So – at noon today, on this Labor Day, the temperature sits at 51 degrees, with overcast and windy skies. We might as well be done with summer, if this is what the weather is going to give us. I do recall, however, some Labor Days that were sweltering hot, especially when we lived in South Carolina. Those were the times when we thought it was completely unfair to expect normal children to voluntarily go and sit in a school classroom, when there apparently was tons of summer-like weather to be enjoyed. I never understood the idea of a 9-month school year anyway – I always thought that post-Halloween to Easter year would be fine enough for anyone’s education.
Labor Day, however, did give us one more Sunday night of staying up late, because we didn’t have to get up early and get ready for you-know-what on Monday. Mom often made a fancier breakfast, like waffles or pancakes, or French toast, with loads of bacon and sometimes even sausage. There are few things tastier than eating a big bite of syrup drenched something, followed by a gulp of cold milk. You know what I mean. Labor Day was a minor feast day in the universe of holidays – there were no fireworks, or presence, or roast turkey or eggs to hunt. It was more a day to simply be idle, which meant for kids to run around and do anything but schoolwork, or chores. The usual fare was barbeque chicken, with corn on the cob, potatoes and nothing that remotely looked like one of the fiendish green vegetables that often were placed in front of us. I learned to swallow pills easily by taking lima beans that were put on my plate against my will, and swallowing them whole, one by one, without ever piercing the protective cover that separated my taste buds from a disgusting flavor. Not on Labor Day – Mom gave a reprieve that day.
Of course, the one main event that we never wanted to miss was a “chore” that only happened on Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and if there would be a family reunion of some kind, usually when we traveled three days to Omaha to see the family. That important work, of course, was making the homemade ice cream. It was a mysterious, even magical event. It started by Dad getting down the green, creaky, hand-cranked ice cream maker, veteran of years of vanilla deliciousness. Mom busied herself with things in the kitchen, mixing up the “batch” as it was called, and for some reason also known as the “custard,” which never looked like any custard we ever had. While that was going on, Dad would get the ice cubes out of the freezer that had been carefully frozen and culled from the ice cube trays for the better part of two weeks, and bagged and deep-frozen. He would ritually smash the bag on the concrete patio, since the cubes had spent their time trying to form into one solid mass. That would not be accepted, since the cubes had to be small enough to be crammed down the side of the wooden bucket after the cylinder full of the tasty stuff had been nestled on to the metal pin at the bottom of the bucket. After “some” ice had been shoved down the sides, then Dad would open the bag of rock salt, which we always assumed was part of the magic potion. While he would sprinkle a healthy portion of the salt on top of the ice, we would grab a piece or two of the salt, and pop them in our mouths, creating that wonderful taste that I can recreate in my mind today. It had to be rock salt, however – we heard of distant places where they used plain table salt, and we would shake our heads over the huge mistake people would make sometimes. I have to admit I was always curious as to how those chunks of salt were going to get into the ice cream mixture itself to make it taste so good, since the cylinder was shut tight. I hadn’t studied the physics of salt and ice yet, that salt actually lowers the freezing point of water, making the slush that results colder than plain ice. I just remember it was really cold. On top of that, also part of the physics, Dad would pour a little bit of water, which then covered the ice and the salt, and allowed for the magical process to take place.
Only one thing remained, of course. Actually, two things were left. One was the crazy long amount of time before Mom’s liquid mixture turned into sweet creamy wonderfulness. The other “thing” was physical labor. Namely, “someone” had to turn the crank, which secretly held a paddle with holes in it in place inside the can, all the while spinning the cannister around the paddle, which stirred, and uniformly cooled off, chilled and finally froze everything into what we had been waiting for. Of course, we all took turns in the cranking. The girls – my sisters – were either not committed, or didn’t want to risk getting upper arm muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger, so most of the cranking rested with the three older brothers, heroes of ice cream. Sort of. Each of us would crank the handle until we physically could no longer feel our shoulders or elbows, turning the crank over to the next one in line. On we would toil, destroying our arms, then letting them recoup, and joining the battle for ice cream once again. A time would finally arrive, however, when the cranking got to be slower and slower –barely a turn or two, and then it was like the cement had hardened. We were done, and certainly that meant the ice cream was ready!
Then Dad would test things. Where I would use both arms, like I was trying to crank start an old Model T, being unsuccessful, Dad would grab hold of the crank and spin it like it was a table fan, at about 1000 rpms. This is what convinced me that my father was invincible, and all-powerful. No one could crank ice cream like that!
After a while more, as we stood, perhaps sucking on one more crystal of rock salt, Dad would finally slow, and then stop. Carefully unhooking the crank from the pail, we would watch as the cannister holding the now-formed ice cream would bob up and down in the icy slush. It was critical not to have the lid slip off or fall off the can until it had safely been wiped down, and a large bowl ready to receive the innards. Distribution economics meant that the small cannister would need to see to the ice creams needs of nine or ten starving mouths, so Mom’s work was to ensure that every last dripping scrap of the stuff was scraped from the cannister and the paddle, and then the plastic bowl carefully set into the freezer to let it harden while we ate our meal.
Some of my siblings would put chocolate syrup on the ice cream, or nuts or caramel or a cherry. I always believed that if God wanted that in this ice cream creation, God would have put it there. Pure and vanilla was how it was to be consumed – and we did, with gusto and with complete decimation. It was always a wonderful time.
The memories we hold of events in our lives are as personal as our own fingerprints. I’m sure my brother and sisters would recall different part, and maybe a few of the same things of making ice cream, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not sharing facts, which can be disputed or ruled out – I’m sharing the truth, of my understanding of what is real. The same goes for so many things I claim as part of my life, including my faith. I won’t get caught up in the details, except to embellish and enliven the story. The root, however, rests in my heart and my memory, and that requires no examination – only trust and respect. I hope to treat you in your life with the same gift, as together, we form and experience a wonderful history in our lives.
Word for the Day: courtesy. Simple enough – you even know how to pronounce it, I am sure. However, instead of saying COOR-te-see, you could be more exact in saying COURT-e-see! Strangely enough, “courtesy,” and “courteous” and many other words arise out of the Latin cortem, or even com-hortus, where we get horticulture. The Latin means, “with the garden.” Stay with me: “cortem” came to mean an enclosed yard – a courtyard, which is a place for a more formal garden. Courtyards eventually came inside, and became known as “courts,” places where a formal assembly could take place. From there, the courts were scenes of nobles and rulers meeting with others of the same ilk. You would be called to the “court,” to see the king or queen. Of course, in later times, you could be called to court for other important legal proceedings, still a formal experience.
“Court” did however take on less formal construct, but still meant a place to assemble for important business. Today we have tennis courts, where the “sport of kings” is played, and basketball courts, the most famous being Madison Square Garden, which strangely enough, was originally not a garden for farming, but an outdoor location with an oval track, and more importantly, bicycle racing. It finally was enclosed and covered, but still meant a place for sports that was to be different than an “arena” like the Coliseum.
So, to show “courtesy” was to act with decorum and grace and polite manners, as if to be in the presence of royalty. A gentleman would “court” a young lady, using the same dignity and bearing, in hopes to win her approval and affection, all the while in a courtship. All of these relate back to the garden, and to the way in which that piece of property was used with dignity and decorum. Remember that the next time you go to a basketball game.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.