A Tribute To Mom

I don’t believe I have written a blog in special tribute to my mother.  It is time I did just that and Mother’s Day is the perfect time.  Helen Shaffer Coss was born the daughter of a farm couple, the oldest of the four children who survived infancy.  Mom’s elementary school years were spent at a little one-room schoolhouse about a mile from the family farm on Creek Rd. in the Town of Hinsdale, NY.  When she reached 7th grade her parents sent her to the nearby town of Cuba, NY to live with her aunt and continue her education.  When it was time for her high school years she hired out to a family in Olean, NY, about ten miles from home, where she lived and worked as a maid while attending school.  As soon as mom was old enough to get her driver’s license she transferred to Portville High School.  She was the chauffeur for a car-load of other local kids who desired to finish their education.

Her Early Years

Mom was very bright.  She told the story of getting the measles during her senior year.  People with measles were always cautioned to avoid bright light and to not use their eyes to excess.  It was exam time and mom ignored those warnings, something she always blamed for her poor eyesight in ensuing years.  But the studying was worth the effort.  She graduated valedictorian of the class of 1933.  Her dream was to go to nursing school as had the aunt with whom she lived earlier.  But it was not to be.  Her father, in the middle of the worst depression the country had ever known, could not see the value of educating a female who would “just get married and have kids.”

The Working Years

So she went to work at a local restaurant, a job she held until her marriage two years later. I arrived a year later, followed by two other daughters.  But mom’s learning never stopped.  During the war she took a Red Cross nursing course and spent many hours working with that organization helping with local projects. After the war she went to work as a seamstress for a local clothing store, doing alterations.  Alteration work was also done out of her home and she had a reputation for being the finest seamstress in the area. She later attended night school, learning typing and bookkeeping.  These skills served her well.  By the time I was in high school she was working for a local grocery distributor, first as a secretary and later as a buyer.

Her community service  was also remarkable.  She served many years as church treasurer, president of the school PTA an Alumni Association, president of the local garden club and of the church women’s organization.  Using her skills as a seamstress, she produced many beautiful altar cloths and albs for church use.

The Things She Taught Us

Mom was an excellent cook.  People would line up at church suppers to make sure they got a piece of Helen’s pie.  She made sure that her daughters learned to cook at an early age.  She tried to teach me to sew, but I much preferred keeping my nose in a book or write a story for the school newspaper.  Although the basics rubbed off on me by osmosis, I never became as skilled as my sisters at sewing.  Her skills were also passed down to my daughters, as she helped them with 4-H projects.  She left two generations of us with quilts and/or afghans as a remembrance of her abilities.  She dabbled in art as well; her legacy included oil paintings and Tole work for us to enjoy.

Mom was the family disciplinarian.  I don’t believe she ever raised her voice, but she did get her message across with a fly swatter across the back our legs on occasion.  She was a worry wart.  We were never allowed to ride a horse; she was deathly afraid of them after a team ran away with her one day on the farm when she was a young girl.  We weren’t allowed to go barefooted; we might cut our foot.  Skiing and tobogganing were out of the question; too dangerous.   While cerebral pursuits were encouraged, outdoor activities were unfortunately discouraged.

In 1971 mom developed glomerulonephritis, a kidney condition that resulted in the loss of kidney function.  She ended up on dialysis and the disease ended her life much too early, May 11, 1984, just two days before Mother’s Day that year.  I had a Mother’s Day card for her ready to go and never got to give it to her.  Thanks mom, for being a wonderful, compassionate, loving mother and for teaching me the coping skills of life.




I’m on a rant with the food industry.  It all started when I bought three boxes of Russell Stover candy at Christmas-time.  I gave two away and saved the third for Chuck and me to enjoy.  I have been buying this candy for special occasions for many years with no problem.  This time I was disappointed.  The candy had a grayish color and tasted stale.  So I decided to do something about it – something I have never done before.  I contacted the company via e-mail and let them know the product did not meet up to the standards I expected of them.  Guess what – they sent me a new box of candy.  To my delight it tasted fine.

Then two months ago I bought a box of Chuck’s favorite crackers, Stoneground Wheat Crackers.  These are square crackers with a perforation so they can be split.  Well – this time when I tried to split them for him, which I always do, they crumbled.  Just a poor batch of crackers, a changed formula??   And Chuck complained because they crumbled.  Two more boxes of these crackers proved to have the same problem.  So – I repeated the candy process and contacted the company.  This time, I received a coupon in the mail good for 2 boxes of any crackers made by the same company, no explanation as to why the crackers were crumbling or word that they were correcting the problem.  The crackers still crumble – so I am looking for a good alternative cracker.

Third problem – a box of brown sugar.  Now you always expect that, after it has been open for a short period, brown sugar will turn into a brick.  But this box of brown sugar (Domino’s) was hard as a brick when I opened it.  Frustrating.  Here I had a recipe half together and opened the sugar to find it practically unusable.  So I plopped the whole brick into a bowl (I couldn’t even divide it with a knife) and used the old wet paper towel- microwave solution to soften it.  I managed to get 1 1/2 cups of sugar to use in my recipe but I know the rest of the package will get tossed out because it will harden up again.  So – Domino, be forewarned, the letter’s in the mail.  I’m hoping they’ll send me a share in a sugar plantation.

I am tired of products that don’t meet the expected and/or time tested standards.  I used to just ignore these things – not wanting to be a complainer.  Not any more – I want to be compensated for an inferior product.

So there’s my rant for the day.  Who knows what I will get my dander up about tomorrow.


My Life Has Seen A Series Of Hobbies

My life has seen a series of hobbies, interests and passions come and go, ever changing, evolving and, I hope, growing.  It seems like I start something, but once I become fairly accomplished at it, I either become frustrated with it, lose interest, or decide something else is more interesting, and go on to the next exciting project.  I admire the people I have known who zero in on a hobby, project or cause and have stuck with it through thick and thin over their lifetime.


The first hobby I recall was collecting salt shakers.  I think it began when my family was making occasional trips to the Washington, DC area from western New York to visit my aunt and uncle.  We often stopped along the way for lunch at restaurants that had an Amish theme.  There I found little salt shakers representing Amish characters.  That set me off on a life-time fascination with all things Amish, but also, for a time, collecting salt shakers.  I must have had 50 sets in my collection by the time I sold it at auction (for peanuts) when I sold my home after my husband died.


I became fascinated with genealogy at a rather early age, but never pursued it as a passion until the 1980′s.  My grandmother passed on to me, a scrapbook that she had been putting together for most of her life, with family and local articles of interest.  When I finally decided to get involved in family research, I along with an aunt, jumped in with both feet.  We traveled al over New York State in search of cemeteries and records that would give us a clue as to our ancestry.  It proved to be a very fruitful venture, and my research eventually compiled ten three-ring -binders of material on the various lines.  But, it seems that I finally got burned out by all the research and decided to leave the hard tasks to someone in the next generation to follow through on.  However, I still brake for cemeteries.


Another, rather short lived passion, was quilting.  The first thing I did when I retired from my job at St. Bonaventure University was sign up for a quilting class.  I really enjoyed working with all the lovely fabrics and making a beautiful piece of fabric art to pass on to family members, some of whom did not share my enthusiasm for this “old timey” craft.  This time, it was old age that got in the way of my hobby.  It didn’t take long before I found I was developing nerve pain in my thumb and wrist from working with the needle and thread.  So, once again, I put the hobby aside and began searching for something else to while away the time.


Bird watching caught my fancy for a while, a hobby I still enjoy, but now it is from the view out my window.  I joined a local bird club and went on outings to find unusual species, and participated in the twice-a-year national bird counts.  Then I met Chuck who, although he shared my interest in birds, did not share my interest in counting them or searching out their hideaways.  So I backtracked and became a window watcher. Other things have held my interest for a while, but disappeared for various reasons.  Golf – loved it until my knees and back began complaining.  Calligraphy – used it for my Christmas cards one year and I’m sure the recipients thought I was showing off.  I was; enough of that.  Various forms of needlework, embroidery, crocheting, etc.  went the same way as the quilting – became painful.


My volunteer activities have come and gone as have my other interests.  I have been a docent at the St. Bonaventure Fine Arts Center, worked for the Friends of the Library, volunteered at the local historical society, and worked in the library as a volunteer in the technical services department.  These all held my interest for a while, but I eventually began to feel burn-out and a need to step back and re-evaluate whether or not I wanted to continue these projects. Maybe I’m just a fickle person.  I guess I am always looking for a new challenge once I have become accomplished at something.

Now, it seems, it is writing that is consuming me.  It has always been something I enjoyed, but in the past year it has become the one thing that I have enjoyed more than all the rest of the hobbies, with the possible exception of genealogy.  Yes, my life has seen a series of hobbies, passions and interests come and go, but I think this one will stick with me to the grave; or until my fingers and brain give out and I find myself putting gibberish on paper, or in this case, the computer.  Please let me know when it becomes unintelligible.

There are a few things left on my bucket list to try:  photography, cake decorating, painting.  I don’t think I am going to live long enough to attempt those hobbies.  But, you never know.