Category Archives: Personal


My Very first penpal was a distant cousin that I met when my family visited hers in Detroit; I was 9 or 10 at the time. Pat & I became friends and exchanged addresses and corresponded for a while. My next penpal, I believe, was a Vietnamese girl who was attending high school in New York State. During my freshman year, teachers asked if we wanted to exchange addresses with girls attending the NY school. Anne’s family were political refugees–in the mid 50s! and sought sanctuary in the United States. We corresponded until after graduating from high school.

I don’t think I thought a lot about penpals for a few years, while getting married and becoming a mother I married in December of 19 58 and my first son Michael was born in September of 1960. . We moved to California in 1961 and I began corresponding with friends and family in Ohio.

I began subscribing to Women’s Circle in the mid 1960s. Specifically, I think I “discovered” WC in 1965. I think I began finding the magazine on the magazine racks of the supermarket where we shopped. Around that same time, I became interested in collecting cookbooks. Simultaneously, a friend of mine told me about a Culinary Arts Institute cookbook on Hungarian cuisine that she was searching for.

“I bet I know where we can find it!” I told her. I wrote a letter to Women’s Circle, asking for the cookbook, offering to pay cash. As an afterthought, I added that I was interested in buying/exchanging for old cookbooks, particularly club-and-church cookbooks. Little did I suspect what an avalanche of mail would fill my mailbox when my letter was published! I received over 250 letters. We purchased several of the Hungarian cookbooks and I began buying/trading for many other cookbooks which formed the nucleus of my cookbook collection. And I have to tell you something that I think was pretty spectacular—I was never “cheated” or short-changed by anyone. Even more spectacular were the friendships that I formed, as a result of that one letter, which still exist to this day.

One of the first letters I received was from another cookbook collector, a woman who lived in Michigan. Betsy and I—both young mothers at the time (now both grandmothers)—have remained pen-pals for over fifty years, while our children grew up, married, and had children of their own.

The first time I met Betsy and her husband, Jim, they drove from Michigan to Cincinnati, where I was visiting my parents, to pick up me and my children, so that we could spend a week visiting them in Michigan. A few years later, my friends repeated the gesture – driving hundreds of miles to Cincinnati to pick us up and then returning us to my parents a week or so later. On one of those trips, I took my younger sister Susie along with us and we all have fond memories of going blueberry picking at a berry farm. We visited the Kellogg factory and went to some of the flea markets where you could find hundreds of club-and-church cookbooks for as little as ten cents each (remember, this was the 1960s!). On one of those visits, I met Betsy’s British pen-pal, Margaret, who was also visiting. We had such a wonderful time together.

Around this same time, I responded to a letter written to “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” by an Australian woman (whose name I no longer can recall). She received such a flood of letters from the USA that she took them to her tennis club, spread them out and said “If anyone would like an American pen-friend, here you are!” A young woman named Eileen—who was, like myself, married to a man named Jim, and—like me—also had a son named Steven—chose my letter. We’ve been corresponding ever since. In 1980, when we were living in Florida, we met Eileen and Jim for the first time and from the time they got off the plane and walked up to us, it was just like greeting an old friend or relative. (We liked—and trusted—them so much that we lent them our camper to drive around the USA). When they reached Los Angeles, they contacted, and met, friends of ours who lived in the San Fernando Valley. About a year later, our friends from California were visiting us, when the best friends of my Aussie friends’ (who lived in London) contacted us in Miami and paid us a visit. The following year, when my California friends visited London, they paid a return visit to their new London acquaintances.

(I hope you have followed all of this). I think during those decades when penpals became fast and lasting friends with one another it was sort of like belonging to a particularly friendly club, whether you MET in person or not.

Another young woman who wrote to me (around 1974, we think) was a housewife/mother who lives near Salem, Oregon. She wrote in response to a letter that I had written to Tower Press, noting that we shared the same birthday. In 1978, my husband and children and I drove to Oregon in our camper, where we met my pen-pal and her family. I’ve lost count of the number of times they have visited us in California. And yes, we’re still penpals.

Another pen-pal acquired in the 1960s was my friend Penny, who lives in Oklahoma. We first visited Penny and her husband Charles and their three sons in 1971, on our way to Cincinnati for a summer vacation. We spent a night at Penny’s and were sent on our way the next morning with a bagful of her special chocolate chip cookies. What I remember most about that visit was my father’s reaction when we arrived in Cincinnati. He kept asking, “How do you know these people in Oklahoma?” (The concept of pen-pals was a foreign one to both my parents. I think they sometimes wondered what planet their middle daughter was from!)

Two other pen-pals were acquired when we moved to Florida. Lonesome and homesick, I wrote yet another letter to Women’s Circle, and mentioned my love of Christmas (and preparing for it all year long). One of these was a woman in Louisiana and the other was an elderly widowed lady who lived in my home state of Ohio. Years later, I think both ladies passed away and had no one to notify me.

Before everyone owned a computer and Internet services flooded the market – we had Prodigy. The concept of Prodigy, at that time, was to offer bulletin boards to which you could write, asking for friends, recipes, whatever. It was through Prodigy that I became acquainted with my friend Pat and her husband Stan. We met for the first time when Bob & I went to the L.A. County Fair one year. Pat & Stan came to visit us at our motel in Pomona; they lived in nearby Covina. Eventually, Prodigy would be overcome by AOL, Earthlink, Juno—and the dozens of other Internet services which have changed our lives so drastically. I think the one greatest thing about the Internet is that it has brought so many of our family members and friends back together again.

I don’t know when I acquired a penpal in Ithica, New York—a girlfriend named Lisa, who, at this time, still doesn’t have a computer and writes all handwritten letters to me. (sometimes I respond in pen and ink and sometimes I type letters).

In 2006, I acquired two Canadian penpal girlfriends—ten years later, our friendships are going strong, whether by handwritten letters, emails—or visits in person. One thing these two friends and I have done is provide names and phone numbers of family members—just in case one of us falls out of contact for whatever reason. These two friends are as near and dear to me as sisters but none of us are spring chickens anymore.

You would be surprised to know that writing letters is NOT a forgotten art—there are many of us alive and well and a handwritten letter is such a welcome sight in our mail boxes.

Sincerely Yours,

Sandra Lee Smith


You know, I am constantly trying new or different chocolate chip cookies and I have read about my quest on my blog. Not long ago I found the following recipe & decided IT is the best yet.

I have gotten in the habit of putting all the dry ingredients together—I line up the flour and other dry ingredients and put them through the sifter, then set it aside.(and I put away those ingredients so that I know I am finished with them. You may say well, duh, who doesn’t do that but I am well into my 70s and it’s a reminder for me.)

I have the room temperature butter and eggs set aside with the two kinds of sugar and the 2 teaspoons of vanilla. The chocolate chips and, if I am adding them– finely chopped walnuts or pecans are set aside to go in last. I am now ready to prepare the cookie dough.

To make these cookies you will need the following ingredients:

2¾ cups of flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder ( yes, both baking soda and baking powder)
1 tsp cinnamon (this wasn’t in the original recipe; I added it).

Put all of these ingredients in your sifter in the order given so you will have a good distribution of the ingredients. Sift and set aside.

You will need 2 ½ sticks of unsweetened butter, softened to room temperature
1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar*
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 tsp real vanilla extract (I have learned over time to use good authentic vanilla extract)

*if you can’t find dark brown sugar, use the regular golden light brown sugar. for some reason I was unable to find dark brown for several months. When I did find it, I loaded up the grocery cart.

Beat the butter until it is well blended, then begin adding the dark brown sugar, then the granulated sugar. Next add the eggs, one at a time until blended. Lastly, add the vanilla. Now you begin adding the flour, usually about a cup at a time, until all the flour has been incorporated. Now remove the bowl from your electric mixer.

You will need to hand mix in the final ingredients.

When all the flour is mixed into the wet ingredients, stir in the chocolate chips. OK, the recipe says 2 cups of chips. I add a lot of chocolate chips (the good semi-sweet chocolate chips. I probably double the amount of chips to the recipe. If I am adding chopped pecans, I generally bake about half of the chocolate chip dough and then add the chopped pecans, because my family loves just plain chocolate chip cookies & they aren’t about to change their taste buds any time soon. I add pecans when the cookies are for the women I bowl with or anyone else who likes pecans.

Bake the cookies on parchment paper in a preheated 350 degree oven. If I am not in a hurry, I will do one tray at a time, 6 cookies to a baking sheet in the middle of the oven. I use a scoop that is the equivalent of two tablespoons, leveled. I bake the cookies for 5 minutes, then turn the tray around for another 5 minutes. If I am baking two trays of cookie dough at a time, I switch the trays, top to lower and front to back, for another five minutes of baking==in which case, you need to adjust the two racks as best fits your oven.

BEST thing you can do is bake a couple test cookies to see what works best for your oven. I have a very old 1940s stove that I love. and just so you know, I can still burn a tray of cookies, if I forget to set the timer–this usually happens around the end of the cookie baking when I start to clean up my baking materials. I have been doing this since my sons were young boys, so it has nothing to do with AGE, just a matter of paying attention to what I am doing.

I have been baking cookies once a week for the ladies I bowl with–they like them so much that when the league ended at the end of the year, the ladies gave me a big basket filled with flour, butter, chocolate chips, baking powder, 4 pounds of granulated sugar, 2 pounds of brown sugar, a bottle of vanilla extract–everything you need to make chocolate chip cookies! (how SWEET was THAT?)

I like to buy new cookie sheets about every 2 or 3 years but if you line the cookie sheets with parchment paper, the cookie sheets will last a lot longer. Just saying!

Sandra Smith aka the cookie lady


Yesterday was the final morning for our Early Birds bowling league—to celebrate I took three kinds of cookies for the bowlers to enjoy—I knew we would be eating a large lunch at Black Angus after we completed our final three games.

I’ve had months of despairing I would ever get my average back to normal and toyed with not going to the final games. My sister and girlfriend Iona said oh, no, you can’t do that – we’ll be having a good time.

Our league had collected enough money selling 50-50 tickets to pay for our lunches in a restaurant and not the usual in one of the bowling alley’s spare rooms. (you bought tickets in strips of three—tearing off the copies of the numbers to put into a tin; $2.00 got you three strips). We must have sold a lot of 50-50 tickets!

I gave the few remaining cookies to Iona and my sister Susie.
By the time WE reached the restaurant, almost everyone else was already there—our league secretary and another person were compiling the results for the season and the last three games. We entered a special room for parties and I promptly fell over ONE step—Susie and another bowler helped me get back on my feet and sit down on one remaining seat on one side – and Iona and Susie had the two seats opposite.

To get things going, a bowler named Toni had baked giant tall cupcakes with themes, such as red velvet cake. Mine was German chocolate cake topped off with the traditional German chocolate frosting and some walnuts.

We also received something like a shot glass (but larger) with the date and 235 etched on the side; well Susie’s last game was a 235 so that seemed appropriate!

We had filled out menus providing choices of meals a few weeks ago. Wait Staff competently brought out our choices, starting first with salads and non-alcoholic beverages.

Our lunches came out and were distributed.

At some point in time (I honestly don’t remember when) my sister, sitting across from me, pointed out a big basket that was next to me. It was a very large basket with yellow ribbon and a sunflower , and filled – I kid you not –with the largest assortment of butter, eggs, chocolate chips, granulated sugar, brown sugar, walnuts, pecans, even a couple cans of Carnation Evaporated milk and some other things to fill this large basket. I had not paid the slightest attention to that basket next to me. (shades of a surprise party held for me by coworkers at SAG when I turned 60—all these little give-aways that I did not GET then and I didn’t pick up on the basket next to me—maybe spoiling it for a little speech one of the bowlers was going to say. You know what? It didn’t cross my mind that the bowlers at the Early Birds would do something like that; the women who put it together were pointed out to me. Susie & Iona helped me get everything into the car after the party, and I sped as fast as I dared to go, to get home before the butter and chocolate chips could melt.

I spent a couple of hours taking the basket apart and writing down every item inside.

8 or 10 pounds of granulated sugar
2 pounds of good brand name butter
1 pound of walnuts
1 pound of pecan halves
One pound of Hershey’s unsweeted cocoa (always a welcome pantry item!)

3 or 4 bags of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate chips—they are in different sizes and I put them into the garage frig, so I am not sure of the total weight.

Two one lb boxes of dark brown sugar
2 one lb boxes of golden brown sugar
2 cans of Carnation evaporated milk
one can of baking powder (I guess I will let my old can retire now)
One dozen large brown eggs from one bowler who has a farm! (I didn’t know!)
I may be forgetting an item or two; I tried to get items that needed refrigeration into the frig right away; I transferred granulated sugar (almost 10 lbs) and the different brown sugars into Tupperware or glass jars. While I was at it, I transferred a box of Bisquick into a Tupperware container and added a bay leaf to the contents; whenever I buy flour (or any other kind of grain) I put bay leaves inside—you will NOT get any beetles or any other kind of little creepy crawlers if you put bay leaves into the containers. This was a trick we all learned from my mother and I have passed it along to my daughters-In-law and any girlfriends at work who would listen.

Well, that was the surprise of a lifetime – I never in a million years would have guessed these women would do something so kind and thoughtful—you know, I wasn’t baking cookies all year long to get any atta girls out of it; I bake cookies because it’s something I love to do. Ask my family – I am always baking cookies. I also start mixing cookie dough when I am stressed about something.

Everyone who knows me knows this is just something that I do. So, to all of the Early Birds from 2015-2016 at SANDS bowling alley—thank you VERY much. I think my pantry is stocked well for about a year!

–Sandra Lee Smith


(The following was originally posted on November 7, 2015 but I have collected a few more pet peeves and decided to do an update):

I know none of you have ever written and asked what my pet peeves are but I was making a double batch of crispy lemon cookies that are made with lemon cake mix—a couple cups of rice krispies which I happened to have on hand, and 2 sticks of butter or margarine, plus a couple eggs—well I dug through the pantry and found two boxes of the Betty Crocker “original” cake mix size that is something like 18 ounces. I made up the batch of cookies and the cookie dough was perfect. You roll the dough in balls and bake them in the oven—when the cookies had cooled, I also drizzled on lemon glaze because I had some of that on hand as well. My peeve? The sizes of all the cake mixes have been reduced by about three ounces.

Now, if you do a lot of cookie baking (and I know I am not alone in this pastime) and have gotten used to making ever-so-easy batches of cookies made with cake mix—the dilemma now is—how can we continue to make the easy cake mix cookies?
It crossed my mind that this was a two-fold manufacturer’s ploy to sell more cake mix but reduce the size of the product. They change the size of the cake contents and not only save money—every cook in America has to figure out how to change the original recipe.

Another pet peeve – I was reminded of this at the supermarket recently–to get the best price on a product – you have to buy 3 or 4 of this or that product. Well, it’s maddening. to get the best price on 2 liter ginger ale, I have to buy 4 of them. Well, I can tolerate this ploy with the ginger ale because I will use it – but to be REQUIRED to buy one of several dozen products to get the cheapest price? MADDENING! I have purchased far more 12-packs of soft drinks in order to buy two and get three free (no, I don’t do this anymore because the son who used to drink the most coca cola at my house no longer drinks it—so I no longer buy it).

For all the years I was raising four sons and buying a lot of groceries, it wouldn’t have be an issue to buy four boxes of mac and cheese – I knew it would get eaten. But NOW – I am a senior citizen on a fixed income—this is outrageously unfair. I think a 75 year old customer should be exempt from such requirements. Give senior customers an exemption card! The supermarkets I shop at should be used to seeing me by now – and they are liberal about sending me ads for their sales. Isn’t this biased against seniors???

Another pet peeve? Not knowing the difference between your and you’re:

The easiest rule of thumb is that you’re is a contraction of you are; plain old your is simple – your book, your dog, your house. Whereas you’re going to the parade (you ARE going to the parade). I don’t think any kid going to Catholic school (in my case, St Leo’s) in the 1950s would ever get passed to the next grade if you didn’t know these simple rules.

To, too, and two (should be apparent but… maybe not) –We are going TO the park; I have TOO many cookies on my plate; I can only eat TWO of those cookies. Another one is the difference between “there” and “their”. (“There” are four people. They lost “their” books.)

** my biggest pet peeve takes place on almost all of my favorite weekly television programs—invariably, they film at least one scene (or more) in the dark. NCIS does it. Recently, the opening scenes in NCIS Los Angeles was shot in the dark—if you were a new viewer to NCIS, how on earth would you know what was going on? NCIS does this all the time. So does Criminal Minds. (I think the latest Criminal Minds started out with three scenes in the dark). And if I spend a week keeping scores, I bet I would find many more. Actually, when I think about it, they could be doing some of those scenes in a dark set and just read their dialogue. Maddening. I think I will start making a list of all the scenes done in the dark. My most recent pet peeve are the words “I mean”–a lot of celebrities can’t complete a sentence without saying “I mean” –I was keeping count of the “I means” on the red carpet to the Grammys last week. Did “I mean” replace “you know”?

Another big pet peeve? People talking on their cell phones while they are driving. This activity is now illegal in most states—if you absolutely MUST talk to someone, get yourself a hands free cell phone.

Isn’t it amazing how dependent we have become of cell phones? One day (prior to our being able to wait for friends and relatives at their airport gates) I was waiting for my brother Jim to dis-embark and began counting all the people who were ON THEIR CELLPHONES as they came off the airplane.

This begs the question, why didn’t all those masses of people go rushing for pay phones when they came off the airplanes? You almost never see anyone WAITING for a pay phone to be available. (ARE there any pay phones any more?)

So, our cellphones, i-phones, tablets, etc. have become indispensable. I have finally joined the ranks—the kids got me an iphone for my birthday last year. Now, I have been a person NEVER TO GO BACK if we forgot something—even if I was only a block from home (I guess that was a pet peeve too)—and now with the i-phone? I turn around and go back home to get it. (it might be an important call. You never know). But cellphones and i-phones and tablets et al are still a pet peeve.

This morning I was reflecting on how much bowling has become a pet peeve. I came across some entries to a journal written in 1986 and noted how frequently I made mention of my good games of bowling when I was bowling two or three nights a week. Now, going on thirty years later, I am doing well to break a hundred. Very frustrating. And this is the same ball I was doing well with in 2010 when my brother Jim bought it for me, brand new, at one of the USBC bowling tournaments that he was bowling in. I mention this because it has turned into a major peeve.

Another pet peeve? People who end a sentence on a question mark even though the sentence ISN’T a question. I’ve heard grown men do this. Bad enough when kids and women end their sentences like this. I recently discovered this now has a NAME. I believe I saw it on Jeopardy! it’s called “UPSPEAK”.

I find it annoying—perhaps a minor pet peeve—that some people talk over you, interrupting your sentence, wanting to be heard—without listening to what you have to say. I have even seen this happening on daytime TV shows where women talk about current issues—shows such as The View and The Talk are examples. It’s frustrating to be listening to what one person has to say—and doesn’t get to finish his or her sentences because someone talks OVER him or her—and sometimes you never find out what the first person was going to say. Now, no one can talk over me when I am writing a blog post—but you can certainly write TO me and tell me YOUR pet peeves!

Listen, I am a senior and retired. I usually drive to Palmdale to go to the Smart & final store because their prices are the lowest. I also shop at a Stater’s supermarket but I got into an argument with the store manager one time—because I didn’t get the lowest price. I didn’t GET the lowest price because the product required me to buy 4 of the product. Well, bite me if I am going to buy FOUR 5-liter boxes of wine that would last me over a year. The manager refunded the money because I didn’t understand the requirement – and I AM willing to buy 4 2-liter bottles of Vernor’s Gingerale….so I have taken to mixing some ice and gingerale with a spurt of whatever box of wine I am working on. A box lasts me months this way.

It seems to me that supermarkets would increase their sales if they catered more to seniors and retirees—just issue a little card giving seniors the discounted prices on everything. It’s bad enough that the cost of water and electricity and gas have all gone up—I do everything in my power to not use water unnecessarily and go around turning off lights – but FOOD? And don’t tell me to use coupons; I am the coupon queen of Quartz Hill—but even the manufacturers of hair coloring and toilet paper and a host of other things – require the shopper to buy 3 or 4 of the product on sale. Even Halloween candy! I have to buy THREE of a product to get the lowest price. If you ask me, this is supermarket gouging prices. Just saying…!

Another pet peeve that irks me every single time I see it on TV are the many crime-related shows with segments filmed in near-total darkness. I see this in almost every one of my favorite crime related weekly shows. Am I supposed to
second guess exactly what is happening? I saw this again one night on Criminal Minds and it reminded me to add it to my list of pet peeves. **

The greatest of my great pet peeves has to do with the English language. I went to preface this by saying that I attended 8 years of Catholic grade School and four years of Catholic high school. I don’t think any of us would have gotten OUT of grade school if we didn’t know the difference in synonyms and appropriately using there or their, to two or too, write or right, or a dozen other words. I was astonished to find the wrong there or their (it should have been “their) in a print-out of instructions for a test I am having at my cardiologist’s in a few weeks. I’m guessing that THEIR office staff did not know the difference between their and there—and everyone who has this test goes home with this incorrect print out of instructions. ARGH!!

–Sandra Lee Smith


(They paved paradise and put in a parking lot)

The following is an update to my post in October of 2011:

To all of my blog followers who may have been wondering ‘what’s new’ I apologize for not writing much throughout September. My significant other of 25 years passed away on September 22. He was not involved with my writing—and hardly knew a thing about computers—but I miss his presence. And if you’ve read the posts in my archive files, you would have found occasional references to Bob. Many of our projects over the decades were joint endeavors – when I canned jellies and jams, pickles and relishes, – it was Bob who hauled all of our entries to the Los Angeles County Fair. When we created a gingerbread house, he drew the blueprint for it–and together we put it together.

When we made sauerkraut, Bob was the person doing most of the shredding (I tend to cut my fingernails off).

And, I do have something new to write about; I went to Ohio for 6 days in 2011, to regroup amongst family and friends and a cousin gave me a cookbook that had belonged to our maternal grandmother, Barbara Beckman.

September 22 will mark the four year anniversary of Bob’s passing from this world to another where I often have one-way conversations with him—finding it remarkable that so often when I ask, aloud “Are you listening?” – something very apropos plays on the radio…there is a song about “Sandy” on the Fifties radio station and following it will be something else to remind me that he is listening. If you want to know if a loved one who has passed is really listening to whatever you have to say….then you have to really listen or pay attention to whatever is blooming in your yard or what birds are chirping –you have to be aware of your surroundings.

I always remember how a red cardinal bird appeared in our feeder exactly six months after my sister, Becky, passed away in 2004. I managed to take two photographs through our louvre windows before the red bird flew away; and I had the realization that it had been six months to the day that my sister passed away.

And I said aloud “now you really can fly!” – to the sister who always dreamed of flying and even took flying lessons at a small nearby airport in Cincinnati.

My sister passed away on October 10, 2004, late on a Sunday night. I had flown to Nashville and rented a car to get me to Castalian Springs; she suffered a great deal of pain and looked nothing like the older sister I loved so much. I believe Becky’s spirit hung around for a while after she died. For one thing, their house phone quit working. Becky’s husband angrily asked me if I was on their computer. I said no, I was nowhere near their computer. I called the telephone company on my cell phone the next day to report their telephone not working; they called back on Monday to say that they couldn’t find anything wrong with the telephone line. When one of my nephews arrived with his wife, I told my nephew and his wife about my experiences with their father, who became extremely hostile towards me after my sister passed away.

It would have cost me another $600 to fly back to California if I wanted to get another one-way ticket, so I waited it out. I think it was on Thursday that I accompanied my brother in law back to the funeral home to receive my sister’s ashes. One night I stood in the rain in their front yard, calling out to my sister. “Why did you wait for me to get here? I cried out, “You KNOW how your husband can be!”

I had begun sorting my sister’s clothing and other belongings when my brother in law insisted it would all end up in the dump. I called another nephew who lives in Cincinnati and he in turn called his youngest brother to tell him to get over there and help me with their mother’s clothing.

When I was finished, this youngest nephew and I took two carloads of Becky’s belongings to the Goodwill Store. I had sorted out nice pullover sweat shirts for her sons.

I think Becky held on as long as she did to life because she knew what her husband would do with her things.

When Becky chose to go home from the hospital to die, the doctors told her husband she would never last the week it took me to get a booked flight and make it to Nashville.

She did wait for me to get there. I think we are everlastingly bound in unity with our sisters or brothers, the people who have known us best in this life—the siblings we grew up with. Perhaps those ties also apply as well to parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents—as well as nieces and nephews. These are the ties that bind.

Thank you for your continued interest in Sandy’s Chatter.

–Sandra Lee Smith, August 9, 2015


Previously posted in 2013, yesterday was the 4th of July, Independence Day, in the USA. I thought it would be a good time to re-post the following:

First, let us start with the history of Memorial Day:
Per Wikipedia: Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday which occurs every year on the final Monday of May. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day (and often called this when I was a child), it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate both the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.

By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries. One year, when Bob and I were in Santa Barbara on Memorial Day, we saw thousands of little flags planted on the beach.

Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead. The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Soldiers’ graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. A claim was made in 1906 that the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. There is authentic documentation that women in Savannah, Georgia decorated soldiers’ graves in 1862. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Local historians in Boalsburg, PA, claim that ladies there decorated soldiers’ graves on July 4, 1864. As a result, Boalsburg promotes itself as the birthplace of Memorial Day.

Following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The first well-known observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865.

The sheer number of soldiers of both sides who died in the Civil War, more than 600,000, meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began creating national military cemeteries for the Union war dead.

Memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday. Michigan made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890, every northern state had followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women’s Relief Corps, the women’s auxiliary of the GAR, which had 100,000 members. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, located near major battlefields and thus mainly in the South. The most famous are Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington.

People of all religious beliefs joined together, and the point was often made that the German and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the “baptism of blood” on the battlefield. By the end of the 1870s, much of the war time rancor was gone, and the speeches usually praised the brave soldiers both the Blue and Gray.

By the 1950s, the theme was American exceptionalism and duty to uphold freedom in the world. Ironton, Ohio, lays claim to the nation’s oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade. Its first parade was held May 5, 1868, and the town has held it every year since. However, the Memorial Day parade in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, predates Ironton’s by one year. **

The ceremonies and Memorial Day address at Gettysburg National Park became nationally well known, starting in 1868. In July 1913, veterans of the United States and Confederate armies gathered in Gettysburg to commemorate the fifty-year anniversary of the Civil War’s bloodiest and most famous battle.

Speaking of parades, when I was a little girl, we walked to St Bonaventure Church in South Fairmount, wearing white clothes and carrying little flags and it was there that the Memorial Day Parade began. Students of St. Leo’s who played musical instruments lined up to march in the parade. When the parade began, we walked from St Bonnie’s – down Queen City Avenue until it ended at Beekman Street – over Beekman until we came to Baltimore Street, and then up Baltimore until we passed St Leo’s and came to the Baltimore Pike Cemetery, which happened to be next door to my grandmother’s house. At the end of the parade, children were given a popsicle and dignitaries of Cincinnati made speeches.

For weeks prior to Memorial Day, my mother and aunts made artificial flowers out of tissue paper and crepe paper. The dining room table would be covered with artificial flowers for weeks. They made bouquets of the artificial flowers to sell along with live flowers from my grandmother’s garden. We children stood on the corner at the entrance to the cemetery, crying out “Flowers for Sale!! Fifty Cents! (or maybe twenty five cents by the end of the day). A lot of flowers were sold this way and Grandma would give each child a quarter for our participation in this family fundraiser.

I can’t even imagine, today, how long of a walk that was for young children. I think it had to be about five miles long. I remember how my legs ached at the end of the day. I don’t think any of us, at such a young age, understood the significance of the parade or our marching. But we’d do almost anything for a free popsicle. 

Occasionally, my cousin, Johnny, or my brothers Biff and Bill, and I would go up to the cemetery next door to my grandmother’s. The lower part of the cemetery was all grassy grounds—the graves were far above at the top of the cemetery. I would search for my playmate’s grave—Lonna May Wright was a playmate in kindergarten and first grade—who was killed by a truck while she was roller skating in the street.

Her grave had an angel headstone which made it easier to find. I don’t remember who told me that Lonna May had been killed—I think it might have been my aunt Dolly. Family members surely knew that she was my playmate. Someone probably pointed out the dangers of skating in the street – no one would have overlooked the opportunity to implant a life lesson. I searched until I found Lonna May in my first communion group photograph. When I think of memorial day, I am irrevocably reminded of Lonna May. It might not have been the intention of the founders of Memorial Day – but I think it became a reminder to all of us, everywhere, of those we have lost in life. And so, this year, even though I am far from the cemetery on Baltimore Street, I will be thinking of Lonna May, a cute little girl who died far too young.

If I were in town and visited old St Joseph cemetery – I could take flowers to the graves of family members and uncles who served in world war II.

Memories are made of this. We remember for many different reasons.

–Sandra Lee Smith


The Secret Garden

You began building the Secret Garden sometime in 2007 or 2008, I think. What was most incredible about this creation is that almost all of the materials that went into building a gazebo came almost entirely from things you found all over the yard—discards from other people and other times, many things buried under grass and leaves and other debris. When it came to building a lattice-type roof, we spent about $200 in wood at the Home Depot and you created the top of the creation. We named it the Secret Garden early on—although there was nothing, really, secret about it. It was sheltered by two olive trees in the front yard.

You created a path to the entrance of the Secret Garden out of slabs of wood—from a Jacaranda tree chopped down by the man across the street, who didn’t like the lavender blossoms that cluttered his front yard once a year. He was happy to get rid of the wood. You were happy to get it and cut it into round slabs leading from the grill to the entrance to the gazebo.

You loved spending mornings in the Secret Garden, reading the newspaper and sipping your coffee. We spent many evenings in the garden with friends, sipping wine. Despite a busy street only a few hundred feet away, somehow the noise of traffic faded away into nothingness. Would that be an oxymoron, calling it the Secret Garden when it was anything but?

When, in September of 2008, we learned we would have to move—and I bought a house in Quartz Hill, around the corner from youngest son, Kelly, and daughter in law, Keara, and grandkids Savannah and Ethan—when most of the furnishings of the house had been moved to a storage unit we gained access to our new home—you finally dismantled the Secret Garden. The wood was piled up in a spot in the new back yard where it remained until 2010.

Then, motivated by an inner self—I know not what—you began to rebuild the Secret Garden. Just as you had built it once and dismantled it once, you began to rebuild. This is the most amazing aspect to the Secret Garden—that you, with no experience in house building, driven by some inner force—put down the bricks (originally salvaged from the 1994 earthquake at which time we collected all the whole bricks that could be found around Northridge, Mission Hills, and San Fernando) – now placed down where the new Garden was to go, but—you explained—you were making it a full foot larger all around, so that there is a dirt border into which plants or flowers would go. I photographed the re-building of the Secret Garden. It went up into what was the most logical and sensible spot on our property.

I have often wondered what drove you to get the Secret Garden rebuilt—did you know your time on earth was limited? I don’t know the answer; I only know that at the end of 2010 you knew you needed medical attention; you were diagnosed and treated until your passing in September of 2011.

The Secret Garden has been sadly neglected until now. When I go there, I talk to you, asking you how you knew—IF you knew—what we never talked about. Maybe that is what the Secret Garden was all about, from the very beginning; it was the place where secrets could be shared and talked about.

Your absence is felt, keenly, in my life. I talk to myself a great deal, having no one but two dogs and a cat to talk to. I rarely cook, having no one to share a meal with. Occasionally, I will make a pot of soup or chili or stew, knowing I will have enough to freeze some bricks of the dinner to share with friends, Mary Jaynne & Steve or my sister and her family.

I baked cookies, knowing I can give most of them away to the mail carrier or friends at bowling. My kids, around the corner, are living their own lives and I rarely intrude. My granddaughter, who virtually lived with us throughout high school, has been in college in Sacramento, since 2013. Next to you, I miss her the most. How can I explain to anyone that I, who have never felt lonely throughout my life – now feel the absence of two of the most important people in my life? I stand inside the
Secret Garden and listen to the wind blowing through the trees above me.

This is what it feels like, to be alone. –Sandra Lee Smith