Uncle Willie’s Farm – An Excerpt from Ocean Rhythms Kindred Spirit about Heritage

Uncle Willie's Cabin by Russell Nielsen bl wh

Today, on this brisk autumn day in the Midwest, I’d like to share a story from Ocean Rhythms Kindred Spirits about my family heritage titled “Uncle Willie’s Farm”. The essay recounts memories of my first and only visit to the family farm. It’s by far, one of my favorites.

“Grateful for this experience with my family, I understand a little better this place called Uncle Willie’s farm. I can only envision the playground this farm provided for my mother when she was a young girl full of dreams.

I have come full circle with my heritage. As the noonday warms me from the inside out, an overwhelming feeling fills my body. My throat starts to close an tears well in my eyes. Generations have passed, yet I feel the spirits of those that came before me. I am walking on precious ground. Oh, how I wished I had been around during that era, even just for a day.”

“The ornament of a house, is the friends who frequent it.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Hope you enjoyed the excerpt. I welcome any comments below. I’ll be at Main Street Books on November 3 from 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. signing copies, and doing a giveaway. If you liked this sneak peak, my book is available on Amazon, and your local bookstore Main Street Books.

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Comfort Food = Relationships

We all have one cookbook filled with favorite recipes from Mom, friends, and family, don’t we? And we’ve even gathered a few recipes from newspapers and magazines to add to this cookbook.

As Thanksgiving draws near, we are reminded of those people who took the time to either write, type or photocopy their cherished recipes and pass them on to their children, friends and acquaintances.

My cookbook, given to me by friend Peggy, is a cute spiral bound number with colorful illustration of glass olive oil bottles on the cover. The pages are chockfull of recipes created a lasting impression in my mind.

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There’s Mom’s Split Pea Soup, which literally takes several hours to create, but the flavor from the ham bone is so savory, the soup is worth the preparation.

Then there’s the White Chicken Chili recipe that my long time friend Tina finagled from a server at Lewis and Clark’s in St. Charles years ago that warms you on a brisk day with its spicy jalepenos.

Dad Nielsen’s recipe for dove breasts is in the cookbook, too. I refuse to ‘do game’, so the hubster cheerfully grills and prepares the bird.

My friend Diane B’s Tuna Casserole from 30+ years ago made it into the book – before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Mom’s turkey dressing recipe with walnuts, raisins, celery, and those yummy turkey livers and gizzards reminds me of the bounty prepared with her loving hands for Thanksgiving guests numbering 30+ at our South City home when I was a young child.

My friend Janet’s flat dumpling recipe means so much to me. In all the years Mom was alive, she forgot to write her dumpling recipe on paper. Janet helped me fill that void, and I often think of Mom when I think of Janet’s flat dumplings.

My cousin Chris’ recipe for Cinnamon-Chocolate Chip Butterballs, along with the decadent cookies, was a gift on Christmas Eve. His recipe always reminds me of my cousins, and a festive cornucopia of comfort food and libations. And, of course, Beatrice the border collie trying to sneak roast beef from the dining room table.

It’s amazing how flipping through the sturdy pages of this aged cookbook is reminiscent of life and relationships formed over the years.

So with that thought, I’ll leave you with my favorite Coastal Cookie recipe, torn from the pages of my favorite southern home magazine. This recipe, tried and true, is ever so tasty and buttery. I love how the icing color mimics the cottony blue sky above. It brings back memories of lazy days in the sun and surf.

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Coastal Cutout Cookies

So this Thanksgiving, share a recipe with a friend or family member. You’ll never know when you’ll leave an impression in someone’s life.

Now go and have a Blessed Day!

Silver Springs and the Summer of ‘61

One of the best things about summer as a kid, were family vacations with Mom and Dad.  Vacations allowed me to (1) be a free spirit, (2) explore, and (3) wade in the tepid waters of the Gulf or Atlantic, and sometimes tip-toe in the Great Lakes’ frigid waters.

Oh how Mom and Dad embraced Florida! From Jacksonville’s soft sand beaches and Aunt Mary’s crab boils, to St. Petersburg’s old forts, and Miami Beach’s Art Deco District. Mom and Dad loved it all.

Recently, I found a black and white photo of Mom and me posing on a concrete bench at Silver Springs, Florida.  A glass-bottom boat was the background scenery.  Mom and I wore matching white leather huarache sandals. I loved those sandals.  (My brown leather softies purchased as an adult, even outlasted my first marriage.

Mom and me- silver springs001I was eager to discover the underwater world at Silver Springs, a popular tourist attraction.  My white huaraches and I stepped foot onto a glass-bottom boat for a tour of the Silver River, lead by an official ‘Captain’.  With glistening views of the sandy bottom and sea shells, the day was unforgettable.

Shortly after I discovered the snapshot in my cardboard box of memories, I read a story the St. Louis Post Dispatch ran by Alan Youngblood of the Ocala Star Banner.

The exact same boats I remember in their heyday, appeared as the backdrop for the photo in the Post, with cypress trees, bushes and a park bench in the foreground.

copyright Ocala Star Banner

copyright Alan Youngblood, Ocala Star Banner

In the 1960’s the popular TV show Sea Hunt was filmed at Silver Springs, as well as countless movies. The attraction recently reopened as a state park. The article mentioned the glass-bottom boats are still a feature for park visitors.

Over the past year, millions were spent to preserve the springs with different anti-pollution projects.  Apparently, the water clarity disspated due to nitrates infiltrating the spring water.

I’m curious to see now, if the springs are pristine, clean and full of interesting fish and bird life — the way I remembered them as a child.

And I’d like to think that the same concrete bench — the one Mom and I sat on, decades ago – is still waiting for me….to make new memories.

(I’ll need to buy a new pair of huaraches for the trip.)

 

 

 

 

Are people still alive, even though they’ve passed on?

Mom & Dad (4th & 5th from right, Grandma Kate, Grandma Mary (far right)

Mom & Dad (4th & 5th from left, Grandma Kate, Grandma Mary (far right)

I read an article by Bill McClellan in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on Wednesday titled “No one to name faces in photos”.

Although I didn’t quite understand why the story was titled this, I read on.

I was touched by Mr. McClellan’s urgency to look at old photos tucked away in a corner of his home, after his father passed on.  He cleaned out the mobile home his dad and his mother lived in, all the while wondering what items to save.

He sifted through photos of his sister, dog, and parents while living in Chicago over 50 years ago.  There were photos of his grandmother from Belfast and his sister Sarah.

There were antique photographs – you know, the sharp and crisp kind, of days gone by.  People got dressed up for special occasions.  Or for no reason at all.

As he sifted through the cardboard box of memories, he realized that no one alive could identify mom and dad’s friends in the photos.

The line that struck me most from the article goes like this:

“They say a person is really dead only when nobody alive really thinks of them.”

I’ve been thinking about this statement for two days.  I wholeheartedly agree.

Although my Mom and Dad have passed on, I think about them daily.  I pray for them daily.

I often think about my grandmother on my Dad’s side, Mary.

I remember the Saturday morning drive to visit her in the Soulard district of St. Louis.

I remember walking up two flights of stairs, and the pungent smell of liver and onions wafting across the back yard.

I remember her opening the weathered and paint-chipped door to her apartment, and always being surprised to see us.

I remember her broken-Lithuanian accent and her frail, arthritic hands.

I remember she used to shake her fist at Dad, and curse at him in her native language.

I remember she used to call me “She-ree” and slip a twenty dollar bill in my hand, each time we’d visit.

I remember her smile, the wrinkles at the corner of her lips, and that sometimes she didn’t wear her dentures.

I remember she was short of stature, and had a huge heart.

I remember that she was humble.

Daily she’d trek to Soulard Market by foot for vegetables and fruits with her rolling cart.

I remember that when she passed on, my Mom, Dad, brother, and sister-in-law helped clean out her tiny walk-up apartment on 8th street.  One of the interesting artifacts we found was a bag of birdseed, within a glass jar, within another bag of birdseed, within another glass jar.  I suppose she couldn’t let go of the memory of her pet canary.

I remember a photo of my grandfather with a handlebar mustache.  Although an illness took him early in life, I felt like we’d met. The picture hung above her dusty tattered sofa.

So I guess a person is really dead, if no one thinks of them.  I don’t like the word dead.  I try to use other synonyms when referring to ‘that’ word.

I think of all those loved ones who’ve gone before me – their spirits are still alive in my heart.  And I can see their faces in front of me.  Almost like I can reach out and touch their physical presence.

Thank you Bill McClellan for your article.  Although the purpose of the article may not be what you intended, it stirred up great memories for me.