Tuesday, December 10, 2019

When In Line At The Post Office

I told my son Brian I wouldn't be long. I only had a few things to mail. I told him not to worry. I'd get him to the gym on time. Hurrying towards the post office I noticed two women helping each other up the steps. It wasn't snowing. The steps weren't icy but I slowed down while they made it to the door. One pushed the handicap lever and the door opened. That's when they noticed I was waiting behind them.
They told me to go ahead. One explained, "We're just two old friends coming to mail our Christmas cards. We've been doing this for years. Don't wait for us. You'll be here all day!"
I thanked them and went inside and stood in a long line. I thought about leaving but decided there'd be no good time to mail something with Christmas getting closer.
I could hear those two older women chatting. I turned around to see where they were. They both saw me. They both smiled and waved. That's when I noticed what they were wearing. The two were all dressed up with clip-on earrings and long wool coats and hats. Not winter hats but dress hats with veils. They reminded me of my father. He loved going to the post office and when he did, he always wore a tie and if it was cold outside, he'd wear his dress hat. He'd always run into people he knew and would spend time talking to them and others he didn't know. Going to the post office was a social event for him as it seemed to be for the women in dress hats chatting with all who walked by them.
The post office was really busy. Some people were waiting with arms full of boxes. Some held onto piles of cards and letters. Many had questions once they reached the counter and that took them even longer. I noticed a few people getting restless. A few muttered to themselves and to others in line. A few left and that made the rest of us happy. When one person reached the counter with many big boxes to mail, a subdued moan went around the lobby. That's when I saw one of the old ladies standing near me reading greeting cards for sale on a display. I noticed the ones that had her attention were all Christmas-themed.
One really caught her fancy. She brought it over to her friend. They both started chuckling and giggling and then laughing-laughing so hard like a belly-type laugh with tears falling down their cheeks. They tried stopping. They'd take a breath; then they'd start laughing again. Their laughter became contagious. Others started laughing. Strangers were smiling and talking with one another.
It was a wonderful experience. It felt like Christmas had arrived early in the historic old post office where I imagined my father standing in the line waiting to mail the Christmas cards my mother had addressed. When you think about that's what a post office does. It delivers Christmas just like I delivered Brian to the gym-on time!
(Hope you enjoy The Saturday Evening Post cover. I love those covers and that magazine. My grandparents always had a stack of them when living in their farmhouse).

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Getting The Decorations Out

We all have our ways of decorating the Christmas tree. My way begins with bringing down the box that holds many of the decorations. It’s an old box. It once held a VCR made by RCA. At the time, it was an exciting gift for the family. I should retire the box. I know there are better ways to store the decorations but I’ve yet to make the move. You see, that old box has become a part of the tradition of trimming the tree. After all, it has the responsibility of holding the decorations all year long. And most of those decorations are priceless-not in the money sense of the word. Rather, in the memory sense. They each tell a story of a time or a place in our family history.

When I was first married, I bought a paint-by-number Christmas kit holding small wooden Christmas decorations complete with a small hole for the string to hang them on the tree and little plastic containers with the paint and two paint brushes. I started painting them late in the season. When Christmas came around some of the decorations were only painted on one side. That didn’t stop me from putting them on the tree. To this day, a few, like an elf and a teddy bear and reindeer are still only painted on one side. And that’s okay. They tell the story of a first Christmas of long ago. One of the wooden decorations is Mrs. Claus. We named her Giddy after my grandmother. They have the same, warm and happy smile. Their eyes are full of love and you get the sense they both share a passion for baking cookies.

The biggest item in the VCR box is the tree skirt. My mother made it for us years ago out of felt. In its younger days, it was bright red and the snowmen were pure white but the years have taken its toll. Some might have replaced it by now, trading it in for a new one. But I can’ do that. Every time that tree skirt is unfolded and put around the bottom of the tree, I envision my mother cutting out the pieces and putting them all together when we lived atop the funeral home.

There are elves in the VCR box. They look just like those elves on shelves but they aren’t. They’re just elves. They’ve never been hidden. They’ve never told Santa who has been good or bad. They’re just elves full of memories. They were my father’s; probably bought at Newberry’s or Grants. I know a few of the decorations came from Woolworths. My father told me he and my mother went shopping at that downtown store for decorations to put on their first Christmas tree. They are beautifully painted and their shapes are unique. I take extra care when I pack those decorations away in the VCR box. Each is wrapped in paper towels and newspapers as are the cookie dough Santas I purchased years back when I had a little store selling Hello Kitty and so much more. I couldn’t sell the Santas. I fell in love with them the minute I saw them. I did the same when it came to little horses and pigs made of cloth and placed inside half of a walnut shell, looking as if they’re in bed covered in a tiny little cloth blanket.

One decoration came straight from Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole. It wasn’t planned. It was an accident. Brian was maybe two or three. We didn’t notice him taking a red wooden heart off one of the decorated trees and putting it in the back of the stroller holding his youngest sister. Later, when we were leaving, we found the heart. We were way off in the parking lot and made the decision to keep the heart. I’m so glad we did. Every year when the red heart is on the tree, the story is told again about that day at Santa’s Workshop. I do believe Santa had lots to do with that memory.

So many decorations—so many memories like the decorations made in nursery schools where scribbles and colorings are considered Picassos and a handmade decoration with a reindeer drawn inscribed with “Gra-Gra Reindeer” extends the memory making to yet another generation. (My two grandchildren call me Gra-Gra).

There have been a few Christmases when I wasn’t in the mood for decorating the tree. To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood for Christmas until I brought down the old VCR box and opened it up and found all those priceless, family stories waiting for me to get them out and hang them on the tree where they could be told and enjoyed again. The wooden ornaments painted years ago, some only on one side and one named after my grandmother, and a tree skirt made of felt that was showing its age and elves that were just your regular elves my father bought at Newberry’s or Grants and treasured ornaments my parents bought at Woolworths and cookie dough Santas and walnut shells turned into beds for miniature-sized horses and pigs and a red wooden heart direct from the North Pole selected by a little boy one summer day so very long ago and scribbles and colorings and so much more—they were all there waiting for me like they are every Christmas-like they were yesterday.

Soon there will be gifts under the tree. But there is no greater gift than the stories told by ornaments and treasures packed away in an old box that once held a shiny new RCA VCR.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

When Wonder Stirs

Two little ones came to stay for a while this afternoon. The first thing they asked was if they could make cookies. I'd anticipated the question. I had the dough chilling in the refrigerator. It wasn't long before the cookie cutters were on the counter and the fun began. It was obvious from the start that thing called Wonder had returned. The Season of Christmas was in their eyes, their smiles, their laughter.
It was contagious. After they'd packed up their cookies and headed home, I discovered some of that Wonder was still about the kitchen; inspiring me to make my little, faceless gingerbread men and put them in the old tin sitting on the table by the front door. As I mixed the dough and smelled the molasses and cut the little guys out, baked them, cooled them down and filled that tin, my mind wandered back to that precious time of Wondering. We remember the red suit, the beard, the ho-ho-ho. We remember leaving cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. But when you're a child, there's so much more when you Believe-when that Wonder stirs.
You're certain you hear the sleigh land and the hoofs pawing and Santa sliding down the chimney. Peeking from under your blankets, you're sure he's filling the stockings and placing presents under the tree and eating the cookies you made. You smile as you hear him going back up the chimney.
In an instant you hear the jingling of bells. The pawing of hoofs intensify as those magnificent reindeer pick up speed right above you. The ho-ho-ho echoes over the land as Santa leads that sleigh to yet another rooftop of another family with children nestled under blankets while snow softly falls.
Anything is possible-when Wonder stirs-even the baking of precious little gingerbread men; then placing them in an old tin can and sitting the can back on a table by the front door, thus carrying on a Christmas tradition of long ago.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Inside An Old Cardboard Box

While doing some cleaning-out-of-stuff in the garage recently I came across an old cardboard box marked fragile. Pulling the box closer to me, I sat down and removed the yellowed, crinkled tape holding it together; then slowly opened it. As I began lifting away layers of crumpled newspapers, I noticed something towards the bottom, half exposed and sparkling. Taking a closer look, I knew what I’d found.  Every once in a while, I’d wonder where it’d gone. After removing the rest of the newspapers, I stood with that box in hand and went inside the house. Putting it down on the kitchen counter, I began pulling out small crystal cups and eventually, a crystal punch bowl and crystal ladle. All of the pieces had belonged to my mother. 

Taking a wet cloth, I wiped away leftover bits of newspapers and grit and remnants of leaves that had found their way inside the box. The longer I stood there, the more memories of that crystal punch bowl came back to me. My father was a member of the local Lions Club. In the summertime my parents would host a social event in our back yard before that Club’s annual event held at a local restaurant. In preparation of the event, my mother would get out the crystal punch bowl and fill it with a concoction of liquids, adding a few slices of oranges and limes and topping it off with cherries.

While the punch chilled, my mother would get dressed. That was my favorite part of the event. One in particular stands out. With her good slip on, she opened her closet door and pulled out one of her fancy dresses and spread it out on her bed. Most likely, she’d made the dress. She was an exquisite seamstress. Going into the bathroom, she took out bobby pins securing tight curls in her hair; then stood in front of the bathroom mirror and brushed the curls out—using a bit of hair gel to cement the style in place. Back in the bedroom, my mother unzipped her dress. Then standing in front of a mirror, she put it on. Adjusting her slip, she checked all angles of the dress, making sure the darts and the seams were in place. Then she opened her blue velvet jewelry box. I loved all the pieces kept in that magic box of shiny things. The cameo necklace with matching earrings and the necklace with small emeralds set in yellow gold were stunning. But my favorite was the pearl necklace. I remember my mother telling me my father had given it to her. The pearl necklace is what she chose to wear that particular evening. After dabbing some Toujours Moi behind her ears and on her wrists, my mother was ready for the ball. While the social event was going on, I peeked outside to see how things were going. I thought my parents were the most beautiful couple in the crowd. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever use the crystal punch bowl but that doesn’t matter. It’s about the memories of watching my mother transform into Cinderella with her hair rid of bobby pins and her red lipstick on along with her fancy dress and pearl necklace and her long white gloves and black dress purse with its sparkling clasp ready to go. It’s about my father who always wore a tie, even to the post office and picnics in the summertime. But there was something about the tie he wore to that particular gathering in the backyard that made him even more handsome. That’s probably because he was escorting Cinderella to the ball.  

That crystal punch bowl was part of that era and while my parents have since passed away, I can still see my mother in the kitchen with bobby pins in her hair filling that bowl; then slicing the fruit and going to get dressed.

Memories come in all shapes and sizes—even in a crystal punch bowl with matching crystal cups.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Growing up with Favorite Books

When I was growing up I was lucky to have a mother and a grandmother who bought me books that I fell in love with and remain favorites to this day. Of course there was no internet to go to when buying the books. Instead there was a little bookstore in our downtown. Sometimes I'd get to go there with my mother. I'd be excited when walking through the door and seeing all the books on display. The smell of the books, of the type on the pages, was magical.

My grandmother bought me books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I not only read those books. I devoured them. From the little house in the woods where Laura lived with her family to the house 
on the prairie to the house on the banks of Plum Creek, I was with Laura and her family wherever they went. I shivered in fear when wolves would howl or grasshoppers brought about a plague or fierce blizzards buried them in snow. I imagined playing with dolls made of cornstalks in the attic with Laura and Mary. I loved summer planting and the smells of fall harvest. I loved playing outside. I loved the trundle bed where Mary and Laura slept covered in quilts as the wind and the wolves howled. I loved the Christmases as described. I loved the idea of that family working together through hardships and gathering around the table for home-cooked meals and conversation.

While the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were my very favorites, I also loved my books written by Louisa May Alcott-especially Little Women and Little Men given to me by my mother who was herself, an avid reader. I always felt as if I was the character, Jo, who aspired to be a writer and growing up, was quite a tomboy. Jo was outspoken when she needed to be and feisty when she felt like it. I'd find myself rooting for Jo. She never disappointed me.

Other beloved book series of mine included the Nancy Drew mysteries and the Bobbsey Twins. All were good stories. All were hard to put down especially when reading them in an old chicken coop cleaned out and filled with the remains of an abandoned one-room schoolhouse including chalkboards, books and desks and turned into a clubhouse for me and my cousins. I've written about that clubhouse before. It was the perfect place to be reading as it was a place of play and imagination and what better way to stir one's imagination than by reading-especially reading books by favorite authors, most bought at a small, downtown bookstore where all those books on shelves smelled just heavenly when walking through the door.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

It Could Have Been a TV Drama Series

This old photo shows me standing between my parents. My mother is holding my little sister. We are packing up the first place I ever called home and moving to the country. I remember feeling sad. I didn't want to move anywhere. I loved that clapboard house sitting on a lane just minutes from where I went to school. I loved my bedroom with back stairs leading down to the kitchen. I loved having my desk in my bedroom sitting beside a window where I could look out as I "wrote my stories." (Check the notebook in my hands). I loved the sun porch and the high counter in the kitchen where my tadpole swam in a bowl of water. I loved the big yard and my best friend who lived but a minute away. I loved the double living room. I loved coming down the front stairs on Christmas morning.

The photo was taken in the second living room. The doorway behind my mother led to the kitchen and then the sunporch. To her left was the dining room where on Christmas Eve she'd set the table using her finest linen and her finest china with candles in crystal candle holders and silverware kept in a mahogany box lined in velvet brought out only for Christmas Eve.

The more I look at the photo the more I imagine it as a set from an old TV drama series filmed in California's wine country. With that infamous hat at his fingertips, my father could have been the actor, Art Carney. With her short, dark hair, my mother could have been the actress, Jane Wyman. Art Carney's character could have started out as a grape picker at a celebrated winery and worked his way up to vineyard manager while Jane Wyman's character cared for their daughters and was a housekeeper for the winery's family matriarch-a rich and powerful woman and owner of a sprawling mansion and that winery in her possession for decades. Art and Jane's characters live in a little home. They are hard workers and good parents. None of that goes unnoticed by the family matriarch. When she passes away, the matriarch leaves everything to Art and Jane's characters. In her air tight will, sealed and notarized, the woman tells her children, who are now adults, they don't deserve to inherit something they've taken for granted; something they've never bothered with or worked for while waiting for her to pass. Instead of caring and tending to the grapes, they've consumed the wine as if it was water streaming out of a faucet.

In the last episode of this popular TV drama-so popular that viewers rooted for this little family week after week as they survived one crisis after another while those rich brats rode around in their fancy cars wearing their fancy diamonds and designer clothing and drinking their wine in long stemmed crystal glasses, the family is packing up their little home. They are sad to leave it. That's where they've lived since arriving at the winery. They've welcomed their children in that home. They've made friends who would come for supper on Sunday evenings. That's where they've celebrated holidays and birthdays. They've enjoyed the sun porch and the big back yard. Their oldest daughter is very sad. She's going to miss her bedroom with back stairs leading down to the kitchen and the high counter where her tadpole swims in a bowl of water.

The last scene shows them walking out the back door of their little house for the last time with that young girl carrying her tadpole in its bowl of water-just like I did when we left that clapboard house sitting on the lane and moved to the country. Once that family settles in the mansion, they're very happy. That mansion feels like home. Once my family and I were settled in our new home out in the country, we were very happy. While it didn't have a sunporch, it did have fields to play in and a creek to skate on. While my bedroom lacked backstairs going down to the kitchen, it had a window looking out towards the back fields. That's where my desk sat. That yellow house out in the country felt like home because it became our home.

It wasn't a mansion. It wasn't a clapboard house sitting on a lane. It was home and home is in one's heart.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Old Tin Can and the Little Gardener

The old tin can is back on the small table by the front door full of little garden gourds and other garden remnants found underneath weeds and overgrown plants with sprawling vines. As Christmas nears, the old tin can will hold gingerbread men fresh from the oven; some still steaked with flour and all without decorations or faces. They will remain in the old tin can through February.

Many of those little garden gourds and other garden remnants were discovered by a six-year-old. Most every time he visited this past summer, he’d run out the back door to the garden to see what had grown since his last visit. One day he cleared a space between the carrots and zucchini and asked if he could plant something in his little garden. I found some leftover beet seeds in the garage. He was thrilled. Watching how gently he patted soil over the seeds, it was obvious he’d not only inherited the fishing gene, he’d inherited the gardening gene as well. When he was satisfied that the beet seeds were covered, he found rocks of all sizes and placed them around his little garden. Before he went back home, the little gardener asked me to water his beets whenever I watered the carrots and zucchini and the rest of the garden. I did as he requested but sadly deer would come along and step on them. I never told him. I’d salvage what little fledgling beets I could.

The small area designated by a circle of rocks between the carrots and zucchini never did produce beets of any size but the little gardener didn’t care. He was satisfied with the few sprouts that somehow survived the mighty hoofs of passing deer and the fact they were planted late in the season. That little gardener was proud of his sprouts. He’d sit beside them while digging for carrots, first with a small shovel and then, using his fingers, he’d dig around the carrot and pull. Sometimes the carrot would break in half but that didn’t stop him. He’d keep digging until he retrieved the entire carrot. When he felt he had enough carrots, he looked for zucchini hiding underneath oversized leaves resembling elephant ears when flapping in the breeze.

Even at such a young age, the little gardener understands it’s not really all about the produce plants bring forth. Rather, it’s about the process. It’s about the sun and the summer breeze and the rain and the bunnies hopping by and the weeds that need tending.

It’s about elephant-sized zucchini leaves flowing in the breeze, flapping with laughter, protecting fledgling little beet sprouts planted by a mighty proud little gardener and protected by rocks of all sizes.