I had been at the counter a handful of moments when the postmistress popped around the corner exclaiming, “You’re a fast walker! I thought I’d get to the counter just as you did.” She had seen me coming in along the back way to the Post Office.
My ability to walk fast came from my mother, Anita. She had a long, effortless mile eating stride. As a youngster walking to the store, in the pasture or along the country road, she’d encourage me to take bigger steps, to swing my legs forward so I could keep up with her. None of the small mincing, hip-swaying steps for her. (Though her mother saw to it that she developed into a lady! During college she was crowned the May Queen – the highest honor coveted by most of the female students.) She laughed at her ability to walk quickly.
My mother loved walking. Growing up she and her younger brother, Roy, raced the four blocks to the neighborhood tennis courts in Berkley Park to play a few sets before breakfast. Their dad often drove the family into the Colorado Rocky Mountains in pursuit of mining and logging towns, hidden lakes, and mountain summits. He’d travel long distances, camera slung over his shoulder in search of great photos while she and her brothers roamed along with him.
If she had her choice between domestic activities or yard work, she’d chose the yard work in a flash preferring to be outside whether working in the yard, playing tennis, swimming and diving in Berkley Lake or exploring the mountains with the family. As the second daughter, and second to the oldest child she felt overshadowed by her older sister. Bernice seemed to have natural talent for whatever she put her hand to whether it was painting, poetry, photography, sewing, gardening, cooking, teaching or raising a large family. Anita had a more reserved nature and preferred quiet talks, long rambles, swimming and tennis, playing the violin and writing. Occasionally she’d confess that she often felt inadequate compared to her accomplished sister. Her words would wring my heart for she was a woman who didn’t show affection easily but loved deeply and with great commitment. She was one of the most selfless people I have ever known. Even when she was ill she’d be out helping the shut-in people, taking them groceries and meals or driving them to doctor’s appointments or simply sitting and listening to people who came to her for counsel, prayer and wisdom.
Her lungs had been flooded with gasoline when she was in too big of a hurry and impatient at the slowness of getting the gas to start flowing when she needed to fill her car tank. For some odd reason the tank that was provided where she was a missionary on the Hopi reservation in the late 40’s didn’t have a regular pump and nozzle but she or the other missionary woman always had to siphon it to get it going. She inhaled sharp and long and suddenly was gasping for her life, her lungs drenched in gasoline. They rushed her the long, rough dirt roads to Winslow where she was in critical condition for many days before her strong lungs and body began to heal. Her lungs were scarred for the rest of her life but she didn’t let that stop her from being active and walking. One of my earliest memories is of her standing outside on the back porch early every morning drawing in slow, deep lungfuls of air through her nose then even more slowly expelling it through her pursed mouth exercising her lungs making them stretch, expand and become flexible for the day ahead.
When she was sixty-five she had the opportunity to hike down into Havasupai to spend a week as part of the outreach program at the college where she was a Bible and English teacher. Excited at this incredible opportunity to hike in the remote, jaw-dropping beautiful place at the lower end of the Grand Canyon, but rather daunted at such an undertaking she began a daily walking regime that would put many a younger person to shame. By the time she stood at the top of the rim looking down into the canyon with its steep, switchback descent she was ready to tackle the trail.
She lived towards the south end of Silverton during her last years. Even as the scar tissue in her lungs slowly squeezed off her air capacity she continued to walked the mile into town to buy a few groceries, go to the bank or post office. Her limited lung capacity (about a quarter of normal!) forced her to slow down with age but she still managed to walk faster than many people her age.
Today would have been her 96th birthday. Tears well up and my heart constricts when I think of how much she would have loved her great-grandchildren. She was so gentle, yet firm with little ones – they always felt safe with her.
When we lived on the Navajo reservation she tried to keep ingredients on hand for her delicious stand-by cake recipe for when people would drop in unexpectedly or she’d hear of a need for some food. It’s not scratch but it’s delicious! In honor of her birthday here’s the recipe for
Fast Fixin’ Chocolate Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease or lay parchment paper in bottom (my favorite method) 9 x 13″ pan.
1 – Box Devil’s Food Cake (or any dark chocolate cake mix)
1 – Box Instant Chocolate Pudding
2 – eggs
1/2 C Vegetable Oil (I use coconut oil or melted butter)
1 1/4 C Water
1 C Chocolate Chips (I often use more)
Caramel Ice cream topping (my addition)
Beat eggs, add the water and oil, mixing well.
Dump in the Cake mix and Pudding mix, gently mix until blended.
Stir in the chocolate chips and pour into greased, or parchment paper lined pan.
Drizzle the caramel topping back and forth across the top.*
Bake about 35 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
*Mom didn’t use a topping or icing on her cake, instead, when the cake cooled she dusted the top with powdered sugar which made a pretty presentation.
This cake is always a hit at potlucks, birthdays, and the community dinner. Especially with the caramel topping!
And now for a photo of wee Violet whom my mother would have adored with her whole heart.