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Lincoln County News
August 12, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

Dear Readers: Last week and this week, I am taking a break from my weekly journal while I visit my family in New Jersey. Instead of my regular journal column, I will share with you some special memories of summers past.

As I mentioned in my last column, I was born a child of the summer, right in the middle of the sign of Leo. I love the hot steamy days of summer and the whine of cicadas singing from their invisible leafy perches. Summer is a special time of year for me, so it naturally follows that I have many fond memories of summers past.

The first ten summers of my life were spent in a cabin at the Jersey shore. The next few summers were a blissful transition from childhood to my teenage working years. From age 10-12, I spent many a summer day at my grandmother's house. Only a several block walk from home, her house with its flower and vegetable gardens, apple and pear trees, screen house and wooden glider presented numerous opportunities for playing and exploring. In the middle of the yard was a beautiful stone bird bath surrounded by hosta and bleeding heart plants. It was my summer job to tend the bird bath and fill it as needed.

I also assisted my grandmother with baking cakes and making desserts. My favorite was an icebox cake made with chocolate wafer cookies and mounds of fresh whipped cream. My grandmother whipped the cream while I assembled the cookies in layers. Back then, chocolate wafer cookies came in long cylinder shaped cans. My young uncle, who was always quite the prankster, took an empty chocolate wafer tin and put a long coiled spring covered with a thin yellow and green fabric, inside one of the wafer tins. This huge slinky caterpillar type beast would spring out like a jack in the box when the tin was opened. My uncle hid the tin in the closet next to the real cookies, and I would scream every time I opened the wrong tin.

My biggest thrill at my grandmother's was helping to run her mangle, an incredible appliance which pressed sheets and clothing. I haven't seen a mangle in years, but this machine could steam and press things in seconds flat. Under my grandmother's watchful eye, I would line up the sheets and pull the cover of the mangle down, holding it until the steam curled over the top. Timing was crucial as holding the cover down too long could scorch the fabric. Running the mangle was always done in the afternoon, so my grandmother could watch Art Linkletter and Queen For A Day on TV while we ironed.

After ironing and her television shows, my grandmother would always take a half hour nap. She never actually slept, but she would put on a light cotton house dress and lie on her bed. She would then let me carefully wind the antique music box on her dresser. Encased inside a wooden box was a roller-type playing mechanism with tines which played maybe 7 or 8 tunes, my favorite being, "The Last Rose of Summer". While the music played, I would sit on a chair in her bedroom and work in my arithmetic workbook while my grandmother rested. I was a terrible math student. My grandmother bought me a math workbook, hoping to sharpen my skills during the summer months. My reward for correctly answering math problems was to play beautician.

I loved playing beautician. My grandmother would let me roll her hair in metal curlers. Then I would apply pressed powder, rouge and lipstick to her face. As I got a little older, and her eyesight failed, she would have me tweeze her eyebrows. The crowning touch was a few drops from her treasured midnight blue bottle of Evening In Paris perfume, that we dabbed behind our ears and on our wrists. Thinking back on it now, my grandmother's hair stuck out at funny angles and her face looked like a clown by the time I was finished, but she always complimented me on a fine job.

Sometimes, my sister, Mary Ann, and I would have a pajama party at my grandmother's house. Spending the night was always a treat. After supper, we would get our baths and put on our pajamas. Then at dusk, we would go outside in our pajamas to catch lightning bugs. My grandmother would give us mayonnaise jars with holes punched in the lids. We would line the jars with handfuls of grass. With the jar open and using the lid as a scoop, we would try to catch the fireflies. Once captured, the bugs would only feebly flash. The following morning, the grass would be wilted and the poor lightning bugs would be lying dead in the bottom of the jar.

My grandfather would cook popcorn for us in the winter or fix us dishes of ice cream in the summer, and we'd sit on the enclosed porch and watch television. On Saturday evening, my grandfather watched professional wrestling or boxing, and we kids would watch him watch the matches. My grandfather would get very carried away, assisting the contestants by grunting, swinging punches and making moves from his recliner. Knowing we were watching him and snickering, he would embellish his moves and make comments to the referee.

If I wasn't spending the night at my grandmother's, I would always head home by 4:30. Usually around 5 pm., John, the Good Humor ice cream man would drive by our house and ring the bells. He was always laughing and mumbling. We kids could never understand a word he said as he had no teeth. One of the neighborhood children told us that John had lost all of his teeth from eating too much ice cream. John knew our house was a prime target for ice cream sales with four eager kids. In fact, John took to backing his truck right up into our driveway. My mother would come out and often buy boxes of Good Humor bars in bulk. I think we probably kept John and Good Humor in business for many years.

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