Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Apples and Pears

Sand Pears

I’m not sure why I buy apples by the bag because I always end up with 2 or 3 that lay around in the fridge for a month or two ending up wrinkly. Once I wrote about making an apple cake from some not so good looking ones that turned out pretty delicious. Yesterday with 2 old apples I mused about what to do with them, throw out or cook. I ended up peeling and dicing and cooking as though for apple pie filling and they turned out fine. Tasty on crackers.

This reminded me of something else I used to cook…sand pears. Personally, I haven’t known but one person who could eat a sand pear raw and of course that was a native Floridian. They are so hard they could pull out your teeth if you’re not careful. Beavers would probably love them. The only time I’ve seen them for sale was at a house near Fairbanks off Waldo Road. Jim and I were looking for muscadines, and the grape grower had a couple of pear trees in his back yard. He happily sold us some.

But back to when I was cooking them. When I worked as a bookkeeper, my boss had several sand pear trees in his yard and he would bring me large paper bags of them as they fell to the ground. That was the only way to know they were ripe. He gave me his pear cooking recipe which was very simple. Peel, cut off thin slices, put in a microwaveable casserole, add a little water and cinnamon, and cook for however long it takes for them to soften. The time would vary from 12 minutes to 20 minutes and I think you could cook them forever and they would continue to remain crispy, with a somewhat sandy texture. You could add sugar and a little butter if you wanted to or Stevia or another sweetener after they had cooled. They were delicious on crackers, even better than the best apple you’ve ever eaten. And in pies or cobblers, delicious!

I tried to find some this past August but had no luck. Supermarkets wouldn’t dare sell them because folks would bring them back complaining about how they broke their teeth. I thought farmers’ markets would be a good place to try, but no luck there either. And they are the ugliest pear you’ve ever laid eyes on, a speckled light greenish-yellow and brown with the appearance of mildew all over. They’re more apple-shaped than pear-shaped but definitely a pear stem. The skin is very tough and they are difficult to peel, but to me the results are well worth the effort. I’ve never been strong enough to cut one in half.

I did some research and found that the proper name is Kieffer pear, a cross between a Japanese pear and a common pear. The first ones, my research said, were grown on the grounds of Andrew Jackson’s home near Nashville. I think ours have mutated a little because the pictures are not exactly the same as our Florida sand pear.

Sadly, my former boss’s land was sold and the pear trees were knocked down. His trees bloomed with tiny white flowers, and I have seen many similar trees blooming along roads in early spring. I wonder if they are sand pears? It would be nice to cook some again.

Friday, October 12, 2018

After the Storm

Michael turned out to be a minor inconvenience in my area, no damage at all and hardly any twigs on the ground. Thankful.

One welcome change after the storm, fall has arrived with morning temps in the 60s and nary a high in the 90s in sight. A very welcome relief. It's this kind of weather when yardwork becomes enjoyable and long walks are invigorating.

Lots of things are going on here this weekend, Friends of the Library book sale, an art festival, a first showing of a Cross Creek documentary, dedication of a new park, author readings, free entry to a botanical park, a chocolate tasting and craft shows. Wow! Which to choose? My daughter is planning to visit and enjoy some of these events with me, a wonderful weekend planned. Hope you have something happy planned, too.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Hurricane Michael

The thirteen pine trees in my backyard have me cringing every time the weather person hints of a coming storm. Two of the pines have limbs overhanging my house, they drop an uncountable number of needles and cones on my roof, and their shade contributes to the growth of mold and mildew on already aging shingles. In March when the winds whistle through, the boughs sing me goosebump-inducing melodies.

The thought of having them cut down stirred the naturalist in me. Where would the nesting wildlife go? Did I want to be one of those people who raped the land to suit myself? Last week I buckled and had three of the pines felled. Each one measured more than ninety feet. One had a hollow spot filled with water, compliments of several pileated woodpeckers.

So now as I sit here this Tuesday evening with the news full of Hurricane Matthew warnings, I feel much less anxious with the two trees nearest the house removed. And at least where I live is not in the eye of the storm although it will be close enough that shelters have been opened. It's expected to pass through in the early morning hours unless it stalls.

Hopefully, we won't lose power but it is sort of a given. All my techy stuff is charged up and the pantry is full of canned stuff for me and Mopsy. I'll update after and if you're inclined to say a prayer, it will be much appreciated.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Dinner with Connie

On June 10th, 2018, I received a text message from one of my granddaughters asking if I could meet her for dinner the next evening at a local restaurant. Connie Elizabeth, named after me and a special friend of her mother’s, mentioned nothing else in her message, but I did not think it was anything out of the ordinary. Her husband is a Jacksonville fire fighter and remains overnight at his fire station, sometimes several nights in a row. So I assumed this was one of those nights, and Connie thought it was a good time to get together, just us girls.

Connie and Clark were married in 2013 and in 2014 they bought a home a few miles east of High Springs, about twenty miles from where I live near Gainesville. Their house is on a beautiful historic road named Old Bellamy Road, which was part of a lengthy highway built across Florida in the 1820s linking Pensacola and St. Augustine, a road suitable for horse-drawn carriages. This part, named after the contractor, John Bellamy, follows Native American and Spanish Missionary trails, and today it is a beautiful drive, winding, hilly, and under lovely overhanging oaks filled with Spanish moss. Old falling-down farm buildings and sheds dot the landscape and call out for exploration. Modern residences are limited and usually on substantial acreage to further enhance the feeling of time travel as one passes through secluded ancient forests.

Connie’s mom was a nurse so it was natural that she leaned toward some sort of medical career. That came to fruition shortly before her marriage, and she continues to love her position as a radiation therapist. She’s a caring person, level-headed, a planner, and a good organizer. Recently, she was promoted to a supervisory position.

After Clark and Connie were married, naturally the families hoped for a baby sometime in the near future. Instead, for their first Christmas together in their new home, they adopted a puppy, a solid black Lab whom they named Bowden after the former Seminole Coach Bobby Bowden. Yes, they are Seminole fans in the midst of Gator Country. Bowden has grown into a beautiful silky black animal, well-behaved and friendly. Still waiting for babies, the following Christmas brought another addition to the family. Yes, another puppy, a friend for Bowden, a Dalmatian whom they named Renegade. I think there may be a pattern here. Renegade is now almost full-grown and as one would expect from their names, they get along well with each other and are almost never separated.

After Renegade, the families expected there might be another puppy the next Christmas, but Connie and Clark had decided they were a two-puppy family and there were no more. For the next couple of years at family gatherings someone would throw out the subtle hint of a bun in the oven, but Connie or Clark would give a slight shrug of their shoulders and change the subject. Maybe being a great grandmother was not in the cards for me.

So as I made my way to the restaurant the next evening, baby news was not on my mind. Connie was a little late since she was coming from work, and I filled my time making up stories about other patrons, a habit of mine. Very few people go to restaurants alone, I noticed, and when there is a single person, the tone of the hostess seemed to me a little biased, as though a single person was not worth as much consideration as a couple or a crowd. My husband passed away in 2012, and I have been the recipient of this particular attitude once or twice although it may just be my imagination.

Connie arrived, apologized for being late, we hugged, chatted awhile to catch up, and scanned the menu. After the waiter took our order, Connie began searching through her purse while animatedly talking about her day at work.

Then she said, “And look at what I got at my doctor’s appointment today.”

She handed over a couple of small sheets of what at first looked like credit card receipts, that kind of paper. Then I realized I was looking at a baby on an ultrasound report! I looked up at Connie and she was glowing. I could almost see the light radiating from her. Tears of happiness filled my eyes and we hugged again and just held hands. Although there was no need, she told me how happy and excited she and Clark are. The baby is due on January 3rd, 2019, maybe a New Year’s baby.

Although good stories should have an ending, this one does not. Connie is doing well, sporting a pretty good-sized baby bump at the time of this writing. A new life has revitalized my life, and now I look forward to the future with my great grandchild, happy for however long I am allowed to be a part of it.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

More on Boating in Delaware

Port Mahon Lighthouse 1978

After we got our boat, fishing was on the agenda every weekend. Many times we went to Port Mahon which was closer than Mispillion Light. It is east of Dover, north of Little Creek Preserve and south of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, a more than excellent bird watching area.

The Port Mahon Road extends about four miles and requires the driver’s close attention as parts may be under water during high tide or after storms. It’s best to time your trips with the tide charts. It is a beautiful drive right along the water of the Delaware Bay and at the port itself you can see the remains of an old fish factory and several dilapidated pilings that used to be piers for fishing and oyster boats. The shoreline is strewn with rocks and shells of all kinds with intermittent patches of sandy beach. If lonely is what you’re looking for, this is the place.

Nothing as exciting as getting lost in the fog happened at Port Mahon, but I do have some very pleasant memories of fishing there. We never went out into the Bay as far because the best fishing was closer to shore. After coming back in, I always liked to explore the shoreline for rocks and shells and shore birds and snap a few photos. There was an osprey nest on top of a large pole near the parking area that drew my interest on several visits. A falling-down store and a shucking house were near the old fish factory, and I had to explore those much to Jim’s chagrin. Exploring old buildings was one of my things in my younger days.

I recently read that the old lighthouse, which looked ready to fall down in the 70’s when we were there, was set afire in 1984 by some young kids up to no good. It completely burned except for the sixteen rusted iron pilings. It was built in 1903 and had a keeper of the light until 1939 when it was automated. It remained active until 1955 when the Coastguard transferred the light to a nearby skeletal tower.  Once it was abandoned Mother Nature and vandals began a long twenty-nine year goodbye. I never could find out if it was actually built in the water or if the Bay encroached underneath later. I suspect the latter. At least the pilings were a good idea either way. I’m sure it shone the way to many an oyster dredge, but I do remember a couple boats that were dead in the sticky salt marsh mud. That reminds me that the water was usually very dark and churned, not the kind you’d want to swim in.

I do remember one embarrassing moment that luckily went unnoticed by all but us because of the desolation of the place. Jim had just lowered the boat off the trailer into the water when to our surprise the Bay started coming inside the boat. Immediately we knew what had happened and Jim quickly reloaded it back onto the trailer.  The water drained out of the stern through that little hole below the motor, the transom drain hole you’re supposed to put the plug back into after washing out the deck from the previous fishing trip. It only took one time to never forget again.

We caught many different kinds of fish at Port Mahon, but I think the most abundant were sand sharks. Some people said they were good to eat. Except for one time, we never kept any to try. They weren’t aggressive as you would expect sharks to be, but they had fierce-looking teeth that intertwined through each other. The one we kept went to our next door neighbor who was a master fish chef and often cooked our catch. He made a fish gumbo with the shark but I couldn’t get past the smell to manage a taste. I never liked any kind of fish stew so I was likely prejudiced to begin with. Everyone else said they enjoyed it.

As I write this I Google “Port Mahon” and find that the road today is almost impassable during high tide because of the rise of the Bay. Some new boat launching docks have been installed and there is a thirty-five car parking lot, but fisherman must pay close attention to the tidal charts for a safe return and exit. Much of the road traffic is from Dover Air Force Base trucks off-loading jet fuel from Bay tankers. That’s a picture I don’t care to remember. I’ll keep my memories of fishing trips, shell picking, and the old Port Mahon Lighthouse imagining its guiding beam to incoming ships of the past.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Mispillion Fog


Mispillion Lighthouse from the Delaware Archives

As our last Memorial Day rolled around, I thought back to those holidays of the past while living in Delaware. A particular one popped into my head, but it had nothing to do with honoring our troops. It may have been 1975 or 76, and it involved a boat. As a water person, I was always campaigning for the purchase of a watercraft. I really didn’t care what kind as long as it didn’t leak. My first thought, as the end of May approached, had to do with boat ramps being lowered and the beaches gearing up for the holiday weekend.

Every year at the first sign of warmer weather, I scanned the newspaper ads for boats for sale. I can’t tell you how many boats we looked at, but Jim always found something wrong…until the right one came along. It was an 18’ MFG open bow, cathedral hull with a 125 HP Evinrude. The cathedral hull (or tri-hull) is shaped somewhat like a wavy m and is more stable in the water. That means harder to turn over, but in a heavy sea it’s a rougher ride because of the additional surface contact. Jim, a West Virginian turned Delawarean via Air Force and marriage, was not a water fiend like me, but he did like to fish and the open bow and tri-hull sold him on the boat.

There are lots of things you don’t think about when buying a boat like the hitch, the size ball, registering with the State, and getting the required safety items such as a compass, life preservers, flares and an oar. These all take time and effort and delay the fun part. We did our paperwork, made the trek to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and went shopping for the other stuff. Maps and a two-way radio were purchases left for another day. We were ready to fish.

First, we had to decide where to fish. I’m not much for fresh water so I lobbied for the Delaware Bay. Even that left many options because Delaware, although a small State, has a lengthy coastline. Many sites beckoned close by, including Woodland Beach, Port Mahon, Slaughter Beach, Mispillion Light and some others. We chose the Cedar Creek Marina just south of Mispillion Light for our first outing. Although renowned for sudden storms, the fishing was said to be excellent.

Hot, clear and sunny was the forecast when we pulled out of our driveway in the morning mist at 6 A.M., towing our new, used motorboat behind us. After waiting in line to launch at the marina, we slowed snaked our way through the creek in a long line of impatient fisherman. The first thing we realized we had forgotten was insect spray. Mosquitoes were on the warpath and the cavalry were sitting ducks. There was no turning back in that line.

Where an inlet meets a larger body of water, it usually means a churning of the waves. Think of it as trying to pour water from a soup pot into a Coke bottle and you’ll have the picture. I had been standing in back of Jim as he piloted us into the Bay from the Inlet when we saw a woman driving her sleek-looking powerboat too fast. She hit an oncoming wave at the mouth of the inlet and went almost vertical in the air. I thought she would hit the bell buoy, but she slowed down just in time. After righting her boat, she took off again and was soon out of sight. I thought of her later.

Once we were in the Bay, I estimated we rode along at a steady pace about 25 minutes. Then we cut the engine and dropped anchor, slathered on some sunscreen and baited up with squid. We were after speckled trout for a fish-fry supper with the family next door. Jim caught a small one right away, but our luck didn’t hold. An hour went by and nothing snagged our hooks.

“Did you happen to notice the compass setting when we came out of the inlet?” Jim asked. He was sitting on the bench in the stern with his line dangling over the side.

“No, I was too busy watching that lady driver bouncing over the waves with her bow stuck up in the air.”

I turned around and looked back, shocked to see a rolling fog coming toward us. The sun had disappeared behind a mass of gray sky.

“Do you have any idea which way is back?” I asked.

“Well, I’m sure it has to be west, but I’m not sure we’ll find Mispillion Light. I don’t think we’ve been going in a straight line.”

These were my thoughts, too.

“Well, what do you think we should do? Sit here and wait for it to lift or try to find our way back?” Jim didn’t answer.

The fog rolled in quickly until we could barely see the ends of our fishing poles. It was so quiet not even a hungry gull could be heard squawking overhead. Then we heard a clicking noise. Click, click, in a continuous rhythm. It was coming from the stern. Jim stood and looked over the motor at the water, and I cautiously walked down the center aisle toward the back to see.

The dark water was circling around the motor like it was going down a drain.

“We must be in a little whirlpool, and it must be turning the prop and making that clicking noise.” Jim voiced his logical explanation.

I leaned over slightly for a closer look. The bottom could be a hundred feet or more this far out. Oil tankers travel up and down the Delaware Bay with their heavy loads on their way to refineries near Philly. We were probably in their channel, which made my heart pound since we couldn’t see five feet ahead of us.

We had set the anchor, we thought, but it looked like we might be drifting. We had the required flares, but who would see a flare in this stuff? Those oil tankers could plow right over us and not even feel it.

“Hey, we’d better turn on our running lights,” I said to Jim, as I heard the sound of a massive hull moving through the water and felt our boat rise a little from the waves. I held my breath until I heard it moving off in the opposite direction. We had seen nothing through the thick murk. We rocked back and forth from the tanker’s wake, and I clenched the side of the boat until my knuckles turned white.

We were hopelessly disoriented, and there was nothing to do but wait for the fog to lift. If we moved, we could run into something, and we had no idea which direction to go anyway.

After a couple hours the fog began to clear and we were able to see the beacon at Mispillion flashing our direction home. It remained overcast so we opted to hightail it in while we had the chance. No more fishing this day. 

We learned a valuable lesson about boating. Always take a compass bearing just before you get out into open water, but after telling our story to everyone we met when we got in, they said we did the right thing by staying put. They strongly suggested we buy a marine radio if we planned any more early morning fishing forays. And a boating course couldn’t hurt either.

When we got home, our neighbor said it had been hot, bright and sunny all day. No fish-fry this time, but seafood restaurants are for unlucky fisherman, or in our case, lucky.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Favorite Teacher

Sometimes when I’m stuck for something to write about, I’ll Google “memoir topics”, and long, long lists appear to rattle my memories. I did that today, and the one that rattled the loudest (#10) was to write about my favorite teacher in school.

The school I attended, Harrington High School, was in one of those old brick buildings, a two-story with white pillars at the main entrance and classes that always seemed to be on the other floor. It had that old school smell, if there is such a thing, dust, sweat, mildew, and a faint smoky, kerosene aroma in the wintertime. Although Harrington was, and is, a small town, around 3,000 souls, the school always seemed crowded, especially at class changes and lunchtime. When I think back, I was always in a hurry to get somewhere, shouldering my way through crowded hallways, impatiently waiting in line for the bathroom, pushing my tray on the cafeteria rails, or running for my bus after the last bell, hurriedly grabbing necessary books from my locker then slamming it closed. I don’t remember using any kind of lock. I do remember a jumble of books, papers, and a smelly blue gym suit thrown in helter-skelter making that last duty of the day frenzied. It was a long walk home if I missed the bus.

Mrs. Pollitt was my tenth grade English teacher and also my homeroom teacher for that year. She was a formidable lady with short curly white hair, well-dressed, and a little snobby-looking to my less than snobby eyes. She did not put up with any foolishness, and if I did not do my best, I felt I had let her down rather than letting myself down.

Mrs. Pollitt is 2nd from right.

When I think of her, I see her back, straight and tall, right arm extended and writing furiously on the blackboard, diagramming a sentence. She was all business. When she turned around to ask a question, my stomach would do a flip-flop. I was not only in awe of her intelligence but afraid of her disapproval. Her intense eyes seemed to drill right through me when they hovered on mine and I trembled inside when called upon.

I sat in the farthest row over from the door near the windows, but I dared not look outside. There was no day-dreaming allowed in Mrs. Pollitt's class. Oral book reports were one of my biggest dreads, and I remember doing one on Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Books were assigned, and we had no choice in the matter. Tess was a racy book for a small town tenth grader. It contained almost every emotional situation known to man including rape and murder. I got the normal "speak up" command as my shy, red-faced self stumbled through my written summary. How I ever got A's in her class, I cannot imagine. She never gave the impression of being satisfied, never smiled, and yet I knew I had to do my best.

I have always thought of her as my favorite and most knowledgeable teacher because somehow she made me dig down deep inside myself so that I never got to the point of being satisfied with learning. Although she rarely gave any encouragement, I think her expectation of her students to continually strive to do and be better is what made her an outstanding teacher.