Day 24 Grandpa, the Train Man

Great Grandparents, Sherm and Hattie Harmon

Great Grandparents, Sherm and Hattie Harmon

My Great Grandpa Harmon lived a stone’s throw from the train tracks in Emmett, Michigan. The family had big gatherings on Father’s Day, and I remember Grandpa sitting on the front porch while all the kids played. Every hour or so we would run up to him and ask, “When is the next train coming, Grandpa?” He worked at the depot for many years before retiring, and he knew the schedule by heart.

He would look at his watch and tell us to the minute when the next train would arrive. If the time was short, we would dash over to the side of the tracks and wait for the first glimpse of the train.

It doesn’t sound very safe to let kids so close to train tracks, but the adults were watching and I’m sure we were scolded if we ventured too close. It was so exciting to feel the whoosh of air as each car passed. We would count them until we lost track.

By the 60s, passenger trains were not running much, but freight trains were still a regular sight in Grandpa’s neighborhood.

As much fun as it was to count train cars and play in Grandpa’s yard, it was even better when he came to visit my grandmother (his daughter). He was well into his eighties and still driving the sixty miles to our town by himself.

Great Grandparents having fun

Great Grandparents having fun

One time when Grandpa Harmon was visiting, he was playing with us. I ran circles through the living room, into the hallway, to the kitchen and back into the living room. On one of my trips around, my mother grabbed me and scolded, “Don’t play so rough with Grandpa. He’s old!”

“It’s not my fault, Momma. Every time I run past Grandpa, he pulls my pants up real tight.”

Even in his eighties he enjoyed giving a good wedgie.

Grandpa Harmon with me and my sister

Grandpa Harmon with me and my sister

Another thing Grandpa did was to hold my mother and tell us to tickle her feet. He knew that was her most ticklish spot. He’d hold her arms tight so she couldn’t get away while we tickled her into submission.

I can see Grandpa’s sense of humor in this picture with their dog sitting in a chair. It’s a copy of a copy, so it’s not great quality, but it’s one of my favorite pictures of Grandpa.

Grandpa and Grandma pose with their dog.

Grandpa and Grandma pose with their dog.

Only a few years ago when I started researching my family tree, I learned some other things about Grandpa Harmon. He was often called upon to break up fights. The train depot was across the street from a hotel and a bar. Whenever a fight broke out, somebody would yell, “Go get Sherm!” All he had to do was show up, and the guys would say, “We were just stopping, Sherm.” According to my mother, Grandpa rarely had to get physical. His size and reputation were enough to put the kibosh on their shenanigans.

Socks Knit with Hand Dyed Yarn

Socks Knit with Hand Dyed Yarn (Photo credit: sumptinelse)

My mother told me another bit of trivia when I was learning how to knit socks. “Grandpa Harmon knew how to knit,” she told me.

“Really?”

“Yes, during World War I when women were knitting socks for the servicemen, they often called upon him to turn the heel.”

I haven’t mastered the skill of knitting socks yet, but knowing my Grandpa could do it so well inspires me to keep learning.

I wish I knew more stories about Great Grandpa Harmon. At least his sense of humor was passed down in my family. My brother, Les has always been a jokester, but that’s another story I’ll save for another day on my 31 Days of Family Joy.

This post is part of my 31 Days of Family Joy, linking up with http://www.thenester.com.

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Day 23 Not Enough Zzzzzs

I’m reading a book on prayer for a ladies’ Bible study, and I just read a section about the author’s writing success. “Sleep deprivation,” he says. He has to get up hours earlier than everyone else in his household in order to write, but he goes on to say that it’s worth the sacrifice when he hears that someone’s life was changed through his writing.

It made me think about the times that sleep deprivation affected me. Most people can identify. Think back to the times you have dealt with a lack of sleep. You’re groggy, cranky, and just can’t seem to function. Now think about the reasons you were sleep deprived.

BABY BRYNN*

BABY BRYNN* (Photo credit: gobucks2)

It’s been a long time, but I do remember having a newborn in the house. I did the night feedings because I was breastfeeding, but when all my efforts to get the baby back to sleep failed, my husband stepped in. He would walk the floor with the baby, soothing both the child and me, the frustrated and tired mom. I so appreciated having him there to take over.

As the kids got older, there were times I was up in the middle of the night tending a sick child. Who can sleep when your toddler is crying in pain with an ear infection?

Years later when our teenaged daughter was dealing with excruciating pain, we had to take her to the ER. When I asked her to rate the pain level between 1 and 10, she said,”30.”

“Okay, we’re going to the hospital now,” I said.

Hubby and I sat in plastic-molded chairs in the exam room, waiting for results on her tests. She would have an emergency appendectomy at 4:00 a.m., and we were up all night. Major sleep deprivation, but we didn’t care. When your kids need you, you power through the grogginess and shake off slumber. It’s not like I could actually rest in one of those chairs anyway.

For the most part, my sleep deprivation occurred because someone needed me. It’s been worth it. Sacrificing sleep was a small price to pay to take care of my family.

This post is part of the 31 Days of Family Joy, linking up with http://www.thenester.com.

Day 22 Time For Pan-A-Cakes

When my son was barely able to talk, he called pancakes, pan-a-cakes. I made pancake time more special by making Mickey Mouse pancakes for the kids, pouring two small circles of batter for the ears connected to one larger one for the head. Pretty simple to do, and the kids loved it.

Mickey Mouse Pancake

Mickey Mouse Pancake

Years rolled by, and our son went off to college at the Air Force Academy. Honoring his dream to fly jets, I revised the shape of the pancakes when he came home for visits. I drizzled the batter into the shape of an F-16 fighter. The first time I made one, I told him what it was just in case he had any doubt.

I thought I was quite talented until he started flying B-52s. Do you know how long those wings are? The jet filled up the whole frying pan, and when I flipped it, the wings broke off. We had a good laugh out of that, and he ate it anyway. (I tried making one again, but scaled down the wings. See below.)

Airplane Pancake

Airplane Pancake

When my first grandchild was big enough to ask for pan-a-cakes, I went back to the Mickey Mouse shape. One day I tried making a monster truck pancake. He was favorably impressed. He picked it up and bit off a chunk. “Look, Grandma. Now it’s a motorcycle!”

A couple of years later when bats became his favorite animal, he asked me to make a bat pancake. I tried it, but it took some imagination to recognize the bat shape. A couple of weeks ago I tried my hand at pancake art, but I’m a little rusty. The pancake below was supposed to be a bat, but it looks more like a car to me.

A bat or a car? You decide.

A bat or a car? You decide.

You should definitely try this at home. The kids will love eating the pictures you create.

This post is part of my 31 Days of Family Joy series linking with http://www.thenester.com

Day 21 Hillbilly Breakfast

Back in 1974 when my husband and I announced our plan to get married in three days and go to Florida, my mother-in-law told him, “You know your Mamaw and Papaw won’t be able to come.”

“I know,” hubby answered, “but we will stop on the way to Florida and spend a few days.”

Mamaw and Papaw Miracle lived in Tennessee at the time, but had raised their family in the hills of Kentucky. When we arrived, Mamaw (Hazel) Miracle waited on us like we were royalty, and the next morning she laid out a spread our family calls Hillbilly breakfast–bacon, eggs, biscuits and milk gravy.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Buttermilk Biscuits (Photo credit: Bordecia34)

Mamaw’s biscuit-making procedure was new to me, even though I was the daughter of a baker. She put shortening and milk in a bowl of flour and worked it in with her fingers, making one biscuit at a time. I ate five of them that morning! Delicious.

For several years. Mamaw’s was our half-way stop on the way to and from Michigan. She would cook for us as long as she was able, and she’d press a few bills into my husband’s hand for gas money as we were leaving.

Mamaw Hazel Miracle telling stories

Mamaw Hazel Miracle telling stories

On one of our stops, the power was out when it was time to make breakfast. Without missing a beat, Mamaw went into her shed. She got a fire going in an old, black, cast-iron stove and cooked breakfast for us. I was in awe of how easy she made it look. The biscuits were baked to golden-brown perfection, and my eggs cooked over-easy. It was no great stretch for Mamaw to make breakfast on a wood stove. She grew up in the hills too and ran a home without electricity for years.

Woman cooking on a wood cook stove in a house ...

Woman cooking on a wood cook stove in a house at Delta Cooperative (Photo credit: Kheel Center, Cornell University)

Our kids were fascinated to watch Mamaw at work. While we sat and watched her, a big, aluminum washtub caught their eyes. After breakfast Mamaw pulled it and a washboard out and showed the kids how to use them. (Notice little Sarah’s concentration in the lower right corner picture.) At the time (about 1991) Mamaw still used an old wringer washer.

Kids and the washtub

Kids and the washtub

The flavors of the south continue to be a traditional part of our family gatherings. Any time we are in Michigan to visit, we have a big Hillbilly breakfast. My father-in-law, Glen usually starts by cooking the bacon, and he often fries up a skillet of potatoes too. My mother-in-law, Millie made scratch biscuits for many years before she chose to take a shortcut and bake frozen biscuits. It takes a big batch of biscuits and gravy to feed the whole gang.

As a young woman, I learned how to make the milk gravy, although it was never as good as Mamaw’s or Millie’s. As I am writing this, I realize my own daughters haven’t yet mastered the art of making milk gravy. It’s not their fault, though. They are still young enough to be on the receiving end of this family fare. As we get older, they will keep the Hillbilly breakfast tradition alive.

What traditional meals do you have at big, family gatherings? What are the roots of those favorite foods?

Day 20 Grandma’s Ring

English: Breat Cancer ribbons

English: Breat Cancer ribbons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m writing about my Grandma Merchant who lost her battle with cancer in 1973. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy when I was a teenager. I don’t remember how long it was, but the cancer came back the year I graduated high school. I was on a cross-country evangelistic trip that summer when my dad told me about it over the phone.

Grandma Merchant with my sister and I

Grandma Merchant with my sister and I

Me and Grandma, 1970

Me and Grandma, 1970

A few months later, Grandma was hospitalized and went downhill fast. I had already lost both grandfathers by the time I was eight, and now this dreaded disease threatened my grandmother’s life. That fall I was away at college during the week, but came home on weekends. I saw a marked difference in Grandma’s health from week to week when I would go visit her.

I specifically remember visiting her in the hospital with my then boyfriend, Mic. Grandma pointed to her engagement ring and said, “You know this will be yours one day.”

I didn’t know how to respond. She was leaving me her diamond and told me this in Mic’s hearing. Did she say this on purpose in front of him? Did she ralize he would  be my husband in a matter of months? I was somewhat embarrassed by the fact that she spoke of her own demise so matter of factly while planting a thought in Mic’s mind.

One December morning about a month later, I took a call in my dormitory hallway. Grandma had passed away. Following the funeral, Mom put Grandma’s ring in the big safe in our bakery. It was out of sight, but not out of mind.

Mic and I did indeed become engaged a couple months later, just as Grandma suspected. My mother suggested to me that I use Grandma’s diamond as an engagement ring. “Do you think Mic would be offended if we offered it to him?

“I don’t know, but I can ask,” I answered.

Grandma's diamond in my engagement and wedding ring

Grandma’s diamond in my engagement and wedding ring

What I didn’t know was Mic was thinking the same thoughts about my grandma’s ring, but he didn’t know how to bring it up. He didn’t have much money to buy an engagement ring, but he didn’t want to assume I would want to use grandma’s diamond.

We did have a conversation about it, and I offered him the stone. He gratefully took it to the jeweler’s and had it put into a new setting.

Grandma’s ring is a beautifully-cut stone, but the value is not in the diamond itself but in what it stands for. I can look at it any time and remember my grandmother. I’m sure she would be honored to know that I have worn her diamond for almost forty years.

Day 19 Family Vacation, Plan B

Did you ever plan a great vacation and have it fall apart? That’s when it’s time for a Plan B.

Our camping trip in 2012 was so much fun, we made plans to do it again over the 4th of July, 2013. This time we started preparing about a month in advance. We replaced our fifteen-year-old tent (I may have washed the water resistance off our old tent last year.) My daughter, Rachel and her family gave their too-small tent to Sarah and her husband, and bought the same six-man tent we did.

I checked and re-checked my box of cooking gear and made menus for our six-day campout. Since we had so much fun tubing last year, I made reservations at the same place.

Hubby was on a business trip to California but expected to be home a few days before we left. In reality, he arrived home but had to work the day before we left.

As our departure date neared, I checked the weather reports daily for North Carolina. It looked a bit iffy for tubing on the 4th. Maybe we would have to do it on the way home instead. Everyone in the family had arranged their vacation days, so no matter what, we were going.

I did some food prep the night before we left, cutting up a watermelon and some veggies I needed for our menu. We packed most of our gear the night before, so we could leave as soon as possible in the morning. Son-in-law, Curtis realized he had left his sunglasses at home, so we drove ten minutes back to their house before leaving town. On the way to the interstate, I happened to ask hubby if he put the watermelon and veggies in the cooler. “No. I didn’t see them,” he replied.

We were already about a half hour off schedule. What was another fifteen or twenty minutes? We drove back to our house and grabbed the food. No wonder Sarah didn’t want to wait on us.

Our grandson, Caleb had spent the night at their house, so he was riding with them. “We’ll meet you guys at the campground in the afternoon,” she told me on the phone.

It was a relief to finally be underway after all the back and forth we did in the morning. Not long after we were on the road, I got a call from Curtis’ grandma who was in Tennessee. “Are you still going camping?” she asked. “It’s been raining up here all week. We can’t do anything.” I assured her we would be fine, but seeds of doubt began to grow about this great vacation we had planned.

We had just crossed the Georgia border when Sarah called my cell. “Caleb is sick! We pulled over and we’re sitting at a gas station parking lot.” He had a case of too much junk food at the ball game the night before followed by the flaming hot Cheetos he was munching on in the car. He was feeling better, but they decided to stay put until we caught up to them.

We made sandwiches and ate in the gas station parking lot before hitting the road again. We reached our campground just across the North Carolina border by 4:00 p.m., but it was pouring rain. Hubby found the owner who graciously let us stay in one of their small cabins. It had a couple built-in bunks and a loft. It would be tight, but all eight of us could sleep there and stay dry. The peaceful river we played in and went tubing on the year before was a rushing mass of water. The camp owner told us it was at 200%. There would be no tubing on this trip.

We were disappointed, but wanted to make the best of the situation. The rain let up long enough for us to build a fire and start roasting hot dogs, but before we could cook them all, it was raining again. We pulled out the camp stove and set it up in the small back porch of the cabin. The s’mores would have to wait for dryer weather, and the camp fireworks weren’t happening either. The kids lit a few sparklers during a short time when the rain let up. Before we turned in, the camp owner’s wife came by to tell us they would keep an eye on the river’s level. “We’ll let you know if we have to move you.”

That was just a bit too close for comfort. During the evening hours, our cell phones kept sounding alarms: “Warning, possible flood waters in your area.” We plugged in our many electronic devices and went to bed, wishing the cabin was a little farther away from the rising water.

Charging station

Charging station

The next morning we drove higher into the Great Smoky Mountains to our next campsite near Boone, North Carolina. I hoped the weather would magically clear for us. Most of what we planned to do was outside. How could we manage to tent camp and hike in the rain? The sun came out long enough for us to set up tents and start dinner. Clouds rolled in again, and we ended up eating in the van. After that, I either wore my rain poncho or had it close at hand at all times.

Our campsite

Our campsite

The little stream running by our camp was much higher and faster than normal with all the rain, but during a lull in the weather it calmed enough for the boys to play in it. Later we ended up pulling river rocks out to make paths in the mud leading to our tents.

Stone path to our tents

Stone path to our tents

The second night at that campsite we had a thunderstorm. I felt really vulnerable trying to sleep in the tent as lightning lit up the sky. Rachel and Curt’s tent was leaking, and by morning ours was too. I was ready to throw in the towel. We needed a plan B and quick.

We decided to visit Linville Caverns since that was an inside attraction. We also stopped at a gem mine covered by an awning. This proved to be a great idea we all liked, especially the grandsons.

Gem mining

Gem mining

By late afternoon, we reluctantly left North Carolina’s high country, ending the camping portion of our vacation. We couldn’t do any hiking on the trip, and our campfire time was soggy or non-existent. It’s not what we planned, but we were determined to have fun somehow.

View of Grandfather Mountain

View of Grandfather Mountain

Sarah works in the hotel industry, so she was able to get us a deal on a hotel stay in Asheville. Plan B involved visiting the Biltmore House the next day. Tickets are a bit pricey, so we gave back the kids’ share of the camping money to help offset this unexpected expense.

The Biltmore tour was another inside attraction, but the clouds cleared and the sun came out for several hours that day. We went through the house and spent some time in the beautiful gardens.

At the Biltmore Estate

At the Biltmore Estate

Garden at the Biltmore Estate

Garden at the Biltmore Estate

The next step of Plan B took us south to Savannah and another hotel stay with the whole family. Sarah and Cristian had to be back a day before us, so they drove home the next morning while the rest of us toured Savannah.

We took the tram tour to save all the walking with the kids. We saw some of the beautiful, old homes.

Tram tour in Savannah

Tram tour in Savannah

By the end of the day, we were hot, tired and ready to retire to the hotel for one more night. We left for home the next morning with much different vacation memories than we expected. Plan B wasn’t our first choice, but we were still together, and that’s the best part of a family vacation,

Day 18 Inside Jokes and Favorite Quotes

Like most families, we have silly inside jokes. Say a few choice words to one of us and it brings a smile or a chuckle. People outside the circle wouldn’t get it. Bringing my sons-in-law and daughter-in-law into the circle meant we had to bring them up to speed on the inside jokes.

I already wrote about the games we played on road trips. When my son married Alicia, he taught her how to play the Animal Guessing Game, and he explained about the white bunny comment. (It’s an inside joke, but you can read about it on Day 9, Road Trips.)

We often talk in movie quotes, with our favorites coming from the 1987 movie, The Princess Bride.

The Princess Bride (film)

The Princess Bride (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve never seen the movie, it’s a quirky comedy about a young couple and an evil prince.  Anyone who’s a fan understands when you rip off a quote from the movie. Our kids watched it so often growing up they practically knew the whole script. There’s a quote to fit almost anything happening within our family.

Here’s one of our favorites: “That’s inconceivable!” one of the bad guys says when he sees the hero climbing up a cliff.

Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

At the opening of the movie, the heroine, Buttercup asks the farm boy, Westley, to “fetch me that pitcher.”

“As you wish,” he replies, but he really meant, “I love you.” The “as you wish” quote defines their relationship for the rest of the story. He will do whatever she needs because of his true love for her.

When our youngest daughter started dating Cristian (now our son-in-law), he had never seen The Princess Bride. We remedied that right away, and he became familiar with the funny quotes.

Not long after Cristian watched the movie, he helped Sarah with a project. She took her old dresser out to the patio to strip and refinish it.

Refinishing project

Refinishing project

It took several days scraping and sanding before they could put the new finish on it. Sarah directed the chore, and Cristian willingly complied.

Working together

Working together

Sanding with a smile

Sanding with a smile

Sarah was so excited when it was time to apply the varnish. She and Cristian took opposite sides of the dresser, but she kept a watchful eye on his brush strokes. “Look! There’s a big drip, Cristian. Get it quick,” she ordered.

“As you wish!” Cristian replied.

With those three words, he entered the inner circle of our family’s inside jokes.

This post is part of the 31 Days of Family Joy, linking with http://www.thenester.com.