Saturday, May 12, 2018

My Mother-in-Law Frances, On Mother's Day


My mother-in-law, Frances Russell, came into my life when I was twenty-four years old, and for the next twenty years she was a strong influence in my life. I was here in Colorado where Frances lived, married to her younger son, while my own mother was two thousand miles away in Illinois. No cell phones then and long distance calls were expensive so my mother and I communicated with handwritten letters and saved phone calls for emergencies. Once a year Mom and my step-father came out to visit us, and then, with no warning, my mother died when I was twenty-nine. I was heart broken.

No one can replace your mother. Frances knew that. She lost her own mother when she was just six weeks old and lived with her grandparents until her grandpa was murdered out in the harsh, desolate country of northwestern Colorado where her family was desperately trying to homestead and prove up on their claim. After that tragedy Frances’s grandmother was in no shape to raise a little granddaughter. Fortunately, at three years of age Frances was blessed with a step-mother, Cloe Callender Jones, a gentle, kind woman who married Tom Smith and stepped in to mother his four high-spirited children, while bringing into the marriage a son of her own. With the patience of Job, Cloe mothered those children, taught them, fed them, and loved them. Her influence on Frances was life-changing.

Frances Russell was very different from my own mother. Whereas Mom was quiet and passive Frances was theatrical and lively. She was already fifty-three years old when I met her but I’ve read several of her diaries written in the 40s and 50s and know Frances has always been full of energy, accomplishing more each day than I get done in a week. She was a dryland farmer’s wife with four children, living in a drafty house with no electricity or running water. She worked in the fields, cooked three meals each day, sewed clothes for her children, and helped raise the livestock.  Late in life she went back to school to get her GED diploma because she regretted not graduating from high school. She also enrolled in beauty school and became a licensed beautician.

By the time I came on the scene Frances was quilting, gardening, giving hair cuts and permanents in her kitchen, raising chickens, baking wedding cakes for brides in the Wellington area, and so much more. For every holiday and birthday she invited us all up to her small home and graced us with large, delicious meals and sent us home with extra pie. When a local family experienced a hardship or tragedy Frances took them a batch of homemade donuts and shared their sorrow. When I married her son Bobby in 1972 she made my wedding dress. Frances belonged to the Rebekah’s Lodge, worked as a cook at the Y-Knot CafĂ© in Wellington, and traveled back to Boston once a year to spend time with her older son and his two boys. She wrote her autobiography by hand, and when her older son complained that she “left out the good stuff”, she sat down and wrote it again! She never slowed down.

One thing Frances and I had in common was our love of family photographs. She had a little box camera most of her married life and because film and developing were expensive she mostly photographed special occasions, grouping as many people into a photo as possible. I treasure her photographs.

We both loved quilts and quilting too. She kept a quilting frame set up in her living room most of the time and made dozens of lovely, full-sized quilts which she generously gave away to each member of her family and many of her friends too.

Frances’s heart started to fail her in 1989 when she was the age I am now, seventy-one. We didn’t realize what was happening to her. On a trip back east, visiting her older son, she had an attack of angina but blamed it on the onions she had eaten with dinner. And when she returned home and experienced congestion in her lungs she blamed it on the soot in the house caused by they wood-burning stove in the living room. Her fatal heart attack occurred in the hospital but it was severe and they couldn’t save her.

Frances was the heart of our family. She was the energy that encouraged our gathering together to celebrate birthdays and holidays. She was the glue that kept us communicating with one another. Her loss was dramatic and frightful. Doyle seemed smaller, like a balloon that has lost most of its air. Her home was too quiet. There were no warm smells of chicken and noodles coming from the kitchen. Only after she left us did each of us realize how much she meant to us.

My mother-in-law, Jennie Frances Smith Russell, was an authentic Colorado woman…colorful, irreverent, energetic and theatrical. She was my son’s grandmother, the only one he really remembers. I am very fortunate that she took me under her wing, like a setting hen who finds a stray chick and pulls it close. I love you, Frances, and I wish I had told you so.




Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Memories of Muddy for Johnnie Jo


There is a little town in Southern Illinois, just a remnant of a town nowadays, named Muddy. It doesn’t take much imagination to conclude it probably wasn’t named for a Mr. Muddy. Back in the 1930s it was a coal mining town, one of several along a stretch of road in Saline County, just outside of Harrisburg on U. S. Highway 45… first Muddy, then Wasson, Eldorado, Raleigh. I suppose the mines came first, then the road, and soon the railroad, needed to haul the coal away. Today Muddy is mostly gone, a few small houses, grassy fields, and broken concrete, bordered on the east by the highway and railroad. A person can google this town and learn about its past but I’d like to tell you how it was from the eyes of a child in the 1950s.

My mother’s parents lived in Muddy in the early 1950s even though Grandpa no longer worked in the mines. Their seven children were grown and gone, but just a few houses away lived Grandpa’s mother and his old maid aunt, Mammie and Til. And one row over lived a cousin, Vol Rich, with his family, and closer to the mine, another of Grandpa’s sisters, Mary Adeline, nicknamed Mice. It was a Smith family community. I believe the mine shut down about 1937 so this must have been a place where housing was affordable and available, once company housing now little houses for rent.

In my four-year-old mind, Muddy was a summer vacation world with soft green grass, pretty yellow dandelions, and cousins! The little wood framed house Grandma and Grandpa lived in was big enough for two people but when our family of five dropped in, and some of our aunts, uncles, and cousins arrived we spilled out into the yard and beyond. Walking barefoot along a dusty road, avoiding cinders and clinkers, kicking up powdery dirt, us kids explored the area as children will, always warned “don’t go near the mine.” 

We walked up to the little grocery store, the post office, past the church, down the next row of houses, looking for adventure. The air was humid and hot, with bees and flies everywhere. But wait. That’s my seventy-one year old self describing Muddy. My four-year-old self would be taking it in through all senses, simultaneously! Yes, I remember…the droning of the flies and bees attracted to the sweat on my face and hair, the slippery feel of the powdery dirt on the soles of my feet, squirting between my toes, the smell of the mine tailings, a sulphurous, swampy smell, not offensive for I associated it with my grandparents and their clothing. And there was more. The taste of well water sipped from a metal dipper, the talk of adults in the house with their Kentucky accents and southern cadence, a comforting presence. As night came on there were lightning bugs and mosquitoes, the sweet smell of DDT sprayed through a hand-held pump, a change in the adult voices inside the house as my Grandpa got drunk and argumentative while his adult daughters conspired to pour out his whiskey and replace it with water. And night brought on another sense, too, that unnamed danger of the nearby mine with its spooky tipple, dark against the fading light in the sky. Then the sound of the train rumbling and shaking the ground as it approached, accompanied by the whistle, mournful and fading as the train continued on its way, never stopping in Muddy.


I don’t remember if the house had electricity in 1951…probably not. There was no running water, no indoor plumbing. But Grandma kept a chamber pot inside at night so we didn’t have to venture out to the outhouse, and that had its own unique odor. Grandpa smoked and chewed and Grandma dipped snuff. They were Kentuckians, after all. They drank coffee too. Their home was soaked with the odors of living, heating with coal, cleaning with lye soap, cooking great northern beans, frying bacon, drinking coffee and whiskey, and smoking cigarettes. If I could capture those smells and save them in a bottle to be uncorked for a quick sniff when I am feeling low or homesick I would do it. I know my sense of smell is connected to a primeval, visceral place in my brain where emotions live and wait to be awakened. For me an unexpected whiff of the smell of cigarette smoke, once so common but now rare in my life, takes me back to a time and place when life was simpler, when I was four. And when I talk on the phone with one of my cousins who still carries that southern lilt in her voice I feel a clenching in my chest and tears come to my eyes.

Muddy, Illinois. Just a spot along the road….and a spot in my heart where my mother is still alive, my grandmother laughs and her belly shakes, and me and my cousins are young and skinny and starting our lives. Dear cousin, Johnnie Jo, this story is for you, thirteen years old that summer I was four. Happy 80th birthday, love, Peemo.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Grandma Annie's May Birthday


I was born in May, the month of spring flowers and sweet strawberries, wild asparagus and soft winds. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I share this birthday month with two of my closest cousins, Judi and Johnnie, and my niece Rachel. But today I am thinking of my Grandmother, Annie Jane Devine Uknavage, a woman I never knew.

Born on May 11, 1900, in southern Indiana, Annie’s life was hard. Her father died when she was twelve, leaving her mother, Gertie Mae, with five children to raise by herself. Perhaps that’s why Annie married when she was just fourteen, to Joe Uknavage, a Lithuanian coal miner immigrant. Joe was fourteen years older than Annie and provided a haven to a fourteen year old girl who had just lost her father. Or maybe Joe was smitten with this sprightly waif and wooed her away. The life he offered her was nothing glamorous, living in the drafty little wooden house in a coal camp, Royalton, Illinois. And Joe was a drinker.

Annie gave birth to her first child, a girl, in July of 1915 and they named her Petrona, a slightly americanized Lithuanian name, after her grandmother Petronele. Their next child, a daughter born in 1918 named Gertrude after Annie’s mother, died at birth. My father, Joseph Uknavage Jr. was born in August of 1920, followed by his only brother, William born in 1924.

I’m told that Annie’s doctor warned her that she should not have any more babies, that her health was at risk. And for the next thirteen years she managed that, not an easy thing to do before the days of birth control pills. 
Then, in 1937, she became ill, probably pregnant again, although I have no proof of that, and Joe “dropped her off” at her mother’s home in nearby Wasson, Illinois. I would like to think that he believed she would get the best care there but her family tells it this way, “He left her there to die.” And she did die, December 1st, 1937. My father was away in the CCC’s at that time and they called him home in time to see his mother one last time and to pray for her. When his prayers were unanswered, he left, an angry young man, angry with God, angry with the world.

On February 6, 1940, Annie’s husband, Joe, died in Royalton, a month shy of his 45th birthday. His daughter Petrona was married with a child of her own by then and both of his sons joined the Navy. Many years before my birth my grandparents, Joe and Annie, were gone and all I know about them I’ve learned from the sad stories I’ve been told, first by my father, and later by relatives.

Dad told me his mother had a terrible temper and once chased him around the yard wielding a butcher knife with every intent of using it on him. Annie’s sister told me she was a small woman who worked hard all her life. I knew two of her brothers but never once asked them to tell me about my grandmother. That opportunity is lost. So, I am trying to learn about Grandma Annie, bring her to life in my mind, imagine her living with Joe and raising those three children in that little house. I have a few photographs that capture moments in her life. For those I am thankful. And I know that she lives in me, in my genetic makeup. To quote one of my favorite songs, “Grandma’s Song”, by Gail Davies, “and I pray that there is a little of her in me”. I’m pretty sure I got her temper. I’m glad we were both born in May. I’ll bet there’s more…how else to explain that our husbands wear the same overalls and hat?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

That one Christmas they were together

As Christmas nears I know that I am not alone in feeling that Christmas is frought with mixed emotions, bringing back memories that are both bittersweet and precious. One of my favorite writers, Lewis Grizzard, wrote a story in 1981 about a memorable Christmas of his. I can relate. Maybe you can too. (My illustration is from my friend's family, not Grizzard's.)



That one Christmas they were together
by Lewis Grizzard

We had only one real Christmas together, my mother, my father and me. We had only one Christmas when we were actually in our own house with a tree, with coffee and cake left out for Santa, with an excited 5-year-old awakening to a pair of plastic cowboy pistols, a straw cowboy hat and an autographed picture of Hopalong Cassidy.
I was heavy into cowboys when I was 5. A man never forgets when he scores big at a Western Christmas.
My first Christmas I was barely 2 months old. That doesn’t count as a real Christmas. Then, we were traveling around for a couple of years. The Army does that to you.
Then, there was Korea. My father went off to Korea and was captured, but then he escaped, and then we had that one Christmas together before whatever demons he brought back from Korea sent him roaming for good.
We were living in Columbus, Ga. My father was stationed at Fort Benning, which had been my birthplace. Army brat. War baby. That’s me.
We lived in a tiny frame house with a screen door that had a flamingo, or some sort of large bird, in the middle of it. You remember those doors. They were big in the ‘50s.
My father, despite what was going on inside him, was a man who found laughter easy, who provoked it from others at every chance, a man easily moved to sentimental tears.
The year after he came back from Korea, I used to climb in his lap and feel the back of his head. There were always lumps on the back of his head.
“What’s these lumps, Daddy?” I would ask.
“Shrapnel,” he would answer.
“What’s this shrapnel?”
He would attempt to explain. It all sounded rather exciting and heroic to a 5-year-old boy. He, my father, never complained about the pain but my mother said he used to get awful headaches, and maybe that’s why he couldn’t get off the booze.
But that one and only Christmas, my father had duty until noon on Christmas Eve. I waited for him at that screen door, peering out from behind that godawful bird.
Finally, he drove up. We had a blue Hudson, the ugliest car ever made. My father called our car “the Blue Goose.”
I ran out and I jumped into his arms. “Ready for Santa?” he asked me.
“I’ve been ready since August.”
My father, whatever else he was, was a giving man. He couldn’t stand to have when others didn’t.
He’d found this family. I forget their name. It doesn’t matter. The old man was out of work and in need of a shave and a haircut. The woman was crying because her babies were hungry.
“They’re flat on their butts and it’s Christmas,” I heard my daddy say to my mother. “Nobody deserves that.”
My father could work miracles when a miracle was needed. He found a barber willing to leave his home on Christmas Eve and open his shop and give the old man a shave and a haircut. He bought the family groceries. Sacks and sacks of groceries.
He bought toys for the babies. There was a house full of them. The poor, they are usually fruitful.
We didn’t leave them until dusk and the old man and the woman thanked us and the babies looked at us with sad, wondering eyes. As we drove away in the Blue Goose, my father broke down and cried. My mother cried, too. I cried because they were crying. We all slept together that night and cried ourselves to sleep.
Next morning, I had my pistols and my hat and my picture of Hopalong Cassidy and maybe the three of us only had that one real Christmas together – the old man had split by the time the next one rolled around – but it was a Christmas a man can carry around for a lifetime.
On the occasion of my 35th Christmas, my father long in his grave, I thank God it’s mine to remember.

The Register and Tribune Syndicate
 


Friday, January 20, 2017

Kent F. Johnson

When I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, in August of 1970 I searched every day for a job, any job, and after about ten days was hired by the Everitt Companies to work at their manufacturing facility, Union Manufacturing and Supply Company, a manufacturer of modular homes and component homes, as well as a lumber yard for contractors. I had no experience in the lumber industry, and really no training on how to handle phone messages either, but Louie Priestcorn, the man who interviewed me for the job, told me he decided to hire me because he already had one employee named Pam and she, too, was left-handed, so he thought it would be fun to have two left-handed Pams. You just never know what will get your foot in the door.

One of the very first friends I made there was Kent Johnson, the company purchasing agent. My job was to answer the phone and I did a little paperwork too, mostly for Kent, whose desk was near mine. Kent's wife, Bernadine, soon became the day care provider for my son, Patrick. In fact, it was Kent and Bernadine's youngest son, Ricky, who potty trained Patrick by taking him along to the bathroom every time he needed to go. They were only about a year apart in age.

Kent and I talked to one another every day across our desks about our customers, our families, and how we liked to spend our free time. We soon became confidants and friends. Kent grew up in Fort Collins and was a very social guy. Every day about ten o'clock in the morning he left the plant and met up with his old high school buddies downtown for coffee. He left me "in charge." They were a tight-knit group who were friends for life. One of them, Don Weinland, became my own lawyer. Another, Bob Cushatt, became my insurance agent. Kent treated me like family and drew me in to his circle of friends. He had a fun sense of humor and kept me laughing much of the time. Unfortunately, sometimes when I start laughing I cannot stop, a kind of hysteria overcomes me...it's a family trait. That's not good when answering incoming business calls with a comedian sitting nearby.

My soon-to-be-husband, Bob Russell, worked at Union Mfg. also, but in another building. He and Kent were friends and when Bob and I started dating Kent was all for it, telling me what a fun guy Bob was. They had travelled back to Kansas together for some company-sponsored training and had a blast, partied hardy. Every Monday at work Kent would ask me what we did over the weekend for Bob was introducing me to his friends and taking me dancing and dining every Friday night and sometimes Saturday too.As a married man with three little boys Kent's partying days had dwindled.

I worked for Union Manufacturing for almost fifteen years, working my way up from receptionist to outside sales representative, becoming the first female outside lumber sales rep in Northern Colorado, thanks to the company owner, Bob Everitt, and the manager of Union Mfg., Bill Lewis.  Kent's job changed too and we didn't see as much of one another ever again but we remained friends. Within the ever-expanding perimeter of the city of Fort Collins is an smaller community of oldtimers, people who were here before Old Main burned. People who owned businesses in town when the south end of town was Prospect Avenue. Thanks to Kent Johnson, I got a glimpse of that society and understand the shared experiences that bind them even today.

Those who know Kent know that Bernadine was the love of his life and her poor health and death six years ago was devastating to him. He never recovered from that loss. I am thankful for the friendship of this funny guy who made me feel that Fort Collins is my home forever more. The memories come flooding back as I write this and they are all good memories. RIP, Kent.




Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Love Song

As I look back over the forty-five years of our marriage I realize that music has overlaid our lives like a gentle fog, shifting and changing, but always present, making our lives together one continual song, a moving melody.

On our wedding day we said our vows to the music of Neil Diamond's Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show..."pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes, cause everyone knows brother love's show..." playing on the portable record player at the little Methodist chapel on East Elizabeth Street. A little unconventional for a wedding but it was our music.

1971, the year of our courtship, we not only danced to Neil Diamond while partying with friends, but both fell in love with the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. We knew all the words to every song and still do. And we danced to country western music at Bruce's Bar in Severance, to Three Dog Night's Joy to the World (Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog), The Colorado Sunshine Company, and collections of rock and roll music from the 50s and 60's on reel to reel tapes produced by several of the guys in our group.

Oh, I mustn't forget, the Dutch Hops, an annual Harvest Festival in Windsor with polka bands and Dutch hop dancing upstairs at the Grange. We even attended a few Square Dances at the Lodge Hall in Wellington, with Bob's father calling the steps. One of my favorite events was the outdoor dance at the Well-o-Rama, late at night after a long, hot day of parades, games, sunburns, motorcycle races. Yes, we danced our way through the seventies, to the beat of an eclectic mix of music, and I'm so glad we did.

Somewhere in there we became friends with several musicians who started coming to our home where they played and sang, stayed for dinner, became part of our extended family. Dave Yeaney played guitar and sang Bill Staines' Last Dance At Salinas "Oh, she says her name's Betty Grable, and he says he's really John Wayne, when you're five miles from nowhere with nothing, who gives a damn 'bout a name?"...aww, Dave, you were so talented, and you made us laugh, and sold your favorite guitar to Bob for a song ....but you took your own life..."like lovers often do...I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never made for one as beautiful as you...starry, starry night." Yes, Don McLean's songs were woven into our mix too.

And there was Moose, aka Michael Buchanan, who brought the music of John Prine and Willis Alan Ramsey into our lives, our own Spider John. Moose's bluegrass sound was plaintive, authentic, soulful. "There's a hole in Daddy's arm where all the money goes..."...oh, I remember how he made those songs his own. Then Moose was gone and took all that talent and possibilities with him.

Charlie Butler, "Good time Charlie's got the blues" played and sang, taught me about plants, took our son, Patrick, fishing, was a big part of our lives, musically and otherwise. He and Bob played guitar together many hours, upstairs in the dome, cussing and discussing. 

Charlie's piano-player partner, Steve Johnson, taught Bob to play the piano. They didn't start with Chopsticks, no, Bob wanted to learn MacArthur Park by Richard Harris, "Someone left the cake out in the rain, I don't think that I can take it, 'Cause it took so long to bake it, And I'll never have that recipe again, Oh no!" They practiced that song until they both could play it well, and by then they were sick and tired of it! I loved it...got to hear it played many times as they practiced all the complicated chord changes in that mysterious song. 
My sister Fran introduced us to The Moody Blues and we immersed ourselves in "Nights in White Satin", "Tuesday Afternoon" and more. Listening to that album now is calming and soothing to my soul. And Bob taught himself Maybelle Carter's Wildwood Flower, forever etching itself in my brain. My brother, Mike, brought his own musical tastes to our lives, enriching our musical lives, broadening our horizons. Carole King, Chuck Berry, and Jim Croce come to mind.

Throughout the 70s and 80's, as we learned to love the new music of John Prine, Moody Blues, and others we had our own standby favorites in Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins, Roy Clark, Kris Kristopherson, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton, and Judy Collins. 
And there was music on the radio too. Lenny Epstein hosted a weekly show we came to love, playing folk songs by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Utah Phillips, and folk artists we'd never have known if it weren't for Lenny.

The music continued into the 80's and 90's, an ongoing serenade of joyful sound by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Kate Wolf, and Mary McCaslin. Always new voices bringing their lyrics to the chorus, weaving their words into our song. 
And there were minor chords too, songs that accompanied death of a family member and will forever be associated with them in my mind. My mother loved Patsy Cline and when I hear "I fall to pieces each time someone speaks your name" I think, yes, Mom, that is how I feel when someone speaks your name, even now, after all these years. When my sister Kathy died her daughter Rachel sat on the floor at the funeral with her guitar in her lap and sang her mother's newest favorite song, John Prine's "Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery" with such sweetness and sensitivity that it broke my heart. On the day we buried Bob's mother her longtime friends Ed and Opal Turner came to our home with their guitars and sang and played to comfort us in our grief. Bob sang with them, a fitting dirge in the folk tune Long Black Veil, "She walks these hills in a long black veil, she visits my grave where the night winds wail, nobody knows, no, and nobody sees, nobody knows but me." That mournful voice was a son, Bobby Russell, singing his sadness for his mother as she made her transition from our world to the next. 

Now as we celebrate forty-five years of marriage our song has mellowed. No longer do we rock the rafters with the raucous sound of Bob Seeger's Old Time Rock and Roll or Peter Rowan's The Free Mexican Airforce. Now our son, Patrick, brings his guitars and sings and plays his music in our home. His daughter, Isabella, is finding her own voice in the modern day music of her time. Our daughter-in-law, Alejandra, expresses herself beautifully in dance and so does Lucas, our grandson. Our older grandson, Cortland, shares his appreciation for Lady Gaga with his younger brother and sister and together they are trying to bring Grandma into the light. And so our song continues, and this house is never without music, gentle, thought-provoking music these days.

Thank you, my love, for the music and the memories. You have some favorite musical quotes like Jimmy Buffet's “Some of it's magic, some of it tragic, but I've had a good life along the way.” and the Oak Ridge Boys "Nobody likes to play rhythm guitar behind Jesus, everybody wants to be the leader singer in the band" but I think the lyrics that best express my feelings are Bette Midler's The Rose.  "Some say love, it is a river, that drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed. Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need. I say love, it is a flower, and you, its only seed." Happy Anniversary, Bob.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bella's Jelly

About eleven years ago our granddaughter was born and I planted a tree to celebrate the occasion. First I gathered a seed from inside an overripe apple beneath our oldest apple tree. I had done the same thing almost two years prior when our grandson was born and his tree was growing successfully, out in the yard. Then I planted the seed in a small pot until it was big enough to transplant in the yard at which time Bob drove a steel post beside it so we wouldn't accidentally mow it down. I think we protected it with horse wire for the first few years too, so the rabbits and deer wouldn't munch on it. 
Last year we got a few blossoms and fruit but it was this year, 2016, that the tree really came into its own with a bumper crop of pretty little yellow apples with a pink blush. I've since learned that growing an apple tree from a seed rarely produces good tasting fruit. That kind of experimentation is best left to the professionals, and sure enough, these little apples are bland and not very sweet, but they are very pretty. They hang in clusters like cherries and resemble the Queen Anne variety, but not as red. 


We decided to make jelly with them this weekend. Bella and I picked a big bag of apples and added a few Jonathans from a nearby tree, thinking we might need some of their juiciness. The plan was for us to make the jelly together but other projects intervened so that on Sunday while watching football I sorted, cored, and otherwise prepared the apples for jelly making while Bella attended a birthday party up in the mountains.Bella, I told you I would explain how I made the jelly so this is for you. 
I placed the washed and chopped apples in a pan with water to cover them and cooked them about fifteen minutes, adding about 1/3 cup Brach's Cinnamon Imperial candies, or red hots, as we know them.

That's a tip from my mother-in-law who taught me the candies add a little spice and color to an otherwise bland juice.  When the fruit was soft I gently pressed it against the side of the pan with a big spoon to release the juice, then poured it all into a bowl lined with a single layer of cheesecloth. 


Holding the cheescloth-filled bag above the bowl, and gently pushing against the sides of the bag to get the juice out, I soon had almost six cups of apple juice for jelly making. It's tempting to really squeeze the bag to get more juice but that extra apple pulp makes the jelly cloudy. Using my favorite apple jelly recipe I added the sugar and fruit pectin to the juice and brought it to a boil in a pan on the stove. Oh, I forgot to say that in another pan I was sterilizing the jelly jars and lids so that when the jelly was ready the jars would be very hot and clean.

After the jelly boiled for a full minute, just the like recipe says, I ladled the juice into the hot jars and put the lids on. The next step was more difficult than it should have been for I had forgotten that somewhere in storage I have a deep pan with a rack in it that is perfect for the last step in jelly making so I had to make do with the same pan I sterilized the jars in. Putting a rack in the bottom of the pan to keep the glass jars off the too-hot bottom I was able to place 5 jars full of jelly into the pan and boil them for five minutes, making sure the water covered the jars. Boy, was that tricky! I had water boiling over onto the stovetop the entire five minutes because my pan was barely deep enough! If we make another batch of jelly we'll definitely use the right equipment.


When the jars are removed from the hot water bath and placed on the countertop the sound of success comes with the popping noise from the lids as they suck down in the middle, insuring a good seal. I was happy with the looks of the jelly and the fact I got eleven jars, more than I expected. However, hours later, after the jelly was totally cooled, I could see that instead of eleven jars of jelly I had eleven jars of syrup! Dang. This has happened to me before. I surely do wish I had my mother-in-law here to tell me her trick of testing the jelly to see if it is going to set up before going to all the trouble of filling the jars and giving them their final hot bath. 

Google told me what to do and I almost started on it yesterday but then realized I needed new lids! The old lids can not be reused for once the seal is broken it can't be relied on again, unlike the big, red rubber seals our grandmothers used back "in the olden days." So this morning I removed the apple syrup from the jars, put it back into a clean pan, added the mixture of sugar, water, lemon juice, and pectin recommended, and boiled it again. Bob took the temperature of the boiling mixture and found it to be only 175 degrees so we think the jelly failure might be blamed on our high altitude which causes liquids to boil at a much lower temperature than at sea level. Of course, I had to wash and re-sterilize the jars, and the new lids before filling them with the jelly. I could tell right away that this jelly is much thicker than the original batch. I gave them their 5-minute bath again and added a few minutes to adjust for the altitude. Tonight I'll open a jar and sample it, hoping to find just the right jelly consistency and not a pink rubber ball!! That has happened to me too, jelly so firm I couldn't get my spoon into it. There is an old saying that fits this situation, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."