Tag Archives: Childhood memories

Pliers Lined Up by Size

My son has a cat stroller he uses to take his cats for walks. It was quite pricey, so although he encouraged me to get one I didn’t for over a year. But then I saw one at 1/3 the price online, so I ordered it. It arrived in great need of “putting together.”

I left it lying on the living room floor and every time the gardener asked me why I hadn’t put it together yet, I explained how busy I am. (I am busy; that’s not a lie).

Finally, he started putting it together himself.  [Big winky face]

But the instructions were not correct and the gardener is not a patient person. I could hear him complaining to beat the band, so I offered to help. He asked me to get a long skinny screwdriver and a pliers with a regular style jaw in a medium size. When he started to explain a little more, I had to remind him: “I’m my father’s daughter, remember? I was raised alongside Dad’s workbench.”

My father had a workshop in our basement, and when I was younger than six I could often be found at his feet as he toiled at his building, fixing, creating. I loved the vise, the lathe, and all the different tools lined up by order of size on the pegboard over the workbench.

When I was six, my father built a bomb shelter out of his workshop–and moved all his stuff out to the garage. This “poem start” (not a completed poem, but a first draft) documents that first workshop and its disappearance.



A small, square space at the bottom of the steps.

One casement window ajar

just below

the ceiling hinting

at the black and unknown winter.


The man working, a little girl,

face like a cup,

watching his arms crank

the vise handle,

tighten the grip

like Superman.


False walls invoke a room from

the open basement.  The workbench

so like that of the elves,

its thick wooden surface scarred

slick by hammer blows.


He presides over the saw

with precision, aiming

for the pencil line, sawdust

falling away on each side

like the snow from a plow.


A rack of baby food jars

containing nails and screws

revolves overhead, and at the back

of the planked surface families

of pliers and screwdrivers line up

by size like Goldilocks’ bears.


The girl sits behind him

the chilled concrete twanging

her backside through her thin

pajamas.  She pounds the

wooden posts in her little workbench

all the way through and then

flips it and pounds them back again.


Everything in its place.

His sleeping bag and snowshoes

from the war

hang from the rafters.  The caricature

of the man pinning diapers on her,

her head bald except for

two hairs sprouting heroically

as Tweety Bird.


He carries the contents she thinks

are the room

up the stairs and out to the garage.

The claw and the ball hammers, all

the members of the pliers and screwdriver

families, the cardboard box

of sandpaper.  Sleeping bag and painting.


After much labor slabbing mortar,

constructing dual-layer cinder block

walls, the man rests

his chin on the ladder rung, surveys


a small, square space at the bottom of the steps,

dark and cold.


On the way out, he slaps

a fallout shelter decal

on the door he has just hung.


The man toils over his bench in the garage now.

She’s not allowed.

The space heater is too dangerous.

For a couple of years I couldn’t follow my father into the workshop the same way. The coziness and security were gone. But then we moved when I was eight and he created another wonderful workshop in the basement.  He did so everywhere he ever lived.

Designing the Butterflies are Free set in Dad’s workshop–11th grade

When my father was dying he gave me a beautiful set of wrenches to take home. As I tried to get through security at the airport, TSA took the wrench set from me. I never saw it again.

After Dad’s funeral, family members and friends began plundering his workshop of its tools and gadgets.

What place reminds you of your father or mother? My grandmother’s kitchen reminds me of her, and my other grandmother’s sewing room expresses her spirit. My grandfather’s place was his vegetable garden.


For the rest of the summer, I plan to blog once a week instead of twice. I’m behind in my conversations with y’all and want to catch up! I’ve got some new eye problems, so I’m trying not to spend as much time on the computer, writing and reading, and then, after all, it is really really hot here.


Filed under #AmWriting, Blogging, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

Guest post by the author of “Lake Erie”



by Wilma Kahn

Real frozen custard―any custard―is a food made with eggs and a milk product. Hence, eggnog is an uncooked custard, flan is a cooked custard, pumpkin pie is a pumpkin custard, rice pudding is a rice custard, cheesecake is a cream-cheese custard, and ice cream made with cream and raw eggs is a frozen custard.

A new ice-cream stand in Portage claims to serve “real frozen custard.” This boast is puzzling, since salmonella has made raw eggs unsafe to eat. On the other hand, people still drink eggnog, whose eggs have somehow been rendered harmless. Perhaps they have been powdered, pasteurized, or zapped with radiation. Is this how eggs in this new “real frozen custard” are made safe? Or is it egg free and, therefore, not custard at all?

Despite misgivings, I decided to taste this frozen custard. The minuscule serving was overpriced, and the consistency was that of compressed pudding. Nevertheless, this place gets plenty of business, making me doubt that its customers have ever eaten the real thing. If they had, they would never accept this oafish substitute.

My mother loved frozen custard. In 1957 she began saving S&H Green Stamps to purchase her own ice-cream freezer. Week after week, my sister and I dutifully licked and pasted the stamps into their books until Mother finally took them to the S&H Service Store to trade for the ice-cream freezer.

From the outside, this machine resembled a tall grey bucket, while inside stood a steel canister, and within that, a series of paddles called dashers. On top of the machine was a heavy steel cap attached to a crank. How, I asked myself, could ice cream come out of that?

Mother assembled the ingredients―light cream, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. She beat them together in a big bowl and poured the mixture into the metal canister. She placed the canister in the bucket, inserted the dashers, clamped down the metal cap, and poured cracked ice and coarse salt all around the canister.

Word spread on the wind that Mrs. Kahn was making frozen custard. Neighborhood kids abandoned their games of hide-and-seek, their swimming, and their castles in the sand. They stood sandy-footed in swimsuits, watching us crank the freezer.

The cranking was necessary, Mother told us, to turn the dashers to keep ice lumps from forming in the custard. So we cranked and cranked as the cracked ice melted and was replenished then melted again. As my arms and those of my siblings wore out, other children pitched in. When the crank was nearly impossible to turn, Mother told us to keep cranking. Finally, the crank refused to budge. She removed the metal cap, and we gazed at the frozen custard inside.

My mother carried the canister to the kitchen, where she pulled out the dashers and placed them in a bowl. When she had scraped off most of the frozen treat, she passed the dashers to a lucky child to lick clean. Mother dished up servings into grey and yellow Melmac bowls then handed them around to all the children. By this time, our imaginations and hunger had grown into a giant icy bubble of excitement. I spooned into my mouth something pale yellow, cold, sweet, soft, slightly granular, melty―delicious.

Real frozen custard, as I know it, does not hunker down in a Styrofoam bowl, heavy as cowflop. It comes from my mother’s own ice-cream freezer. Real frozen custard, like life, is an ambrosia that takes planning, saving, cranking―time―and it is eaten quickly, before it melts, for it is as ephemeral as a snowflake on the tongue.

Mother’s Frozen Custard Recipe 

  • 1 gallon Half & Half  (4 quarts)
  • 6 eggs *   **
  • 3 ¾ c. sugar
  • 3 T. vanilla
  • 1 ½ t. salt

Beat eggs until light. Add sugar ¼ c. at a time. Add salt, H & H, and vanilla. Crank freeze.

* Most frozen custard recipes call for egg yolks, not whole eggs. Whole eggs may have given my mom’s frozen custard its distinctive taste and texture.

**Remember, raw eggs may carry salmonella, a potentially deadly illness.

Wilma Kahn is a writer and writing teacher living in Southwest Michigan. She wrote “Lake Erie,” which was posted on Writer Site and subsequently Freshly Pressed.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction