The following essay was written by my grandmother, Rose Ridnor. I found it humorous because I’m often precariously balanced on a ladder, in the middle of summer, trimming the dead flowers off our two lilacs in Mount Vernon, WA. And while I have the clippers, the nearby apple trees also gets a trimming.
The lilac tree was long overdue for pruning. This particular morning, after spending almost two hours pulling weeds, cutting, and cleaning up the front and side of the house, I was finally ready to begin trimming the lilac. When I as more than half done, I found I was getting terribly tired.
The burning sun had followed me all morning, making my face flush and sticky with sweat. My legs ached from leaning against the runs of the ladder, my hands were stiff from wielding the clippers. I just had to finish. Stop now and who knows when I could get back to it. So I pushed harder with the clipping and snipping to finish faster.
I was concentrating hard on lopping off a heavy branch, my mind as blank as it could get, when out of the blue, a line of words popped into my head. It was odd. I eased off a second to repeat it to myself, “I can always plant another tree, but I can never grow another me.”
Quickly, I fathomed its meaning, and for a moment was tempted to heed its message. But no, I couldn’t stop now. I had to finish.
But it kept bugging me. Why am I pushing myself? What am I out to prove? I have just so much energy, exhaust it, and I’m finished. The tree doesn’t give a darn whether I cut off its dead flowers or crowded limbs. It will just go on doing what it has to do: Grow and produce more flowers that will die, and I’ll have to cut off.
I set the clippers down, stepped off the ladder, went into the den, and plopped into a chair. I could feel the tiredness ease out of my body.
Ten minutes later, quite refreshed, I went out, put away the ladder and tools, left the sweeping to Morris [husband], and that was that! I didn’t hear one word of protest from the lilac tree.
Life is a constant weighing of the importance of one’s own self in relation to everyone, and everything else.
I suspect my grandmother, Rose Ridnor, didn’t have a recipe book to flip through for ideas on what to fix for dinner. She therefore had lists on index cards, such as this one for meats, which provided ideas. Because my grandparents grew up in the tenements in New York, they were always very frugal, eating little meat, and supplementing main courses with bread, potatoes, pasta, kasha, and other grains.
For the most part, my grandparent’s subsisted on lower quality cuts of meat, cooked for hours, and subsequently labeled “pot roast.” My grandmother would always add potatoes and carrots an hour or so before the roast was done to make a more substantial meal.
My also routinely roasting or boiling chicken. The broth from the latter was turned into chicken soup with carrots, celery, onions, homemade noodles, and kneidlach (soft matzos balls).
For special occasions, my grandmother made tiny sweet and sour meatballs, which were eaten with crushed matzos. The sauce was made from ketchup, brown sugar, and white vinegar.
I don’t recall her ever making lamb, veal, steak, or fresh fish. Maybe my grandfather didn’t like fish so it was disguised as gefilte fish, lox, herring, kippers, and canned and smoked salmon. Below is her recipe for scalloped salmon, which was showcases how a can of salmon can ended up serving several people, possible for multiple meals.
- Pot roast
- Swiss Fried
- Pan fried
- Chicken fried
- Meat balls
- Sweet & sour
- Tamale pie
- Barbeque sauce
- Ground pepper loaf
- Ground patties
- Ground balls
- Chops fried
- Chops pan fried
- Breast stuffed?
- Sweet & sour
My grandmother was a list-maker so it was no surprise when I found a stack of index cards among her papers, containing lists of how much to tip someone (bellboys 25-50₵ per bags), painting and household advice, uses for vinegar, and what to make for meals. Below is what she wrote down for appetizers, followed by her recipe for deviled eggs.
- Kippered salmon
- Bismarck [herring]
- Sweet & sour meatballs
- Sweet & sour chicken
- Chopped liver
- Liver and eggs scrambled
- Brains [beef, boiled, mashed, and mixed with onions]
- Chopped egg
- Deviled egg chilled
- Eggplant [Russian caviar]
- Fruit cup
Written by Rose Ridnor, September 1963
A real glamour gal, hair bottled blonde, lovely creamy white skin, daily cold-creamed, lotioned, manipulated and patted woman with a flair for clothes and figure to show them to advantage, all finished off with beads and bangles to charm the eye. Sound catty? You betcha’ I am.
I look at her, then look at me. Dumpy, blah, clothes that shriek homemade by a shaky-scissored, ten-thumbed, blurry-eyed seamstress. I sigh with pity for myself.
Now then, I was gossiping with a young woman of late twenty, and in course of conversation, I asked Miss Twenties how old she thought Madam Blondie was, and to my utter amazement, she guessed her age within two years.
Evidentially, the young see age with clearer eye than we oldsters. They know but two ages, young and ancient. Their eyes do not gloss over wrinkles, sags and pouches, whereas, we oldsters become so accustomed to them with the passing years we skip over them.
Of course, I didn’t ask Miss Young Smarty-pants to guess MY age. Think I’m nuts or something!
Which brings to mind, a night quite some years ago, a woman came to the door selling religion. We asked her in. She talked for a couple of hours, and at one point, asked Grandpa quite coquettishly, “How old do you think I am?”
He peered at her appraisingly. She had ghastly red hair, streaked with orange, sag lines on her face, but slim and trim in a full skirted black dress with large red flowers, girlish cut and gay.
Now when a woman like that asks a man to guess her age, she thinks she’s a spring chicken with a capital “S” for sexy.
Before I could pinch Grandpa in warning, he jumped in with both feet and opined she must be about sixty.
Well, that woman almost keeled over. When she recovered her composure, her lips parted in a sickly smile, but she was gracious enough to admit he had guessed right and complimented him on his astuteness. She put it down, however, as a lucky guess. For no one else, she finished, had ever guessed her to be more than forty-five.
If that makes her happy when she shuts her eyes and looks in the mirror, hurrah for her. But it seems to me, when you try too hard to fool other people, you focus more attention on what you’re trying to hide.
And guess who told who that he should take a course in etiquette and diplomacy. And if he ever volunteers the age of you-know-who, he better remember to lop off at least ten years!
After almost a year, Grandpa had an appointment with the doctor. The sign of the pretty young nurse reminded him that during his last visit, she’s mentioned getting engaged and was to be married shortly thereafter.
Now he offered her belated congratulations and good wishes. She thanked him, then added, “But I’m already divorced.”
Divorced! Engaged, married and divorced, all in less than a year. What a pity, what a waste.
As I sat there pondering the state of human affairs, while Grandpa expressed proper words of sympathy and understanding, the thought occurred to me: Whatever it was that tore them apart so quickly, must have been present even at the altar. It was not something that developed and grew in time with the stress of adjusting to each other, and to their own still evolving natures.
Not out of sheer curiosity, but rather to gain a little understanding I asked an asinine question, “Why could you not have discovered during courtship that you weren’t suited to each other?”
She provided a very sensitive answers, “Because then we were on our best behaviors.”
A rare bit of insight that comes too late to too many.
O Lord, we know that in your scheme of creation the sun rises faithfully at its time to announce a new day, bringing warmth and light and sustenance to all your beings.
But some days, your sun is hidden from view, the sky is clouded over. Some days, our eyes cannot see your sun, they are welled up with tears.
And some days, we cannot feel its warmth, our souls are troubled. We have closed off our senses and immersed ourselves in sadness.
On such day, O Lord, when we are lost within ourselves, remind us that even the longest, darkest night ends with a sun bursting into glory, beginning a new day with new promise, bright with hope.
And remind us that if we look beyond our fears we will find a ray of sunshine. We must grab it, hold on, use it to light our way through the day.
My grandmother, Rose Ridnor wrote this invocation on July 17, 1985. It was a Wednesday, and according to the New York Times, Moscow had offered new arms ideas in the Geneva negotiations. Today, they’re the aggressors in Ukraine.
On this day, over thirty years ago, President Reagan had a cancerous tumor removed from his colon. Today, Reagan would probably be appalled at the continuing arguments over the need to provide healthcare to those who can’t afford it or don’t have it offered through their work.
The Congress in 1985 was at an impasse over spending. The resulting compromise was for an additional $24 million over three years for non-military spending, and a $5.4 billion increase in the military budget in 1986.
Thirty years later, $24 million is a pittance compared to the $1.1 trillion estimated cost of the 2003 – 2010 Iraq War. The Department of Defense reported spending at least $57.8 billion on the war.
In 1985, Morton Bahr, the new chief of the Communications Workers of America called IBM anti-union, and announced a worldwide drive to organize the company’s employees. His efforts didn’t materialize and today employees are shuffled out the door with every dip in earnings, and those who remain are furiously competing with cheaper labor in Brazil, China, and elsewhere.
In 1985, the computer industry was in its infancy, nevertheless, seven people under the age of 18, who lived in New Jersey, were charged with conspiring to use their computers to exchange stolen credit-card numbers, and provide information on how to make explosives, and make free long-distance telephone calls and call coded-phone numbers in the Pentagon. They’d also obtained codes that would cause communications satellites to change positions, interrupting intercontinental communications.
Computer espionage is considerably more sophisticated and destructive today, targeting not just government entities and businesses, but individuals.
With the only constant in life being change, it makes sense, as my grandmother wrote, to look beyond ones fears, and a find a ray of sunshine that lights our way through the day.