My uncle and aunt live in Great Falls, Montana, the land of exquisite vistas, perfect summers, low humidity, no mosquitoes and rarely a tornado. When I was young every summer we would travel to Montana to visit my cousins and they, in turn, would travel to Minnesota to enjoy our hospitality, heat, humidity, mosquitoes and tornadoes.
It never failed that the week our Montana guests arrived turned out to be the hottest most miserable of the summer. Now, my beloved uncle was born and raised in Montana, so Minnesota summer’s were a special challenge to him. Other than the fact that our state’s agriculture helps feed the world, I do not believe he saw many perks to living in this state.
One summer, in particular, Minnesota put on a display of weather that will not be soon forgotten. Each day of their visit, the temperatures were in the upper 90’s to over 100 degrees with very high dew points. It was sweltering. Added to that, mother nature decided to show off her power, by sending severe storm after severe storm, tornado after tornado, day after day. I think we spent most of their visit ducking for cover.
Our century old farm home added an extra thrill to tornado survival due to it being built over a natural spring. At least, I assume that is what it was. Even in dry weather, no sooner was the basement pumped out than a two-inch jet of water would shoot up from between the cracks in the flooring and re-flood the whole thing.
Our basement was almost always flooded with several feet of water. Which did have its perks. Once, I released some fish that I trapped into the basement. My plan was to let them grow and then be able to sit inside on the basement steps and fish in the evenings without having to do the constant mosquito evasion fandango dance. Swatting and swinging at those bloody thirsty insects raises havoc with fishing bobber control, don’t ya know.
The basement fish plan had real potential, at least it did in my mind, and was initially successful. I really enjoyed watching those fish swim around in that clear, cold water. Unfortunately fish have to breathe and eat and soon they gave up the ghost. That is when my plan became problematic.
Opening up the basement windows to get rid of the dead fish stink, attracted swarms of flies. The swarm of flies attracted, swarms of toads by the hundreds who then crawled into my mother’s canning jars and died. Canning jars filled with dead smelly toads got the attention of my mother. She’s alert like that. For my ingenuity, I was awarded an opportunity for personal growth by being put solely in charge of cleaning up the old testament plagues that had struck our basement.
Of course, now, as an adult I realize that my childish plan for basement fishing was not destined for success. It failed for lack of an aerator and more minnows. Then, too, I have always regretted never being able to ice skate down there.
Anyway, since our basement was always full of water, during severe storms we would sit on the rickety, crooked, half-rotten basement stairs. There in the dank and dark, without even any fish to watch, we would wait out the storms. When our Montana cousins were visiting there would be all ten of us on those stairs, including my urbane highly respected architect uncle from big sky country.
Of course, sitting on the basement stairs was not as safe as actually being in a basement during a tornado warning. In reality it was probably no safer than being upstairs, but we felt that it was an appropriate feel good gesture for company . And, it was safer than standing in that flooded basement.
Regardless of the number of safety drills, sometimes when a storm hits there is just not enough time for everyone to get into a swimming suit before seeking shelter in their flooded basement. Besides common sense dictates that it is never safe to go swimming during a lightening storm, basement or not. However, the pre-storm donning of a swimsuit makes post-storm flooded ditch body surfing and swimming immediate and sweet.
Then, too, the sump pump used to drain the water out of our basement had questionable wiring. Sometimes it worked, most of the time it didn’t. No one was really sure what kind of a shock hazard may be involved in touching the basement water. Shocking as it may seem, we were probably in less danger from the storms than electrocution by questionable sump pump wiring.
Human or divinely inspired… the potential for a severe electrical jolt was a given. So, the basement stair-sitting storm survival protocol was established and implemented.
Whether it was the flooded basement or potential invasion from bats in our belfry, I was convinced by the look on my highly educated and devout Montana uncle’s face as he sat on those filthy farm dirt covered stairs that he was fervently praying for a loving and just God, in my uncle’s absence and before their next summer’s visit, to aim a direct hit by a tornado or bulldozer on those basement stairs and the house that stood over them for safety and sanity’s sake.
While the safety standards of our homestead may have been questionable, our hospitality could not be faulted. We loved having our Montana cousins come to visit. Whether it was my mom, Aunt Jane, the great aunties or grandma their annual visit was a time to get together and celebrate family with good food.
Hot weather called for cold salads. In those days jello salads were all the rage and lemon jello salads were especially popular in the summer. There is only one rule you need to remember for jello salad making and that is…combining vegetables with fruit flavored jello is always a bad idea.
This recipe for Luscious Lemon Jello Salad is a crowd pleaser and perfect for a hot, humid Minnesota summer supper.
Luscious Lemon Jello Salad
2 (3-ounce) packages Lemon Jello
2 cups of boiling water
1 (12-ounce) can of Mountain Dew or lemon-lime soda
1 (21-ounce) can lemon pie filling
1 (15-ounce) can crushed pineapple, well-drained
2 cups of miniature marshmallows
8 ounces of Cool Whip, thawed
In a large bowl combine jello and boiling water. Stir until jello is completely dissolved. Add the Mountain Dew and stir until blended.
Stir in one half of the pie filling. Spoon into a 2-quart glass serving bowl. Stir in pineapple and marshmallows. Chill until set.
In a small bowl combine remaining pie filling with Cool Whip. Gently mix together. Spread over the chilled layer. Chill until serving time.
Yield: 12 servings.
This recipe can be found in the cookbook, “Minnesota 4-H Recipes, Favorite Recipes of 4-H Families and Friends.”