Thursday, June 28, 2012

California trip to celebrate our mother's 95 th birthday


4:00 AM and it’s time to get up.  My bags are packed and waiting.  I forgot I was not checking my bag and security confiscated the gooseberry jam I was taking to my mother.  A sympathetic TSA agent let me call Larry who was barely past the parking lot and he returned to take the jam home.  I will mail it when I return.
The flight is late leaving but it is a clear day, no rain, no fog, no clouds, clear views, and everything far below is visible.  Green fields in irregular shapes are a sharp contrast to the inlets, canals, and waterways that glimmer and glisten with the morning sun shining down on them.  Smaller air craft far below look like flecks of glitter when the sun bounces off their wings.  We stay clear of the no fly zone on Whidbey Island and continue our flight south and it seemed strange not to be preparing to land in Seattle.  Snow capped Mt. Rainer lies to the east its head covered in clouds and in the distance you can see Mt. Adams, Mt. Saint Helens, and Mt. Hood.  The fog slowly crept in as we began our descent into Portland.

A layover in Portland and then we were off to Oakland.  Somewhere below on I-5,  James and Nicole are on the road headed home to California from a week of vacation with us in Washington.  I figured about the time I left Portland they would be on the road from Eugene and we could just wave at each other.  Across the aisle I can see the ocean looming to the far horizon and to the west is farmland, hills, and more mountains.  Three Sisters, Crater Lake, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen and now we are moving…moving slightly west towards the coast.  I can see the Golden Gate Bridge, which celebrated its 75th birthday this year, before flying southeast.  A one-eighty degree turn and we were approaching Oakland. 

Mary was waiting at the curb to pick me up and take me to see mom.  Jerry and Laura are staying with mom and I am staying with Mary.

Cousins Gary and Carol arrived Tuesday from Missouri to surprise mom.  Dinner at Mary’s and lots of catching up to do.

Cousins Joyce and Reta arrived Friday.  They also live in Missouri and arrived a few days earlier to visit cousins in Sonora.  Mom thought all the big surprises were over but this one caught her off guard.  Dinner at Mary’s again and a chance for everyone to continue sharing family stories.

Days were spent shopping for food, decorations, and cleaning in anticipation for our mother’s 95th birthday celebration party on Saturday.

At 2:00 PM the guests began arriving and some brought their desserts for the county fair themed blue ribbon prize.  James and Michael cooked hotdogs and hamburgers.  Nicole and Yvette helped with the other food items while Carol and Laura made snow cones.   Kelly chased after Kyler, and Melissa chased after Boise…that was the only job the two young moms had.  Sami, Jamie, and Randy helped with the paper cupcakes wishes and helping with any miscellaneous chores that need to be done.  
Michael and Tiffany arrived along with Michael C. and Patty.  Everyone who could come was there.  We missed the nieces and nephews who could not attend, but you were in our hearts and we understood that it was impossible for some to be there.  Your cupcake wishes arrived and were added to the box. 
Birthday cake and candles.  No ice cream!  Not because we didn’t try.  The custard base was in the refrigerator and we tried for hours on Friday but a flaw in the design of the freezer prevented the machine from working properly. 

It was a wonderful day and mom enjoyed herself visiting with family and friends and that was the purpose of the party.

Start planning because there will be a 100th party in five years. 

Mary, Joyce, Reta, and I joined mother for church on Sunday.  Jerry and Laura and Gary and Carol all left early for their return drive home to Missouri and Arkansas.  Kelly flew out early for Vegas to get home and celebrate father’s day with Kyle and his dad, who flew in from Pennsylvania for a few days.
We went out to breakfast after church and then spent a quiet day visiting, reminiscing about family history--and several of us shut our eyes for a few minutes.   

Mom had never told us she was born in Chestnut Ridge; we grew up always hearing Ozark.  We also never knew that mom lived in Coffeeville.   
Mom had a cousin who was a deputy sheriff in Coffeeville when the Daltons and Younger’s      robbed the bank.

Uncle Ted (Lenvile Melton) ran away from home when he was about sixteen or seventeen.  He could not be found but a letter arrived days later at my grandparent’s home saying he was safe at my great grandma Dye’s home. 

Mom had typhoid fever when she was about five and the doctors couldn’t do anything to make her better.  Dr. Steve (Stephen Melton, grandpa’s brother) sent a bottle of medicine and mom recovered.  This was also the time, when she had to be quiet and rest,  that grandma Dye taught her to quilt. 

Mom’s worst memory was taking castor oil as a child and she is happy the plant is banned in California as poisonous.

We grew up drinking sassafras tea and mom, Mary, Joyce, Reta, and I can still smell a pot brewing on a woodstove when we mention sassafras.  The root could only be dug during the winter months and root extracts are still safe to drink because they do not contain safrole.  File powder used in Creole cooking is made from sassafras.

My great grandmother Dye made elderberry jelly as a cure-all for whatever ailed you.  Mom said it wasn’t much better than castor oil.  How could anything in the family of honeysuckle be bad?  I’ll make my mother’s word for it, but if you want to know how to make your own, here is a recipe (but don’t expect to find it in my mother’s pantry).

Elderberry Jelly

3-4 lbs. ripe (not green) elderberries (after de-stemming)
¼ c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pkg. MCP pectin
4 ½ c. white granulated sugar
¼ tsp. butter

Rinse elderberry clusters thoroughly.  Working over a large bowl, work on one small cluster at a time, gently raking your fingers across the clusters to dislodge the berries from the stems.  Only use berries that re completely blue or black.  Do not use green beer or partially green berries as they are not ripe.  For each bath of jelly, collect 3 lbs. of de-stemmed elderberries and rise again.

Place berries in a large pot and crush with a potato masher to release some of the juice.  Turn the heat to medium and continue to crush as the mixture heats up to a boil.  Once it reach a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let is simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Place a large fine mesh sieve over a pot.  Slowly transfer the mashed berries and juice over the sieve to strain the juice out into the pot.  Let strain for several hours.

To prepare the jars for canning you will need 5-6 8 oz. canning jars and lids.  Rinse the jars and place on a baking sheet, top up, in the oven.  Heat the jar for 10 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 225 degree to sterilize.  To sterilize the lids, bring a kettle of a couple of cups of water to a boil.  Turn the heat off and place the lids in the pan and let sit for 10 minutes.

You will need 3 c. of juice to make one bath of jelly using MCP pectin (3 ¾ c. of juice if using SureJell pectin).  Extra juice can be saved to make syrup or use for the next batch of jelly.  Place 3 c. of juice into a large pan (8 qt.) and add the lemon juice and pectin.

Bring to a boil.  Add 4 ½ c. sugar and ¼ tsp. of butter.  Stir with a wooden spoon.  Bring to a boil again.  Watch the pot as the mixture will foam up considerably.  As soon as the mixture reaches a rolling boil that you cannot diminish by stirring, watch the clock and cook for exactly 2 minutes and remove from the heat.  Pour mixture into canning jars to ¼ inch of headspace from the rim.

Wipe rims with a damp towel.  Place lids on jars and rings to secure.  If you want to ensure a good seal and protect against mold, you can process the jars in a water bath for 5 minutes.  Put a rack on the bottom of a large tall pot.  Fill the pot halfway with water, enough to cover the jars with two inches of water in the pot.  Bring to a boil, gently place the jars in the pot, use jar tongs, and boil for 5 minutes and remove. 

Let cool.  As the jelly cools you should hear a popping sound as the lids seal.

Makes 5-6 8 oz. jars.

Catmint tea was another home herbal remedy.

Mother hated collard greens.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell--or Aiding and Abetting:
Jesse James once needed a place to stay for the night and asked at my grandfather’s farm.  He was told there was no room in the house but could use the barn.  Next morning my grandmother fixed him breakfast and he left some money to pay for room and food.
The story doesn’t end there because years later my grandfather was riding into town in the wagon and someone walking on the road asked for a ride and my grandfather obliged.  When they got to Springfield someone asked my grandfather if he knew who he had given a ride to.  My grandfather said he thought so (Jesse James) but didn’t ask.
In the hills you took care of your family, helped your neighbors, attended church, and didn’t ask too many questions. 

Monday June 18th, my birthday.  Michael called and came to Mary’s home to visit for awhile before heading to my mom’s house.  Michael will leave a little later in the day for Washington and prepare for his journey to Thailand on Thursday.  After Michael left, Mary, Mom, Reta, Joyce, and I headed to San Francisco for the day.  Over the Bay Bridge, past Giants stadium, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Sausalito, around the Palace of Fine Art, a drive by the beach and a little sand in my shoes, drove by Golden Gate Park and the zoo, and then onto Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch  We stopped at Alioto’s and were terribly disappointed in the food.  The deep fried shrimp was greasy and flavorless.  The view was great looking at the harbor of fishing boats but that can’t make up for bad food.  Alioto’s was always known as the place to go, but it will be the last time we eat there.

After lunch we drove down Lombard St, through Little Italy, up to Coit Tower, cruised through China Town and then headed home. 

Tuesday we spent the day visiting with mom and had In-N-Out Burgers for dinner.
Wednesday Joyce and Reta packed to fly home.  We went to mom’s first and Mary bought breakfast burritos from Mim’s.  I left later to drive to Sacramento to have dinner with James and to see his new house.  I was met by a very protective Gabby and welcomed with a come-on-in from Tally.  The house is cute and was move in ready, complete with a pair of ducks on the front lawn. And he has lots of space outside--an acre.  When you look out at the hills in the distance and grazing land abutting Jim’s property, you would never know that you are minutes from a major metropolitan city.  Sweet potato casserole, salad, grilled pork tenderloin, a relaxing evening.

I go up early, June 21st, Thursday to have coffee and finish packing.  I headed out to mom’s to visit until Mary comes to take me to the airport.  Ten days is just not enough time.  It’s over before it starts.  Mom rode to the airport with us and after several hugs and kisses I needed to get out before security waved their hands at Mary one more time.

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