Category Archives: Childhood Memories

The Valley of the Flowers — Part Two

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Dear Readers,

Read this post first:

“The Valley of the Flowers” Part 1

. . . . And as if this childhood setting was not quaint enough, we also had the good fortune to live near the village of Solvang, California: “The Danish Capitol of the World.”  Danish settlers named the town “Solvang,” meaning “Sunny Fields,” when they migrated to California in 1911, to escape the harsh midwestern winters.  And, really — who could blame them?

Entering the village of Solvang was like entering one of the “countries” of Epcot — except that this village was authentic!  For special occasions, Dad & Mom drove us [my three siblings and me] over and through the undulating hills of The Valley of the Flowers, to Solvang, where we dined  at a Danish restaurant named, “Paul and Margaret’s.”

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We also lived near Buellton, CA, the home of Andersen’s Split Pea Soup Restaurant:
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The South may know a thing or two about BBQ — but I was raised near the Santa Maria Valley, “The BBQ Capital of the World” and home of the “Tri-Tip Beef BBQ:”
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Our Valley of the Flowers was famous for “Pinquitos”  [“Little Pinks”], which we ate with our BBQ.  The Portugeuse farmers brought “Pinquitos” from the Old Country, when they first settled in the Valley of the Flowers:
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Way before salsa became “hip” and replaced ketchup  — way before you could buy salsa in a grocery store, we dined at the Far Western Tavern in nearby Guadalupe and enjoyed freshly-made salsa with our BBQ and pinquitos:
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At this point, I am getting a little ahead of my story — but I cannot resist posting these last two photos of Los Olivos, CA, home to “Mattei’s Tavern,” an Old Stage Coach Inn, circa 1886.
This historic site included a restaurant that was so quaint  and romantic that I fell in love with it — and with my future husband — when he took me there to dine, in 1970.
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. . . These are the snapshots – the postcards — of my idyllic life in “The Valley of the Flowers,” circa 1958 – 1962.  The events that interrupted that life will be the subject of the next post, Part Three of this series.
Coram Deo,
Margot
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The Valley of the Flowers – Part One


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Dear Readers,

You may describe the “picture postcard” memories of your childhood — but just try to compete with mine:

I spent my idyllic childhood [1958-1962] in  “The Valley of the Flowers,”   Lompoc [LAHM-poke], California.  This small town and valley boasted the title of “The Flower Seed Capital of the World.”

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The air was pure and fresh because of the ocean wind, the small population, and the absence of industrial commerce:  At that time, the region was mostly agricultural.

In addition to flowers, the region now boasts of  vineyards, which flourish in this lush, fertile, golden valley.

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After the Spanish conquered California for God and King, the Spanish Friars established 21 missions, along the coast of California.  Lompoc was the site of Mission La Purisima Concepcion, providing the source of the name of the region:  “Point Conception.”

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Mission La Purisima Concepcion

“Point Conception”  jutted out into the Pacific Ocean.  [See the red star, below].  Strong winds from the ocean were invigorating and bracing.  A protective blanket of dense fog rolled in every night and dissipated every morning.

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The cool, Mediterranean climate of the region did not offer regular seasons and the weather was unvarying.   The annual average temperature range was between 50 degrees and 70 degrees and the average rainfall was 16.11 inches.  Of course,  there was never frozen precipitation.

I remember frequently wearing a “car coat”  but that was the warmest piece of over-clothing that I owned.   Our homes did not have air conditioning because the temperature rarely rose above 70 degrees.   There was one hot spell per year, however, when the “Santa Ana Winds” rolled in from the desert.  This was our one chance to wear shorts and sleeveless tops and retrieve our window fans from storage.


 

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I live in North West Florida now.  Every summer, I grow homesick for the climate of my childhood:  I yearn, once more, to wear a car-coat in July;  to walk on the crunchy, brown sand of the beach;  to hear the crashing, booming waves of the ocean and the plaintive cry of the sea gulls;  to wade in the cold ocean water [where no one would dare to swim without a wet-suit];  to smell the scent of sea air, sea weed and kelp;  to feel the wind and sea mist on my face and in my hair; and to look up and see the protective dome of the overcast sky, which protected us from the sun.

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Surf Beach, Point Conception, CA

I long to play all day at the beach, with no sunscreen, and to return home without even the barest hint of a sunburn.


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The sweet fragrance and vibrant color of those flowers represented my ideal childhood.  I lived in a landscape filled with softly undulating hills of beauty, in orderly rows of contrasting color, as far as the eye could see.

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The tranquil beauty of the valley’s contours  provided the memories and dreams of my childhood.

The intrusive nature and shape of the events which invaded my ideal childhood is what this series of blog entries must tell.

Coram Deo,

Margot

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Worldview Lens: The Grand Canyon

Dear Readers,

[This is a revision of an earlier post.]

It happened fifty years ago, as our family of six traveled and camped overnight near the Grand Canyon:

In the darkness of early morning, my father roused us from sleep.

We piled into the car and huddled under blankets, as my dad drove us the short distance to the canyon.

Torn away from my warm sleeping bag, I was hungry, for we left before breakfast.

We parked and hiked to the safety railing of the canyon.

I stood, shivering and yawning, waiting for the sun to rise.

The first rays of sunlight exposed only the rim of the canyon.

Very gradually, the sunlight unveiled the upper walls of the canyon, layer upon stratified layer.

Finally, after a long wait, the sunlight  searched out the lower walls of the canyon and, finally, chased away the shadows from the darkest corners of the canyon bed.

We watched in silence, as the sunlight revealed the grandeur, glory, and majesty of the canyon’s colors, textures, and patterns.

I spied the thin ribbon of river, at the bottom of the canyon, a mile below us.

Compared to the giant scale of the canyon, the ribbon seemed insignificant.

Yet, my father told me, it was this same river, a mile deep in ancient times, that thundered and roared through the landscape, to carve out the contours of the canyon.

Incredulous, I surveyed the riverbed and then slowly scanned my eyes up the walls of the canyon, wondering how many centuries elapsed during this process.

I thought to myself,  “What force of nature could be so fearsome and powerful as to carve a canyon a mile high?”

I remember that morning as one of the best gifts that I have ever received:  A once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And I think about that morning every time I read these words:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:  not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  

~~~C. S. Lewis, from The Weight of Glory

Coram Deo,

Margot

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Summers of Contentment: Part 2

I remember that summer morning, almost fifty years ago:  It was 1964 and our family of six packed up the station wagon.  At the time, my father was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base and we lived in Bossier City, Louisiana.  We planned to drive to North Carolina and, finally, to Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Susan was sixteen, I was twelve, Michael was nine, and Amy was six.

The last errand, before leaving town, was to drive to the kennel and leave our puppy, a Boston Terrier named Cappy.  As Dad was cranking up the engine, the four children and my mother grew silent, at the thought of leaving Cappy.   As Dad backed the car out of the driveway, he surveyed five glum faces, abruptly stopped the car, opened his car door, slammed it shut, and returned to the house. He quickly returned to the car, muttering oaths under his breath, and threw the dog leash, bed, food, and bowls into the back of the car.  We cheered in unison because Dad had, amazingly, relented and we were taking our puppy with us on our vacation!

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[Image Credit:  greatdogbreeds.com]

We drove to the North Carolina home of my  Grandmother “Mommo” Blair and she traveled with us to Virginia Beach, to the home of my Uncle Bub and Aunt Pat Blair.  Their children, David, Ann, and Eddie, were our cousins.  As far as I know, this was the only summer that every member of both sides of my family [the Blairs and Van Hoys] gathered together in one place for a week of Summer Family Reunion.  I can only imagine how much my Grandfather “Daddah” Van Hoy, a widower, and “Mommo” Blair, a widow, must have enjoyed having all their children and grandchildren together in one place for one week.

Aunt Pat came from a large, closely-knit family and she loved company:  When she heard the crunch of gravel on her driveway, as each family vehicle arrived, she raised her arms over her head, screamed in delight, and, with arms extended in front of her, ran out to hug and greet each weary traveler.   An excellent cook, the daunting task of feeding seventeen folks did not intimidate her:  You could observe her, every morning, in her kitchen:  She wore her swim suit and hummed and sang, as she prepared either Meat Loaf, Chicken Salad, or Pimento Cheese for our luncheon sandwiches.

Bub and Pat hosted a total of seventeen family members that summer, in their large house near the beach.  They installed a cabaña outside the kitchen, where they set up picnic tables with benches, ice chests, and fans.  There, we could seek shelter from the sun, help ourselves to an icy drink, and gather for all our meals.  Bub and Pat also installed an outdoor shower, so that we could rinse off the sand, before entering the cabaña or house.

On a typical evening, Uncle Bub prepared fish and “hush-puppies,” Aunt Pat fixed corn on the cob, and Ann made the tossed salad with anchovies.  After dinner, the girl cousins made Lemon Pound Cake, drizzled Lemon Glaze over it, and everyone ate it warm.   On other evenings, we enjoyed big bowls of ice cream, topped with chocolate syrup.  During the evenings, we cousins played endless card games of War and Solitaire.

In spite of the heat, we cousins spent all of the daylight hours out-of-doors. Uncle Bub and Aunt Pat’s Boston Terrier dog, also named Cappy, could swing from branches of the big evergreen tree in the backyard.  With his jaw teeth, he grabbed onto a low horizontal branch, pulled backwards, ran forwards, and sailed up in the air, over and over.  Sometimes, he jumped up, clamped his jaw teeth onto a vertical branch, and swung his hindquarters, around and around.  Unbelievably, Aunt Pat patiently taught him to soulfully whine into her face, on cue:  “Maaa-maaa.”

Our family took a brand-new Slip n Slide to the family reunion:  Uncle Bub thought it would be “a hoot” to toss their Cappy onto it, rather like rolling a black & white bowling ball down the alley.   As you might imagine, Cappy didn’t much like it:  wild-eyed, he scrambled to right himself and ran away from his tormentors — but not before he had torn the Slip n Slide to shreds with his claws and rendered it unusable for us disappointed cousins.

 

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[Image Credit:  Late B[l]oomer, Sherry Thurner]

When the weather was fine, three generations of family members, in swimsuits, walked the two blocks down to the beach for a morning of fun in the sun, sand, and surf.  We Blair kids learned to body-surf that summer.   In those days, we knew nothing about the dangers of rip tides and malicious sea creatures.   Although I advise children not to do this, I sometimes walked alone to the beach and body-surfed for hours, on a lonely stretch of beach, with no lifeguard in sight.  I pitted my strength and wit against the voracity and power of the water.  There has never been an adventure more exhausting or exhilarating than surviving those waves, as they violently tumbled and tossed me within their grip, and then, at last, released and deposited me upon the sand, like sea glass, now scrubbed, smooth, and polished.

We cousins were oblivious, also, about the dangers of UVA and UVB sunrays:  We were casual about using sunscreen and sun block and, therefore, we got thoroughly sunburned.  Before bed, we girl cousins took showers and helped each other slather on the Solarcaine and Noxzema.   The girls slept on multiple bunk beds, in one large bedroom, and the boy cousins had their own dormitory.  I have vivid memories of sunburn and sand and how it felt to fall asleep, in those bunk beds, under the ceiling fan, as the beach house had no air conditioning.  Falling asleep would have been more of a challenge if I had not exhausted myself with play, all day long, with body-surfing and swimming:  The strange residual sensation of floating upon water, the soft phantom sound of crashing waves, and the lingering taste and scent of salt-water and air all combined to gently lull me to sleep.

~~~By Margot Blair Payne, August 2011, with thanks for the contributions from my sisters, Susan Blair Hollister and Amy Blair Sweeney.

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Summers of Contentment: Part 1

Introduction: The Heirloom Vines

The snow was so thick, that winter day in 1899, that two horses pulled a sled, to relocate my great-grandparents and their belongings from Davidson County, NC, to Winston-Salem, NC.  Traveling with my great-grandparents, David Israel Long and Lillie Victoria Charles Long, was their first-born, an infant daughter, Susan Hope Long, my grandmother.  My great-grandparents brought seeds, slips, and vines, to nurture and protect, until spring, when they would transplant the tender heirlooms into the garden soil of their new home site.  Among these was the Scuppernong vine.

David Israel Long purchased farmland at the south-eastern end of Winston-Salem, in the village of Waughtown, overlooking the rolling hills of the Piedmont. There, he built a sturdy two-story farmhouse for his family, which would grow to include eight children.  He also built a barn and other essential out-buildings.

In 1918, my grandmother married and began to design her first and only home, an Arts & Crafts Bungalow, in Waughtown.  Their home-site contained gardens and meadows.  From her parents’ gardens, only two miles away, my grandmother brought heirloom seeds, slips, and vines, and, eventually, the new gardens flourished under her skillful care.  My father was born in that home, in 1919, in a sturdy four-poster bed that remains in my family.  He married my mother, in 1946, and his military career took him and his growing family far away from Waughtown.

The farthest he ever traveled was to Japan, during the years 1957-1958, as an Air Force commander on a radar base.  My mother, sister, brother, and I stayed behind, in Yadkinville, NC, which was a short drive from Winston-Salem.  My brother, Michael, was a baby; I was four and five years old during those years and my sister, Susan, was eight and nine.  We two sisters enjoyed extended visits at my grandmother’s home, during the summers:

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Summers of 1957 & 1958:

I remember what large hands my grandmother had:  skillful, hard-working hands; wide, with thick fingers.  [In contrast, my mother’s hands were “aristocratic” and delicate, with long, thin fingers.]  With those hands, “Mommo” [MAW-maw] taught us [her granddaughters] how to knit and crochet.  She also sewed clothing for us and for our dolls.  With her sister, my Aunt Elizabeth Long, she created beautiful, colorful, and warm quilts.  Mommo planted her gardens, carefully tended them, canned the produce, and stored the glass jars in the cool, dark cellar.

Mommo washed our hair in the kitchen sink.  [In those days, we washed our hair only once a week.]  Corky was Mommo’s pet parakeet; we watched him bathe and play in a trickle of water from the sink faucet, after Mommo rinsed our hair.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember my grandfather, Daddah Blair, very well, but I do remember that Corky perched on his shoulder while he – [Daddah, not Corky!] — read the newspaper, after returning home from his office at the Southern Railway.

During the summer, the Waughtown uncles, aunts, and cousins came over to Mommo’s house,  to prepare for special occasions, like birthdays and holidays. The uncles set up long folding tables out-of-doors,  the aunts helped in the kitchen, and we cousins played:  we hiked to a nearby pond to catch tadpoles; visited the mule in the meadow;  played with Walkie-Talkies, made out of tin cans and string;  and explored the detached Summer House, which I remember as a detached old-fashioned kitchen.

If it was The Fourth of July, we always made homemade ice cream:  one of the “men-folk” was in charge of the hand-crank machine.  Toward the end of the freezing, the “cranker” placed a thick towel on top of the machine, grabbed a young boy,  and sat him on top of the thick towel.  How this assisted the freezing, I cannot remember.  At dusk, we cousins picked juicy figs from the garden and ate them.  Then, we played Tag or Hide and Seek, often hiding in the detached garage, which had an earthen floor and housed the 1954 green Chevy.  In the evenings, we caught fireflies in clear glass jars, after the adults helped us to punch holes in the metal lids.  And finally, after dark, we ate the homemade ice cream and the adults helped us to set off firecrackers: a perfect ending to a perfect day.

One summer morning, Mommo was dressed, as usual, in a house dress, apron, and low pumps.  [She never wore trousers or shorts, unless she was mowing the lawn or vacationing at the beach or on a camping trip.] This particular morning, a man with a flatbed truck arrived to deliver live chickens in wire cages.  Mommo carefully chose her chicken and paid the delivery man.  She grabbed the chicken by the neck and carried it out to the back yard.  Imagine her, in her house dress, apron, and pumps, as she took a broom handle and placed it over the chicken’s neck.  She then straddled the broom handle, placing one of her shoes on either side of the chicken’s neck.  We watched, fascinated, as she reached over, lifted that poor creature’s feet and – YANK! — the head disengaged.  For years, my mother admonished us: “Stop running around like a chicken with its head cut off!”  However, I had never seen that simile in action, until the day I watched that headless chicken run zigzags around the back yard.

After the chicken finally keeled over, Mommo drained the blood, and carried it into the kitchen, to begin the mind-numbing and tedious work of plucking the feathers.  I offered to help and began the joint task with considerable zeal, as we sat in the kitchen and worked tete a tete and “knee to knee.”  However, after only a few minutes, I sighed heavily and asked Mommo if I could go outside and play.  To my relief, she seemed to understand that I was a young child and needed to play in the daylight hours.

Mommo stewed the chicken in a large stockpot, on top of the range-top on the electric stove.  Next to the kitchen was a screened porch, which had a large table.  I returned from my outdoor play, in time to help her roll out the dough, salt and pepper it, and cut long strips for the dumplings.  When the stew was finally ready, Mommo opened the screen door and called us all in for supper.  I can still hear the satisfying “thump” and “slap” of the wooden-framed screen door, as we, the cousins, opened the screen door, one by one, and allowed it to slam shut behind us.

There was only one time that I disappointed Mommo and, to this day, I regret my childish irresponsibility:  I was, perhaps, five years of age and one morning, at breakfast, Mommo told me to stay near the house and be ready to try on some clothes, which she was sewing for me.  However, a few hours later, my cousins and siblings suggested, “Let’s go to the pond catch some tadpoles!’ and I was off like a shot.  I simply forgot that Mommo needed me.  When I returned, Mommo was angry with me and I was filled with shame.  I had not meant to be naughty; I merely forgot, because I was so young.

All too soon, the summer was over and it was time for me to return to preschool or kindergarten and ballet and tap lessons.  We packed up and said goodbye to Mommo.  We returned the weekend closest to Mommo’s birthday [September 16].  By then, the Scuppernongs were ripe and the fragrance pervaded the gardens, where we celebrated her birthday and picked the ripe wild grapes.

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During those summers, I was a young and tender “slip” of a girl.  I was a “cutting” from my grandmother’s vine and I was blissfully safe and happy:  For all I knew, my grandmother kept me in a jar of pristine water, on her kitchen window sill, where she tended, watched over, and protected me.  Like the patchwork pieces of fabric in my grandmother’s quilts, I had been “cut from the same cloth” as she, and I was connected to her:  Whether or not we shared the same geography, her presence was with me, all the same.  And, for a while, I flourished, strong and healthy, under her capable hands and attentive eyes.

~~~Margot Blair Payne

Written in the year 2010, on September 16:  the birthday of Susan Hope Long Blair, my grandmother

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Filed under Childhood Memories, Grandmother, Simple Pleasures, Summer Vacations

The Fragrance of Scuppernongs

This evening, on our wedding anniversary, my husband brings home to me a gift:  a brown paper bag full of moist, ripe Scuppernongs.  The aroma, redolent and wild, takes me back, more than 50 years, to the North Carolina home and gardens of my grandmother.  My husband sits with me on the porch at dusk and patiently listens to my memories of a time he never knew, of a place he never visited, and of a woman he never met.

My husband declares that, come spring, he will build a sturdy wooden grape arbor inside our walled garden.  It will stand alongside the southern side of our brick house, next to the kitchen.  I envision just how it will be:

Our transplanted Scuppernong cutting will remember that it descends from a centuries-old native North Carolina vine.  Over the years, our vine will flourish and blossom, proudly and generously, in the soil, sun, and rain of North Florida.

And, finally, early one fine September morning, a few years from today, our wild grapes will display the delicate, translucent hues of amber and bronze.  Then, we will gather our grandchildren under the arbor and lift them up, one by one, to pick the ripened globes. Their eyes will register surprise and delight, as they bite into the tough outer skin and taste the juicy sweetness within.

The canopy of the arbor, dense and verdant, will shelter us all and, even 50 years from now, the fragrance of Scuppernongs will linger still.

Margot Blair Payne

September 2, 2010: Our 37th wedding anniversary

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Simple Pleasures

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Simple Pleasures:  A True Story

Well, here I was, finished with my Pilates Class and my Nature Walk.  Since I was already on the north part of town, I decided to drive on over to the Tallahassee Camera Center.  Only – I forget — now they call it the Tallahassee Image Center.   I needed to find replacement parts for a piece of equipment that I had stowed in the trunk of the car.

It was a cold morning so I was dressed in baggy sweatpants, a sweatshirt and athletic shoes.  [I gave a good sniff to make sure my shoes didn’t smell — dogs are allowed on that Nature Trail, you know!]  Of course, I had on no makeup and was rather disheveled from two hours of exercise.  And wouldn’t you just know it?  I had forgotten my hairbrush that day!  But, no problem — I just smoothed down the halo of “frizzies” with my hands and some saliva and gathered my hair into a ponytail.  [I always think you should be resourceful and try to look as youthful as possible.]

I arrived at the Image Center and grabbed the handle of the equipment case, hauled it into the store, and heaved it onto the top of the counter.  The young gal behind the counter blinked a few times at me and then her eyes rested on the case.  When I snapped open the case and removed the lid, she held her breath and her eyes opened wide in wonderment and awe, as if I had unveiled a mastodon fossil or the Shroud of Turin.

She was still dazed and astounded, even after I explained that it was only my father’s 1952 Bell & Howell slide projector.  I figured she was too young to appreciate such a fine piece of technology.  Sure enough, she declared that she had never seen anything like it before!  [That filled me with pride when I heard her say that.]

 

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I explained to her that, in the spring, my sisters and I, the Blair sisters, were going to use the projector to go through a thousand or so Blair Family slides.  We wanted to make sure that the projector was “running like a top.”  So, I asked her to plug it in and test it out.  But she vowed and declared that she was not sure how to go about it!  Seeing that she lacked confidence, I gave her a chance to figure it out herself.  I watched her fiddle and faddle for a few minutes and then I offered to help her.  Together, we figured out how to turn on the lamp and the fan.  Everything seemed to run fine.

However, the young gal still seemed quiet, shy, and kind of nervous.  I remembered how Dad & Mom always liked to chat with folks to help them relax.  I thought about how I could make a “connection.”  I wanted her to know that we – the Blair Family — were just “plain folks,” so that she would not be so intimidated.  After all, not all families think such a heap about passing on heirlooms in pristine condition.

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So, I related to her a little slice of our family history:  . . . .

. . . In the 1960’s, on the weekends, we four kids gathered around the coffee table in the living room and watched the The Lawrence Welk Show, while Dad & Mom made home-made Chef Boyardee Pizza in the kitchen.  We kids hurried through supper, kitchen cleanup, and our baths.  We helped Dad set up the slide projector, remove the framed art from one wall, and hang an old sheet on that blank wall.  Then, we each grabbed a Nu-Grape Soda and an Eskimo Pie and settled in to watch the show.

For over an hour, Dad projected slides of family vacations, holidays, and special occasions, all in color and larger than life.  I tell you, when we saw the 1950’s images of our younger selves [say, on Christmas morning, with our “bed head” and our weird, nerdy eyeglasses] we laughed so hard that we snorted soda out of our noses and drooled and dribbled ice cream onto our clean pajamas.

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[NOT my family!]

 

I confided to the young gal that my siblings and I intended to keep up the family tradition and provide that same kind of entertainment for our children and grandchildren.  I mean, why would children need a radio, a record player, or even a TV, when they could have that kind of family fun?

. . . As I related the story, the young gal blinked some more and was rendered speechless.  She was evidently mesmerized by my story and maybe a little envious, too.  She was obviously a stranger to the simple pleasures of family togetherness.  I felt sorry for her.

So, I decided to change the subject and asked:  Do you have any replacement parts for the projector? A lamp and a lens, maybe?   

That was when I thought I saw her eye twitch.  The poor child was slow to respond.  You know, I began to wonder if she was dim-witted!

So, I remembered to be kind and patient.  I prompted her to look behind the counter.  I encouraged her to check the pegs on the wall behind the counter, the shelves, and the storage room, too.  [I was kind of surprised that she had not thought of all the places to search.]

Now, do you know, that in that whole fancy store, there were no replacement parts for the “Bell & Howell TDC Headliner 303?”  This puzzled me because everybody knows that the Tallahassee Image Center is the oldest and best camera shop in town!

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Well, anyway, remembering my manners, I thanked the young gal for her help, as I clicked the lid onto the case.  At this point, she snapped out of her stupor.  I guess my warm friendliness had finally perked her up a little.  In fact, she sprang into action:  She raced me to the door, opened it up for me, and heartily wished me “good luck in finding the parts I needed.

I lugged the projector back to the trunk of my car.  I drove away and shook my head in wonderment at a world where you could not buy replacement parts locally for a perfectly good 1952 slide projector.  If that isn’t planned obsolescence, I don’t know what is!

~~~Margot Blair Payne

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Filed under Childhood Memories, Family Togetherness, Simple Pleasures