Monday, July 31, 2006

The Book....

It was the summer of 1960 when my parents loaded my newborn baby brother and me (not-yet-two!) into the car (without carseats or even seatbelts!) and drove the 150 miles to his parent's house. His grandmother (Gran) was staying there and so all of our aunts and uncles and cousins were coming to spend the weekend to see her.

While I don't remember the weekend, I can tell you a lot about it. My dad and his 5 brothers and 1 sister were all in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. All but one were married, and all of the married couples had kids except one - and their first was born a few months later. "The boys," as my dad and his brothers were collectively called, pulled several pranks on their dad and each other. When some of the pranks started "going off" in the middle of the night, my parents announced that anyone who woke me up would have to be the ones to get me back to sleep!! One of those pranks was my grandpa's clock radio set to full volume. When it came on, it happened to be playing "When the Saints Come Marching In." My grandpa thought he'd died! It was a great weekend!

I know all this because we have a book, you see. Sometime that weekend, probably over a meal that included Toler-Creeks and watermelon, they decided that this "reunion" should be an annual event. It was determined that my uncle Wendall (the first-born, of course!) would be the first "president" and the office would rotate each year to the next youngest sibling. They got a ledger book, and wrote this down. On this certain weekend every summer, everyone would gather and the president would be responsible for organizing the details, supplying the meat for the meal and recording the events in the book. Attendance was written down (with my uncle Gary and his wife listed as 2 1/2, because Deanna wasn't born yet - but she was there!) and some of the more memorable events of the weekend (including my parents need for me to sleep!) were recorded. They pasted in a picture of Gran and a group picture of everyone there, and the book was begun. And so it has continued for 46 years.

Every year at the reunion, there is a "business meeting." Everyone sits around and the "president" reads the account of the previous year. Then each family recounts the highs and lows of the previous year. Who had a baby, who had surgery, who graduated. Some of the funny stories of our lives, and the sad ones too. Adjustments to the "rules" are discussed and voted on. I know at some point, I think after my grandpa died, the date was moved away from the weekend closest to his birthday. And I think it was after my grandma died that my aunts and uncles asked the assembled group if we still wanted to have an annual reunion. I think they were a little surprised by the resounding "yes," but they announced that it was time to "pass the torch" to the next generation, and so now the office of president passes from Wendall's children to Vic's and so on. Every six years, my brothers and I host the reunion. We set the date and provide the place and beverages, plan games - and update the book.

The book is just the greatest thing. 46 years of family history, stories and pictures all in one place. At the 40th reunion, it was decided that while the ledger book still had blank pages, the binding was loose and the pages were yellowing quickly, so my uncle carefully took it apart and put each page in an archival quality sleeve. Now it is a large album, and new entries are still added each year.

And it says right there in the book, the current summary of rules...."It is the president's responsibility to be sure there are at least 2 cookers full of beans......."

Friday, July 28, 2006

Toler Creek Beans........

I've always loved the fact that my family has our own beans. You can't buy them, you have to grow them. Plant them, cultivate them, pick them, string them, put them in a pressue cooker with bacon (maybe a few new potatoes for a treat!) and those are our beans. You can't even buy the seeds! You have to keep seeds from year to year, and if you have a bad year and didn't have seeds to save, you have to ask someone else in the family to stake you some.

They're my grandpa's beans. They're called Toler Creeks.

This is my grandpa of the "watermelon in the well pit fame." I remember him as big. He was taller than my other grandpa, and louder. He was a classic mechanical tinkerer. He could fix just about anything - but it probably wasn't the way the book said to fix it. (This trait has passed down through my dad to my brother Andy - of whom we always say "he can fix anything using a pipe wrench and bailing wire. Give him duct tape to boot and it isn't even a challenge...")

We kids always loved family get-togethers when my dad and his brothers would tell the stories of all the pranks they pulled on their dad! And I know for a fact that my grandpa enjoyed watching the fruits of their labors come home to roost. There was perhaps some glee when he saw my dad trying to deal with three boys who were just like him! But that's another story (or two or three!)

My grandpa had so many different jobs in his life that I don't know if there is anyone left who could compile a complete list. His own father died when he was in 4th grade and he left school and went to work in the coal mines to help support his family. Before he married my grandmother, he was a pitcher in a semi-pro baseball league and they say he was really good. Had a wicked curve ball. At some point he owned a gas station, a pool hall and I think a general store. He farmed, drove school bus, and worked for the gas company building pump stations.

And at one point, sometime in the 1940's, his job was to travel up into all the hollers and creeks of southeastern Kentucky, maintaining and repairing the smaller engines that pumped natural gas in the piping system. (Some of those old lines are still supplying natural gas in the area.) Many of the places he went to were pretty remote, and since the roads were tiny twisty things more like paths than roads, he would be gone for days at at time. And there was no Motel 6 to "leave the light on." He would pay a local family for room and board.

As the family lore states "One time when R.V. was up Toler Creek workin' on engines, some lady fed him a plate of beans that were the best he'd ever had." She told him how she made them, and gave him a packet of seeds.

They are a type of bean called "
half-runners." They have a thin shell and big white beans in them. They have vines which need to be trained, so the prefered technique is to plant 2 bean seeds with 1 corn seed so that the beans can vine up the corn stalk.

Over the years, my aunts and uncles all grew Toler Creeks in their gardens and passed the seeds down to their kids. Only one uncle still has a garden, but he faithfully plants an extra row for seeds. Two of my brothers garden, and my sister-in-law Chris cans the beans using a pressure canner, just the way my mom taught her.

And when we have our annual family reunion, it says right there in the book that the host family is responsible for supplying at least 2 pressure cookers full of Toler Creeks.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summer side of the family.....

Lately I've been pondering something that I've noticed over the past few years. It's how weather or season of the year triggers childhood memories. We all know that certain smells or tastes or pictures can be triggers. And of course walking through an antique store - "My grandma used to have one just like that..."

But the last couple of years, I've noticed that hot steamy weather takes me back to growing up and farming land at my paternal grandparent's place. Of course, food is a big part of that. I get "a hankerin'" for fried okra, Tolar-Creek-Green-Beans in the pressure cooker, fresh sliced tomatoes, corn-on-the-cob dripping butter.......and watermelon.

I have fun memories of summer events at my maternal grandparents as well; kick-ball games with our cousins, climbing on the roof of the milkhouse (we weren't supposed to do that...shhhh) and playing in the newly refilled haymow.

But when the thermometer hits the 90's and the humidity matches it, all I can think of is watermelon.

Grandpa used to grow watermelons in the garden. When he determined that they were ripe, he would take out his pocketknife and cut them off the vine, and then carry them to the well pit. He'd take off the cover and lower the watermelons to the bottom. I don't think it was very deep - I remember we'd climb down to hand the melons back up...but it was COLD down there.

Then in the hot part of the day, when it was too hot to work or even play, we'd sit around in the shade and grandpa would decide that we should probably pull a melon. He would split that perfectly icy cold melon and hand out big half-moon slices. There were always several salt shakers on the picnic table in the back-yard, so that if there was a crowd, you didn't have to wait too long to salt it up and start enjoying it. I guess the big mystery is why the lawn didn't have watermelon vines instead of grass, because we certainly "seeded it" well enough!

I've enjoyed some great watermelons the last couple of years, but somehow it's just not the same when you pull it out of the refrigerator. I just want someone to dig me a well pit so I can properly chill a melon....

Tomorrow we'll talk about Tolar-Creek Green Beans!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Happiness is.....

Busch Stadium, real-live-on-the-field-in-front-of-me baseball.

I got to go to the new Busch Stadium last Friday evening for a game against the LA Dodgers. I was in the club section - the seats were padded, I had a great view of the field and of the arch, and there is a very spacious feel to the park. (I am, of course, Lutheran - so I have to say that I liked the old one better! I'll get used to the new one in time.......)

The downside for me was that the speaker volume seemed much louder, and the big screen in center field is pretty obnoxious. Pre-game included a "mini-newscast and weather show." I already knew it was hot, and part of the appeal of the ballpark is getting away from constant updates on the disasters everywhere. (Although, in regards to yesterday's big news story, I just want to say that anyone who can discuss the Middle East without using the word "sh*t" isn't really paying attention.)

Between innings there was constant "stuff" on the big screen and the volume was so loud that any actual conversation with a live person sitting next to you was impossible.

However, despite the negatives, I'm happy that I went. Watching the game unfold on the field in front of me is one of my greatest pleasures, and it had been 2 years since I was able to do that. I was so overwhelmed to see the Cardinals take the field that I think I may have teared up!! ;)

And at the end of the day, the true sweetnesss.........

"That's a winner!"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I just have to ask.....

Yesterday, one of my co-workers hosted an informal IM poll. I was shocked by the results - I could not believe that more than 50% of the respondants were so completely wrong. I blame the small sample size. (13 people responded.)

I asked the Lutheran Logomaniac to choose between the two options, and he chose a third option that I hadn't even considered. ^shaking head^

So, I'm hoping for a larger sample.......

The original poll question was: Which is creepier, Ronald McDonald or The Burger King?

My poll is here - please help spread the word and get the sample size up!!

Which character is the creepiest:
Ronald McDonald
The Burger King

Count my Burger King vote twice because the commercial where he shows up in the guy's bed gives me the willies.
Free polls from

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My brother is TOO cool!

Greetings from Baby Shower Central! My niece is expecting her first child early next month, and so my sils and I are giving a baby shower next Sunday. At my house!

A bit of background here - my parents have been living in southeastern KY for the last 4 years. They bought property there and it's dad's "retirement project." After they had lived there for about a year (but kept their house in Indiana also) my landlady announced that she was selling her house. (I lived in a walk-out basement apartment that was quite lovely.)

Since I had such a good experience in that apartment, I decided to take my dad up on his long-standing offer to finish his walk-out basement into an apartment for me. Let me count the ways that it is the best apartment I've ever had! I have a yard, so I now have a place for a dog or two, my brothers and their families are within a couple of miles, I'm right there when mom & dad come to visit, all new appliances and my choice of paint colors and's fabulous! Can you say "attached garage!?"

So after living there for 2 years, this is my first BIG event to host. Since I'll be out of town the 2 days before the shower, I spent last weekend scrubbing and rearranging and ....well, yes, I even washed the windows! And noticed that while we've talked about the need to power-wash the mold off "my" side of the house....we hadn't done it yet. My windows face north and overlook a creek that runs behind the property. The combination of the shade and the humidity means that we have to power-wash the siding with chemicals every year or two.

I mentioned this to my brother Andy on Sunday evening. I had already checked with my brother Mark who OWNS a power-washer, and found that it isn't working, so I was looking into renting one. Andy just nodded his head and said he had a plan.

I arrived home Monday after work to see this:

This is not just a little power washer - this is construction equipment which his boss let him borrow. This, this is Tim Taylor with a power washer. (Insert appropriate "manly" grunts!) The mold is gone!! (So are the screens from the windows and one of the vent covers, but let's not quibble....)

It is in fact so powerful that it can be used to dig post holes. The spray is sharp enough that it will "cut out" dirt. He also used it to replace a couple of fence posts along the lane. (I know what you're thinking and no, I didn't back into those posts. HE did. I only backed into the propane trailer!) Anyway, he just "cut" in a circle with the power washer, and had a suction hose laying there to suck the mud up as he went. Pretty snazzy.

Aren't power tools fun? And brothers even better????