Category Archives: family stories

Family Meals

These were the only photos of family meals that I could find. I think we were always too busy eating to take photos! Click on photos to enlarge and read captions.

For Cave Wall’s Throwback Thursday, here are some more nosy questions about family meal rituals. I couldn’t pass up this one. This was my favorite Throwback Thursday ever. Such fun answering these questions.

Let’s start at the top of the day, breakfast! Did your family have a sit down breakfast or were you more grab and go? What beverages were served at breakfast? What was your favorite (and/or least favorite) breakfast meal? Our most frequent hot breakfast was corn meal muffins with butter and light Karo corn syrup or honey from the beehives on my dad’s land. Sometimes we had bacon to go with them and we always had orange juice.  We had one of those old black castiron round waffle makers that had a star shape in the middle. It was used on top of one of the burners of the stove and you had to move it really fast back and forth to keep the waffle from burning. It took some time to make waffles for a family of five, though, so waffles were usually reserved for supper. My favorite meal. We sometimes had dollar-sized buttermilk pancakes with syrup or honey or scrambled eggs and bacon and toast for breakfast as well..or, it’s all coming back to me …Cream of Wheat or Coco Wheats!!! We never had oatmeal but always had boxes of dried cereal in the cupboard as well. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and Bran Flakes. I don’t remember eating them that often, but probably my dad did as he got up hours before we did to go out to the ranch so rarely had breakfast with us except on Sundays. He also loved to crumble the leftover corn meal muffins from our breakfast into a tall glass of milk and eat them with a spoon.

Did you snack before the mid-day meal? No because we were in school for most of the year and in the summer we were usually outside playing. Snacking was reserved for night time.

Lunch for most children was eaten at school with the exception of weekends, holidays, or summer vacation. At school, did you buy your lunch from the cafeteria, or did you pack lunch? In high school, were you allowed to leave school grounds during the lunch period? Everyone except farm kids whose parents had to drive them in to school in the morning went home for lunch. We lived directly across the street from the grade school and one block from the high school (two blocks when we built our new house) so walking home for lunch was no problem. Farm kids brought their own lunch. There was no school lunch program.

For times when you had lunch at home, was it sandwiches, leftovers, or a newly prepared meal? Lunch was called dinner in our little town and it was the main meal of the day since most of our dads were ranchers. It consisted of salad, vegetable, potatoes, meat and dessert.

The evening meal is usually the most formal meal in many homes. Did your family sit down together and enjoy the evening meal or were you more of a TV dinner in front of the TV family? We all sat down together for the noon meal and sometimes did at night, but we usually had leftovers or sandwiches–once we got TV, often in front of the TV.

How did your weekend meals differ from your weekdays? They didn’t. My dad worked so hard in the fields and on the ranch every day that he needed a big meal at noon. Sundays varied a bit as he usually didn’t have to go out to the ranch. We usually had chicken on Sunday. A big treat as beef was our daily fare. We never had fish.

Who did most of the cooking in your household? Did that person also do the meal planning and grocery shopping? Were you taught to cook or were you shoo’d out of the kitchen? My mother did all of the cooking and meal planning. My dad kept beef on the table as he was a cattle rancher and we had a huge freezer in the basement that was completely filled every time they butchered a cow. I loved to cook with my mother and knew how to make everything she made. When I got older, my friend Rita and I would bake cakes and cook–especially fried potatoes!!!! I did help my mother in the kitchen a lot.

Did you have dessert served at your meals? If so, what types? We had dessert every meal except for breakfast. My mother made the best cherry pie I’ve ever had out of the cherries from the 9 or so cherry trees we had in our backyard. Summers, my sister Patti and I were in charge of pitting the cherries and my mom filled what space was left in our huge freezer in the basement with cherry pies, so we had them until they ran out. She also made apple crisp and the best chocolate sheet cakes with boiled fudge frosting  glaze that I’ve ever had. That frosting soaked into the cake, making it so moist, then formed a thin dark chocolate glaze on top. They were made from a Duncan Hines cake mix but were incredible!! She also made pineapple cookies that she frosted while hot so the frosting formed a glaze and ran down the sides. When she hadn’t baked, we had ice cream or ice cream cake rolls from the grocery store. Or Jelly rolls.

Who cleaned up after meals? Was it a shared responsibility between men/women, girls/boys or was it delegated based on gender? My mom would rest up after the noon meal with a book or take a little nap with our dog Scamp beside her on the couch and then come in and do the dishes later on after we all went back to school, but when I was 11, I started clearing the table and said, “Come on Mom, let’s do the dishes now so you don’t have to do them later.”  After that , that was the tradition. My mother mentioned this years later long after I’d forgotten it. At night and for family dinners, we girls always did the cleaning up and dishes. One time I railed at my dad saying, “Dad, I have never seen you once wash a dish. I bet you don’t even know how, do you? He calmly put down his newspaper, got up out of his chair, walked into the kitchen, took a fork out of the sink, wiped it off with the sponge, rinsed it off, dried it and put in in the drawer. Then went back to his easy chair and resumed his perusal of the paper.

How about late night snacks? Okay or discouraged? Okay. We were always free to eat anything we wanted from the fridge or kitchen cupboards. A favorite was popcorn cooked in an old black metal square popcorn popper with a long neck with a wooden handle. We’d put in vegetable oil and popcorn and run it back and forth over the burner of the stove until it stopped popping. Then, into a big bowl and melted butter was poured over it, it was salted and dug into. Another late night snack was the ever-present vanilla or butter brickle or chocolate ice cream or orange sherbet. And.. with the entire cow and stacks of frozen cherry pies in the freezer in the basement, there was bound to be an entire big carton of ice cream sandwiches that my dad bought at the locker.

Were dining manners stressed in your household? No elbows on the table, no hats at the table, no belching, please, thank you, and may I be excused? The only rigid rule a meals was no singing at the table!!! It was my dad’s rule and I don’t know why. We were not forced to clean our plates and I only remember my mother once telling us we had to finish our vegetables. We ended up throwing them between the solid bench my sister and I sat on and the kitchen wall. For some reason my mother chose that day to move the bench out and clean behind it.  We had run up to a friend’s house after lunch and my mother called up and told us to come home. Actually, though, we didn’t get in trouble. She thought it was funny and never made us clean our plates again. She did later tell us that she couldn’t figure out why she kept finding dried vegetables on the wall or floor behind our bench, so come to think of it that must not have been our first time pulling that trick.

Did you have occasions where you had large family gatherings for meals? What occasions? Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas. My Aunt Stella, Uncle Ed, Grandma Jane, my two sisters and me, my mom and dad and Aunt Stella’s kids when they were still home, then my Cousin Jim, his wife Sharon and their three kids.  Dad and Stella and Grandma would speak Dutch. I had a huge crush on my cousin Jim who was 12 or more years older than me and so I hung on his every word. When it came time for dessert, there would usually be at least three kinds: my Aunt Stella’s incredible lemon meringue pie, my mom’s pumpkin pie and either apple or cherry pie. When my Grandma was asked what kind she wanted, she’d always say, “A little of each” and so she, of course, always had the most pie of all.

Did you say grace or have a blessing before meals? Always, “We thank you Lord for this food that we are about to eat, and bless it to its intended use.”  And at family dinners, my Uncle Ed would always gasp, “Ahhhhhh-men!” at the end. When I was a little girl, my parents finally figured out that I was saying “We thank you Lord for this food that we are about to eat and bless it in potatoes and juice!”

Now for the fun part. What dishes are you glad disappeared over the years? What dishes have you carried forward into your own home? I do not miss salmon patties or oyster stew (which only my dad ate, from a can, while the rest of us had canned chili.). We didn’t eat it out of cans, understand. We actually took it out of the cans, cooked it and ate it in bowl. One of our staples was ham and cabbage with boiled potatoes. I made it just last week and it was tasteless. I’m still adding ingredients trying to instill it with the flavor of my mother’s.  I also use her recipe for meatloaf and she made the best steamed steak with onions and potatoes which neither my sister have been able to duplicate.

BONUS: Care to share any favorite family recipes? I wish I had the recipe for my mother’s ice cream custard. It was really flan cooked in a big rectangular cake pan with miniature marshmallows baked over the top but it was sooooo good. It was served cold with vanilla ice cream but we’d also have a dish served hot out of the oven and the ice cream would melt over it. It was so good. Sometimes with raisins, but we girls liked it better without. Maybe my sister Patti will read this and put the recipe in comments?  Hint, hint.

My Sister’s Camera

Click on the photos to enlarge and read captions.

Although the subject of these photos seems to be mainly me, the actual subject is the photographer. I was just her compliant model..These are all photos taken by my sister Betty Jo, who was eleven years older than me. Her other frequent subject was my sister Patti, four years older than me. Since the photos seem to start when I was about ten or eleven months old, I think perhaps Betty Jo must have received a camera for her birthday the year she turned eleven. It was another time when cellphones had not been invented and even cameras were rare. I remember a black box camera and wonder if that was hers or if by then there was a newer model. Whatever the camera, she was a natural in choosing and composing shots. Betty passed away yesterday, Nov. 5, 2021, and these pictures and the following poem are my tribute to her.

My Sister’s Camera

Videos and photos are doorways to the past.
Without these visual triggers, how long would memory last?
The emphasis of daily life infringes on what’s done.
Memories of childhood? I fear I would have none
if my sister’s camera had not been there to snatch
every special moment that she was there to catch.

Her photos chronicled our lives, forestalling our forgetting,
capturing tranquility or happiness or fretting.
The fragrant past floods out from them in scents I now recall:
new-cut grass and wheat and dust. That tiny baby doll
I carried everywhere with me until its rubber rotted.
That smell of crumbling rubber with which I was besotted.

The cherry trees and trellis, those friends far in the past
The memories of dress-up that were never sure to last
without my sister catching them with her inquisitive eye.
She watched with care and caught them, never knowing then that I
would chart my childhood through her photos—life tumultuous or calm
caught there in the camera she cushioned in her palm
and clicked into the future with just one lowered finger,
insuring that my fleeting past was sure to always linger.

The pictures of her childhood were few and far between,
but the pictures that she took of us when she was  a teen
form a history of our pasts so memories won’t fade.
I wish that I had told her the difference she made.
Why do we wait too late to take time for these reflections
that might have helped us to express our genuine affections?

The last time that I saw her, months ago, so little there.
My lips upon her dry cheek, my fingers in her hair.
Conversing with her empty eyes, my attempts to reconnect
when the time was past that she was able to reflect
on her memories of taking them. What caused her action bold
to put me in the wheelbarrow when I was ten months old
and snap that classic picture. Was her camera new that day,
a present on her birthday, the 23rd of May?

Did she take other photos that I have never seen?
Besides her younger sisters, what subjects filled her screen?
We were her willing models, accustomed to the orders
of an older sister who adjusted hems and borders
to frame the perfect photo that survives to this day
to remind us of the sister who has quietly slipped away.


In contrast, this is the only photo I have of my sister Betty as a child. Without someone like herself to take them, she was more rarely depicted in photographs.

Prompt words today are tumultuous, fragrant, infringe, emphasis and doorway of past,

Grandma’s Treasures

Grandma’s Treasures

Once full of chickens, by the time I was old enough to remember, the old shed located just outside my grandma’s back door had started to fill up with other things instead. Now that I am nearly the age she was when I was born and now that the old shed and her house have been long-razed and buried, I have questions about how she managed to acquire the clutter as she was already too old to drive, if she had ever driven anything more modern than a horse and buggy.

Perhaps once even chickens were too much of an endeavor for a woman in her eighties and nineties, she had started to shift items from the big barn that stood in the near distance down a long cement sidewalk to the smaller shed: wheelless bicycles and tricycles, old buckets with holes in the bottom, assorted broken chairs and small tables and an ancient treadle sewing machine. There was nothing atmospheric about the arrangement of her collection. The paper sacks and boxes full of old clothes stacked on the chairs and tables were no doubt collected with the intent of cutting them apart to make quilts or shredding them to create rag rugs, but nibbled openings in the tops and sides of the bags as well as tiny pellets covering the floor around them attested to their colonization by field mice and perhaps rats, which probably explains why the barn cats had also moved into the old shed.

I could not imagine her dragging home the objects that filled the chicken coop. Her own children had been raised on the prairie far from town and paved city sidewalks, long before tricycles of the variety found in her shed had even been produced, and the rusted-silent sewing machine was more or less the same variety as the one she still used that sat piled with projects in her “spare” bedroom opposite the heavy hatch in the floor that, once opened by lifting it’s huge iron ring, revealed wooden stairs that let down to her dirt-floored basement room that contained the rest of her treasures: shelves floor-to-ceiling that contained home-canned food that had gone uneaten after her husband had died and my mother had started providing her with her meals, driving them down to grandma’s house herself before delegating the job to each of us three girls as we grew old enough to drive.

Dependent on others to ferry her back and forth to the few places she still went: church, Sanderson’s store and occasional family dinners at our house or my Aunt Stella’s, I know that  she was also given to roaming on her own and the remaining canning jars in her basement not filled with expired food attested to this. They were filled with clutter aplenty of a smaller variety that she collected in her pockets on her walks around the neighborhood: Crackerjack prizes,  shards of colored glass, bits of string and pretty rocks and other small treasures abandoned by children: rubber jacks balls, severed limbs of dolls, escaped marbles, rusted tin soldiers. All joined  communities of things in the old canning jars that had gone long unused for the purpose for which they were intended.

When she died, all of those objects found graves of their own as the house was razed and covered over to prepare the land for the construction of the new hospital, providing, perhaps, an interesting study for some future archeological study of life in the twentieth century, her accumulation of various objects creating a treasure trove some future civilization will value as much as she did.

Prompts today are the old shed, clutter, atmospheric, aplenty and questions. I cheated a bit on this illustration, as this is actually me with my other grandma, my mom’s mother, rather than my dad’s mother, about whom this essay was written. Since I’ve published photos of my Grandma Dykstra in the past, I decided to seize this opportunity to publish a photo of my other grandma, who died soon after this photo was taken. 

Once Upon a Time

I’ve decided that my nieces and nephews need to hear some of the old family stories of relatives in their far distant past or ones they never met. This photo sent to me by my cousin Sara today gave rise to a story when Forgottenman asked me some question about it.

The members of the group are my mother, her two sisters and the husbands of two of them. Left to right, my Aunt Peggy, Uncle Rob, my mom Pat, My father Ben and my Aunt Betty. Uncle Ed, Aunt Betty’s husband, must have taken the photo, or perhaps he stayed home and a stranger took it. At any rate, I believe it is taken on the Capitol steps in D.C. where my glamorous Aunt Betty (of Filipino Lantern May Basket fame) lived. The three women are sisters–at that time the only remaining members of a family of six sisters and two brothers.  Rob and Peggy had driven from Wyoming, picked up my parents in South Dakota and driven to D.C. and points south, going through the states of Kansas and Missouri, where the ladies were born and raised.

One of the most memorable stories of that trip was told to us by my Uncle Rob, a sparkly-eyed gentleman who happened to be the State Superintendent of Schools for the state of Wyoming but who also had a rollicking sense of humor. I adored him.

The story as he told it was that he, Rob, was driving on the Interstate or whatever the equivalent of an Interstate was in the 60’s.  As I recall, they were now in Pennsylvania and for the past fifteen minutes or so, they had passed mile after mile of big fields of grapes. Dad, a rancher and farmer, was always interested in whatever was growing and so Rob was not too surprised when they came to a turn-off, that dad asked him to pull over and stop the car.

He was surprised, however, when dad opened the car door and bounded down the ditch up to the barbed wire fence that surrounded the field, reached over the fence and grabbed a vine, tugged at it and came streaking back to the car streaming a long vine of grapes behind him, jumped into the back seat and started handing the grapes around. My dad consistently astonished and delighted my uncle who had pulled a few hijinks himself in his past, some of which I’ve related in this blog.

I think this photo is an incredible contrast to recent events on those same steps. 

Separate Vacations


Separate Vacations

I guess it was inevitable that there’d be a breach 
with you wanting the mountains and me wanting the beach.
We’re broken into moieties, with one kid choosing you
the other choosing me so you know what we’ve gotta do.
You’re fierce in your decision and my determination
to have my way as well in terms of this winter vacation
means we’ll relax in different climes—you snow and me the sun.
Then we’ll get back together once our holidays are done.
Marriages find ways to work in snow and sunny weather,
but sometimes it works for the best when they’re not faced together.


Prompt words today are beach, inevitable, fierce, moiety and holiday.

Heart of the Matter

Heart of the Matter

My family’s only easygoing when it isn’t moody,
and dealing with the moody times seems to be my duty.
If I were only liberated and in better shape,
I’d clamber out the window and down the fire escape
and find some other people easier to bear,
investigate the wider world and see how I would fare.
The solution to this problem you are likely to construe
if you interview my family, but I hope you never do,
for the truth is that the discord that you otherwise might see
is likely to have vanished when they’re not dealing with me!

Word prompts today are easygoing, construe, moody, liberate and escape. photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash, used with permission.

What are the Chances?

A while ago, (and also earlier today) in my blog, I published  this photo of my sisters and my dad and I in our living room. I think I was 8 or 9 years old at the time the photo was taken. Soon after the first time I published it, a friend here in Mexico, Janice Kimball,  called me and said she had a gift for me and could I come to dinner and she would give it to me. I did so and when she gave me the “gift” it was piece of material she inherited from her aunt that she has kept all these years and even brought down to Mexico with her. Yesterday, I made it into a pillow and this is a photo of it. What are the chances?


I was going to put it down in my hammock with other throw pillows and put it in a basket at the foot of my bed with some other materials going down to my studio or my hammock area so I’d remember to take them down, but when I went to bed last night, I happened to see it and put it on my bed instead and slept on it all night. It was so comforting I decided to leave it there.  Being in lockdown means you never have to make your bed!!  ;o)

Easter Hunts


Easter Hunts

My toy cannon muffled by an egg stuffed in its snout.
Easter grass and sugar eggs hidden inside and out.
My parents’ Easter soirees were things of grand design.
The pink nests were sister’s and the yellow ones were mine.
One disappeared behind the mirror, one behind father’s chair.
At the end, still one nest to be found, I knew not where.
Suckers, Peeps and sugar eggs, jelly beans and gummies—
sought out and stuffed in Easter baskets, then stuffed in our tummies.
My folks went to such bother, whereas I must say in truth, 
If I’d been asked, I’d rather have just had a Baby Ruth!


Prompt words this Easter Sunday are truth, soiree, disappear, cannon and mirror. (You didn’t make it east this time, folks!)



“I’ve lost my bearings,” she said to me, perplexed. She was sitting alone in her room, surrounded by piles of clothing on the bed and floor around her—the collapsed small tents of abandoned full skirts, the shards of scarves and small mismatched clutterings of shoes.

She had been abandoned in a daydream world that only she lived in, but that she seemed as confused by as she was by those of us who tried to visit her there. For her, even changing clothes had become an insurmountable obstacle—a challenge that rivaled childbirth, an unfaithful husband, an addicted son, an autistic grandson. It rivaled the war she’d staged against her much-younger sister—the power she held over that sister by her rejection of her. It rivaled her efforts to enter the world again as a single woman and to try to win the world over to the fact that it was all his fault. It rivaled her insistence that it was the world that was confused in refusing to go along with all her beliefs and justifications.

She had barely if ever left a word unspoken when it came to an argument. It was so simple, really. She was always right. That everyone in the world, and more particularly her younger sister, refused to believe this was a thorn in her side. The skin on her cheek itched with the irritation over the unfairness of the world. She had worn a path in it, carving out a small trench so that the skin even now was scaly with that road traversed over and over again by one chewed-off fingernail. “Are you she?” She asked me, and when I admitted I was, she added, “Oh, you were always so irritating. Even as a little girl. Why could you never be what anyone else wanted you to be? You were always so, so—yourself!”

It was my chance, finally, for an honest conversation with this sister 11 years older—more a crabby mother always, than a sister. A chance if she could keep on track long enough to remember both who I am and who we both once were.

“So what was wrong with how I was, Betty? With how I am?”

“Oh, you were always so . . . . “ She stopped here, as though struggling for a word or for a memory. I saw her eyes stray to the floor between the door and the dresser. “There’s that little fuzzy thing there,” she said. I could see her eyes chart the progress of this creature invisible to me across the room.

I hung on to the thought she had so recently abandoned. “But me, Betty. What do you find wrong with me?”

Her eyes came back to me and connected, suddenly, with a sort of snap that made me think we were back in the same world again as she contemplated by last question. I tried to keep judgment out of my own gaze—to keep her here with me for long enough to connect on at least this one question.

“You were,” she said, and it was with that dismissive disgusted tone she had so often used with me since I was a very small child. “You were just so mystical!”

I was confused, not sure that the word she had used was the one she meant to use.

“What do you mean by mystical, Betty?” I sat on the bed beside her and reached out for the static wisps of hair that formed a cowlick at the back of her head—evidence of the long naps which had once again taken over her life, after a long interim period of raising kids, running charities and church prayer circles, and patrolling second-hand-stores, traveling to PEO conventions and staying on the good side of a number of eccentric grandchildren.

“Oh, you know. All those mystical experiences! The E.S.P. and all those other stories you told my kids. And Mother. Even Mother believed you.”

Then a haze like a layer of smoke once more seemed to pass over her eyes, dulling her connection to this time and reality and to me.

Her chin trembled and a tear ran down her cheek. She ran one fingernail-chewed index finger over and over the dome of her thumb and her face broke into the crumpled ruin of a child’s face who has just had its heart broken, the entire world of sadness expressed in this one face. I put my arms around her, and for the first time in our lives, she did not pull away. We rocked in comfort to each other, both of us mourning something different, I think. Me mourning a sister who now would never be mine in the way that sisters are meant to be. Her mourning a self that she had not been able to find for a very long time.

“Oh, the names I have been called in my life,” I was thinking.

“Oh, the moon shadows on the table in the corner. What do they mean?” She was thinking.

The last time I gave my sister a fortune cookie, she went to the bathroom and washed it off under the faucet, chuckling as though it was the most clever thing in the world to do. She then hung it on a spare nail on the wall.

When I asked her if she needed to go to the bathroom, she nodded yes, and moved in the direction of the kitchen. Then she looked at the news scroll on the television and asked if those were directions for her. If there was something she was supposed to be doing. And that picture on the wall. What was it telling her she was supposed to do?

In the end, I rubbed her head until she fell asleep, covered her and stole away. I’d fly away the next morning, leaving her to her new world as she had left me to mine from the very beginning.

Prompt words today are hang on, contemplate, daydream, bearing and surround.

Predisposed to Erudition


Predisposed to Erudition

Central to dad’s disposition
was his need for exposition.
Topics such as  soil condition,
family stories, nuclear fission,
required a bit of erudition.
And every tale’s newest edition
had its own unique rendition.


Today’s prompt word was disposition. Here is the link: