Little Red Cooler

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Sometimes friends ask me to keep a look out for specific antique or vintage items as I’m scouring auctions or local estate sales. I keep a notebook of their china and crystal patterns in case they need a random piece to complete a set. Other times I just get lucky and snag something that I think they might want.

Last Friday, Pookie and I went to an estate sale at a very nice and meticulously maintained ranch-style house which had been preserved by its late owners as a sort of 1960s time capsule.

After scoring a perfect vintage silver plated tea service for myself from the dining room, we headed to the garage. Pookie was immediately drawn to the leather Samsonite briefcase in like-new condition which still had the original pens in the pocket from 50 years ago when it was new and expensive.

As Pookie ogled her briefcase, I spotted my great item of the day sitting under a table stacked with Christmas ornaments: a 1970s red Coleman metal cooler complete with bottle openers on the side handles. I could have sworn someone had told me about their desire for this exact cooler.

But who?

After we loaded the cooler in the car, I started texting the usual suspects. Cecelia denied knowledge of a cooler request but said that if it were plaid she would most definitely want it. Tristan was working on a house so I didn’t bother him. Pookie couldn’t remember either.

That’s about the time The Old Man called to check in from his office. I told him about my find and surmised, from his squeal of delight, that he was the requester. The person who wanted the cooler was my own husband.

It was the cooler of his youth. The one that his aunt and uncle packed with drinks and food for family road trips or took along while fishing. For him, a metal Coleman cooler brings back distinct and warm memories of a time when his Aunt Lucille would fill the cooler with enough sandwiches to keep the kids fed during stops at roadside picnic tables long before drive-through fast food became the norm for travelers.

On Saturday, after another long day of treasure hunting, we inaugurated the red cooler while “chairing” (see Chairing from July 31, 2014) with a bottle of champagne in our backyard. We made a toast to the couple who had valued their possessions and the people who wouldn’t throw old stuff away just because there were new things to buy.

And The Old Man is happy to report that the cooler still works…perfectly.

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Birthday Food Part 2: Salmon Cakes

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It’s our boy’s birthday week. And even though he’s now fully grown with a wife, career in the Air Force, and a life of his own stationed in the desert too far away; his mother still wants him to have all of his favorite foods from childhood.

Because it’s his birthday!

Salmon Cakes

Our boy didn’t handle cow milk well when he was very young and there were sadly few alternatives like the almond, soy or cashew milk so wildly available today. So I set out on a plan to ensure that he had plenty of calcium heavy food in his diet.

That’s when salmon cakes became a cheap, healthy and regular dinner item. The best part is that everything you need for this super simple dish is probably already in your pantry or refrigerator.

1 can Alaskan canned salmon
1 egg
1/3 cup (plus more if you need it) bread crumbs…fresh or store bought are fine, cracker crumbs also work
1/4 cup of milk (soy or other alternatives)
Chopped fresh rosemary is optional but it gives a good boost
Black pepper

Drain and rinse the salmon in a colander. Then take a fork and crumble the bones and skin. Don’t worry, it’s not as gross as it sounds.

Combine salmon, egg, bread crumbs, rosemary and pepper in bowl. Drizzle with the milk until mixture reaches a consistency that is easy to assemble into round balls. Shape the mixture into balls or press into patties and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. When ready to cook, pour a small amount of olive oil in a skillet, warming over medium heat. Add the cakes and brown on both sides. This makes about five patties.

Our boy would—and continues to— eat these on sandwich buns or as small round poppers dipped in mustard. I prefer them with a salad, roasted potatoes and Cecelia’s homemade French dressing (Nectar of the Gods recipe first published in September, 2014).

However you eat them, they’re easy and delicious.

Enjoy!

The Old Man: Burning in the New Year

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Traditions are one of the ways we tell ourselves and each other who we are. And if you live in a small town, you know how sometimes even the smallest of traditions can carry enormous weight. New Year’s Eve is when my little southern town in Central Florida carries on what is apparently a unique tradition in America.

The Bartow Christmas tree burning has been going on for 78 years according to some accounts. Even though the pile of trees collected and stacked around a 35 foot-tall wooden pole on the edge of a soccer field seems to get a little smaller each year, the tradition keeps going.

A decade-and-a-half ago, when we came to witness our first tree burning, we stumbled across the bumpy grass in a darkness that was so complete we wanted to stretch our hands out before us. Finally, we recognized the dim shapes of dozens people gathered at the edge of the field. We made our way there, recognizing voices from our church and neighborhood. We found a place to stand just as a pinpoint of light from a flashlight ignited above a small podium a dozen yards away.

The voice of S. L. Frisbie IV, the editor and publisher of our town’s twice-weekly newspaper, welcomed everyone and began to explain what was about to happen. With the soft-round vowels of our local accent and the gentle humor that is his trademark, he told the story of how a city councilman in the 1930s worried about the fire hazard of having tinder-dry Christmas trees inside wood frame houses more than a week past the holiday.

This councilman began a rumor that it is bad luck to have a tree in your house after the First of the Year. Once he convinced his colleagues on the City Council of this superstition, he succeeded in winning the City’s approval to hold a community bonfire with donated Christmas trees from the citizens. The idea quickly won support. Whether they were concerned about luck or just wanted to know that their own tree was part of the celebration, people eagerly contributed their trees to the effort, and a new tradition was born.

The bonfire was interrupted during the Second World War over concerns that Nazi U-boat navigators might spot the glow on the horizon. Once we were free from the thought of Germans peering through periscopes at a small town 60 miles inland, the tradition was renewed, and S.L. says the Associated Press occasionally lists our town’s tree burning as an example of unusual community events in America.

And so, our town’s tradition has also become our family’s tradition. Ever since we first came here, we have stumbled through the dark with children and friends to the join the small crowd at the edge of the soccer field.

We listen to S.L. deliver the same monologue — with the same jokes and same wonderment over such things as New Year superstitions and enemy submarines. Then we join the voices in the dark singing a Scottish tune most of us don’t understand the words to. And then we applaud and cheer as the stack of trees bursts into a golden blaze that climbs high into the sky, driving the night from around us.

In this moment we know the past is burning away, and its glow is helping us to see clearly everyone around us, smiling, laughing, and gazing at the flames. On New Year’s Eve, we’ll be there again, celebrating the past and looking forward to the future.

Happy New Year!

My Veteran

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It is still hard for me to believe that our son is a Veteran.  Veterans are supposed to be fathers or grandfathers or mothers. Never our kids.

But he is, proudly serving and thankfully safe and sound after three years, one deployment and too many miles away from home.

The U.S. Air Force is lucky to have him and also two of his great friends from childhood. These three boys—they’re men now I suppose but will always be boys to me—who in high school staged strategic toilet paper attacks with military precision the likes of which our small town had never seen.  With their own special redneck ingenuity, they engineered a giant slingshot in the back of one’s pickup truck to shoot grapefruit and soda cans across empty fields.  It worked well until they learned about backdraft the hard way, shooting out the truck’s rear window.

Now they have each sworn an oath and volunteered to go into harm’s way.  They’ve dealt with separation from home and family but also the thrill of the adventure.  These hometown boys have even run into each other overseas at “undisclosed locations” and two thankfully have home bases only a few hours away from each other.

This Veteran’s Day we have a new member of the family serving: our wonderful daughter-in-law who is currently away from their home, leading a Army platoon in training.

A lot has happened in the three years since our boy has been on active duty. He married a great girl and created a real home albeit in a place neither of them ever dreamed of living. They have endured months apart with conviction and courage and in that they have become a true military family.

One that, especially on this Veteran’s Day, I could not be more proud of.

Pennants

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As the child of public schoolteachers, summers for me meant car trips. Not simple weekend getaways but months-long excursions that my mother meticulously planned with the AAA and road managed with her dog-eared Trip Tik.

Over the course of my childhood, we saw the country from coast to coast several times over; always taking time to stop at historical markers and national parks in addition to homages to the legendary horse racing tracks that my father had always dreamed of visiting. (In the 1960s and 70s children could still visit racetracks, but that is another blog post!)

These were the days of Stuckey’s, those blue-roofed wonders where in addition to refilling the gas tank and taking a restroom break, a child could always find a sticky pecan log, a key chain with your name imprinted and my favorite: felt pennants advertising the local area.

In the days before instant cameras, pennants were an easy and fast reminder of all of the places we had visited. Recently, I cleaned out the hall closet and came across my collection in an old Maas Brothers bag and still in good shape.

And did the memories come flying back! There was the 1965 Disneyland pennant that represented my highlight of our trip to Los Angeles in a black Volkswagen Beetle—complete with the specialty luggage that fit behind the back seat and in the front “trunk.”

From 1970 were my two beloved Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” pennants that took me back to the middle school summers we spent in Cincinnati so that my father could attend graduate school. I don’t know what he learned in his studies but I do know that I learned how to decipher a box score.

And among the assorted Florida pennants was the one from the Kennedy Space Center. In 1971, the seventh grade of Marshall Jr. High School spent a Saturday traveling on school buses to Cape Canaveral for a day-long field trip. This was the height of the space race we were all convinced that we would see a real astronaut or engineer that day; the Justin Biebers of our time. I’m sure I took lots of naturally 1977 filtered pictures on my Instamatic camera. But all it took to transport me back to that feeling of actually BEING in a special place at a special time was my pennant.

Not a bad thing to collect after all.

The Old Man: Marrying Stuff

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When the Old Man was much younger, he took a beautiful bride who had many old things. Some of these things were antiques she and her parents had collected and some were heirlooms of previous ancestors.

In most cases these things were odd (five wooden wall clocks from 1900, commemorating the Spanish American War) or cumbersome (an ornately carved pump organ). Other family members had already furnished their homes in particular styles, so these things became our things.

I think many young people are reluctant to accumulate antiques and heirlooms because they fear their ability to choose things for their own idiom might be compromised. Or perhaps they wisely anticipate the burden of a 250 pound pump organ.

We, however, had little to place in our first homes and we were possessed of a romantic – or perhaps simply unrealistic – nature. So the organ first joined us in Winchester, Virginia, and we then took it with us to suburban Chicago, back to Florida, then to Washington, D.C. and finally back to Florida again. Never once, have I been able to play an entire song on it. But great grandchildren of the man – my late father-in-law – who replaced the fabric on the wood treadles half a century ago merrily coaxed low moans from it just the other day.

Some of the other pieces that have been with us our entire lives together include:

•A Victrola that stands four feet tall in a conspicuous place in our living room, and still spins nonagenarian records at 78 RPM whenever the spirit moves us and we want to know what 1924 sounded like.

•Clocks and more clocks, in addition to the aforementioned timepieces from the Spanish American war. These include a small, ornate German clock that used to chime the hours and tick the moments in between for us in our cold and cramped first apartment, an English basement on Capitol Hill.

•A cherry china cabinet with glass shelves and a bowed glass door that my wife helped her father refinish, using Q-tips to reach into the narrow, carved grooves. As young parents we feared a toddler would crash into the glass, and for years positioned furniture defensively around it.

•A maple gate-leg table from the Depression that could tuck into a small space against the wall when we didn’t need it, or be made to expand by means of an ingenious folding leaf into a surface large enough for six and a Thanksgiving turkey.

Call them antiques, heirlooms or hand-me-downs, I think we always felt that these things were a trust, over which we would enjoy stewardship for a time, and then it will be someone else’s turn to live with them. We have added considerably to the collection over the years with many odd and cumbersome pieces of our own. What makes them special is the knowledge that they meant so much to someone long before us, and they have continued to play prominent roles in the accumulated memories of our family for the past three decades.

I hope our kids have big houses.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.