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Archive for February, 2008

Blood, sweat and tears: each contributed a share to Easter dinner on Colonial Farm, 1948. The dining room table, extension in place, waited our guests—my husband’s parents and a host of uncles, aunts and cousins from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, some thirty-five miles distance from the farm.
It was twelve-thirty before I questioned my husband who was sitting at his desk and who had issued the invitations, “What time did you tell them to be here,”
He looked up from whatever occupied him and said, “I didn’t tell them any special time, just to come for Easter dinner.” I left and went back to the kitchen. Whether the invitations were by mail or phone, I had no idea. It was enough, I guess, to have been told earlier in the week he had invited every relative within driving distance to the farm for Easter Sunday dinner. Carl’s relatives were a close-knit group: sociable, agreeable and a down-to-earth sort of people who appeared to like me as much as I liked them. But Carl’s mother? She did not like me, but to her credit, kept that a secret, at least for the first year or two. I doubt she would have accepted me as a suitable mate for her son had I been raised in Switzerland, as she had been, and had never so much as talked to a boy, much less dated one. Ever in hopes of winning her over, I helped her carry on the pretense and now, another test waited me. I’d have to prove myself a good cook. That was one thing I did not have to fear. After eight years of married life to a farmer, I knew my way around a kitchen. I was willing to take on the entire Kaufman clan, but where were they?
When Carl first informed me he was going to invite his relatives for dinner so they could see for themselves into what endeavor they had loaned their good, hard cash, I cried a pail of tears. It seemed as though we were in debt to each and every one of them. There was one lesson my father had drummed into my head: never borrow money from relatives. The thought of all those Kaufman’s inspecting the house, distressed me terribly. Except for Carl’s parents who lived in a comfortable house in the city of Philadelphia, most of Carl’s relatives lived in spacious, lovely, expensively-decorated homes. The farm house I called home, would have made an excellent setting for one of those “before and after” specials I am careful to avoid when watching television. I was definitely living in “before”. I dreaded what Carl’s relatives would be thinking as they observed the badly worn linoleum flooring downstairs and the bare, splintery plank flooring upstairs. Walls on the second floor, with the exception of one room, were covered with the same limestone wash used on the walls in the barn. The fieldstone house, built in the year 1735, had been modernized with indoor plumbing, but with plumbing straight from what had to have been the earliest Sears and Roebuck catalog printed. I was not happy with what I imagined would be my husband’s relative’s bemused but sympathetic inspection of what I called home.
Two days before Easter, the three stoves in the kitchen: electric, bottled-gas and kerosene were all, at times, in use. There were apple pies, cakes and bread to bake. The entire day before Easter was spent preparing a large, festive, lime-flavored, gelatine-pineapple-vegeatable salad, a huge dish of made-from-scratch German-style potato salad and homemade baked beans. The tip of my left thumb, sliced off while chopping onions for a baked corn-pudding casserole, eluded all my efforts to find it. The morsel became a part of Easter dinner. While preparing for Sunday’s dinner, there were the needs of my husband, our two young children and my husband’s brother to be seen to, as well as the usual household chores.
Easter Day arrived. Shortly before noon, I checked the large pork loin and basted the heaps of brown roasted potatoes surrounding it in the oven of the electric stove. A large, already baked corn pudding, glazed carrots and green beans flavored with onions and garnished with both green and red peppers waited in the warming oven. I then turned my attention to the scored, dotted with cloves and basted with pineapple juice, clove-studded ham in the oven of the bottled gas stove. A lime gelatin, crushed pineapple vegetable salad, pudding and various other goodies occupied every available inch of space in the refrigerator. The aroma of home made baked, baked earlier in the day still permeated the entire house. Four or five large apple pies, a large chocolate cake and a bowl full of homemade cookies sat temptingly on the sideboard in the dining room. Let the party begin: I was prepared and fortified with the knowledge my three day’s labor had not been in vain.
However, I had a problem. Our guests had not yet begun to arrive. By one o’clock I found myself getting a bit antsy. Carl and his brother were ravenously hungry and the children were getting irritable, but no sign of company. One o’clock inched its way to one-thirty. I was angry enough to start blaming somebody, but who?
Shortly before two o’clock, the first cars pulled into the driveway. I wanted explanations; I received blank stares from our guests as they viewed the dining room table and realized dinner was waiting and long overdue. A candidly embarrassed uncle finally blurted out, “Mina said it was useless to come for dinner. We stopped at a restaurant on our way up!” It was my mother-in-law’s revenge for what she had considered an unforgivable insult the Christmas before.

CHRISTMAS DINNER, 1947

The day before Christmas, 1947, Carl’s brother suggested we have a buffet-style dinner instead of the usual sit-down feast. “Why not just put everything on the table so we can eat whenever we want and whatever we want.” I seized the moment; I jumped at the chance.
Christmas Day weather proved to be a Christmas-card masterpiece. After the morning chores were finished and breakfast over, Carl, or perhaps his brother Jack, left for Philadelphia to bring back their parents to share Christmas dinner and to spend part of the day on the farm. I hoped it would be a pleasant afternoon, although I truly can’t remember any afternoon spent with my mother-in-law that I considered enjoyable. Below the surface of my mother-in-law’s pretense, I was always aware of her disdain, dislike and utter hatred of me.
After Carl’s parents arrived, I explained, the best I could, we would be eating Christmas dinner buffet-style. The dining room was cool and the food in no danger of spoiling, however, Mina Kaufman’s displeasure was evident. She insisted on eating at the table. No sooner had we finished, she began to carry things out to the kitchen. Up until that time, she had never offered to help with so much as setting out the water glasses when visiting. There was nothing I could do but to tell her that since she did not know where things belonged, I would put everything away. I did insist the cookies, fruit and other non-perishables remain on the sideboard. I tried to ignore her dissatisfaction but should have known she would never forget—much less forgive—what was to her, an outrage. She had only to wait until the following Easter for revenge.

Back to EASTER DINNER, 1948

If Carl’s mother thought she was getting “even” with me, if she had an idea she was teaching me a lesson, I think I had what is commonly known as the last laugh. Before our Easter Sunday guests left for home, everybody thought a helping of ham or pork, a slice of home-made bread, a bit of pie and perhaps a slice of chocolate cake was just what was needed to end a pleasant afternoon and early evening. It took no time at all to bring out the pork roast, the ham, roasted potatoes, corn pudding, green beans and all. I hope it caused my mother-in-law a bit of jealousy when she observed the gusto with which the food was consumed, in spite of her well-laid plans.

Meeeeoooww…

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Old Age Positives

It doesn’t happen often, and perhaps it happened this morning because my beloved Scamp, at times, still does not appear to realize the difference between indoor carpeting and outside grass, that I felt every bit as old as I am shortly after rolling out of bed this morning, and no wonder. I smelled the unmistakable odor of dog feces. Sure enough, the door to my closet was open and the only piece of carpeting in the house is on the floor of that closet. Poor Scamp received a severe scolding but it was his former owner I cursed under my breath. It came about in this way. . .
About three years ago this friend had had to have her aging Chihuahua euthanized, and her heart was broken. The owner of a pet store had a five month old Shih Tzu who had been ill when a young puppy and let him go for the price of his vet bill. A couple of months after giving my friend the pup, she had a bad fall, hurt herself and could not care for him. I brought him home and, naturally, came to love him. My friend decided that he was too much for her to handle and gave him to me. I replaced him with a beautiful, tiny female Chihuahua puppy.
Because I did not allow Scamp the run of the house, and because I took him ouside every couple of hours, even getting up in the middle of the night, I was not aware, at first, my friend had not even tried to housebreak him. The Chihuahua I purchased and gave to her to replace Scamp, has never been really housebroken, but does use the “pee-pads” she keeps lying about. I’d hate to see the size of the “pee-pads” she would have had to purchase for Scamp.
Anyway, as I first stated, it doesn’t happen often but this morning I felt old, really really old—but, I’ve recovered. May I always look on old age as I did when writing . . .

Old age has its positives.
Though cataracts bedim my eyes
and people have to speak up louder
and waiters keep my age in mind,
suggesting not the steak, but chowder,
now and then comes a surprise
when children open wide the doors
and teens, at times, seek my advice
and what’s more, they sometimes take it:
it’s then my age is sparked with spice.

Youth will always have its fling
and think that life’s one grand parade,
just like I did when on a caper
engaging in some escapade.
I’ve not forgotten, you can bet,
mistakes committed in my teens,
not to mention my old age
as well as all the “in-betweens”.
Old age is quite a tutor ’cause
it keeps me thankful I’m aware
of little sins that I’ve committed,
which likely makes me want to share
understanding and forgiving
for all teens obsessed with living:
teens who now appear to be
much like I remember me.

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One Swig A Trip

Had I known before March 24, 1940, the day I married Carl L. Kaufman, that I was, in reality, marrying a man bent on owning a dairyfarm, I am fairly certain the following tale would never, some sixty-five years later, have found itself on a blog-site entitled Meander With Me.
Each Tuesday and Friday, after moving to Security Farm in April 1942, early—as in six o’clock early—my husband loaded his route truck with the chickens we had killed, plucked and eviscerated the day before and headed for Philadelphia, a distance of some thirty-five miles from the farm. Eggs, butter, and meat, both fresh and processed, were bought wholesale on his way into the city and sold to customers who had only small Mom and Pop grocery stores for most food supplies.
I have good cause to remember one particular Tuesday or Friday.
The livestock left to my care consisted of some fifteen cows, twelve to thirteen of them in various stages of production at any given time. There were always two or three heifers and a calf or two, as well as two work horses, two large pigs and a house full of chickens to tend to. You might think that milking cows, carrying buckets of milk to a milk house, straining the milk into large milk cans, cleaning and sterilizing all milking utensils—and that was twice a day—feeding and caring for a herd of cows and seeing to the needs of horses, pigs and chickens would be enough to keep a young wife occupied throughout the day, but I have not mentioned one other small detail: our daughter who was just two years old that winter and the day that was to serve me later as fodder for my autobiography.
I checked to make certain Bonnie was safe in her study playpen before leaving the house and making my solitary way to the barn and to the morning chores. By eight o’clock, the cows were milked, the milk utensils washed, sterilized and on racks in the milkhouse, livestock fed and bedded down for the morning. I was then ready to head back to Bonnie, breakfast, and a warm kitchen and living room. There would be no need to go out again until “check things out” time later on in the afternoon.

“Might as well get this show on the road,” I grumbled as the hour hand on the living room clock ticked its way to one o’clock. Bonnie was asleep in her playpen and usually remained content if she woke while I was gone. Each afternoon, rain, shine, midsummer or midwinter, either my husband or I saw to the needs and comfort of the livestock: that afternoon was no exception.
A frigid mass of air from Canada had swept down upon the lower regions of Pennsylvania during the night, and I was definitely not looking forward to exchanging the warmth of the house for the onslaught that waited me. I checked the coal-stove, the only source of heat in the living room and made certain the gate was locked between the kitchen and living room should Bonnie waken and climb out of her playpen. I resolutely turned my attention to the inevitable; donned my heaviest work jacket, woolen cap, fleece-lined boots and headed for the barn.
In spite of my dissatisfaction at finding myself alone on the farm so often, for the most part I moderately enjoyed the time spent seeing to the needs of our various animals. The work horses, stabled adjacent the cows, always nickered a welcome and a few cows would often aknowledge my presence with soft, low moos. The sweet scent of hay, mngled with the slightly pungent odor of the dairy animals, was pleasant, and the thick stone walls kept out the worst of the winter’s chill. I anticipated no more than the usual distribution of hay and fresh bedding for the cows and horses and a peek at the pigs and chickens.
Before I opened the barn door, every cow, heifer, calf and horse was clearly expressing a call of distress. The two sows emerged from their beds of straw in a nearby sty squealing their anger. Only the chickens were mute. There was good cause for complaint. Every automatic drinking fountain was bone-dry. Sometime between my husband’s departure in the morning and one o’clock in the afternoon, the water, piped from the spring in the basement of the house and out to the barn, had frozen.
There was nothing to be gained by trying to contact a plumber. Every plumber within calling distance was no doubt busily engaged, and I needed help at the moment, not the day after tomorrow. Those thirsty animals wanted water and they wanted it immediately. I faced the cruel and cold situation; water would find its way from the spring in the basement and out to the barn via one method and one method only— two buckets, two strong arms and a great deal of leg-power. Frustration, determination and helpless rage was all I thought I had to see me through the balance of the day.
The trips from the basement and out to the barn is a somewhat muddled memory and for good reason. Although my husband and I had an occasional bottle of beer at a local country inn, neither of us made a habit of indulging in alcoholic refreshments. We kept two or three bottles of wine for special festivities, festivities that did not often come our way. During my second or third trip to the basement for water, I chance to spy the wine on a basement shelf. “This might be just what I need,” I told myself, wiped one of the bottles free of dust, opened it and took a mouth full. I was not half way up the basement steps, a pail of water dangling from each hand, when I felt a warm glow in the pit of my stomach. “One swig a trip,” I promised myself. I have often wondered how many times I descended the basement steps, dipped two pails into the walled cistern, brought them up dripping full, took a sip of wine, ascended the steps and made my way to the barn.
Six o’clock was our usual hour for milking, but it was not until eight that evening; until Bonnie was fed and in bed that I assembled the milking machines. Each cow, heifer, calf, horse, pig and chicken had had their fill of water, were fed and given fresh bedding. Never had the cows cooperated so beautifully during the milking process. Their udders were uncomfortably swollen due to the lateness of the hour and their relief, noticeable. Never had I felt such tender attachment for them; one swig a trip had turned my nightmare into an almost pleasant experience. I met the challenge and was not found wanting. Well, not exactly true; the wine, while perhaps not the wisest of remedies, helped me through what I first thought would be an impossible and Herculean task.
It was almost ten-thirty by the time the last cow had been milked, hay and fresh bedding distributed and the horses given a compensating ear or two of corn before I was able to leave the barn. The evening’s milk was already strained into milk cans and submerged in a large vat of cold water, but the milking machines, milk pails and strainer waited a thorough washing and sterilizing, a chore I dreaded, especially in cold weather. The headlights of Carl’s truck jiggled down the bumpy, snow-packed lane as I placed the last pail on its rack, emptied the wash tubs, turned off the light and went out to meet my returning husband.
“Glad to see you dear,” he said and smiled.
‘Why in the hell are you always smiling’ is what I no doubt would have liked to have asked him, but didn’t.
“How was your day?” he continued.
“Oh, nothing special,” I replied, held my breath and hurried him through his greeting kiss. I had no wish to be questioned about the possible odor of alcohol on my breath. Quite casually I added, “You’ll have to do something about the frozen pipe out to the barn. The cows are all right for now, but they’ll be thirsty by morning.” Without another word I hurried into the house. I almost felt sorry for him. I expected him to be up half the night locating and thawing the frozen pipe. I could have saved myself the commiseration.
Before retiring, I stoked the stove with fresh fuel, peeked in on our sleeping daughter, bathed and was in my warm flannel nightgown when I heard a cheerful whistle as Carl entered the house. It had taken him a mere half hour to unload the route truck, discover at what point the pipe had frozen, apply a blowtorch and have water on its way out to the watering cups in the barn. He whistled as he mounted the stairs and continued to whistle as he bathed, ceasing only when he entered the bedroom. I was not asleep—merely embedded into the mattress with my back resolutely turned to the middle of the bed and pretending to be

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Meandering

I truly had no intentions of carrying any further the subject of homosexuality, at least not for some time, but a letter to the Dear Abby column in today’s paper caused me to change my mind. Seems a cousin of the author of the letter has been abandoned and ostracized by her family for the “sin” of lesbianism. The cousin, in return, is to do likewise or become herself, an outcast. Here is what I’d like to say to any family who can turn against a son or a daughter in such a manner and for such a reason: if that’s what belief in God and the Bible can do to you: Thank God I’m An Atheist!

I am often puzzled by those who quote from the Bible to verify something absolutely unverifiable. Let me take, for example, one of the positions President Bush deems to be of highest priority on his agenda for righting what he sees as wrong with the Constitution of the United States of America: it lacks a definitive prohibition against legalized marriage between homosexual couples. To prove himself a authority on the subject, I have little doubt he has scriptures from the Bible memorized and ready to use, if challenged.

My first question to those who use the Bible as proof that God, himself, censures such unions: by what criteria do you determine which scriptures in the Bible are to be strictly adhered to and which may be safely ignored? Believe me, there are far more scriptures ignored than there are those that are followed.

Yes, God, according to Moses, demanded the death by stoning of a man found practicing homosexual activity: I’d have to grant President Bush that much. Leviticus 18:22 20:13 definitely states that homosexual males be put to death. However, I can not find any scriptures condemning the same fate for Lesbians.

When faith takes preeminence over reason, logic has no place in the human brain in which to put down roots.

Forgiveness of sins—the blessing of a supernatural force? Never! It is true; many believe in the forgiveness of sins by a divine power and in truth, they are forgiven, but only because they believe themselves absolved in the eyes of God. However, the shackles of guilt and fear are ever ready to imprison the backslider who believes he has fallen out of favor with his god.

The unbeliever never ceases to be amazed at the credulity of the believer.

Thomas Paine, preeminent patriot and agnostic, wrote a book which he entitled Common Sense. His fiery and passionate words to a doubting congress and a fearful citizenry, greatly energized hope in the hearts and minds of courageous men and women bent on breaking free of England and its tyrant of a king. Without Thomas Paine, there might not have been a United States of America.

Thomas Paine gave all he had for the freedom of the citizens of the New World. He gave of himself and his monetary possessions. The reapers of his Common Sense gave him opprobrium and a pauper’s grave.

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How Necessary Is God?

I may have, when I first became a blogger, used the following little essay, but not having kept a log on to what I did and did not publlish, and because I deleted some of my early work, I decided to use the following. Yesterday, February 19, 2008, I received another of those ubiquitious email messages that periodically make the rounds inviting me to contemplate on such matters as the need for God in my life.
I first wrote the following in response to a letter that appeared in our local paper on the Opinion Page. It’s a question begging for an answer. I assume the author of yesterday’s email, as did the author of the letter to the editor, referred to America’s God, not a God, or gods, looking out after other people in other countries.
According to what I glean from my daily reading, India is doing rather well with its gods. I’ve yet to understand why it is that when something goes wrong with my computer and I ask for help, inevitably, I find myself talking to a computer expert based in India. What would be wrong with America’s God keeping such high-cost computer help here in the States? What “pull” do the people in India have with their gods that American’s do not with America’s God? And, how about China? China has no God, god or gods to call upon, at least that is what I am led to believe and yet, China appears to be coming along as one of the world’s great powers. How does China do it, unless perhaps our American God is moonlighting? How about “Godless” Russia? Without the help of a Higher Power, that country is also doing a pretty good job of maintaining a place in the world’s economy.
Where would we be without God? I can but assume that the writer, when referring to the word “we”, meant, Christians. I like to think “we” might have been better off. It takes but a fragmentary knowledge of history to realize that belief in the God of the Christian Bible, had a drastic and numbing effect on the sensibilities of early Christians for the first several centuries following the death of Christ.
Without a belief in God and what is believed to be “His Holy Word”, perhaps there might have been—and would be today—less racism. Without belief in God, there might have been—and would be today—less hatred and more understanding of homosexuals, heterosexuals and lesbians. Without belief in God, perhaps there would have been—and would be today— fewer children born into poverty, neglect, rejection and abuse—sexual, as well as physical.
We will never know the answer to the question posed because the further away from the founding father’s rejection of all but an acknowledgment of a Supreme Being when drawing up the Constitution, fundamental Christians are slowly but surely replacing sanity with their version of what they believe God to be: A church-going, right-wing, ultra-conservative, Commander-In-Chief-Of-The-Armed-Forces of America. . . and, of America, only.
All I can add to the subject, is, “Zeus, help us.”

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Lent

I need a vacation from serious thinking, and though I realize Lent is a few weeks in the offing—or is it—anyway, I give you . . .

From my book, The Iconoclast

I’ve given up drinking—
I never did smoke.
I’ve given up sex—
it would now be a joke.
I’ve given up dreaming
I’ll ever be slim,
and chances of wanting
a marvelous him,
is as likely to happen—
I’ve done my research—
as ever you finding
lone me in a church.

Yes, I given up sinning
but only because
I’m finding old age
has its own special laws
that keep me from doing
the things that I would,
if my body would only
agree that I could.

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The Believers

I often wonder what Robert Green Ingersol’s reaction might be should he return from his more than one hundred year’s sleep, back into today’s society. I believe he died actually believing mankind was on its way out of the darkness into which religion had plunged Europe during the period that came to be known as the “Dark Ages”. If nothing else proves how thin the skin that separates civilized mankind from savages, we have but to review the savagery that “Christians”—and Hitler called himself a Christian—as did his cohorts, and “cohorts” included any German who called himself a Christian while appoving his government’s policies against the Jewish race. If given license, I wonder. . . just how far would many Christians go today to rid the world of homosexuals, bisexuals, those of a different faith or race, and even more so, atheists like me.

I might be more forgiving
if those, who call themselves believers,
would practice all the precepts Jesus taught.
I find there’s mighty few who heed them
or even think they need them.
The Sermon On The Mount has proved a naught.

Believers think the Bible’s holy.
All we need to know is solely
written on the pages in their Book.
From the angle that I see them
I think I’d like to free them
convincing them to take another look.

Within the Bible’s binding
there are truths well worth the finding:
pearls of wisdom—gems to treasure,
but I find compassion dozes
in the laws set down by Moses.
For cruelty, no other book can measure.

To claim that God designed the Bible
deserves a suit of libel.
I think if I were he, I’d take offense.
The vengeful, sanguinary creature
hell-believers love to feature
contradicts what I consider common sense.
My brain was made for thinking
and not for some hoodwinking.
I’ll not be blindly led to some salvation
by believing Bible-toters
and shortsighted scripture-quoters
who claim, I’m surely headed for damnation.

The Christian who would woo me
to believing must pursue me.
I’m not a pliant victim for some cult,
for words without foundation
should face evisceration
or taken with a cautious dash of salt.
I try not to face the drubbing,
the religious, verbal clubbing:
a preview of some future Judgment Hall?
Penetrating dense addiction
to a senseless, set conviction
one might as well be facing some stone wall.

With gestures, kind, they meet me.
With loving words they greet me.
That I’m a true believer, they assume.
When some find me agnostic
their attitude turns caustic
and they think me fit for hellfire’s fiery doom.

I would not be the scoffer
if they had some proof to offer
other than the Bible which they need,
to be inspired and given
belief in God and heaven.
I’m not buying that or any other creed.

I am told by Christians that faith overcomes all doubt. Illiterate natives in the deepest, darkest jungles of Africa, South America and on the remotest islands in the South Pacific, believe in, and worship their gods, by faith. Faith, however deep, is no proof for the existence of God.

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