Presents from the Past

SpirographBoxblood-on-the-tracksBrownie Scout Doll
As a kid, looking forward to presents under the tree was the best part of Christmas, followed by my mother’s cookies and my grandmother’s cheese crackers. Here are some of my favorites gifts as a kid. What were some of your best presents? Worst?

  • Brownie Scout doll – My parents gave this to me when I was a Brownie Scout backi in first or second grade. I specifically wanted the black doll though I don’t really remember why.
  • Bobbsey Twins books – My grandparents would send me a new volume from the set for Christmas and my birthday.
  • Hershey’s kisses – My grandparents sent us each our own bag of Hershey’s kisses every year, and my mom still does. As a kid it was very decadent to have our own bag of candy, particularly since we weren’t allowed to have candy all that often.
  • Magic set – I’m sure my grandfather picked this out. I had great fun with it.
  • My own tin of Granny’s cheese crackers. So good, and she carefully placed a pecan on each one.
  • Mr. Potato Head, Mrs. Carrot Head, Mr. Cucumber Head
  • Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks – I felt so grown up!
  • A new Raleigh bicycle, which I left unlocked at the mall…bad ending, of course.
  • My grandmother gave me matching curtains and a bedspread with a ballerina print on it. She also had a trash can and light switch painted to match.
  • My own Christmas tree – One year I had surgery on my feet over Christmas break, and when I got home, my mom had set up a little tree in my bedroom. I thought that was so amazing!

Worst Gifts 

  • My very own shotgun  – Okay, I was 21 or so but still.
  • Crystal ornament with Bible verse – I wasn’t brought up in the church so this gift from a coworker stunned me.
  • Avon rose perfume cream – it was terribly sweet and long lasting
  • Clothes that matched my little sisters’ outfits.



Atlanta Cemetery Sojourn

I recently attended a librarian’s conference in Atlanta, and had a couple of days on the weekend to visit cemeteries. I enjoy visiting cemeteries because they’re interesting, but these two also had personal connections.

Our first stop was Crest Lawn Memorial Park (formerly Crestview Cemetery). It’s fairly ordinary but this is where my great grandparents are buried. After a bit of time searching in the appropriate section in the cemetery, we found their gravestone. It listed only their surname but had no dates or names on it. I guess no one had the money or inclination to engrave it after they died. A few feet away is the grave marker of their son, my great uncle, Frank. It was interesting to visit the graves of family I’d never known. My grandfather was extremely secretive about his family, so we don’t know much about them.

©2012 Todd Mecklem

©2012 Todd Mecklem

The second cemetery, Oakland, was far more interesting from both a historic and an aesthetic point of view. It was designed to be a garden cemetery, and has interesting pathways and lots of green space. Famous people buried here include Margaret Mitchell, Bobby Jones, and Maynard Jackson. Many Confederate soldiers were laid to rest here – the row after row of same sized gravestones is eerie and sad.

My family connection is that my great-great-great aunt and uncle McAllister are buried here. The other photos are of things I found interesting. I wish we’d had more time to wander.

©2012 Sue Mecklem

©2012 Sue Mecklem

©2012 Sue Mecklem

©2012 Sue Mecklem

©2012 Sue Mecklem

Day of the Dead: Memories of My Grandmother Saunders

Today is the second day of Día de los Muertos, and my fourth post on the holiday. Today I’m remembering my paternal grandmother.

Harriet Saunders, 1906 – 1986

My grandmother as a young woman

Granny was a really smart woman, and an avid reader. She’d use Latin phrases in her letters to us, and used lots of literary references. Her collection of seashells was really neat; even neater was that she knew the scientific names for them all.

I remember going to church with her a few times when she came to visit. She’d take us to the beautiful Episcopalian church in Palm Beach. I never quite understood the whole communion thing but found it fascinating. Granny was our one exposure to church but she didn’t push us at all.

Granny was kind to us grandkids. I loved ballerinas when I was young, and one year for my birthday, she had wonderful curtains made for my room, and a matching bedspread. They were cream with a ballerina print in blue and purple. She also had a wooden trash can and light switch painted to match. I really loved that set, and felt so special. (Isn’t that the best thing about grandparents?)

Her southern drawl was pleasant to listen to. She was apparently very shy, which might explain why I have only this one photograph of her, thanks to my aunt.

She was a good baker; I loved her cheese crackers, which she’d make for us every year. They’re made with sharp cheddar, have a bit of Tabasco, and were topped off by a perfect pecan half that she’d shelled herself. This is one of my holiday traditions as well. (Not the shelling the pecans.)

On her ofrenda, I’d leave spiced tea, a chocolate bar, some seashells, and a stack of books including A Confederacy of Dunces and Archy and Mehitabel.

What traits might I have gotten from her? Intelligence, intellectual curiosity, love of reading, appreciation of Latin phrases, a shy nature, and affection for cats.

Day of the Dead: Memories of my Grandmother Kinney

Today is the first day of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and is the third in my series about the celebration. The holiday focuses on remembering one’s dead loved ones, particularly by building private altars (“ofrendas”) in homes honoring the dead. The Mexican tradition includes placing sugar skulls, marigolds, and favorite foods and drinks of one’s ancestor on an altar or at the grave.

Eleanora B. Kinney, 1914 – 1999

Grandma working at Johns Hopkins

Grandma and Grandad on their wedding day

Grandma Kinney and her sister, Lucille, 1996

I loved to visit my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. Both Grandma and Grandad were great grandparents, in that indulgent, doting way. One of my first stops in their house was the drawer in the buffet that Grandma kept stocked with candy. I remember licorice, butter mints, and chocolate bars just waiting to be eaten. We didn’t have much candy in our house so it was fun to have a drawer FULL of sweets!

My grandmother  was a typical home cook, I imagine, in the forties and fifties. We were occastionally there for Sunday dinner, which would likely be a roast beef (overcooked by today’s standards) or ham. She was certainly not a gourmet cook but there are some things she did really well. Her homemade crab cakes were amazing. She made them with fresh blue crabs we’d catch in the Chesapeake by hanging pieces of chicken off my great aunt’s dock. She also just cooked up a bunch of crabs sometimes, with potaotes and corn.

Where she excelled was baking, particularly at the holidays. She baked spritz cookies, which my mom then taught us kids to bake. It’s still one of our traditions – we’ll call or email each other with complaints about sticky dough or other spritz cookie travails. Grandma made a pie crust with cooking oil that was really good; I haven’t quite perfected it but keep trying. One of my favorite recipes is her chocolate pecan cookies, which are sort of like Mexican wedding cakes/pecan sandies/sand dollars with cocoa added. I’ll share the recipe in a post closer to the holidays.


She made me cream cheese and olive sandwiches, which I still make once in a while for nostalgia’s sake. That’s one of the great things about grandparents – they can make their grandchildren feel beloved and special without all the discipline parents have to deal with. I doubt my mother would have had the patience to chop up olives in neat little slices for our sandwiches.

When I knew her, Grandma usually dressed in solid slacks and a print blouse. She was fond of Vera prints, and was apparently a bit of a fashion plate in her younger days. She was not sentimental about stuff, so whatever pretty items she wore in youth were long gone by the time I could have worn them. She wore some nice rhinestone jewelry at some point, but then in the 1970s took lots of it apart to glue onto a piece of framed green velvet in the shape of a Christmas tree.

She was always the one to keep us in touch with other members of the family. I spent time with both her sisters, and got to see the house in Maryland they were all born in. She loved to play cards with her friends and one of my treasures is a well used deck of cards we found on the coffee table after she died.

Grandma was a worrier. She’d fret over things I never even noticed. She worried about her daughters, particularly my mom, who had no man to look after her. (Big generational difference, yes?)

On her ofrenda, I’d leave a deck of cards, some sparkly costume jewelry, her spritz cookie gun, a bottle of Shalimar, marigolds, roses, and a glass of scotch. She loved family gatherings, so I’d try to plan a little picnic around her grave. I really don’t know what HER favorite foods were because she spent a lot of time cooking favorites for others.

What traits might I have gotten from her? Her affectionate nature, her enjoyment of family, her love of rhinestone jewelry, her practical nature, her thin, curly hair, and her easy smile. I miss her.

Day of the Dead: Memories of My Grandfather Kinney

Continuing with my Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead posts, I’m writing a few posts with memories of my grandparents. I’m not geographically close to where they are buried, so cleaning their gravestones and visiting with them isn’t practical.

Bob Kinney, 1912 – 1981
Robert Lyle Kinney

My maternal grandfather was an amazing Grandad. He and Grandma lived near Washington, D.C., and he never got tired of taking us kids to all the tourist sites when we came to visit in the summer. He took us to Mt. Vernon, the memorials around the Mall, and all the usual tourist stops. I remember him having infinite patience with us grandchildren.

Grandad loved the five and dime down the street from where they lived, and would give each of us some change to buy something. What fun to be in a store full of amazing stuff that we could slowly browse through. My mother told me much later that Grandad loved estate sales, which might explain where she and I got that particular trait from.

He loved pistachios, back when they were dyed in red dye No. 2. He liked Tabasco sauce, scotch, and smoking cigarettes and a pipe. He ate eggs and bacon for breakfast most days, and was definitely a meat and potatoes kind of man.

He had a green thumb and grew beautiful azaleas, and would have loved all the rhododendrons and azaleas here in the Pacific Northwest. His tomatoes were delicious – on their visits to us in Florida, he’d always bring some of his homegrown tomatoes – so ripe and tasty. He salted them and ate them raw. He also salted his watermelon – ugh.

Grandad died at 69. I wish I had gotten to know him better. His funeral and wake had lots of laughs – he had a great sense of humor. I have a deck of “crooked cards” we found in his things after he died. I thought that was a fitting souvenir of his life.

For his ofrenda, I’d leave him some scotch and cigarettes, though I’m sure that was part of what killed him. He liked coins, so I’d leave him a collection of quarters from different states. I also leave an azalea flower, some pistachios, and photos of all his grandchildren, and great-grandson. He met Kyle when he was about 6 months old, which I’m very glad for because Grandad died 6 months after that.

What traits might I have gotten from him? Patience, kindness, love of rummaging through old stuff, dressing sharply, and a great sense of humor.

Things that remind me of Grandad