Archive | July, 2014

Getting Canned!

30 Jul

Getting canned has certain distinct advantages.

 20140712_110818 Looking up the NF Railroad Tracks on Front Street

During my recent family reunion I walked the rail trail in New Freedom, PA and took pictures of the New Freedom Heritage Society murals, one of which showed my dad and uncle…

20140712_110659 Tom and Dwight Summers - NF Mural

  • Getting canned vegetables ready to be processed. The Summers Family was in the vegetable canning business for 118 years.

img103 Summers 100th - Horn of Plenty - Superfine Cans

During my childhood…

  • Getting canned vegetables from the basement for dinner… my mother was deathly afraid of the mice. She was sure they were waiting for her in the basement. We loved canned vegetables. We enjoyed them for dinner all winter and much of the spring. Even better, we could walk or jog down to the canning factory and ask my dad if we could pick out a dozen or so ears of corn, fresh tomatoes, peas or green beans for dinner.

20140712_110802 Local Produce - NF Mural

During my teenage years I worked as a crop inspector. I travelled out to the fields early each morning. I wandered down a row to the middle of a 40 or 50 acre field and collected a random sample of peas or green beans. This was to determine when the field should be scheduled for harvest.

  • Getting canned vegetables scheduled for processing included a few risks. One morning I was moseying down a long row and all of a sudden something flew up near my face. I jumped way back as a pheasant took off right in front of me. I am pretty sure I was more startled than he was. I still remember the incident vividly 40 years later. Then, of course, there was getting the company station wagon stuck in the muddy field. This requiring an embarrassing call to the field office to ask whether and when they could send a tractor to pull me out. It was a bit more fun to clamber up the side of 20 ton tractor-trailer loads of green beans. I had to take a sample of harvested beans to determine quality and how much the farmers would get paid.

During my college years…

20140712_110708 Into the Kettle - NF Mural

  • Getting canned brownies… my grandmother Summers made the world’s best triple fudge brownies. You could not eat more than two of them at a time. They came in an industrial sized # 10 can, so there were plenty to share with selected friends and hall-mates. Even so, I still had about four days’ worth of mouth-watering deliciousness.

During my Peace Corps volunteer years…

  • Getting canned cookies, the homemade kind that only a mom can make, was a holiday season highlight. They shipped very nicely during the two-plus weeks it took the postal service to ship them to Barbados.

20140712_110719 Onions - NF Mural

Canned vegetables provided jobs or early job experience for hundreds of teenagers in our area. For others like my dad, my uncle, my grandparents, my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather and his uncle and thousands of their neighbors, canned vegetables provided their livelihood and a nice career. They put me through college. They helped me earn money for my first car. They provided a nest egg that I invested and added to; this enabling me to put a down payment on my first home.

For some getting canned is a very bad day. For me it is not bad, not bad at all.


Ask your guests to bring a memento for a family Show and Tell

29 Jul

Familyreunionsblog by Beth Benson builds on my recent Show and Tell Blog, thanks Beth.


I love reading people’s recaps of their family reunions. I love seeing how families get together, how they celebrate, and how they interact. In one great recap of a family reunion, Bruce Summers detailed his family’s Adult Show and Tell time.

What I love best about this is that it really gets family members talking and reminiscing. What may seem like an unimportant item, like a collection of keys, can create story after story of the different homes family members lived in, where they were and how long they stayed. You might reminisce about a holiday at Grandma’s old house, a birthday party at an aunt’s. And if your family is anything like ours, one story seems to just lead into another.

Show and Tell isn't just for school!!! Show and Tell isn’t just for school!!!

So, how do you best plan Adult Show and Tell? Let your family members know ahead of time! Put it…

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Show and Tell – At the Chichester Family Reunion

21 Jul

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales,

Many colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians have introduced versions of Adult Show and Tell. The concept is to invite adults or individuals of all ages to bring objects then to have them tell a story about why the objects are important to them.

I decided to adapt this concept for my recent family reunion. We were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first Chichester Family Reunion. We no longer have any of the original Chichesters, my grandmother was the last of her generation, but we still had four of the five surviving cousins from the second generation of Chichesters that were able to join us along with about 80 other family members and in-laws from generations 3, 4 and 5.

I asked each family member to consider bringing objects or photos, things that were important to them, and stories that they could share.


On the eve of the reunion a few of the cousins gathered at my parents’ house to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday and started sharing stories. I learned from my namesake cousin Bruce that our great-grandfather had been mayor of Piermont, NY, he also showed me his police badge, and perhaps as mayor he also could deputize himself as a temporary police officer. I learned that Bruce’s grandfather met his future wife by wrapping a penny in a piece of paper and throwing it out a train window going through New York City on the way to shipping out to France for World War I.

The next morning I asked my mom whether she had pulled out her “Show and Tell” items. She said she would need at least five days notice to think of what she should “Show” but a five-minute walk around her house yielded a good half-dozen suitable objects. We selected a carved cane and a wooded cane carved by her Grandfather Chichester.

10559764_790400804324205_5621305879765786653_n Show and Tell

She also pulled out a quilt made by her Grandmother Chichester and located a number of family photos of her grandparents, her mother, her sister and other family members. This was just what I needed to set up a “Show and Tell” display as a teaser for the main “Show and Tell” event scheduled for the next day.

10556411_790399767657642_307878364499328536_n Jane Summers at Show and Tell - Karen

My mom and her cousins all grew up in the same small town in New York State and their grandparents lived nearby so they shared a lot of collective memories. I was afraid that we might not have enough “Show and Tell” time the next day so we did an early practice version, “Show and Tell” session 1 with my mom and her cousins. A few pulled out old photo albums and family history records and so I gathered mom and her first cousins and had her kick it off by telling a story about Grandma and Grandpa Chichester.

10447771_10204225974314767_3176056181691435408_n Show and Tell Chichester Reunion 2014

They looked at the quilt and confirmed that yes Grandma Chichester was a great quilter. She made a quilt for each of her nine grandchildren and put their names on the bottom, much like the one we used to cover the table. They looked closely at the wooden fan he made; they all remembered him carving and assembling these in his workshop in the garage. Did he start making these after he retired? No, he made these and he wood-burned carved canes his whole life. Many of the cousins still had a quilt, a cane, a fan or all three or had passed one or more of these down to the next generation.

10383847_790399814324304_6316559112438288882_o Richard Chichester made this Cane - Show and Tell - Karen

I then pulled out one of my most precious family heirloom, my grandmother’s “Shadow Box” filled with her special treasures that she kept displayed in her bed room.

10492556_790399844324301_4395276277289917532_n Show and Tell - Grandma Van Zandt's Shadow Box - Karen

This is the personal part of “Show and Tell”. My mom, aunts and uncles looked at each treasure in the box and told me what they knew or what they did not know about the object and shared a few fond stories about my grandmother. The Red Cross badges were from her time as the head of the Red Cross for the town of Pearl River, NY during World War II. She organized volunteers to knit or roll bandages and more. Later my grandmother became a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), building on her Red Cross experience.

I shared my story of thinking I heard her calling to me when I worked in the American Red Cross – Volunteers, Youth and Nursing Department late one night. I had to get up and go check the “dead nurse files” to see if Grandma was in there. Later I learned they only included Registered Nurses so she wasn’t in the files.

There was a horseshoe, a bit of crocheted cloth, a few combs and hat pins, perhaps from her “Flapper” days. A small pin with L.B.C. initials painted on for her mother Lizzie Booth Chichester, and even a mysterious belt buckle with a small bag behind it, to Mimi from Stran that she may have gotten as a gift from my dad’s father, were in the box.

10390114_10204225959834405_357776202003740202_n Terri Bell-Nagle and Jane Summers

It was a great way to introduce the “Show and Tell” concept and to get the story sharing started. More photos came out, pictures of my family, my first cousins, our parents, grandparents, stories about vacations in Lake George, NY, meeting up at Grandma’s for Christmas, then going over to see my grandfather, then back to Grandma’s for dessert with my other cousins.

My Bell cousins’ parents died many years ago, so my cousins could ask my Mom directly what their mother was like growing up. “She was outgoing, always the first to find out the names of the new neighbors and the ages of their children. She was a baton twirler…” to which each and every one of her children expressed, “no way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” They also had a hard time believing that she went canoeing with my mom every summer. But the stories were corroborated by my mom’s cousins. Family history crowdsourcing is a great thing.

After “Show and Tell” session 1 I took time to record additional family stories with my digital voice recorder. This is a handy tool often carried by Personal Historians, well at least for me. I take one with me every time I go to visit my parents, especially for a family reunion weekend that is being held in my parents’ back yard. Several other surprising stories were revealed and gradually leaked or spread to other family members.


The next morning my wife, my brother and I took an early morning walk along the New Freedom Rail Trail that spans the Mason Dixon Line crossing from Pennsylvania into Maryland.

20140712_110539 Rail Trail Walkers - NF Chichester Reunion 2014

US Presidents rode trains along these tracks. Abraham Lincoln rode along these tracks on his way to Hanover Junction during his trip to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

20140712_110659 Tom and Dwight Summers - NF Mural

Four generations of my family worked at the Charles G. Summers, Jr. Canning Plant located along the tracks, but that is another story and another side of the family.

The hike reminded me more about my family stories and my family roots and I was ready for the next full day of the Chichester Family Reunion. I recorded a few more stories in the morning and prepared for the main session of “Show and Tell” scheduled for 2 pm. Cousins, aunts and uncles had been telling me for a day and a half that they had secret treasures and “Show and Tell” objects back at their hotel rooms that they were saving up for “Show and Tell”. I looked forward to the event and asked one of my cousins to take photos. Thank you Karen, many of your photos are featured in the following. But first we had the family “Chinese Auction” however this also is another story.

As the Auction wrapped up I got cousins to help me set up for “Show and Tell”. I rang a bell to give everyone five minutes’ notice to get out their “Show and Tell objects and photos, and to give us time to set up. My mom and two cousins excitedly asked if they had time to run inside and “freshen-up” before we got started. I said yes, and then other aunts and cousins headed over to their cars and pulled treasures out of their trunks.

Finally we were ready. I explained the rules, each family member has up to five minutes to show their item and tell their story. I assigned a time-keeper and shared that the bell I had been ringing to get people’s attention during the Chinese Auction was a “Show and Tell” item from my son. He volunteered at a National Boy Scout Jamboree. I dropped him off and it was about 110 degrees outside and he looked at me wondering why in the world was I leaving him in this inferno… but he brought back this great bell from the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts and the National Jamboree.

10376745_790403704323915_5052273929439078467_n Peggy Bell Destefano shows a necklace from her grandmother with an M on it from her grandmother Margaret during Show and Tell

My cousin Peggy (Margaret) showed a necklace pendant with an M on it that she got from my grandmother since they shared the same first name.


10540635_790403784323907_5699149401697166566_n Margaret Bond shows and tells about keys from her Grandmother Lizzie's house in Piermont.

Another Margaret showed a display box of keys that she saved from a jar of keys her grandmother had collected from their old house in Piermont, NY.

10514734_790403827657236_7111211729005349988_n Margaret Bond shows off the quilted apron made for her by her grandmother Lizzy

Margaret also showed a hand quilted apron her grandmother had made for her.

10525808_790403734323912_8838662133221259672_n Sue O'Hare shows and tells about momentos from her grandmother Catherine Chichester Erickson

Her daughter Sue shared a display case with sewing scissors, needles, buttons, crocheting, and buckles that had also come down through the family from Sue’s great-grandmother.

10470171_790404754323810_1159196822803293323_o Jane Summers talks about her grandmother Lizzie, she made quilts for all nine grandchildren

My mom shared that her grandmother was a skilled seamstress and that she had made many of the clothes that her sister and her wore during their youth.

10470996_790404720990480_8366463479178371138_n Robert Cogliati shows preserved images from Aunt Viola's photo album during Show and Tell

Robert showed old family photos that my cousin Craig found in an album when he was helping to clear out his aunt’s basement. These were saved in Archival sleeves. We later compared these photos with others from Margaret’s album from her mother and with photos my mom got from her mother.

10500359_790403894323896_4910736098443802206_n Frank Bell talks about his father taking him and 3 brothers to meet Joe Namath

My cousin Frank showed a picture and shared a great story of going with his father Bennie, his brothers Greg and Bobby, his mother, and some of Bennie’s English students to visit Joe Namath in his penthouse. One of the ninth grade students that went along was Bob Costas who wrote up the story for their school newspaper. Frank told us, “I still have a copy of that story, his questions then sound just like the questions he asks now as famous sportscaster. This was during the spring of 1968, as we were getting ready to leave we wished Joe good luck in the Super Bowl.” He added that this was before the season started that lead to the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl over the then local team the Baltimore Colts. Frank and the other New Yorkers laughed knowing my family had been avid Colt fans. I remember this painful loss, Broadway Joe promised the Jets would win over the heavily favored Colts.

10551028_790404617657157_5385155620284148865_n Bruce Summers Mike Summers telling stories about Uncle Ralph

This started a round of stories by at least a dozen other family members. My brother Mike shared the story about how my grandmother would have the nine “Chichester” cousins over to their house at Thanksgiving and was meticulous about counting the silver afterward, everyone had to check the trash etc. to make sure none of the silverware had been thrown away.

10482010_790404650990487_4185524465545395222_o Uncle Ralph thinking about those silver spoons he hid from Aunt Margaret

Well one year they counted up the silver and went through all the trash but one silver spoon was still missing. Finally little Ralph, the youngest cousin confessed that he had hidden a spoon in his pocket just to see what would happen. At the current reunion he reached into his pocket and pulled out another silver spoon and said to my mom, you better count your silver.

Well the Family Reunion version of “Show and Tell” was a big hit. I came back with forty digital audio tapes. We posted hundreds of new and historic family photos on a special family Facebook site. We learned that my Aunt Margaret sort of “stole my Aunt Joan’s boyfriend.” We learned my great grandmother’s ironing board was always kept by the garden gate on weekends so it could be used to carry injured bathers to the hospital who did not know the Hudson River was tidal and hurt themselves jumping off the pier. We also solved the mystery of who Uncle William was, the uncle Aunt Margaret saw stretched out on her grandparent’s billiard table when she peeked in the room after he died. I wonder what we will show and tell at the next reunion?

Update June 28, 2017:

The next Chichester Family Reunion is in two weeks. This one will be a bit different as my Mom and one of her Chichester first cousins recently passed away. My Mom hosted most of the reunions at her home during the past 40 plus years. I likely will be thinking about Mom when we reprise “Show and Tell” as one of the reunion activities. I look forward to learning and sharing more family treasures – objects, photos, and especially stories, plus it will be great to see everyone again. Let me know, your thoughts if/when you try “Show and Tell” at your family reunion. – Bruce



10 Jul

O-Skixty-Skix. Blog celebrating my dad’s 85th birthday, Bingo, family traditions

 and volunteering.


10 Jul

My dad Tom Summers turns 85 today. I talked with him yesterday, the power to his home had been out for two days, due to a large storm cell taking down a lot of trees and limbs the day before, but he was hopeful and optimistic that they would get power restored today. This would be great since he and my mom will be hosting a family reunion over the weekend for about 70 or so people with the first family members arriving today and many more arriving tomorrow.

My dad (and mom) have always been warm and generous hosts, even though the organizing and planning for the reunions passed on to the next generation down about 2 reunions ago, there will be a big tent, lots of family, lots of food and activities in their back yard for the next few days.

My dad’s voice seemed a bit tired a few days ago when he called to check on our plans for the reunion. Perhaps this is understandable since he had just finished a week of volunteering for “Bingo” at the Lions Club Carnival. He has been doing this 4th of July week for the past 60 or so years and was the Bingo lead for probably 40 years or more.

All my brothers, my wife, their wives, my cousins and other extended family members volunteered at Bingo. It was sort of fun learning the ropes, how to walk efficiently down the aisle between the Bingo tables collecting nickels, then much later dimes, then quarters, making change, keeping an eye out for and being ready to rush over when someone in my row shouted out “Bingo”.

My dad often served a Bingo caller, so we would see where the Bingo was, dump the corn kernels off the card and shout out to him… “Under the B 4, 11, 7, 13, and 14”. His response, “That’s a winner! Anyone else, anyone else, single winner!” I’d hand a “Win” card or a “Half-Win” card if there was more than one winner. Dad would pull a lever and all the Bingo Balls would drop back into the machine and we’d start again.

My favorite moments of my Bingo shift was always when my dad was calling and it came randomly. I anticipated it eagerly. Sometimes I had to wait 2, 3, 4, perhaps 5 or more games and then I would hear over the microphone… “Under the O – 70”. I would wait some more… “Under the O – 65,” then finally… “Under the O – Skixty-Skix” and I would smile and continue to pick up coins or give change and progress down my aisle. O – Skixty-Skix was my dad’s signature call, it sort of completed the annual cycle of the year, this is why I volunteered at Bingo every year, I just needed to hear O – Skixty-Skix a couple of more times.

My dad was a great volunteer, he planned how Bingo was going to work each year months ahead, ordered the prizes, started his round of calls to his usual volunteers, there was a whole crew of us that he could count on. A couple of years in my late teens or during summers during college I was given the opportunity to also “Call Bingo” for the carnival, none of us called for more than about 15 or 20 minutes at a time, but I really always looked forward to my dad calling a couple of shifts each night, every day for a week.

At the end of the carnival my brothers and I would go down and help dad pack away the corn kernels into large cans, pack away the hundreds for well-loved bingo cards into the wooden boxes, then lift and haul the bingo benches and tables and stack them in the storage area waiting for reuse the next year. We helped pack up the Bingo Prizes to prepare to return them to the vendor. We actually really enjoyed this when we were young because we would always find loose change on the ground where the table and benches had been. But what we really enjoyed was working with our dad, knowing that about this time the next year there would be more Bingo and we would get to hear him call “Under the O – Skixty-Skix.”

Happy Birthday Dad and thank you for teaching us the meaning of volunteering.

Picking Raspberries

2 Jul

building and more Search Summers \”Engagement\”

via Picking Raspberries.

Picking Raspberries

2 Jul

It seems that asparagus and raspberries have always been part of my life. My dad and my mom never did very well with growing other vegetables and fruits in our yard. Yes there was the experiment with one or two apple trees at our second house. My dad would spray them to try ward off worms, insects and other infestations, but I can’t say that I really remember ever chomping down on any or many home grown apples.



However, just across the boundary and of our yard were the alluring grape vines of Joe and Helen Sitler. I must admit that my brothers and I and occasionally our cousins would stray a bit out of our yard – just a yard or two mind you and pluck a couple of grapes. Helen was like a third grandmother to us and likely forgave us. Joe, well I am not quite sure. I think we apologized if/when we were caught, he was a bit “gruff”.

Each yard, Helen’s and ours had a few chestnut trees. This was the exception; unlike the apple trees the chestnuts grew just fine, needed no care but of course came complete with spiny husks. The good news was that these kept away the squirrels and the four boys in our family until they were ripe, dried and ready to split open and yield their fruit.

I lived in this house from ages one to eight. During this time asparagus and sometimes raspberries appeared magically and regularly. Eventually my dad revealed the secret, he drove with us, probably my oldest brother Stran and I, down to the large barn on the farm below our house. My grandmother owned this farm, which was also down a lane from her house on the next block over. Behind this large white barn was a large good sized mature asparagus patch.

During the spring each April and May my dad and my Uncle Dwight, his family lived two blocks away, would go down once or twice a day to harvest asparagus. Amazingly every day the small emerging crowns of asparagus, that had been just barely poking out of the ground, would grow four to eight inches and almost scream our “pick me, please, I don’t want to go to seed!” So we took our sharp thin bladed knives and harvested more than enough asparagus for our family, my grandmother, my Uncle Dwight’s family, my Uncle Bill’s family and I am not sure who else. Perhaps we shared some with Joe and Helen and other neighbors.

This tradition continued through the time we moved to our third, my parent’s current, house built on part of the farm my grandmother owned. It was diagonal from our former second house and backed up to Helen and Joe’s yard and part of the yard of my Uncle Bill.

Now Uncle Bill seemed to have the green thumb in the family. He had lots of fruit bushes with berries and several fruit bearing trees – more chestnuts and a Black Walnut tree. I think he was the source of our raspberry plants. At the side of our back yard my dad created a long thin rectangular patch about two to three feet wide and perhaps 15 feet long. This he framed with old bricks left over from building our third house, referenced above.

Into this patch my dad planted, likely transferring from my Uncle Bill’s garden, a number of raspberry plants. Raspberries always send out underground runners that send up dozens of new plants each year so there are always plenty of extra plants to “share”.

20140702_100559 Raspberries 3

Well my dad did not really have a green thumb when it came to apples but in this new yard, he quickly demonstrated he had a “red thumb”, because the raspberries flourished, spread and filled out the patch and quickly started yielding a bout about a quart of raspberries every day.

Well at some point my dad “invited” me to help him pick these red raspberries. “Just pick the dark red to purple ones, let the white or lighter red ones wait another day or two, then they’ll be ready,” he coached. I found that I loved picking raspberries and helping my dad tend to the patch. In the fall we would work together to remove weeds from the patch and pull out weeds and grass that had dared to invade the brick border.

Each spring, as we walked back from the school bus stop, that was by the front of my Uncle Bill’s house, I would check out the raspberry patch, and later also inspect a second patch planted with asparagus, but that is a different story, to see if the raspberries and asparagus were ready to pick.

For some reason eventually my brothers conceded the primary responsibility for picking raspberries to me, though my dad would sometimes help. This was a great bonding time, working in the yard with my dad, picking raspberries or cutting asparagus or preparing the patches for the winter or spring seasons.

Many years later when my wife and I were settling into our second house, I asked my dad if I could “have a few” of his extra raspberry plants, the offshoots that were straying from the patch. And perhaps a few others that were crowding other plants, I prepared my own patch in my own yard and found that I also had a “red thumb”. These raspberries flourished, I also planted an asparagus patch, thus renewing the tradition of waiting for spring to start the harvest of asparagus, and raspberries and often some spinach and peas, later green beans and carrots.

These “heirloom raspberries” plants were later shared with neighbors and likely are still spreading through North Springfield, VA. I transferred several raspberry plants to a new patch behind our third and current home in Annandale, VA. I have tried them in four or five locations. Some years the birds and deer get more than I do. I am willing to share but need at least a couple of handfuls each day during the season.

A couple of years ago I tried a few raspberry plants in my strawberry patch, since that five years experiment had only marginally worked and primarily benefited the chipmunks and birds. Well this year in particular my raspberry bushes have been extremely happy and for the past week or so have whispered to me each day “pick me”. I am getting a good pint or two of raspberries every day, plus or minus the three or four handfuls that I devour while picking. I smile each morning when I look out the window and see the new clusters of deep red and purple waiting for me.

20140702_100514 Raspberries 4

It has been a bountiful harvest this year. My heirloom raspberries are delicious and constantly remind me of the many happy hours and years of working side by side with my dad nurturing and caring for those asparagus and raspberry patches forty and more years ago. Hmm… perhaps I just sneak out now and munch a few

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