The Feeling of Football

Stepping outside today, the air feels crisp and the world smells of apples, freshly-sharpened pencils and wool scarves. Autumn is here and growing up in my Midwestern family, that meant football season. I never cared about the players or the score but I loved the socializing, the tailgating, the fanfare, the rowdy cheering, the marching band at halftime. Football gave us an excuse to gather with my dad's side of the the family, cook a roast and watch the game on Sundays or bundle up and tailgate outside the stadium before cheering on the high school team. My husband was surprised to hear me mention football with nostalgia as I don't follow it at all anymore while he, a Canadian, is suddenly very knowledgeable about his new home team the Seahawks. I told him it isn't about football, for me it's about the feeling of football.

All families have their own ways to bond, even if they aren't aware this is what they are doing. My mom grew up in a family who played cards - cribbage, pinochle, whist, bridge, anything - and now when the siblings get together they always settle in to tease and laugh and bicker happily as the cards fly. When my husband sees his parents or sister, they all lean in to discuss international politics and professional tennis. I have cousins who get fired up about Formula 1 and wake in the wee hours to watch it live from Europe. My friend Catherine grew up hiking and birding and she tells stories about her mother wearing a "No Whining" badge on her pack and carrying a fresh egg to whip up a fresh berry cobbler over a campfire. To someone outside that family, doesn't that sound wonderful? Sometimes we don't stop to think about what we generally take for granted simply because that's what we've always known.

I want to pay more attention to how we spend our days with our son. How do we bond as a family? How will that evolve as he gets bigger? I want him to know the feeling of football. We'll cheer on the Seahawks here and I can't wait to take him back to the Midwest to watch football with his grandfather, his uncle and his cousins.


Grandma's Dill Pickles

You know Proust's madeleine? My food memory kick start back to childhood is my Grandma's baby dill pickles. No pickle since has ever compared with hers. As a kid, I used to polish off a jar and simply go down to our spooky basement to grab another jar as fast as possible and run back up the stairs to safety before the boogeyman grabbed me. It was a risk worth taking for those perfectly crunchy pickles. That shelf seemed to hold an endless supply of green jars glowing from within. Of course, it wasn't an endless supply. After she died, I've spent all these years dreaming of her pickles, vowing to recreate them using her recipe. And finally, this past weekend, I did.  It was difficult rounding up the right sized cucumbers, since I'm not growing them myself (note to self:  next year grow them myself). The cucumbers from the farmer's market were overpriced and too big, but sometimes you have to work with what is available. My Grandma would have appreciated that. My friend Catherine came over to oversee the project while our husbands wrangled our little boys. We pulled down the 12 quart jars I bought several years ago with this exact project in mind, sterilized them and filled them with the following: 

Dolores Markley's Dill Pickles
Pack Cucumbers and Carrot slivers in jars with:
 ½ Clove Garlic
 Pinch of alum
1 or 2 head of Dill or 3 Tbsp. Dill seed
Pinch of red hot peppers.
Heat to boiling:
         1 C Vinegar (dark)
         3 C Water (unsoftened) enough for 2 quarts
         Scant ¼ C. Pickling Salt
Pour over pickles immediately and seal
(You can put jars in 360 degrees oven for 10 min)
For 9 Qts: 3 qt water, 1 qt dark vinegar, about 1 C pickling salt
½ recipe: 6 C water, 2 C vinegar, ½ C salt

Now the hard part:  we have to be patient for three long months until we get to eat them. But right about Christmas time, we can break them out to share. Grandma, I will make you proud.


Feast On Your Life

Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. 


A Sample Questionnaire

Several people responded to my previous post today about Chuck & Dolores, A Love Story, asking me what questions I sent around to my family to gather memories. Below is a list that you might find helpful. Feel free to tweak the list for anything additional you might want to learn. I added the caveat that people should feel free to skip any questions or expand on anything. Group emails are fun because everyone can see the responses which spark additional memories for the group. And while everyone may not respond, they may later tell you in person or respond in their own way. I hope this list helps you begin a conversation about memories of loved ones in your family. 

A very important added note:  My family used this list for my grandparents who died many years ago to jumpstart memories, but I urge you to ask the same type of questions - and more! - of your family living right around you.  An all too common regret people have is not getting stories from their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents before it is too late. 

  • Where and when were they born?
  • Did they have any nicknames?
  • Endearments they used with each other or with family?
  • How would you describe their personality?
  • How would you describe their physical looks?
  • Do you have a favorite or vivid memory?
  • How/where did they meet their spouse?
  • Jobs/career?
  • Organizations or clubs?
  • Did they collect anything?
  • Favorite hobbies/past times?
  • Favorite food and/or food associations you have with them?
  • Style of dress or signature piece/accessory?
  • Any signature cologne/perfume?
  • Favorite color/flower/song/other?
  • Sayings or quips they often said?
  • Any pets?
  • Did they have a favorite vacation spot?
  • What do you miss the most about them?
  • What is the image of him/her that you carry with you?
  • Do you have news clippings, obituaries, family histories, family trees, diaries, letters or other ephemera to share?
  • Any other memories, details or stories you want to add?

Chuck & Dolores, A Love Story

Today is Grandparent's Day and I've been going through some old family photographs. My maternal grandparents were Charles and Dolores Markley. They passed away several years ago, but they are always with us. I want to write a simple illustrated children's book for my son to tell  him the story of their life. I sent around a group email with a short list of questions to all my Markley aunts, uncles and cousins to gather memories. It was such a treat to read each response which then sparked more memories. Here's the first draft:

Charles Markley and Dolores Foerster met at a dance in Stephen, South Dakota.  Charles was the oldest of 11 children and Dolores was the youngest of 11 children. 

They were married on February 11, 1942. Dolores wore a street length frock of beige with brown accessories, a single strand of pearls and a corsage was of talisman roses.

Dolores worked as a secretary at the Stephan Indian Mission, where she earned $15 per week. Chuck (as everyone called him) was studying to be an accountant. When WWII broke out, his higher education was interrupted and he joined the Air Force. He was stationed as a radio officer in Lubbock, Texas. After the war, they moved to Highmore, South Dakota where Chuck opened Chuck’s Shoe Service & Clothing.

They raised a family of five daughters and two sons: Camille, Pamela, Susan, Cynthia, Janet, Tom and Jerry.

Dolores loved classical music and would sit down at the piano and play beautifully by ear. Chuck liked to sing Oh Danny Boy in his strong tenor voice.

They loved card games, pinochle, cribbage, dominoes, bridge. Sometimes Chuck would say "Idle old stink" if you had a better hand than he did. They both enjoyed their bowling leagues.

Dolores liked to garden and sew.  She would stay up late making matching dresses for her five daughters.

Chuck liked to smoke his pipe, sort his tackle box and watch baseball. He took his two sons fishing and hunting. He was a volunteer fireman and took a turn as Highmore’s mayor during the Centennial.

Dolores signature look included pedal pushers, cat-eye glasses, brooches and scarves.  Chuck dressed in polo shirts and wore hats sometimes adorned with a fishing lure.

Dolores had a dry sense of humor and loved a good joke. She had a great wink and often would stick her tongue out at you playfully.  As an endearment she sometimes said, “Ok Herkimer.”

Their weekly grocery budget was $35 for the family of nine. Dolores was famous for her baby dill pickles, fried chicken and rhubarb pie.

Dolores was deathly afraid of snakes and did not like the water.  

After they retired they spent winters in Mesa, Arizona and summers at Lake Okoboji, Iowa.

When Chuck got sick he held on until their 50th wedding anniversary.  He sent his love a dozen red roses and died three days later.

Dolores continued baking, gardening and cracking jokes. Her children took her to the Grand Canyon to celebrate her 80th birthday and she passed away a few years later. Chuck and Dolores are buried next to each other along with their oldest daughter Camille in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

I miss them very much.


Curriculum Vitae

Inspired by Pulitzer Poet Lisel Mueller's poem below, I wrote my own version of a minuscule memoir.

Curriculum Vitae

1) I was born in a Free City, near the North Sea.

2) In the year of my birth, money was shredded into 
confetti. A loaf of bread cost a million marks. Of 
course I do not remember this.

3) Parents and grandparents hovered around me. The 
world I lived in had a soft voice and no claws.

4) A cornucopia filled with treats took me into a building 
with bells. A wide-bosomed teacher took me in.

5) At home the bookshelves connected heaven and earth.

6) On Sundays the city child waded through pinecones 
and primrose marshes, a short train ride away.

7) My country was struck by history more deadly than 
earthquakes or hurricanes.

8) My father was busy eluding the monsters. My mother 
told me the walls had ears. I learned the burden of secrets.

9) I moved into the too bright days, the too dark nights 
of adolescence.

10) Two parents, two daughters, we followed the sun 
and the moon across the ocean. My grandparents stayed 
behind in darkness.

11) In the new language everyone spoke too fast. Eventually 
I caught up with them.

12) When I met you, the new language became the language 
of love.

13) The death of the mother hurt the daughter into poetry. 
The daughter became a mother of daughters.

14) Ordinary life: the plenty and thick of it. Knots tying 
threads to everywhere. The past pushed away, the future left 
unimagined for the sake of the glorious, difficult, passionate 

15) Years and years of this.

16) The children no longer children. An old man's pain, an 
old man's loneliness.

17) And then my father too disappeared.

18) I tried to go home again. I stood at the door to my 
childhood, but it was closed to the public.

19) One day, on a crowded elevator, everyone's face was younger 
than mine.

20) So far, so good. The brilliant days and nights are 
breathless in their hurry. We follow, you and I.

~ Lisel Mueller

Curriculum Vitae
1) I was born on the plains. A city girl from Dakota, I say, laughing.

2) Second of four children, I had a noisy childhood building forts, swinging from trees, sleeping in a yellow canopy bed and reading stacks of books.

3) We spent honey-colored summers at a lake cabin, swimming off the dock and having boat picnics. 

4) At Catholic school I was earnest and liked tests. I played well with others. There weren't enough hours in the day  to read.

5) Ballet, tennis, soccer, cheerleading, skiing, French class, editing the newspaper kept me busy sampling personas. I didn't rebel too much, but I dreamt of being reckless. 

6) First love, or what I thought was love.

7) At eighteen, I went abroad to live in Istanbul. Just as I was gaining confidence I was treated as a fragile princess.

8) At university, I become more me. Loved and was loved by a good man, but I left him to go love the world.

9) My education continued on the Grand Tour. I then worked at a London off-license learning the wine trade. I lived on smoked salmon sandwiches, champagne, tea. My friends hung in the Royal Portrait Museum.

10) Wound up in San Francisco. Heady, serious love affair. Three years of gleeful, careless melee during the internet boom. Rode the wave and, all too predictably, crashed on the shore.

11) After reading about heartbreak in novels, I suddenly understood personally, physically, to be torn asunder.

12) Napa Valley interlude.

13) Ten nomadic years, stepping up for adventures of any kind. Peered around many corners to find me again. 

14) Love walks in the door. A new chapter began involving a lot of time in Canada, a surprisingly beautiful place. O Canada, I was happy to be embraced.

15) More travels, more poetry, love grows.

16) South American explorations. Sailed to Antarctica to reinvent myself yet again. Walt Whitman was right, I do contain multitudes.

17) Elopement and then proper wedding to a man worth the wait. Life continues to live up to my optimism.

18) Nine months to experience the wonder of pregnancy and then the awe of birth. A perfect tiny person, a little boy, grew inexplicably underneath my heart. Said heart expands a hundredfold.

19) Crystallized moments of daily family life, a new home, the joys of writing. 

20) The wide world beckons,  Come, come, you have seen nothing yet.