Picture this, a big table in our farm kitchen covered with red and while checked oil cloth and dozens of clean clear glass jars, standing alert and ready to receive the recently made homemade jam of the month. Perhaps it was my favorite, raspberry jam. Raspberry jam was the perfect complement to my mother’s homemade bread. (It was heavenly in our kitchen when Mom baked bread. The aroma of the baking bread was divine. She would find a way week after week to fit all 7 loaves of bread/dinner rolls into the oven simultaneously. If we timed it just right, the younger children, would arrive home from school just as the bread finished baking. The big question always was: Which of us would get the crusts?
This past weekend I have been enjoying making fresh applesauce and tasty apple butter. As I write, this it is Thanksgiving week and I hope everyone who will share our holiday feast will enjoy some warm fragrant apple butter with my daughter’s fresh baked dinner rolls. The apple butter is (mostly) made from dark red McIntosh apples which yielded a rich bright pink naturally sweet sauce. The sauce looked good to eat, and it was as delicious as it looked!
I smiled as I remembered these things. For you see, I am thankful that my mother had passed food preserving skills and interest in them to me when I was as young as 9 years old. I realize that I’ve passed these baking and cooking skills to my daughter and son, who are more gifted with food creation than both my mother and I.
And then I felt sad. Other than my lovely singing voice, what gifts did my father pass on to me? I thought for awhile and then realized I had let the fact that he had a mental illness blur my sight and my insight. My father gave me something I’m sure to need for today and for these next four years. He taught me the importance of attending to daily news, especially state and national news, and politics. Dad was attentive to the news, to politics, and to our government. And I was proud of his interest and ability to discuss and debate current affairs.
I’ve never forgotten the image of my Dad reading the daily paper: The afternoon paper, which was the liberal paper – and in contrast to his in-laws, who always read the morning, conservative, Republican paper. The prime location for reading the daily paper was the kitchen table. He’d sit down in his overalls and cap with a cup of coffee in his rugged hands. Perhaps the hardworking hands were chapped or sunburned. The paper would be spread out to cover most of the table. We children dare not monkey with the paper until Dad had read the news—you know, the front page and section. We children also did not talk with Dad or fool around in the kitchen when he was reading.
Mom as well read the paper every day. (As a farm wife, she deserved a break every day before we all returned home. It was always reading the paper, sitting at the kitchen table, with a refreshing drink, right when the clock struck three pm.) But Mom read quietly, and kept her views of the news private.
During the 1950’s when times were good for our family, Mother and Dad took me, then 13-years old, and my two teenage brothers on a trip to see our nation’s capital. Two younger sisters both then in grade school were left in the care of a neighboring farm family. The care and feeding of a dairy herd is a very personal skill, and a task that cannot cease even for a single day. I don’t know if this expresses how unusual and how risky it was for a farm family to take leave of their farm for a vacation that meant traveling across a considerable area of the United States. We did stop at historic sites too, including Gettysburg.
Why did my father choose Washington, DC? He felt we three older children were at the right age to learn the importance of and to visit our national capitol and the famous monuments, and to hear again the story of our grandparents who had immigrated earlier during the 1900’s from Norway. Both became citizens. But the biggest push was to meet the congressmen representing Wisconsin. Fortunately, the elected officials with their busy schedules were available. They were able to spend a brief 5 to 10 minutes each with us. Three future new voters were very impressed with Mom and Dad’s vacation gift and its lessons of people, history …. and responsibility. And we, to the best of my knowledge, have always exercised our responsibility and privilege as citizens of this great land my father took us across.
Even this year.