Thursday, April 01, 2010

The jam jars

I grew up in a small neighborhood in Savannah, Georgia. The houses were built on a large circle of land, so that everyone's backyards met in the middle. This arrangement made it easy for families to get to know each other.
My parents were blessed with some very special friends during my growing up years . A military family of redheads lived across the street from us . The Flemings were neighbors of ours in the late 50's. Larry, the dad, was in the Air Force, and we knew that the Flemings would probably not be staying long. The friendship that grew between my family and the Flemings in the short time they lived nearby left a lasting impression that lingers even today.
Larry’s wife, Peg, and my Mom were destined to be best friends from the moment they met. They were both right smack in the middle of raising young children and they supported each other through the challenges that time of life presented. Those two were like Betty Rubble and Wilma Flintstone. The two women were experts at making the best of any trying situation.
Opportunity knocked in 1958, when the Flemings were "blessed" with some unexpected guests. The surprise visitors filled the Fleming’s home and overflowed into our own. My mother offered our house as an extra "Inn" to accommodate the out of towners that Peg couldn't squeeze into her place. The guests settled right in, and became so comfortable that they decided to stay a few Extra days. Eventually, rations ran low in both resorts and the houseguests decided to pack up and head home. Although I was too young to remember the visit, I distinctly recall a neighborhood "sigh-of-relief" when the entourage finally said goodbye.

Somewhere along their way home, the guests stopped at a Stuckey's restaurant. At that time, "Stuckeys" was a household name. They were commonly found along the interstates, and were famous for their Pecan Logs and unusual, edible gifts. Several days after the Fleming's guests had left, Peg received a surprise package from Stuckeys. Inside the package was a gift assortment of miniature jars filled with jam. When Peg looked closer, she discovered the flavors were the oddest assortment ever imagined! The gift jam assortment included many unique flavors ; Kumquat marmalade, to name one. There were other interesting varieties, too-mostly flavors that wouldn't be considered safe for human consumption. Peg unselfishly decided to share this wondrous and most generous gift with her close friend and neighbor, my mom. The tiny jam jars packed quite a chuckle between the co-hosts! Mom and Peg laughed over those jambys so!
Not long after the marathon visitors’ gift had arrived, the Flemings were shipped to Brussels, Belgium. Although I missed the Fleming kids a lot, I know that my mom missed her confidant, and steadfast Partner-In Crime even more. Many quiet days followed at our house while we adjusted to the loss of our very special neighbors.
One day, we received an overseas package from Brussels!! Among the items inside were a beaded purse for me, some trinkets for mom, and one of the miniature jars!. Mom sent a short note to Peg, thanking her for her thoughtful package, but she made no particular reference to the receipt of the jar of jam. And so the saga of the touristing tasties began!! From that point on, every birthday, anniversary, or Christmas , one friend or the other would pass along or receive the jam. That tiny jar managed to make 3 trips across the world in the first year alone. In the states, the jam went from Kansas City to Montana-and points beyond- always bouncing off of our home base in Savannah in between trips.
In 1968, Peg's husband, Larry went to Viet Nam. It was a very scary time for our families. We were worried about Larry's safety, and it was very difficult to contact him. Larry could not tell Peg where he was, her mail was confidentially routed to him during that time. Mom wanted to cheer him up, so she assembled some sundry items, baked a few cookies and sent the jam in disguise. (In addition to Larry's safety, mom was also concerned for the jam's well-being.)She mailed the "care package" to Peg, who routed it to Larry via United States Air Force. We waited anxiously for news of the safe passage of our special package. Meanwhile, the jar -in-costume found Larry safe and sound as it arrived in Viet Nam in a can of coffee. Seemingly endless time passed. When we had not heard any quips about our package arriving, mom wrote her friend Peg, to inquire about the parcel she had sent. Peg sadly told her the post office in Saigon had been bombed, and she feared the "care package" had been destroyed or lost. We grieved. It looked as if the 10 year old traveling jam game had come to a sad finish. Then we went on with our lives. This was the first of many white lies the two friends told regarding the jam jar. The traveling exchanges continued with an added feature-the jars were ALWAYS DISGUISED, and NEVER MENTIONED . The mischievous friends enjoyed the challenge.
On one occasion, a seemingly identical jar arrived; open, and with most of its contents missing. A note explained that Larry and Peg had become weary of sending it back and forth, and had decided to finally try the foul substance on toast one morning. This substitute came to be known as the "sister jar".

In 1970, Peg came for a visit to North Carolina, where my parents had relocated. She managed to discretely leave the two 12 year old jars behind. Peg knew all my mom's best hiding places. She hid the jars so well, two years passed before mom found them again. She returned the new found jam and its sister, in a beautiful flower arrangement. Without a mention or a blink, the Flemings dug it out of the foam flower base and sent it back!! The traveling jam made trips to Missouri, Colorado Springs, and Great Falls. In 1974, the jam was mailed from the Panama Canal Zone. Eventually, the sister jar disappeared. The mystery of the missing sister jar remains still today.
My folks drove to Florida to visit their dear friends, and Peg duct-taped the jar to the rear bumper of my parent's car. My parents didn't notice it until they had to stop for gas on their trip home!!! Mom had the jar canned ( to look like a can of soup) and shipped it to Peg. The Flemings returned it in a unique hanging arrangement. Peg had taken a large styrofoam ball, hollowed out the center, planted the jam, then covered the ball with nuts of all kinds. The amateur florist then added a lovely ribbon to hang the arrangement with- and sent this concoction to us! It wasn’t long before this busy little jar arrived at Peg’s house inside a doll's tummy!
Mom's final disguise was a big, brown owl that she made in ceramics. It was hollow, so after she finished the owl, she placed the jar inside, filled the hollow space around the jar with plaster of paris and let it dry. She gently placed a lovely felt fabric bottom on it. The owl made several trips with the jar in tow. No one could figure out how to remove the jar without breaking the bird!. By this time, the jam was reaching the ripe old age of 20, so the friends retired the hide-and seek part of the game, and just took turns having the owl travel between houses. Sometimes the jammed owl would be carefully placed on a mantle, or would be used to decorate a shelf. It made a great conversation piece! Every so often, when the time was right, the bird would take flight and visit the other side.

I enjoyed hearing about and later being a part of the traveling jam jars and their escapades throughout my childhood. It was so exciting to receive gifts from exotic and exciting locations-even if I knew what the packages contained. The challenges of changing the disguise kept both friends on their toes for many years. There were many trials and tribulations that affected both families during those years. Through the loss of family members, job changes, child rearing challenges, the jam carried with it a positive distraction for all. The act of mailing the package time and time again kept the friendship ties strong between the two moms as well as our families. It still amazes me to realize that through all correspondence during those years, the jars were never mentioned in words.

In 1984, the 26 year old owl took its final flight from our house. It landed safely on Peg's doorstep. Not long after that last trip, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She died 6 weeks later. I wonder if mom knew when she sent the owl to Peg -that last time- that it would be the final stop. Sometimes I think that she sent the owl to Peg when she did on purpose. I think she wanted to make sure it stayed safe with the tradition in tact.
Two years after my mom died, my dad passed away. The owl remained safe and securely nested under Peg's protection. Through the lonely days and months that followed the loss of my parents, the jam jar never crossed my mind. That was a special gift passed between special friends. I had been just one of many who watched the adventures unfold. I was someone who enjoyed hearing the amusing tales about it.

The touring days of the traveling jam withstood time, distance, weather, war, child rearing, retirement - even death- and lasted longer than many friendships. I find the memories of those days very comforting, even now. The history of the whole game, the wonderful and unique tradition- are refreshing thoughts to ponder. What a blessing to have been a part of such a unique experience.

After my parents passed, life pushed on. We added two more daughters to our family and expanded our household to 6.
My four daughters kept me busy. I realized, one day, that I was in the same stage of parenting as my mom and Peg were when they became friends. I appreciated and valued their relationship more than I did growing up. I decided to try to tell my children about the special bond my mom and Peg shared one day.

I wonder though, if they will ever really understand how a small jar of jam could have kept a friendship going for so long.

I know in my heart that somewhere in the world there's a tiny, well-worn jar of jam that still carries the love and friendship of two very special soul mates. That 50-year-old jam still exists, if only in my smiling memories. Maybe the story should be laid to rest. I'm just not sure, but if and when the time is right, I'll know.

Years after that stroll down memory lane, I received a package in the mail from an address I did not know. There was no note inside to accompany the brown ceramic owl. When the girls got home from school and work that day, I shared the whole long ago story with them and it made for good afternoon conversation and went really well with a snack and cold drink. I wrapped the owl up, and have kept it with me as I've moved over the last few years. The owl is broken now, but still holds a hardened clump of plaster with a little jam jar stuck inside.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Children are a lot like snow flakes-

No two are exactly alike. Sure, they share similarities- life is just like that, but each child brings a pinch of her own flavored perspective along, and it is wise to remember this from time to time and to appreciate and even acknowledge these precious sparkles. Here’s one small example of the surprising perspective of a child.

While on vacation once, I stopped for gas in a self-serve station. The station was gross. Old, beachy, worn,dirty. If I had not been sitting on empty, I would have kept driving by.

It was Rachel’s day in the front, and she sat there, unusually quiet, just thinking and ruminating about our well spent week, I assumed. As I drove off, she murmured in a very thoughtful way, “ I just think that’s nice”. When I realized she was finished sharing her inner thoughts with me, I asked, “What’s Nice?”. “Clean bathrooms. That gas station has clean bathrooms, it said so on the sign, and I just think that’s nice.”

Acts of Random Kindness- preschoolers

Acts of random kindness:
One act of unexpected goodness goes a long way…
I was holding a summer session of Camp Redbird, a preschool camp, and I had to leave for one of my girl’s graduation ceremonies. The college students/camp counselors that were helping me went into a near panic when they heard they were about to be thrown to the dogs, but I gave them explicit instructions on what to do in my absence to ensure a successful and smooth afternoon. They trusted me enough to know that there was usually a method to my madness, so they followed my instructions to the letter. I think they are glad they did.

I had noticed the parks maintenance people working on trimming bushes earlier in the day. They looked overworked and very hot. After all it was summer, and it was quite sticky. I also noticed that these workers had a giant pick up truck. I’m talking institutional size, commercial, REALLY BIG. I noticed that there was one really tall, rugged guy that looked like he was in charge. I was certain this was not one of his better days, and it took quite a bit of courage to approach him. (Oh, the things we do for our children!) I asked him a really stupid question. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have some help ?” He just glared and sweated at me. “I can guarantee you every bit of these trimmings will be picked up for you, if you will just hear me out and do exactly what I say.” His curiosity got the better of him, and he tilted his head and said, “Yeah?” “Go into this center, and follow your ears. Let them lead you to a room full of rambunctious preschoolers. Just lean in the doorway and wait to be noticed. When you are, wipe your brow and say these words, “ Gee, if I just had a few really strong and handy kids around, I could get my dump truck loaded in a hurry.” I continued with, “Before you ever finish your sentence, I suspect you will have all the help you need, and all you have to do is let them put the branches in the dump truck. They would really love seeing that big truck and they are very good helpers.” He looked at me, and he just kept looking.. I imagine he thought I had stepped out of my mind for a few minutes , but he heard me out. I said a quick goodbye and I was off.

When I returned later that day, the counselors couldn’t stop talking about how fun the kids had loading this guy’s big truck. They really got into the job. I hoped the man had enjoyed his momentary relief. It wasn’t until months later, though, that I realized what an impact this event had had upon him.

I came in to work one day in early fall, and the center director said, “Melanie, James wants to know what kind of flowers or bulbs you want out front this year.” Who is James, I wondered. Usually the parks people have a grand seasonal landscaping plan, and they meticulously put it into action in just the right way. Far beit for anyone to interfere or get in their space during these planting frenzies. Our parks and community center areas do look incredibly good, so their hard work pays off. Flippantly I said, “Oh, I guess pansies would be nice.”

The next week, when I arrived at the center, there were 300 multi-colored pansies waiting to be planted “Any way and any where the children would like to put them.” It doesn’t take much to bring out the human spirit in us.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fall rituals

A sign of the times…
Fall Fall Fall- such a busy season in the family. Children are adjusting to the back to school schedules. Even though various reliable sources tell us Fall will occur in September this year at a specific time and on a specific day, I am here to tell you that Fall sweeps in on the tail of a flyer from school titled, “Open House”. Open house is an exciting event, full of opportunities to meet teachers, and to learn all about the what your child faces in the coming months, what they will learn, need, be expected to do. This critical information is relayed to parents in a five minute span, scattered throughout the evening as you traipse through your child’s schedule.
This year we only have 2 “real” schools to deal with, College being the 3rd- and it doesn’t count, because my child is developing her independence through her experiences there, and basically parents are not invited. Until tuition is due. Or books are needed.

When Middle school open house appeared on our refrigerator schedule, I was beside myself with excitement. How thrilling! What an opportunity!! If only. We have been so lucky over the years to have been offered this opportunity 56 times. As number 57 approached, I cornered my husband and said, “Hey honey, guess what is just too good to believe? We’ve got open house this week!” No reply. None……and I realized that I would be the only parent in the house available to attend. The challenge I faced was one of numbers. Two of our 4 children attend the same school. Now you may say, “Well, how, just how in the world can one parent play the part of two at Open House?” So, listen up, ‘cause here’s how it worked.

I sat in the pre-open house PTA meeting for just long enough for the lights to go out. Then I found Child A’s homeroom teacher, outside of her classroom, socializing with her peers as she awaited the onslaught of curious parents. I introduced myself, asked her how she liked working with the other core teachers, because I have heard so many wonderful things about them from my precious daughter. I then excused myself, and went to Child B’s homeroom teacher.

The point here is that my child’s homeroom teacher will mention to the other core teachers that I had some pleasant comments to say about them. This in itself is very valuable, because before the night is over, they will be riddled with comments and criticisms, and they will more likely recall the pleasant ones, especially the first one of the evening. This also produces a witness . The children are often given extra credit if parents attend. So, by interacting with one of the team, the others know I was there. Same deal with Child B’s homeroom. This leaves us only elective teachers to try to spot. I went straight to Band, the common thread among the two siblings, and in one fell, “So nice to meet you”, knocked our visiting targets down by 2. For the rest of the night, I skipped from one to the other. In the end I spent quality time with about 25 percent of the teachers I should have, but I actually touched base with all of them. I was able to leave 30 minutes early, beat the exit traffic and, still had time to swing by the grocery before coming home in time to put the kids to bed.

As soon as I opened the back door , both darlings came running with a pop quiz . “Did you see my teachers?” I answered honestly, “Yes, I sure did.” “Who did you see?” I scratched my chin, glanced up at the cobwebs in the corner of the room and said, “Let me see, there were so many I’m not sure I can remember them all. I spoke with Ms. Kinney, (homeroom) ,and Mr. Zany (homeroom ). Now, didn’t you think the music Mr. Jones picked out for the band is interesting?” Followed by,
“Sweet? Was it Social Studies or Math that you got that B on?”

This comment indicated, through assumption, that I had in fact seen both Math and Social Studies teachers. The other child asked the hardest question. “ Did you see ALL my teachers?” I smiled and hugged her and said, “ There sure is a school full of them, isn’t there?” Deception is not an active part of my parenting job, but there are times, where desperate times call for desperate measures.

After time and an increase of children in the household had set in, the oldest moved into High School, and came home with the Open House announcement, I was relieved to only have to play the part of one parent for one child. I will say, though, that the experience brought me to realize how times are changing in today’s world. I got ready to go, and my child hugged ME, told me to have a good time, explained where to go, and when to be there. Then she gave me HER cell phone and told me to call her when I needed her (the child) to come pick me up(the parent)after school. I walked to her school, thinking….Something is not quite right here. I’m the parent, walking to school, with my child’s cell phone. Now there’s a sign of the times for you.

Be careful what you ask...

Be careful what you ask, because you may get an unexpected answer.
Picking up the girls at Elementary school one day, in the car, “So How was your day? Anything special happen?” Rachel answered, “Well, I had to walk 5 laps on the playground today. I wasn’t thinking when I popped my lunch bag in the cafeteria today.” “Well, Rachel, what happened when you did that? Did anybody scream or cry?” “No, it just got real quiet, then my teacher looked at me and said 5 laps.” I helped her clean up her spilled lunch, tho’.”

Putting the foursome to bed one night, one of the girls asked, “ Mommy, who’s your favorite?” “Well, who do you think my favorite is?” They all answered, “me”. Once I caught my breath, I responded with,” You’re my favorite story teller, you’re my favorite cuddle bug, you’re my favorite fairness person, and you’re my favorite figure -outer.”

We were in the car one day and Mary said “You’re a good mom.” Rachel said, "You must be raising us right because we get along almost all of the time.”

Monday, June 20, 2005

Bonds with Service workers

Our neighborhood underwent a major gas line replacement last year. Every yard was dug up, and when the work was finished, a few plops of sod were slapped down with a trail of straw scattered about. Our turn rolled around right smack in the hottest part of summer. I really felt for those hard working construction guys, digging and moving dirt, burying the pipes, etc.. When they were done, I asked if they would like something to drink- One husky guy said, " We'll take a beer if you've got one." I said, "Well, I've got water today, sorry." He replied, "Water will be just fine, Ma'am." So decided to give them a real treat, and I poured them each a tall glass of my favorite fizzy water' Quibell. They accepted the drinks and were very gracious. Here were 5 burly workers, some no doubt had been former world class weight lifters, now wearing reflective vests and orange hard hats. They looked like a pack of big teddy bears sitting on my front yard. As I approached the house, one of them stopped and said, "Excuse me, Ma'am, Is this Quibell? " It was like stepping into the grey poupon commercials. This led to discussions of fizzy water- To hear these huskies discussing something as tame as carbonated water just makes me chuckle. It created a bond, and before they left, they rang the doorbell and gave me specific instructions of how to get my gas turned back on the quickest. They told me who to call and what, exactly what to say. Looking out for me, those big hearts. Thanks Quibel

I must have something going with the gas company, because on another occasion, the gas man came by to turn on one of the upstairs apartment's gas. I chatted with him, we talked sports, kids, girls, we clicked just like the electronic ignition on the gas stove. I brought him some lettuce from the garden, and he said, "You're not serious? From your own garden? In the city? " He asked to have a tour. Then he proceeded to tell me how much he missed New York and the apple trees there. I ended up sending him home with fresh butter crunch and romaine knowing he had connected more than the gas that day. The jogging of his fond memories turned his serious nature slightly pleasant.

Then ther's Sears and Bruce. He came to repair my 10 year old dryer. He completely dismantled the thing, Found the part he thought was broken, and replaced it. The dryer still didn't work. During the afternoon that it took to do all that taking apart and putting together, we talked about gardens, kids, and hurricanes. He seemed to relax as he worked, Finally, he said, okay, here it is. I've put $250 dollars into this dryer and it's still not working. I can get the only other part lef t, but then you're looking at another $25 plus another trip out. What do you want to do? Isaid, and quite frankly, too. Bruce, Why would I want to spend $300 on a 10 year old dryer, when a new one is about that price? He just shook his head, " I know what you mean, but I really don't want to have to take that whole dryer apart just to get off the new part I put on that doesn't fix it anyway, so I'll just leave it and I'll give you a coupon for $25 off a new dryer. " Iwalked him out to the car, ran out to the garden and plucked him two fresh tomatoes for luck, and sent him home. It was a pleasant afternoon in the long run. It restored my faith in the "Murky" repair man syndrome. We treated each other fairly and met a new person in the end.