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My Dad and a Lullaby

 

Remembering My Dad on the 106th Anniversary of His Birth:

 

James F. Massa (1913-1997)

 

by his second daughter, Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

While many of you may have heard of or are hearing of “Christmas in July,” I am certain that you are not expecting a July 11 WORDWALK blog post focused around “An Irish Lullaby.”  Further, you may wonder what an Irish song has to do with my Italian-American father who learned Italian before English.  My dad–born on July 11, 1913–had a rich, pleasant, melodious, and ear-catching baritone voice.  Perhaps, the song that more people heard him sing was “That’s an Irish Lullaby,” also known as “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral” (coincidentally originally written in 1913, by James Royce Shannon).

 

Unlike my dad’s friend Josie Colombo, Dad never sang on stage nor at a radio or television station:  my father was best known for singing to babies and toddlers of our extended family.  His manner of putting little ones to slumberland was to pace back-and-forth through a large room while he was softly singing and gently bouncing the baby in his arms.  Soon, the darling child was resting his/her head on Dad’s shoulder; within a short time, the baby was ready for a quiet night of dreams and slumber.

 

In the 1940s, the tradition for some of the newlyweds of my family was that the young couple would first live in the very large room at the top of the extremely high staircase located in the residence area behind the Italian store and bakery of my maternal grandparents.  Besides this first bedroom, the large upstairs included an expansive dance hall (only used for storage during my lifetime) on the south side of the building and three large bedrooms on the north side.  During the short time that my parents lived in this upper story, my Aunt Lydia (one of my mother’s sisters) and Uncle Sandy (Alessandro) were also living there with their first infant.  Before the days of the pertussis vaccination, my young cousin contracted whooping cough.  With all of her coughing, sleeping came with great difficulty.  Many times, I have heard the story of how my dad –her Uncle Jimmy–was the one to walk and walk while holding her until she could fall asleep for a nap or bedtime.  After my dad had come home from serving in the Army in Europe during World War II and before my sister and I were born, Dad was pleased to be able to help with the baby who had whooping cough.

 

In more recent years, at a family wedding reception, two cousins somehow came around to discussing whom their favorite uncle was.  From two different generations, the two cousins agreed, without a doubt, their favorite uncle was “Uncle Jimmy.”

 

Although I cannot recall Dad singing “An Irish Lullaby” to me, I am sure that he did.  More importantly, I certainly clearly remember his singing the lovely lullaby to children of our extended family; and I even happily recall his singing “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral” in the kitchen of our Blanford, Indiana, home.  I wish I had a recording of his singing this tune; but I am ever so grateful that the notes echo sweetly and softly in my head and heart.

 

Please find below the URL for finding the link to Bing Crosby’s rendition of “That’s an Irish Lullaby.”

 

 

May the sweet sounds of summer fill your July days with happiness,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

July 11, 2019, Thursday

 

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Remembering Fourth of July Celebrations in My Small Hometown

 

Remembering Fourth of July Celebrations at Blanford Park (Indiana)

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Aren’t small-town community celebrations of the Fourth of July among the best ways to mark our nation’s Independence Day?  Although tonight a massive firework display will beautifully and creatively light up the night sky over Milwaukee’s lakefront, my thoughts drift back several decades to Fourth of July celebrations in my small hometown of Blanford, located in west-central Indiana’s Vermillion County, where Highway 71 and 163 intersect, very near the Indiana-Illinois borderline.

 

Whenever someone says that he or she grew up in or lives in a small town, I inquire about the population of that hometown.  Almost always, the response will be a few thousand.  Then, I emphasize that my hometown had a population of about four hundred; and I think that population included at least one hundred from over this hill or that hill, not technically in the rural town of Blanford.  Of course, I am proud of my small hometown.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Blanford was a wonderful place to grow and mature.

 

Our small town was not the seat of Vermillion County:  Newport was.  Thus, Blanford was not built around a county courthouse.  I like to think that Jacksonville Grade School, the Blanford Post Office (where my mother was postmaster for more than twenty-eight years), and the Blanford Park were focal points of our community.  Since I have written other blogs about Jacksonville Grade School and the post office, I am sharing with you on this third of July, a few recollections about Blanford Park which was then located in the heart of our rural community.

 

North of Highway 163 and south of the Blanford Cut-off Road, north of Biatti’s big strawberry field and south of Pupilli’s Tavern and my Aunt Zita’s Italian restaurant was Blanford Park.  The park is still on the west side of Highway 71, where the two-way road dips down significantly amidst the hilly landscape.  During the years that I best recall this park, Blanford Park was divided into three geographical sections.

 

On the north side of the park was a relatively steep slope into the grassy area of the park.  In this section were swings and a pavillion with cement floor on which were wooden picnic tables.  While on any sunny day, we could enjoy the swings, the pavilion came to life with Bingo players during the Blanford Reunions on the Fourth of July celebrations of my youth.  Naturally, on the Bingo cards, kernels of corn were used to cover the numbers that were called.  For at least some of these years, the Royal Neighbors of America (Blanford Sunshine Camp), a ladies’ lodge to which my mother was devoted, were in charge of the Bingo games.

 

To cross the creek to the middle section of the park, one could choose from three wooden foot bridges which I believe were made by the WPA, as were some of the outhouses that were on the park grounds.  Each bridge was about three feet wide, but had no handrail nor sideboard.  The creek spanned about six or seven feet at its widest points.  Only after heavy downpours was the creek of ample depth.  Once or twice during the 1950s and 1960s, the creek flooded into the park grounds.  I do recall that once the flood was so forceful that at least two of the three bridges were destroyed and later rebuilt.  The creek meandered from the east, a branch of the much larger Brouillette’s Creek, under Highway 71, and into the park where the waterway formed the shape of a letter “J.”

 

In the middle section of Blanford Park, besides a couple of brick grills and some wooden picnic tables, the park included a second and larger pavillion, where later in the day and in the evening on the Fourth of July, live music was provided for entertainment and dancing.  (I enjoyed dancing the polka with a friend or cousin.)  West of this larger pavillion was a cement-block concession stand which could serve “walk-up” patrons on three sides of the building.  During the Fourth of July festivities–hot dogs, homemade cakes and pies, as well as ice cream were sold at a low cost.  While soft drinks could be purchased at this concession stand, another similarly built concession stand at the far west end of the park and across the third footbridge sold beer.  I recall that as a child, I went to this stand to talk to my dad when he was working there as a volunteer.  Also, I am certain that my mother baked some goodies to be sold at the food stand where Mother sometimes volunteered.  In those days, and in the hot July days, I remember that my choice, as well as the choice of other family members, was angel food cake.  However, if I knew that Mrs. Josephine Perona’s cherry pie was still among the selections, I purchased a piece of the picture-perfect, lattice-topped cherry pie.

 

Between the food stand and the pavillion for dancing was a children’s ride, which traveled from one event to another.  The circular ride held six wooden swans–each of which was painted a different bright color:  red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and pink.  A small bench and footrest were horizontally placed between the two silhouettes of swans.  Chains, like those for a porch swing, suspended the swans onto the “roof” of the simple twirling ride.  Despite its simplicity, young children did enjoy this ride during the era when Disneyland was a far-off dream, Disney World had not yet been established, other amusement parks were too far away, and carnival rides were rare treats.  Even after I was too tall for such a children’s ride, I enjoyed watching this swan ride in our small-town park.  Everyone waved at the little riders as if they were flying away on those fanciful swans.

 

Despite so few attractions, the park was always quite crowded on the Fourth of July for the Blanford Reunion.  Even though I was too young to appreciate the “reunion” aspect of this event, some people who had been former residents of our rural community did return for this “reunion” of town folk.

 

While in the winter, we enjoyed sledding down the hill to the south of the middle section of the park, adults and children, in the fairer-weather months, trekked up this south hill to the grandstand and baseball diamond where adult teams regularly played.  To my knowledge, during the 1950s and 1960s, only men teams played baseball at this diamond which was, in later years, equipped with lights for night games.  Thus, a baseball game or a doubleheader was a part of the Fourth of July celebration.

 

We never had a firework display over the baseball field or elsewhere in Blanford.  During this decade or so period of my life, to view professional firework displays, my family and I went to Memorial Stadium in Terre Haute, Indiana (Vigo County, about a half-hour drive).  Other Fourth of July firework displays we viewed were at the Clinton High School football stadium in Clinton, Indiana (about seven miles away) or fireworks over Twin Lakes in Paris, Illinois (about seven miles west of Blanford).  At the firework displays in Terre Haute and Clinton, what most intrigued me was the ground display which was called a “waterfall.”  Despite the beauty and wonder of these fireworks, celebrating Fourth of July at the Blanford Reunion in Blanford Park, where one knew almost everyone in the crowd, sparkles with special meaning in my memory book.

 

Happy 243rd Birthday, America!

Best Wishes for a Sparkling, Safe, and Patriotic Fourth of July!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

July 3, 2019, Wednesday

 

 

Menu of Ice Cream Memories

 

NOTE:  On this summer day of the opening of Summerfest in Milwaukee I am awaiting the “Big Bang” fireworks display over Lake Michigan (as well as the first presidential debate of this political season).  With all of these summery thoughts in mind, I am sharing with you a 2015 “ice cream post” which I revised and refreshed for your summer reading in 2019.  Finally, Milwaukee has enjoyed a beautiful and warm summer day.  Isn’t this evening the perfect time for some ice cream recollections and a special ice cream treat?

 

An Ice Cream Menu of Memories

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

As this summer of 2019 is finally shining forth, I am thinking of ice cream.  I could think of “My Life, According to Ice Cream.”  Oh, yes, I do love ice cream.  While I like all types of ice cream, my preference is the soft-serve variety.

 

Some of my earliest recollections of ice cream revolve around the myriad of frozen treats that were neatly arranged in open boxes inside the deep freezer at my grandmother and uncle’s grocery store in Blanford, Indiana.  As one entered the large store building on Highway #71 and took a few steps on the wooden floor, the one freezer in the general store was immediately to the right.  At countertop level, one could push to the right the glass-top door and feel the cold environs of the “land of plenty of ice cream.”  (The other side of this white and silver freezer was for other foods, such as frozen fish–not nearly as appealing to my taste buds as the ice cream treats.)  Fudgsicles (trademark), ice cream sandwiches, ice cream drumsticks, Eskimo Pies, and orange push-ups were among the array of frozen treats.  On a regular basis, I reached into the deep freezer and selected something special–most frequently ice cream made by Meadow Gold.

 

In addition to these ice cream memories at my maternal grandmother’s store, my Aunt Zita’s well-known Italian restaurant offered on her Binole’s Restaurant menu a wonderfully refreshing lime sherbet and the signature spumoni pie.  How I did love that spumoni pie!  The ice cream pie (nine-inch, I imagine) was made by Wright’s Ice Cream Company of nearby Cayuga, Indiana.  (Although Wright’s Ice Cream Company, which was established in 1939, is still in business, the Hoosier company no longer makes the spumoni pies, but does still make spumoni ice cream.)  Served at my Aunt Zita’s restaurant, the spumoni pie had a chocolate crust, atop which was a chocolate layer of ice cream.  The middle layer of ice cream was cherry, and the top layer was pistachio ice cream on which was sprinkled chocolate crumbs.  What a pretty and delicious dessert!  My family and I have never known of a similar spumoni pie served anywhere else.  (NOTE:  If you have had a similar spumoni pie at another location, please add your comment to this Wordwalk blog post.)

 

On hot, summer nights, my dad and I would take the “Trail of the Lonesome Pines” (the rural, country roads, instead of the highways) to nearby Clinton (seven miles from our Blanford home) to have a curly ice cream treat from the Dairy Queen–our favorite ice cream place for many years.  In those earlier years at the original location on North Main Street in Clinton, the Dairy Queen was only open during the fair weather months and had no indoor seating.  In later years, when we took my paternal grandmother for a ride with us, she never wavered:  she always ordered, in Italian,  a “little” cone.  In those days, a “little” cone still existed; today’s ice cream cones of the smaller size seem much too large.  These were pre-blizzard years at the DQ.  More than three decades ago, a new Dairy Queen with ample indoor seating was built near Clinton’s Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons) Fountain, on the banks of the Wabash River.  Yes, I have enjoyed more than a few caramel or strawberry sundaes, as well as a few “small” ice cream cones with a curl when visiting my home “ice-cream-land.”

 

Another great spot for ice cream when I was young was Blake’s on Ninth Street, in Clinton.  Besides a pharmacy, excellent candy counter, and a variety of other sales items, Blake’s had a delightful ice cream counter, which was the tallest which I have ever experienced.  Of course, the stools were high enough to match the counter.  In addition to ice cream cones of the one- or two-dip variety, Blake’s made delicious ice cream sodas in the traditionally tall soda glasses.  One of the best parts of my weekly piano lessons was that my mother afterward took me to Blake’s where I most frequently ordered a small Jack-and-Jill sundae, served in a small tulip-type sundae glass and made of Borden’s ice cream .  (Do you remember Borden’s Elsie, the cow?)  At one of the tables in Blake’s, Mother and I sat, talked, and ate ice cream sundaes of special note.  In my kitchen cupboard, I still have four tulip-type sundae glasses which I purchased for around two dollars from Horney’s Variety Store, on Main Street in Clinton, around 1972; and I still use these sundae glasses.

 

For a number of summers in the 1950s and the 1960s, we vacationed at Lake Shafer, in Monticello, Indiana.  While I looked forward to swimming at Indiana Beach and eating the varieties of salt water taffy, my favorite treat at Lake Shafer was–you guessed it–the splendid frozen custard in a cone or in a dish.

 

In 1968 or 1969, I went to a mall for only the second time in my life.  At this mall in New Jersey, we went to one of the multi-flavors ice cream stores–my family’s first time to visit such an establishment.  Since we were spending our summer vacation with relatives in New Jersey, of course, my cousin Lisa (then, age nine or ten) was with us at the ice cream store.  After reading through all the typical and imaginative flavors, Lisa wanted to order vanilla!  I may have ordered burgundy cherry.

 

Moving along in my ice cream chronology, I remember going to another one of these multi-flavor ice cream stores in a mall in Bloomington, Indiana, where my sister lived for seven years.  When the young man behind the counter asked me what flavor I wanted, the choice was easy–licorice voodoo!  I have always loved licorice and anise flavor.  Well, I thought he was not going to dip the deliciously flavored ice cream for me.  Although he thought the licorice ice cream was quite distasteful, he finally did dip into the ice cream; and I, as usual, thoroughly enjoyed my licorice voodoo ice cream cone.

 

Throughout my years of going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I enjoyed the frosty malt ice cream treat in a tall cup with a lid–especially on the sunnier and hotter days of May.  Another fond ice cream remembrance from Indianapolis is the uniquely shaped ice cream bar from the Indiana State Fair.  The elongated cube of creamy vanilla ice cream was coated with a hardened butterscotch topping.

 

Although we did not make homemade ice cream often, when we did, the special treat was truly savored.  Additionally, each year that we went to the Covered Bridge Festival in October, we always saved room for the persimmon ice cream, “homemade” by the Boy Scouts and sold on the Parke County Courthouse square, in Rockville.  When October comes, I always recall that wonderful ice cream.

 

During the 1980s, when my nephews were very young and we gathered together in Indiana, we took the boys to our family’s favorite ice cream shop in Paris–Illinois, not France.  Bev’s Ice Cream not only had outstanding ice cream of many flavors, but also dipped the ice cream into homemade waffle cones, which gave a delightful aroma to the small shop.

 

Having lived in Milwaukee since 1991, I am a fan of Wisconsin’s frozen custard.  I pass on the Cream City beer–just give me a Cream City frozen custard!

 

Oh, how we celebrate with ice cream!  Ever since ice cream cakes were sold by Dairy Queen, my extended family has often chosen these specialties for birthdays and other occasions.  When crisp autumn air arrives, bring on the pumpkin ice cream.  During the Christmas season, I am always ready for peppermint candy ice cream, as well as gingerbread ice cream.  Thus goes “My Life, According to Ice Cream.”

 

POST-SCRIPT:  While the person who invented the ice cream social deserves scoops of praise, the ice cream social, according to my pleasant recollections, emphasized cake, pie, and socializing, as much as ice cream.  Thus, perhaps, I will save the ice cream social for the topic of a future Wordwalk blog post.

 

Enjoy your favorite ice cream treat with scoops of recollections!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

June 26, 2019, Wednesday

 

 

Remembering My Dad on Father’s Day, 2019

 

Remembering My Dad on Father’s Day, 2019

 

by his second daughter, Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

For more than two decades,

I have marked Father’s Day without you

at our table, at my side.

Leaving flowers at your graveside,

warmly thinking of you–

what more can I do

to honor your greatness

on this Father’s Day, 2019?

 

Not just this special day,

but all days,

I remember you with lyrics of love.

I know you were the great “good luck” of my world.

You gave me the positive notes of my repertoire,

the best days, and the most cherished of memories.

 

On a gravestone in Roselawn are

a hummingbird and an iris,

your name–James F. Massa–

but your love and kindness

still grace and emanate from those

whose lives you touched:

we learn, lead, and love

by following your example.

If we shine,

we are once again and always

in the glow of your smile.

 

In Heaven,

do you have a room with a view?

Are you watching us–

watching over us?

Have you seen my precious Willow?

Have you smiled upon

your five great-grandchildren?

Have you kept the rain away

from our picnics, parades, and parties?

Have you rained

upon our gardens of life?

Have you been in the wind

that caresses us?

Do you sometimes coo

soothing words of wisdom to us

through the mourning dove?

 

For all that you did for us

while you walked this Earth,

I marvel at all

that you still must do

because I know you are with us,

with me,

each day;

and each day and night,

each Father’s Day,

my heart

and all hearts you have touched

are beating

with soft, unending notes

of everlasting gratitude

for you

who sat so importantly and serenely

on the front porch swing of our blessed lives.

 

 

Whether you are remembering your dad or celebrating with him today,

God bless all on this Father’s Day,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

June 16, 2019, Sunday

 

 

The Vintage, Peach Sweater

 

The Vintage, Peach Sweater

 

memoir by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

During the summer of 1969–amazingly fifty years ago–my family and I traveled by Ford from the farthest west-central point of Indiana (our hometown of Blanford), through the expanse of our Hoosier state and straight through Ohio, along the Pennsylvania Turnpike (which gratefully was dotted with Howard Johnson Motor Lodges and their wonderful variety of flavors of ice cream (yes, peppermint!) to our relatives’ new home in Cinnaminson, New Jersey.  The fourteen-hour drive was divided into a two-day trip so that we could spend one night in Washington, Pennsylvania, at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge–because of its swimming pool, location atop a hill, and peppermint ice cream.  Additionally, we always attended Mass at a nearby church.

 

In the area of our relatives’ home, the New Jersey traffic, with its jughandles, was quite different from traffic patterns in our Hoosier state.  On one of our first outings, only my youngest cousin accompanied us.  After having arrived at our destination and ready to return to Beechwood Drive, we wondered how we would find our way back (during the pre-GPS days).  The precocious, little Gina advised her Indiana relatives, “Just un-turn the turns.”  We did.  Of course, my dad, who had superior mapping skills, managed to find the way back to Beechwood Drive.

 

Although we traveled to Cinnaminson each summer that my relatives lived there, the 1969 trip was when we first visited a very large mall.  For this shopping experience, we, for the first time, went to Bresler’s 33 Flavors, an ice cream shop in the large mall.  Since we were treating my three young cousins to ice cream, my older sister read aloud all of the thirty-three flavors.  If I were not selecting peppermint, I selected what became my favorite flavor at Bresler’s–licorice voodoo.  Surprisingly, after hearing all thirty-three flavors, my younger cousin Lisa firmly stated that she wanted “vanilla.”

 

During that same shopping trip of fifty years ago, we went to Gimbel’s Department Store because my aunt had been working there.  In the massive department store, I found one item that I really wanted to purchase–a peach, summer cardigan sweater with cable knitting and buttons covered with peach yarn.  This previous weekend of 2019, fifty summers later, I was sitting at my kitchen table with a friend and my sister (who is visiting from Colorado).  In the midst of our conversation, I announced that I was wearing my fifty-year-old sweater.  With all the rain and gray days that we have had during this cool Milwaukee spring, I like to occasionally wear this bright and cheery peach sweater which reminds me of long-ago summers and family reunions.  Nevertheless, my older sister said that I should not refer to the sweater as “old,” but as “vintage.”  All of these fifty years after 1969, I guess I myself am feeling “vintage.”

 

Enjoy a peachy summer!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

June 12, 2019, Wednesday

 

 

Three Cheers for Leader Dog Willow

 

Three Cheers for Leader Dog Willow!

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Three years ago this morning of June 7, Leader Dog Willow came into my life as a truly wonderful gift that keeps on giving.  Three cheers for Willow–my fourth Leader Dog!  Throughout the twenty-nine years and three months that I have worked with, lived with, and loved my four Leader Dogs, I have been filled with gratitude for the ways that each has enormously enriched my life.

 

If you are a regular reader of WORDWALK, you know how Willow, my Black Labrador, guided me expertly through two-and-a-half years of construction, learned to deal with each challenge posed by the trolley project, and copes with Wisconsin weather.  After all of these years of working with Leader Dogs Keller, Heather, and Zoe, I am still amazed by Willow’s working abilities, calm demeanor, caring, patience, cheerfulness, and unconditional love.  What a gem she is!

 

When Willow is happy, she thumps her tail quite expressively–so much so that I often think that if Walt Disney were still living, surely he would create a book and movie starring–Leader Dog Willow!

 

Also, when Willow is especially happy, she does not just exuberantly wag her tail, she wiggles the entire back half of her body.  Her happiness is contagious.  How my Labrador does brighten each day for me and for other people whom we encounter!  Besides being a Leader Dog, Willow also seems to be a cheerleader.

 

Once again and always, I give my best thanks to guide-dog/mobility instructors Christie Bane and Sue Hackman, also Willow’s puppy-raisers, Leader Dogs for the Blind (Rochester, Michigan), and all who donate to Leader Dog School.

 

Happy Third Anniversary, Willow!  I do hope and pray that we will enjoy many, many more miles of walking together.

 

WORDWALK NOTE:  In the very near future, I hope to return to posting a piece each Wednesday evening on WORDWALK.  Thank you for continuing to read my blog.

 

Happy June to all!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

June 7, 2019, Friday

 

May in Indiana

 

 

Welcoming Springtime in Indiana

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Not a red carpet,

but a checkered black-and-white carpet

welcomes springtime and 33 drivers to Indiana.

The green flag is waved

while racing and springtime burst forth

in my Hoosier homeland.

 

The rototiller is in the garden,

the Wheel Horse is trimming the green grass,

tractors are in the fields,

and Indy cars are at the Speedway.

 

Sweet peas are trailing up the east fence,

irises are winking at the sun,

dogwoods are blossoming in pale pink,

calves are playing in the pasture,

and the crowds are in the stands

for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

 

Hooks in the ceiling of our big front porch

held nothing all winter;

but now, my dad stretches his 6’1″-frame

and places a link on each hook

so that, blessedly once again,

our varnished and beloved wooden swing

adorns the porch of our Blanford home.

 

Sitting beside my dad

on our front porch swing,

I witness his enthusiastic “Hello!”

and his massive Hoosier wave

to a peopled car that drives down

our rural cut-off road.

Puzzled, I ask my smiling father,

“Who was that?”

Wearing his cap with the Indy 500 logo,

my dad grins and says,

“I don’t know.”

 

A checkered flag, a porch swing,

and my dad’s Hoosier wave

were precisely what was needed

to welcome my heart and my senses,

to welcome everyone

to springtime in Indiana.

 

Enjoy the Indy 500!

God bless all who are remembered on this Memorial Day!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

May 25, 2019, Saturday