A Crockpot Treasure

blogMy dad was the consummate story teller, and one of my biggest frustrations at losing him is the rapidity at which I seem to be losing his stories. Just bits and snatches here and there—the gist remains, but the details that made the stories so wonderful escape my memory.

The lesson here is: Record the stories now. Write them down. Get them on video or digital format, whatever medium you can—just record them.

This weekend though, I discovered a treasure. While cleaning the basement, my husband found a letter that my dad sent me not long after Mom died. It contained one of those little anecdotes that had escaped my memory. I present it here now, as Dad wrote it, because I can only improve on his spelling and punctuation—not his storytelling.

The Crockpot

Since the passing of your mother, I have done some experimenting with preparing my own meals. There have been some mild successes and few failures. Continue reading

A Gorilla on My Side

This would make a good gorilla chair.

This would make a good gorilla chair.

When I was a little girl, my parents didn’t have an abundance of money. I was very fortunate: I had a warm home, plenty of clothes on my back, and I never went hungry (unless I refused to eat that which was put before me—and not often even then). However, we lived on a budget administered by Mom. Mom was a tough CFO. Once a week my dad would bring home his paycheck. Mom would take it too the bank, deposit it and keep out just enough cash for that week’s expenses. She would buy groceries and give Dad his “running money” for the week. Mom bought groceries once a week. Period. If we ran out of something before the end of the week, we ran out of something. There were no second, third, fourth trips to the grocery store.

My Dad was a pressman at the Atlanta Newspapers. He worked the graveyard shift for more than 30 years. We would eat dinner and around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., Dad would head off to work. He would come home at 3:00 a.m. or so the next morning. He slept during the day, and when he was up before dinner, he could usually be found in his machine shop, working to add to the family coffers. He basically had two jobs.

When I was really little, I remember the big comfortable chair in which he most often sat—the “Gorilla chair”.  Continue reading

An Apple a Day

Gala ApplesThis past weekend our family made our annual trek to a local apple orchard for hot apple cider, apple cider donuts, pony rides, and of course, apple picking.

It was so nice to be out, and even though the weather was overcast and a little “sprinklely” at times, we still had a lovely day. We saw a couple of tiny Copes Gray tree frogs braving the crowds on the farm, and we marveled at the huge workhorses pulling some of the wagons. Butterflies—monarchs, and skippers in whites and yellows—flitted in and out, over and under the branches of the apple trees as we walked the rows and picked apples. The pumpkin field across the way was adorned with huge yellow blossoms and large orange baubles, as the flowers reluctantly relinquished their territory to the ripening fruits.

A band with fiddle and harmonica added to the ambiance of red barns, goats, pigs, corn and pumpkins. The clippety clop of horses was punctuated by the random ringing of the large dinner bell outside one of the barns. All of the sights and sounds of the farm were accompanied by the background hum of people out enjoying the day, children laughing and expressing wonder, couples walking hand in hand.

The orchard was picking two varieties the day we visited, Gala or “party” apples, a family favorite for us, and Jonamac, a variety created by marrying the more well known Jonathan and MacIntosh apples. I had never before tasted a Jonamac apple, but this apple gives the popular Honey Crisp competition. The flesh of the apple is white and incredibly juicy. It is a sweet apple that has just a hint of some other flavor—the slightest sense of a tart berry, perhaps.

We make this journey every year. This year when we arrived, our daughter said, “I thought it was bigger last year.”

“No, it’s the same as it always has been. Perhaps you were just smaller.”

And, I think that was some of it. Because when she ran to the playground and I saw her surrounded by younger children, I suddenly realized that I am the mother of a “big girl” now. She’s growing up, and things that seemed larger than life to her only last year are already beginning to feel smaller.

But they needn’t lose their wonder.

Because even at my age, I learned something new on this year’s trip to the apple orchard. I discovered an apple I had never before tasted, and I loved it.

That there can always be new tastes in a fruit as old and “standard” as the apple is an amazing and glorious thing. That there can always be new things to see and experience in the world around us, if we will but look and allow ourselves to be awed, is glorious too.

So yes, sometimes when we look back, life may have seemed bigger, but maybe that is because we aren’t big enough yet to understand.

© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

September Breezes

Mariah_aOur family grew by one member this week. Her name is Mariah.

Mariah is the Australian Shepherd that my father rescued when he was 80 .

After my mother died, my dad was very lonely, but he did have the company of their two collies: Cassie and Nicki. Both of the collies were older. Cassie was my mother’s dog, and it was clear after Mom’s death that Cassie mourned Mom’s absence deeply.  Cassie passed away nine months after my mom did. Fortunately I was in Atlanta on business, and I was able to be with Dad when this happened. Nicki, who had been rescued by Dad from an animal shelter, lived until 2010, when she died simply of old age.

Dad did not think he needed another dog. My sister and I thought differently. So we told him the story of an Australian Shepherd that needed a home. He quickly came to know and love this little four-legged beauty.

She was five years old when Dad adopted her. She was shy and didn’t trust humans easily. Daddy spent a lot of time very patiently talking to her, walking her, brushing her, taking her for rides around town in his little MG Midget. She needed someone to spend time with her, and he needed someone to spend time with.

He named her Mariah in reference to the song, “They Call the Wind Mariah”, from the movie Paint Your Wagon. (Although in the lyrics the name is spelled “Maria”; it is actually pronounced “Mariah”).

“Away out here they have a name
For wind and rain and fire
The rain is Tess, the fire’s Joe
And they call the wind Maria…

But when you’re lost and all alone
There ain’t no word but lonely…

And I’m a lost and lonely man
Without a star to guide me
Maria blow my love to me
I need my girl beside me

Maria Maria They call the wind Maria

Maria Maria!  Blow my love to me”

So perhaps my dad did rescue Mariah, but Mariah rescued my Dad too. In her own way she may be rescuing me as well. I see opportunity to train her to “wake the girl” in the morning, which will be a huge assist in my daily routine. Her very presence in our house as made me far less a couch potato, and when I sit quietly with her on the front porch brushing her hair, I can feel my cares melt away.

Sometimes, when I walk with her at twilight, the September breeze blows and she sticks up her nose, prancing for a few steps as if she has caught wind of my Dad’s spirit. She smiles.

And they call the wind Mariah. Mariah. Blow my love to him.

© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

Back to School

When he was in his late 70's Daddy bought this car and completely rebuilt it.

When he was in his late 70′s Daddy bought this car and completely rebuilt it.

Around here the arrival of cool mornings, warm afternoons and cool evenings brings with it, not only the migration of birds and the chirping of crickets, but also the beginning of a new school year. As someone who thrived in academia, I love this time of year.

Not all people love school as much as I did (still do—any excuse to take a class), even really smart people. My dad was one of those really smart people who did not fare well in school.

From a very early age Dad was taking things apart and discovering how they worked, from two-cycle engines on model airplanes to the bicycles in Grandpa Arduengo’s bicycle shop to his first car. But his performance in school was a different matter. He writes:

“As a youngster I spent a lot of time day dreaming. I guess I still do. In school I would always take a desk in the back of the room next to the window. (I got moved a lot.) I did not like school. Sometimes I had subjects that I liked, such as ancient history. I knew I was smart, but I had a hard time memorizing things, especially spelling and multiplication tables. I remembered things when they interested me, but not when they didn’t.  My dislike of grammar school and junior high left me ill prepared for highschool, and I was 20 before I finally graduated.”

Daddy didn’t learn by sitting in a desk and listening. He learned by doing and figuring things out, as with his first car: Continue reading

My Father’s Voice

ConversationsOn August 16, 2014, the 63rd anniversary of his marriage to my mother, my daddy died. Mom and Dad are finally reunited, seven years after her passing. My dad’s death came relatively quickly after a diagnosis of metastasized cancer, but I did get to see him twice in August. I am thankful for the chance I had to hold his hand at the very end.

Throughout the years since my Mom’s death, Daddy had been writing stories of his childhood and youth on yellow legal pads and sending them to me. I had not read very many of them carefully, being caught up in the demands of my own family and career, but I did put them away for safe keeping. When he would find some piece of writing of his from his childhood, he would send it to me, and I have previously written an article about his 3rd-grade story, The Bird and the Dog, as well as some of the stories he told me about working in my Grandpa Arduengo’s bicycle shop in Tampa, FL.

But what strikes me this week, as it never has before, is his voice. As a child I remember exchanging letters and poems with my maternal grandmother. My mom was the parent who seemed to me to actively encourage my writing, and I always associated my interest in writing as something that I had inherited from her side of the family. However, in hindsight, my dad was the one who made sure I had stories to tell and time to tell them.

My Dad was the person who took me to the local airport where I would hang out listening to the story telling, recording things in my journal. He was the one who introduced me to true “characters” in life. My Dad and his father were the story tellers in my family. And, as I read the precious few original writings I have of my Dad’s—a few letters that he wrote to my mom, and the stories he recorded for me, I realize that it is his voice that echoes in mine.

For too many years, I discounted my dad’s writing because frankly I couldn’t overlook his spelling: it was atrocious. My elitism may have robbed me of a chance to revel in an amazing shared gift with my Dad. We bonded through our love of flying when I was a teenager, and when I was first truly exploring writing as a teen, I wrote about airplanes and the people who flew them. How much more could we have shared if I had listened more carefully to the stories of our family and helped him record them? What incredible treasures would I now have as I mourn the absence of him from my life—our phone calls to talk, our visits at Thanksgiving that I will so miss—because often he would tell me one little tidbit of his past that I did not know.

So, as I go back through those yellow legal pad pages and read, I will hear the echo of my Dad’s soft Southern voice, his gentle “darlin’” whispered through time and eternity to me. I will miss him dearly. And I will tell his story.

© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.



A Mammoth Find


DSC01928We are back from nine days traveling in the “wild west”. During this vacation my daughter was able to become a junior paleontologist at a mammoth dig, a junior ranger at Mount Rushmore, go “spelunking” at Wind Cave and learn about the geologic origins of the Black Hills of South Dakota, hear the legends and stories of the Native Americans through their dance and music, and hear the legends and stories of the pioneers of the western U.S. through their stories and dramas.

Our first stop was the amazing Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. This site was discovered during the early phases of construction of a housing development in 1974 by one of the bulldozer operators who was clearing the land. Fortunately, he was an amateur paleontologist, and when his bulldozer turned up a mammoth tooth, he stopped everything and reported the finding. The developer and the surrounding community realized what they had and preserved the site for research and education. They bring in visiting scientists from around the world to work at the site, and from the work of these scientists we have learned much about the animal life that flourished in the area we now know as South Dakota 26,000 years ago. Continue reading