Friday, October 20, 2017

October always makes me think of home...



Oh, the memories.  Chili simmering on the stove, an apple pie in the oven, muddy boots by the back door, a nip in the air, these were the October days of my childhood.

I loved the smell of burning leaves, the piles in the yard to tunnel through, barking dogs in the distance, a train meandering down Appel’s hill.  WROY would be playing on the radio, we had no television when I was a child, so most evenings I would be playing the piano.  How Great Thou Art, Floyd Kramer’s Last Dance, Sempir Fedelis, or Stars and Stripes Forever from John Phillip Sousa, and always classical music like Fur Elise or The Blue Danube.  My music was eclectic and varied, I enjoyed playing it so much, even though it didn’t come naturally to me like it did to  others.

There were always dogs and cats at our house which I would smuggle inside on a regular basis,  and we often had a parakeet or a canary.  The fields would be filled with tractors, fall harvest would be in full swing.  Sometimes I would get to go with Aunt Lois in her International pick-up to the elevator to dump the loads of corn.  We would stay in the truck and she would drive it up on a lift that would hoist up the front end to dump the grain.  Oh, it was so exciting for a little girl, to sit in the cab of the truck as it went up in the air.  

We would travel to visit my Aunts and Grandma on the weekend, their nearby fields would have popcorn grown in them, and we would take tow sacks and glean the leftover popcorn that the pickers left behind.  It was hard working, dragging those sacks of popcorn through the muddy fields and when we were finished we would go to my Aunt Idalene’s house and she would shell the corn off the cob and pop it, and since it hadn’t yet dried all of the kernels wouldn’t pop.  It would just swell to the bursting point, and the result would be the crunchiest treat ever.  They called the unpopped kernels “old maids.”   We would glean enough popcorn to last us all winter and mother would shell it and store it in fruit jars in boxes under the bed.  I would try and help, but always made more of a mess for her than it was worth.  My hands were so small I couldn’t get a good grip on the cob and the grains of corn would just fly everywhere.

We would gather hickory nuts, pecans and walnuts in the nearby woods and mother would spend evenings around the fire, cracking nuts and filling Ball jars with the nutmeats.  She always called them “goodies.”  On our weekend visits, she would help my aunt quilt, she always had a quilt in a frame in her “spare” bedroom in the winter or they would cut out a dress to sew for church on Sunday.  Aunt Idalene loved new dresses, and she couldn’t wait until one was sewn to put it on and twirl around in the living room to get Uncle Raymond's approval.  I would read books when we visited the Aunts or Grandma, since they didn’t have television either, or listen in on the adult conversations, a lot of which I couldn’t quite understand. 

Canning season would be almost over, except for Aunt Mae, who always made pear preserves in the fall, the most wonderful concoction of pears and pineapple you ever put on a biscuit and Mother always made Apple Butter.  She would fill an aluminum dishpan with peeled and quartered apples, add sugar, cinnamon and red hot candies and simmer it in the oven to can later.  We didn’t waste anything, so  mother would grind the leftover green tomatoes from the garden and make relish.  Chow-chow was my favorite, a hot spicy concoction that I still love with beans.   She would also spread unripe tomatoes on newspapers in the house to ripen, as killing frosts came in early in October to Southern Illinois.

Halloween would be on the horizon, my outfits would be things that I put together from old clothes.  One year I was a hobo, with bib overalls, a flannel shirt and a stick with a bandana bundle on it’s handle.  Once I was an old lady with pillows stuffed in my dress , a scarf on my head and a pocketbook to carry.   We didn’t have elaborate costumes like today’s children, we just made do with what we had.

I would wear face masks we bought from the drug store where Mother worked.   They would be very similar to the ones below, made of gauze, with a distinctive unpleasant odor and they always made me claustrophobic.  There were no cutouts for the nostrils, so you had to breathe through your mouth and often your eyelashes would get caught in the gauze around the eye cutouts.  If it were warm on halloween night, the masks were hot, I would always push mine up on my head with the rubber band that held it on.

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We knew everybody’s house we visited, and we would always unmask so that they could see who we were.  Our treats were apples, popcorn balls, always my favorite, and candy.  Not candy like kids get today though, it was mostly pieces of penny candy, cinnamon balls or butterscotch disks or a stick of gum.

I think I’m missing my childhood this evening, it happens with more frequency these days.  I yearn for the simple times, I feel blessed that I had them and that I can resurrect them on nights like this and go home again, if only in my mind...

~ Jan


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