Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas in Aliquippa

I may have been eight when the switch occurred, maybe younger, but not much older. I remember sitting at my grandparent’s table for a Christmas feast. Candlesticks gleamed, wine glasses shimmered, a hand crocheted table cloth lay over dark green damask, along with big linen napkins, and special dishes. I had graduated from the kiddie table, and was permitted to sit with the big people, use real silver, and sip a bit of Cribari Mellow Flame. Grandmom lovingly prepared and presented each course, one after another, in leisurely succession. The conversation hummed on. Stories told. Recollections of meals we had known and loved. Oohs and Aahs at each new course’s arrival.

Grandmom came by the many-coursed meal honestly. In her region of Italy, Abruzzi, an ancient feast to the gods was held, called a panarda. With Catholic influence, it was cleansed of "gods" stuff, and added to the repertoire of special occasions, like weddings and feast days. I never quite got the hang of it though. By the time I had a few olives and a piece of fennel, some of Grandmom’s incredible wedding soup, and a bit of homemade pasta in a sauce simmered for hours with a veal bone and three-meat meatballs, I was stuffed. No room for the turkey, ham, roasted vegetables, broccoli. No room for salad. No room for tangerines, walnuts and Torrone candy. And even when she served a certain cookie I adored and said, "I made this especially for you", I was hard pressed to eat more than one or two.

So we’d sit and talk and tell stories. Actually the adults talked, and I’d listen, big eyed. Grandpa’s tales included secretly borrowing his foreman’s car to learn to drive and knocking over outhouses in the process. Or the time he was harassed by a ham fisted drunk bully, and being so scared Grandpa knocked the guy down, sat on him, pummeled him with his fists, and won. (Grandpa was about 5'7") Or the little old lady with a cane in Montegallo who chased him out of her cherry tree when he was a kid. Uncle Tony spoke about more genteel things, the beautiful hills in his region of Sicily, and ewes bearing lambs in the spring. All very educational.

After an hour or so, a bit of stomach room opened up and Grandmom would say, "Can I get you a little something?" And Uncle Tony would say, "Un poco." So out came the meats and vegetables and salad and desserts and fruit and Torrone. With a little more wine, and a little more coffee. Uncle Tony would then unbutton his pant’s top button, pat his stomach and say, "I feel just like the Pope." With that benediction, the meal was over.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bill Hoffman

"Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord." What a thing for a person to hear the God of the universe say. I can’t help thinking Bill was awestruck by the beauty of heaven and Christ when he entered in. Not to become sloppily sentimental. But soak in the book of Revelation. John’s words fail him in describing what he sees and hears. You have to be at least a wee bit impressed with the overwhelming glory of it all.

Someone described Bill as an infectious Christian. That suits him. He loved painting, he loved music, he loved woodworking, he loved his wife and kids, and he loved God. If a library is gone when an individual dies, and no one’s read it’s pages, that would be an irreparable loss. But because of Jesus' gift to him, Bill was constantly giving away paragraphs and books of himself to people. And he cared about a lot of people. He’s added to all of our personal libraries, and we’re the richer for it. Now it’s our turn to give our paragraphs and books away.

Bill Hoffman died on December 7th around 11 pm at home. Just shy of his 63rd birthday. His memorial service will be held on December 19th at 11 am.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dumpster Diving

I got admonished a couple months ago by some employees as I peeked into the thrift store dumpster. Broad daylight and on a weekday no less. At least it was out back. Since I frequent the paying side of the store I’m on a first name basis with almost everyone there. So the finger wagging was personally directed and kindly intentioned. They were worried for my safety (broken glass) and probably thought it a bit over the top that someone they actually had truck with would succumb to such devices. So there was some concern for my reputation as well. However, pretty cool things make it into that dumpster. On that particular occasion I was sorely tempted to return after hours and dig through. About a hundred marbles in a cracked vase sat right at the edge on top. All those marbles, and totally free. If I just had a box. Perhaps in another life, or in someone else’s town, or with a truly brazen friend. But not that time. Admittedly, I’ve been known to do it if something poked out on top that looked particularly promising. But never during store hours. Especially when people were coming out the back door during lunch. Perhaps next time I should wear a mask.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Place of One's Own

Ever since my younger days playing under a blanket draped table, I’ve liked cozy spaces. With concern for people’s carbon footprint, the small house movement is gathering adherents in the outside world, among grown up people. Several problem solvers stand out, and they’re not just from the green movement. Jay Shafer, whose Tumbleweed Tiny House Company produces gem-like-all-inclusive living spaces, and Maria Cusato, architect for the first Katrina House. Shafer offers plans for the do-it-yourselfer and finished homes for the non-handy. Cusato’s design is available through Lowe’s in several Southern states.

Les Walker (writer of a family favorite, "Housebuilding for Children"), recently revealed his not-so-secret passion, in his book on minuscule historic dwellings. Though blueprints aren’t included, "Tiny Houses" is packed with photos, drawings, and enough information to enable someone to construct their own.

As my packrat box of treasured doorknobs and architectural debris attests, I’m quite interested in including salvaged materials in a future home. Texas Tiny House Company is already there. They construct one-of-a-kind structures using historic salvage. You scoff, but I’m actually thinking ahead. As housing is part of Art’s pay, we need to live somewhere else eventually. A subsidized apartment vs. a miniature house on a cooly wooded lot, with a two-seater porch swing out front. Really now, what would you prefer? I just have to convince Art we can make room for all his books.