The Canada Screamer

Australia has the Brickfielder. France has the Mistral, North Africa and Southern Europe the Sirocco. Santa Ana winds blow across California while parts of Canada and the Great Plains experience the Chinook.  All these winds are weather phenomena. The winds we have here in Wisconsin may not be meteorologically important enough to be named as our snowstorms are, but having come from a place where wind doesn’t blow with the same violence, unless, of course, there is a tornado, I think Wisconsin winds must have a name. I’ve decided to make up my own for the winds this time of year, the Canada Screamer.

For the past few months but especially the past few days winter has held sway here in Wisconsin with weather systems moving across the United States picking up moisture before uniting with the cold north wind sweeping down from Canada and the Arctic, the Canada Screamer. Yesterday winter brought four more inches of snow to our area to add the nearly 60 inches we’ve already accumulated this winter. But today, a deceptively gorgeous sunny day, the wind blew. Gusts measured up to thirty miles per hour here in my town and across northeast Wisconsin and will continue into the night and tomorrow. Those gusts blew the fluffy snow into drifts in our driveway and onto our front sidewalk. The largest drift, about four or five feet tall, is still there. I think I’ll leave it for Bruce to see or take a picture tomorrow before Travis and I shovel it away.

Naturally, Bruce is gone again as he has been lately when it has snowed, which is really testing the agreement we struck before we moved up north. That agreement said if I would move north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I wouldn’t have to shovel snow or use the snow blower, and I could have all the cozy sweaters I wanted. Today, since Bruce wasn’t here, I called the guy who sprays our lawn in the summer and has a winter snowplowing business to come plow me out. Wow! Was that fast! I don’t know why Bruce insists on clearing the snow himself when Seth did the job in a matter of minutes.

I didn’t go outside today until the driveway was cleared. I couldn’t have walked to the mailbox through the three foot drifts and didn’t want to deal with the wind flinging snow in my face. Even in the house I could hear the wind and feel the draft seeping beneath the window sills and around the doors. I’m just glad I live in a nicely constructed house in modern times rather than in a tarpaper covered wooden house on the prairie during pioneer days. There are many stories of women on the Great Plains who went insane. I think losing their minds probably had something to do with the wind or the fact that spring didn’t arrive for so long. There might have been the occasional year spring made an early appearance, but I’m sure some killjoy back then said things like, “Well, this is Wisconsin. It will probably be snowing next week.” to that poor pioneer woman. The good Lord knows I’ve heard that sort of thing before.

This time of year I’m tormented by images of warm weather. I imagine trade winds softly ruffling my hair and cooling the sweat on my brow as I bask in the sun with my SPF 70 on, the salty breezes soothing my cold limbs and lulling me to sleep under my sunglasses. Heck, I don’t even mind watching The Masters golf tournament on television because at least it gives me a glimpse of a world green and bursting with multi-hued azaleas and dogwoods. Somewhere somebody is wearing shorts and getting sunburned. Shortly after that I watch the Kentucky Derby with the riots of multi-colored hats and beautiful people parading about in the spring air drinking juleps. I can’t help but wish I were there smelling the roses at Churchill Downs. The closest I can get are the images I occasionally post on Facebook of places I wish I could escape to.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain much. Spring does last about two weeks here, but it is a glorious two weeks. You can practically see the plants grow and the new spring leaves unfurl on the trees. The scent of lilacs fills the air and here, at least, the Clearwater Harbor Restaurant and Bar (otherwise known as The Harbor) finally opens her doors for the season. That’s a sure sign summer is on its way. Summer, in my humble opinion, is the ONLY reason to live in Wisconsin, weather-wise. The days are long with sunrise at about five and sunset at about ten, give or take. Plants have a lot of growing to do in a short amount of time, so gardens explode with color and plants. You can practically see them reaching for the sun. And we have rivers galore and our Chain O’Lakes, a wonderful oasis of spring-fed blue green waters. Lovely.

I can hear the Canada Screamer barreling against my house as I write this. It actually pulled me from my reverie of summer, but soon my reverie will be reality. Soon I will wake to the chirp of birds and fall asleep to the song of peepers. Soon the gentle breezes of summer will fill my house with the scent of roses and honeysuckle, and I’ll hear the river in my back yard sing me a lullaby. It will be soon now. After all, tomorrow is another day. It’s actually the first day of spring, but winter and that Canada Screamer didn’t get the memo!

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Mrs. Jackson’s Cakes

I recently had my forty ninth birthday, a birthday that has set me to pondering my future as well as my past. Notable for this birthday is for the first time ever I didn’t have a birthday cake. Instead, I bought a piece of my favorite pie (key lime) and a piece of Bruce’s favorite pie (banana cream) for us to celebrate my day. But a silent niggling feeling kept haunting me. I needed a birthday cake with pink roses, the kind I’ve always favored, to make my birthday complete. Of course, the kind of cake I would really like only exists in the past. What I’ve been yearning for is one of Mrs. Jackson’s birthday cakes, the birthday cakes of my childhood , white cake with pink roses and ballerinas dancing on top.

I remember those cakes like I tasted them only yesterday. Back then, I had to have a white cake with white icing and pink roses with a ballerina on top. That was when I still thought there was a chance my sturdy, little girl body would lengthen into a lovely, lithe, small-boned young lady filled with grace. Mama always took me with her to pick up the cake at Mrs. Jackson’s house, and I could smell the buttery sweetness even before the cake was out of the box. Those cakes were little works of edible art, with smooth white icing hardened just slightly so when you bit into a slice of cake, your teeth felt the tiniest break in the sugary icing. Heaven.

My mama always cut that cake especially for me too. Usually when you cut a cake, you make pie shaped wedges, but not with my birthday cake. Mama always cut halfway into the cake and then made a ninety degree cut next so the first piece came from the outside of the cake and was completely covered with icing. That was the piece for the birthday girl. I’ve been an icing fanatic ever since those times when I awaited  my coveted slice of Mrs. Jackson’s cakes.

Some years ago Mama bought me a cookbook, a smallish purple book with two bearded irises on the front of it. It is Mrs. Jackson’s recipes. What a treasure it is, filled not only with her recipes but also anecdotes from people in my hometown about what they remember about Mrs. Jackson and also helpful household hints and a short biography of her life.  I didn’t know much about Mrs. Jackson until I read that book, but I wish I had.  She led quite an exciting life.

Mary Lollie Smith Jackson was born in my hometown of Sandersville in 1900. Her mother died only a year later, so she was raised by her aunt until her father remarried. She attended the same college my mother and Flannery O’Connor did, GSCW, Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville, Georgia. After graduation she moved to New York City to live with her aunt and became a private secretary to the president of a large mortgage company. She met her future husband in New York while he was home on vacation. He was manager of eleven banks in the Dominican Republic. After they wed, they lived a luxurious life in Santo Domingo with servants and a chauffeur and orchids growing wild in her yard! They even moved in the same social circles as the country’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo.

Unfortunately, Mary Lollie’s husband died a premature death at age forty six from lung cancer. She returned to Sandersville in 1946 with her two children where she learned the catering business so she could stay at home and be with them when they needed her. Her business included wedding cakes, birthday cakes, and party refreshments, all to be picked up at her house. She was also an avid gardener raising azaleas, irises, and daffodils. In addition, she was a member of the Sandersville Methodist Church and taught Sunday school there. She provided for her children and was a pillar of the community, and I’m sure is remembered by many children who are now in their forties and fifties.

I remember Mrs. Jackson’s cakes as the stuff of legend. I think I have been searching for just such a cake my whole life in the many white cakes with pink roses I’ve eaten. My southern friend Mary Zimmermann and I often reminisce about our childhood cakes because our birthdays are only four days apart and we both had a special cake that made our birthdays complete. That is what Mrs. Jackson did for me. She baked a cake that held my dreams and aspirations, the promise of another year of happiness and fun and dreams come true. Her cakes were works of edible art, but her cakes also made a little girl believe her ballerina dreams might one day come true.