Not long ago, Eddie Halamay, of Halamay’s Color Lab on South Main Street, posted family stories on facebook with warm, wonderful childhood memories featuring his recently deceased mother. Knowing Eddie as an affable and quite likable young man, it was no surprise to see the kindly, compassionate, response he received.
It triggered memories of my childhood and mother. She’ll be gone five years this coming June. As she moved to a better life, I became aware of a gnawing, empty, feeling that seemed to cling inside me and often surfaced.
Most readers know I spent my youth on a farm in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Lancaster County is considered to be its hub, but our farm in York County was well within its unmarked boundaries.
As my memory banks overflow, I fondly recall how we had colloquialisms that were rarely used elsewhere. Or at least their meanings were different. For example, at Thanksgiving, we never called what Mom put inside the turkey, stuffing. We called it filling. This made perfect sense. After all, Mom didn’t stuff the bird. She filled it.
The term dressing wasn’t an option. To be truthful, it was never considered. To us, dressing was what you did, up, as whenever Mom said, "Youse’re all dressing up for Easter Sunday, so be sure youse wear your good socks and clean underwear."
My brother once asked me what she’d do if he walked into church in just clean socks and underwear!
Mom only did grocery shopping whenever she was out of meat or spices. We raised everything else. And what we didn’t raise, like avocados and lobsters, we simply didn’t eat. In living a sheltered childhood, I was 23 before eating my first avocado.
In the winter, we survived on the harvest that had been cold-packed and canned throughout the summer as the produce ripened. Potatoes were kept in a special bin in the cool cellar.
A spring flowed through the basement and was the source of our drinking water. I’ve never found a city or a well that has pure, sweet and cold, drinking water as what that spring produced. The year-round temperature maintained a constant 35 degrees. You needed no ice in your water on sultry summer days. One swallow was as thirst-quenching and instantly refreshing as a cool spring shower after toiling in fields under a hot sun.
During summer vacation, we earned money by hustling for other farmers. Pulling weeds from strawberry, bean and tomato fields, we labored three hours for a dollar, even though the minimum hourly wage was 50 cents. Nevertheless, the work needed to be done or the crops would be lost. Besides, we needed spending money. To us it was a golden opportunity. As kids, we knew no better.
Every farm had a dog. We had Tippy, a border collie. Except for the cold bitter winters, it slept out on the back porch, mostly to guard the chicken house, making sure it wasn’t raided by a wily fox. No critter ever got past him. That dog was faster than a walnut rolling off a henhouse roof.
During the day Tippy would accompany us on our many fishing trips to the local streams. The state stocked them annually with trout. We’d frequent them, especially in the spring during the first days of trout season. That’s when all the one room country schools closed down because school officials knew that if they didn’t no kids would show up.
We have it better now, much better, and I’d never want to go back to stay. But still having family back there, I do visit. Whenever that happens, my memory banks overflow once again as I relive those days of youth and remember my Mom. It also seems to be about the only time I miss that sheltered childhood.
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