Thursday, August 19, 2010

Crazy kids

My dad was in the military and we were lucky enough to get to travel. We spent 6 years in Naples, Italy and upon returning to the USA, we lived in several different places.

One family tradition (I can call it a tradition if I want to) was that every time my dad had any time off from work, we would pack up the car and off we would go. Now, there were five kids and one of the cool things my parents always did, was that any trip we took, one of us kids would get to bring a friend along. We took turns doing this, and between your last turn and your next turn, it was so much fun deciding which lucky friend would get to go along.

These trips were not just your average ride to a park. We would go camping and fishing and visiting some New place. My parents are both gypsies at heart and thanks to all our many, many trips, the five of us kids are gypsies too. We always had a station wagon and we would pack it up and take off. First we had tents but later we upgraded to having a pop-up tent camper that we towed along. Much later we upgraded to a motorhome. My parents got to sleep in the motorhome and we kids would set up our tents.

I realize now how fortunate I am that my parents loved traveling. As a kid, living in Italy, I saw most of Europe, except the countries behind the Iron Curtain. My dad's military clearance prevented him and our family from going in those areas. We went to castles, museums, parks, art galleries, and on and on. If you watch a movie showing some scene in Europe, whether it is Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Austria, etc, etc. I've probably been there and seen that in person. I've been the Vactican, seen the Statue of David, rode a gondola thru King Leopold's Blue Grotto in his Palace, seen the Louvre, strolled the sands of beaches in Spain, toured the camps in Dachau, hiked in the Alps in Switzerland, skiied on Zuitspikke in Bavaria, and countless other trips. Upon returning to America, we spent my dad's time off camping in nearly every national park, state park, county park and even private parks and we visited all of the lower 48 states. I've now seen every state except Alaska and visited several foreign countries including traveling extensively in both Canada and Mexico. I am soooo lucky.

We kids were good travelers. We knew that my dad would pull over on the side of the road and we would get it (more threats than actual spankings but enough spankings to make us fear the threat) so we rarely fought. Instead we played games. One of our favorite games was something we made up that we called Forfeit.

Now, I know this game is alot like other games, but we kids thought it our own personal invention. The person who is IT, gets to think of a question. Any real question, and whoever is picked to answer the question must do so within 2 minutes (dutifully timed). If they fail to answer or have the wrong answer, they have a Forfeit.

The IT person picks the Forfeit. It can be anything as long as someone doesn't get hurt. Forfeit earned me my first tongue kiss, with my brother Steve's best friend Jay. Forfeit earned my brother John a toe licked clean by my littlest sister Jeanette. Forfeit earned my sister Rebecca many games that she was required to play without quitting. Rebecca was never one to want to play a game for very long, so she would usually quit just when we were most involved. Forfeit earned my Brother Steve many hours of being someone's personal slave. Forfeiet earned my friend Patty the pleasure of being tickled half out of her mind. Forfeit earned us all many fart smellings, snacks being given to others, homework help, chores being turned over to someone else, and a really good use of our imaginations to find the perfect devious Forfeit. I can't even recall how many times we played this game, but I remember hours and hours of car travel time melting away as we wracked our brains for questions and consequences. The hardest part of the game was to become the person who was IT. This was accomplished only by being able to answer a question correctly. We had to actually draw cards, high card wins to be the one who was IT first. Sometimes one person was IT for hours so later we had to institute a new rule that you could only be IT for a total of 5 questions, then IT would be the person who had picked the next highest card.

I can remember clearly the Forfeits, but I can hardly recall the questions. I know sometimes they were ridiculous, like how could I know what my brother John's fifth period teacher's name was? Or what an oscilliscope was for? Or who my sister Jeanette had punched in the arm at recess last week? We did learn many interesting facts that later came in handy when playing Trivial pursuit, so that was a great bonus to Forfeit. PLUS all the gossipy things, like who was the first girl my brother Steve had mooned, or how much Rebecca's friend Andrea's father made, or who had dared my sister Jeanette to eat ants (which she DID!).

One memorable Forfeit game ended up actually giving our family a new tradition. It was near winter time. We lived in Colorado at the time and we were on the way home from visiting my Grandmother who lived in New York. My parents often let us miss school for up to two weeks at a time for our family trips. We had to take along our school work and a favorite Forfeit was having someone do your homework for you.

This was one of those trips, not an actual school break, but a break for us. I think it was at the end of October or the beginning of November. We were nearly home and it began to snow as we were playing our Forfeit game. My brother John was IT. He asked some question, I don't remember what it was. This was a GROUP question, a refinement to our game where the whole group was asked something and if no one could answer the whole group got the Forfeit. Sure enough, none of us could answer whatever question John threw out there. We awaited our Forfeit with dread, hoping we would not have to sniff his armpit or spit shine his shoes or have to re-cover his school books with brown paper bags, or clean his room.

John was inspired by the snowfall. He declared that upon arriving at home, we would have to take off our socks and shoes and run to the top of the hill in our back yard. BAREFOOT IN THE SNOW! The yard was about 1/2 acre and we had to run to the top of the hill and back down in that snow.

We loved it! It became a family tradition for us kids to do that on the first snowfall every year. When my parents went back to Europe after I got married, I rented the house from them. My own children carried on the BAREFOOT IN THE SNOW tradition! They also learned to play Forfeit.

The last time all 5 of us kids were together at my parent's house, it was Christmas time. We 5 and my 3 kids and my brother John's daughter and my brother Steve's son all ran up the hill BAREFOOT IN THE SNOW. We also played a few rounds of Forfeit! I'm ready to teach my grandkids our crazy Forfeit game and I can't wait for the next family reunion at my parent's house so we can go BAREFOOT IN THE SNOW!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Stirring up the memory fires!

Ok! I know it is time to write when everything I read brings to mind something from my past that no one knows about other than myself and maybe my family.
So, here goes, a few memories of my own. Will add other installments when I have some free time. Grandmother was a great cook. She loved to make all of our favorite goodies whenever we would visit her, which was not often enough. Gram lived in a tiny little house that my Grandfather built, right on the banks of the Delaware River. That tiny house had an even tinier kitchen, and Gram had ALOT of stuff in there. When we would come to see her, the top of the refrigerator would be PILED up with all kinds of baked goodies. My dad's favorite red velvet cake, my mom's favorite cheesecake, my favorite Boston cream pie, my two brothers' favorite desserts and my two sisters' favorites too. The refrigerator itself was stuffed with so much food, all of it yummy and things my own Mom never made for us. Don't get me wrong, my mother is a great cook, but GRAM, she was in a class all by herself. Everything was homemade, everything was a work of art and Gram always remembered what each of us liked. I think she must have taken notes or something, because we could count on what we loved being there when we came to visit. We never lived near Gram, always at least a couple of states away, and sometimes years would go by between visits but when we came, she was ready for us.

One year, my parents, my 3 kids and I went to see Gram. We were on a road trip from Colorado to New York state in an rv. Now, this itself might sound like a nightmare, 3 generations in a tiny motorhome going across country, but it was actually wonderful and one of my fondest memories. My kids were 10, 11 and 12 years old. It was not the first time they had ever been to my Gram's house, but they had gone as little children on the previous visits so this was probably the first time they actually were aware of how tiny Gram's house was. Sure enough, when we arrived, there was all that FOOD.
Two days after our arrival was the small town of Narrowsburg, New York's annual 4th of July carnival, parade and festivities. This holiday is the biggest one of the year for my Gram's tiny town. There were bake sales and picnics to attend and participate in, so we got busy making even MORE FOOD. My Grandmother's kitchen began to feel even smaller. I think it was probably the size of your average bathroom. I'm not kidding. There was the kitchen sink, with about enough counter space on one side to hold a dish rack for drying dishes, then the refrigerator, a corner, then a doorway leading to the hallway, on the other side of the doorway was a tiny, tiny stand alone counter/cupboard and Gram's little stove, the apartment size kind not a big stove. Then a corner and along the wall across from the sink was a little tiny table. Usually only two people could sit at this table, and you had to pull it away from the corner to even have two people sit. Then from that corner was the door to the screen porch/mudroom and the back door. When people were sitting at the table if someone walked from the back door to the hallway doorway, you either got a butt shoved up against the sink and refrigerator and the front of you smashed against the back of someone's chair or whoever was at the table had to stand up and move out of the kitchen to let you pass. Gram kept all her dishes and appliances in the screen porch or down in the cellar because the kitchen didn't have any room. The little counter near the stove was moveable, but generally didn't move. It was full of Gram's various vitamins, pills and spices. There was no room to really hold anything else, except maybe the toaster or blender when in use. The rest of the time those appliances where kept in the screen porch. So, if you have a picture in your mind of this tiny space, you can maybe appreciate what a feat it was to even cook in that kitchen, let alone make such wonderful creations. Add to this, my Gram was not a little person. Well, she was little, as in short, but she was probably as wide as she was tall. For some reason, whenever anyone came over, they always sat in her kitchen at that tiny table. Sometimes with even 4 people, which meant you really could not move unless everyone stood up and the drop leaf was dropped, and the chairs were moved. Why all the adults hung out there instead of Gram's huge living room with windows that looked out on the river and nice chairs and couches with room to stretch is beyond my imagination.
Ok, back to making all this FOOD. Two days after the 4th of July we were due to proceed on our RV trip up to Niagra Falls and across Canada and back to Colorado. We had been to several picnics and family gatherings and of course the annual 4th of July Carnival. Each place we went to, we brought food, and we also ate food, and for some reason we seemed to bring food back with us to Gram's. But one thing we had not gotten to eat was Gram's famous cheesecake. Gram had made a couple, took one to the bake sale that raised funds for the volunteer Fire Department and the other one went with us to Aunt June and Uncle Sal's house for a huge feast. By the time we got to the dessert table, there was not a crumb left of Gram's cheesecake. This was just not cool. Gram told us she would make one for our trip. She sent Aunt June and me out in search of some cream cheese, as Gram only had one block left and her cheesecake requires two packages of philadelphia cream cheese. Gram had all the other ingredients. So Aunt June and I went to the local store. The day after 4th of July, there was no cream cheese left, and there would not be more for a few days when the next shipment of groceries came in. We hit every store in town (2, this a tiny town) and had to proceed to the next town in our search for cream cheese. Well, after traveling 30 MILES from Gram's house, we finally found some cream cheese. Aunt June was only going to buy one package but I suggested she go ahead and get two, who knew when there would be more cream cheese since there seemed to be such a huge shortage. After all, Aunt June and I had probably hit 6 or more stores by this time.
We headed back to Gram's with cream cheese in hand and Gram proceeded to show me how she makes her famous cheese cake. She mixes half of each ingredient in her blender, pours it into the spring form pan and then mixes the other half and adds it to the first half. This is because your average blender can't accomodate all of the ingredients at once. I got the honors. Gram and my parents and Aunt June sat at the tiny table, and I climbed over and around everyone and filled the blender. Gram reached over and turned it on. I hadn't tightened the bottom correctly. Cheese cake stuff flew all over the room. All over the people, all over that tiny counter with the pills and vitamins and all down the side of the stove. I was laughing so hard I couldn't turn the blender off. Gram was swearing like a sailor. It tooks us hours to clean that stuff up. In fact, my mom said if Gram was still here she would probably still be finding bits of cheesecake makings. Gram was determined to still make our cheesecake. By this time it was late at night and we were going to leave the next day, so we weren't going to taste that cheesecake until we were actually on the road. Gram was glad that we had opted to buy an extra cream cheese, as she needed it. Gram whipped up her two blenders full of stuff, baked the cheesecake, and somehow cramed it into the refrigerator. I think by the time we set off the next day, she was probably glad to get us out of her hair. At least it seemed that way.
At lunch time we pulled over on the side of the road, to eat some of the great stuff Gram had sent with us, potato salad, macaroni salad, all kinds of stuff. Finally it was time to eat that cheese cake. My mom and I each took a forkfull. I can't remember if we actually spit it out or what, but I do remember it was AWFUL. I still don't know what ingredient Gram left out. I think it was only left out in one of the two batches. Probably sugar, I really don't know, I just know that was her worst cheesecake ever. My mom and I didn't finish our pieces, but my dad and my kids ate every bit of what Gram had made. They seemed not to notice the missing ingredient. We never told Gram.