In her later years, my Mom, Lola Boyd, mentioned on occasion that living through her 70s was easy enough, but her 80s were much more challenging. Still, she rarely complained, aged with grace and dignity, and I’m grateful for the example she set. She did not live to see her 90s, however, so I must set my own course for this next decade, after turning 90 in May.
Fortunately my health is good and I have few complaints except I’m more forgetful and my editor (daughter Chris) says my writing meanders a bit. But, isn’t that what old people do? Meander? Hmmmmmph…!
Turning 90 was a milestone I celebrated on multiple days with family and friends. I’d like to tell you about it. And, after that I will tell you about the months leading up to that milestone…and to spring…and to all the changes that have come after a long winter during a pandemic.
A little meandering never hurt anyone…
For the first time in well over a year, our whole family was able to gather on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Daughter Kathy hosted as she has for many years and before dinner, she made a lovely toast to all those who joined us in our celebration in the past but who are no longer with us: Cliff, Ted, Merlin, Dorothy, Mouse, and Geno.
Daughter Kathy with her husband, Dave, and dear friend, Yvonne. Hank also joined in the celebration.
Sons-in-law, Dave and Joe.
Just some of the Greats: Hannah, holding Cora; Genevieve (with ball); Alli holding Emma; Bella and George
Kathy’s garden always makes a beautiful setting for our Mother’s Day celebration.
Granddaughter Amanda cleverly put together these decorations.
On the actual day of my birthday, I first went to Mass, and when I returned home, a balloon was tied to my mailbox and a bouquet of flowers waited for me on my front porch, thanks to my neighbor Dave.
And later in the day, a few friends and family members gathered at my house for a luncheon. (I didn’t cook or bake a thing!)
Lorraine and I have been friends since our grade school years at Holy Guardian Angels parish.
One week later, cousins joined me on the Saline Creek in Coffman, Missouri, for a picnic lunch and lots of visiting. It was wonderful to be together — and to hug!
Back row: Marty Yallaly and Mike Yallaly; Front row: Mary Winkeler, Margie Bertel, Bonnie Boyd Portell, Bobbie Toenges, Jeanette Melliere
Pat Billington joined me and his Yallaly cousins on the Saline Creek.
What a difference from a few months earlier. Those months leading up to spring were not always easy, but I kept busy and wrote about my days, and I’d like to share that with you now, meanderings included.
The weather has been cloudy and today it rained and even hailed. I kept busy baking and freezing the annual Easter egg cakes which I will ice Holy Saturday. My friend Bernie Rakowiecki and I started the custom years ago. To start with we had one pan (which made a dozen cakes) and we traded it back and forth until we accumulated six pans.
Bernie’s daughters, Sue and Eileen help me celebrate my birthday every year.
These cupcake eggs are part of our Easter tradition.
Gradually I found enough at estate and yard sales to give some to granddaughter Becky who now bakes the cakes for her five children. I’ve now baked them for 40 years. I gauge the years on the age of grandson Brian who was about two years old when on Easter he upended the whole tray of eggs that was setting on a low table. We brushed them off and none was the wiser.
Brian, now with children of his own – Simon and Clara
We have week day Mass in the church, but Sunday Mass is held in the gym as are Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday observations. The gym is chilly and the metal chairs are cold, but we persevere. Hopefully God hears me through my grumblings.
Thankfully, I and most of my family have gotten our vaccines and we feel somewhat relieved. We tend to mingle more, though we are still careful. Though our family all live in the same city, I hadn’t seen some of the Greats in a year. Two-year-old Clara was one of them. Her family had visited me on the driveway, but each time she had been asleep in her car seat. Last week they came inside and she was a lively, bubbly toddler who came right up to me and sang loudly, “Wheels on the Bus,” in its entirety. Then, she sat on my lap and read her book to me. Her father, at the same age, was the one who dumped the Easter cakes.
Daughter Laurie and her husband, Bob, felt it safe enough to resume their annual Easter egg hunt, but only with our family. It was a beautiful day and so good to see everyone. I came home and had a nap, then iced the egg cakes I had frozen. On Easter Sunday, I was invited for dinner at the home of granddaughter Becky and her husband, Chris. It was a lovely, warm evening. We had a delicious meal on the deck, then a loud game of spoons with the Greats.
Now on Easter Monday, I go meandering again. This morning, there’s news of the sad death of a young man – a dear friend of a granddaughter as well as news of the worsening health of a son of a very old and dear family friend. Our ties go back to our childhood, our growing up years, and into our old age. These ties and memories are also connected to my husband and his family, who are all gone. Though saddened, the weather is beautiful, and I spend the day outdoors, filling yard waste cans with leaves from flower beds.
The next day I have an invitation to go mushroom hunting, but had a previous invite to the library, recently opened again on a limited basis. Daughter Kathy had made us an appointment for a 45-minute visit. Too good to pass up! (And, I figured I’d find more books than morels.) What a wonderful half hour – a bag full of books, including two new ones by Jonathan Kellerman and C.J. Box.
Once home from the library, I washed a bedroom window and screen. My helpful neighbor Dave came over, put the washed screen back in place, and blew leaves out from under the lilac bushes which are leafed out and about to bloom. A good day!
Through much sadness, April is looking up, and I’ve seen two bluebirds bathing in the birdbath, and I’m hopeful for more invitations for mushroom hunts since we have had some warm nights and a nice rain – a must for mushrooms.
And, in fact, within days, I receive an invitation. Two new friends – very dear people – took me and son-in-law, Bob, to their mushroom woods. It was a warm, wonderful day. We found several, and they insisted we keep them.
On another day, daughter, Chris, and I found 29 at one of our spots. On arriving home, she ran to the store for bread and milk, so we could have mushrooms in milk gravy on toast. I cleaned them, rolled them in flour, and fried them in butter. Another day, I fried a skillet full for grandson Joey after he had cut my lawn.
A few days later, we’re out again, and the woods are lovely, May apples are up, sweet william and dogwoods are blooming and I think the season is nearly over. Then I find some fresh black ones, which are always the first to come out. If I live to be 90 I will never understand mushrooms.
Late in April, we are back in Coffman. My old friend, Pat, his daughter, Lisa, and her granddaughter, Lonnie, take us to a wooded spot on the Big Saline where they had found morels in earlier years. It was a bit of a scary ride in a Kubota, driven by an 88-year-old man who didn’t slow down for muddy ditches.
No luck finding mushrooms, but we had a very enjoyable visit with that loving invitation, “Come back again – you are welcome anytime.”
The afternoon was spent on the gravel bar of the Saline Creek on Boyd Road with pizza and beer from Charleville Brewery. While walking along Boyd Road, looking for mushrooms along the banks, we met a woman walking her dogs. Turned out she was a Boyd. We back tracked through the generations to her father-in-law who was the son of Tucker Boyd whose family had lived in Coffman when I was growing up there.
Later, daughter Chris took a longer walk along the road and a man in a pick-up truck stopped to ask if she was finding any mushrooms. As they chatted, she learned he was a Boyd, too, and encouraged him to come back to talk to me – if he had time. He did and made his way back to the gravel bar. We had a nice long chat. He told me his parents’ names and I remembered seeing their recent graves at Mayberry Cemetery. He is much younger than I am and didn’t have the same memories of Coffman but we had an enjoyable visit. Later I recalled that it was exactly a year since our son Ted, in his last good days, called and said, “Let’s go down to Coffman and see where Boyd Road ends.” That day, we drove the road to where it ends and unknown to us, we were in front of the home of Kevin Boyd, the man I had just met on Boyd Road at the Saline Creek.
The weather during the last week of February was a welcome change from the cold and ice. The snow was powdery, but one day the sun shone and the temperature warmed up enough for some good snowballs and I made the snowball ring shown to us by a friend from Norway. My brother’s friend, Art, during World War II, while stationed there met and married a Norwegian girl, Helen. Years ago, while spending a snowy day at Merlin’s clubhouse in the hills above Coffman, Helen showed her children and our son Ted how to build the snowball ring. Through the years, we’ve continued to make them when we have a good snowfall.
Now at 89 years old, I’m hesitant to stand in my front yard making snowballs, but cannot resist. So, I work at making a few buckets of them on the patio out back. At dusk, I carry the buckets to the front of the house and make my ring in the front yard. Then I place a lighted candle in a fruit jar and set it inside the ring. Sometimes it burns until daylight when I go out in the morning for my paper. Sometimes I wish for small children living on my street and I could show them how to make the rings and we could line the street.
Even though our family has skipped all of our family gatherings and I am mostly content, short outings are very welcome. On two cold days, daughter Jan and I walked through the picturesque towns of Maeystown and Elsah, Illinois. The streets were deserted, but we ordered a carryout lunch from a bar window and ate in the car. We also looked for eagles at Pere Marquette park but didn’t spot any.
A few weeks later, a warm day was predicted, so daughter Laurie packed a lunch and two lawn chairs and we drove to the St. Mary exit off highway 55 and drove to the Saline Creek bridge. A four-inch sheet of ice had formed on the bridge and was cracked into chunks by the crossing trucks. Three men were shoving the ice chunks into the rushing creek and we helped somewhat, but cautiously.
After the ice was cleared, I asked the older of the men if he lived nearby and he named the road he lived on. I remembered a family of that name from years ago living near Art’s old clubhouse and asked if he knew Art. He replied yes and he was in the process of buying the property where the clubhouse had stood and he also owned the adjoining property and was dealing with Art’s son.
I like to feel a thread runs through my stories and now I feel the thread on the old clubhouse has ended. We had a nice chat and I asked if he knew where the old Fields home was. They were family friends and my father had boarded there when he was a young man, teaching school.
The man knew the house – it was not far away, and he directed us which fork in the road to take. We quickly found it, though in my memory, it was unpainted and set farther back from the road. As we backtracked across the bridge we thanked him for his directions. He was settled in a chair on the gravel bar, watching his brothers fish while he had a beer and kept an eye through his binoculars on the eagles’ nest in a tall dead tree over the Saline . I’m a firm believer in the motto, “Learn to entertain yourself,” and I’ve preached it to our kids. Now, that man was a good example!
From there, we drove to the Saline Creek along Boyd Road, set up our chairs on the gravel bar, ate our lunch, then took a walk. The sun was warm and we shed our jackets and agreed we had a good day.
Family are still dropping off groceries, meals, and bird seed. I had been attending Mass until the past week when it was icy and cold. Though I didn’t have the energy or inclination to do much, I was very thankful for good health and a warm house. Then a strange thing happened.
Months ago, daughter Laurie had given me a yard of pretty ribbon with the words, “the art of writing” running along the length of the ribbon. I strung it behind a picture on a desk in my bedroom. One morning, I found the ribbon laying on the dining room floor. No one had been here except me, and I have no idea how it got there. Is Cliff, gone now for four years, trying to tell me something? If so, WHAT? One year after he passed, I had just gotten home from a Florida trip with the kids and as I was unpacking, a small candle in a glass jar fell off the bathroom shelf above the sink and I figured it was Cliff’s spirit, either saying “welcome home” or “where the hell have you been?”
Does he want me to write another blog post? Did he like the last one about meat pies so much? He was always quick to instruct, but I need a bit more information here. After all, I’ll be 90 in two months, prone to forgetfulness and very slow to assimilate something new or different. So, I pondered on it all for a few days and then just sat down and started to write about daily events.
During this pandemic, people are cooking more, baking bread, trying new recipes, and taking up hobbies they never had time for before. In the 1950s, living on Spring Ave., busy with small children, a neighbor told me about evening knitting classes at Sears on south Grand -within walking distance. I joined and was grateful ever after for the things I learned, and through the years I made scarves, afghans, shawls, and baby blankets, and I enjoyed the work and best of all, I learned to entertain myself while at home and used many of the articles as gifts.
I’d learned how to sew years before that and often sewed matching outfits for our girls. When they got into Barbie Dolls, I started sewing doll clothes as well. Cliff was a mailman, leaving the house at 5:00 a.m. and I would stay up after he left for work and secretly sew Barbie outfits to put away for Christmas gifts. By now, it was in the 60s and I was working on several doll outfits on November 22, 1963, the day John Kennedy was shot and killed. I stopped sewing the rest of that day.
In the late 70s, our older kids were getting married and the younger ones were still in school. We were living in St. Cecilia’s Parish and Aunt Vesta and Uncle Tom lived in the parish also. Vesta was very involved in parish activities and she recruited me into some chores – fish fries, church cleaning and the arts and craft booth at the annual fall festival.
Vesta was not always the most patient person, but during my growing up years she had always shown me great patience and love, so I went along with her requests to help out at the parish. A box of naked dolls had been donated and one of the parish ladies insisted I take some home to dress them for the arts and crafts booth. I knew the difficulty of dressing such a small doll, but grudgingly gave in and took one home. I showed it to my neighbor, Ann, who was enthusiastic about creating things and even had a pattern for a crocheted dress and hat. Well, that was the start. The dolls were from Carnival Supply and were a cheap version of a Barbie doll, but we started dressing them, one by one. Another neighbor, Pat, saw us consulting over the backyard fence and asked what we were talking about. She also knew how to crochet and the three of us dressed the whole box. The dolls made a great showing on a shelf of our booth and were a big hit.
Now, 30+ years later, I no longer knit or crochet and do very little sewing, but one day daughter Laurie wants to learn crocheting so I go to my sewing area in the basement, dig out my crochet hooks and yarn, and what do I find but that same old doll dress pattern.
I start working on a dress for a Barbie doll, so the pattern has to be adjusted. I think back to Grandma Louveau and Mom’s sewing skills. Mom was always concerned about the fit of a garment over the shoulders. Grandma Louveau, when buying a new wool coat, a rare occasion, always checked the underside of the coat. The nap of the coat had to look as good as the top side so when the outside was too worn, the coat could be ripped apart and made into a coat for a child.
I still check the underside of a coat before buying, though I have no intentions of making a new one later. Just a force of habit!
I made doll clothes for daughters, granddaughters, and now I’m making them for the Greats. I am not too concerned about the fit after all these are for-4- and 5-year-olds. I have lots of beads and ribbon for trim and that will be noticed more than the fit. No doubt when I drop by their homes I will find the dresses on the floor and a naked doll laying nearby. I know little girls…I have been involved with them since 1955.
While rooting through my sewing supplies, I found an old pattern for crocheted potholders. The pattern is simple – cast 35 single crochets, go round and round and it will form into a rectangle and ends will meet. Sew together and it will make a nice thick potholder. Daughter Chris orders me cotton yarn from Joann’s fabric store and picks it up curbside. I make the potholders, give them away as gifts, and in a small way I feel productive during this long winter.