Quite by chance, while curiously checking on the size of a college I once attended, I learned that the guy I dated and dumped during my first year of college has become richer than God and is on the college Board of Trustees. He was an engineering major who subsequently went on to face active duty in Vietnam, then returned to enroll in and graduate from Harvard Business School. His career has been characterized by taking the helm of at least four MAJOR corporations when they were struggling. As C.E.O. of each, he successfully turned them around, using six noble principles that he espoused (the first one being the importance of diversity). This was a guy who came from a working-class NYC family. His father, disabled in middle-age by arthritis, was an abusive alcoholic. His mother worked a blue-collar job as the sole supporter of the family of four. This former boyfriend’s  incredible success is simply unbelievable – and wonderful.  I am very happy for him.
There is only one other person who would be as gob-smacked as I was by this discovery:  my friend since that freshman college year, Leslie. Only she ever knew the dirty details of my dramatic and self-centered bust-up with this guy, because what I did hurt her as well.
Leslie and I have always kept in touch, most recently when we spent a couple of days together in Montreal, but I have not heard from her in what seems like a couple of years. I had to call her, but I was pretty sure that I didn’t have her current phone number. A search of the Internet revealed this:  Leslie died very unexpectedly from food poisoning while vacationing in Cancun.  I had been laughing hysterically at the incredibly unbelievable success of the ex-boyfriend, even for awhile thinking that he must have made it up and sent it to the college alumni association as a joke; I was hit broadside by the death of my friend.
If I may be a bit crass, it’s like the tale of the Catholic Bishop who scored a hole-in-one while playing golf when he should have been in mass.  The archangel told God about it, and felt that God should punish this Bishop severely, but God replied, “He’s already been punished. Who’s he gonna tell?”
Yes, who am I going to tell?  Those kind ears that forgave me so long ago can no longer hear.  How we would have laughed together at the irony and the deserved fortunes of that guy we once knew. But this is part of what growing older is about. Sometimes the promising stars from your youth fade; sometimes those friends who were undistinguished soar. And sometimes friends you have always taken for granted leave.

Grampa Louis

Louis, my husband’s grandfather, was born in 1888 in Lithuania/Russia. Women frequently died of complications in childbirth in those days, and so it was that Louis was the son of his father’s second wife – who was also his first wife’s sister.

An older half-brother had immigrated to New York City and then had the incredible good fortune of winning $7,777.77 in a lottery, a small fortune in those days, enabling him to pay for Louis’ passage – if Louis could escape Russia.  Louis must have traveled quite some distance to reach the border, as Krekenava was in central Lithuania, and his destination was Antwerp, some 1,745 km to the southwest.

On his first attempt to cross,  he was caught and jailed for trying.  Louis was a good checkers player, and so was an imprisoned Cossack captain, and they became friends.  Louis was a small 17-year-old (5′ tall and 122# is recorded in his “Declaration of Intention” to become a U.S. citizen), and the Cossack looked out for him. After his release, Louis then succeeded in sneaking across the border disguised as a girl going to market with the village women.

As he neared Antwerp, Louis was hungry.  He approached a street vendor selling fruit, but they spoke different languages.  The vendor used gestures to convince him to buy a banana, something Louis was completely unfamiliar with.  After biting off a portion of it, Louis spat it out, concluding that the vendor had fooled him.  He didn’t know that he was supposed to peel it!  Years later he would laugh as he told the story.

Louis reached New York City in December of 1905.

Thanksgiving Memory

Many years ago, I became acquainted with an old Irish fellow named Tommy. We were among the crazy young people (at least that’s what most of the locals thought we were) who were “going back to the land.” We were figuring out how to be carpenters, stone masons, gardeners, and so forth, espousing the old ways and doing it all ourselves. [But that’s another whole story…].

Anyway, Tommy smoked a pipe that fitted in between whatever remaining teeth he had and was ever-present. It was challenging to make out whatever he said, and so it was one morning when my phone rang and the unmistakable voice of Tommy asked (dispensing with the introductions), “Do ya want some tarrupps?”

“Some WHAT??” I replied. He repeated, “Tarrupps. Do ya want some?” I’m thinking – but not venturing – building material? Food? Tools?

Not having the foggiest idea of what tarrupps were and whether, indeed, I did want some, I opted to accept his offer. He told me to come on over and get ’em. I did, never letting on that I was completely ignorant of what I was being gifted. And that was the day I first cooked turnips. And why, today, as I cut up some turnips to roast for Thanksgiving, I remember old Tommy.

Grape Leaf Pickles


My grandmother, Sarah Maud Pomeroy, was born in rural Canada back in 1884. When her mother died in 1898,  fourteen year-old Maud became the woman of the house.  She shouldered the cooking, housework, and the raising of younger siblings, and by the time of her marriage to John Wesley Andrus four years later, she was well-versed in domestic skills.  

Around 1905, Wes and Maud moved to an acre of land in Chili, NY, just west of the city of Rochester.  Wes found employment, but he also put considerable effort into growing fruit and vegetables and in raising chickens and selling eggs.  In those days, every home had a larder, and theirs was filled with the food he grew and Maud canned or root cellared.  Along the eastern edge of the acre he planted a long row of grapes.

Some years later, Maud’s sister, Elizabeth, had a recipe for 7 Day Chunk Pickles, and Maud decided to make them.  She copied the recipe.  It was one of those old methods in which you put a whole bunch of cucumbers in a large crock in the basement, fill it with a salt/water brine, and let it sit.  In this case, you were to add something to the mix each day for a week before putting it in individual canning jars.  On Day 6, the recipe said to add 203 grape leaves, so Maud went out to the grape fence and began to pick.  By the time she finished, the vines were nearly bare.  She put the resultant pile of grape leaves in the crock, but things just didn’t look right to her.  She called Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth, I’m making those 7-day pickles, and today I was supposed to put in 203 grape leaves.  It seemed like a lot, and when I got to 200, I said, ‘Good enough, but it doesn’t look right to me.”

Elizabeth told her to hold on while she checked her recipe.

Moments later, Elizabeth returned to the phone, howling with laughter.  “You were supposed to put in 2 or 3 leaves, not 203!!!

When I inherited my gramma’s recipe box many years later, there was the pickle recipe, with the directions to add “2 or OR 3 grape leaves” firmly corrected in ink.

And that’s the story of Gramma’s famous Grape Leaf Pickles.

Have You Driven a Ford Lately?

Today “the boys” will come over to pick up our old Ford 8-N tractor. Built in 1952, it has served us well since the fateful day in 1979 when we bought it. I say fateful, because it was a day I’ll never forget.
The owners, back-to-the-land acquaintances not very unlike ourselves, were splitting/divorcing, and the stuff they’d accumulated for working the land had to go. A divorce is divisive in more ways than one, and apparently this divorce was leaving the male half of the sketch – whom I’ll call Exhibit A – with a strong need to show he knew what he was doing.
It was a chilly March day, and we arrived around 10AM with the F-600 flatbed truck we used in our firewood delivery business, expecting, as we’d been led to expect, to back it
up to an embankment or ramp of some kind, but Exhibit A waved off this necessity. He said there wasn’t anyplace we could do that, and he had some planks we could use to drive it up and onto the truck bed.  Keep in mind that this bed was a good four feet off the ground.
He produced the planks: 2x10x12s. (If you can do the math, you find that two planks twelve feet long rising to a height of four feet is… well, pretty damned steep). Exhibit A was very hard to dissuade, but there were three of us telling him it was an extremely bad idea, so he hauled out two more planks and some cement blocks with which to make a longer – and therefore less steep – ramp, and this time there was no dissuading. Finally, anxious to get the thing done and get out of there, we caved, and he mounted the tractor. I tried to get him to wait for us to nail the planks to the truck bed, but he drove on.
Up the ramp he went – the three of us holding our collective breath – past the cement block support and joint between between planks, and about two feet from his destination atop the truck, and to our amazement, it looked as though he’d been right, that he could just drive the 8-N onto the truck.  He stopped…, calling out, “Am I okay?” Collectively we shouted, “KEEP GOING!!!!!”  He yanked down on the throttle, the burst of speed spun the tractor’s back wheels, sending the planks flying backwards and out from under the tractor, and as it fell, it’s bucket-loader caught on the right side rack on the truck! Ford and driver swung back and forth wildly as he tried to jump off, not sure which way it might fall, as we gasped a terrified breath.  Slowly it stopped swinging and was still. Exhibit A stepped gingerly onto the truck bed and then jumped down to Mother Earth.
No one spoke. Silently, we all walked to the house. Tea was made in silence as our minds re-ran the near tragedy we had just witnessed.
Eventually, we returned to the yard and the dangling tractor.  Its rear wheels were nearly three feet off the ground.  We chain-sawed a vertical line down the side rack of the truck, separating the tractor-hanging section from the rest of the rack, and then I took over the engineering. Exhibit A wisely kept his mouth shut.
The task involved a lot of used tires and a rope, and it’s a bit long to describe, but several hours later my husband was driving an empty Ford F-600 and our two kids the 35 miles back home, and I was learning to drive the other Ford.  It had to be that way because my legs weren’t long enough to reach the pedals in the truck.

I Smell A Rat!

‘Funny the skills you accumulate over the course of a lifetime: driving a nail, mending a mitten, riding a horse, baking an apple pie, tap dancing, writing a blog.  Many of them you don’t ever think about, but now and then a learned skill might catch your notice as something that sets you apart from the pack.

In my case, being able to insert four fingers in my mouth and rip off a loud, shrill whistle has always seemed to me to be one of those things that elevate me to a place most girls don’t get to.  It’s good for calling a crowd to order or summoning a dog, not to mention the fact that people are impressed.

And although you often hear somebody say, “I smell a rat!”,  I really can.  This doesn’t happen very often, but yesterday, in the barn, there it was:  my nose, and the unmistakable aroma that falls somewhere between piss, vinegar, and old sneakers.  I’d forgotten all about rat-smelling as part of my skill-set, but yup, sure enough, I, my friends, have it.

Rat cropped

It’s funny what life in the country can teach a girl.  And now I need to impart that knowledge to the cat.

Northern Angels

These days I am acquainted with many wonderful and amazing people because of my art. In these artists there exists the possible, the unusual, the unique, the weird and the beautiful, expressed in form, movement, sound, image, rhyme and probably a dozen other sorts of vents for the fire within. One such person is named Hope, and besides being a wonderful digital and photo artist, she is also a healer. I learned this because I mentioned having to fit a volunteering commitment in around a health issue.

Holding a small mixed media sculpture in front of me, Hope asked me to place my hands on two blue stones which were intregal to the piece. She held stones on the opposite side and closed her eyes. As perhaps a minute passed, I could feel a slight tingling in my arms, and then she opened her eyes and smiled, saying it had worked and that she could also feel my energy coming back to her.

Twenty-two hours later I was standing in line to pay for a delicious plate of organic, vegetarian food at The Table restaurant in Ottawa’s west end. A young woman in front of me struck up conversation, as women will often do when sharing such a wait. Her wavy, shoulder-length hair simply parted, she radiated a glow that didn’t come from make-up, and she brought to mind a painting from a long-ago art history class. Yes, the food is wonderful, no it isn’t the first time I’ve eaten here. “I’m excited because I think there are things here my grandson could eat! He’s allergic to lots of things; soy, dairy,” I said.

“Do you mind if I pray for him?” she asked.

That statement somewhat startled me, but I don’t think I let it show.  Good grief, I thought, another wack-o Christian, but I replied sure, if she’d like to.  I imagined she meant later, so it was quite surprising to hear her – still glowing and radiating that beautiful, peaceful smile – speaking words of blessing softly beside me.  Even more surprising was that no particular god or son thereof was being mentioned.

“What is your name?” she asked, “Judy,” I answered, and she ended her words of blessing with “and his grandmother, Judy, to whom he brings so much joy.”

And then she turned and walked away.

I joined my husband at a small table near the window and told him that I thought I had just met an angel.

Were the encounters with these two women coincidence? I’ll never know, but they profoundly impressed me and gave me a great deal of food for thought.

The painting posted here is Botticelli’s Madonna. I have not been able to find the image that came to my mind at The Table, but this one is similar to it and would be perfect if Madonna were radiantly smiling.

My life is indeed blessed. May prayers and healing be affirmed.