Friday, September 28, 2012

Bag of Candy

Fall as experienced lately is more an extension of summer than an outright season of its own.

Our September continues the pattern. Mild temperatures and dry sunny conditions make us feel Kansas hitched a ride north.

Canada is the direction we look as days shorten. Our cool air comes from there. 

While a zonal flow from the Pacific persists we tend to forget this fact, to be pulled up abruptly at the first chilly outbreak.

Putting our boat into storage, which has just been done, is our particular rite of passage into fall.

It doesn’t matter that summer hangs on, or the lakes still sparkle and the fish are probably at their fighting best. Common sense forewarns that October is known to bring snow showers.

Before all this happens, as it’s bound to do in its own good time, we took a short color trip north.

Color season can be brief. Fortunately in our state it comes in waves starting in the north and working southward.

Perhaps particularly this year of so little rain, with trees protecting their root systems, and many branches looking dusty with faded color, we wondered if the seasonal display would amount to much.

The drive was pleasant in its own right but the dominance of color which we found made it even more so.

We enjoyed the yellows and reds of the hills along with the various shadings of green. The forests were like tapestries woven through with bright yarns and hung side by side for maximum effect. 

Lake Superior was very blue which is a treat because the big lake wears many moods and not all of them are sunny.

We remembered pictures on TV of the muddy stain far out into the lake after the damaging June rain at Duluth. It heartens one to see that renewal happens.

A constant presence of billboards along the highway promote historic Ft. William over the border in Ontario.

"Original road trip," "Original GPS" (showing a guide) and "Original Five Star Hotel" (teepee under starry skies) are some of the signs. The signs are catchy. Clever marketing, we agreed.

Afterwards, as the trip was summed up to friends, the Original Road Trip theme played in my mind.

It caused me to consider early road trips made by our family. We could have been poster children for these signs along I-35 and Highway 61.

I was two on my first North Shore trip. The roads wouldn’t have been smooth as now. 

There was little in the way of the comfortable lodging we currently seek out. We'd have been the ones with five star lodging, camping out under the spangled night skies.

This isn’t the trip that stands out since I can’t remember it anyway. The trip that comes to mind, instead, is a trip to Missouri. It was spring and we were driving to my grandma’s funeral.

School was in session but we got excused to attend the funeral. It was different to be in the car, strangely free of all familiar structure, while rural school buses dropped off students and kids our age ran in the schoolyard for recess.

At a gas station in a small Iowa town my brother and I walked in together. We noticed a policeman park his car. He came in the door behind us, trailing us by a few steps which set up a sort of unease in us.

We probably poked each other in the ribs. We were half way expecting (and half way wanting) to be caught up to by this officer in blue.

He’d be very direct. “What are you kids doing in here? Don’t you know you’re supposed to be in school?” In our heads we heard him asking this with firm and almost fatherly concern.

We had our replies ready, hoping his badge wouldn’t shake our courage or resolve.

“We’re going to our grandma’s funeral.” The response would be polite but it’d show him we weren’t a couple truants to round up and take to the principal.

My brother and I either used the bathroom, or made our small snack purchases, or both, fidgeting with coins as we assessed the officer’s interest in us.

Memory fails at this point. Did he speak to us or not? Did we  return to the car relieved we'd passed his scrutiny? Nothing comes to mind.

Remembrance picks up in my dad’s hometown. This part has stayed with me. Family and friends gathering. Tears, laughing and hugs. For the first time, privy to the workings of death, the emotions of mourning gave me much to ponder.

I thought very possibly my brother might remember the gas station scene. He’s older than me and has good recall for some things.

No, he said, in reply to the email, he didn’t have any recollection of being in Iowa with a policeman and a hint of truancy suspicion between him and us.

“How could you?” I wanted to send back. “You were my sidekick. Together, stoutly and boldly, we were going to face the police if he called us out."

I could hardly believe he didn't remember. We were going to prove we weren’t truants but lawfully out on business to attend our grandmother’s funeral. And he'd forgotten this!

Remembering a detail when another has forgotten is like holding a bag of candy. The sack is filled with goodies but the other one, peeking inside, tells you it’s empty.

You’re astonished. You say, “How can this be? I know there’s candy in the bag because look! – holding out the piece in your hand - “here’s my share.”

For now I’ll have to enjoy my share of the memory. There’s a chance my brother will recall it, or some part of it, in the future. I hold to this so as not to be left holding an empty bag.

Maybe he needs to take the road trip we just finished. The Original Road Trip signboards may work on him as they did for me. Vanished memories may rise to the surface.

And maybe he’ll discover that, strangely enough, I simply can’t help him when he looks for confirmation on a recollected road episode.

Original road trips are called this for a reason, which I’m just starting to understand.

They’re original to the way we remember them. Even with the best of memory aids – photos and the like – recall chooses its own course and steers us as it will.  

Ro Giencke – September 28, 2012



Thursday, September 20, 2012


The school bus makes its stop on our block with each morning a bit darker as days shorten.

School schedules quickly become the norm.

So it is with sweaters once cooler air arrives. Reaching for a sweater as we head out the door already seems something we’ve been doing forever.

We wouldn’t have believed, back in sizzling July, that an extra layer would ever feel good on us again. 

Sweaters which I marked for consignment for almost certain lack of use are receiving full appreciation as sized up for service for the crisp weeks ahead.

It’s been lovely far into the month. Tuesday we woke to 46 degrees. The weather guy said it was the coolest overnight low since April 28. There was nice rebound into the 70s yesterday. Sunshine and 65 degrees made it pleasant today.

As a recent trend summer is more firmly entrenched than autumns recalled. Turning on the furnace (this year it had an exceptionally long rest) is not the immediate measure it was in Septembers of the not so distant past.

I remember this because my folks used to go West after Labor Day. They were gone a couple weeks to a month. They came back glowing with sun and buoyed by perfect vacation weather and visits to family members.

In the meanwhile my sister and I watched our small kids – and the baleful weather outside the windows. We gave our parents the weather report when they returned.

“You didn’t miss anything,” we assured them. It was cool – or wet – or both in their absence year after year.

Squirrels have been active this long while with their acorns. A plentiful supply litters the ground. Lots of acorns used to foretell a hard winter.

Driving to the store this forenoon I saw an albino squirrel. A gray squirrel was chasing it. Their bushy tails were exclamation marks completing the suggestion of bullying tactics unfortunately put to the test on some playgrounds.

A small brown bunny made the second interesting sighting of the day. I caught it out of the corner of my eye as I walked to the library.

Movement in the rose shrubs alerted me. Almost definitely the bunny had been jumping.

It was trying to reach the thick clusters of rosehips which were too high off the ground for easy pickings. 

The bunny needed a long stretch to get at the rosehips if not making an actual leap. The stir of activity was its calculated attempt to attain the bright fruit.

The bunny crouched low feigning innocence, or perhaps hoping for invisibility, as I came up to it. It scuttled into the roses bushes as I went by.

Out of curiosity I circled back. Sure enough the bunny was in its former spot on the brown patch beneath the roses. It was in its familiar crouch. The round red fruit pod was in front of it like a prize.

It's been a pleasant month of various outings. These have included apple orchards, attending to the bridge construction at Hastings, Parade of Homes (an annual event), and festival weekends in the little towns around our lake.

Somehow we’ve also fit in projects, volunteer work, laundry and the daily regimen of owning a house.

The outings will subside as we settle into fall. We’re ready for this to happen. It comes with the territory. It comes with fall.

Fall is detected by the darker mornings. It’s felt by the cooler winds.It's smelled in the changing vegetation – the leaves and grasses that rustle and sigh. 

The seasonal change is made abundantly clear all around by such signs as blue jays that show up, you wonder where from, absent during the warm days and brazenly appearing on the first cool morning.

Fall color won't dazzle this year. Foliage has a faded look. It's the dry conditions, we hear, that will mute the autumn scene.

There are a few brilliant maples and the sumacs which add their scarlet tones to the yellowing countryside. It’s a time of rest, peace and home comforts drawing us in.

Ro Giencke – September 20, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Apple Days

It’s a morning for having the lights on inside. 

Gray sky hints at the kind of cloudiness we hope will bring rain.

Precipitation is way overdue. 

We’re told to water our trees before winter. We’ll have to get going at that. Rain gauges have been practically empty since June.

We intended to make a country drive for apples last week. We got busy with other things and now will wait for a prettier day.

Our apple trip is in the future but we did attend Apple Days in a nearby town over the weekend. The big turnout, as happens every year, adds to the community feel.

The closed-off streets are lined with table after table of items for sale. This assemblage of creativity makes me realize that, if asked what I’m good at, my first and most telling answer is that I’m good at spelling.

Appreciation would be my second reply. It got well used at the apple days festival. I admire the ability and stick-to-it attitudes that have gotten the exhibitors here. 

It takes gumption and patience to stand with your product in front of a passing audience of potential buyers. You accept the vagaries of weather (ideal this time) and interest not always registering on our faces.

With apple harvest in full swing we’re squarely in apple dessert time. It's a good time of the year.

Hot apple pie cooling on a trivet is the picture that comes to mind. My apple cravings, if truth be told, run more along the line of cobblers, cake and even applesauce bread.

Apples remind me of the good cooks we can all name who take the annual crop and come up with family-pleasing specialties.

While my mom has the corner on apple pie there’s a friend from my young married days who stands out when it comes to applesauce bread.

Edna was our neighbor across the street. She was a widow. She may have been in her eighties. A specific age is irrelevant when you're young. Everyone, after all, is older than you.

Her married daughter lived out of state. She was alone except for a brother and his wife who were in town.

She was interesting to know. She had a droll wit which inserted a twist of humor into most of our conversations.

She had Welsh in her background along with German and English. She had a love for horses such as the fine breed her brother raised.

She was a storyteller. She talked about her town which was a career relocation for my husband and me. She drew back the curtains on the eras previous to our arrival.

She and her husband as young marrieds - as Al and I were at the time - had been members of the Silver Bow Dance Club.

The name struck me as young, lively and happy-go-lucky. This would have been the golden Twenties, the  Gatsby years, the boom times before the stock market crashed.

Small town living could be very secure. Good friends and comfortable events could lend a country club atmosphere to your lifestyle. If you fit in the fit was very cozy indeed.

Edna was shaped by her small town and lived her decades almost entirely within those boundaries. The place defined her but didn’t confine her.

She liked to talk about trips she’d taken. There weren’t  that many of them. It made them all the more important. 

The best road memory was of a vacation with a carload of relatives to Niagara Falls. She rated the scenery of Wisconsin, traveled through by car on the trip to New York, as very beautiful. 

She’d made several flights to see her daughter in Arizona but objected to the heat.

We had coffee and we visited. I went to her place. She didn’t come over, in part because she seldom left the house except to tend her flowers. She was getting unsteady on her feet.

She and I stayed in touch after Al and I made another  move. One letter reported a serious heart attack. She was in the hospital eleven days. 

Her daughter was urging her to move to Arizona. She resisted the idea.

Edna was attached to her home of over fifty years. She had lifelong friends and her brother to count on. More to the point she didn’t want to go to the desert. The heat would pretty much finish her off she wrote.

The letter came enclosed with an undated clipping from the local paper. The newspaper article was titled “Two Many Cooks.”

It must have been a regular column although I didn’t remember it from our time there. Maybe it was a new feature.

Edna was the featured guest in this particular column. It was a nice write-up of her gardening interests and longtime activities in town.

She was photographed with her South African amaryllis of apple blossom pink. The plant was a birthday gift from a granddaughter the story noted.

I was so happy my friend made print. Her phone would have rung off the hook with friends calling to say they saw her in the paper. 

She’d have given a joshing response, savoring all the while the recognition accorded her.

The column included her recipe for Applesauce Bread, which follows.

Applesauce Bread (Edna’s recipe)

In bowl combine 1½ cups applesauce, 1 cup sugar, ½ cup oil, 2 eggs and 3 tablespoons milk.  Blend in 2 cups sifted flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, ¼ tsp. allspice. ¼ tsp. salt. Add ½ cup walnut pieces.

Pour into oiled 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pan. On top sprinkle mixture of ¼ c. nuts, ¼ c. brown sugar and ½ tsp. cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees one hour or test for doneness.

Ro Giencke – September 12, 2012




Friday, September 7, 2012


It’s been a treat of a late summer. 

The State Fair, which ended Labor Day, was second in attendance surpassed only by the 2009 crowds.

Fall is in the air as the gates to the fairgrounds swing shut. Wind blowing through dry leaves and migrating waterfowl in their overhead groups give proof to the fact.

We remarked at supper that a week of September is gone. With the holiday weekend behind us, and the big yellow buses stopping in front of the house as if never on hiatus, the first days of the month have simply vanished.

Labor Day, including the preceding nine days at the State Fair, was warm and sunny. It was a delightful period of weather. 

A blue moon (second full moon in August) illuminated the starry night skies. Sunrises were rivers of pink and plum. Sunsets were glowing bands of deep orange and violet.

Our family used the holiday weekend to deepen connections with our family tree. We had so much fun in the process that we propose making the holiday, or another such time as we can get together, an annual heritage event.

The family project came about because we located the lake on which our antecedents, four generations back, laid out their homestead.

The lake is unnamed on county maps but identified in the old platbook we used as our guide. Lakes, rivers and roads, and the owners on each section of land within the townships, give unique translation to this area our family settled.

Visiting the site of the homesteading years was an adventure to undertake. One of us volunteered to drive and the rest  piled in.

Some of us haven’t been in a car together since we were kids. Maturity ruled and no one elbowed others as could have been reported in the past.

This lake to which we were going was the farm of our great-great-grandparents. We couldn’t have told you their first names until we stopped at the rural cemetery afterwards.

The couple are buried side by side on a west-sloping hill. A large lilac bush is in front. 

The bush will be heavy with blossoms and sweet with aroma in the spring. It is a planted bush, put there as a sign of someone's remembrance of them in that neat graveyard of country neighbors.

This couple – Peder and Bridt  – came to America in 1880. In Norway they famed and had a small herd of cows. Peder traveled the nearby countryside repairing windows and doing odd jobs.

The incentive to immigrate might have been economic. More likely at its core was family considerations. 

Family in all its complexities is future oriented. Its momentum is forward. Sometimes all we can do is latch on and go with the flow, which is maybe how it was for them.

The oldest son drowned at twenty as he moved away from home to start a new job. This was their recent past. It was a devastating blow. The desire to put space between them and the tragedy is totally understandable.

Equally important, their oldest daughter was in Minnesota and mother of an infant son. The yearning to see their first grandchild served as a force for courage to direct them.

They left their mountain valley in Norway throwing their hats in for America.Their younger daughter and son came with them. Another son followed the next year.

The sea route was from Kristiansund, Norway to Philadelphia via Liverpool, England. The three-week Atlantic crossing was aboard a steamship with auxiliary sails.

They traveled by rail to Minnesota. The last eleven miles were covered by oxcart.

The middle-aged couple (47 and 45 respectively) were not young bones who could lightly toss off a trip of this magnitude.They must have been weary and almost awestruck at their accomplishment of coming so far.

They had completed an Atlantic passage. They were still absorbing the speed of the railroad across the Midwest. They watchfully kept their children in tow and were in wonder of the new sights and strangeness of so much of the new world.

Safely arrived, and with their first grandchild to bless, the greetings exchanged would have been fervent. A mingling of tears, relief and happiness sealed the welcome as they moved in temporarily with their daughter.

Eventually they found a farm about an hour’s walk from their daughter’s farm. The homestead had been previously occupied. They lived the first year in the 8 x 12 foot dugout cabin on a steep hillside above the little lake.

The lake, when we got to it by way of gravel road, hides behind steep hills on two sides. It’s marshy at the other end. 

No development has come to the lake. It makes it easy to picture the hills as they first saw them. Not that much has altered since then.

The next year they cleared land for a garden. A small log house was built. From this home they lived to usher in the twentieth century.

The new millennium was a time of wonder for the pioneer families who toiled bravely and supported each other generously. 

Hope walked alongside them as they plowed the fields, educated the young, built their churches and rode out the hard times and harsh winters.

The youngest son – seven when he came to America – farmed with Peder. When Peder died he left farming and eventually went West.

He explained the move as an action originating with Peder. He said his father had a desire to move on to the Pacific Coast but lacked the means.

In the years the father and son worked together on the farm he learned to share this  longing.

Great development was happening in the West especially in Oregon where the Great Northern was building a railroad from the Columbia River into central Oregon. 

With a desire to get in on the enormous opportunities talked about the son made his decision to turn his head to the West.

I thought of all this as we studied the hilly terrain where their home might have stood. Imagination placed the doorway so that it would fill with the setting sun.

The aging immigrant farmer, bent with labor but with dreams aplenty in his heart, might have paused from that vantage point and scanned the western skies. He could plot his course over the mountains he would never travel.

His hope was the roadbed for his son. When his time came he said goodbye to the land which had nurtured him. He went forward to his future laid out long before.

Ro Giencke – September 7, 2012