The Christmas Tree Ritual

Memories of the Cave Family: An Orgy of Gifts

The Manager Has Arrived

I joke a lot about my mom and her bossiness. That’s nothing new. When I still had her with me, I would to tease her endlessly about it. She couldn’t help herself from managing everybody and everything around her.

We’d sit down in a restaurant and within moments she would size up the situation. She would know who was sitting at the tables around us and in what order they should be served. She would figure out the relationship between the patrons at each table and why they were in the restaurant. She usually ascertained the capabilities of a server before they ever got to our table. Woe to them if they delivered food out of order. As Mom gave me the running commentary, I’d say, “Well, the manager has arrived.”

She often delegated tasks to me, but never let me forget who was in charge. For instance, I was responsible for her move from Carissa to “active senior living.” I’d hired the mover and made all the arrangements, but when the crew showed up, it was obvious they’d sniffed out my easy-going attitude.

I called them all together and said, “Listen up, guys. It’s obvious that I am a push over and you may think this move is going to be a breeze, but you’re not working for me. You’re moving my mom’s treasures and she is The Wrath Of God On Legs. You scratch her furniture or drop her knick knacks and you are going to figure out why I call her that.” They suddenly started behaving like they were moving the contents of the White House.

The Program

So, it’s no wonder that Mom had Christmas down to a science, but it was good science, because Mom believed in keeping the main thing the main thing. No matter how much time she spent pursuing the trimmings associated with the holiday season, we always knew the basis for the celebration. The Lakeside Baptist Candlelight Eve Service was just as much a part of our Christmas Eve celebration as the prime rib dinner and The Program was as important as unwrapping gifts.

The Program was a little ritual Mom invented to keep Christ in Christmas. To start, the family would sing a traditional Christmas Carol. Not some popular song about chestnuts, Santa, snowmen or reindeer, but a song about the Christ Child being born in a manger. For many years an old upright piano dominated the living room and I would be forced to pound out the tune with all my ineptitude. It was a happy day for me when Mom decided I would never be a pianist and sold the piano.

Then it was time for my portion of The Program. Sometimes I’d read a book like The Littlest Angel or excepts from The Other Wiseman, but I’d also get creative on them. Once I demonstrated the meaning of the ornaments on a Jesse Tree I’d made in a craft class. Another time I found a paper-doll set which illustrated how various cultures envisioned Santa. One time I actually wrote a poem honoring my mom.

Whatever I dreamed up, I was only the warm up for the most important part of The Program. That’s when my little sister would read the Christmas story out of the Bible, either from Matthew or Luke, but we preferred Luke’s version. That’s how my mom kept the main thing the main thing.

Then we’d open gifts and there was an orgy of presents under the tree. My little sister had one other important job. She was Santa’s elf, delivering each present to it’s recipient. Mom had one more rule. We opened our presents one at a time, so each gift received the wonder, honor and surprise it deserved (even when the surprise was feigned).

The Queen of Christmas no longer lives at 10935 Carissa, but in spite of the extensive renovations, much of her remains. The yard is full of things she planted. The patio she turned into a sunroom for her potted plants survived. Her storage shed is in the backyard. She’d love for you to come, bring your family, and make her house a home once more.

A Difference of Christmas Opinions



A Harvest of Gifts

Looking back at Christmas, the family tree is central to my memories.  Once the tree appeared in all its glory, presents began to blossom around it.  My mom was an extraordinary gift wrapper.  Each present was a small masterpiece, one you almost hated to destroy by opening it, but as I grew older, each wrapping hid a secret I wasn’t quite at peace with.  I already knew what was inside.

I love surprises.  My fondest Christmas memory is the year Santa filled our living room with Barbie clothes and paraphernalia.  It was no surprise Santa would come, but the sheer visible impact of all the pink boxes stays with me until today.  He was never quite as generous with me again.  Instead, slowly but surely, Mom picked up the slack with more practical offerings.

Somehow Christmas became the setting for me getting what I needed, rather than an explosion of surprises.  I realize the love that went into the gesture.  I just wanted a little fun.

Christmas Shopping with Mom

When Mom was still working, we’d arrange for me to come to her store and scope out my Christmas list.  I’d try on clothes, show her things I was interested in and tell her the stuff I wanted/needed that wasn’t sold at Titche’s/Joske’s/Dillard’s.  From my selections, Mom would pick out the things she wanted to get for me.  While this wasn’t as exciting as the pink Barbie boxes, there was an element of surprise to it.

But then I noticed a trend.  Instead of trying on several outfits and allowing Mom to choose which she preferred, I realized she wanted me to nail down the exact pieces to buy.  As we walked around the store discussing other possible gifts, she went ahead an made the purchases right then and there.

And so the struggle began.  We began a series of conversations in which I expressed how important the element of surprise was to me and Mom tried to convince me it was more important to be practical and allow her to purchase exactly what I picked out.  No resolution was ever reached.  She continued to require me to pick out exactly what I wanted for Christmas and I secretly wished for a surprise.

Act Surprised!

There was one more thing about this process I haven’t mentioned.  I was supposed to act surprised when I opened my gifts.  It began as a sort of joke, but as the years passed, it wasn’t all that funny.

Along the way, she also started picking out what I was going to give her.  Some time in October or November, long before I actually thought about Christmas, she’d say, “I saw this great Liz Claiborne/Ralph Lauren/Jones New York blazer/suit/trousers/skirt on the End of the Month sale rack.  With my discount it only cost $_____.  I thought you might want to give it to me for Christmas.”

I really didn’t.  I really wanted to go out and pick out something myself.  Something she wouldn’t have thought of for herself.  Something that wouldn’t have been bought with her discount.  Something sensational, extraordinary and personal.  But then I would remember her oft-repeated mantras about practicality.  Even though she couldn’t bring herself to give me what I wanted (a surprise), she had provided me the opportunity to give her exactly the practical gift she had picked out for herself. 

So, I’d say, “Sure Mom.  I’ll pay you for it next time I’m at the house and take it home with me so I can wrap it.”  The things we do for love.  

We did a lot of things for love at 10935 Carissa.  When you walk into the house much of that love still echoes in the halls, but it is getting fainter.  It’s time for a new family to come and make it their home.  The Cave traditions need to be traded out for new ones.  Won’t you come take a look and see if you are the right family for my house?

My Post-Thanksgiving Assignment

Putting Up the Tree


Not Until December

I’m from the good old days – back when Christmas was not the Great Red & Green Retail Hope, forced down the throat of every shopper all year long.  There really were only about Twelve (Appropriate) Days of Christmas.  In fact, I remember when putting up Christmas decorations in the first week of December was considered pushing the season and people had them down by the first Monday after the 25th.

I kept a pretty close eye on the retail end of Christmas, because both my parents had jobs in the business.  Mom more than Dad, because Dad’s retail establishment was part of the Veterans Administration’s Hospitals, while Mom worked for a major department store, but both of them benefited from buying marked-down Christmas merchandise.  What my mom went through, as Christmas grew into the phenomena it is today, could not be called a benefit.

However, as Christmas grew in retail importance out in the world, my family kept it in perspective at our house.  While Mom might find prospective Christmas presents on sale at any time during the year and arrangements for Christmas were usually hammered out via phone or letter by mid-October, not a single decoration went up before the first weekend in December.  Well, at least not until 1973.

Home for Thanksgiving

In the Fall of 1973 I went away to college.  I didn’t go away far, just to Nacogdoches TX, but my absence rocked my mom’s world.  I had noticed in her letters and on our phone calls (few and far between, because long distance was expensive), but if I had missed it there, I would have realized it the minute I arrived home for Thanksgiving.

As soon as I made it home from SFA, I was informed I would be putting up the Christmas tree while I was home.  In fact, Mom didn’t see why I didn’t go ahead and get all the decorations out of the garage and start immediately.  I balked!  I wasn’t going to allow Christmas to start until Thanksgiving was over.

So, Thanksgiving morning I awoke to the smell of the turkey in the oven and up until the meal was over everything seemed normal.  However, as soon as the last crumb of pecan pie was consumed, Mom said she and my sister would clean up the dishes, while Dad got the decorations out of the garage and I got the tree set up.

The Queen of Christmas Reigns

I’ll be honest with you.  I wasn’t all that thrilled with this idea, but my mom was not one of those people you could ignore.  You might get her to postpone her plans, as in acquiescing when I balked at putting the tree up before Thanksgiving dinner, but while she would allow delay, defiance was not an option.

So, the box with the tree, which had already been pulled down off its shelf and was staged by the kitchen door, was brought into the living room.  I began assembling the tree and stringing the lights.  As Mom and my sister cleaned up the dishes, Dad carried in box, after box, after box, after…well, you get the picture…of lights, decorations and gift wrapping paraphernalia.

By the time all the leftovers were stowed away, all the dishes were washed and dried, and the silver had all been counted and put back in the flannel-lined case, the tree was up and lighted.  I was still pretty unhappy with being assigned the task so early.  Intellectually I realized that I wouldn’t be back again in time to set it up, but I wasn’t emotionally ready to deal with Christmas until after the first of December.

Then Mom and my sister joined me and began unpacking decorations to go on the freshly lighted tree.  Dad turned off the TV and put a stack of Christmas albums on the stereo.  Mom began the annual recital of Christmas history.

  • Oh look, I can’t believe this ornament made it another year.  Your Dad and I bought it for our first Christmas tree.
  • Do you remember the aluminum tree we had in Dublin?  I bought all these red balls especially for it.
  • Jane, I know you prefer a live tree, but do you remember the year Susan was allergic to the tree and couldn’t even open her eyes on Christmas morning?
  • Do you girls remember the huge flocked tree we got when we lived on Rupley?  It barely fit in the front room.

Every ornament that came out of the boxes had its own story, stories that I loved.  Even though I had determined to be pouty and indignant throughout the entire process, it didn’t take to many do-you-remembers to jiggle me out of my ennui.  Before I realized it, I was the one reciting the Christmas memories.  I began to sing along with the Christmas carols on the stereo and soon we were all having a mid-afternoon hot cocoa break.



Feasts on Frankoma Ware


Happy Holidays?

Christmas lights have been going up in my current neighborhood since Halloween.  Christmas decor has been available at the hobby stores since Spring.  I’ll confess they’ve already worn me out.  I’ll be doing my own decorating today, but not with the joy the task used to bring.

Autumn is my favorite season and it used to get its fair share of attention.  The bright colors of fallen leaves, chrysanthemums, marigolds and pansies reigned over September, October and November.  Instead of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving marked the day the Christmas decorations blossomed.  I miss it more than I can say.

Thanksgiving at the Caves

Mom was big on decorating.  Every season got its due.  For Thanksgiving she liked to make elaborate decorations on Styrofoam platforms with cornucopia, fake fruit and colorful leaves.  I particularly remember a set of candles she had, a pair of pilgrims and a colorful turkey.

Most people I know have their holiday dinners in the late afternoon or early evening.  That wasn’t the case at the Cave household.  We had our big meal at lunchtime.  I can’t even tell you why we did it that way.  It was just our tradition.  Perhaps it was a holdover from our farming heritage.  A huge meal midday and leftovers for the late evening.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was one of the few meals we ate in the dining room.  Mom would begin setting the table days in advance.  The spotless white linen tablecloth, gleaming silver flatware, colorful place mats, festive napkin rings surrounding crisp napkins – it was all very Southern Living Magazine.

And the Frankoma Ware

My mom loved dishes.  For everyday use we had an odd assortment of tacky plates gathered from a variety of sources.  Some were leftovers from a time they changed the china at Dad’s work.  He rescued the white plates with their rings of burgundy and black, because he said they held the heat of the food better than our other plates.  (Mom hated them, by the way, and secretly rejoiced whenever one broke.)  I can’t even tell you where the rest came from.  They were just everyday plates you set out with the jelly jar glasses for homemade meals.

But on most special occasions Mom pulled out the Frankoma Ware.  She had a set of Christmas China and a very formal set of fine porcelain, but those were saved for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or maybe a birthday if you were lucky and in her very good graces.  For everything else, from Sunday dinner to Thanksgiving, you got Frankoma Ware.

Mom’s collection of Frankoma Ware was impressive.  You name it, she had it, from the Wagon Wheel Sugar and Creamer to every imaginable shape and size of serving dish.  We even had individual side plates especially for corn on the cob!  On Thanksgiving it all came out, even the tumblers.

Now the tumblers were a bone of contention.  Dad loved his iced tea and had a huge glass of it at dinner and lunch.  He was very particular about what it was served in.  He didn’t want any of that plastic stuff and the glass needed to be clear so he could see that the tea was the right strength.  He liked to watch the sugar melt as he stirred.

The Frankoma Ware tumblers were not see through and they were probably a third of the size of his usual tea glass.  He made his displeasure known in an assortment on non-verbal passive-aggressive methods, including multiple trips to the kitchen for refills.  Each refill required an elaborate stirring and tasting ritual, not required with his usual iced tea glasses.

The Usual Schedule

The turkey went into the oven in the wee hours of the night to be ready for the mid-day meal.  By breakfast time, the giblet gravy was on the boil and  cornbread dressing in a large pyrex baking dish was ready for the oven.  Yes, we had green bean casserole, but the funniest thing to me was the relish dish.  Each holiday Mom used a huge sectioned platter to create a crudites extravaganza – celery sticks, tomato slices, pickles, olives and more, spread out in a glorious array – and after each meal, it looked just like it did at the beginning of the meal.

As the baking and cooking progressed, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade offered entertainment in the den.  Dad held court from his recliner.  The females rotated in and out according to what was being prepared at any given time.  The second the parade was over, dinner was served.

I had a delightful Thanksgiving dinner with some of my husband’s relatives this year, but it is always a bittersweet day.  Regardless of the quality, quantity or elegance of the repast,  all I really want is cornbread dressing made with the Mobley recipe and a few olives from Mom’s relish dish.  I had no idea of the value of those days when I lived through them.  In fact, if asked I would have probably complained of mediocre food and boring conversation.  How blind we can be!

Ruth and George are gone, so their house will be empty during this holiday season.  I hope,  even now, someone is planning to come to our Open House on Sunday and they will fall in love with 10935 Carissa.  The home has been completely renovated and is waiting to help another family make unforgettable holiday memories.



The Holidays Are Coming


Bountiful Living

Blessed, that’s the word for my family.  Were we perfect?  Of course not.  Collectively we had more warts than a Texas horny toad.  However, in this day and time, when it’s almost fashionable to air your dirty laundry, I have nothing to share.

My parents were only married to each other – ever.  There were no affairs.  There was no abuse.  There were no arrests.  There were no skeletons in the closet.  The bills were always paid.  There was always a comfortable roof over my head with heat and a/c.  I always had school supplies, new clothes and money to spend.  There was always food on the table. 

In fact, at the holidays, there was always more food on the table than there needed to be.  With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I can’t help but think about the feasts my mom used to prepare.  She worked long hours in the retail business, so she could have been given a pass for making things convenient, but she wouldn’t have taken it.  She planned out her menu some time in October and would have the meal, all but cooked, days in advance.

Ideas Over Recipes

As marvelous as Mom’s epicurean delights were, that’s not what I remember best from our family get-togethers.  I belonged to a family of philosophers, historians and politicians.  Most of them never crossed the threshold of an institute of higher education, but they were better informed and more intelligent than most of today’s American population.  They would have had no trouble naming any of the top officials in governments around the world and they could find any country on a map, whether it was ancient or modern.  They cast votes rather than solicited them, but they knew our country’s founding principles and documents.  What a wonderful heritage!

The internet can’t decide whether it was Socrates or Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people, ” but by that measure, my family had strong minds.  They also had strong opinions.

Poor Old Marty Robbins

A recurring subject in our household was music.  Our range of preferred musical genres was all over the map, but with a very few exceptions, we were able to appreciate each others’ favorite genres, even when we didn’t particularly like them.  To this day, I will listen with pleasure to everything from opera to blue grass.

Dad’s primary interest was lyrics and in particular the stories behind the lyrics.  He loved sharing these stories with us.  I wish I could remember them all, but back then I didn’t realize how fondly I would remember this catalog of lyrical history.

Into this atmosphere, was dropped the question, “Why do they call it country and western music?  Isn’t country music and western music the same thing?”  The resulting holiday discussion resulted in the closest thing to a family feud we ever had.

The conversation started out pretty well.  Dad reached into his encyclopedic knowledge of country/western music and talked about its roots in folk music and blue grass, as well as its influence on rock and roll.  To better understand the theories my dad was offering, one of my aunts asked, “So, for instance, is Marty Robbins country or western?”

That’s when things went left.  My Aunt Edie took one position and my dad took the other.  I can’t even remember who took country and who took western, but the fireworks began.  They argued about every aspect of Marty Robbins’ recordings from the instrumentation to the lyrics.  My dad’s Marty Robbins albums were taken from the shelf to be used as exhibits.  Dad and Aunt Edie were so passionate in their arguments, you would have thought it actually mattered whether the artist was country or western.

Mom called a truce when the meal was ready, but the atmosphere was thicker than her giblet gravy.  We made small talk in order to please my mother, but it was merely nervous chatter.  What seemed so ridiculous was that my dad and my aunt were both the nicest of people – kind, generous, and forgiving – almost to a fault.  They were usually the peace makers when others got into a disagreement.  None of us knew what to think about this musical standoff.

When the meal was over, the dishes were all dried and the silver had all been counted, my Aunt Tommie tried to lighten the atmosphere with some quip about Marty Robbins, but it fell on dead air.  Dad tuned in to one game on the TV and another on his radio.  Aunt Edie disappeared into the back of the house and closed the door to whichever room she was staying in on this particular visit.  The rest of us moved to the living room and tried to have a conversation, but soon Aunt Tommie found a reason to leave.  The holiday was over.

That was as heated as any conversation ever got in that house, but before too long, if you wanted to create gales of laughter at any family gathering, all you had to say was, “Is that country or western?”  Dad and Aunt Edie might look a little sheepish, but the rest of us had a good laugh at their expense.  In the Cave family, laughter was an elixir that cured many ills.

None of us live at 10935 Carissa anymore and the decor has been transformed from Mid-70’s Traditional to Mid-Century Modern, but I like to think the laughter is still there.  I think it has seeped into the brick of the wood-burning fireplace and saturated the picture frame paneling.  Now we want to pass that laughter on to you and your family.  Wouldn’t you like to live in a home like this?




How Do You Play This Again?


TV Favorites

My family loved TV.  I can easily go through a list of favorites.  While we all enjoyed some shows, my dad and my sister were the real fans of the medium.  Mom and I were happy reading books, magazines and the paper.  We also loved any excuse to go – wherever it was and for whatever reason.  For us, TV was more of a team sport.  We watched it to be a part of the family.

Last week I told you about the game of musical chairs we played in the den on Wednesday evenings, as the type of programming went from the news, to country music to the paranormal, but Sunday was our big TV night.  Though I can’t recall their order, I can tell you the three shows we watched religiously: Wild Kingdom, The Wonderful World of Disney and The Ed Sullivan Show.

Many households turned to Bonanza on Sunday nights, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen an episode of it.  Westerns weren’t really a genre of choice.  We’d watch Have Gun Will Travel sometimes and I watched the Rifleman in rerun, but we leaned more to variety shows, documentaries and sports, when Dad was in control.  If he abandoned his post, we’d watch Bewitched, Star Trek, Dark Shadows and lots of movies. Dad’s qualifying question for TV shows was, “Is this real?”

Game Night

While TV was popular with us, we also loved playing games.  For many years, we played an old board game called, “Go to the Head of the Class.”  You moved along in the game by answering questions and the questions were divided into various age groups.  That meant my little sister had just as good a chance of winning as my dad did.  However, we loved playing it so much, that eventually we’d all memorized the answers to all the questions at every level.

Our favorite card game was Spades.  I’d learned it on a mission trip and taught it to everyone else.  Dad and my sister would be partners, so that left Mom and I to plot against them.  It really wasn’t a fair match up.  Once everyone had bid and played once around the table, my dad could pretty much tell you what everyone had. 

That was until I learned about going nillo.  A nillo bid meant your team wasn’t supposed to get any tricks and if you managed to pull it off, you got some huge number of points.  You could also go blind nillo, which meant you bid nillo before you looked at your cards.

Mom and I got pretty good at playing nillo, primarily because my dad couldn’t wrap his mind around it.  It infuriated him that he’d be on the cusp of winning, hundreds of points ahead, and I’d call blind nillo.  Over and over again he raged how ridiculous the concept was, but if I hadn’t ended up with both the Ace and King of Spades, then I could usually manage to pull it off.  Then we’d win, even though dad had been trouncing us all night long.

What Color Pie Do I Need?

Then Trivial Pursuit was invented and we all loved it.  Everyone was on a level playing field, because even my younger sister had her own category where she could wipe the floor with us.  It was pretty cut throat and we played it often, but it didn’t matter how often we played it, my dad would always ask, “Now how do you play this game?”  To this day, I don’t know whether he just had a hard time understanding it or he was just asking to set us all off.  He was capable of that kind of humor.

We’d go through the board and the pies and what you had to do to win, but then there was another kind question he drove us crazy with.  He could never remember which colors went with which question and to make it worse, he always confused the colors.  To him brown looked like orange and green like blue.

He couldn’t see why in the world he had to answer questions for all the categories.  He seemed to think he should be able to fill his pie with blue and yellow (Geography and History), then win the game.  “Dad, you’ve already gotten that pie,” was a frequent refrain.

He’d get downright mad when a green question wasn’t related to sports or was instead related to some sport he had no familiarity with – like curling.  “Dad, it’s sports AND leisure,” we’d remind him.

Pink was his Waterloo.  He’d accuse us of stacking the deck against him with questions we knew he wouldn’t have an answer for.  “I’ve never watched that show,” he’d say – as if that mattered.  Then he’d accuse us of giving each other easier pink questions than we gave him.  “Susan got a question about TV, Jane got a question about the Beatles and your mom answers a question about a musical she’s seen 20 times and you ask me something about some drinking song from the French Revolution?  How can that be fair?”   It got to the point that we allowed him to pick his own card for his pink questions, or the game would come to a standstill.

In spite of Dad’s antics, we dearly loved the nights when we’d put a card table in the middle of the den and gather around it to play games.  My sister and I would give anything to return to those days and play one more round of Trivial Pursuit.  We hope with all our hearts that whoever buys this home will make wonderful memories there, just like our family did.

She Had Green Fingers


Another Family Night on Carissa

On January 5, 1972, Mom came home from work and got dinner cooked.  My sister and I set the table as she cooked the meal.  Mom whipped things together pretty quickly, as my sister and I regaled her with tales from our day.  As all this happened, my dad watched the news, moving from the color TV in the den to the black & white portable in the breakfast room, when we told him dinner was served.

After dinner on this particular evening, Dad returned to the color TV to watch Hee Haw, while the girls cleaned up the kitchen. He loved that show, but the rest of us hated it.  We were more interested in Night Gallery, which would come on shortly after Hee Haw.

As Dad enjoyed his corny country music show, my sister and I cleared the table and loaded the avocado-green dishwasher.  Meanwhile, Mom cleaned the avocado-green stove-top, avocado-green Formica counters, and every other avocado-green thing in the kitchen, including the sheet linoleum floor that was supposed to look like small Satillo tiles, but, of course,  in avocado-green.

TV Time

Mom always remained in the kitchen long after my sister and I were released to join my father in front of the color TV.  I doubt Dad stayed in the den with us very long that evening, however.   He didn’t have much patience with fiction, especially a show like Night Gallery, which bordered on the paranormal.  When we watched things like that , he often retreated to the breakfast room to watch the other TV.

As the family watched TV, Mom usually dropped into the den from time to time to keep up with the plot.  She’d sport a pair of yellow rubber gloves cradled in her apron, to avoid dripping on the avocado-green shag carpet.  Some nights, she would give up all pretense of cleaning and sit down to watch.  And that’s exactly what she did on January 5, 1972.

Green Fingers

The reason I know so specifically what happened on January 5, 1972 is because Wikipedia tells me that’s the evening Night Gallery first aired “Green Fingers.”  In this episode, there was an elderly woman who loved working in the yard.  The villain, an overbearing developer, was trying to intimidate her into abandoning her beloved yard.  The little old lady continually thwarted the developer’s plans, telling him, “I have green fingers.  Everything I plant grows.”  That was Mom – everything she planted grew (with the exception of ferns, but that’s a different story.)

Our yard had gone from a blank slate to something Better Homes and Gardens would have been interested in, had they ever been told it existed.  In the days before the internet, Mom pored over brochures and articles in magazines, newspapers and gardening books, to ascertain exactly what plant should be planted and when.  She also haunted all the local nurseries.  She was that customer we all hate, because she monopolized the only garden expert available.

A New Family Slogan 

So, in the Night Gallery episode, the developer sent in a thug to “take care of her.”  Only the thug didn’t kill her, he just chopped off her fingers.  The little old lady eventually died from a loss of blood, but not until after she managed to plant her fingers in her yard.  At the end of the show, a neighbor discovers the fingers have grown into more macabre version of the little old lady.  The neighbors looks into the TV camera with abject horror and echoes the gardeners works, “She has green fingers.  Everything she plants grows.”

Probably every other household watching this episode was gripped in horror, but not our household.  We were rolling in the floor laughing.  My mother rose from her chair and did a sort of Frankenstein walk saying, “I have green fingers…”  My dad yelled from the breakfast room, “What’s going on in there?” and I tried to answer him, but he couldn’t make much sense of it between my guffaws.

From then on, the punchline from the show was liberally sprinkled into our dialog.   There was no end to the gags:

  • We’d tease Mom almost daily, as she headed out into the yard in her awful yard-working ensembles. 
  • When she cut through the cord on the the electric hedger (again) we’d suggest she plant it, rather than buy another one. 
  • When Dad complained the pile of dirty shoes in the garage seemed to be multiplying, we’d ask Mom if she’d been planting her yard shoes again. 
  • If something in the yard died, we’d suppose some stranger had planted it , because everything mom planted grew.

And on and on it went – when Mom got gloves for her birthday or food dye on her hands making Christmas cookies or pretty much anytime something involved growing, green or hands.  We never seemed to tire of teasing my mom about her green fingers, any more than she tired of working in the yard. 

Mom’s yard is still lovely.  Over the years we’ve reduced the number of plants, pulled out ground cover and tried to tame the limbs on the trees, but Mom’s influence still seems obvious.  If you love gardening, perhaps you’d like to pick up where she left off.  I know she’d love to have someone care for her garden.

Watering My Life Away


From One Job to the Other

I thought shoveling dirt was the worst job in the world, but I was actually pretty good at it.  Or at least I was better at it than I would be the next phase of putting in the lawn.

The lawn at Carissa came from seeds.  My parents spread the seed and fertilized it, but I was the designated waterer.  Even at that tender age, it was well known that I didn’t do idle very well.  I may not have loved shoveling dirt, but it was a very active thing to do.  You might think watering would be simple in comparison, but I felt as if I’d been taken out of the frying pan and thrown in the fire.

I had to stand on the sidewalk and shoot water at every inch of the yard in the exact right amount at exactly the right pressure.  The problem was, I didn’t seem to be able to get the knack of it.

  • “Jane, what is the matter with you?  I told you to water the yard evenly and all you’ve done is create a mess.  You’ve washed away the seed over there and it looks like a desert over here.”
  • “Jane, what is the matter with you?  Did you even turn the water on?  It looks like all you did was wave the water hose over the yard without any water coming out.”
  • “Jane, what is the matter with you?  The front yard is a pond!  You are washing away all of the seed.  We are never going to have a lawn at this rate.  Please just do what we asked you to do.”
  • “Jane, what is the matter with you?  We told you to go out and water the yard at least three times today while we were at work.  It looks to me as if the water hoses are right where we left them yesterday.”
  • “Jane, what is the matter with you?  It looks like you finally managed to water the way we asked, but the hoses are spread all over the place.  Don’t you have any pride in doing a job well?” 

There were several things wrong with me.  The first was that I couldn’t grasp the concept of keeping the ground moist.  One day I watered too much and the next day it would be too little.  The hoses were a whole ‘nother problem.  I felt like I was wrestling boa constrictors.  I wasn’t supposed to drag them over the lawn, but I didn’t know how else to get them from one spot to another, nor was I to step on the tender grass seedlings.

In spite of the other frustrations, which were many, like many mosquitoes and many distractions and many ways to fail, the real problem was that it was the most boring job I had ever been given.  I would stand there with my arm stretched out aiming the water at a designated area and I would continue to do so until I thought my arm was going to fall off.  I’d keep at it with fierce determination, in spite of being bored out of my mind.  Eventually, I would realize that I must have gotten distracted, because suddenly I’d be looking at a puddle, wondering how the spot got from desert to estuary so quickly.

Still Not Good at It 

I must confess, age and experience have not improved my ability to water things.  Just ask my bestest buddy from college.  We had an apartment together for about a year and she thought my room was the perfect spot for a hanging planter of which she was quite proud.  She was a horticulture major and she thought she was doing me a favor putting the plant in my room.  She thought everyone loved plants and wanted to have them around.  In return for her “favor,” I was to do her the favor of opening the blinds every day and watering the plant.  You know where this is going.

Or ask my husband.  When we were dating, he thought the lack of live plants in my apartment was the result of a lack of funds.  I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough, but I could have bought a few live plants.  I just didn’t want anything to water.

My husband is more stubborn than my bestest buddy was.  She got disgusted with me and moved the plant out of my room.  Not that she was happy about it.  Apparently my room provided just the right amount of light, but I had kept forgetting to open the blinds and had almost killed the poor plant.  Let’s not even discuss my watering habits!

In spite of my obvious inability to provide the right amount of water to any plant or plot of ground, my husband keeps trying.  I’m not much with weeds either and have no interest in growing flowers.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love gardens, I just don’t want to have anything to do with the growing of them.  Still, he continues to delegate gardening duties to me.  I always try, reluctantly, of course, but obediently.  We’re about to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, so it looks like one of us would learn – but that hasn’t happened yet.

My mom on the other hand had green fingers – everything she planted grew.  Come back next week and I will tell you about that.


Moving In


 A Family in Transit

When your dad works for the government you move around a lot.  By the time I was 11, we’d lived in five houses.  The move to Dallas made six.  Two and a half years later, we moved into this house on Carissa and our vagabond days were over.  

There was so much packing and unpacking going on in my life that I don’t have a clear memory of packing up for the move to Carissa, the day of the move or unpacking when we moved in.  What I do remember is the yard.

Role Reversal

We’d never had a new house of our very own.  As we moved, sometimes we’d rent and sometimes we’d buy, but in each of the other places, the yard was already there and my dad was the one who took care of it.  Mom’s involvement was limited to an occasional stand of zinnias in the summer.  We did have one home where we had room for a garden, but it was a vegetable garden and Dad was in charge of what was planted and harvested.  Mom’s only connection to the garden was serving the vegetables with our meals and pickling the cucumbers.

Something odd happened when we moved to Carissa.  Mom was suddenly in charge of the yard!  Her first priority was to plant the lawn.  Back in those days, when you bought a house, that’s what you got, a house.  If you wanted a lawn or shrubs or a little seasonal color, that was completely up to the home buyer.  Mother went after the yard with a passion and when my mother had a passion, she involved everyone else in her project.

The Piles of Dirt

When we bought 10935 Carissa, the home was surrounded by black gummy clay and if you dug down more than a few inches, you’d hit white limestone.  It seemed as if I spent that entire summer spreading dirt.  Dad would order up a load of dirt – sometimes it was soil and sometimes it was sand, according to what my mother deemed appropriate.  Either way, as soon as it was delivered, the family grabbed up shovels and started spreading it.  Well, the girls grabbed shovels.  Dad was responsible for transporting the dirt from the pile to the spot where Mom wanted us to spread it.

I have no idea how many loads of dirt we spread that summer.  It’s probably the hardest work I’d ever done up until that time and I really didn’t like it at all.  There would be a crazy rush to spread the dirt before it rained, but then as soon as we would spread it, Dad would have another truckload delivered at Mom’s request.  As a kid, I didn’t understand the finer points of soil management and horticulture, not that I know much more now, but all I saw was the quicker I spread dirt, the more dirt I had to spread.

You would think the last load of dirt would have been cause for celebration, but it was just the beginning of a new phase.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about it.

Welcome to My Home


Hi, I’m Jane.  My family moved into this house in the Spring of 1971.  I was in my sophomore year at Bryan Adams and all I could think of was my upcoming date with a real dreamboat to his senior prom.

The Search for Home

My mom and dad were born here in the DFW Metroplex, but I’d grown up all over the South, because of my dad’s job.  Every time Dad got a promotion we’d have to move, but during all that time, the goal was to move back to Dallas.  Finally, in 1966, we moved back to the area into a rent house in the older part of Lochwood Meadows.

We’d barely moved our furniture in when my parents started looking for a home to buy.  Dad wanted to move to DeSoto.  New houses were springing up like wildfires there and it was very close to his workplace in Lancaster.  Mom was all about East Dallas.  We were already in the school system, we’d joined a church and my Aunt Tommie lived close by.

For years, it seemed as if almost every Sunday after church we’d go house hunting.   One Sunday it would be DeSoto or Duncanville.  The next Sunday it would be Plano or Richardson.  Then we had the wreck on our way back from DeSoto.  Someone T-Boned our baby blue Pontiac Catalina.  We replaced it with Chevrolet Caprice and nothing else was ever said about South Dallas.

Finding Home

My sister and I were just about over all this house hunting.  So, when Mom and Dad decided to go look at some nearby homes on their own, we were glad for them to go.  The newer section of Lochwood Meadows was under development and we’d already been dragged to most of the available homes two or three times.  Mom and Dad both loved the area, but the houses were just out of the budget they’d set for themselves.

I swear my parents were glowing when they returned much sooner than we’d anticipated.  A new house was on the market.  One that was a little smaller than the others and the builder was ready to make a deal.  I easily remember the glee we shared as we entered the house that would soon become our home.

The builder was proudly standing next to the fireplace with a hand-printed sign that read, “$35,900.”  My sister and I ran to pick out our bedrooms, while my parents had a much more serious conversation with the builder.  We would have been hard-pressed to tell you which made us happier – our new house or the end of the house-hunting expedition.

I sincerely hope 10935 Carissa is the end of your house-hunting expedition.  I hope as you walk through the freshly painted rooms and step on the brand new wood floors, you’ll feel the glee my sister and I felt:  “This is it! We’re home!”