A Love Letter to Spain

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

I first fell in love with Spain in the summer of ’85 during my study abroad in Madrid. The program that Bowling Green University ran at that time (I attended Ohio Northern, but we didn’t have a study abroad option then) included intensive classes at the University of Madrid in culture, history, geography, and language, as well as fantastic field trips to nearly every corner of Spain on the weekends. My love affair continued in my life as a Spanish teacher, as I led student trips all over Spain. When my son (also a Northern grad) student-taught at the American School of Valencia in his final semester of under-grad, we took a family trip to see him and loved every minute.

It was THIS trip to Spain, however, to walk El Camino de Santiago from León to Santiago, that crystallized for me what it is about Spain that makes me love it so much. My admiration is not only for the physical aspects of Spain, but also for the ways that Spaniards do things, how they live, and the sense of community that is imbued in all aspects of Spanish life. Some of my observations are rather superficial, while others delve deeper into the Spanish weltanschaung—their world view. Read on for all the ways that Spain hasn’t changed since I first saw her and loved her, and for the ways she speaks to me.

Broad Strokes

La tierra

Sometimes, those who haven’t been somewhere, imagine it to be all kinds of things it isn’t. The geography of Spain is one of those things. Spain is about the size of the state of

The Camino Francés, leaving the Meseta and entering the León Mts.

Texas and within its boundaries you will find nearly every kind of topography possible–mountains, coast, desert, fertile valleys, plains, broad rivers, forests. What is most surprising, perhaps, is that Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe–second only to Austria. After walking the Camino, I can attest to this firsthand!


Arte Público e Historia

Spain is chockfull of public art, monuments to history, and beautiful architecture. Because of its Catholic roots, every town is clustered around the local cathedral or church with a central plaza somewhere nearby. It seems that every locality has a legend attached to it that is not only available to read about on a placard, but also to hear about from one of the locals. Past and present are blended together in a tapestry of culture. The history of each place, rather than being forgotten or pushed to the periphery, is celebrated with both education (signage, monuments, etc) and the town festival.



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Upon closer examination

So many small things make up the larger picture of the way Spaniards do things. Their eating habits—both what and how haven’t changed. The way they greet each other, the centuries-old door knockers in the shapes of ladies’ hands, the abundance of flowers around their homes, the pride in regional customs,





and how in a country that is the size of Texas, one can sense a different culture every hundred miles or so. All these things remain static in daily life in Spain; she hasn’t changed in the time I’ve known her. 


A comer…

Spain first introduced me to tapas (or pinxtos–pronounced “peenchos”–in the Northeast) all those years ago. Not only is it delicious to try a small portion of something, but it is beautiful as well. The Spanish custom of including a small bite of food with an aperitif is wonderful and smart at the same time. In the foodie capital of Madrid, grazing tapas at the Mercado San Miguel is an experience for all the senses.


In 3 weeks, we never once used plasticware of any sort. Every single restaurant, pub, or glorified concession stand on The Way used glasses. Silverware. Real plates. Cups and Saucers. Not only did this reduce waste, but it also is just more civilized. Café con leche most definitely tastes better in a real cup.

The silverware they use is also different from that found in the US. They have “normal” knives, forks, and spoons, of course, but they also have smaller spoons for coffee, smaller forks for dessert, and larger spoons for soup or other items like cereal. The smaller spoons and forks have the psychological effect on me of making me feel like I am in a more elegant era or place—and indeed, I think I was. The smaller fork surely indicated fewer calories, but also seemed to say—slow down. Savor every bite. Eat in smaller bites and enjoy it. Eating my caldo gallego with a large spoon was satisfying; this soup is hearty, nourishing, and deserves to be eaten with gusto.




The food is, generally speaking, a Mediterranean diet which I think we’re all familiar with, so I won’t go into detail on that, here. What remains the same in Spain from ’85  that is so wonderful is the lack of convenience foods. I think they exist, I just don’t think they’ve caught on. A primary example of “real” goodness is the orange juice. Every bar (and I’m using the word in the Spanish sense here—please don’t picture a place where people are getting drunk) had an orange juice machine—for squeezing FRESH orange juice. So delicious!

Café con Leche. I don’t even drink coffee in the States unless it is labelled as “mocha” and has whipped cream on top. In Spain, though, I drink it every morning and sometimes at midday. They make it strong, only fill a cup halfway, and then fill the cup with heated milk. Artificial sweeteners haven’t found their way into the Spanish diet either, so sugar is an option that I, and everyone else always take advantage of. Delicious. Starbucks has no idea.

Churros con chocolate at Madrid’s oldest churrería–San Ginés.



De compras

Another item from a more elegant era is the way that they wrap purchases individually. This isn’t at the grocery or pharmacy, but rather at shops selling any sort of specialty gift item—jewelry, glassware, trinkets, etc. They generally have wrapping paper and tape handy to wrap up every.single.item for you. It makes one feel pampered and like each parcel is a precious gift. The time taken to do this says something else about Spain—slow down. Little gestures matter. There is no one huffing and puffing behind you in line because the clerk is spending a few minutes taking care of your purchases in such an intimate way. Enjoy the ride.


Beneath the surface

National Values

How Spaniards live is vastly different from life here in the States. The most striking is the incredible sense of community that is part and parcel of Spanish life. As we walked for 200 miles across North-Central Spain, we noticed that nearly all homes are in a village or town—VERY rarely is there a home standing by itself in the countryside as it would be in the United States. I couldn’t help but wonder what this said about the core values of each country. A core American value is independence, even solitude or isolation—indicating strength and ability to us; a core Spanish value is conviviality—indicating community, togetherness, enjoyment. Therefore, Spaniards live in towns or cities almost exclusively and to this day gather on the plaza in the center of town in the late afternoon (or any of several plazas in larger cities) to stroll, have an aperitif, meet up with friends, hear the news of the day, let the children run and play. They do this all year long and at all ages—which brings me to another observation.

The Spanish have mastered the art of multi-generational living. Because they are living in population centers, their older folks are still a part of everything. Nothing stops an older Spaniard from taking his or her evening stroll. There are canes and arms to lean on, but they keep at it. BECAUSE they keep at it, there are able to keep at it. Obesity (not someone being a little plump, but true obesity) appears to be non-existent in Spain, I can only surmise from this active life-style and the diet. Octogenarians are often seen with a younger person for support to get out and do their stroll, their shopping, their visiting with the neighbors.

The abuelas(grandmothers) also haven’t changed in 34 years. I don’t know what age is the cut off for turning into an abuela, but the “look” remains the same: short hair, blouse, skirt, sweater, hose, pumps, pocketbook, necklace and earrings. I saw a very, very few who were wearing pants and being sassy, but by and large—abuelas haven’t changed! Please enjoy my album of abuelas:



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The people—and this includes hundreds of interactions over 34 years—are simply kind. They are always willing to help, to chat, to interact, to engage, to debate, to joke, to guide. They are a social society. They even have a word for sitting around the dinner table chatting after eating—la sobremesa. Wonderful.

In my previous piece, “Angels on the Camino”, I talked at length about Mercedes and José, two wonderful Spaniards with whom we enjoyed a few sobremesas. There were other, shorter, interactions that I would like to describe to give a sense of the Spanish psyche.

A philosophical taxi ride

The day before we were to begin our Camino, we had to transfer by taxi from Madrid to León. The driver, Estéban, came from a long line of taxistas and was proud to be part of his family’s company. The drive from Madrid was roughly 3.5 hours; Dan speaks no Spanish. Well, Dan can order a beer, a gin and tonic, and say that he likes “fútbol”, but that’s about it. So Estéban and I set the world to rights. Around 30 years of age, Estéban and I covered soooo many topics—including Dan as we could. The one that sticks in my mind, however, was our discussion of immigration and bigotry. Although the area of Spain we visited primarily on this trip does not have many immigrants, the coastal cities (and Madrid, of course) have changed drastically since ’85, what with Spain’s proximity to Africa. Spain, once an insular country, is dealing with what we in the States have long had to wrestle.  To welcome immigrants and refugees while keeping control of the floodgates is a delicate balance that needs attention, certainly. Further, as we delved into the racist aspects of this discussion, this young man said, very resolutely, “Para combatir la intolerancia, hay que viajar.” Yes! To combat bigotry, one MUST travel! When we SEE the plight of others, when we EXPERIENCE some of their story, when we KNOW the truth of a situation, THEN we can understand. THEN we cease to fear “the other” and realize that humanity, in all its messy glory, can work things out. If only we could work together and make the effort to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Eavesdropping can get you everywhere

On the day we arrived in Santiago, we obtained our number to get our compostela—the diploma that certified that we had completed the Camino. The pilgrim’s office serves around 1500 people a day—our numbers were 1013 and 1014. We had a bit of a wait. Luckily we could monitor the progress of the line via an app, so we did some shopping, did some eating, and eventually settled at a café along the street to the pilgrim’s office to pass the time.

At the table next to us were three friends in their 30’s, two women and a man. As I gradually tuned in to their discussion and began to shamelessly eavesdrop, I learned that they were discussing the particular usage of a phrase in English. Antonio, the chief complainant, was describing a telephone interaction he had had in English (which he speaks fluently) in which the person helping him said, “I appreciate your frustration.” This infuriated Antonio who had apparently never been on the phone with Time Warner, and wasn’t aware of this usage of the verb “to appreciate”. His learning had taught him only the cognate to “apreciar”—to enjoy. I let this go on for a bit, and then finally turned to them to interrupt and educate.

As is often the case in Spain and at outdoor cafés, they welcomed my intrusion into their conversation; what ensued was a spirited discussion of linguistics, “false friends”—those seeming cognates which have different meanings in different languages (*embarazada” does NOT mean embarrassed, for example, but rather “pregnant”), and how the guy on the phone with Antonio really wasn’t an asshole. My only regret from the whole trip was that I didn’t give Antonio my email address so that he could ask me further English questions (and I, Spanish questions to him) should the need arise. Our connection was brief but intense. I wish that I had had the foresight to extend it. 


What is the larger lesson in all of this rambling? Perhaps that there is more than one way to eat a meal, more than one way to live a life, and more than one way to view the world. As for me, my glimpses into Spanish life have made mine all the richer. ¡Hay que viajar! 

The 4 R’s of Raising Functioning Adults AKA NOT the College Admissions Scandal Model

Recently, the scandal about celebrities and other Richie Riches buying their kids’ way into prestigious colleges broke in the news.  While this comes as no surprise to the other 99%, it rather brought a few things into focus for me that have knocked around in my head for years.

While there are certainly still good parents around, it seems that there is a large population of parents who have lost their way. Toxic parents aren’t only the rich and famous, they come from every single socio-economic group; in my experience, however, it seems that the privileged have a corner on this market. Ask any school administrators in a privileged area, and they will regale you for hours about parenting horror stories. I’m even afraid to share the most egregious one I know for fear that the parents involved will sue me (I am in utter sincerity, here—these people are a shining example of awful). Further, the audience for this piece would be the parent (or future parent) who is able to see to their child’s basic needs. If one is concentrating on putting food on the table and finding clothing for one’s family–this piece might seem frivolous. 

So much has been written about parenting that I hesitate to add my voice to the throng, but if this resonates with even one person, then maybe it was worth it.

imagesThere are multiple facets to being a good parent. In my opinion, the four skills that must be taught in order to raise functioning adults are:





In their efforts to make sure that their kids have a great life, parents sometimes go overboard in what they perceive as protecting them rather than inculcating these skills.

A great upbringing MUST include learning how to respect oneself and others, learning to be responsible to oneself, family, and community, learning how to be resilient by bouncing back from and overcoming setbacks and disappointments, and learning how to be reliant on one’s own skills and ability to make decisions.


Even the youngest child can be taught basic respect. I’ll never forget what my mom said to me when my firstborn child was learning to talk and “needed” something. She said, “He is old enough to say please and thank you.” And she was right. Maybe some new parents don’t have anyone giving them an example to follow or advice when it can do some good. Here’s a pic of Child #1 and me around the time he started learning some manners. Please enjoy my mushroom-style hair-do:

Keaton, me, and my hair circa 1992.


Parenting gets a little trickier as the child enters school. There is a frequent game plan for the parent who does not teach his/her child respect.  Perhaps the child has just engaged in some shenanigans at school (it doesn’t matter the severity of the infraction—the game plan is always the same).

Toxic Parenting Game Plan:

  1. Insist that the child didn’t do anything wrong.
  2. Threaten to sue the teacher, the school, the principal, the other kids, the neighbor, whomever.
  3. Maybe tell a few lies or repeat the one-sided version of the story that the parent has accepted from the child without question. 
  4. Think of a convoluted excuse to get out of any punishment. Insist that your child made a poor decision because of any of the following: a disability, the influence of the “real” bad guys, his/her friends, any temporary condition like a headache, or ignorance.                                                                                   


Just so you know that we always tried to put our money where our mouths are…when Child #1 was a fairly new driver he had a truck that he drove to school. One day I got a call from the SRO (School Resource Officer) telling me that a woman had witnessed our son (she gave his license plate # and described the truck) driving poorly (too fast and apparently he went around someone) in the school zone. I thanked the officer and told him we would deal with it at home.

When I asked Child #1 about it, he denied any wrong-doing. He also said that anything he possibly did wrong MUST be exaggerated. If his father and I followed the toxic parenting playbook, we would have insisted on his innocence, took his word over that of an adult in the community, maybe insisted on meeting with the SRO to clear his name, found out who the woman was, given her a piece of our minds, posted about it on social media, and started a troll war.

What we did was this: He wasn’t allowed to drive for a few days. We also took the part of the “witness”. My reasoning was that for a person to go to all the trouble of getting our son’s license #, go into the school, and talk to the SRO–there had to have been some sort of issue. In other words, we didn’t take our child’s word for it. He was a good kid and he’s a great adult now. At that point he needed to understand that he needed to respect laws and the safety of others. Full disclosure: he still maintains innocence. Whatever.

When the parent models toxicity for the child, the child learns not to respect authority, develops feelings of entitlement, and eventually becomes a stunted adult. This child will in turn become a poor parent (and neighbor, community member, employee, etc). 

Respect Part II: Respecting the “NO” 

When my kids were about 13 and 10 or so, we were in Blockbuster on a Friday evening (circa 2001). A woman and her kids were in front of us in the checkout line and the kids were being obnoxious. They were begging for candy and anything else that Blockbuster had so conveniently and thoughtfully placed right there just as you were about to escape.

The mom kept saying, “No, we’re not getting any candy. No, we’re not getting any popcorn. No, you can’t have that giant Pixie Stix. No, no, no…”

The kids and me when they were about the age of the Blockbuster Incident. The Weirdo peering through the slats is my dad. I’m too lazy to get the scrapbook out again to take a pic to get rid of the reflective spots. #dealwithit

This, of course, seemed perfectly normal to my two who were just wishing that the kids would shut up. Then, at the last moment before going to the cashier, the mom suddenly said, “Okay, pick out something you want.”

If heads could snap off necks, my children would certainly be haunting Ichabod Crane now. Their eyes wide, they looked up at me incredulously. My oldest whispered, “She should not have given in. Why would she do that?”

How sad is it that a thirteen-year-old saw the truth of the situation more than the adult involved. Unfortunately, what we witnessed was probably a regular pattern for her and her kids; those children knew exactly how much her word was worth. They did not respect her word or her “no”. 

If you can’t be strong in the small battles, you’ll never win the ones with bigger stakes when the child is older. If your child doesn’t respect your “no”, your child won’t respect anyone else’s “no” either. If you break your word consistently, your word has no value.


Respect Part III: The importance of your word


Struggling parents might not know my dad’s axiom for parents and teachers:

Don’t make threats you can’t follow through with; follow through with all your threats.

Now, my dad never said this in so many words to me, but it is a lesson that has helped me handle many a situation.

Dad circa 1986. No chipped beef to sling at the picnic.

Here’s how he taught me this:

When I was about 6 or 7, my mother served chipped beef on toast for lunch one Saturday. For those of you uninitiated into the tasty charm of chipped beef on toast, it is also referred to as “sh** on a shingle”. As a child, I did not care for it, to put it mildly.

As we sat down to lunch, looking at my plate in dismay, I said, “I’m not eating this.” My dad said, “You’ll either eat it or wear it.” (Now, Dad probably didn’t really think this threat through or he might have chosen a different one—perhaps not getting anything to eat at all?, but with his usual panache, he threatened me with wearing my food). So, as many a child before or after me would naturally do, I called his bluff. Down my face went into the gravy, only to be raised from my plate with bits of chipped beef jauntily hanging from my eyebrows. Here is a photo to help you with just how appealing chipped beef on toast looks:

Chipped beef aka Sh** on a Shingle.

To our credit, both dad and I burst out laughing. In case you think my mother cheerfully prepared me an alternate entree, think again. Dad told me to go get my face cleaned off. When I plopped back down in my seat, he said, “Eat up.” And. I. Did.

If your kids know that you mean what you say and that you’ll stick to it, they are much more likely to follow your instructions. Without whining and begging. The caution in this axiom is, of course, to not make a foolish threat. Threats should be fair and the punishment should fit the crime. Threats should also not be thrown around like confetti; they should be used judiciously.

A parent has a responsibility to a child to help them be the best person they can be. Keeping one’s word is a powerful lesson. If you don’t keep your word consistently, your word has zero value. Others will learn that you can’t be counted upon or trusted.


Responsibility has so many different facets in the family dynamic. Parents have a responsibility to meet a child’s basic needs so that the child is nurtured and safe. Parents also have a responsibility to teach the child responsibility so that child can grow into a contributing adult.

How do you teach a youngster to be responsible for their own behavior? To do their part in any sort of group situation (anything from chores at home to group projects at school to cleaning up after an event in which they took part, etc)?

I have one word for you: modeling. Be the person that society NEEDS your child to grow up to be. Volunteer to help where it’s needed. Do more than is asked. Look for ways to help that might not be visible to everyone. Be gracious. Have good manners. Do the right thing.

Involve your child in any and all of these activities. Give them responsibilities to take care of at home or for their team or their club(s). Ask them what they are doing to contribute to any group they are involved in. Actively discourage free-loading.

To illustrate this point, here is a pic of our kids and their cousin fixing dinner for extended family on vacation. This is a light-hearted example, but it shows how easy it is to teach involvement and ownership. Certainly, we were right there in case they needed us, but THEY did the work. And it was delicious.

This vacation with extended family was circa 2005. The kids were so proud of their work and had fun to boot!


When our children have a responsibility to a given outcome, they take ownership of it. Being a contributing member of society means being responsible for more than just yourself. 



Another one of my dad’s axioms is, “Kids will be kids, no matter whose kids they are.” In my experience as a public school teacher and the wife of a public high school assistant principal, I’ve seen that parents unfortunately think that every stupid thing their kids do is a reflection upon them. It is very hard to swallow that kids do stupid things because they’re kids. Their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed; they are simply incapable of making good decisions all the time—no matter how terrific their parents might be.

Resiliency goes hand in hand with responsibility; the examples I’ve used in part are interchangeable. Parents would be much better served to let their kids take their just desserts rather than displacing their anger at whatever unlucky school administrator/teacher/coach is in their line of fire. If your kid does something wrong, the lesson you teach him/her should be the following:

1. Own up to whatever you did.

2. Apologize when necessary.                           

3. Take your punishment and move on.

This lesson leads to responsible ADULTING.

There are times, of course, when the child does nothing wrong and yet still might be disappointed in an outcome. It is OKAY for your child to have disappointments. Your job as a parent is to help them to navigate those disappointments and the feelings that come with them.

When our youngest child was auditioning for a part in the high school musical, she came home afterward and immediately burst into tears. She explained that she had helped others read for parts they wanted but that they had left before she had a chance to read for a part that SHE wanted (there was a lesson in self-advocacy right there). I encouraged her to go back to the audition since it was still going on and talk to the director to see if she could still read for a part. We talked about respectful language and discussed what she might say. Off to the school we went, parked the car, and I moved to get out. She said, “What are you doing?” I replied that I thought I’d accompany her to talk to the teacher (which I should not have done, by the way). She said, “If I can’t go back in there and talk to him then I don’t deserve to read for a part anyway,” and off she went. #proudmamamoment



The final piece of helping kids reach a successful adulthood is to give them opportunities to be self-reliant. Many parents do this by giving their children chores to do each week. Other parents ask their children to do their own laundry once they’re capable. Kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for—often at a younger age than we expect.

The way it looked in our house was that we tried to stress that we were a team that worked together. 

Child #2 fixing herself a PBJ. She was 5.

The kids were called upon to help with whatever needed done at the moment. If there was an evening when our schedules just wouldn’t allow us to eat together, our kids knew their way around a kitchen enough to fix themselves a simple supper.


Or, if there was a problem at school and they needed to talk to a teacher or classmate, we brainstormed possible language and communication strategies to use—without my husband or me intervening. The same went for any difficult decision that needed making—lay out the possible outcomes/pros/cons and then allow the child to make the decision. (*There might be some super important decision that the parent needs to make–and the parent should do just that. There are many more mundane decisions that happen day to day that the child should learn to make for him or herself, however). 

Ownership of a decision is an important piece of self-reliance. The child learns to consider consequences and to live with them.


There is so much “out there” about parenting, raising children the “right” way, etc. Other writers have used some of the same verbiage that I have used here, but the lessons, illustrations, and experiences are wholly mine. I hope they speak to you. We MUST do what we can to train up better adults; it DOES take a village. 


Clarence the Angel, Maya Angelou, and Telling my Untold Story

One of my favorite quotes from “It’s a Wonderful Life” is when Clarence the Angel says, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” The hole left by the passing of my maternal grandmother is likely felt even today in the effect it had on the culture of my mom’s family even though she surely would’ve passed long ago.


How It Used to Be

When I was a little girl, I was lucky enough to have not just one, but both grandmothers nearby who were able to watch me during the day as my mother taught elementary school in a neighboring town.

Back in the mid to late 60’s was when I was with her. Since my mom was the middle child of five, there were still two of her siblings more or less at home when I was with my grandma. My Aunt Sandy graduated from high school just before I was born in 1964, and my Uncle Bill graduated in 1968.

I have some memories of him eating breakfast before rushing off to school. He’s the one who showed me the deliciousness of catsup on scrambled eggs, after all. Other random memories that I have from then are cherry pie, red velvet cake, and stealing a box of Nilla Wafers and hiding under the counter to feast. Grandma’s recipe for red velvet cake and bread pudding are still two family favorites.

Whereas my other grandma had no one at home to care for anymore and could lavish all her attention on me, my maternal grandma still had a home humming with young people. Aunt Sandy lived at home and had a job at Zaner-Bloser (the penmanship college and printing company in Columbus where my Great-Grandpa Lupfer had been the principal). Uncle Bill was still in high school; my parents and I lived around the corner. We didn’t have a washer and dryer so that was another reason to be at Grandma and Grandpa Lupfer’s quite often. When Aunt Sandy married an Army man, Uncle Wayne, they sometimes stayed with my grandparents depending on his assignments–eventually having my cousin Sherry who lived there as a baby too.


Aunt Sandy and Uncle Wayne’s wedding reception. Grandpa and Grandma Lupfer are at the right. I am in front of the table, two years old and probably sporting a dirty diaper, despite my angelic appearance. 


It wasn’t unusual for the two older siblings, Uncle Larry and Aunt Pattie to visit with their families. The house on Cedar Hill Road was the hub of family life—everyone came home for holidays. It was a close-knit family and arguments were few or nonexistent.

Grandma was a great cook and Grandpa was the BEST gardener I’ve ever seen. His green thumb was legendary. On their small property on Cedar Hill he had vegetable and flower gardens, a pond with fish to catch, and a small orchard.


Me fishing in the pond at Cedar Hill. Yes, my mother made a two year old child wear curlers–apparently everywhere.


There was a woods behind their house from which we sometimes cut down our Christmas tree. There were summer days spent in a kiddie pool with my cousin, Sherry, and fishing in the pond. It was pastoral and family was everything.

The Day It All Changed

The hive of activity that was life in the house on Cedar Hill came to a crashing halt in May of 1969. That cool, rainy morning in May, Grandma and I had some errands to run, and then she had a doctor’s appointment. We had picked up a giant bag of asparagus from some market and she had treated me to McDonald’s. After the doctor, we headed home. On the way there, Grandma pulled the car to the side of the road unexpectedly, and said, “Let’s see if these pills the doctor gave me work.”

They were the last words she ever spoke.

To my four-year-old eyes, it looked like Grandma had fallen asleep. She kept raising her right hand toward her mouth? her chest? And I think I remember her moaning softly.

I stayed in the car and tried to wake her up by pulling gently on her hair. I guess I thought—“That should do it!” I also hoped for someone to stop and would try to signal through the steamed-up windows for each passing car to pull over. A pick-up truck finally did.

A kind man wearing a fishing cap opened the passenger door of the car and reached for me. It was only then that I started to cry as I said, “There’s something wrong with my grandma.”

This was the first time I remember that feeling of being able to hold myself together about something awful until I gave voice to it. Now, I’m a firm believer in not holding things in and talking through things to heal them. But, sometimes, it is too hard to name a problem or say it out loud. Sometimes, you have to wait until you get home before losing your $h*t. Telling the nice man in the fishing cap that something really, really bad had happened was my first experience with this phenomenon.

Mr. Fishing-Cap took me to a nearby gas station/convenience store while the squad was called. The kind folks there offered me anything I wanted, but I wouldn’t take anything. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of the policeman’s car who was attending and I dutifully told him my name and address, my parent’s names, and where they worked. Kudos to my mom and dad who had taught me those important bits of information at such a young age.

While he contacted them, he dropped me off at his own home,
and his wife and young son watched me until my folks could come get me.

I remember Mom crying and washing the tears from her face in the small bathroom off the kitchen in Grandma’s house; I had no understanding. It was my first real experience with death in a very immediate way.


Through Adult Eyes

That year was a tough one for my family; five of its older members passed away within a month or so of each other. I lost a great-great-grandmother, two great-grandfathers, a great uncle, and my grandma.

Great-grandpa Earl Lupfer (nationally-known penman), cousin Steve, and me.

There is no way to minimize death, but of the five, Grandma was the most vitally important to my part of the family.

When I reflect on this as an adult and as a daughter, mother, and spouse, I am saddened anew for those she left behind. They say that you are never ready to lose a mother—but how much harder it must be when you are young. The effect her death had on the life of the family cannot be understated; those effects were far-reaching and sometimes unexpected.  Don’t misunderstand–our family continued to be a wonderful one–but what might our family life have been like had she NOT passed away in 1969? The other 7 grandkids that came along would have known her. The siblings that moved from Ohio (of the five, my mom was the only one to stay here) might have come home more often, and we certainly would have had bigger family holidays with more of the aunts, uncles, and cousins together.

The axis of the family was gone. Coming home wasn’t the same because home wasn’t there. Home as we knew it was gone forever when her heart stopped beating.


Family Was Still Important

The five siblings still made it a priority to get together for Thanksgivings every other year until 1982, and there were many, many visits across the Appalachians to visit during the summer, but Christmases were no longer spent at the house on Cedar Hill. Gone were the loving Christmas gifts for the grandchildren and the times spent together for both holidays and every days.

Here are a few pics of holidays as they were–everyone home, time with cousins, presents lovingly selected for the grandchildren (just Steve and me, then), visits from extended family. It was comfortable. It was home.



They did manage to get together, however, for one Christmas in 1973. That was the year that my mom must have had Uncle Lornie’s name in the gift exchange. Now, Uncle Lornie was known to have a slightly larger than normal proboscis.


Uncle Lornie with crocheted nose-warmer. Who “nose” why this didn’t become a thing?


See the pic for him modeling the lovely nose-warmer she crocheted him. That gift, and the fact that my parents allowed my three-year-old brother, Mike, to drink Pepsi all evening are about the only things I remember from that Christmas.




Grief Is a Powerful Force

Grandpa, in his grief, remarried fairly quickly. Unfortunately, his choice had a devastating effect on the family. Not only were all the “kids” reeling from the loss of their mom, but insult was added to injury by the actions of the woman who took her place. Many of Grandma’s belongings—favorite dishes, prized knick-knacks, were given away willy-nilly to people who didn’t even know my grandma. Grandpa was either unaware of the hurt this caused or powerless to stop it. Holidays became either torturous or non-existent. The new wife was spectacularly cruel at times; each of us had at least one interaction with her that was simply awful–even me, a child. Perhaps she was a different person with her own children and grandchildren, but our family rarely saw that side of her. Nowadays there is more information and education available about grief, blended families, and relationships. Back then, it wasn’t something that was going to be discussed or “worked” on.

I don’t know if my dear, funny grandpa ever realized the enormity of the decision he made in a haze of grief. I’m sure he must have been lonely. The beautiful place on Cedar Hill was sold. Its new owners let it go to ruin, and it became a living metaphor for his relationship with the family.


Second Chance

When Grandpa’s second wife died in 1986, he came back to us. Once again, he was accessible, present, and loving. Her toxicity was gone from his life, and by extension, ours. Even though my grandma’s presence was still missed, we were consoled by the ensuing years we had with him until his death in 1992. It was as if the 16 years in between were a bad dream that he woke up from. There were visits and laughter and he was easy with all of us once again.  His innate generosity was again everywhere. For my wedding present, he drove a trailer from Florida with large pieces of furniture in it. One piece was my great-grandpa’s writing desk (you’ll recall that he was a penman). The other piece was a beautiful antique glass-fronted hutch with extra storage beneath. Grandpa saw it out with someone’s trash (covered in green paint), picked it up, and refurbished it for me. I still treasure both pieces and they are in use every day.


Our Experiences Shape Us

Life, with its losses, its toxic people, and its traumatic experiences, is still, well, life. We learn as much or more from the bad things as we do the good. There is perhaps a heightened appreciation for those with whom we share the journey , an awareness of how NOT to treat others, and an acquisition of strength to face challenges. I have sometimes felt guilty that I stayed in the car instead of trying to go to a nearby house for help. Would it have changed anything? We’ll never know. What I do know is that our relationships are of utmost importance, life isn’t always easy, and sometimes it takes a little bit of bad to appreciate the good.

Maya Angelou said, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” I don’t know that this story was causing me agony, but I DO feel better for telling it.

Grandma’s Best Recipe


Grandma’s Best Recipe

When I am in the kitchen, my grandmother is in my mind. I was lucky enough to inherit her metal measuring cups and her set of well-used pots and pans.

Antique measuring cups isolated on white background.Her voice is always there when I cook, but especially when I do something old-fashioned like bake from scratch, wear an apron,  or “put up” fruits, vegetables, or jams for the winter. I only do a few things, strawberry jam, canned peaches, canned tomatoes, but it is enough to keep her present with me.

This Christmas I finally approximated her delicious yeast rolls after quite a bit of trial and error. Eating them on Christmas Day with my family was like having a bit of her with us again.


Take a 1/2 Cup of Time

Mom taught for a few years after I was born and until my little brother, Mike, arrived. During those years, my two grandmothers kept me, alternating every two weeks.  Unfortunately, my maternal grandmother passed away when I was four. Our story is for another day. Besides Grandma babysitting me during the school year, I always went to stay with her during the summer for a week. This was a family tradition that was much watered down by the time it got to me. My dad used to travel from Akron (well, I guess someone drove him) from the ages of 7 to 11, to stay with HIS grandparents on their farm on Carroll-Eastern Road. In the 40’s, this would have been a long trip—not just a couple of hours. He would then stay for as much as 6 weeks. He was driving a tractor by the age of 8, although he was scared to death to do it. After the age of 11, his folks, my grandparents, moved down to the Baltimore area again and he was over at his grandparents all the time, working and helping out on the farm. The tradition of dedicating time to go stay with grandparents had been put in place. This is all a long way to say that I treasured those weeks in the summer with Grandma when we wouldn’t do anything special except be. There was no planning of special activities; I just went along with whatever Grandma had planned for her day. And that was okay.

As a little girl, I was often perched on the kitchen counter next to her as she cooked three meals a day. The breakfasts were smaller during my time with her, but lunch and dinner were both full, hot meals. To eat at a restaurant was a special treat; to eat at a restaurant like we do today was unheard of. When my dad was growing up on the farm, he famously ate a half dozen eggs, a rasher of bacon, and a mixing bowl full of cereal—with fresh, whole milk, of course–every day for breakfast.  I can only assume there was also toast involved. This was during the time that he had to milk the cows before school, played sports after school, and was growing like and into a 6’4” weed.



Dad, Mom, Grandma and me, 1966. She is a few years younger here than I am now.

As I kept her company during her work in the kitchen and elsewhere, she would tell me tales of the family. Grandma’s mother, Martha, was the “saving-est” person ever was. This was said with great reverence as she described my great-grandma not even using a match to light the stove (this would have been in the 1920’s and 30’s), but rather rolling a piece of newspaper into a cone, lighting it by the kerosene lamp, and then transferring the fire to the stove. During the Great Depression, Great-Grandma made 9 quilts to sell to help keep the family afloat. Nine! By hand!

Another person she loved to talk about, of course, was my dad. He grew so much one summer, they didn’t know him when he went back to school in the fall! To my little girl mind, I believed this very literally and imagined my dad having to introduce himself to classmates and teachers that he had known his entire life. 

Another summer he was sick with chicken pox or something and was in bed with a fever. There was an incident with Beauty, the prize Holstein who gave the richest milk, and who had a white blaze in the shape of the state of Ohio on her forehead (see below). One day during Dad’s illness, she had fallen in the creek, and Grandma couldn’t get her out; Grandpa was at work.


Dad with Beauty, early 50’s

Cows are naturally not the most nimble of animals, and Beauty had managed to go down on her forelegs in water up to her chest. Keeping her head above the water was imperative and nearly impossible. I don’t know if he heard Grandma yelling or what, but Dad had to rise from his sickbed to rescue the foundering heifer from the creek. Good thing he ate all those huge breakfasts!

Another bit of lore was how he got a cherry pit stuck under his tongue, it swelled up, and he almost swallowed it! (His tongue, not the cherry pit). Apparently, my dad is allergic to certain cherries—THAT’S what caused the swelling, etc—but how dramatic! *Correction: It wasn’t a cherry pit that got stuck under his tongue, but rather a splinter! When they removed it, it left a hole. He must have eaten tart cherries right after that which caused his tongue to swell. Are the two things really related? Well, surely if you know my dad, you are shaking your head about now. He IS still allergic and I’M not going to argue with him about the “splinter-hole”. What we do know for sure is that Grandma’s stories never lacked flair.

1/3 Cup of Frugality

I can still see Grandma measuring batter from the 1/3 measuring cup into a muffin tin and cleaning out the cup with her sturdy square-tipped fingers. There was very little waste in Grandma’s kitchen. When cooking, one scraped every last drop out of the bowl before putting it in the sink to be washed by hand.

Even table scraps—those that couldn’t be composted—were saved for Great-Aunt Dorothy’s cats. Aunt Dorothy lived on a sheep farm at that time and had quite a few barn cats. I don’t know how it worked exactly, but Grandma would fill up a cardboard milk container with table scraps piled willy-nilly in it and take it over to Aunt Dorothy’s farm on Bickel-Church Road.

There was a compost pile, of course, for fruit and vegetable waste. Grandma also put coffee grounds around her trees for their nutrition. Just another reason to stop using a Keurig!

1 Heaping Cup of Industry

Back in the 40’s, with her Victory Garden, there was a summer when she preserved over 200 quarts of foodstuffs that she kept in the fruit cellar at the farm. I wish I had written down how much of each thing she had done when she recounted that season to me. In her words, she was “very workative” that summer.  I’ll say.

There was a china cup that sat by the sink from which she drank coffee; she drank so much coffee for so many years, that the kitchen counter had a permanent coffee stain ring on it that no amount of scrubbing could remove. We found out later that she used to drink 16 cups of coffee a day. With a note of wonder in her voice, she recalled, “I used to get so much done!”

Sprinkle Liberally with Perseverance

When I was a young mother, I was, of course, interested in providing nutritious fare for my little ones. Grandma loved to help out with things in this vein. So one summer, I went to her house to freeze apples for applesauce, apple pie, apple crisp, etc. She had a couple of apple trees in her backyard which had a bumper crop of apples every year. As we started peeling and slicing a bushel or two of apples, she said, “You have to be like an old-fashioned woman today and stick with it until the job is done.” I had intended to do that, of course, but how often do folks today NOT stick with something until it’s done? The very fact that she felt she needed to mention it still sits there, hard in my mind. I haven’t forgotten that lesson.  As I use Grandma’s measuring cups and pots and pans daily, a piece of her is with me. When I feel tired sometimes, I think, “Freeda wouldn’t quit because she was tired.” And she wouldn’t have.

Mix Well and Serve with Love

Those humble measuring cups and sturdy pots provide a daily reminder of the precious lessons learned from Grandma: homemade is best, time is a priceless gift, waste not, work hard and often, finish what you start. What a legacy she gave to me.


Grandma and me at a holiday dinner, 1972
She is buttering one of her famous rolls.