Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Smiling Grandma

This post is in honor of  Annabelle "Peggy" Bakaitis, my mother-in-law. Every child should have a grandma like her. I feel so blessed she was in my life and my children's lives for so many years. When I was sifting through photos, I noticed that every picture I have of Mom shows her with a smile on her face. We miss her, but rejoice in the sure knowledge that her Spirit lives in peace now.

5 year-old Rachael with Grandma Bakaitis, September 1994
Love Grandma's smile.
The first time I met my future husband’s family was December of 1986. Jim and I drove across the country the day after Christmas, from Petaluma, California to Detroit, Michigan. We had just gotten engaged a few weeks before. It was the first time I had been in the Midwest. To be honest, I thought the rest of the nation revolved around California, and that Northern California was superior in every way. Little did I know that 20-30 years later, I would begin to feel sorry for some of my California friends who had never lived away from the West. Seems like it’s hard to be “for real” if you’re not from the Midwest.
Everyone was welcoming in the Michigan and in the Bakaitis home. I don’t know what I was expecting. Jim kept telling me not to worry about meeting his family. His mother especially was “accepting.”

I was a little surprised that Joe and Peggy had three adult children ages 24, 26 and 28 living at home though. 

At the dinner table the next evening John and Marlene, Jim’s brother and sister, got into a discussion about whether one would turn orange if one ate too many carrots. The discussion turned into a heated argument.  As their voices got louder, John argued passionately that it was totally possible. Marlene argued that no one was physically capable of eating that quantity of carrots; you’d die or pass out before you could eat enough carrots to turn orange.

This was a funny argument to have, but what made it funnier was that after we married and returned to Michigan I witnessed John and Marlene having this same argument at the dinner table on at least three more occasions in 1987-1988.

Lively discussion about all sorts of topics were a regular feature of the Bakaitis family during those early years of my marriage. Sometimes Mom would leave the dinner table right in the middle of a meal and bring the encyclopedia back to the table to look something up in order to settle an argument. This surprised me, because my own mother did not allow us to leave the table during mealtime as she considered it poor manners. But Mom Bakaitis liked to be a peacemaker. Too, the entire Bakaitis family, perhaps inspired by the Matriarch Peggy, has always been seekers and keepers of random facts. That’s something I really enjoy when spending time with all of them. 

(Remember, there was no Internet in those days, so we couldn’t google “turning orange with carrots.”)

Mom often gossiped about Ronald Reagan. She did not like him, and actually diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s Disease while he was still in office, though it wasn’t officially announced in the media until a few years later. But both Mom and Dad Bakaitis were avid newspaper readers and they kept abreast of every move the POTUS made. (Dad was a little obsessed with Michael Jackson's activities. I considered it poetic justice when both Dad and Michael died the same year).

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Nectarine Jam Day

This weeks prompt: Who taught you to work? What would you want your children and grandchildren to learn from their example?

My mother, Roberta Larsen Cordon, taught me to work. Oh boy, oh boy did she teach me to work! Assisted by my father, of course.

Here are a few of the lessons I learned from my mother that serve me today:

1) Set a routine and clear expectations. And start the day by making your bed.
Mom expected all of us kids to do our part in the home. In the mornings we were to make our bed, pick up our rooms, and do one additional chore before school. After school we each had an assignment to help with the daily family meal -- Four kids, four discreet tasks. Set the table or empty the dishwasher before dinner; clear the table or fill the dishwasher after dinner. These chores rotated weekly and were defined on a color-coded chart taped to our refrigerator. Shelly was red, Scot was green, Derek was yellow and I was blue. Before I learned to read Mom would draw pictures on my chore chart.

When I was very young -- and very short-- I set the table each evening. Mom organized the kitchen cabinets so the dishes were down low where a Kindergartner could reach them. She made a diagram of a place-setting to help me. She was always and forever a teacher. I would carry the picture around the kitchen table with me as I placed each plate, cup, fork and knife.

On Saturdays Mom would write out a personalized chore list for each of us. We weren't allowed to play with friends or do fun stuff until we'd finished. One chore she seemed to give me a lot was pick up the garbage in front of our house.

Once when I was 8 years old I was writing a story at school when I got a call to come to the office. "Your mother needs you to go home." We lived across from the school, so I skipped on home. Mom was waiting for me, a stern look on her face. She told me I had left the house that morning without making my bed or emptying the dishwasher. In fact, I had done this on several mornings recently. Not acceptable. Mom told me I could go back to school when my chores were finished. I did them! After that, I was more regular about morning chores.

2) Use your whole team 
There were special days unique to the Cordon household, in which Mom would corral us kids to work together. Walnut Day. Nectarine Jam Day. Fruitcake Day.

In the late fall our walnut tree would drop its fruit. Seems like the ground was always wet, fresh from rain, when we'd put on our jackets and go out to pick up the nuts. The nuts required husking. Sometimes the husks were green and easy to peel, but often they were dried and shriveled on the outside and filled with black slime. The black goo could stain your hands for weeks and I didn't care for it, but Mom made us all help. After rinsing the nuts we'd place them on wire screens to dry. A few weeks later, Mom would sit us around the table to crack the walnuts and pick out the meat. We always had delicious walnuts for baking treats to give to people.The walnuts were resource Mom used to reach out to others.

3) Do your work even when you don't want to. You will enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Nectarine Jam Day happened in the summer when the tree in our front yard would start dropping nectarines. Mom would wake us all up early and set us around the kitchen table to peel, pit and slice the nectarines. (Many years later Shelly and I learned that you don't have to peel nectarines for jam. But Mom was ignorant to that).