Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Quilts Hanging on a Front Porch

When I drove by the Amish home with quilts flying in the breeze as winter was thinking about turning to spring I couldn't help but stop. With the colors and detailed craftsmanship of those beautiful quilts hanging by clothespins against the simplicity of the home and the barn set off to the side and fields still holding on to patches of snow, the scene was breathtaking; looking more like an oil painting created by a master himself. Of course if it had been created by a master, that master would have had to contend with puddles of yuck and smells of the barn animals and the earth waking up.

On my way home I thought about my mother. She would have loved seeing those quilts flapping about. I know she would have worried they might let loose and end up in the mud. That's because she was a skilled seamstress. Her tailored suits and coats were sewn to perfection. Every dart and every seam; every button and button hole; every zipper and strip of bias tape-all were flawlessly sewn or created. She preferred Vogue patterns. Her material was the finest. And then-there were her quilts.

When my mother was in the process of making a quilt I was amazed at the exactness of every piece she'd cut out. Each had been measured. So many little pieces and she knew where every little piece would go. Her color schemes were breathtaking. It took her several visits to the fabric store to decide which bolts to finally choose. Putting those bolts of fabric together was so time consuming. Colors and designs had to compliment each other. There had to be contrasts but they had to be subtle so as not to stand out. They had to blend. They had to be present without screaming for attention. The end result always took my breath away; just like the two quilts did-hanging from clothespins on an Amish front porch as winter was turning to spring.





Monday, February 12, 2018

My Favorite Month for Art Class

Growing up I always thought my cousin Joe was so lucky having his birthday fall on February 12th. To be born on the same date as Abraham Lincoln was certainly something to celebrate. But that wasn't the end of it. The celebrating continued on February 22nd, the birth date of our 1st President. That was the icing on the cake-the birthday cake that is. And nudged between these two historic dates was Valentine's Day which meant there was a Valentine Day's party in every classroom. Instead of cake, cookies and/or cupcakes were served. February was an overload for celebrating. Whether it was Abe's tall hat or George's ax or bright red hearts, February was made for creating and that's why it was my most favorite month when in elementary school with Art Class being my most favorite class of all.

I had no use for arithmetic. It was too exact. I did like reading but Art Class-that was the class where my imagination was allowed to soar. Using big, fat crayons we'd draw big top hats on large pieces of white drawing paper. Then we'd color them black, cut them out and give them to our teacher. A few days later we'd discover top hats hanging in classrooms, up the stairs and in the hallways. After the birthdays had been celebrated, we'd be able to take out top hats home to hang on our refrigerators.

Nothing had to be exact in Art Class, not even hearts since the hearts could be any size and any shade of pink or red. They could even be white. Some could have paper lace glued on them. Others could be cut just so to make a chain of hearts. Some could be used as decorations on handmade Valentine cards. Some could have faces on them. Some could be stapled or glued to the front of a large piece of folded paper with the sides stapled or glued which turned that paper into a folder to hold Valentine's.

Whatever one could imagine, that's what a heart became in February in elementary school. Ironically Music class took on a special meaning as well that month due to the fact our music instructor's name was Miss Heart. It really was! And all through that month we sang songs-from the heart with Miss Heart!




Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Tin Dollhouse Full of Dreams

I hadn't thought about my tin dollhouse (similar to the one shown) in years which is sort of ironic since I spent so much time sitting in front of it playing and pretending. This past Christmas as I was deciding what furniture to buy my granddaughter for her dollhouse, the memories of my old tin dollhouse came to mind. That made my purchasing of that dollhouse furniture all the more important.

I remembered what it felt like to be sitting there as a owner of a house-my very own house even though it was a dollhouse-a tin dollhouse with sharp corners that would catch hold of me and hurt or catch hold of what I was wearing and stop me cold None of that mattered. It was my house and I could arrange the furniture any old way I wanted to. I could decorate my way. The pink toilet could have been found in the living room by the painted fireplace on the tin wall. The pink bathtub could have been in my tin bedroom. Or the baby playpen with baby inside could have been relocated to the tin bathroom when baby was crying too hard. The rooms didn't have doors you could shut so baby would still have been heard throughout that tin house. Any doors or windows were painted on the tin just like the fireplace as well as any room d├ęcor such as painted walls and pictures in frames. That meant when Christmas came around I had to do some freelancing. I took construction paper and crayons and went to work. I designed a wreath for the door and a Christmas tree for the living room and put construction paper stockings hanging from the fireplace painted on the tin wall. My home looked lovely. Santa always came!

Another perk of being a homeowner was the ability to invite any friends over that I wanted to even  friends who were so big they couldn't fit inside my home. That didn't matter. My teddy bear and dolls gathered outside and joined in. Whatever was going in in my house, they were included in the fun with the pretend plastic family living inside those tin walls.

A dollhouse is so much more than walls and rooms. A dollhouse can be wood or tin or plastic. It can be ranch style, castle style, treehouse style, town house style, beach style or chateau. Style does not matter. It is the imagination of the homeowner that matters. Their home becomes their field of dreams. What better gift could they receive. than a dollhouse.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I Think I Found Christmas


I’d ridden by the Amish farmhouse with Christmas wreaths displayed on the front porch a few days earlier. The contrast of red bows against off-white clapboards caught my eye. I didn’t have time to stop but I knew I’d get back there. And I did earlier this morning despite the zero-degree temperature and a light snow making the less travelled, winding road a little slippery. But that didn’t stop me. There was something about that simple house with corn shocks gathered in a nearby field and those wreaths on display in the cold that made me feel like Santa lived there.

I noted tracks leading from the barn to the road. They were from the wheels of a buggy and a horse pulling it. I noted footsteps in the snow. Someone was off somewhere early. Maybe the North Pole?  Thoughts of that someone out in the freezing cold made me hurry along a shoveled path leading to the front porch where the wreaths were hanging from nails. Aromas of cedar and pine and something baking inside brought me back to the times when I was a little girl visiting my grandparents at their farmhouse; especially this time of the year; the time of cinnamon and nutmeg; wreaths being made in the kitchen; an old Singer sewing machine humming and my grandfather’s saw creating surprises like a pine desk complete with a stool-my most favorite Christmas gift ever.

Swirls of snow dancing over drifts took my breath away as I knocked on the door. I could hear a baby crying. I could hear a little one running around. When the door opened I was greeted by a young Amish woman holding the baby. She didn’t invite me in. We stood there looking at each other until I asked about the wreaths. I was told they weren’t for sale. They were a special order. That’s when the baby really started crying. It was just too cold. The mother asked me in while she tended to her little one. The minute I stepped inside I felt as if I was back at the farmhouse where I spent endless hours as a child.  I felt as if my grandparents were there. In a way, they were as the floor creaked and the wind edged its way in between cracks and aromas of yeast and currants and kneaded dough and spices swirling from an oven brought to mind my Grandmother’s Christmas bread. Could it be that’s what was in the oven? Anything was possible. Christmas was coming.

A few minutes later I was asked to sit down at the table. The baby was sleeping. The toddler was peeking at me. We exchanged names. We talked. I learned the other children were at school. Watching her finagle her many duties brought me back to when my children were young. It seemed like yesterday. And yet, it seemed like an eternity. She disappeared for a minute only to return with her arms loaded down with boughs of cedar and pine. She explained she had to finish that special order. Watching her gather her materials reminded me of the times I’d do the same when I had a minute, only I’d be gathering pads of paper with scribbles I hoped to turn into a story if I had the time.

I decided I’d stayed long enough. This mother was trying to create with duties all around her. I stood, telling her I had to get back home.

“I would like you to take a wreath. Pick anyone you’d like, except for the large one, off the porch.”

I told her I wouldn’t take one if she didn’t accept money for it. We made a deal and minutes later I was walking along that shoveled path holding on to a precious wreath of pine and cedar with a red bow and pine cones made by what could have been an elf in disguise if you took in account her spirit of giving.

Driving down that narrow, slippery road I noticed a buggy being pulled by two horses coming towards me. As we were about to pass I felt chills going down my spine. If I didn’t know better the older gentleman in that buggy could have been Santa Claus. I mean he really looked like Santa Claus with wire-rimmed glasses and a beard as white as snow flying in the breeze and a twinkle in his eyes and a smile that made me feel like it was Christmas morning. I saw deer running in the woods. I bet they were on their way to the North Pole. I mean, it’s Christmas.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

In J. J. Newberry's basement with Santa Claus

Despite the rip right through my older brother's face, this photo is in pretty good shape considering its age. I am so thankful I found it in a box of old photos meant some day to be a part of a family album. Of course back when it was taken there wasn't the technology as there is today so if photos weren't put into albums immediately, they were added to a collection of photos stored away in a drawer or a box once they were developed. I'm figuring a store employee took this photo. I think that #53 is a reference number for the photo. It doesn't matter. What matters are the memories, despite the fact I have no recollection of that day-still dressed in my snowsuit in the basement of a J. J. Newberry's in the heart of the downtown in my hometown.

I remember hearing stories of going there to see Santa Claus when we were little. I remember walking down the stairs and turning right but that's it. Maybe I can't remember because I would get so very excited when seeing Santa Claus despite my not even acknowledging him in the photo. My mother would tell me stories of the Christmas mornings when I'd be so over-the-moon excited that I actually made myself so sick that she had to bundle me up on the sofa while she and my father and older brother opened their presents.

From what I can recall hearing, Santa's booth was not far from the stairs. It was against a wall. It was busy every day leading to Christmas. My mother helped my brother and I write our "Letters to Santa Claus." We'd bring them with us to Newberry's to drop in that box in the photo. I remember a main item on my list for a few years was a Bonnie Braids doll. When I finally found her under the tree wrapped in Santa paper it was like finding a pot of gold-even better.

Usually it was my mother who took us to Newberry's but it is an aunt in the photo waiting while Santa talks to us. That aunt was like a mother to us. She never married so her nieces and nephews were special to her. We loved talking Christmas with her. We loved how she wrapped the presents she bought for us.

It wasn't until years later that my mother told me the Newberry's Santa Claus was a woman. She worked with my mother as a nurse and loved playing Santa Claus. I decided that's what matters. She loved igniting that wonder and belief in the children who came to see her in that store basement. That to me is what Santa Claus is all about.




Sunday, November 26, 2017

We Three Kings and my Older Brother

I can't remember what grade my older brother-by two and a half years-was in when he was chosen by his teacher to sing one of the stanzas of 'We Three Kings' in the Christmas program at the little grade school we both attended just up the block from our house on the lane. I do remember I didn't think much about it even though I heard my parents discussing his singing with other relatives. That didn't matter. I knew he preferred playing with me over singing. And I was certain he wasn't as good at singing as he was at building forts with me in the front hall.

Our forts were made when closing off both doorways leading to the front stairs by using blankets. I don't know how he'd secure the blankets. I was more interested in filling our secret space. When the blankets were in place we'd take books from our mother's bookcase and put them in our secret spot. I'd run upstairs and bring down some of my dolls and stuffed animals. I don't think having my dolls in our fort bothered my brother. He never said they did. He was too busy defending us from the enemy. We'd play and pretend in that hidden hallway for what seemed like hours. 

It was snowing the morning of the Christmas program. When we got to school the parking lot was beginning to fill up. When I stepped into my classroom, the teacher told me she'd heard my brother sing in a rehearsal. She thought he had a good voice. I can't remember what our class was singing in the program. I just remember having to put something in my hair. Shortly after that, we were lined up one by one and led into the auditorium. It was packed. I found my parents near the back sitting with one of my aunts. I waved at them but they were waving at my brother. He was sitting up near the front with his class. He was dressed as a wise man. Everyone thought he looked just like one despite his red hair and freckles. 

The program was very long but very good. Just before Santa Claus made his appearance, the lights dimmed. The Principal walked to the center of the stage and announced the next song would be the last song . I knew what it was. It had to be 'We Three Kings." And it was. My brother's class stayed in their seats and sang. When it came time for the third stanza to be sung, my brother stood. A spotlight was right on him. And when he started to sing I was in shock. My brother really could sing! His voice was strong. He held his head high and sang with all of his might. When he got to the end of the stanza, his classmates joined in. When the song had been sung, the auditorium erupted with applause. Everyone was on their feet-including me. I was sure I was clapping the loudest-the proudest as I told my classmates, "That was my brother singing"! I looked back at my parents and my aunt. They were clapping just like me.

My brother's fame never changed him. He still built us forts in the front hallway and he never did complain about me filling them with my dolls and stuffed animals.


Monday, November 13, 2017

The Best Little Newspaper Ever

Growing up in the country surrounded by relatives proved to be my own Kickstarter when it came to taking my love of newspapers at a very young age to another level. I don't know if my infatuation was with the smell of the print or everything that a newspaper had to offer from the front page to the last page. Add in flyers and advertisements and the lure grew even stronger. I read all the sections-from local news to national news to sports and special features. When my father brought the newspaper home with him, I was usually the first one to grab it.

My family's home was one of four homes in a row and all those homes were full of those relatives. My grandparents' farmhouse was the anchor. Off in a field not far from the farmhouse was an abandoned chicken coop. That old coop became the center of my universe, as well as my cousins, after the adults gutted it and filled it with the desks, chalkboards, and books from a vacated one-room schoolhouse. We were always in the chicken coop; even in the winter despite snow blowing in through windows with missing panes. We'd play school with imaginary students. We'd put on Easter parades. We'd read books and write books. And from all of this playing and pretending and creating an idea hit like a hurricane.

We'd start a newspaper. And so my cousin and I became reporters, editors, publishers, advertising salespeople, circulation experts and the Sports department. We called our paper 'The Burns Row Journal'. It was named after our grandparents as all those four homes in a row were all Burns' in one way or another. We were a weekly newspaper, publishing on Saturday nights in the chicken coop. There were no computers. We didn't have a printing press so we hand-printed 4 copies of our Journal. We didn't have paperboys or papergirls so on Sunday mornings, we'd deliver a copy of The Burns Row Journal to each of the 4 homes. There weren't individual sections to our pub. It was usually four sheets of loose-leaf paper stapled together and when it came to a new section it would have its own heading. We didn't charge our customers. Each printed edition was a labor of love.

The one thing all of our sections had in common was the fact that every single item in the Burns Row Journal was family-related. Our ads featured a funeral home, a shoe store, a teacher/coach and nurses as all of those professions were represented in those four homes. Our Sports section ran features on anything we considered to be sports. That included baseball games held in the front yard of the farmhouse to swimming in a river down across the road to skating down at the creek. News highlighted anything we could think of family-related and that could have been news briefs on family pets or a special event coming up at the chicken coop clubhouse.

I can't remember when our 'printing press' stopped. Probably when we grew out of doing such a silly thing as hand-printing four copies of what we considered to be our own New York Times on Saturday nights.

(Photo included shows that old chicken coop clubhouse. I am the one standing between two neighbor kids. This is the only photo I have of that amazing clubhouse-home to the amazing Burns Row Journal.)