Oma Sue's Blog
Hi – I’m Sue Reyzlik. I recently realized my life-long dream of building a writing hut in the backyard. The writing hut serves as a creative space and home office for Oma Publishing. This blog will be intermingled with family history, varied experiences and insights on being a Grandma (Oma), creating my special backyard space, as well as, my “retirement” career as a self-publisher of children’s stories. And perhaps a little bit on the 32 years I served as Executive Director for Keep Fremont Beautiful and the wonderful people who are sharing this adventure.
Each Holiday Season brings memories of past family gatherings and celebrations. As I sit here in my easy chair, I find that my mind wanders while bits and pieces of my 68 years of Thanksgiving feasts, Christmas activities and New Year's parties emerge from that memory fog. I feel compelled to share some of those scenes that play in my mind's eye... I think the stories here are mostly true... but like Grandpa Joe used to say "Don't let the truth stand in the way of a good story". There may be a bit of embellishment... I will begin with memories from Thanksgiving past.
My earliest memories of family originate most predominantly, from my mother's side of the family. Mom (Alyce Mae) was the second of three daughters born to Joe Green and his wife Lily (Olson) Green in August of 1928.
My Grandpa Joe was known as Carnation Joe Green, as he wore a red carnation everyday - he was a florist. Grandpa Joe owned Greens Greenhouse in Fremont - a business that his father, Charles H. Green bought in 1896.
My mother's grandparents - my great grandparents, Charles Green and Katherine (Rogers) Green were married in 1897. They lived in a house that came with the Greenhouse property. My Grandpa Joe was born in that house on Thanksgiving Day in 1900. He always joked that he was born on a bench in the greenhouse and he was born to be a florist.
When my Grandpa Joe and Grandma Lily married in the mid-1920's, they purchased several lots south of the greenhouse and built a modest craftsman home. My earliest memories of Thanksgiving dinners in the 1950's center around the home at Linden and Pebble streets.
Thanksgiving was a time to celebrate Grandpa's birthday. We always celebrated his birthday on Thanksgiving - that was a tradition! I didn't know what his birth date really was - it was just Thanksgiving of every year no matter what.
Grandma Lil did all the cooking and each of us cousins eagerly anticipated seeing the largest bird ever on Grandpa's birthday. The turkey was always cooked to perfection, the potatoes and gravy were my favorite, the corn wasn't in a casserole and the beans were plain as well, the yams were fresh and sweetened with brown sugar and marshmallows. There were pumpkin pies and mince pies, although I have to admit I never tried the mince.
In Grandma's kitchen there was a tiny breakfast nook. That is where the kids sat. My brother Billy, me, cousins Jo Lynn and Cindy would fill our plates and huddle in this tiny space. We would giggle about silly things and plot our activities for the rest of the day.
Years earlier my Mom had painted a small wooden tray with three fish. The fish had bubbles rising from their mouths to the top of the water... The small tray occupied a place of honor on top of a cupboard that was built into the wall of the breakfast nook.
Each Thanksgiving Billy would stand on the seat and turn the tray upside down so the bubbles were heading the wrong way and the fish were dead... we giggled ourselves silly - laughing so hard we would cry. The adults would wonder what we were going on about but we never broke ranks - we thought it was hilarious.
One Thanksgiving, the fish were still upside down from the year before... that was even more hilarious. Grandma's house was always dust free! We surmised that the cleaning lady must have decided to be a part of the joke or Grandma herself hadn't noticed our devilish misdeed! We four thought we were so clever - the fish never righted themselves as they continued to play dead year after year.
Grandma and Grandpa added on a huge family room in the mid 50's. There was plenty of room to spread out. We kids could play games and the adults could watch Grandpa's new "color" television. Back in those days you could adjust the color and Grandpa kept it on the greenish side - that was the way he liked it.
This big old family room had a fireplace tucked in the corner and had a wall of windows to the north. When you sat in the family room, you could look at the television, fireplace. or gaze out into the yard. The yard was framed with bushes and trees, Grandpa's old shed (that he called his doghouse) was in the center and an old handmade stone grill sat to the left of the shed. It was a pleasant and picturesque scene.
One memory that comes to mind is the time Cindy and I were playing in the picturesque scene and attempting to climb the tree nearest the windows and on the right. Grandpa Joe sat in his chair, watching our struggles at climbing the tree while my Dad (Bill) and Cindy's Dad (Mel) napped in their spots on the couch.
I think Grandpa was getting frustrated that we couldn't figure out which foot to put where so he started giving us directions through the double pane windows. He pointed to my left foot and then pointed to a certain branch - ok - got it. Then he pointed to my right foot and pointed to a remainder of a branch... I hadn't thought of stepping there and I hesitated but he shook his head yes so there I stepped. This went on for a few more minutes until I was near the roof and he directed me to go on up. I smiled and stepped onto the roof.
I yelled down for Cindy to follow the path and come on up. She said nope. I went over and looked at the chimney - it was way cool. The Dads must have heard me tromping on the roof as Cindy yelled the warning for me to come down. Unfortunately going up with Grandpa's help was easier than trying to climb down on my own.
Pretty soon everyone was in the picturesque backyard looking up at the roof. Grandpa Joe was standing there laughing with a cigarette hanging from his mouth - he had left his teeth inside so that was kinda funny. Grandma Lil was yelling at Grandpa wanting to know if he had played any part in this shenanigan - he denied any knowledge of why I would do such a thing and I quickly threw him under the bus and said he showed me how to get up here.
Dad yelled for me to get down. I said NO. I couldn't do it. Grandma was still yelling at Grandpa and he was still laughing. Cindy had backed off, trying to be invisible. Not wanting to get involved in all the yelling.
This was not going to end well. Eventually Cindy couldn't help herself and agreed with Grandpa "I don't know why she did it". To which I yelled down at the assembled family members, and Cindy specifically, "Grandpa made me do it".
The Dads were busy strategizing - trying to figure out how to get me down, the Moms had lost interest and returned to cleaning up the kitchen, Grandpa told everyone to relax and told me not to worry. His instructions are simple "Move over to the tree, stop whining, grab that branch, stop shaking, turn around, put your left foot on that branch, stop shaking, put your right foot on this branch... slowly he led me back the way I came. Nearing the ground, I jumped off the tree. Dad told me not to do that again - Grandpa chuckled and gave me a wink.
Another memory from Thanksgiving past, features Grandpa making Cindy and I a telephone out of a couple of tin cans and some string. After dinner, we walked the block to the greenhouse where Grandpa found the tools needed for the project. He found an awl and punched a hole in the bottom of two cans. He unraveled a long piece of string from his stash and then threaded the string through each can. He tied a knot in each end of the string, to hold it securely in place. He then took an old candle and rubbed the wax along the string, making sure that it was evenly coated.
Cindy and I weren't terribly sophisticated. We were amazed that you could stand quite a distance from each other, one of us could speak into the can, the other could put the can on their ear and hear the words perfectly. It was magic. Grandpa went on home and we two stayed in the greenhouse, trying out our phone in the various houses of the main facility.
Cindy and I had been missing from the Thanksgiving festivities for quite some time and Uncle Mel finally came looking for us. As I recall, he wasn't amused. We got in trouble for playing in the greenhouse all by ourselves. It was useless blaming Grandpa Joe, although I think most of the adults figured he had a hand in our extended absence.
One last memory and then I'll stop for a bit. Grandpa Joe always said a prayer before Thanksgiving dinner. He had a little ceremony he would perform. He would light the first candle, explaining that he was lighting the candle for those gathered today to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal. Then he would light the second candle explaining that he was lighting that candle for those family members who were unable to join us this Thanksgiving. Finally he would light the third candle in memory of those family members and friends who had passed on before us. It was a solemn occasion and we kids always behaved accordingly.
This particular Thanksgiving, we four older grandkids were all sitting in the dining room with the adults. I think J and Stacy were in the breakfast nook. Grandpa had started the candle ceremony but was having trouble with his lighter. He struggled with lighting the first candle and after a few attempts the candle was lit. We kids smiled. Grandpa struggled with the second candle - he had finished his usual talking points but the lighter continued to misfire. We kids looked at each other and rolled our eyes, smiling bigger as he huffed and puffed and finally lit the second candle. Grandpa started on the third candle, saying his piece and finishing off with a hardy "God Damn It" when he couldn't light the candle.
I couldn't look up because I knew I would lose it - I jiggled all over from keeping the laughing inside - Mom hit me with her elbow but she was having a hard time not laughing herself. Grandpa and Mel murmured between themselves... someone got a match, I don't know who. Grandpa lit the last candle and then thanked God for the food we were about to receive.
Everyone, except the greenhouse night fireman, let out a big sigh and a giggle. The fireman turned his gaze to his boss, talked over the giggles and told Grandpa he did a mighty fine job on that prayer. For the next couple of decades, we kids matured... but we still held our breath and prepared for the worst when it was time for Grandpa to light the candles...
Next up - Christmas Memories...