Friday, May 30, 2008

A “Down Under” Christmas By Eve Taylor

Celebrating Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, or “Down Under” is different from the way we celebrate it. However, what can one expect in Australia where our winter is their summer, the water goes down the drains counter-clockwise, the hot water ‘tap’ is on the right, and they walk and drive on the left?

Our arrival on December 13th, 1968 began an adjustment that we had not foreseen. Christmas is not in summer. How could we experience the exhilaration of the holiday in 100 degree temperatures?

Our family valiantly tried to maintain our traditions to keep some semblance of sanity in a world gone “crazy”. Naturally, a turkey dinner was a must, so I visited the nearest butcher shop to order a twenty pound turkey. The butcher’s response of laughter surprised me—only six to seven pound turkeys were raised there. The rest of the dinner came together with further struggles: squash was called pumpkin, cranberry sauce was unheard of, molasses was treacle, nuts were “dear” (expensive), raisins were sultanas, and the kinds of apples were totally unfamiliar to me.

To add to our difficulties, we were in a rented house, which we had for only six weeks, while the owners vacationed. This was a common practice for people at holiday time to make some extra money. The house was furnished in folding aluminum furniture that did not lend itself to curling up and relaxing in. Everything belonged to someone else, making it hard to cook and set a traditional table.

In spite of all this, we all pitched in to make it seem like we were home. The heat did us in, though, being over 100 degrees. My husband who had a great sense of humor came to the Christmas table in shorts, bare chest, with a tie around his neck. He laughingly said, “If the folks back home could only see us now!” And with a flourish he began carving our scrawny bird.

There were other differences which also contributed to our homesickness. All the street and store decorations were pastel-colored, not our bright greens and reds. The greetings were “Happy Christmas” and “Merry New Year”. Many Australian families spent Christmas Day at the beach picnicking. Santa Claus was Father Christmas—red-suited, but thin. At a nearby mall, we saw one wandering around in the intense heat, looking weary, bedraggled, and far from jolly.

The Christmas tree was another problem. It was selected from a pile of very skinny trees that were hourly wetted down to preserve them from the heat. Until the tree was dried out and put up, we did not know what it really looked like. All I can say is that it was our first ever see-through tree.

On that Christmas Day, 1968, we had our first and last American traditional turkey dinner. We adapted to many of the Australian ways in the three years we lived there, but I am so glad we finally came back “Home for Christmas".

Picture One: Bryant Taylor's family just before they left for Australia in August, 1968.
From L to R: Evie, Lance, Pam, Mitch, Bryant

Monday, May 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Uncle Harold--An Algonquin Tale, by Jack Kinsella

We made an annual visit to Algonquin Park for a couple of decades. During those years, we had some good times, we had some bad times. Let me tell you about one of the bad times, at least from Uncle Harold’s point of view.

One constant of our trips was our “Paddle Pain Reliever” which accompanied us on every voyage. This was our code word for the booze each of us packed which was unpacked and drunk after every long canoe journey. Each of us had our favorite variety of Paddle Pain Reliever. Mine was Jamison’s Irish Whiskey, Dick Lochner’s was Southern Comfort, and Harold Taylor’s was Rum.

All of us knew this was Harold’s favorite so on our trip to the park in 1983, Jim Kinsella decided he would play a trick on his Uncle. He took Aunt Barb into his confidence and this is what they did. We could not take glass bottles into the park so we had to pour our booze into a plastic bottle instead. So as Uncle Harold was getting prepared for the big trip, Aunt Barb volunteered to help and she poured tea into the plastic bottle instead of Harold’s favorite rum. To make it a bit more realistic, Jim added a shot of rum to the mixture.

Off we went and I must admit the canoe trip from the jump off point to the St. Andrew’s campsite was a very difficult one—lots of low water which meant dragging the canoes, lots of beaver dams which meant lifting the canoes over the damn things, and in one case a moose ran in front of Harold’s canoe and almost stepped in the middle of it. Needless to say, when we finally arrived at our campsite, we were very tired and very thankful to be there. After setting up our tents, the number one thought on everyone’s mind was, “I need a good big shot of Paddle Pain Reliever.”

So we all retrieved our favorite plastic bottle, filled our cups with some ice cubes and poured ourselves a generous quantity of liquid. As Harold took a humongous sip of his “rum” all eyes were on him to see what his reaction would be. He got a happy look on his face and announced, “Man, that’s good!” We all looked at each other and had the same horrible thought, “Did Aunt Barb double cross us? Did she really put rum in the bottle instead of tea as she had told us?”

On his next drink, Harold said, “This is good but I’m not getting the buzz I usually do.” At this point, Jim felt sorry for his uncle, brought out the real bottle of rum and told him the whole story. Harold sat there and let it sink in and said, “Not to worry,” and then proceeded to have a few samples of the “real” stuff. We didn’t keep track of how many “samples” we each had but Harold had enough that he again recounted the story of Adin’s pigs that left the Solid Shaft in the haystack. Later on, he announced, “OK, you Yahoos got me that time, but beware, that’s not the end of it!”

Later, while Jim, Tim and Chris were out canoeing, Harold sneaked over to their tent and put large sticks under the floor of the tent where they would be sleeping. As it turned out, these were discovered shortly after they turned in and were quickly removed. All agreed their motto against Harold was, “We don’t get mad, we get even.”

At most Algonquin campsites, the John was a covered structure. At this one, it was just an open one—you just sat on a board with a hole in it, open to the world!. Not really a problem because it was in an area with lots of trees and brush so it wasn’t like going to the John in the middle of the four corners of Waterloo. The boys decided this was the place where they would get even.

In order to allow time to set up the trick, I suggested we walk over to a nearby waterfall where we could slide down on boat cushions. Everyone thought that was a great idea so off we went, except for Tim and Jim who were finishing up washing dishes. In reality they remained behind so they could set up a trick for Harold. which consisted of a bucket of water suspended from a long rope directly over the toilet.

After everyone returned from an entertaining time at the falls, all of us knowing about the bucket of water, couldn’t wait for the next day when we expected Harold to perform his morning constitution. The odd thing was, he didn’t do it early in the morning as was his custom. In fact the spirit didn’t move him that entire morning. We began to suspect that he had seen the rope holding the bucket (which was quite easy to spot). But no, as it turned out, Harold ( as we later found out) was suffering from a touch of constipation.

Finally, that afternoon he announced the time had arrived and he had to pay a visit to the John. We all watched as he walked past the rope holding the bucket and never glanced at it. Tim waited until he felt the moment was right, crept to the rope and gave it a great yank as he loudly shouted “We don’t get mad, we get even!!”

The plan was to have just water pour down on Harold’s head but the knot wasn’t tied too securely so not only did the water fall down but the bucket did also. It couldn’t have been better planned. The entire amount of water fell directly on Harold’s head and the bucket landed next to him with a loud bang.

If he had had a problem going, the water and bang did the job for him. After he realized what had happened, he gave out a loud laugh and said, “Well, I got soaked, but the good part of it was the roll of toilet paper next to me didn’t get a drop of water on it.” He then announced, “Remember boys, I will get even— if I live long enough!”

Picture One: Uncle Jack Kinsella, Uncle Dick Lochner,
Uncle Harold Taylor, Tim Kinsella, Uncle Ken Smith (Back Row)
Chris Kinsella, Sue Kinsella, Jim Kinsella ( Front Row)
Picture Two: Uncle Harold
Picture Three: Tim Kinsella—We Don’t Get Mad!
Picture Four: Paddle Pain Reliever
Picture Five: Harold Shoots the Chute

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rollin’ Down the River, By Sue Kinsella

I was 10 years old when my family drove to Connecticut to play Huck Finn with Aunt Doris’ family. They had faced a dilemma that summer when they learned that their new Navy housing wouldn’t be ready until September. Their solution? They set up camp for the summer on the banks of the Quinebaug River (pronounced “kwinna-bog”). I thought it was an awesome idea!

The camp provided a huge outdoor living space, with tents and tarps for sleeping quarters, privacy and shade. Dishes and cooking utensils were often a bit chipped or dented because they came from scrounging trips to the nearby dump. There was a huge “swimming pool” always available out front so we lived in our bathing suits and swam in the river all day long.

My family had just moved the summer before to our big house on St. Paul Blvd. in Rochester, and one of its features my mother loved most was the big pantry running along almost the whole back side of the kitchen. It had lots of china cabinets, cupboards, drawers, bins for flour and potatoes, plenty of counter space, a milk delivery door and even an old ice delivery door. Aunt Doris had heard just about enough about this magnificent pantry, thank you very much. So she took every opportunity to proudly point out to her sister that SHE had a pan-tree as well – a tree with nails in it on which she hung her pans!

She needn’t have worried about competition. All summer long, she was royalty, crowned as the Queen of the Quinebaug.

This was also the occasion when Dad and Uncle Bud stayed up all night to watch the fire log burn through. Apparently, this had been a goal of Uncle Bud’s for quite a while. My Dad might have seen the moment when the log collapsed into the fire. But that was the unfortunate moment when Uncle Bud chose to look down to find a good spot to set down his beer. For him, the quest would have to continue!

We spent several magical days camping out at the Hawkes’ airy mansion by the river. I thought it was terrifically exciting. I loved being with my cousins, and I thought that Aunt Doris and Uncle Bud were brilliant to come up with such a wonderful adventure. True, I was a little kid who didn’t have to handle any responsibilities. But it looked to me like the adults were having a grand time, too. I’ve always remembered that experience as an example of how little it can take to create idyllic days, if you have a great imagination.

Picture One: Hawkes Camp on the Quinebaug River

Picture Two: Hawkes Camp on the Quinebaug River

Picture Three: The Pan-Tree, along with Tom Kinsella, Cindy Hawkes, Aunt CB, Tim Kinsella (facing away), Steve Hawkes, Aunt Doris, Mick Hawkes

Picture Four: Steve, Mick, Cindy, and Charlie Hawkes with Aunt Doris, Queen of the Quinebaug

Picture Five: Dan Kinsella and Cindy Hawkes with the Pan-Tree

Monday, May 5, 2008

Grandma Howland’s store, By Kathryn Wood Barron

My Mom (Gladys) was Lily’s youngest daughter, who was Kate’s youngest daughter. My baby sister Wendy has the distinction of being Mom’s youngest daughter. I was Ma’s oldest daughter, and as such, there are things I have memories of that Wendy doesn’t. Grandma’s store is one of those things. My mom worked at the store for Grandma. I visited Grandma’s store plenty of times while I was growing up. Occasionally I would get to spend a whole day there. It was a great place to go!

In front of the store were the gas pumps, where I learned to pump gas. Who knew that self service would be the norm later on? When you went into the store, you walked down a couple of steps and you faced the counter. Behind it were stuff like tobacco, cigarettes, etc. Junk I did not care much about. To the right (as you are facing the counter) were shelves with canned goods. To the left was the candy case. Usually, there were bread racks in front of the window . There were chairs around the edges, and more shelves all over the place. As I remember, Grandma didn’t carry a lot of frozen stuff. I do know she carried frozen treats like Popsicles, cones, and other junk. She had a meat cooler, and sold cheese. She sold chips and pop and comic books and lots of cool stuff. She even carried stuff like socks and odd stuff like tire repair things. I can’t think of much that she did not carry. A little of everything. That store was a marvel!

In the back of the store was her kitchen and the bathroom. That sign with the two hunters (that was later moved to the Henderson bathroom) was in there. Grandma usually had a jar of cookies in the kitchen. They were ‘Wine drops”, a molasses cookie that she made. There was a door going outside in the back. There were stairs in the back that went upstairs where some stuff was stored. There were store rooms on both sides of the store too. There was a door going to one behind the candy case. That was the one where the pop was stored. There was a door going outside in that store room. The other store room had lots of ‘dry goods’. On one wall were drawers that contained sewing supplies like thread, shoe laces and other stuff. In the front of the store, behind shelves, were the stairs going upstairs to the bedrooms. Grandma’s was the farthest in, and Wendell’s was where the stairs came up. Wendell had the coolest toys. He had heavy metal farm equipment toys. Way cool! I realize now that these were toys he had when he was younger and later had for his kids. I doubt that they would have lasted like that in the Wood household!

When I was there I usually holed up behind the candy case with a huge pile of comic books. Grandma told me I could eat as much penny candy as I wanted while I was there. She had tootsie rolls, root beer barrels, fireballs, bubble gum, licorice, Mary Janes, Necco rolls, coconut strips, suckers, taffy, and more. Sounds real great unless, like me, you don’t have much of a sweet tooth . I usually snagged a bag of Cheese Jax, a Slim Jim and a bottle of pop and spent my day catching up on the comics. What bliss! Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt were a few of my favorites.

Back there, I could see and hear Grandma and Ma interacting with the various customers. The shopping experience was as much a social occasion as a time for shopping. People caught up on all the news and divulged even more. Grandma and Ma always knew who was sick, who had new babies, who died, who was mad at whoever. They even caught up on any new jokes floating around. The customers sat in the chairs and gave Grandma or Mom their grocery lists. Ma or Grandma or both got the groceries for them.

Mom and Grandma had different ways they treated people. Grandma was like the person next door, but she was very much in charge. Ma was kind of a flirt with the men. Any man. She could bat her eyes at a ninety year old man and at his 4 year old great grandson at the same time. It was just how she was. She would ‘sir’ every male. They loved it. Ma really liked people. Ma and Grandma really were great together there in the store.

I have listened to the interviews that Jack did with my Grandmother. In them she tells that she sold the store for $7000. She was robbed. Harry Underwood bought the store and changed one of the storerooms into a barber shop. He tried to run the store too. He didn’t last all that long. He ended up selling it to the Church next door and they tore down the store and made the land into a parking lot. When my daughter and I went to Wendell’s funeral, we parked about where the store used to be. I still get kind of sad to see that parking lot.

Picture One: Lil and the store
Picture Two: Older picture of the store
Picture Three: Lil and Elmer
Picture Four: The store and Elmer, Lil and a hired girl. This was taken when my Mom was a girl. Way before my time, but a real cool picture.
Picture Five: Lil, June 1958