For Keeps

Readers of Yankee who sometimes wonder why they continue to subscribe to New England’s magazine find the answer in the September/October issue. Certainly no periodical to be found in mailboxes this month offers more cover-to-cover reading enjoyment as this issue.
Naturally at this time of the year readers will be attracted to “Hidden Gold,” a Vermonter’s guide to fall foliage, “Leaf People,” the account of a week on a guided foliage bus tour, and “Fall Foliage Trains,” for those who want to see autumn’s splendor on five historic railroads.
Which city deserves a six-page salute in Halloween’s hallowed month? Witch City, of course, in a six-page spread covering the history and hauntings associated with Salem, Massachusetts beginning with a view of the house that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables.
“House for Sale,” a regular feature of Yankee, spotlights a very special property in Maine, “The House at Allen Cove,” which formerly belonged to author E.B. White and his wife, New Yorker editor Katharine White. The new owners will almost certainly spend time in the spic and span barn gazing at the rope swing immortalized in the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web.
Other points of interest along the Maine road include a first-hand report of the seven-day 354-mile BikeMaine ride and the annual North American Wife Carrying competition in Newry.
If reading accounts of such strenuous exertions make one hungry, have a taste of “Fruits of the Forest,” “Poorhouse Pies,” “Apple Custard Cake,” or the mouth-watering breads served by artisan bakers in “On the Rise.”
A visit to the Walpole, New Hampshire home of Tom Burns offers a preview of The Vietnam War, a documentary which, by all accounts, will present a fair account of that tumultuous conflict.
The Topsfield Town Fair may not win “fairest of the fair” honors, though it can claim to be the oldest agricultural fair in the United States and a Massachusetts fall tradition since 1818. Though the photos may not inspire one to sheer a sheep or ride a horse, they do capture the flavor of carnival rides and a stroll down the midway to try one’s luck at throwing darts at balloons or tossing rings over bottles.
And that’s not all, folks. Step right up for some reminiscences about a neighborly one-armed sheriff and a warmhearted great-aunt who preserved delphinium seeds now treasured by her descendants. Filene’s Department Store in Boston closed ten years ago, but the final page of this issue takes readers in spirt down into that memorable basement where eager shoppers once lurked and lunged for bargains.
Anyone who is not a subscriber is advised to follow the example of those keen-eyed customers and grab the September/October Yankee at a bookstore or newsstand before the last copy is sold. Subscribers who don’t mind leaf peepers have their say: “Ayuh, this one’s a keeper.”


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Screen Test

A few weeks ago postal customers received a flyer from the local school district office which listed various growth and developmental behaviors preschool children should exhibit at ages 3, 4, and 5. It is instructive to compare the expectations for those youngsters before they begin kindergarten with the observed patterns of students age 13, 14, and 15 who have been attending school for at least eight years.

Preschooler: Talks in 3-4 word combinations, speaks so 75-80% of the words are understood by others.
Teen: Communicates with shrugs, mumbles cryptic answers in guttural tones that are incomprehensible to 75-80% of adults.

Preschooler: Engages in conversation with others.
Teen: Converses online in acronyms of five letters or less.

Preschooler: Answers “Where” questions and asks “What” questions.
Teen: Answers “Where have you been?” questions with “What’s it to you?”

Preschooler: Enjoys hearing stories, rhymes, songs.
Teen: Enjoys texting, downloading, freeloading.

Preschooler: Has a vocabulary of nearly 1,000 words.
Teen: Uses a vocabulary of nearly 500 words, especially cool, wow, and awesome.

Preschooler; Can tell a story or relay an idea to someone.
Teen: Can make an excuse for coming home at 3:15 am.

Preschooler: Can stay with one activity for 6 or 7 minutes.
Teen; Can finish homework in 6 or 7 minutes, then play video games for 4 or 5 hours.

Preschooler: Knows own age and sex.
Teen: Has access to fake ID showing age is 18 and is ambivalent some mornings about whether to wear boxer shorts or panties.

Preschooler: Recognizes some body parts.
Teen: Searches for body parts on adult websites.

Preschooler: Asks “Who” and “Why” questions.
Teen: Asks “Who cares?” and “Why do I have to do this?” at home and at school.

Preschooler: Answers “How many” and “How much” questions.
Teen: Answers “How many times do you have to be told to pick up your clothes?” and “How much would it take to get you to help around the house?” with “At least a million.”

Preschooler: Enjoys books and stories.
Teen: Enjoys reading about crooks and gories.

Preschooler: Talks with others about experiences.
Teen: Texts trivia to others 24/7.

Preschooler: Knows or responds to name.
Teen: Responds to name-calling with online slurs.

Preschooler: Toileting routines established.
Teen: Routinely visits bathrooms to check on face and hair.

Preschooler: Responds to and enjoys imitative play.
Teen: Shares news of every viral cute kitty video with friends.

Preschooler: Begins to develop self-control with adult guidance.
Teen: Retreats to bedroom to brood after argument with parent.

Preschooler: Attempts to follow classroom rules and routines.
Teen: Regards tardiness and note-passing in class as virtues.

Preschooler: Initiates/Participates in cooperative play.
Teen: Excuses habit of cutting classes with “Everybody does it.”

Preschooler: Adjusts to changes in routine.
Teen: Needs crisis intervention counseling when a character is killed off or written out of TV series.

Preschooler: Goes up and down stairs using alternate feet.
Teen: Hip hops up the down staircase.

Preschooler: Begins to dress independently.
Teen: Depends on peer clothing choices for personal wardrobe.

Preschooler: Catches a bounced ball.
Teen: Gets bounced out of study hall.

Preschooler: Is able to put on jacket or sweater.
Teen: Often removes jacket or sweater because it isn’t cool to be warmly dressed.

Preschooler: Attempts to button, zip, and tie.
Teen: Attempts to straighten up and fly right. (Finally, at long last!)


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A Taste of Summer

Ever since I read the December 2016/January 2017 National Geographic Traveler I kept a page from that issue on a shelf in the garage because of a photograph of a stack of toast that reminded me of the green, green grass of home. George W. Stone, the author of “A Toast to Singapore,” described in the two paragraphs on that page the taste he has developed for kaya, a “sticky, slime-colored coconut custard jam” flavored with pandan leaf “which gives the jam the perfume of freshly cut grass and the flavor of the underside of a lawn mower.” That article appeared under the magazine category “Obsessions.” It has been my obsession this summer to find a way to convert my half acre of grass clippings into something palatable and profitable.

George Jones was able to turn pappy’s corn squeezing into “White Lightning.” My lawn squeezings still smell and taste like father’s fodder. Mixing juniper trimmings into the mix along with scrapings from the darkest part of a walk behind mower added nothing to the piquancy of my concoction.

On the Vic and Sade radio program Sade’s Uncle Fletcher tried unsuccessfully to get his niece to promote stingyberry jam to her friends. Sade adamantly refused, stating that she wouldn’t recommend it to her worst enemy because she found the odious product a “green and bubbly and cloudy and funny” substance that “churns and writhes and crawls and breathes in the bottle.” Even combined with essence of lavender and a spoonful of honey, my earthy mixture lay dormant like a clump of green goulash.

I knew the chances of marketing my creation were doomed when a retired teacher who formerly served as a football referee stopped by to get a whiff of what was brewing. His opinion was rendered in stark gestures: he brought his open right hand down on his left wrist in a chopping motion, then moved his right hand to hit himself behind his right knee. I knew what that signal meant: “Personal foul. Clippings.” An appeal to “let it grow on you” was met with “I’ve got it growing on all four sides of my house right now.”

George Stone grew to cultivate an appetite for Kaya jam, reminding readers that in the Malay language kaya means “rich.” Sade, pragmatist to her very core, had a word for anything she found distasteful: ish, which, in any language, means “ish.”


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Man, That Piano Man

Knock! Knock!
Who’s There?
Roy Bittan.
Roy Bittan who?
Roy Bittan no one else plays hard-driving piano on rock classics.

What makes Bruce Springsteen “Badlands” and Bob Seger’s “Roll Me Away” fan favorites from the many hits the two recording artists produced during the 1970s and 1980s are the “yearning to be free” lyrics, the plaintive voices of the rockers at the peak of their careers, and, most of all, the accompaniment of Roy Bittan’s keyboarding that makes the hard-charging last thirty seconds of each single moments to treasure and ones their fans wish could go on and on and not fade away.

From the very first notes of “Badlands” it is Roy’s persistent “dum-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum” cadence as memorable as the “dum-de-dum-dum” theme of Dragnet that sets the pace for Bruce’s ode to freedom of the spirit. After a pause for a short guitar and sax solo, Springsteen sets up the concluding chords with a humming interlude before the buildup “for the ones who had a notion.” Then Roy’s subtle slide and Max Weinberg’s drum roll, both often overlooked, set up the pulsating drive to the finish line that makes this one a winner for everyone on E Street.

Originally “Roll Me Away” was to start out “full throttle” until a more subtle intro by Bittan and drummer Russ Kunkel became the preferred start, offering a nice contrast to the pounding pace that begins after the first verse is spoken. Once Seger hits the road, the drum and piano go along for the ride. Everyone pauses on the mountaintop to gaze at the young hawk flying, then, with spirits lifted, come cascading down wide open in a “turn up the volume, wake up the neighbors” fadeout that makes this a car cruising standard.

“Badlands” and “Roll Me Away” remain two of rock’s most significant paeans to the open road and individual freedom. Springsteen, Seger, and the musicians (especially Bittan) made certain the fire inside was passed on to us so we can offer words of encouragement to anyone who wants to find out what they have or who stands staring at the Great Divide: There is no need to get it right next time—They got it right the first time.


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The Proverbial Mot Juste

      One of the main articles in the July/August Traditional Home is written by the magazine’s Senior Architecture and Design Editor, Sally Finder Weepie, a great name for an author who describes how a San Francisco designer decorates her home with a “tasteful mix of vintage treasures and youthful verve.” Sally’s name is also a great mix of a well-known proverb. It is to be presumed that both the San Francisco designer and Sally are keepers and not weepers.

Perhaps it is time for other editors to examine not just the experience of those applying for staff positions but also look ahead to see how dazzling the name below the title would appear in their periodicals. Namely,

Manny Spoilbroth      Cook’s Illustrated

Romy Roadleader      Travel + Leisure

Aly Endwell               Shape

Squeaky Wheeler       Bicycling

Cappy Wearfit           GQ

Dr. Kay Appleday      Prevention

Bette Safesorry           Consumer Reports

Lookie Leaper            Sports Illustrated

Jack Tradeall              This Old House

Stormy Calmafter       Mother Earth News

Angel Rushin              Coin Prices

I.B. Holder                  Glamour

Hope Springie             Backpacker

Swifty Notrace            Car and Driver

Missy Milegood          Runner’s World

Abby Hartfonder        Cosmopolitan

Goldy Glitterall          American Digger



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Ye Olde Lemonade Stand

English poet Andrew Marvell is sometimes cited as being the only writer to use wingèd as a two-syllable word in “To His Coy Mistress.” However, Neil Diamond weaved a little poetic magic in his 1974 hit by informing a loved one during his “Longfellow Serenade” they would leave this worldly time “on his wingèd flight.” 

When I bike through various neighborhoods on my 1990 Schwinn Cruiser, I carry change with me in case I encounter any young entrepreneurs offering cold lemonade to thirsty travelers. Back in the 1990s the rate was 25¢ a cup. 50¢ a cup is now the going rate in this part of Wisconsin.

Marvell heard Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near, but at my back as I draw near the not-so-coy sellers of liquid refreshment I hear the spirit of Jack Benny whispering “Ask them how much if you bring your own cup.”


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A Driving Force

The final page of the July/August 2017 Popular Mechanics devoted to “Great Unknowns” attempts to answer this question: “At Big Car Company headquarters, does every employee drive that car?”

The answer: Pretty much. PM cites one GM plant communication manager who said after 40 years she has blue blood:  “I’m extremely loyal to my company…” and poses the question that if people see a non-GM car in your driveway “What does that tell them? That even though you work there you don’t think their vehicles are worth purchasing?”

Very likely, but that did not bother my father who worked at the Chevrolet/Fisher Body Plant in Janesville for 44 years yet never owned a General Motors vehicle in his life. During the years of my life he drove only Plymouth automobiles to and from the plant to our home, a distance of about 23 miles. In chronological order, those vehicles were a 1940 sedan, 1953 Coronado Blue Belvedere, 1956 Briar Rose Belvedere, 1963 Blue Valiant, 1968 Turbine Bronze Satellite, and (after retirement) a 1976 Silver Cloud Fury. He also owned a 1936 Harley-Davison motorcycle which he drove to Janesville during the warmer months.  Not concerned in the least with what people thought of the Plymouth automobiles in his driveway, he would openly tell neighbors and friends, “I see how GM cars are made five days a week. That’s why I buy cars made by Chrysler.”

The entire tone of the piece in Popular Mechanics is that employees are “strongly encouraged” to cruise the streets “propelled by the hand that signs the paychecks” and those that do not are banished to less convenient parking lots. My father stood his ground, maintaining his Mopar allegiance to his dying day. Any derisive comments from his fellow workers about his mode of transportation and the prejudice he endured during the war years because of his German heritage may have deepened his independent spirit. Though only 5’7” tall and weighing under 140 pounds, he stood tall in the eyes of his son who inherited his nonconformist disposition.

American celebrates Independence Day this month, something my father did every day of his working life. One Key verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” has personal significance because it always reminds me of one special man: “Land of the free and the home of the brave.” As long as my father lived, our humble house was indeed home of the brave.


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