Blueberries, Strawberries and The End of Summer


Oh, my, have you seen the calendar? The End of Summer is in sight.  Just a few more weeks of long days, brilliant sunshine and warm nights, then Fall ushers in with shorter days, fading sunlight, cooler nights and its lexicon of seasonal ‘F’ words; football, foliage and frost.

The End of Summer also means the end of one of my decadent pleasures, fresh fruit from local farms, especially
sweet, succulent strawberries and big, bold blueberries.  Sliced or whole, drop a handful of these tasty morsels on a bowl of your favorite breakfast cereal (Cheerios, for me) and it’s paradise for your palate.  Your lips will love you and your taste buds will tingle.  How depressing, knowing the ballet in my mouth is about to ‘go dark’ until next year.  End of Summer, please linger longer.

The sliced banana is a wonderful addition to my cereal concoction, and according to Wikipedia (the Internet), botanically it’s a berry.  By adding a sprinkle of crushed walnuts, my bowl overflows with a cornucopia of colors and textures with the patriotic reds, whites and blues of these three fruits.  But, thanks to the End of Summer’s culpable coalition with the calendar, ‘this too shall pass’, at least for the strawberries and blueberries, but not the banana.

What is it with the surviving banana?  The banana seems to escape the same demise of the red and blue berries.  The banana is always available and the price doesn’t fluctuate.  An ‘expert’ proffered that bananas are a fast growing tree so the supply is plentiful and constant.  Bananas are a healthy fruit, too, they just don’t measure up on the juicy and sweet scale, as do the others.

I’ve given up picking my own, but every season I recall the times my dad took my sister and me into the mosquito infested brush where wild blueberries thrived. We ate more than we bucketed, but had plenty for a pie, or two.  My wife and I often took our kids strawberry picking in the hot sun of local fields where we competed with bees for the biggest berries we could find. What lasting memories these ‘pickin’ times made.

At this moment, the bountiful strawberries and blueberries are disappearing from grocers’ shelves and I find it fruitless to complain.  After all, it is a natural change, as the seasons dictate the bounty of the produce we enjoy.  Besides, the End of Summer will reward our patience with the start of the apple season.  And a good apple will push the strawberries and blueberries to the farthest corner of my mind.

For now, I’ll turn to the iron filled shriveled raisin and its lookalike cousin, the craisin, for my cereal topping. And I must make time to travel south into New York’s wine country along the Finger Lakes to enjoy a unique local treat, grape pie.

End of Summer, after all is said and done, you and Mother Nature are treating us quite nicely.

My Morning Paper

Ahhh, the morning newspaper. World updates, local happenings, sports, the funnies. Quite frankly, I’d miss my morning paper more than my morning ‘Joe’. What about you?

I started reading the morning paper as a kid, growing up in Worcester, MA.  We were a ‘two-a-day’ family, subscribing to the Morning Telegram and Evening Gazette. Like clockwork, ‘paperboys’ delivered them to our back door early morning and late afternoon, six days a week and Sunday morning.  My sister and I raced for the Sunday comics. The winner would get smug while the loser got a tantalizingly long lesson in ‘patience’.

I don’t race to get the paper now, I can’t move that fast. Besides, I probably read the major news items on my smart phone during a night wakeup, hence the urgency isn’t as great. Regardless, reading it page to page is still a priority in the morning.

Afternoon editions are passé in today’s news business. Modern technology informs us as events unfold, no waiting. Cable news, Internet and ‘talking heads’ are fierce competitors for newspapers. In that same vein, I suppose, morning editions are likely carrying ‘stale’ news, as well. Isn’t progress wonderful?  Well, yes, but…

I’m a bit of a ‘dinosaur’ when it comes to the ‘speed’ of today’s environment. That’s why I like baseball, a leisurely game, completed when completed, no clock, just a comfortable pastime.  Quit tinkering with it.

I don’t like being rushed through checkout lines, either, and am not a fan of instant oatmeal. I like to take my time, and that goes for reading the news. The local paper allows me that quirk without pressing buttons, scrolling screens or double clicking. And I don’t mind a little newsprint on my fingers. I’m a ‘dinosaur’.

I like big headlines, bold and dramatic. The bolder the headlines, the more dramatic the event. Two word headlines really get my attention:

GORE WINS

BUSH WINS

DEWEY WINS

(In baseball, ‘1 outta 3’ is pretty good!)

So many headlines I’ve seen over the years: wars and weather, moon shots and hot shots, politicians and popes, winners and losers. I’ve read them all in my morning paper and even saved some in a box, stashed in my cellar. They probably deserve better.

Occasionally, I’ll read them and reflect, ‘a lot has happened in my lifetime,  what will my morning paper read tomorrow?’  I think I’ll hurry to the back door early for that answer. Will it be old news by then?  This ‘dinosaur’ enjoys his morning paper!

srbottch

The Garden and The Gardener

garden 1 “It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy…”, lyricized the song writer George Gershwin. He must not have been a gardener.

Up and down our Meadowbrook streets, summer gardens are coming into full bloom and it’s not because the gardeners are taking it easy. Soiled fingernails, calloused knees and aching muscles are testimony to the truism that gardeners love getting down and dirty.

My wife is a passionate gardener, one of many in our floral neighborhood. She does her part to make our parcel of land attractive, adding plants to every corner and contour where grass doesn’t grow, enhancing the beauty of our surroundings.

Fanciful colors dot our landscape: passionate pinks, plum purples, baby blues, ravenous reds and a potpourri of whites. Whimsical names like quick fire, limelight, pink diamonds, twist and shout and pinky winky, fill the pages of her ‘green thumb’ notebook.

From spring to fall, there is constant change in our yard. Colors morph from whites to pinks to browns, as plants begin their preparation for dormancy. Even those browns are beautiful, before the petals succumb to Nature and fall reluctantly to the ground.

Brisk winds will undress the heartiest of foliage at season’s end, leaving naked limbs pruned and shaped to perfection. Plants, even tall ones, will disappear under winter blankets. Our patience, once again, will be tested, as the long wait for spring emergence begins.

Gardening is hard work: planting and pruning, watering, weeding and waiting. I’m not a good gardener. I grumble too much about most everything associated with gardening: too many plants, wrong spot, time-consuming, too costly. But I enjoy looking at the results of someone else’s efforts.

From a window, I watch my wife and her helper dig, trim, mulch, water, talk and laugh. I guess the talking and laughing is a byproduct of gardening. It’s good she has a helper, I would make it stressful.

She moves among the plants with maternal instinct, straightening, cleaning, feeding, watching them mature, talking to them tenderly, giving encouragement and support. “You can do this. You can grow and be beautiful!”

Gardening is such a fundamental activity, so natural. It reveals the  creativity and strength of the gardener, herself. The garden brings joy to my wife and love to our home. Every household needs a garden. We have several, thanks to my wife and her hard work. I’m a lucky guy.

srbottch

garden 3

Buyers & Sellers

ROCKER 2There are buyers and there are sellers! Today, I was a buyer, with a great deal on a rocking chair, a deceased man’s rocker. I hope that doesn’t sound ‘insensitive’. But, a bargain is a bargain, no matter who the seller is, or was, in this case.

I looked at it as helping to settle his estate while ‘filling a need’ for my living room, killing two birds with one stone.  And isn’t that what ‘buying & selling’ is about, filling a ‘need’?

Someday, I’ll resell it when my frame finds the hardwood seat and spindled back uncomfortable, but not when I’m ‘gone’.  I‘ll sell it while I’m still here and put the proceeds toward another ‘need’.

Buying and selling one’s used, outdated or unneeded property is common in our American culture. Every weekend during nice weather, there are garage, yard and clothesline sales galore in homes, neighborhoods and towns across the country.   Look for the lawn sign, ‘Yard Sale Here’!

Bargains are waiting. Deals are to be made. Bid and offer is the action. Negotiating is almost to be expected. Junk is unloaded and becomes ‘another man’s treasure’.

Craig’s List, estate sales, penny saver ads…stuff is everywhere. Which begs the question, why do we buy so much? And, maybe more importantly, why do we keep it so long?

But back to my bargain hunting.  There’s  no doubt that this small rocker was a great deal. Yesterday, I saw the same chair for sale by a live person for 4 times what I paid. I guess you might call my sale the ‘drop dead price’. So, no, it’s not insensitive and you ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’, whether it’s dead or alive.

Go through your storage boxes, attic, garage and cellars  Have a yard sale and treat yourself to dinner with your earnings. Anything that you can’t sell, donate to charity. It’s cluttering your life and probably not worth what you think, but the fun you’ll have unloading it will compensate.  Because it really is true, you can’t take it with you. The old fellow who had my rocker would tell you that…if he could! (Rest his soul)

As my wife reminds me, ‘less is more’!

srbottch

ps. I’m gonna sell that old putter, it never worked, anyway!!!

‘Sometimes, I Like Summer Better…’

“Sometimes I wonder whether I like summer better, or winter better. Usually it is when it is NOT that season, that I like it most.” (Darcy)

-3

The town clock flashed a negative 3 bone chilling Farenheit degrees, as I stood numb at my school crossing post in January. Another western New York winter arrived with a vengeance. I wiggled my toes in desperation, confirming I still had them, and thinking, “I can’t wait for Summer”!

February found me chopping icicles off my house gutters, champion size icicles, easily 10 pounds, wishing they were large mouth bass. An avalanche of snow slid off the roof, smacking me squarely in the face while I mumbled, “I can’t wait for Summer”, and felt the watery intruder melting down my neck.

Trucks plowed heavy March snows from neighbors’ driveways, while wind gusts boomeranged it back at me as I labored with my own heavy snowblower. I uncurled my frozen fingers, one by one, from the icy grips of the obtrusive machine, and beneath a thick wool scarf wrapped around my face like an entombed mummy, I cursed the forecast and screamed in muffled frustration, “I can’t wait for Summer”!

It’s July and the humidity is oppressive.  Mid summer in western New York means muggy days and restless nights. A frosty winter breeze would feel so refreshing but the calendar gives me no solace. “How soon to Winter”?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I mowed the grass? Yet, there it lays, waiting for another clipping. Is there no end to summer’s workload?  Safety glasses! Earplugs! Industrial yard machines cranking up the descibles! I yearn for the peaceful whisper of a powdery snowfall. “How soon to Winter”?

An evening stroll through our garden on a warm August night demands a healthy dose of insect repellant. Even then, in a struggle for survival, the stronger mosquitoes find unprotected spots on my arms and legs to draw my precious blood. A winter frost would be my ally in this ongoing battle between bug and body. Desperately, I cry out to Mother Nature, “How soon to Winter”?

I’m comforted to know Fall is just around the corner. It’s my favorite season, you know, except for the ragweed and golden rod, of course. And, yes, it’s followed too closely by winter,with its long, cold, black nights and grey, bone chilling days…

Well, there’s always Spring…

srbottch

My Shoebox Family

Shoebox

It was an old box with a flattened lid, held together by a rubber band stretched beyond its time…a shoebox, a ‘treasure chest’ of family photos, my family.

In the ‘predigital era’, a box was a common place to save pictures. If you were organized, you put them in an album, then a box. Today, they’re on smart phones, or in the ‘cloud’.

Modern technology makes accessing photos simple and quick; a couple of clicks and, instantly, you can be looking at multiple images. But the romance is gone, the romance of holding a paper image by its curled-up corner and intimately studying the people who are forever locked in that time and place.

As the youngest of seven children, I never knew my older siblings as kids, only as adults. If not for a treasure trove of family photos kept in a shoebox and stored in a cluttered closet, that wouldn’t have changed. With those priceless pictures, I saw them differently, in a life and time that I never knew.

In hindsight, we were two families, the first five followed later by my sister and me. Theirs was a family living on a ‘blue-collar’ street where renters far outnumbered owners, a city neighborhood. Wearing ‘hand-me-down’ clothes, my siblings looked like Dickens characters, slightly worn but always smiling, four boys and a girl.

I missed the opportunity of their companionship which I would have enjoyed at that age. Later and older, not so much. Families move on and grow apart, ours did.

The black and whites revealed a stern looking father but a content mother for whom marriage at a young age must have been arduous and challenging, managing a household of five children born within the first seven years.

Later, there are pictures of my closest sibling and me. She and I came along when life was becoming more stable, a ‘new’ family was starting. Photos show a relaxed, smiling father and his enduring love affair with my mother.

Life was better and my sister and I were the beneficiaries. It would be a different family experience for us than for those first five siblings, whose young lives I only knew from the pictures.

My digital library is versatile and accessible, but, occasionally, I still enjoy visiting that ‘treasure chest’ shoebox for some old-fashioned ‘family’ time.

I wonder, do you have a ‘shoebox’ family?

My Mother was Catholic, My Father was Handsome…a Love Story

Mother & Dad

My mother was Catholic, my father was…handsome. The daughter of poor immigrants, and poorly educated, herself, this young girl of Irish/Italian heritage was looking for a better future. My father, too, was of immigrant parents, hard working, middle class, and Protestant. 

She wanted the love that an abusive father never showed her, and he, this dashing young tradesman, would give her that, and more. Still, she was Catholic and, well, he was a pool shooter.  Living in a flat above the pool hall he frequented, evenings would often find her purposefully loitering on the building steps, easy prey for his roving eyes.  Love finds a way…

Barely 19 and in a ‘family way’, she married him, probably to the chagrin of the family patriarch, and the local priest. After all, she was a Catholic girl and he…well, he was careless and cavalier.  In all likelihood, he was careless more than once, as six more children were added to the family tree in rapid succession. She was very Catholic.

Life was challenging for a young wife with five small children and an ‘old school’ husband who set the rules and expectations in a firm manner. Yet, for all the hardships endured, she worshipped him, depended on him for her well-being and her place in a middle class America. Besides, what were her options?

Their marriage endured, and only strengthened with time. My mother loved my father dearly and he relished his role as a strong family provider and leader. He was doing what was expected of him, then.

It was joyful, watching their love grow, an affair lasting 50 years. Life’s tough challenges were met and now behind them, and they basked in the comfort of their companionship, each one knowing the other’s pleasures.

And then, it ended. One morning, he kissed her goodbye, twice, went to work and didn’t come home. To the end, the handsome pool player fulfilled his vow to love and cherish, protect and provide.

The Catholic girl survived another twenty years, still in love with the same man but now adding God in her daily thoughts. After all, she was Catholic, and He…well, He was her Savior.

srbottch

Dedicated to my wonderful parents