Any great success in the kitchen can be attributed to finding a good recipe. The same can be said for success in life. With the right ingredients in the perfect blend, the table is set for a feast, as Connie L. Peters can attest. In her Memoir Chapbook, LIFE’S INGREDIENTS, she divulges these “secrets” for us to devour!
Connie L. Peters
An Introduction to My Grandparents
Wolf Creek Pass
The Hardest Thing
The Last Snow of Winter
What Makes Me Laugh
An Introduction to My Grandparents
I grew up in hilly Pennsylvania countryside
close to both sets of grandparents.
Born nearby in the mountains
in what is now the State Game Lands.
Twelve years older than Grandma.
Spit tobacco. Tightly squeezed our hands
to see if we’d holler.
Grew the best strawberries, lots of them.
Used a rake handle for a cane.
Once worked on the railroad. Liked to tease.
Dad used to tell the story of Grandpa
asking Dad what he wanted on his sandwich.
When Dad said, “Anything,”
Grandpa put Noxzema on it.
Born in the hills of Kentucky.
Somewhere back in Grandma’s and
Billy Ray Cyrus’s ancestry, there were sisters.
A large, kind woman who wore housedresses,
Her glasses magnified her eyes to look like an owl.
Liked to go to church and play the organ.
Had a big collie named Laddie.
Grandma used to tell us about when she was little,
her family called her Tilly. Not sure why;
her name was Hazel. She called a chicken a choo choo
and a dress she called a pretty. So when she came running
in the house crying, “Choo choo poo pooed on Tilly’s pretty,”
her parents had to interpret. Grandma laughed at that.
Lively with a twinkle in his eye, whistled bob white.
Came up to visit in the mornings with candy in his pockets.
Took us on hayrides with his tractor pulling a cart.
Laughed like Santa, “Ho, ho, ho!”
A carpenter, he smelled of sawdust and hand lotion.
One time, I tagged along with him
when he went to a farm to buy a chicken.
They chopped its head off and it ran.
From then on, when someone used the phrase
“like a chicken with its head chopped off”
I knew exactly what they meant.
Pappap grew up on a cotton plantation in Alabama.
He and his brothers picked cotton.
One day, to make their quota,
they stuffed Pappap in one of the cotton bags.
They all got in trouble for that one.
Grandma was born in England and now I
have the picture of her at three years old
when she came over to the United States.
Always sick, she sat in a big highbacked chair
like a throne. I played at her feet while Mom
helped Pappap take care of her.
One day ambulance people hauled
Grandma off on a stretcher.
I squeezed against the stair railing
for them to get by. Later, Dad held me up
to see her sleeping in her casket.
Pappap had a ladyfriend named Mrs. G.
They never married, but he drove the fourteen miles
to her house every evening (almost till the day he died)
and didn’t come home till the middle of the night.
My aunt said no one should ever buy his car because
it would drive back and forth to Johnstown by itself.
I really had it good to get to know my grandparents.
I credit my aunt for squelching
my rebelliousness early on.
As children, my cousins and I played
all over our country neighborhood.
A favorite place was in the creek
across from my cousins’ house.
We liked to play Gilligan’s Island,
tornado warning—when we kicked hard
splashing water everywhere,
and we built dams to make deep pools.
Usually we played all as a mob,
but this particular day I was alone.
I decided to work on the current dam.
I was only about six or seven.
My aunt spied me and told me
to not be in the creek alone and
to get out until one of the older kids came.
I was furious that she didn’t think I was
big enough to play without supervision.
I turned to her and hollered, “Rat! Rat! Rat!”
I expected her to be hurt and offended
and tell my mom on me, but she just laughed.
It was my first taste of rebelliousness
looking and feeling ridiculous.
I stomped off which, of course,
is what she wanted.
A bunch of us were sitting
in my college dorm room
telling each other spooky stories.
The room was dark except
for the eerie glow of my lava light,
making its globby forms
one friend thought disgusting.
I was sprawled and comfy
on my roommate’s beanbag chair
holding my little rag doll
made of bits of cloth and yarn,
which everyone thought was ugly.
I insisted it was cute,
but it really was ugly, though.
It was about twelve inches tall,
had a white taped face like a mummy,
scraggly black yarn hair, brown thread eyes,
arms stuck out like a scare crow,
a green and black outfit that let its
scrawny white taped legs show.
I think I called it Morton.
I told them about my grandma
during WWII who had two sons overseas,
my dad and his brother Bill.
One day, she was in the upstairs
of her house looking at Uncle Bill’s picture
when large black wings embraced her,
only for a moment.
I didn’t think the story particularly scary,
figuring it was just God’s heads-up
to Grandma, since Uncle Bill was killed
a few days later. But apparently
one of the guys thought it unnerving,
because when I threw my rag doll at him
he went straight up like a rocket.
Wolf Creek Pass
One holiday season, I was driving over Wolf Creek Pass,
headed to my mother-in-law’s in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
in my 1983 Chevy Caprice with my two small kids in back.
An article in the local paper declared Wolf Creek Pass
the most dangerous pass in Colorado,
but that’s arguable compared to Red Mountain Pass.
Wolf Creek was the subject of C. W. McCall’s 1975 song
that described it as “37 miles o’ hell.”
That wouldn’t be my description exactly,
because I’ve driven over it many times.
Regardless, Wolf Creek Pass has many hairpin turns,
runaway truck ramps and cliffs with heart-stopping drop-offs.
More often than not, it’s snowing as it was that day.
My motto for driving that old car up the pass was,
“Going forward is all that matters!”
We crept up the side of the mountain in dreary skies,
falling snow, and slush building on the tires.
We were about half way up when the radiator hose blew.
I remembered a business at the bottom of the mountain
and hoped to use their phone to call for help.
I carefully backed up and coasted down with no problem.
I called the mechanic and on the way out a lady stopped me.
She asked me how the roads were. I told her it was snowing,
but I thought we’d be okay. She drove off in her yellow car.
After the mechanic fixed my car, we started up again.
The conditions had worsened and on the way up
I passed a tow truck towing a yellow car.
I felt terrible that I had given the lady bad advice.
We almost made it to the summit when a flashing
sign said, “Must have chains beyond this point.”
No chains. I gingerly backed up toward a wide spot
of the roadside next to an unrailed drop off.
Looking back behind me I saw sky.
As I backed up, the car started sliding toward the cliff.
I thought, with terror, that the kids would go over first.
My heart hammered. I don’t think the kids realized
what was happening. The car stopped.
I breathed again. It was only two or three seconds,
but it was the scariest two or three seconds of my life.
I drove home and the next day,
we went the long way around through Utah.
The Hardest Thing
What’s the hardest thing I’ve been through?
I could write about my dad having Alzheimer’s
or my mom’s amputation of her left leg.
I could write about my husband’s mental illness
and the time he lost our car with all our money
somewhere in Oklahoma, when the kids were little.
I could write about my mother-in-law being attacked
by two chows, nearly killing her.
I could write about my son almost dying when he was eight.
I could write about my coat zipper breaking
in the middle of winter and I had no money
for a coat or even a zipper.
I could write about my brother-in-law
being crushed in a demolition accident
and seeing my nephew draped across the casket,
because no one was allowed to see the body.
I could write about the day my daughter suddenly left.
I could write about my husband having a stroke,
learning to walk again and having a second stroke
which turned him into an old man.
I could write about losing two special people in my life,
one who was with us fifteen years and the other ten.
I could write about the summer I was in pain 24/7.
I could write about coming home from vacation
and finding my house flooded from a broken hose.
But instead, I’ll write about my rock Jesus.
I can’t see Him or touch Him,
but to me He’s more solid than Memorial Rock—a rock
as big as a house, that tumbled down the mountain
about an hour’s drive from my home,
digging a wide trench through the highway.
He’s the one that got me through all of the above.
My first twenty years writing,
I avoided poetry like poison ivy.
Most poems I read, I had no idea
what the poet was writing about.
I wanted my writing to be understood,
not some mysterious code. But sometimes
unsolicited poems popped out.
I shoved them in an envelope marked,
Poems: finished and unfinished.
One day at an artists and writers retreat,
the director, Betty Slade, asked me to read.
Working on a novel at the time,
I read a couple of my poems,
since they were short. The attendees’
enthusiastic response surprised me.
Betty told me I should put my poems in a book.
So I took out the big old envelope
and finished and revised them.
From that experience, I learned
how to write poetry without waiting
for them to materialize from strong emotion.
Betty lit the match causing a poetic explosion.
My maiden name was Shannon and
I lived by Shannon Creek.
And ever since a little girl,
I wanted just one peek
at River Shannon, Ireland way.
I’d love to see it flow
and stand upon its shady banks.
Oh, how I’d love to go!
And so it took some fifty years.
At last my dream came true!
My niece and I hiked by its banks,
took lots of pictures, too.
Some sheep by Shannon River—click!
A lazy, chewing cow.
A fierce swan mom and fluffy young
in Shannon River, wow!
Row boat on Shannon River—click!
Me sitting on a rock.
And lots of Megan smiling there.
And then came quite a shock.
A llama by the Shannon—click!
A curious big beast.
He followed mom and her two kids
who liked it not the least.
We made it round entire trail.
It was our only scheme.
Exhausted, thirsty, but content
that we had lived my dream.
And then I heard of Shannon Falls.
And so I made a vow.
Went to Vancouver, Canada.
So beautiful and wow!
Despite both having serious health issues,
Mom and Dad reached their golden anniversary.
Mom, looking lovely, graciously greeted her guests.
Dad didn’t know what the occasion was,
but he was happy to have cake and ice cream.
Mom died six months later and Dad died
a little over two months after that.
We five girls, scattered from California
to Ohio, made the trek twice to Pennsylvania
for the funerals. Through that experience,
we realized we might never get together again,
unless it was intentional. So we established
our every-other-year Shannon family reunion,
which we’d take turns making arrangements.
We’ve toured Mesa Verde in Colorado,
hiked and climbed in Sedona, Arizona,
had an extended family reunion in Pennsylvania,
swam and picnicked at the beach in Lake Erie,
rode pedal cars in Santa Barbara, California,
visited Mount Rushmore in South Dakota,
and watched whales in Friday Harbor, Washington.
As we do the usual touristy stuff and barbeques,
the traditional bean auction, sister’s night out,
hand-crafted gift exchange and games of Canasta,
Scrabble, and Splendor, we keep the bond
tight which Mom and Dad encouraged.
When the twenty-some of us gather,
I think they’re smiling down on us.
I love vacation and traveling.
But just like a delicious dessert,
they’re soon gone and I’m left
looking and hungering for more.
The Last Snow of Winter
T’was the last snow of winter
But happened in May
So I dared to defy it
And walked anyway
As it pelted my jacket
I bowed my head low
And it seemed to be laughing
As onward I’d go
So I chuckled ‘long with it
Enjoying the fun
Though in May I’d like better
To walk in the sun
Do not worry, spring weather
You’ll warm soon enough
Your sweet flowers will flourish
Though now it is tough
The May snow was so thrilling
But I caught a chill
And it didn’t take long then
My health went downhill
And I took to much sneezin’
Grew cold and then hot
The last snow of the season
Been better if not
Being well rounded applies to more than my physique.
I have a plethora of hobbies I tend to each week.
Jigsaw puzzles to remind me to take one task at a time.
Writing stories, for adults and kids, and poems that may rhyme.
Drawing and painting in mostly acrylic.
To paint Plein Air, to me, is idyllic.
I’m always itching to travel to somewhere new.
The places I don’t want to go, truly are few.
I love to read novels, poems, and memoirs galore,
And to browse used book shops to see what’s in store.
I enjoy hiking mountain trails till I can barely move.
At times I dance when getting in the groove.
I’m learning to play the ukulele and can play the Hokey Pokey.
I like to sing around the campfire even if it’s smoky.
Kayaking in the lake or bay always is a thrill.
And riding bikes, I enjoy, especially downhill.
I like to crochet, mostly blankets for newborns.
And to brush out alpacas before they are shorn.
I took a photography class and love snapping photos.
I like to go snow-shoeing whenever it snows.
As you can tell, I can go on and on.
But I best get to bed because I’m heading west at dawn.
What Makes Me Laugh
What makes me laugh? I have to think.
Sometimes, it’s something out of sync.
Or like an imp, sneaks up on you,
surprise will make me laugh on cue.
A funny thought, a twist of words,
I like to laugh at the absurd.
Or slapstick act in unplanned way,
a fall, a trip—awkward ballet.
Sometimes I giggle all alone
and friends will wonder what I’ve done.
At times when life will go awry,
I find the funny, so I won’t cry.