A Simple Life

As I look back on my childhood, so many years ago,

I am struck by how much I miss the simple things.

My mother’s parents lived in Flicksville,

a tiny village in the Slate Belt area of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

It was the place where my mother was born ( in 1925) and grew up before and during WWII.

Flicksville was founded in 1791 and had a long history as a small, very close knit community.

Driving through the village takes less than 20 seconds.

It’s is literally a hiccup long.

My mother often said it was the same in the 50’s as it had been when she was growing up in the 30’s.


(The old Grist Mill in Flicksville)


To me, the entire place was magical.

Near my grandparent’s house,

The Jennings had a farm


complete with cows, chickens, silos and

a pond with thousands of tad poles .

Struggling to catch them always resulted in

someone falling in the pond.

Many an afternoon we walked back to Nana’s house,

devoid of tadpoles, defeated and soaking wet.

To get to the farm, we had to cross the railroad tracks .

We loved pressing our ears to the tracks.

Feeling a vibration  meant a train was on it’s way.

When we saw it coming, we would jump up and down wildly,

waving hello and yelling at the engineer.

He would always wave and blow the whistle for us.


The village itself could have been snatched from a 1940’s Frank Capra movie.

There was a General Store with a post office, pot bellied stove, old board floors

and dozens of old glass jars filled to the brim with penny candy.

In those days, you could get really sick on 5 cents worth!

Two old wood chairs were permanently positioned

on both sides of the pot bellied stove.


Roy Craner, Proprietor of the General Store

and U.S. Postmaster for Flicksville,

would put on his official postman’s cap as he stepped behind the bars of

the post office ( inside the general store)

to sell stamps or give you a piece of mail.

It was very official.

Behind Craner’s store was an outhouse, which I used and thought was fascinating.

In retrospect, it doesn’t seem quite so glamorous!


When we wanted to use the phone at my grandparent’s house,

we needed to pick it up first and make sure the neighbors weren’t using it..

This was called a “party line” and numerous households shared one phone line.

Can you imagine doing that in today’s world?


My grandfather’s friend had connections with someone who worked on the railroad

and he put an old caboose on the wooded property behind his home.


It was like a magical forest.

The trees were so high and thick, they formed a canopy over the entire property.

Sunlight filtered in only through the spaces between the leaves,

creating dappled rays of light here and there.

A meandering stream ran through the forest and attracted deer, rabbits, birds and kids.

The old gentleman also kept bees and we loved watching him don his gear and “smoke” the bees

so he could collect their honey.

Every now and then we were invited into the caboose for a game of checkers.

We loved exploring” Mr. Pysher’s Woods.”


My Nana would send us on little missions, to gather

berries and fruit, accompanied by a promise to make pies for us.


There was a little island on there property where water cress grew by the ton and she sent us picking for her summer salads.

Her apple pies and peach pies were legendary.

After baking,

 she would open a window and put the pies on the window sill to cool.

Once in a while we made off with one,

but only if she had at least three pies cooling.

She never got mad, as long as there were a couple left for dinner.


Pop had a HUGE pet trout- named Big Moe.

Big Moe lived happily in a section of the stream

that  had a grate on each end .

When approached

he would swim over to greet us and

 stayed still so we could pet him.

Pop and I would frequently escape to one of the local parks

because I loved the swings and especially the sliding board.

One day I came crashing down into his face and knocked out both of his front teeth.

He stood there with blood pouring from his mouth

and all he cared about was that I hadn’t hurt my head!


I found his teeth on the ground

so I thought we could just put them back in his mouth,

but unfortunately that didn’t work out.

He taught me a lot by letting me help in the garden, but honestly, I ate more than I planted.

We talked more than we worked.

I can still see him in his blue jean overalls, with a white tee shirt and an old red rag hanging out of his back pocket;

raking the soil, weeding and watering with an old galvanized can.

 Nana would “can” everything from the garden to preserve it for the winter.

She put the glass jars in a little stream that ran through her basement to keep every thing cold.

Yes, they actually had a small stream that ran through their basement!


Sitting in the garden talking with Pop,

I heard a lot of great stories.

He was from Charlottesville, Virginia and there was still a “touch of the South” in his speech.

His grandfather had fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

He had been captured by the Yankees and forced into a labor camp.

Eventually, he was forced to fight for the North.

There is a photo of him in the Albermarle County Courthouse in Charlottesville,

with a pencil line drawn through his face and the comment:

“Gone to the Yankees”


I loved to harvest the vegetables in the garden and eat something we had just picked.

I would grab red, juicy tomatoes right from the vine and eat them like apples; juice and seeds running down the front of my freshly pressed dresses.

Poor Nana had to hand wash , starch and iron them before my Mom would come and see the damage.

 I loved pulling carrots from the soil and eating them, with their bright green, leafy tops….

the dirt still clinging to them.

We didn’t wipe dirt off things in those days. We just shook it off.

I’d always take extra carrots so I could feed them  to my rabbit,

Jezebel, when I visited.

She was exiled to a hutch in Flicksville shortly after I got her.

In the early 50’s we didn’t have accessories and little cages for pets

we had her a in a cardboard box and then she roamed free in the house;

peppering the floor with her little rabbit”pellets”,

which made my mother apoplectic!

So- she became a reluctant citizen of Flicksville

My grandparents led a very simple life,

but everything seemed like an adventure to me.

Shelling peas, cutting flowers for the table, helping to bake a cake….it was all magical.



At night, I would climb the tiny, slightly crooked back stairs to the second floor.

 Nana would always be sitting in the bathroom, in her pajamas, putting Ponds Cold Cream on her face and hands.

I can still remember the wallpaper,

with a black background and large white swans gliding on little blue & white waves.

 She and I would talk for a little while and then I would crawl into my mother’s old bed,

open the window a little, gaze at the big, old buttery moon

and listen to the tinkle of Japanese Glass Wind Chimes ,

hanging on the porch below me.

To this day, it’s my favorite sound.


During the summer months,

when my mother and father came to pick me up on Sunday evening,

Nana would make one of her famous pot roast dinners and

Pop would bring out the old wooden ice cream churn.

He and my Dad would pour in the rock salt and take turns cranking by hand

for at least 30 minutes to make ice cream for us.

Nothing has ever tasted as good as that ice cream,

especially on top of Nana’s Apple Pie.


These are just a few of the memories I have of my wonderful childhood.

What made it so special was my family.

My mother and father had a strong bond with their families and loved their parents very much.

And they all loved us very much.

Every Sunday,

We were all together, swimming at our house  or running through the village of Flicksville,

like the little hooligans we were.

It continued for many years, until they were all gone.

 In those early years, it’s my grandparents I remember most.

Their love, their patience, their delight in our antics,

 were great gifts to us.

They found us charming, long after our parents had ceased to be amused.

Of all the places I’ve been, all the experiences I’ve had ,

those precious years with my Nana & Pop in Flicksville

are the ones that have stayed with me & comforted me my whole life.

My heart and mind are full of these vivid memories

from so long ago.

I hope you have wonderful memories of your own to sustain you.


The only photo I have of Pop and me…… taken a year before his death in 1983


Nana’s Chocolate Cake Recipe

( I hope you enjoy this as much as I always did)


2 cups sugar

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup strong black coffee

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (2) 9″ round cake pans or one 13″x9″x2″ pan.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl.

Add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla.

At medium speed, beat for 2 minutes ( batter will be thin)

Pour batter into prepared pans

Bake 30-35 min for round pans or 35 to 40 min for rectangular pan.

Cool 10 minutes… remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Frost as desired.

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