative about your Grandmother and Grandfather.

    As an extra tip, I found my name in your blog post (Omar brings fresh bread). Thank you for giving my name a bit of limelight. :-)

    Warm Regards,


    1. Omar,

      Well, look at that! You’re one of my favorite bloggers, and the Omar Man was one of my favorite visitors when I was at Grandma’s house. It was normal to get milk from a milk man at home, but the Omar man was special. When his truck pulled up to make deliveries of previously ordered goods, you also could climb up into the truck and buy cupcakes, sweet rolls or other pastries. It was wonderful.

      Speaking of pastries, I thought of you during my Christmas trip when I went into a gas station and found shelves full of “conchas”. They’d been manufactured by Bimbo – I remember when I first learned of that company from RIchard, and how I laughed. Now, they seem to be the bread company that’s taken over in the US. Some of my favorites just don’t taste the same – I may have found the reason. This merger and acquisition business just keeps rolling along.

      Happy New Year to you and yours! If that red car I just glimpsed is any indication, you’ve got another year of fine photos on tap for us!


      1. Linda,

        Taking pictures and untangling the English language are two of my dear New Year’s Resolutions. Enjoy the holidays and fireworks tonight when the sky will certainly light up.

        Warm Regards,


  2. I have my NYD post lined up ready to publish for the day and I have similar sleeping projects, and draining thoughts and feelings that need to be sent away, doors closed forever.

    We can’t be like anyone but our unique selves. I’ve come to believe that the Velveteen Rabbit should be accepted as a sacred text.

    1. Martha,

      It’s been a good while since I’ve thought of “The Velveteen Rabbit”. It’s a wonderful book, filled with wisdom. I can’t remember when I first came across it, but I recognized its truth immediately – which means I had to have a few years behind me.

      I have a little pad next to me with my “projects” for the upcoming year listed. At this point, I’m up to eight – three have natural end points, five will be on-going. If I’m good about keeping to the plan, the year ought to fly by.

      I’m not sure where the energy’s coming from. There may be some strange force-field over the house. Dixie’s playing like a kitten with her Christmas gifts, and still hasn’t given me a single snarl for leaving her alone. Resolution: keep that cat-whisperer around!

      Happy New Year to you. I’m looking forward to reading your post(s).


      1. And a big Happy New Year to you as well!

        Cats are weather and food motivated. The neutered ones, anyway. Mine are not frisky knowing it is 0 degrees out there and snowy. Mine are not motivated without sunshine on their shoulders. But the sound of a can opening does stir them into happy action. Winter Life in a Nutshell for Cats- Chapter One.

    1. Roberta,

      Of course there are some regrets and some unhappy memories, too – as there are for us all. One of my biggest regrets is that my grandparents and other family members were gone before I became interested in them as people, with real histories, real concerns and joys.

      But I remember enough, and I do enjoy recalling the past – not just for its own sake, but for what it can teach us today.

      Thank you for reading, and commenting in the midst of your own journey. I’m looking forward to seeing what this new year holds for you!


  3. The kind of inner work you are alluding to is not for wimps. I’m encouraged you have the gumption to look that stuff in the eye.

    On an unrelated note, I feel a kindred spirit to your grandpa and grandma for several reasons. My wife’s grandparents lived along the railroad line in Hastings Nebraska. They, too, opened their home and heart to those traveling souls. I know you’ve probably told me before, but what was the name of that tiny coal mining town they were from? I know a lot of those little towns no longer exist. ps loved the picture of you when you were little! DM

    1. DM,

      My paternal grandparents came first to a little town called Hiteman, which I think may be gone now. Then, they moved to Melcher, which has been combined with a tiny neighboring town, becoming Melcher-Dallas. It’s actually “thriving”, as these things go. It has a little coal-mining museum, a library, a pretty good school system and so on.

      We lived in Newton, east of Des Moines and just north of the same I-80 that passes Hastings. If you take Iowa 14 south, through Monroe and Knoxville, you’ll come to Melcher. I remember making that drive when the Iowa roads were only wide enough for 1940s cars and had that truly horrid “curb” along each side that could throw you into the oncoming lane if you hit it just right.

      Speaking of Nebraska, my mother’s paternal side lived for a time in a soddy in Burwell. I’ve got a couple of photo postcards from the time, and a few photos. I don’t think her dad’s folks were so sanguine as my father’s.

      It was a bit of a shock for me to do the math when I looked at that picture. I was born in 1946, so this photo’s from 1949. Let’s see… that would be… sixty-three years ago? Confronting that’s not for a wimp, either!


      1. My late doctor buddy Jim said Burwell was where the real rodeo was.
        No clowns just leveraction rifles cause the bulls would kill if given chance. I need a woman like your grandmother in my life.

        1. Blu, I’ve been looking for the photos of the Nebraska clan I know are around here. When I find them I’ll get them to you. I was in Bandera, Texas over Christmas. They call themselves the Cowboy Capital of the World, but truth be told, there are too many dude ranches and antique shops around for that to be as true as it used to be. Still, Bandera’s prospering, so there’s that. I did manage to get out of town without buying anything except lunch. The only thing I can’t figure out is why the iron wagon wheels looked so appealing.

          Grandma’s ilk are still around – keep looking! ;-)

  4. You are fortunate in the memories you have of your grandparents and your grandmother’s propensity to clean and organize, leaving you with a rich legacy.

    But this post is a gift in more ways than one. Every year we are “expected” to attend a friend’s New Year’s Eve party. This year I don’t want to go and I’ve spent the better part of three days sorting the reasons why and how to tell her the truth for fear of retribution.

    Have you heard the AT&T commercial when a child refers to a New Year’s Revolution? Aha, that’s it.

    I want to start a revolution! Speaking my truth! That extends to blog posts, emails, and simply turning down the annual New Year’s Party ritual at a friend’s house.

    “I’m so sorry,” I wrote. “I know you put so much effort and enthusiasm into your party, but this year I need to bow out.” Why? she might ask.

    Because I need to do the kind of sorting that you talk about here. What can I leave behind as this year folds into next. How can I make a New Year’s Revolution of thought and things, jettisoning the old and welcoming the new.

    What I say may seem a little convoluted and unedited, but thank you for this beauty, Linda. Thank you.

    1. Martha,

      I’ve missed the AT&T commercial, but I like the thought – especially the nice connection between the revolution of the earth around the sun and the possibility of revolution in our own lives.Wouldn’t that be a good question for the New Year – what is my life revolving around?

      The expectation that New Year’s Eve should be party time is pervasive, isn’t it? I’ve enjoyed some lovely gatherings over the years, but I’ve always tended to steer clear of anything involving great amounts of alcohol, big crowds or fireworks (of any sort – see: alcohol…)

      I’ve even been alone a time or two on New Year’s eve, and haven’t died from it. It’s true people sometimes look at you as though you’ve announced an intention to cut off your own leg when you say, “I’m staying home this year”, but life has its rhythms. Knowing our own rhythms, our own needs, and attending to them is important.

      Some months before I came to WordPress, I chose “Speaking My Heart” as the title for my first little blog. There’s nothing wrong with speaking our minds. I do it from time to time. But it seems to me the two are different (though related) and it sounds as though you’re intending to do more heart-speaking in the New Year.

      Best wishes and much joy!


      1. “Life has its own rhythms.” Exactly. Every year a friend has a party with the same group of people that I see just once a year, on New Year’s Eve. Every year it’s the same tacky sweater or costume theme, the same white elephant gifts, the same snacks, and the same alcohol, and the same banging of pans outside the front door at midnight and the same dragging out of bed on New Year’s Day wishing I felt more refreshed. It’s all fun and frivolous, but this year, I simply couldn’t bear it. And then the obligatory explanation that I know fell on deaf ears–it’s clearly blasphemy not to attend, and next year’s invite may be held in suspension.

        As for speaking my heart. Yes!! But don’t be surprised if I decide to speak my mind as well. Bottom line, whether heart or mind, or a combination, it’s about finding voice.

        Thank you for expressing yours so eloquently.
        Happy New Year

        1. Sometimes, even the best parties can grow a little stale. I went to a certain New Year’s Eve gathering for several years. The people were delightful. There wasn’t any pan-banging or over-the-top drunkenness. There was good music, good conversation, and so on. Still – there came a time when I needed to do something different.

          Strangely, after the year I didn’t attend, I never went back. It just was time for a different direction. Would that I always were so wise! Happy New Year to you, too.

  5. Your reminiscence about your Grandparents is my New Year’s treat. What a brilliant palette of memories you have to share. Strangely enough, I have the same compunction to clear out the old at this time of year. More important is to “clean up” our relationships, some of which may have developed a few cracks during the year. Happy New Year Linda!

    1. Kayti,

      How wise of you to add relationships to the mix. It’s true – cracks can develop which need tending. Sometimes a little dusting-off is in order, and from time to time even relationships can become little more than clutter. Deciding to let go of a broken relationship isn’t easy, but sometimes it’s the best decision in the world.

      In any event, here’s to a year filled with happiness and joy – and to making new memories to share.


  6. A wonderful year-end post, Linda! My own version of your Grandmother’s annual ritual has commenced and will continue in the pockets of time available until the flooring gets replaced in spring. There’s so much satisfaction when projects like that get completed — I like to get the give-away boxes as far from the house as possible before I change my mind. The trouble with the mental version is that sometimes what you thought had been dealt with still lingers.

    Happy new year to you, friend, as you finish your cleaning.

    1. nikkipolani,

      I was thinking of something else when you mentioned your version of “the ritual” – the pruning you do! And not just the pruning, but the bed cleaning, the thinning, the giving away. It’s the gardener’s version of Grandma’s obsession. By the time you get done, you know precisely what your garden contains, and precisely where to find it.

      I understand perfectly that need to get the give-away box as far down the road as possible. As a matter of fact, while writing this I’ve remembered so many “things” I’ve moved along in one way or another. The temptation to find them and bring them back home can be overwhelming. It’s also nearly impossible, which is good – and it’s not as though I don’t have those special possessions which connect me to the past.

      As for that need for repetitive mental-housekeeping, maybe that’s why we find the metaphor of cobwebs in our minds so apt!

      May your New Year be filled with all good things – and easy projects.


  7. What a whirlwind your grandmother. As a child you must have been attracted to her energy, and the knowledge that she knew where everything was. No telling what you would find in someone else’s house, even if it’s your grandmother’s house.

    This is a good time to clean literally. Forget resolutions that can be pushed out until they are forgotten. Take care of what’s in front of us.

    So as daughter goes to work after the holidays and we spend time with GS1 during the week he has no school, he has an agenda of chores. Today he helped me bring down the Christmas tree, de-decorate, pack away, put away and yes, even throw away. It was time to part with some Christmas things I won’t even remember when the boxes are unpacked next year, especially with this impending move. We finished by early afternoon and then it was time to clean. He took to the switch plates, glass surfaces that weren’t windows, and all the window sills armed with glass cleaner, rags and some paper towels. Fair is fair, grandma changed the beds and dusted the woodwork and baseboards. Tomorrow…well we have more to do.

    My mother instructed me along the way to take inventory of the pillows each January. After checking all the beds, I found two perfect candidates to be disposed of. I remembered there were some Kohl’s cash dollars that could be put to use replacing those pillows so husband got into the act too, bringing home two fresh pillows. Yes, a satisfying day of literally cleaning house.

    Again, I love how you wove in the details of your grandparents and changed perspective to figuratively cleaning house in our adult world.
    Happy New Year and best wishes on cleaning house.

    1. Georgette,

      Grandma was quite a lady. I’ve always thought of her as serious, even stolid, but when I found this photo, I was reminded again of that little “twinkle’ that always was there.

      She wasn’t exactly a whirlwind, but she never stopped working. Even when she was out on the porch or watching television, she’d have her embroidery or tatting in her hands. It never occurred to me as a youngster to ponder her taste for doing handwork while watching pro wrestling, but that’s what she did. Her favorite wrestler was Gorgeous George. I’d never looked him up, but I just learned he moved to Houston when he was seven, and went to Milby High School before dropping out at age fourteen.

      I’d forgotten about pillow-changing. Grandma’s were feather, and I suspect she stuffed her own. There were plenty of feathers around. I do remember how prickly they could be when a feather or two started poking through the ticking. My cousins and I would pull them out, and if one was big enough we’d chase each other around, trying to tickle each other for a laugh.

      Enjoy your time with your grandson, and your fresh start to the year.


    1. Julie, my best wishes to you for the new year. Here’s hoping all goes well, especially for Ming. You of all people deserve a good year. I’ll be following along, fingers crossed!


  8. Some of your very best writings are of your early years. I am fascinated by it all. Relaying all that you remember has been presented to your readers in a wonderful style of writing. It is interesting and tuned to perfection as a fine violin. As I read, I can not wait to learn what the next sentence will bring. Loved the clearing of the clutter as compared to cleansing one’s mind. ~yvonne

    1. Yvonne,

      You know, I don’t set out specifically to write about my childhood, but now and then a connection with current events or something I’ve read “clicks”, and I do it.

      I was blessed with a remarkably happy childhood. Later, there were the usual rebellions, conflicts with parents and bad decisions, but that’s part of the clutter of life, too. Erma Bombeck, that wise old household guru, used to say, “When in doubt, throw it out.” I think that’s pretty good advice for mental clutter, too. I always figured that if I filled my head with worries and my heart with grudges, there wouldn’t be much room for anything else!


  9. You always write with such respect and love and remember so many little details when you tell us stories about your grandparents and parents that I feel richer for it. I’m beginning to feel as if I knew your family back in the day…
    Love the picture of you and your grandparents.

    1. dear, dear rosie,

      Happy new year to you! I do hope it’s as good, or even better, than last year.

      Memory is a funny thing. I remember what I see far more clearly than what I hear, and so many of my childhood memories are like snapshots. They’re detailed and vivid, and I “look” at them just as I would a photo. I certainly treasure them as much as I do any of the photos I have, and I suppose part of the reason I’m eager to transform some of them into words is so that I’ll still have them, should memory begin to fail.

      It pleases me that you use the word “respect” in relation to my writing. We live in a world where respect seems in ever shorter supply – perhaps because fewer people or institutions are worthy of it. In any event, thank goodness for your parents and mine – and our grandparents, too – who taught us the meaning of that word, and loved us as they did.


  10. It was easy to imagine from your words. Nicely done.

    I am blessed to live with someone who doesn’t collect clutter. She moves things along regularly. Our home has things we find useful and/or attractive. I am glad to be one of the things she has kept. As Red Green says “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” Maybe that’s my secret.

    1. Jim,

      One could do worse – much worse! – than taking life lessons from Red Green. And if I may say so – there are a good number of women I know who find handiness itself highly attractive.

      I’ve heard it said that the world is divided into keepers and throwers. I doubt the categories are that distinct – most of us probably are both. But there’s no doubt that the “throwers” have more closet space!

      Glad you enjoyed the post – and a happy New Year to you.


  11. Your story brought back many memories to me and I thank you for that. My memories of my grandparents were short (they died before I reached my teens) but very strong and not unlike the ones that you have of yours. How I wish that I could have known them a few more years! It seems that with every passing year I grow closer to the way they lived and the things that they held to be most important.

    1. montucky,

      I’ve experienced that same sense of regret – not only that my grandparents didn’t live longer, but that they died before I was smart enough to want to get to know them more intimately.

      I loved them, but in some ways they’re more interesting to me now than in my youth. What genealogy work I’ve done is rooted in pure curiosity: where did they come from? What motivated their move? How did they adapt to this new country? How did they survive during the Depression, after Grandpa was injured in a mine accident? and so on.

      They weren’t formally educated, but they were shrewd and tough. They were independent, responsible, honest and hardworking, and they knew how to cope with hard times. I think we grow closer to these ancestors of ours as we age because we recognize they’re still the best models we’ve had – and they may still have lessons to teach.


  12. My mom periodically “goes on a tear” cleaning house from top to bottom. I remember one time she used an ammonia based cleaner extensively and when my dad came home from work and walked into the house, the smell of ammonia almost knocked him down.

    When Lemon Pledge first came out, every Saturday we’d get lemoned within an inch of our lives because everything had to be dusted. Part of it was her innate Virgo need for order, but part of it was because my brother had asthma badly as a child and she had to keep the house as dust free as possible — not easy up here on the flatlands. Back then we used to get terrific sandstorms. Not so much now that the farmers have learned techniques to prevent wind erosion (they call it “sand fighting”).

    I’m kind of the same way. Periodically some area of the house will reach “critical mess” and I’ll go on a cleaning bender. I clean house thoroughly at the end of January each year so as to have a clean house by Chinese new year. (Good feng shui to start the new year with a clean house). However, alas, I’m not as scrupulous about getting rid of clutter as I should be.

    1. WOL,

      I learned something important about ammonia recently. Our municipal water supply now uses chloramines in their water treatment. I wouldn’t have known, except the leaves of my African violets began turning yellow.

      I always had let tap water sit before putting it on the violets, to allow the chlorine to dissipate. Unfortunately, chloramines – a derivative of ammonia – don’t dissipate, and they kill plants. I started collecting and using rainwater, and in less than two weeks the violets were back to a healthy green.

      Not only that, I’ve heard and now read that the unregulated by-products of chloramines are worse for us humans (and pets) than the regulated chemicals put in water. You might want to start the New Year off by checking your water supply.

      The first question I ask someone who wants interior varnishwork done on their boat is, “Have you ever used Pledge to dust?” Lemon or otherwise, the chemicals in that stuff will work their way right into wood or its coatings, and the only way to prep for fresh varnish is to get it out of the wood. It’s a simple process, but not pleasant. It involves a box of white rags and a couple gallons of acetone. The lemon pledge smells good, though.

      I’ve been told stories about your storms sandblasting cars. And my friend who was raised up there used to talk about his mother going nearly crazy trying to keep dust out of the house.

      I don’t think there’s a chance Grandma would have heard of feng shui, but maybe you can gain the benefits without knowing the theory. She always had her house cleaned in time.


      1. I routinely walked home from school until I started high school, which we were too far away from for me to walk home. When I was in elementary school was when we had the bad sandstorms, which usually started getting bad in the afternoon. My mom used to pack a bandanna in my lunch box and if we were having a sandstorm, I was to put my glasses in my lunch box, and put the bandanna over my nose and mouth. Because my mom worked, we stayed with a neighbor lady after school until she got home. (We didn’t turn into latchkey children until I got in junior high, and we were deemed old enough to stay home by ourselves.) I can remember coming in from having walked home in a blow, my hair looking like a rat’s nest, and going straight to the kitchen sink to rinse the sand out of my mouth. We always stored drinking glasses upside down (I still do) because there was no way you could keep the fine grains of sand out of the house. It would collect on window sills, even though the bottom of the window was below the sill when it was closed. Even in the house, you could smell the dust in the air. We used to have them pretty regularly, but they gradually decreased in frequency as the farmers started employing techniques to prevent wind erosion, although we still have maybe one or two bad blows a year. When the wind gets to blowing 40 mph with gusts as high as 60 mph, there’s going to be dirt in the air. Nothing anybody can do to prevent it.

        1. Oh, and I use bottled “OZ” water — reverse osmosis. Have done for about 15-16 years now. I used to have to go get bottles filled and lug 40 lbs per bottle into the house from the car, but now the delivery guy brings it to my front door. I still get to lug them into the kitchen and upend them on my dispenser, though.

          1. Forty pounds is just at my upper limit. I used to tote 40 pound bags of potting soil up the stairs, with some effort but no need to stop. I still could do it, but being the sensible sort I divvy it up now. Carrying a bucketful up first makes the bag manageable.

        2. I think your tales must be the Panhandle version of the old Iowa/Minnesota stories about walking to school in two-foot deep snow with the wind blowing from all four directions at once – which it often seemed to do, and which we often did (the walking, that it).

          There are times I think the roots of childhood obesity are rooted in the loss of childhood routines. The calories expended while walking to school, having recess twice a day and being free to go out and play with our friends clearly are more than those expended in a couple of hours worth of video games.

          We got a few gusts last night to 38/39. The 40/60 you live with is pretty amazing. People don’t stop to realize that’s tropical storm strength.

  13. We called that room the “Fruit Room”.
    Shelves of canned stuff on one side, bags of apples or potatoes on the floor and clean empty “Mason Jars” on one shelf.
    Mom always wondered why the sauerkraut crock was so much lighter once it was ready but I think that was the only thing my sisters and I ever filched .
    You have quite a list of comments to respond to here so I’ll check back in 2014.

    1. Ken,

      Your fruit room sounds more like what I called our “cave”. The pantry was just a pantry, but the “cave” was a combination storm cellar and root cellar. It was just behind the grandparents’ house, close enough to run into if a tornado was around. I called it my mountain – loved to climb it. The ceiling was timbered like the coal mines, and it was full of potatoes, cabbage, onions, sweet potatoes, and of course canned goods. I wasn’t so fond of the spiders and the darkness down below, but I loved playing on top.

      No sauerkraut for us, but in the wintertime there was salt cod. Now and then I think they made a run at lutefisk, too, but it was such a terrible dish that everyone finally agreed it should be abandoned in favor of more potato baloney (a wonderful concoction of pork, beef, potatoes and onions).

      Tomorrow it’s black-eyed peas, cornbread and cabbage. They say eating such will ensure luck and money. I’ve not had exactly spectacular results, but on the other hand – think what things might have been like if I didn’t keep up the tradition!

      Happy New Year!


    Dear Linda, to read your beautiful stories, and to read your beautifully written pieces in this language, you can’t imagine how great and enjoyable for me. You know this is my second language and I love it so much but with all these beautiful written pieces… Thank you dear Linda, being there and sharing with us.

    Your wisely and well experienced stories always hit me. Sometimes I found myself in there… sometimes you made me to think… sometimes they took me into my own memories… Thank you for visiting my blog and giving your amazing comment. Blessing and Happiness, love, nia

    1. nia,

      It makes me so happy to know that you can read my stories and enjoy them. Our worlds are different – but not SO different. Our first languages are different, but we still can talk to one another. When words are difficult, photographs help to bridge the gaps. It’s a wonderful thing, and I’m so glad we’ve connected.

      The New Year has come to you already, I think. I hope this year is special for you, with many surprises and joys. In a few hours, I will welcome the New Year, and then it will be time to begin again. We can make new memories, enjoy new people and learn new things. That will be a blessing, and great happiness.

      Happy New Year!


  15. Linda,
    H’s mother had a pantry to admire. We still talk about it. Our house has something builders now refer to as a pantry, but it’s nothing more than a mean, little closet.

    I admire your grandmother’s determination to revisit her clutter every year. What a great tradition, one that I should subscribe to. The new year is always a good time to take inventory.

    Happy New Year, Linda.

    1. Bella Rum,

      Oh, phooey. Even those fancy pantries that have pull-out walls and lazy-Susan shelves and two thousand cubby holes for designer napkins and fourteen brands of mustard can’t stand up to a good, old-fashioned pantry. For one thing, the old ones smelled so good. For another, as a kid I thought there was magic in there. Grandma could take a bag of this and a box of that, and the next thing we knew there was pie! cake! bread! biscuits! What’s not to like?

      In a way, it seems curious to me that Grandma would be so diligent – not about cleaning, but about not having clutter about. Maybe she just didn’t have the acquisitive gene. I do have two of her quilts, two crocheted table cloths, a dozen embroidered tea towels and the sugar bowl and creamer that sat on the dining table. And, I have an oak blanket chest Grandpa made from their first oak dining table. Combined with my memories, it’s enough.

      Happy New Year to you and H. As he says, it doesn’t get any better than this.


  16. Is this the rendering that I inspired you to write? Regardless, it’s wonderful. I pictured you as a child in the pantry.

    Funny that lately I’ve been thinking how we have too much junk around here and have been trying to muster the courage to tackle the sorting through of clothes that are just taking up space, and boxes of old things. There’s just not enough room in this house for all of it. It’s so bad, though, that I’m overwhelmed at the thought and can’t even figure out where to start. But your words inspire me, so maybe I’ll just pick a room, dive in, and think of your grandmother doing her annual thing!

    Happy new year, Linda.

    1. Bayou Woman,

      I was thinking about your DIL this morning. I hope all’s well with her and that she’s home soon.

      Some years ago, a friend was overwhelmed by her own need to clean up and clear out. She tried about everything the “experts” advised. As I recall, she even bought a book or two about decluttering.

      In the end, she decided to tackle it like weeding her garden plot. She literally “roped off” a section at a time – as I recall it was about 6’x6′ – and dealt only with what was inside that section. She did one section a day. Sometimes it took her five minutes. Sometimes, it took her five hours. But after a while, it was all done. I suppose it’s the housekeeping version of the old bit about how to eat an elephant – one bite at a time!

      Just remember – the kids, the fishing tackle and the guns get to stay. Likewise, the pots you use for crawfish boils. Oh, and the Captain. He can stay, too. Otherwise – have a blast!

      And have a happy New Year!


  17. We used to save everything — especially during the war; people peeled what was called “tin foil” off each stick of chewing gum and off the pack of cigarettes and some folks had huge rolls of it set in their good room or parlor for visitors to see. Others did the same thing with string.Giant balls of string was saved.No piece was too small to tie on the end and continue making the ball bigger. I wonder why we stopped doing those kinds of things?

    1. Honest Abe,

      Why did we stop? Laziness, maybe. A sense of plenty. A preference for running to Home Depot to buy a new ball of string rather than looking for those bits that are “somewhere” in the house.

      When I was in Kansas recently, I smiled to see great balls of barbed wire by ranch gates and such. I’m sure they were made of old fencing, but they tickled me partly because they reminded me of those string balls we always kept.

      My best bit of “saving” is the tinsel on my Christmas tree. It’s been taken down and saved decade after decade, wrapped around cardboard. I still remember my folks helping me learn to put it on one strand at a time, so it would come off easily, without being broken. What a treasure it is today.

      It’s so nice of you to stop by. Happy New Year to you and yours!


  18. Loved this post, including the photos. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

    I’ve just been thinking that I wish someone who decided her passion for knitting was over, would pass along her unused wool yarn to me. One year I knitted up all my leftover yarn into mittens, and then donated them to a shelter. I just came across a stash of patterns for hats and scarves that I never did get around to making. My interest was reawakened.

    I do think people outgrow passions or hobbies, and passing along those private stashes of supplies would give them new life in the new year. I will look at my stored things with a fresh eye to see what I can give away and make room for something new.

    1. Oh, Rosemary – I’m dying, here! If only you’d had the impulse a couple of years ago! My mom had a passion for knitting, and one of my responsibilities was figuring out what to do with her stash of yarn.

      When I say “stash” – well, you just couldn’t have believed it. When she still was living in Iowa, she ran out of closet and cupboard space for yarn, so she transformed the huge chest-style freezer in the basement into a yarn storage unit. When she moved from Iowa to Kansas City, there were 27 BIG plastic containers of yarn, and I moved that yarn from one place to another for the next two decades.

      After her death, I donated some to her knitting group, and the rest found its way around the country. I just double checked to see if I might have missed some, but no. It’s too bad. I could have sent you enough yarn to keep you busy for the next decade!

      On the other hand, if you ever decide to take up needlepoint, let me know. I kept most of her tapestry yarn and some of the fancier threads for needlework projects. I used to do some needlepoint myself, and thought I might take it up again. In which lifetime, I’m not sure. I think needlepoint probably is one of those hobbies I’ve outgrown. The time may come when I come to terms with that, and pass the rest of the yarn along.

      Won’t it be fun to see what we’ve done with this new year, when 2015 rolls around? Happy New Year, and happy creative endeavors to you!


      1. I’ve not become a needlepoint woman, and I doubt I will take that up. I made a couple of fleece caps for Christmas — that’s why I was digging around the patterns. I already have three smallish quilt tops pieced and ready for hand quilting. I do enjoy working with my hands, but I’ve given my time to watercolor painting instead of handicrafts these past two years. I still think this is the best decision for me for now. Those projects will likely stay on the back burner in 2015. But best of luck with your pencilled project list. Can’t wait for you to share them with us.

  19. There was never any sitting around – so true. All that canning and freezing all summer and early fall – fingers numb from shelling peas.
    Trendy organic eating long before it was popular…maybe that’s why we were healthier?
    Great memories.
    Hope you are snug and warm ( and being looked at with favor by your realm’s regent)
    May the new year bring much joy and fascinating adventures (and you promise to share them all, right?)

    1. Phil,

      It’s not just all that fresh food that kept us healthier. It also was what you mentioned first – “there was never any sitting around”. Yes, we’d laze in the porch swing and read. Yes, we’d watch television programs from time to time. Yes, we’d sit out on the porch and talk with the neighbors in the evening. But most of the time, all of us – adults and children alike – were busy doing.

      I understand it’s a losing battle at this point, but I honestly believe technology has as much to do with overweight children as candy and junk food. Look at the youngsters in our neighborhood. The ones who sit in Starbucks with their handheld games and such appear far less fit than the skateboarders who hang around my place. The people who gripe about skateboarders might want to reconsider. That culture’s one of the last refuges of kids with energy to burn.

      Speaking of energy to burn – give my greetings to Mollie and the German, and a happy New Year to you all!


  20. Happy New Year, Linda.

    I loved your trip through Memory Lane.

    Despite the differences in where they lived and what they did for livings, so much of what you write about your mother and grandparents, older relatives resonate so much for me. Different but so alike.

    Granny kept her canned goods out in the old smokehouse, so there was no ‘Checking out the Pantry ‘ ritual for me. It was dark, dusty, cobwebby and a bit scary! Besides, most of her jars were up on shelves too high for a small child to see.

    There were no idle hands among the womenfolk. Even at rest, there were peas to shell and beans to snap in the summer. In winter, there was crocheting and tatting to do. Obviously, I was never around for the big spring or fall cleaning, as I have no memories of that.

    As a farmer, Papa was the only one to just sit, when the day was over or the necessary chores on Sunday were done.

    As soon as you mentioned your grandfather’s workshop, it made me think of my Great-uncle Ed. He had an old one car garage in his backyard that he’d turned into a woodshop. He died in the late 50’s but I remember going out there with him. He made me a couple of pull toys.

    I was at a craft fair here in the late 70’s. Someone was making wooden name plates and the smell of that scorching wood, as they inscribed a customer’s name, ~~~wooshed~~~ me back to Uncle Ed’s workshop.

      1. I went over to look last night, but of course it was dark and there was only a little wind – and some chatter among the followers. I’m anxious to have a look today – at least at Phoebe. I can’t remember how long it was last time before the babies were visible. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Gué,

      The similarities are amazing – right down to the pimento cheese. I still haven’t tried Palmetto Cheese , but I hear it’s in some of our stores now.

      There wasn’t any smokehouse for me. Instead, there was salted fish – not so much to my taste, but Grandpa and Dad loved it. Our version of your smokehouse was the “cave” – a combination storm cellar and storage area. It was dark and cobwebby, too. I didn’t find it especially scary, but you can bet I looked twice for spiders when I went out there.

      Those free-standing garages behind the houses and along the alleys were great places. That’s what Grandpa’s workshop had been, of course. Most of his woodworking projects were small enough to be done inside the workshop, but sometimes he’d set up sawhorses in the backyard, and I’d watch him work from my swing.

      It’s amazing how those smells can revive the past, isn’t it? Proust had his madeleine, we have burnt wood and fresh laundry. Well, and baking bread. Can’t forget that!


  21. Oh, the uncluttered mind is such a beholden place to dwell; more difficult to attain and sustain than the burden of physical oddments (though they drag me down too; I know this, living with a packrat for 32 yrs.). My husband is from Iowa, and he keeps everything, figuring he’ll use it one day…but what does one do with an old sink from an airplane? It’s frightful, digging under his assortment of blue tarps!

    1. Monica,

      I have a cousin who lives that blue-tarp life. Add an assortment of hangars and a few actual airplanes to the mix, and you can imagine. Old tools, old farm equipment, old I’ll-figure-out-what-this-is-somedays – all are there, just waiting. His mom and some of his siblings have volunteered to pull back the tarps and help with the “sorting” process. Ha! Not a chance.

      As for the cluttered mind – that’s my issue now. It’s not that I’m overcome by worries or other such afflictions – I simply have too many ideas, too many threads of thought, too many nascent projects to deal with . I need to find a way to focus, prioritize. In short, I need to pull back the mental tarps and see what’s really there in the pile. What better time for that kind of project than a new year?

      Here’s to a year of creative impulses and enough discipline to give them form!


  22. Linda, you were so fortunate to live close enough to your grandparents that some of their habits rubbed off. Me? I lived so far away from mine that a visit once or maybe twice a year, for a few days at a time, was all that was allotted.

    I love the idea of dispersing clutter — it’s good Feng Shui, you know! — and starting a new year afresh. I’ve often heard it said that God can’t fill a full cup. To me, that means we really must pare down our possessions, give to those less fortunate, find new ways to use what we have. Otherwise, there’s no room for new and pretty things!

    By the way, I never heard of the Omar Man before!
    Happy 2014 to you!

    1. Debbie,

      “Going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house” was so common for us it almost became a routine. We didn’t go every week, but if we missed one week, we always went the next.

      It’s taken me years to realize important lessons were being taught, along with the fun. The most important? When children have grown and parents are aging, it’s the role of children to care for their parents.

      In my mother and father’s day, whining about being in a “sandwich generation” would have seemed laughable. My parents were raising me at the same time they were caring for Dad’s parents and Mom’s father – but at the time and when Mom talked about it later, I never picked up any sense of resentment. We just called ourselves “family”, and got on with life. And when it was my turn to take care of Mom, I did what was needed. It wasn’t always easy, for either one of us, but neither of us questioned that we’d stick together.

      Too bad you missed the Omar Man. Browsing that truck filled with goodies was a kid’s idea of heaven – especially since you could buy wonderful treats with a nickle or dime.

      Happy New Year to you and yours – both two-and-four-footed!


  23. I think our grandmothers may have been — in part — cut from the same thread. How I treasured those times at my grandparents. I didn’t get the cleaning thing so much (as is painfully obvious) but I did get the baking thing, the farm thing. So many wonderful memories of my experiences came back as I read this wonderful post.

    Perhaps your fascination with your grandfather’s tools led to your comfort working with such things in your business. And, it may well have made your separating with things from your mom much easier.

    I have trouble separating and if I have any one goal for 2014, it is to do a better job of that. Clothes that don’t fit, books I won’t read, trinkets that simply sit in the basement waiting to be reinvented or released. I think most of my mental part is done — most, not all. But it’s the physical that needs a big purging here — or at least, an accounting for. Your post gives me great inspiration to do just that.

    Happy New Year, my friend!

    1. Jeanie,

      Actually, my first varnishing happened in Kansas City, when I took a notion to refinish the woodwork in my first reasonable apartment – one formed of a few rooms in a wonderful Four-Square style house on North Main.

      At the time, Mom didn’t say a word. It wasn’t until I began varnishing boats that I learned of her history with the art. Her father had vanished woodwork in houses while she was growing up – and she helped him. She would sand, he vanished. She enjoyed the work, but associated it with a hard time in her life, and wished I would aspire a little higher. So – is my love of manual labor a matter of nature or nurture? They say skills and talents sometimes skip a generation – it may be I’m my maternal grand-father’s girl!

      When we talk about getting rid of “stuff”, there’s often an implication that it’s only the ill-fitting, unreadable or “junkie” that needs to move along. But this was the year that I finally sold two pieces of jewelry that really were difficult to turn loose of. Under different circumstances (different for each) I would have kept them just for their beauty. But a necklace had sorrowful memories attached, and a ring that had been passed on to me was so over-the-top I never would have worn it. So off they went. Both have new owners who’ll wear them and appreciate them – and I added some cash to my travel budget! Win-win, I’d say. But it was hard.

      In the end, we do what we can do. But you’ve been edging toward The Big Purge for some time. Now that your life has changed so dramatically, it may be that a clearer idea of what you want to do with your newfound time and energy may make the sorting easier than you imagine.

      It’s going to be a happy New Year – of that, I’ve no doubt!


  24. The small-town Midwestern world you describe in the middle of the last century—which is our century—is so different from the one we inhabit now, it’s hard to believe one person can encompass that span.

    1. Occasionally I joke about being from the Pleistocene, Steve, but there are times when it truly does seem so.

      Not long ago I tried to explain telephone operators, the expression “Number, Please” and four digit phone numbers to an iPhone-toting teen. She looked at me as though I were crazy. Perhaps I am, but mid-century, Midwestern craziness suits me just fine. Besides, it gave me the title of this post.

    1. And I cherish every one of them, especially since I’ve come to understand the original post as a starting point rather than an end in itself. The discussion make entries come alive in ways that are quite delightful.

      I know there are people who return specifically to read the comments. A few have said, “Gosh! The comments are as good as the post!” I don’t take that as an insult, but rather as a sign I’m doing what I’ve set out to do: engage readers.

      Whether I have the best commenters in the world I can’t say. But I’m convinced there are none better.

      1. Regarding that last paragraph: mathematically speaking, if there are no better commenters, then even if there are some as good, you’re still entitled to claim that yours are the best. (If you’d like a commercial example, Hyundai claims its 10-year car warranty is the longest one available, even though at least one other company offers an equally long warranty.)

        1. By gosh, you’re right. And you’ve reminded me of something I looked at, pondered, then rejected. I just took another look and watched the video. Maybe I will leave my comfort zone and give this a try. It certainly wouldn’t hurt me any.

  25. So many well written memories here! You have brought me back to times long ago and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. These are remembrances that should be treasured. Those times will never return! I am entirely attracted to the simplicity of this era!

    1. WildBill,

      As montucky said up above, the older I get, the more I cherish the experiences of my childhood and, more importantly, the values of the people who surrounded me.

      It wasn’t a perfect world. Even in my little corner of it I knew about the terrible working conditions in the mines, social and ethnic prejudice, and the existence of real poverty. I saw the town drunk, the snob, the lazy one living off his relatives – they were pointed out to me almost as cautionary tales, reminders that I was responsible for making choices about my life. Sometimes I made good choices and sometimes I made remarkably bad choices – but the lessons held.

      Those days may never return, but the good news is that even in this chaotic era we’ve got, we can choose to live by the same values – including simplicity. Thank goodness for that!

      I hope your New Year is filled with the blessings of family and the natural world you love so much.


  26. I love it when you go back to history, your own, and bring back memories of my own family and traditions, special tasks. Cleaning days were planned every Spring. Oh, the smell of “savon (soap) de Marseille”, wax and small lavender bags !
    Several times a year I am hit by this fever of sorting out things. Regularly I find books, tiny bits and pieces, chinaware and linen that for a reason or another I cannot part with. I keep them until next time. I know this time will come soon and with it memories of people, events, places.
    Thanks for another meaningful post Linda, so well written too.

    1. Isa,

      It’s so delightful that the same scents, the same soaps, are part of our lives. I’ve been thinking that “Savon de Marseille” might be a good substitute for a Portuguese olive oil soap I’ve been trying to find. I used it years – decades – ago, recently remembered it and of course can’t find it now. It would be easier if I knew the name, but I remember only the shape, the fragrance and the wrapping. I suppose the company might have gone out of business by now, or the packaging changed.

      I have my own treasures that can’t be moved along, even though I look at them only once or twice a year and then put them back into their place. One such treasure is a bedcover for a full bed, crocheted from thread. The medallions are only an inch or so across, and the amount of thread used makes it quite weighty – several pounds. It’s meant to go over a solid-colored spread, but I’m not willing to put it out with the kitty here. Even meaning no harm, she could damage it with her claws, so my bit of Paris stays hidden away for the time being.

      Speaking of animals, I’ve not heard you mention Ninio recently. I hope he is well. Our animals, too, are treasures – they help us make wonderful memories.

      Thank you for visiting, and my best wishes for the New Year.


  27. I agree with your grandmother…the letters, cards, postcards stay…they are all little time capsules recording the way it was in a personal, very connected way.

    I agree with you on letting go the emotional clutter which hinders vision and dulls accomplishment!

    I too need to clean and account. We are going through such a process at our business but my own closets need a few invasive tendrils clipped as well.

    To a sense of order and the rightness of things…2014 we are ready for you!! (And more of your essays and perspectives!)


    1. Judy,

      Speaking of time capsules, one of the bloggers I read told a story of her childhood Christmas inspiration.

      Every now and then a glass ball on the family tree would break. She decided it would be fun to write little messages, take the cap off the ornament, put the message inside and seal it back up. When one of those ornaments broke in the future, there would be her message, waiting to be read. It’s really a delightful idea, and she thinks some of those ornaments still are around, message intact.

      The first day of the New Year’s almost over, and I hope you’ve enjoyed yours as much as I have mine. It’s been quiet and productive – may the rest of the year be so!


  28. Thanks, Linda, for this. I love the way you invite us to do some New Year work for the psyche.

    I also love the appeal to the senses in your description of your Grandparents. I mostly recall my Grandparents with my nose. Could it be that as children we more attentive to our senses, and so set up storehouses of sensual memories? Is this attentiveness lost in our harried world? When we were on the St. Olaf pilgrimage this summer, I noticed that my hearing was more acute, and attentive. It seems a certain leisure facilitates a kind of sharpness.

    At any rate, thanks for this, and a Happy New Year to you. Allen

    1. Allen,

      Time to sweep out those mental cobwebs! Well, and maybe patch a hole or two.

      I came very close to using the phrase “Proustian memory” here, and decided against it. But there’s no doubt that Proust’s wonderful passage about the madeleine has much in common with our sensory memories of childhood.

      For me, it’s woodsmoke, kitchen spices, the smell of line-dried laundry. I’m not sure we’re less attentive. It may just be that we’re living in a world saturated with “fake” scents – laundry soap, dryer sheets, scented candles – and lacking in the real smells of cooking food, baking bread, wood fires and so on.

      A friend who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain reported the same sharpening of senses. It clearly was a touchstone experience for her, as I’m sure your trip was for you. Unplugging’s not the worst thing in the world.


  29. Your grandmother’s year-end ritual and your more expansive view of it remind me of a homily once given by a Franciscan acquaintance, Fr. Justin Belitz. Justin spoke about the cathartic effects of “cleaning out.” I was still fairly young when I heard that message, but it has taken on more and more meaning as I have grown older. It’s exhilarating to be able to say “so what?” about matters that, figuratively, at least, would once have kept me up nights.

    1. Charles,

      I once belonged to a congregation where the spoken benediction at the end of every service was revised from more traditional formulations to a simple, “The past is forgiven, the future is open”. Worship there was many things, but it clearly was understood as a sort of “hinge” between the week just passed and the week to come.

      It was interesting to see attendance there at Watch Night services on New Year’s eve increase over the years. The services were the weekly dynamic, writ large, and people loved them.

      It hadn’t occurred to me until now, but there’s quite a difference between the “clean living” of the moralists (don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t this-or-that) and the kind of uncluttered life Fr. Justin spoke of. Vive la différence, I’d say.


  30. I enjoyed your post and reading all the comments. I saw that many of your readers had had similar experiences with their grandparents. For me, reading your recollections, it was like reading a foreign magazine – so interesting and so different.

    I never knew anyone when I was a child who made jars of pickles or such things. My maternal grandmother was very Parisian, she cooked well, but did not bake and liked to go to the restaurant. Their house was then outside of Paris but now is inside Paris, the area called La Defense. Actually my grandfather was the one making jam. I was the only grandchild, so when I visited, they played with me or took me out. My grandmother played the piano for me and my grandfather played music on his old Victrola type phonograph so I could listen to “good” music. I played with their cats or with my grandfather collection of vintage postcards.

    My grandfather was part of the City Council and even though I was 5 or 6 years old he would explain politics to me and why France was the country with the most freedom. I have shown him in several posts, he was 6 ft 3 or 4 and towered over me but was very kind. I like to read your recollections and will try to write more of mine this year. I look forward to your posts in 2014.

    1. Vagabonde,

      Clearly, I’m going to need a nice evening to explore your archives. I’ve known you were connected to Paris, of course, but had no idea how intimate those connections actually were. I love your description of your grandfather, especially. I have a photograph of my father and me on Christmas Day when I was very young. I’ve received a tiny record player (nothing so grand as a Victrola!) and we’re listening to a 78 rpm. It looks for all the world as though I’m reading lyrics, or something, which is possible, since I began reading very early.

      And your grandfather collected postcards, as did my father. Sharing such a collection is one of the very best ways to share history, culture and such with a curious child, which I’m certain you were.

      It tickled me to read of your grandmother’s preference for the restaurant. As my mother grew older, she developed the same preference, but as she grew older then again, she always was pleased for me to do the “comfort cooking” which she remembered from those days when restaurants either were in short supply or too expensive for their budget.

      She even bought a Le Creuset pot for me one birthday, and enclosed a clutch of recipes she’d transcibed from Julia Child’s tv show. “Let’s try this daube Provençal,” she’d say. I always felt like someone had taken over Mom’s body, but I cooked and she ate whatever showed up on her plate and our culinary horizons broadened.

      One of my intentions for the new year is to more faithfully read the interesting and informative blogs I already enjoy but so often don’t get to. Yours is one, certainly!


  31. Another gorgeous post, winding from the concrete to the more abstract, then then, in a brilliant sleight of language, rendering the abstract concrete: “Broadening my view, I see tendrils of laziness beginning to choke out projects I’ve left potted on the windowsill. My little carpet of accomplishment, neatly rolled out across the floor, is littered with bits of anxiety and frustration. A light film of anger clings to one window, dimming the light, and a grudge or two I’d meant to throw out still are there, waiting to be tripped over.”

    To a great 2014!

    1. Susan,

      Speaking of sleight of language, “Great Britten” is right up there. I’ve skimmed it, but need a bit more time to absorb it all. There’s food for thought in there, even for non-musicians.

      I’m rather fond of that paragraph, myself. One thing I’ve learned is that tendrils of laziness aren’t so fragile or easily ripped away as, say, those belonging to a morning glory. They’re more like kudzu, and if you turn your back, you’re done for.

      I’m looking forward to the treats you’ll offer in the coming year!


  32. Congratulations on triggering the memory banks of the nation(s) with this wonderfully rich, nostalgic New Year post.

    I grew up on a small Hebridean island off the North-West coast of Scotland which I left aged 17, never to return apart from on short vacations. I have such vivid memories of my grandparents: here is one.

    My grandfather Calum (a traveller and adventurer in North and South America in his youth) was sitting on his doorstep, placidly searing a sheep’s head (as you do….) prior to making soup of it. He left it momentarily on the doorstep, taking his poker back into the kitchen to heat it in the heart of the peat-burning range.

    In his absence, a passing dog called Benny stole it, bringing his booty home to the house of none other than my Whitaker grandparents – long before my parents were married. I wonder if the sheep’s head had anything to do with their getting together? Maybe I exist because of a stolen sheep’s head!!!

    With that offbeat tale I wish you a very happy and productive New Year.

    1. Anne,

      One of the great delights of blogging (as you know) is discovering the similarities and differences among people. I must say – there’s nothing quite so “different” as imagining the connection between families you’ve posed here. Well, unless it might be a few minutes pondering sheep searing instead of sheep shearing.

      In an amusing bit of coincidence, there’s been a different kind of sheepshead hanging around a dock where I work. I’ve never made a soup of it, but I’m sure some folks do.

      The tale of Benny reminds me of the wonderful dogs-steal-turkey scene in the classic film, “A Christmas Story”. Amazing how the frustrations, “crises” and general irritations of life often make for the best stories later. Here’s to a year filled with great stories!


  33. Cherie applies the “one year” rule to our household too. She is merciless, unlike your grandmother, who it seems would show some grace to the rarely used items, as long as she’d remembered them and would know where they are.

    This is yet another beautifully written post Linda. It causes me to think about how our society tends to squander the leisure our ancestors would have loved.

    I’ve some cleaning that badly needs doing. Some judgmentalism and bitterness that needs to be thrown away. Some joyfulness and gratitude that needs to be dusted off and brought out of storage. Thanks for the reminder of that too.

    Blessings and peace in 2014…

    1. Bill,

      Grandma had quite a sense of history, and was reluctant to toss special connections to the old country. Many of the bits of ephemera landed in the family Bible, which went to a cousin after my grandparents were gone.

      In a sense, many of the used-only-once-a-year items were historical, too, like her sausage stuffer. They connected the family to the foods and traditions of the old country – and she knew better than to trot out something new and fashionable when the holidays rolled around. Her kids would have pitched truly remarkable fits if they hadn’t been able to get their potato sausage and the headcheese called “sylta”.

      I might be willing to make potato sausage, but the sylta tradition died with Grandma, at least in our family. Any recipe that includes the words, ” Clean teeth with a stiff brush and cut off ears” isn’t going into my files!.

      I’m pretty much incapable of holding a grudge, no matter how hard I try. But laziness and sloth? I’m there, I’m afraid. Here’s to a year of getting things sorted!


  34. I love looking at old photos. And so much can be learned from generations past, ways of looking at things that we have lost with time. Thanks for sharing about your grandmother!

    1. dragonfly180,

      Photos are fun, aren’t they? They’re full of interesting details, and best of all they help to keep memories fresh. We weren’t much of a photo-taking family, but I cherish the ones I have.

      Thank you for stopping by, and for your nice comment. I hope your New Year is filled with all good things!


  35. What a beautiful story…. I love your memories, and how you so vividly take us to such fascinating times and places. Inspiring, too. I’m with you on the new year of cleaning, but even as a former army brat… I hold onto some (OK, many) precious bits. Of course! :)

    1. FeyGirl,

      The important thing, I think, is to be conscious of what we’re keeping and what we choose to let go. In the end, Grandma never actually got rid of all that much, but she darned sure was going to know what she had.

      There’s something else I’ve been thinking about. In those days, people tended to see it as their responsibility to take care not just of their family, but also of their neighbors – meaning, everyone in town. If someone had lost a family member to a mine accident, or had an illness, or was taking in a relative from elsewhere who’d fallen on hard times, everyone knew it. So, the question Grandma asked wasn’t just, “Do I want to keep this?” or “Do I need this?” but also “Is there someone who needs this more than me?”

      There have been a lot of changes in our country over the past fifty years, but I suspect that’s one of the biggest. Hooray for the people who still ask such questions!

      A Happy New Year to you – I think I just saw that even Florida is going to get a dose of this cold weather. If you don’t escape, stay warm.


  36. I know few writers with your gift for scrutiny and description — both the internal and the external kind. I hope this and every new year finds you feeling lighter and less cluttered, and that we all occasionally encounter a child still capable of being enthralled by a pantry.

    One question: Did your grandparents meet on the ship, or later in Minneapolis? For some reason, their story made me think of a couple I recently heard about. They had been born on the same day in the same hospital, and while they never knew each other in the nursery, later met and got married. I always wonder what that conversation of discovery sounded like.

    Happy New Year, Linda.

    1. Charles,

      It may be that the ability to observe – even scrutinize – is a gift. On the other hand, if it is a gift, it’s one that needs cultivating.

      In July of 2008, just three months after starting this blog, I came across a quotation from Edward Steichen: “Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things.”

      It occurred to me that the tools of the trade – vocabularly, grammar, spelling – were necessary but not sufficient for good writing. Learning to see, whether a retrospective past, a visionary future or the commonplace present, is harder and more necessary. Of course, to move from seeing to writing entails thinking, and that may be hardest of all.

      I know few details about my dad’s folks,only that they met in Minneapolis after debarking the ship. How long after, I don’t know. But they were from the same area in Sweden, and from what I’ve been told, immigrants from the same areas tended to cluster once they got here.

      I had one of those conversations of discovery with the museum direction in my grandparents’ town. I had called to inquire about some materials there, and as we talked, familiar names began to pop up. Eventually, we figured out that my great-great-grandfather’s youngest brother was her great-great-grandfather. Needless to say, things got even more interesting after that.

      Here’s to a year filled with wondrous discoveries!


  37. How many remember those riding the rails? It used to be fairly common (and children were cautioned about hanging around tracks).

    So much in common. “If we hadn’t used it, looked at it or remembered it in the past year, we didn’t need it.” My mother’s hard rule. Things left whether we liked it or not. But maybe it was fairly common….everything didn’t have to be brand new – “serviceable” items/furniture passed around and Hand-me-downs were not scorned. Parents used any unhappiness as motivation to get kids to “study hard so you can afford new” and to encourage charity – “you have so much – some other child with nothing would be so happy with this”

    End of the year always seems like time to clear things out – both house and mind.
    May your new year be clutter free and clean sighted down every road.
    (and I am trying to catch up with only one fur child here now)

    1. phil,

      There’s a town in Minnesota that has a sort of memorial to hobos on the outskirts, down under the bridge and next to the rails. I need to find the photos I took there and do something with them. At my grandparents’ house,the telephone pole on the other side of the alley used to have some of the hobo hieroglyphs – including the cat, which I didn’t understand at the time but now think was perfectly appropriate.

      As an only child, hand-me-downs weren’t my fate. But I was doubly lucky, as Mom was an excellent seamstress and made all of my clothes and my dolls’ clothes. She could do everything – tailoring and fancywork like smocking as well as simple dresses and playsuits. In most of my grade school pictures, I recognize what I’m wearing as coming from her hand – and in the quilts I have, I can trace our history of dresses, shirts, ties, and so on.

      I really am having a hard time grasping that a week of the year already is gone. I know it’s only a week – but as my great-aunt Rilla liked to say, “Tempus Fidgets!” At least your time’s slightly more your own now – though perhaps you have a lonely pup with the playmate gone?


  38. Well, look what’s still here in MY mind! Right next to my cognitive decision that Life doesn’t work in an A+B=C kind of way is a shadowy emotional craving that Life work in an A+B=C kind of way.

    1. Claudia,

      Maybe we need to triangulate – you know? A2 + B2 = C2. If nothing else, we could amuse ourselves (and perhaps Pythagorus, if he’s still hanging around) using the theorem to calculate – what? Something, surely. I can see the pamphlet now: “The Pythagorean’s Guide to Dispensing with Clutter”.

      I’d say it’s too bad that life’s not so neatly contained, but on the other hand – that’s one of its delights, too. Sometimes.


  39. So much to think about from reading your posts.
    Love that you had a grandmother that was so much a part of your everyday life that you have memories of her like these. And what a little doll you are. Love that photo too.

    I would have liked being one of her grandchildren I think. To grow up with stability you can count on, chores that are part of everyday, not something that is a chore.

    And the clutter, my o my what I wouldn’t give to clean out the clutter. Such a great idea doing this once a year. I think that’s why I’m awake at this early early hour, is to clean out some clutter in my head about my past as I move forward in this journey I am in right now. Things change as they ought too, just figuring out what to keep and what to let go.
    peace n abundance,

    1. CheyAnne,

      You would have liked being her granddaughter, for sure. She didn’t let us get away with any nonsense, but she really liked children and was patient enough to teach us everything from how to plant flowers to baking to embroidery. I remember her setting limits (“DON”T throw snowballs at your grandfather!”) but I don’t remember her ever criticizing us.

      I’ve never thought about the importance of stability in my growing up years, but my goodness, that’s the very heart of what I experienced, both with my parents and grandparents. I suspect after the turmoil of two world wars and the Depression, they worked a little at providing us with that stability.

      Cleaning out the mental clutter is important. My mother never was able to do that, and I have a friend or two who aren’t very good at it, either. I always told Mom that if I could wave a magic wand, I’d get the words “what if?” out of her vocabulary. I’ve always found dealing with what is keeps me pretty occupied. No need to imagine what could happen, or try to remake the past.

      So happy to have you stop by. We’re all on the same journey – it’s nice to touch base now and then.


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