Happy Birthday Papa

Chopsticks!

Papa showed me how to play the classic simple song. A waltz actually. On his piano.
Sitting right beside me. Just the 2 of us.
At his big old house in Cincinnati, Ohio. One warm day in the 1960’s during a rare family visit.
I was only 8 years old.  I wish it had been the first of many lessons.

Papa, my paternal grandfather, was born March 9, 1886 in Chicago, Illinois. The middle child of five.  I don’t know much about his early life except he met Grammy when passing through her small rural Tennessee town. He often traveled by train from Cincinnati, working as a lumber inspector for his brother’s company. He rented a room in my grandmother’s childhood home during stops in Graysville. He eventually won her over…and that was that!

Papa and Grammy married and raised my father and his older sister in Cincinnati, where Papa owned and operated a lumber company. No small feat for a man with only an 8th grade education.

I probably saw Papa maybe a dozen times before he died unexpectedly at the age of 78. Cincinnati was very far away from where I lived on the east coast. Visits did not happen often. The last one was a whirlwind car trip a few weeks before he died.

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Papa and me

What do I remember about Papa?

He was a short quiet man with kind brown eyes. Papa loved to put on his cap and go for long walks. Sometimes he asked me – just me! – to join him. During one of those walks, he stopped, plucked a wide blade of grass from a nearby patch and carefully positioned it between the sides of his thumbs. He pressed his thumbs together…held them up to his mouth, took a deep breath, puffed out his cheeks…and blew out…. It whistled!
Was this magic?
He then plucked one for me. And waited calmly until I was able to make it whistle all by myself.
I’m (obviously) still impressed all these years later.

I learned how to play chopsticks on the piano during one long…patient…lesson with him. Later, in their sunny kitchen, we’d sit across from each other by the window and play double solitaire. Or a new card game he taught me called 7Up.  At the metal table with the shiny sides and checkered formica top.

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Papa and me
circa 1958-59

Sadly our connection was short lived, but fortunately he left his loving stamp on my memory…and my heart.

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Happy Birthday Papa!

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Fishing in Tennessee

 

[ps…Papa would be thrilled to know…that coincidentally…his middle name is the same as his great great grandson’s first name…and…also coincidentally…they were both born on the 9th day of the month…]

 

Photo a Week – Pink

Nancy Merrill is hosting a photo challenge. The theme this week: Pink

IN A NEW POST CREATED FOR THIS CHALLENGE, SHARE A PHOTO OR TWO (OR THREE…) FEATURING THE COLOR PINK.

Once upon a time…decades ago…my daughter was all about pink. Pink shirts. Pink pants. Pink sweaters. Pink tights. Pink Care Bear. Pink pj’s. Pink robe. And slippers. You get the picture.

And on the occasion of her 5th birthday, appropriately dressed in her favorite pink lace covered party dress, she was thrilled to open a gift…and discover it contained…a pink raincoat.

At age 5, there was no such thing as too much pink.

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Happy Birthday Oma

“Honey, I don’t care what anyone tells you – the golden years are shit for the birds!”

(My) Oma
circa 1992

Oma always told it like it was. To anyone who would listen.
One of the many things I loved about her. She got right to the point. No mind games.

And at the age of 86, that was her take on life, confined to a wheelchair in an assisted living facility near me. Her shoulders disintegrated. Knee replacements failing. Almost blind. Skin thin as tissue paper. Widowed. She was pissed. Understandably.

 

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Oma was my maternal grandmother.
Born and raised in Ohio.
Oldest of 2.
Self-proclaimed flapper.
Married at 22.
Mother of one.
Grandmother of 5.
Greatgrandmother of 6.
Lover of all things strawberry.
And Stouffer’s creamed chipped beef.
And “The Price is Right” & “Days of Our Lives”
And Andy Rooney’s segment on “60 Minutes.”
And…as I discovered…she loved yellow roses…just like I did.

When Oma was having a good day, she also liked to talk politics, gossip and reminisce about her childhood…

I played jacks and I loved to roller skate. Those were the only things I could do! Back in those days, the girls wore big bows in their hair. Boys and girls were in separate classrooms. Why, I remember visiting my cousins on their farm in Indiana. It was so much fun. It was a beautiful farm, too.

She would slip into the past and take me with her. I saw chickens and cows and the juicy pies set to cool on the kitchen windowsill. She spoke of her fireman father who developed crippling rheumatoid arthritis but doted on his little girl.  He spoiled me, she said with a grin.

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Oma only completed the 10th grade, quitting to work full time and bring in money for her family. She loved her job as a secretary at a music/piano store in Cincinnati.  Customers came in to listen to the newest records in private listening rooms.  She was thrilled to be a part of that.

But I remember her long before the “golden years” overtook her.
Her quick wit, her caring and love of family.
Her spirit.

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I spent weekends with Oma & Opa several times a year. My childhood getaways. Just me and them.

When Opa was at work, Oma and I went shopping – back before the days of big box stores and Walmart.  We’d walk up and down the town’s main street. Every shopkeeper greeted her by name, the bells on the door signaling our arrival. We got fresh sliced ham for sandwiches and a thick steak at the butcher shop. Black & white cookies and warm rolls from the bakery. Opa’s shirts at the dry cleaners.

One day, on our drive home from shopping, we were waiting at a stop light next to a carload of teenage boys. The driver gunned his engine and laughed at us: the “old” woman and the kid. Well…when the light turned green that “old” woman floored it. We were off like a shot – her 8 cylinder blue Chrysler leaving those hot-rodders in the dust! I cheered!  Wow!, I remember thinking, Wow.

It is still my favorite Oma story. This “old woman” was 60ish at the time.

***

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I know I was in her thoughts when she was on trips with Opa.
I still have a pile of postcards written just to me in her perfect handwriting…

And birthdays? She would bake each of her grandchildren a cake of his or her choosing. From scratch.
Her other specialties? Waffles made from Bisquick. Applesauce from scratch. Velveeta macaroni and cheese. Using the right brand was crucial.

The results were outstanding.

Upon moving to my first home, I asked for her famous macaroni and cheese recipe. She complied:

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My Oma (or Ruth, as she was known to the rest of the world), would have been 112 years old today – October 19th.
I can just imagine her rolling her eyes at the very idea of living that long.

Happy Birthday Oma!

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Tuesday Photo Challenge – Birthday

Here is my entry for this week’s challenge hosted by “Dutch goes the Photo.”

https://dutchgoesthephoto.net/2018/10/09/tuesday-photo-challenge-birthday/

The theme this week is “Birthday”

Birthdays are a big deal. No matter how old you are. If you are lucky, you have a party (if you want one). With friends. Family. Neighbors. There is usually cake lit up with candles (when you had a grandfather like mine, sparklers instead). Presents! Hats. Favors. Games of some kind. Pin the Tail on the Donkey when I was 5. A “Ouija Board” and levitation when I was 15.

My children always had a birthday party – sometimes more than one if you count “family party” and “friend party.”  We did Pin the Tail on the Donkey a few times, but soon realized that was SO old fashioned. However, cake and candles never go out of style. Especially the trick candles…

And…speaking of trick candles…the following is one of my favorite party photos. My daughter’s 4th birthday.

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The photo below is from my 4th birthday party. Trying to set up the group shot. The pointy hats are an interesting coincidence.

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[For those interested… Birthday parties are such a fun topic…]

Happy Birthday Opa

Beefeater’s martini straight up. No ice. Lemon peel on the side – if I wanted lemonade I would have ordered it. 

That’s how Opa ordered his drink – the first order in the first round of drinks – when he took our family out to dinner when I was growing up. It sounds kind of rude, but I would imagine if time after time he got the lemon peel in the drink…well, he ran out of patience. I would wait with great curiosity to see what the waiter or waitress would bring. The fancy stemmed glass filled with a clear liquid served on a small plate…where a few slices of lemon peel hopefully (!) would rest. I don’t remember where the olive was supposed to go. Worst case scenario: a glass filled with ice AND lemon peel AND the gin. High drama for us kids.

Next up was ordering off the menu. We could all order what we wanted. No children’s menu. I always felt so grown up learning the fine art of “find out what goes with the dinner.”

Split and toasted!

When the inevitable basket of dinner rolls arrived to keep us fed while waiting for the meals to arrive, Opa would send it back to the kitchen. Please have these rolls split and toasted! And they did and they were amazing and warm and crunchy with butter melting all over.

The bunny!

While we crunched on warm, toasty rolls, Opa made magic happen with his white cloth napkin. He turned, napkin hidden, to the side – carefully rolled, then twisted the cloth and…turned back to face us. And there in the crook of his left arm was a napkin “bunny” – that kept “hopping” up his arm as he patted it with his right hand. All the while he would be talking to it and to us. We’d stare and stare. Wow. That’s entertainment.

The bra!

As we got a bit older, the bunny didn’t capture our attention like Opa’s napkin bra could. He’d quick fold up his napkin, pull the corners and briefly hold it up in front of his tie and pressed suit jacket. Ta Da! Opa had a bra! Hysterical and ridiculous every time. This napkin trick embarrassed my mother immensely but thoroughly entertained his grandchildren. How did he do this? Simple (but I didn’t figure it out for a long time):

  1. Fold napkin so that the 2 sides meet in the middle.
  2. Fold the opposite way so the open edges are on the outside.
  3. Grab left corners with left hand and right corners with right hand and pull.

 

Sparklers!

When it was someone’s birthday, there was a cake brought out to the birthday girl or boy. A cake with a lit sparkler! The cake could be seen from across the dining room shooting sparks into the air.  As it was set before you everybody sang Happy Birthday to You, You Belong in a Zoo….

***

I am honoring my Opa’s memory on June 26th – what would have been his 112th birthday – by sharing his restaurant tricks & talents. Valuable hints for grandparents everywhere. How to continue embarrassing your children and endearing you to your grandchildren forever.

Happy Birthday Opa!

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