Saturday Afternoon Chat: Cold weather, warm fires, and Grandpa’s poems

I did nothing this week. Like nothing. I haven’t even left the house once.

Nope, not sick. Not depressed. Oh, wait, yes, I am depressed, but that’s not why I didn’t leave the house. I just didn’t have anywhere I needed to go this week and it was very, very cold. Today it is 11 degrees as I write this and the high is going to be 23. The day started off at around negative five degrees Fahrenheit.

Thankfully tomorrow is supposed to be a bit warmer with temps climbing toward 40 degrees. I will take it after the frigid weather we’ve been having. It’s been so cold not even my adventurous younger cat wanted to go out most days and if she did it was for a very short time.

We have been running our woodstove full bore for the entire week, 24/7. Our pets have enjoyed it very much.

We have also enjoyed it since it has helped us save the little bit of heating oil we have left in our tank until we place a new order sometime this next week. I can’t believe how high heating oil was months ago (and still is really). That just started us on a snowball effect of trying to keep up with the bill and still pay our other bills and buy groceries. Eventually, the snowball became a full-blown avalanche and overran us, leaving us in a pile of Overwhelm at the bottom.

(Excuse the wood chips. We brought in a lot of wood this week and still had to sweep when I took this photo).

This week I was so thankful for the woodstove and electric heat upstairs in our house because without it we would have really been in trouble.

The Boy and The Husband bring in the wood for the stove most of the time but Friday morning I braved the wind and swirling snow to the woodpile behind the garage and brought a few logs in. I have short arms and a big head so I can’t carry as much as the guys can. Have you ever seen that scene in Meet The Robinsons? The T-Rex in it says that and I always think of that when I share about my short arms. I will post it below for your viewing pleasure:

I consumed so much organic peppermint tea with local honey this week to try to keep warm and calm, I was practically floating.

Last week I wrote about how Jesus helped to calm the storm in me while chaos raged around us, and it was the same this week. We still have a lot of weirdness going on and one situation that is not resolved, but this week still seemed calmer overall than other weeks. I had some anger issues over the one situation but was able to settle that a bit by venting to family and pacing a lot. Oh, and there was chocolate. There is always chocolate that is needed in those situations.

On Tuesday I released Shores of Mercy to the world finally. I was glad to have the book out there and the Spencer Valley Chronicles almost complete. As I mentioned in a post on my new newsletter site I plan to have five books in the series when it is all done, but for now, I am taking a break from the series to work on a couple of other projects. You can read about that on my new Substack site, which will only be used as a newsletter for my writing. I will most likely only update it once or twice a month, if that at this point, so if you do subscribe to it, don’t worry – I won’t spam your email every day or week.

I tried to get some writing in on a couple of the new projects this week and then realized I have no idea where the new books are going so I will need to do some more brainstorming and plotting on those.

I may not have gone out much this week, but the rest of my family did. The Husband took Little Miss to Awana on Wednesday at my parents’ former church. On Thursday my parents drove two miles north to see my 90-year-old aunt whose health is not doing well. They made me a nervous wreck because they had to call me for directions, couldn’t hear through the cell phone at one point, and then my mom called out my dad’s name and said, “Oh my!” and I thought they’d had an accident.

Then they decided to stop for dinner on the way home as if they are grown adults and can do what they want to do. I told them that they have to check in when they are going to be out past their curfew but they didn’t seem to listen to me. Parents are so rebellious sometimes.

It is almost like they are trying to get back at me and my brother for the times we were out and didn’t call them and tell them where we were, so they were home worrying about us. Not that either of us actually went out that much. My brother and I were both fairly tame growing up and also stayed close to home. If we did go out it was down the road to a friend’s house or in the yard to read a book. Yep, we were that boring, and proud of it.

I was originally supposed to drive my parents up to see my aunt but then my dad got all morbid and said he’d rather if something happened, it happened to just two family members and not three so that my children didn’t lose three family members at one time. He thinks such pleasant things, doesn’t he? But, yeah, he had a good point.

Last week my parents sent me home from their house with two huge boxes of blankets, comforters, and flannel sheets. They have too many and decided they needed to declutter. They met my brother and his wife for lunch and gave them a bunch too.

One of the blankets I immediately said I wanted was my grandmother’s – my dad’s mom. We lived across the hill from her (over the creek and through the woods to grandmother’s house we went) for my entire life until we moved in with her when I was in college.

She used to curl up in a tiny ball in the corner of this curved couch she had and cover herself with this afghan. She weighed about 100 pounds and wasn’t very tall so the thing covered her almost entirely.

My mom asked if I knew why she used to tie a red piece of ribbon to the bottom of it. I had no idea.

“She didn’t want to have the part of the blanket that was down by her feet up by her head when she laid back down,” Mom said.

Oh. Well, that’s one way to do it. I don’t think about such things but my grandmother apparently did. I have not yet tied a ribbon around the fringe of the blanket but I have covered up with it a couple of times, cried and least twice, and felt very sentimental every other time.

As an aside, I picked up the habit of rinsing out my mug several times under the faucet before using it to make sure it is totally void of leftover soap or dust of any kind. Grandma used to do that and now I do it and can’t stop. It’s my one, small OCD tendency.

Later in the week, Dad brought me a box of poems from my grandfather, which he wants me to place in some kind of scrapbook after I read through them.

It was all a little bittersweet because there was a series of poems in there written about a year before Grandpa died while my grandparents were on a trip to Maine. I never got to know the man since I was two when he died. My mom says I was afraid of men and even him because he had such a deep voice, but shortly before he died she’d leaned over to say goodbye to him (he was in a hospital bed at the house) with me in her arms and I impromptu leaned over and kissed his cheek. She said his expression was one of delight because I had never done anything like that before. He passed away not long after.

My grandfather was such a large figure, reputation-wise, in the family and community, though, so in many ways it feels as if I have known him all my life, even though I never really did.

He wrote a lot of poetry and kept very simple journals that mainly detailed what the weather was, what he’d had for breakfast, where he had gone that day, and who he had played cards with (usually some close friends who are distant relatives and the same couple my parents would later play cards with as well, even though my mom hates to play cards. Ha!).

Dad said he has a ton of large, padded, yellow envelopes with what looks like more of his writing in them spread out at his house. Looks like I know what my job will be Sunday afternoon.

Does your family hold on to family memorabilia or writings as well?

In addition to Grandpa’s writing, my dad also has quite a few items from my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents, including a blood letter (not sure of the technical name for this) from my great-great-grandfather who was a doctor in the 1800s. This is the same great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War and whose brother also fought and then died in Libby Prison. (Trying saying great-great three times fast. After a bit, the words start to sound funny. *snort laugh*).

He also had a box of gold nuggets from my great-great-grandfather but we’re not sure why they are there. Dad thinks that maybe he was going to invest in some firm that was gold panning but he isn’t sure. The nuggets and the box they are in are probably about 200 years old. The nuggets look totally fake to me, but what do I know?

The full word above is “glass” but the g and l are on the other side of the box.

My dad gave The Boy a small framing hammer that my great-grandfather used to frame windows, including the one at the school of the local Catholic Church that we can see from our house. You know, the one with the bell that rings five times a day and the one I’ve featured in photos on this blog a few times.

After all this rambling I am sure you need a warm-up on your beverage. I shall pause while you do that.

Here is our intermission music:

Seriously, though, I do need to wrap this post up as it is dragging out, but I think I will pick up about Grandpa’s poems in another blog post later this week.

I hope you had a wonderful week last week and have a better one this week. As usual, feel free to share what you are drinking today in the comments and come back tomorrow for Sunday Bookends, where I share what I am reading, watching, listening to and writing.

I thought I’d share a poem from Grandpa to close out today:

Listen all here’s the deal,
You’re a cog in the wheel.
Some with a brush, a cloth, a comb,,
Others will pills as they roam.
Quiet you down, ease your pain.
All the duties not the same.
Others are just the nurses aid,
Let’s not forget the cleaning maid.
Some prepare for a transfusion
Inject iv’s its utter confusion.
In every bed there’s someone sick
All ring at once want you quick.
Samples of blood as you go along
Go to the lap to see what’s wrong
Temperature, heart beats, pulse and pressure
Ah yes, ‘tis work beyond measure.
Rub your back, arms they clutch
Get you up on a crutch.
And doctor’s orders you must obey
Among other things in the day.
Don’ know where we’d all be
Without that wheel don’t you see.
You jot a word on our chart
Yes everyone’s a vital part.
Yet ‘tis rewarding to the soul
To keep the wheel so she’ll roll.
So at years end, the yuletide season
We love you all, that’s the reason.
As these words we pause to write
Have a wonderful day and peaceful night
~Walter H. Robinson.

The day I met my great-grandfather’s sister’s great-grandson when he came to sell me air conditioning

Our town is small, as I’ve mentioned before. Not only is our town small, our whole two county area is small. Let me tell you how small.

A few weeks ago a guy came from a town about an hour from our new house to talk to me about the possibility of installing ductless air conditioning and as he got ready to leave he handed me his business card. His name looked very familiar and I immediately knew why.

A couple months before his visit I had been packing to move to this house and I found a letter sent to me about 20 years ago (I know, I’m old) when I worked at one of the local newspapers (I started when I was 10. Wink.).

The letter was from a man who recognized a name I mentioned in one of my columns. The name belonged to my great-grandfather’s sister Molly Grant Manley. The man who wrote me was one of her grandson’s.


When the air conditioning man handed me his card, I saw his last name and realized he was related, somehow, to the man who wrote me the letter because his name was included in the letter. Long story short, the man who wrote me the letter was this man’s great-uncle and his great-uncle and grandfather were the grandsons of my great-grandfather’s sister. This man’s was named after his great-grandfather, who was a former bank president and well-known in his community.

I wrote a column mentioning Molly because sometime in the early 1900s Molly used her new engagement ring to carve her name in the window pane in a window at her parent’s, or brother’s home. That home was where I grew up and the window was still there when I was a child. We were often warned not to break the window because it was a family heirloom. It wasn’t uncommon for my mom to call outside to my friends and me: “Go throw that ball somewhere else, please. You might hit Molly’s window!”

Somehow Molly’s window survived all those years with children throwing balls and playing outside it. It even survived my dad almost shoving a rake right through it . Luckily he only hit the storm window that was installed in front of it.

When my parents moved out of the house and in with my grandmother across the creek they gently removed the window, wrapped it up in a thick blanket and took it with them. It’s now stored behind my grandmother’s safe.

While the ac man (hmmm, maybe I should call him my distant cousin from now on?) was here I showed him his great-great grandfather’s discharge papers from the Union Army which all of the grandchildren of my grandmother was given a copy of several years ago after she and I discovered the original under her bed. Grandma knew the document was there but didn’t really realize what it was until we unfurled it and read it closely.

Molly is listed as Mary on the paper but from what we understand she was always referred to as Molly, not Mary.

I can’t help wondering what type of personality Molly had to have to decide to carve her name in a window with her diamond ring. I always imagined she must have been pretty spunky and fun.

My distant cousin had to head back to work, I had to tell him later we can’t afford his system this summer (hopefully next) but he said his family was going to be very interested in my information about Molly.

Now that I think about it, I’d be interested in some information from them about the woman whose name was almost literally engrained into my childhood. Hopefully, we can connect someday soon and exchange what we know about our common ancestors.

For now, most of what I know about Molly and her husband is on the website for the Pennsylvania Apple and Cheese Festival because it is held at the farm they lived on all those years ago.

Looking at her husband’s photo and reading on that he died some thirty years before her in 1935 and that she was 92 when she died, my creative brain is also sparking and I’m thinking a story based (loosely of course) on her life might be fun to write someday. We will have to see.

(P.S. Molly’s husband looks a lot like our AC Man. Of course, that is his great-grandfather but still, isn’t the passing down of family physical traits interesting?)

Next to the girl and her dog


I posted this photo of my daughter and our dog on Facebook recently and my dad commented the following under it:

Next to the girl collecting Easter eggs with her dog stands a pair of sawhorses that belonged to her great great grandfather. Just to the left of them is a gnarly maple with different bark than the other maples. Behind her is a beautiful tall always liked ash. It is yellowed pale and almost dead now from the ash tree bores that have destroyed most all of Pennsylvania’s ash. To the right just out of focus is a large stone over the grave of one of her mother’s cats.

There is also a small dogwood tree planted by her grandfather nearby. Beyond that are some rotted boards of the dog house he built when nine years of age or so he claims.  A shag-bark hickory stood near there and fifty yards above that spot stood a balsa tree, the largest tree in the lot. Seventy-five feet behind the girl is a hand dug well that is now covered with heavy steel plates. This well gravity fed the house and chicken coops. Another well hidden just over the stone wall property line has a large stone covering it.

Just beyond the fence once stood one chicken coop. Water would be hand carried to that one as it was not downhill enough for gravity feed. Hid in the brush 100 feet to the left of the sawhorse is the foundation remains of the spring-cooled milk house. Also, the corn crib was near there. The granary still remains in that spot. A week later as this is being written the buds are opening to vivid green leaves, the forsythia flowers are bright yellow and life goes on.

Pulling it into the light

I have a photo of my daughter looking at an old, black and white photo of a couple and the woman in the photo is her namesake. The woman is my great grandmother and I’ve heard some funny stories about her over the years but I wish I knew more.

One story came from my mom who said great-grandma had once reached into a cabinet while mom was visiting her and pulled out a small bottle, took a swig, looked over her shoulder and told my mom “It’s for the heart, don’t you know…”

And then she giggled.

I guess there was always something about the photos of my great grandmother that caused me to imagine she had been a fun person, but also one full of strength and wisdom.

I know she most likely also had some big hurts hidden in that heart, especially the pain of a mentally ill daughter who was sent away from the family because back then no one knew how to treat schizophrenia. My grandmother probably felt that pain as well but I never heard her say. It was only her and her sister and then one day her sister was gone and in a hospital hundreds of miles away.

Onieta, my great aunt, sent letters, begging to be allowed to come home with her family. Her life was cut abruptly short in so many ways, not in a physical death but certainly an emotional one as the promise of a future as an artist, a wife, a mom were taken from her by a medical world that didn’t know how to help her and in many cases didn’t want to because of the stigma mental illness stamped on a person.

I didn’t know about her until I was almost nine or 10 when I traveled with my parents and grandmother to see her in a nursing home about an hour from us. I wasn’t allowed to see her, actually. I sat in the car with my mom who explained it all to me as my dad and grandmother went inside. Dad told me later she didn’t really know them but she hugged her sister.

I imagined the rest for myself-that sister bond that could not be broken, even by mental illness no one knew how to treat. I imagined how close the two were growing up and how shattered their lives must have been all those years apart. When my great aunt died, she died alone and I don’t remember her funeral.

For me she was merely a dream I’d once had and later her life was a tangible fear that when I turned 21 I’d go crazy like she has at the same age.She was an artist and even before I knew she existed I had liked art as well. Maybe art was the gateway to crazy I had once thought. Or maybe 21 was the magic age when the genetics kicked in and schizophrenia rose up and took over and you jumped out an upstairs window like she had.

But schizophrenia never tormented me, other than through fear that I would be the next in the family line to crack. Mental illness didn’t affect me the way it did Onieta , though I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. It didn’t tear my life apart or pull me away from the ones I loved in the way it did her. I was lucky to be born in a time of more understanding and more pharmaceutical advances.

Maybe it isn’t the same for others in my family, but for me, Onieta was our big family secret, something hidden and dark, not because of her mental illness but because she was hidden away, pushed away and almost never spoken of within the family. For me, at least, she never really existed. But for my great grandparents and my grandmother the pain of losing her must have been unbearable.

There is something about a mother’s heart that is hit especially hard by the loss of a child, whether that child is lost in a world of confusion or physically lost. A mother spends nine months with a child inside her, feeling the movements, talking and loving the child before they are even born outside the body.

Then the first few years of life are spent caring for the child’s every needs until they are old enough to do it themselves. Back in those days my great grandmother would have done almost all of it – breakfast and lunch and bedtimes and middle of the night cries. For her the day they knew they could no longer care for a daughter whose mental illness had taken over her mind must have been mental and emotional torture.

My heart aches for the women I never knew – my great grandmother and my great aunt – for their heartache and their emotional anguish. I wish I could go back and take it all away for them, hand Onieta some medicine or find out if a thyroid or hormone issue or even a vitamin deficiency was the problem, and let them be a real family, let her live a life full of promise, fulfillment and joy.

I can’t, of course, do that but by dragging it all from the darkness into the light, maybe I can help to be sure history does not repeat itself. If a member of our family faces a similar tragedy I want to be sure they aren’t hidden away, pushed away and loved only in the darkness of secrecy and through memories of who they once were.

I want them to be loved in the light for who they are.

I’ve started to think about how I owe it to Onieta to live my life fully alive, with fears pushed aside, to experience life the way she was never allowed to. The best way to pull her from the darkness of exclusion and back into the family is to not keep her a dark, hidden family secret.

She’s gone from this earth now but if we keep talking about her and imagining even a little of the pain she faced, then we keep her memory alive and we keep the determination for it not to happen again alive. Because of what she faced and suffered through hopefully others will be spared. Hopefully I will spare myself from a life limited by fear, anxiety, illness and mental pain. Sometimes I feel like Onieta is urging me to really live, do what she could never do, be who she could never be and feel free the way she never did.