Grampa Jim’s Advice

Grampa Jim  didn’t have a formal education, but he was wise.  His favorite advice to us, spoken in Hungarian was this:

“If someone hands you money, accept it graciously.

If someone approaches you with a stick in his hand,

run like hell!”

Orchid Care

My Earthly Connection to Barb

Grumpa Joe has entrusted you with the almost impossible task of caring for a phaleanopsis  orchid plant. Here are the rules:

  1. Remember, the total dollar value of this plant is zero. I paid less than twenty dollars for it, and I received more than that in enjoyment while it bloomed in our house. Your mom’s orchid is another matter. I have taken care of it for nine years, and it has bloomed every year. As long as the plant lives, she is closer to me. That plant is priceless.
  2. It is very hard to kill an orchid, but you can do it if you are too diligent, and over water it.
  3. Orchids are air plants. Their roots do not like to be immersed in water. That is why there are holes in the pot. The roots need oxygen to survive.
  4. The roots don’t always grow in the pot. Often they grow out of the main stem into the air and look like green worms looking for a meal.  That is normal.
  5. The dangling roots will become desiccated on the ends. If so, don’t worry. They all do in an indoor environment in the winter. Mom’s orchid has survived since 2001 in a dry house.
  6. Orchids like lots of daylight, but don’t like a burning sunshine and heat. Any window in your house during the winter is fine. They survive cool nights, and moderate days (60-80 F).
  7. If the plant is too slow to bloom, it may need more light. Don’t sweat it, move it to a new spot with more light if you can. If it’s in the best place you have, be patient.
  8. The orchid you are taking care of is near blooming. If it does bloom, you will have blossoms for at least three months. Enjoy the bloom.
  9. Here are the secrets:
    1. Keep water in the pebbles. The pebbles make a mini-eco-system of humidity.
    2. Give the plant a cup of water weekly.
    3. Every week or two, place the plant in the kitchen sink, and run a spray of tepid (warm) water over the entire thing for five minutes. This re-dampens the media in the pot, and the orchid thinks it is back in the rain forest where its relatives grew up. The sink thing is watery mess, and requires some floor mopping .
    4. Before you take it out of the sink, pour water with fertilizer over the entire plant. Cover the leaves, the roots, and the potting media. Let it drain for a minute then put it back on its pebble base. Fill the pebbles with water.

To make fertilizer use this formula:

  1. In a gallon jug, place 1/8 teaspoon of the mix I have provided. (30-10-10) into the jug.
  2. Fill the jug with warm (not hot) water.
  3. Pour over the plant.
  4. One jug of mix makes two uses. If not, so be it.

Take time to smell the flowers

(These orchids don’t have an aroma.)

Eatin Chickin

Grampa Jim loved chicken and chicken soup.  Most of his teeth were gone, so he had a hard time chewing tough meats.  When Mom made chicken soup, she used the entire chicken in the pot.  We ate the soup with her homemade noodles. For chicken soup she cut the dough into long fine strands.  We ate the soup first. She served the boiled chicken parts for the main course.  Dad always took the breast; I always took a leg.  Gramps stuck to the wings, feet, neck, and head.  He thought he would be taking it off our plate if he took a larger part to eat.

By the end of the meal he had the neck sucked down to a pile of discrete vertebrae.  He did the same with the wings, and feet.  We all hated the boiled skin, so we pushed it aside into a pile on our plates.  Gramps always asked for the skin, remarking “You’re leaving the best part behind”.

Toward the end of the meal, Gramps attacked the chicken head.  He used the fine point of his pocket knife blade to pick the eyes from the socket, and eat the eye right off the tip. He never washed his pocket knife, he only wiped it off, folded it, and put it back into his pocket. I was with him at times when he used the same knife to cut fish for bait.

It was a short time before the chicken head was a bare bony skull; smaller than a walnut.   One would think that there was nothing more to eat, but we were always wrong.  Gramps set the skull down on the table. He lined up the sharp edge of his knife along the top of the skull. Then, SLAM. He hit the dull side of the knife with a karate chop. The heel of his hand slammed against the knife to split the skull in two.  Again, he used the very tip of the knife to pick out the chicken brain which was the size of a small pea.  Sometimes he had to pick a piece out of both parts.  The brain disappeared into his mouth off the end of the knife like it was caviar.

Long Hard Winter

When Grampa Jim stayed in Michigan for the winter, his life was extremely hard.  It wasn’t until he reached his late seventies that mom insisted he come to live with us for the winter.  Even then, he would only last until March, and then one day he would disappear. He took a bus back to Coloma.  God only knows how he made it out to the farm from town.  Other times he took the train from South Chicago to Watervliet.

Gramps winterized the house for the really cold months.  The house didn’t have insulation, but did have storm windows.  The heat came from pot-bellied stoves.  One was in the living room, the other in the dining room.  To conserve heat, he hung a heavy blanket from floor to ceiling over the archway that separated the living room from the rest of the house.  This way, when he fired up the stove, the heat stayed in one room.   He closed the doors to the bedrooms to further seal off the big room.   His cot was in a corner. He pulled the dining room table into the opposite corner by the driveway and the front yard.  This gave him daylight from the windows on both walls.

Grampa Jim got icy cold water from a hand pump in the kitchen, and warmed it on the kerosene stove.  I remember seeing lots of coffee cans under his bed. Others were  by the door.  Some had fluid in them, some were dry.  He used the cans to save going outside to urinate.  The outhouse was  seventy-five feet away from the side door.  God knows what he did when the snow was deep.

Gramps didn’t weigh more that 120 pounds for his  five foot height. His diet was simple. During the winter he subsisted on canned foods like pork and beans and soups. Hot dogs were a treat.  He recycled the grease in his solitary fry pan. Sometimes, he soaked a slice of  rye bread in hot grease for a yummy meal. When he had kerosene, he warmed soup in the can.  Other times he warmed the soup can on the pot belly.

One of his vices was smoking, but in winter he never walked the quarter mile to the store to buy a pack of Camels.  There was always a sack of Bull Durham around, and he rolled his own. After he ran out of tobacco he scoured the ash trays for butts .  Friends and neighbors came by to check on him when they hadn’t seen him for a while.

The pot belly stove kept him from freezing;  he burned coal. It was a chore to drag a few pounds at a time from the basement in a coal bucket.  Winter on the farm was brutal, but he preferred living independently. He lived alone as long as he could. Eventually, he gave in to his daughter’s arguments, and came to spend winters in the city .

Grampa Jim Studies

In the wintertime, Grandpa Jim came to live with us.  The winters in Michigan were hard.  His house wasn’t insulated, and there were only two pot belly stoves to heat the place.  There was no indoor toilet.  So, Mom insisted that Gramps stay with us.

His day began with a breakfast of coffee and bread. He tore one slice of  Silvercup bread into shreds, and plunked them into coffee with milk. Slowly, he spooned up the soggy bread like cereal. After he ate, he shuffled into the living room to sit in the easy chair to read.  First, he read the Hungarian paper cover to cover. The special paper came once a week, but it didn’t matter. He re-read the thing everyday until the new issue arrived. After he finished the Hungarian news he moved to the daily Chicago Times. After the Times, he pulled out a volume of the encyclopedia, and read that.  He was self-taught, and his  English reading skill was not great; but he loved to study. When he returned to the farm, he had new knowledge to share with his friends at Fish Corners.