Thank You, Bob Pond

Sep 17th, 2020 by Diane Seymour | 0

Bob Pond passed away on September 10th, age 93. I read his obituary and felt a surprising sense of loss for a man who I hadn’t seen since the mid-sixties and who I barely knew at all. The write up said that he had worked for 44 years for Northeastern Breeders Association, now Sire Power, as an artificial inseminator. He was the first person in the northeast to breed over a hundred thousand cows on the first service. That’s a whole lot of calves!

I crossed paths with Bob Pond several times as a kid on our farm on Sugar Hill when he came to do his magic with our cows. I’m not sure how my father decided which bull’s “stuff” to pick for the job, but my brother and I leafed through the Holstein bull book from time to time and claimed our favorites. After all these years, I remember my pick – Big Rock Burke Teddy. I even named one of our bull calves as though he would follow in Big Rock’s prolific footsteps – Billy Bobby Bradford Bull, named after two Sugar Hill kids and our county name.

Unfortunately, my bull calf faced the same fate as all bull calves born on our farm – a quick trip to the sale barn most likely to be fattened up for eventual hamburger. My father didn’t keep a bull among our cows. I never asked why, but it may have been the risk of losing his investment; my neighbor just had to put his good bull down after it broke its leg. Or, maybe my father chose not to deal with the possible orneriness of many bulls. My Aunt Marie knew about that first-hand, facing Billy Bruton Bull in her front yard, losing the stand off and ending up with a gored rear end!

My cousin Suky and I shared a fun memory last night talking about Bob Pond’s visits so long ago. As she said, “What young kid wouldn’t gawk at a man putting on long rubber gloves and sticking his arm up a cow’s rear clear up to his elbow?” We were mesmerized. Yes, Bob Pond visits were memorable, rivaled only by another visitor to the farm, Doc Abell, who might show up about nine months after Bob if a cow was having difficulty calving. Then we’d get to see the second act to Bob’s first – the birth.

So, rest in peace, Bob Pond. I’m guessing there are a whole lot of former farm kids out there thinking back on good memories of your life’s work and of our slightly skewed lessons about the birds and the bees!

The Old Crab Apple Tree

Aug 22nd, 2020 by Diane Seymour | 0

“I dare you to lick its tongue!”

My cousin Tracy is fifty days older than me, so he should have known better, but …

The crab apple tree stood in the front yard of our farmhouse on Sugar Hill and threw off gobs of yellowish-red apples not much bigger than golf balls. Every year without fail, my brother Lanny and I would take a bite of one, convinced that somehow it would taste better than the year before. But no, sour and bitter, they only proved their worth on toast as my mother’s crab apple jelly.

Well actually, the tree and apples did play other important roles in our lives. The tree stood right in line between the house and barn, and every evening on their way to milk cows, my father and cousin Terry would stop for a quick competition. They’d fling crab apples across the dirt road at the Surge Milker sign nailed on the side of the tractor shed. The losing pitcher had to wash the milkers that night – a really high-stakes game!

One of the tree’s sturdy limbs held a rope swing for my brother and me and any cousins or other kids who came to visit. It eventually lost its job to a new-fangled metal swing set. The same limb though came into use every late November or early December during deer season. Which brings me back to cousin Tracy, from maybe sixty years ago. The deer hung head down from that crab apple tree limb. And so he said,

“I dare you to lick its tongue!” I did and he did too. Kids!

That crab apple tree is long gone, you don’t see many deer hanging in trees anymore, and I’m guessing that there’s not much crab apple jelly being made either. But, if you head out Foote Road, you can still find that rusted old Surge sign hanging on the tractor shed patiently waiting for another apple to fly its way. Memories …

Good Enough

Jun 12th, 2020 by Diane Seymour | 0

I picked up the greasy old frying pan, blackened all over and beyond help from years of hot bacon and butter. Dropping it on the counter, the pan careened in two full three-sixties before coming to a wobbly stop like a child’s toy top. Curious, I picked it up again and held it at eye level and smiled, spotting the one-inch center circle of that nine-inch battered pan that actually made contact with the electric burner as my father cooked his every-other day eggs and bacon. In my mind, I heard his voice saying, “It’s good enough!”

Maybe it’s the pandemic that has me thinking more often of my dad’s frying pan and of him. One winter, when he was in the Wuesthoff Hospital in Rockledge, Florida for heart surgery, I went to his Motel 6 room to pack up the two little suitcases he’d brought for a two-month stay. I suddenly realized that he had spent six weeks there sitting in the middle of the room each night in a hard, straight-backed chair, using his cooler for a footrest, the better to see his 19” TV. Then, after looking through his shirts, I went to Wal-Mart and bought a few new ones. I put his rattiest old shirts in the bottom of his suitcase, with a note on top of them suggesting that they never see the light of day again except for the day he burned them!

The next year, Gary and I took a recliner and a 37” TV to Motel 6 for him. Just like with the new shirts, he was grateful, but my sense was and is that it didn’t matter too much to him. The “things’” in his life were good enough. What did matter? Sitting on his porch on Sugar Hill looking out at Round Top Mountain; a generous piece of Allyson’s apple pie; the 30-06 in his car every November; deer steak and pan cakes at Suky’s; a mostly friendly game of Phase 10 with his sisters; a card or call from his grandson, Tyler; Christmas Eve at our house.

Simple pleasures. While I’ll never lead the Spartan life of my father’s (I like my pans flat and my shirts stain-free!), I’ve spent these crazy stay-at-home days of 2020 sorting out what really matters to me and what my good enoughs are – life’s lesson learned from an old frying pan and a wise old man.

Stuck on Aisle 5

May 31st, 2019 by Diane Seymour | 0

At any moment, I expect a Publix employee to approach and ask me to kindly move on or at least to ask if there’s a problem. Ten minutes and twenty customers have passed since I stopped in front of the shelves overloaded with a dizzying array of olive oil bottles. Five times I’ve placed a different bottle in my cart only to put it back on the shelf, finding it difficult to choose.

Choices! As a kid, our choices came in twos – Cheerios or Shredded Wheat, Sears of Montgomery Ward, Channel 12 or 22, Ford or Chevy, butter or margarine. Today’s Cheerios let’s you choose from the original, maple, oat crunch, peach, honey nut, multi grain, apple cinnamon, chocolate, fruity, banana nut, protein cinnamon almond, protein oats and honey, chocolate peanut butter, medley crunch, pumpkin spice, very berry, and yes, Cheerios with ancient grains. How did we ever survive without those ancient grains?

At least with Cheerios, my eyes track immediately to that bright yellow box, only occasionally scanning quickly to find the familiar fall-foliage gold color of the Honey Nut Cheerios that call out to my sweet tooth. The other fifteen flavors are wasted shelf space and fail to suck me into the same confusing conundrum I now face in Aisle 5.

Glass or plastic? Instinctively, I rule out plastic, but that barely narrows the choices. Clear or dark glass? Some distant memory tells me dark glass, but, again, the choices loom large. Virgin or extra virgin? My mind imagines Mother Mary, but I quickly put that thought out of mind and decide that in today’s world, “extra” usually means “better.” Think extra strength, extra pickles, extra cash, extra options. Extra may not make sense for olive oil, but at this point I’m going with whatever it takes to get me home before dark.

I remember when we added channels 16 and 28 to our TV viewing, doubling our choice of stations. No color, no remote, no HD, and no DVR, but, hey, we had choices – twice as many arguments about what to watch! Fifty-some years later, like the Cheerio shelves, I’ve learned to find Gunsmoke, The Big Bang Theory, The Tennis Channel, and a few more and ignore the other four hundred and ninety-one channels. Maybe someday my olive-oil-picking will become that well-honed, but for now…

Cold pressed? Stone milled? First pressed? Hand crafted? Organic? U.S.? International? Mild? Medium? Robust? By now, I’m thinking about doing a Google search or calling my olive-oil literate son, but remind myself that IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER TO ME! My last olive oil bottle lasted three years, two years longer than my son’s fiancée who gave it to me!

So, I decide to use my wine-bottle-choosing method – bottle shape and attractive label. Two more minutes and the Colavita Extra Virgin, First Cold Pressed from Italy sits in my cart next to the original Ritz crackers. I round the corner into Aisle 6 and smile when a familiar bright yellow box easily catches my eye.

That night, I sautéed squash and zucchini in the new olive oil. My untrained palette failed to notice any difference between the new oil and the 3-year old stuff, but that’s OK since I have more important choices to make. Today I started researching SUV models. Did you know that there are forty-seven different SUVs available in the U.S. today? I’ll take the one in the big yellow box?  If only …

Black Walnut Cake for Aunt Marie

Oct 29th, 2018 by Diane Seymour | 0

Every few seconds, I ducked as the green balls thudded down around me, thrown off by the two towering black walnut trees on our farm in Sugar Run. As they bounced with varying velocity down the hill, I wondered why no one ever picked them up. Maybe I’ll make a black walnut cake, just like Aunt Marie used to do, I thought. And, just like that, my adventure began. BlWalnutTrees

With bucket in hand, I once again braved the falling missiles, ready to gather enough nuts for several cakes. In flash backs to childhood, I saw black walnuts lying in the two tire tracks of our dirt driveway, waiting for the car to run over them. I chose a more immediate hull-removal method, stepping on older blackened balls and twisting my foot until the hulls broke loose from the nuts. In a little over an hour, two buckets of hulled, wet nuts sat on the front porch to dry. I could almost smell black walnut cake.

A few days later, ready to start cracking, I found two bucketfuls of molded nuts! Disappointed, but determined, I gathered and hulled again. This time, I washed and scrubbed each nut individually, taking off pieces of hull clinging to the hard, jagged shell. Not taking any chances, I laid each nut on a drying rack making sure they didn’t touch each other, the better to dry properly. With blisters on both thumbs, four hours into the process, and black hands that lasted for days, memories of Aunt Marie urged me on.BlWalnutsDrying

Time to crack! With the first whack of the hammer, the uncracked nut flew left out of reach. Another whack, and the second uncracked nut popped equidistant to the right. There must be a better way, I thought, holding a nut with pliers this time. Whack! Whack! Whack! WHACK! Finally, my first nut cracked open, but not like those wonderfully easy to open English walnuts we crack at Christmas time – first try, in two perfectly shaped halves ready to pop out of the shell. Apparently, black walnuts are the Fort Knox of nuts, nearly impossible to get into and equally impossible to get precious goods out!

If the nut cracked into two halves, tiny, intricate labyrinths clung tightly to the nutmeat making it difficult to pick out pieces any bigger than a baby aspirin. Cracking the half again smashed the meat, leaving black walnut crumbs. I moved inside, watching videos of two people and one squirrel, desperate to learn from experts. All three made it look easy; it wasn’t.Squirrelwithblackwalnut
(Squirrel Image by rachidH)

So, for the next two hours, I whacked, whacked, whacked, picked, over and over and over, only driven forward by a promise to honor the memory of my aunt. With sweat pouring down my back, heart pounding like I’d run a five minute mile, and teeth clenched in desperate defiance of defeat, I finally swirled the tiny nuggets of black walnut gold around in the dish, and laid my hammer down. After seven total hours of effort, I had gathered enough black walnut pieces to make my cake. I was triumphant!

The day before baking “The Cake”, I visited with Aunt Marie’s sister and two daughters. Launching into my woes of black walnut harvesting, I proudly proclaimed my reason for persevering: “Because Aunt Marie always made black walnut cakes that way.” Total silence followed until they each laughed in unison, “She never made black walnut cakes, she made hickory nut cakes!”

I never made the cake. I did make delicious black walnut cookies that could only be shared with my husband and very close friends, who were warned to bite lightly to avoid pieces of whacked shell impossible to see before baking. With free material and minimum wage, my nuts cost a whopping $106 per pound compared to a ridiculously reasonable price of $15 per pound at Amazon. I flung my remaining uncracked nuts into the woods where they belonged – with all those squirrel experts who know what they’re doing.

Aunt Marie made hickory nut cakes? Maybe next year I’ll …

The Rains of August

Aug 14th, 2018 by Diane Seymour | 0

My suntan fades away with each rain-drenched day
Days meant for baked beans, boat rides, and ball games
But swept away with muddy waters under dark grey skies.

Swollen creeks cough up their excess goods to the lowlands
While the mighty Susquehanna rises, rises, rises, rises
Paying no attention to the prayers lifted up for it to fall.

There may be summer days left for beans, boats, and balls
But those laid low by the raging waters will always remember
With sadness, awe and anger, like Hazel, Agnes, and Lee,
The Rains of August

Life’s Questions from the Front Porch

May 14th, 2016 by Diane Seymour | 2

A year ago today, I sat on my father’s porch on Sugar Hill for two hours, content after a noontime meal of grilled hot dogs, Campbell’s baked beans, and macaroni salad from Connie’s Market. He liked to cook for me, and I always enjoyed the step-back-in-time warmth of eating off the well-worn melmac plates of my childhood. Cold well water washed down coconut washboard cookies. Life was good. DianeJoeOnPorch

We let the conversation weave, wander, ebb and flow for a couple of hours. My father would say that at eighty-nine, he had solved the world’s problems many times over from that old porch looking out at Tyler and Round Top mountains. We worked on a few more that day too.

His 90th birthday was coming up in June, and while not a world problem, it caused him great stress deciding how to celebrate this milestone. We settled on a picnic on his lawn, a milestone in itself – a party at his house for the first time in over fifty years. He wanted to be sure that his close neighbors were invited, along with old friends from his working days at the Wyalusing Hotel. As always, the discussion turned to food, but the menu remained undecided while sure to include homemade coconut cream pie and German chocolate cake (even though he didn’t eat many sweets, or so he always claimed).

Party planned, we moved on. Should we cut down the overgrown lilac and spirea bushes in front of the porch? Maybe next year. Would Chesapeake ever pay for the gas they had been taking from the Joe well for the past eight months? Probably, but it’s a long time to wait when you’re almost ninety. How’s Tyler doing? Good, enjoying city life, but coming home for a visit on Friday. Are you using the step rails up to the porch? No, trying not to! I sure miss Aunt Marie, don’t you? Yeah, it’s been three weeks today since the funeral.JKP on steps

We lingered on, talking longer than usual, waving at the few cars that passed and watching the hummingbirds flit in and away. And then, two days later, my father suffered a stroke, which took his voice away from him; which took his voice away from me. His mind remains sharp, but there will be no more long talks on the porch. Our “talks” now are mostly one-sided, frustrating for him since he can’t express himself fully. His fiercely independent life came crashing down that day a year ago when the stroke took him to the floor.

Can we expect to live life to the fullest until our dying breath? Not always, as my father knows. It’s clear that his sense of injustice about his situation is strong despite his age. I’m grateful that he proved stronger than the stroke, but carefully refrain from asking if he agrees. As my husband and I ask each other once in a while, “What’s it all about?” Perhaps, we’ll never really know, but it would be a good question to ask again on another fine day in May on that Sugar Hill front porch.

Saying Goodbye to My Mother

Dec 6th, 2014 by Diane Seymour | 0

DoreenPortrait~1946My mother surrendered to lung cancer in June, but spent three more months under its brutal control before its final release. In July, while her mind was still good, I tried a couple of times to talk about what was coming, but she teared up and shook her head. So, we passed each day together as though there would always be one more day to say goodbye.

“I’ll be back as soon as I get the tomatoes canned,” I told her that last morning. When the call came later in the day, I turned the burner off and pulled my jacket on, knowing there would be no more days for a last goodbye. I’m hopeful that her final journey took her home.

With Love, Always

I rode my bike too fast on the gravel road below our house
So you picked me up and dried my tears

I watched the lightning flash and waited for the thunder’s crash
And you held me close and calmed my fears

I cried because of something someone said or did or didn’t do
And you always knew just what to say

I grew up and away and apart to find a life of my own
So you let me go, with love, always.

And then so many years later, we found ourselves repeating
An echo of the past, repeating …

You walked across the room and fell, so weak and weary
So I picked you up and dried your tears

You asked, what am I going to do, what am I going to do?
And I held you close and calmed your fears

You cried, I think, because you couldn’t voice the things you’d left unsaid
And I prayed to know just what to say

You grew away and apart with each passing day, to find a new life
So I let you go, with love, always.


For Doreen W. Potter 7/8/1930 – 9/10/2014
With love, always from her daughter, Diane Potter Seymour

Hold It Right There!

Oct 4th, 2014 by Diane Seymour | 0

“We should get someone else to help us,” I said as we went out the door …

That’s me talking when my husband decides that he’ll make do with me as an assistant; like the time he convinced me to climb to the peak of our house roof to help with the TV antenna. “Hold it right there!” he shouted as the wind whipped, and I gripped the shingles so hard my toes hurt.

Or, it’s like the time he decided that we could put the giant cabinets on the wall in the garage without help. “Hold it right there!” he said, while he looked for a screw, as my knees melted toward the floor, and the weight of the cabinet settled firmly onto the flat spot on the back of my head.

“Hold it right there!” my husband cried, as we struggled to push his 1967 Corvette body up the ramp into the enclosed trailer. CorvettebodyHalfway up the ramp, he yelled this familiar phrase as he let go and ran to the front of the dolly to steer it clear of the ramp side wires. I bravely stood my ground; knees locked, arms straining, palms pressed up against the only two spots on the car I was allowed to touch. He quickly hooked ratchet straps to the front of the dolly, and with him ratcheting and me pushing, we moved it up just far enough so the dolly and body sat in that delicate balance between safety and should-have-got-someone-else-to-help disaster.

I moved to the front of the body and switched from pushing to pulling. Just as I was beginning to feel sure that we could finish the job, I looked down between my feet and saw the ratchet straps go totally slack. “What in the world are you doing?” I shouted (or maybe it was XX!! X** XX**!?)! “Hold it right there!” he yelled again. “I have to untangle the ratchet straps!” So, with legs spread wide in a wrestler crouch, I held on and hoped my puny muscles and ample bottom end would be enough to counter the downward pull of 600-plus pounds of precious fiberglass.

The car survived, and so did I, but this morning he mumbled something about putting the engine in the car. “We should get someone else to help us,” I said as he went out the door. I don’t think he heard me …

I Love You Bunches

Aug 24th, 2014 by Diane Seymour | 2

My mother planned to leave home one night last week.  She packed eight pairs of socks, two sweaters, the TV remote, and her address book.  By the time she reached the door to her room, she had forgotten where she was going.

Home is the Wyalusing Valley Retirement and Personal Care Home where she waits to see whether lung cancer or dementia wins their nasty battle.  I try not to take sides.  So, I wait with her each day, watching as she slowly slips further away.

When I left today, I said as I say everyday, “I love you bunches.”  Today is the first day I’ve had to say it twice before she quietly said, without picking up her head, “I love you too.”  At least she didn’t see me cry.