Caryn abt 3rd gradeWhen most people think of Gumbo, they think of soup, and I do too, but there is another form of Gumbo, that isn’t quite as nice. In fact, this Gumbo is pretty awful. The Gumbo I’m talking about is the black, sticky, clay kind of mud found in many areas around the nation. Getting crossways with this kind of Gumbo can be a real mess, and in some places, very dangerous. Casper, Wyoming is known to have this kind of Gumbo, and any of us who have come across it can tell you just how bad it is.

My own experience with it was at the Kmart construction site when I was just a kid. My sisters and I were all curious about the new Kmart store going in, and since we lived just a block away, we liked to go over there and check it out sometimes. On this particular day, it had rained, and the dirt hill we had to climb over to get to the site was pretty soggy. I was not put off by that one bit, but perhaps I should have been. I proceeded to climb up the hill of mud, and sunk quickly to my ankles. Thankfully that finally deterred me from trying to go further, and changed my plan instead to trying to get out of there with my shoes…brand new penny loafers, which I had been wanting forever, by the way. In the end, I managed to get out and rescue my amazing shoes, but the shoes didn’t fare as well as I did. They shrunk by about a size, and I could no longer wear them. Man…was I in trouble. I don’t recall if I ever got another pair of penny loafers, or if they went out of style shortly thereafter, but I do remember that mud, and how awful it was. Ugh!! It was not a good day…especially when you add to it the fact that my mother was furious.

My cousin, Tim Fredrick and I share this type of experience. Once when Tim was in Kindergarten at Pineview School, in Casper, Wyoming, which we both attended, by the way, he recalls learning about the stuff of legends…in the form of the mud in the area. For any of you who don’t know it, the mud in Casper, Wyoming is pretty much all Gumbo. Gumbo is so sticky, that believe me when I say, “It will eat your shoes, if you get in there, and you will feel lucky to get out of it with your feet!!” This was the predicament Tim found himself in, Young Timwhen the playground had finally begun to dry after the rain, and because it had developed a thin crust of dry dirt, Tim mistakenly thought it was safe to walk across. Well, as you might have guessed, the crust broke, and that Gumbo mud ate Tim’s shoes. Tim couldn’t move, and if his friends hadn’t been there…some of them larger than he was, thankfully, that Gumbo might have got his feet too, but they pulled him out, just in the nick of time. Ok, I’m exaggerating just a bit, but that mud will get a grip on you and you can’t get out without help. I don’t know how Tim’s mom felt about all that, but my guess is that it was a feeling similar to my mom’s on that day long ago when I was a little kid. When it comes to Gumbo, I think Tim and I will agree…stay away, but it will always win. As Tim said, Gumbo is truly the stuff of legends!!

Chicken Noodle SoupThe other day, I decided to make a crock pot of homemade Chicken Noodle soup. It had been years since I had made it, because life had become so busy and I just didn’t seem to have time…especially when I could easily open a can of soup and it was ready in five minutes. No, it didn’t taste as good as homemade Chicken Noodle soup…not by a long shot, but it sufficed on a cold Monday night when we had to get to the bowling alley for our weekly bowling league.

Nevertheless, it sounded so good that I decided to go for it. When I came home at lunchtime, prepared to add the noodles to the soup, the delicious smell of the chicken and broth hit me as I opened the door. It wasn’t just the smell of the soup that hit me though, but the memories of so many other times I had come home at lunch as a little girl. Mom was always there when we got home from school, back in the days when kids went home for lunch. The smell of soup, always filled the air, and my favorite was Chicken Noodle, so those days were especially great for me.

I know a lot of people have a certain memory when they think of home, and this is mine. Of course, many people live far away from their parents’ home, and maybe that makes memories sweeter, but I don’t think so. It doesn’t matter how close or how far you live from your childhood home, or even if your parents still live there, home is where your heart is.

I added the noodles to my soup, and spent the rest of my lunch hour smelling that Tiny Mom 2savory goodness. When I came home that evening, the delicious soup awaited me and soon we were off to the bowling alley. There would be frozen leftovers for the next week, and while I would not be treated to that amazing smell when I came home for lunch the next week, I would be treated to the soup for supper, and that brought the memories back just the same as it would if it was cooking in the crock pot, because there is nothing like a bowl of soup to give you that warm, cozy, down home feeling at any age…even if it is now in your own home.

Aunt Doris & MomWhen my mom was first married, she and my dad moved to Superior, Wisconsin. Dad’s brother, my Uncle Bill Spencer and his wife, my Aunt Doris lived there, and they had a rental house just across the back yard from their house. They rented the house to mom and dad, and the two young brides became fast friends. They did lots of things together, and since they lived just across the yard from each other, it was easy to touch base a lot. They spent some fun, and sometimes downright comical times together. They tried it all, from ketchup soup with crackers, to a single puffed wheat to hold them over, when they were dieting, but probably didn’t need to be. They were two young women doing crazy, goofy things, in the spirit of fun.

Then my parents decided to move to Casper, Wyoming, and the friends had to say goodbye. It was hard on both of them, but as the years went by, time and distance softened the sadness each had felt, and frequent trips to visit helped to keep them in touch. After a number of years, my Aunt Doris’ marriage to my Uncle Bill ended in divorce. Mom and Aunt Doris tried to stay in touch through letter writing, and did pretty well, until it became more and more difficult for them to write. Eventually they got to the point where communication was pretty sparse. I know they were both sorry that they had all but lost touch with their friend.

Then, my sister, Cheryl Masterson, my mom, Collene Spencer, and I decided to make a trip back to Superior, Wisconsin to visit relatives…previously known to us, and also not previously known to us. Upon our arrival, my cousins, Pam Wendling and her husband Mike, and Bill Spencer and his wife Maureen and daughter, Kristin got us together with their mom, and suddenly they were together again. Our moms were so excited to see each other. It was such a beautiful sight to see. I thought both of them were going to cry, and maybe they did a little bit. I found myself watching such a sweet reunion, and it felt good to have been a part of that joyful moment. We don’t know how many more times they will be able to get together like this, but they have had this time, and while they will have to part ways again, I know that both of them will cherish this little reunion.

It is always hard to leave friends behind, but it is pretty much inevitable. Sometimes, while it is a move in the right direction for you, it is heartbreaking for others…and even heartbreaking for you in some aspects of the move. That’s how it was for Aunt Doris and Mom. While the move to Wyoming was necessary and a good one for our family, it also left two friends to try to keep the friendship alive over time and distance.

Grandma and Grandpa ByerI was talking to my Aunt Sandy yesterday, and she was telling me some things she found out about my grandparents, her mom and dad, that she had never heard before. It made me realize just what amazing people they were. And yet, you would never have heard my grandparents tell of any of the deeds they did, because they weren’t in it for the glory…they were in it because there was a need, and they couldn’t bear to let someone be in need and not help out. Even their own kids didn’t know, and they were right there!!

This was during the Great Depression, and many people found themselves out of work, and in a lot of trouble, because if you had no money, you and your family just might starve to death. During those years, many an extra mouth was fed at my grandmother’s table. It was well known to those who were homeless and broke. They would show up at the door, and as some have told it later, my grandma would simply add some more water to the soup, and a little more of what she had, usually potatoes, and pull up another chair for that stranger in need. It was an act of kindness that most of us wouldn’t dare do today, because you never know what kind of person they might be, but as I said, times were different. People…even the homeless and desperate had values and morals, they would never bite the hand that fed them, nor the hands of their family.

The kids knew about the help given to a stranger in need, but they didn’t know about the family of children, whose parents drank away the paycheck, and had nothing left for food on the table. Giving money to the parents would do no good, so my grandparents bought bags of groceries and took it over for the kids. These kids were friends of my aunt, and yet neither they nor my grandparents ever told of the secret supplies they had received, or where they came from…until just recently, when one of those kids told someone else, and my cousin overheard, how their lives had been saved by those acts of kindness. There was no public knowledge of those supplies. Those kids didn’t have to feel embarrassment or shame about what their parents did, or how they all stayed alive…because only those kids and my grandparents knew anything about it.

My grandparents didn’t have much money back then…nobody did, but they still gave to those in need!! And the real miracle here is that my grandparents and their own 9 children always had enough to eat. They never went hungry!! How can that be? The food on their table had started out as enough for the family, and then food was added as needed, but from what? They didn’t have a lot of money to buy extra to keep feeding the many people who came and went from their kitchen in those tough years, and yet somehow there was always enough. Well, I don’t know what you think, but I think God had found two people who were willing to be givers in this earth, and He partnered with them. He said, “If you are willing to give to the needy…I will provide whatever you need to meet their needs!” Yes, my grandparents were known for their acts of kindness…all the way up to Heaven!!

My Uncle Jim and my dad were a couple of characters. They loved to get together and when they did, oh boy…watch out. They would tease the kids and our moms, and manage to get everybody laughing. It was always such fun to have Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim and the kids come to our house or to go to their house. It didn’t matter how you felt before they got started, because after they started joking around, you felt great. It was just an ability they both had and when you put the two of them together, they were doubly funny. Sometimes I think they drove our moms crazy…especially when they got us kids going. And since they moved away, I think my dad always did his best to live up to the old tradition…or maybe he started it in the first place. It’s hard to say.

Dad and Uncle Jim liked to invent different soups too. They would just start throwing different ingredients in and cook it up. They were pretty good at all this, because no one complained. Many men can’t cook at all, much less make up a recipe as they go along. In fact, a lot of women can’t do that. I know I’ve tried to add things I thought would be good, and it wasn’t so spectacular. I guess you were just born with a certain knack for it.

We always had so much fun when Uncle Jim and Aunt Ruth and the kids lived here, and it was really sad to see them move away. Time and distance have pushed our lives further and further away from each other. My cousin Larry passed away in 1976, Aunt Ruth in 1992, and my dad in 2007. We hadn’t seen much of Uncle Jim, Shirley, or Terry for a long time, until Facebook brought us back together. That is something I am very happy about. My Uncle Jim turned 90 a few days ago, and while he is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s Disease, I am still thrilled that he has reached such a grand old age. And I’m quite sure that whether people see it or not, there is still that little boy in there somewhere. Uncle Jim and my dad were always just a couple of little boys at heart 

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