Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Real Beauty of America-Really!

When I entered my grandmother in a contest sponsored by Ladies' Home Journal, I never told her. That's because I thought I'd surprise her if for some wild chance she'd be one of eight women chosen from essays submitted by readers to be showcased in a special supplement in their July issue titled "The Real Beauties of America." It was 1976. America would be celebrating its Bicentennial!

The minute I read about the Journal's search for those eight women in early February I focused on my grandmother-nicknamed Giddy by my older brother when he was a little boy. The name stuck. Everyone called her Giddy. I wrote my submission out on a legal pad over a weekend. I'd thought about what I'd say days prior whenever I had a moment to think. At that time I was the mother of 3 young children. There was no internet back then so once I was just about finished with what I was writing I took out my typewriter and began fine tuning it. I mailed it at the post office Monday morning thinking at least I'd gone through the process and that was that.

When Ladies' Home Journal called in late April we were all sick with the flu. I answered the phone. I half listened because I felt sick to my stomach. It wasn't until I heard 'Ladies' Home Journal' did I realize what was going on although I couldn't jump up and down for joy. I didn't dare. Actually I didn't think much about it right then. The flu had my full attention. A few days later I realized I'd best tell my grandmother since a crew from the magazine would be coming to interview and photograph her. She didn't believe me at first. When it sunk in, she was delighted. She couldn't wait to meet them.

On the day of their arrival I was at my grandmother's home. One of my aunts lived with her so the three of us sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and waiting. It wasn't long before a car pulled into the driveway. Seconds later three women were at the front door-the Health and Beauty Editor, her assistant and a photographer. The next few hours were a whirlwind. My grandmother was a hit. Our visitors loved her. I knew they would. She was a perfect fit. I was told there had been been thousands of entries.

I couldn't wait until that July issue was out. When I saw it for the first time I read it over and over again. They actually referenced my grandmother on the introductory page-"And as for Giddy, who raised six children and ran the tractor on the family farm, she reminds us that the spunky American woman is nothing new."

That was certainly the truth. While my grandmother is no longer with us, her spunky spirit will forever be a part of us. I'm so glad I entered her in that contest. She deserved to be on those pages that Bicentennial year of America.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Crooner On The Crescent

(The above photo showing a section of The Crescent in downtown Ogdensburg courtesy of Ogdensburg native Ted Como-then a staff reporter at the Ogdensburg Journal-now living in Tennessee.)

There used to be a section in the downtown where I grew up known as The Crescent as it followed the bend of the river running along just below. At one end of The Crescent it flowed underneath a bridge merging with another river.

Back then the bridge provided access to the downtown. Going one way brought people into the shopping district. The other way brought them to additional shopping options-just not as many. The Crescent led walkers and drivers and the curious to the downtown in a back sort of way. The Crescent wasn't the heart of the downtown. It ran parallel to that thriving downtown full of tall and mighty brick buildings housing shoe stores, department stores, clothing stores, furniture stores, jewelry stores, hardware stores, five and dimes with soda fountains, a photo shop where you could bring your rolls of film to be developed and the top tunes of the day were available on 45s and record albums were displayed in bins one right after another. There was a milliner's shop with a winding stairway leading to its door and pharmacies and a fresh fruit store-banks and diners and restaurants and a newspaper; movie theatres, apartments, offices, grand hotels, an army-navy store, a pool hall, pubs, a sweet little bookstore, an amazing soda fountain with those round tables and wrought-iron chairs and creamy sodas and real milkshakes served with containers holding more of the thick, delicious drink enabling you to refill your glass more than once and coke served on ice in what has become vintage coke glasses. In front of the soda fountain there was a smoke shop complete with cigarettes and fine cigars as well as newspapers from all around the country and magazines. There was something about the smell of all that newsprint mingling with pipe tobacco in that area with its tile floor and overhead fans. One might expect to find Humphrey Bogart standing at the glass counter, about to buy a pack of Camels.

While The Crescent wasn't the main thoroughfare, it did play an intricate role in the make-up and spirit of the downtown. Following the curve in the street were all sorts of little shops and businesses. Besides a dry cleaner and a cobbler-a fine family-owned restaurant offering Italian cuisine, a Montgomery Wards and other known stops, a popular eatery housed in an old dining car was a buzz of activity 24-hours a day. 'The Crescent Diner' offered a full menu and if you went for dinner, you could very well have been entertained by the singing waiter-the 'Crooner on the Crescent'-in other words, my father. Oh he wasn't my father back then. I wasn't even around. He wasn't even married. He was young and fancy free, waiting on tables and driving young women crazy with his crooning. He really did. Over the years I've had women, who knew my father back then, tell me how'd they go to The Crescent Diner just to hear him sing. His most requested song was 'Pennies from Heaven." I guess the girls really swooned when he moved about table to table singing that particular song. You have to remember this was the Frank Sinatra era-although it wasn't Frank making them swoon. It was a singing waiter nicknamed 'Nookie' by his adoring fans.

I'm intrigued by the fact my father was a crooner-a singing waiter in a diner sitting above a river that still flows into another, alongside a downtown now demolished. I wonder what he was like back then. I wonder when he decided to become a funeral director. I wonder if he ever thought about pursuing a singing career. I wonder what would have happened then.  He probably wouldn't have met my mother and I wouldn't be here. I think Nookie made the right decision!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Old Garden Cart

There was never anything fancy about the old garden cart. In fact, most would have retired it by now. Traded it in for an up-to-date model. But that wouldn't be an easy thing to do. You don't discard something just because it's worn-because it lost its shine-especially when it has served you well for forty some years. That's how it is with the old garden cart. Somehow and at some point it became more than a cart. It became a part of the family. And as family members grew old, so did that cart.

Back in its prime the garden cart served many purposes. Besides hauling weeds and shrubs and freshly picked vegetables and sand to refill a sandbox and leaves raked into piles and rocks dug out from the earth and fallen limbs whipped from trees, that garden cart hauled little children and kittens and a dog or two. Around and around a huge garden it would go-up and down a small hill-around a cluster of raspberry bushes and apple trees as giggles and laughter and barking and meowing drifted about an oversized yard. Sometimes a few of the older children would be the ones pulling the cart. Other times it would have been an adult. No matter who was doing the pulling, there were always calls to 'go faster' from those sitting in the cart and holding on as if they were at a carnival and going on a roller coaster ride.

There were quiet times spent in that cart as well. Sometimes one or two of those children would sit in it and play. They'd go nowhere. They'd simply play with kittens or read books or color. Sometimes the cart would be turned upside down and used as a secret cabin-a hideaway in the middle of the yard. Many a peanut butter and jelly sandwich were enjoyed in that cart as adventures unfolded and the cart turned in to whatever a little child imagined it to be.

Due to its constant use-the wear and tear-and uncontrollable weather conditions, the old garden cart has had many repairs and tweaks and overhauls and paint jobs. But its still going. It's still in use hauling weeds and freshly picked vegetables and sand to refill a sandbox-picking up leaves and fallen limbs whipped from trees. But now a sandbox is occupied by grandchildren. And the grandchildren are the ones being pulled about a garden, sitting in the old garden cart, laughing just like the generation before them had done-laughing as they ask to 'go faster', holding on as if they're at a carnival and going on a roller coaster ride.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Card Houses on Braided Rugs

When I was young my cousin and I would play on this braided rug made by my grandmother. It was the biggest of her braided rugs in the home she and my grandfather built once they sold the farm. Sometimes we'd spread out on all fours and try to figure out what garments owned by family members had been woven into the strips of fabric that we were playing on. Creating a braided rug-especially such a large one, was quite the undertaking. Besides preparing the braided strips, our grandmother had to clean the garments and strip them of buttons and zippers. But none of that mattered to us when we discovered those braided rugs were a great place on which to play. And when it came time to find some packs of playing cards and create our card houses, that huge braided rug was the perfect place to do it. The little grooves the rug provided gave us anchors for our creations.

We'd both start by leaning two cards firmly together. After that, we were on our own in designated areas atop the rug. There were no instructions. No plans included inside the pack. It was up to each of us to construct the biggest-most ingenious card houses ever. Sometimes designs would spread out horizontally and then up. Others would just go up and up and up. Some would have garages. Others chimneys. Some had sidewalks or streets out in front of them. Very often card fences enclosed the structures. They were quite the site. No two places were ever alike. Once the building part was complete, the playing began. We'd visit each other in our card homes. Park our cars on the card street. Climb the card fences. Go for a walk on the card sidewalk or ride our bikes or skip our jump ropes. If we were hungry we'd go inside to our card kitchens for lunch. If we got tired, we'd take a nap on our card bed. We had so much fun. But most always that fun abruptly ended when our card creations came crashing down-by our own doing or someone opening a door and creating a breeze or someone moving the rug or an older brother playing demolition derby atop that beautiful braided rug.
(Shown in the photo-2 of my children 'just a few years ago' with their dog)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Old Enamel Chairs

It's that time again. People are bringing out their lawn furniture put in storage before the snow arrived late last fall. As they empty garages, sheds and barns, each piece is given a good look over. While most will be cleaned and set back in place by pools, in yards and on porches, others might need a fresh coat of paint. And still, some chairs and tables and chaise lounges might be tossed out and replaced by something new and shiny. These days, fancy swings and gliders come with all sorts of gadgets. Sometimes they look more comfortable than they really are.

My mother bought wooden lounge chairs dressed in a canvas stripe pattern. If you picked a chair up, you could move a rung on the bottom to adjust the angle of the chair. The further back the rung was put, the further back you could lay. Those chairs were great for catching some rays. Except for a hammock-style swing that went side-to-side, those chairs were about as fancy as any outdoor furniture came back then.

I don't have any fancy types of outdoor furniture. My taste goes back to when my grandparents lived on the farm. Of course times were different then. Gadgets weren't included. But no one cared. And either do I. I can still see white enamel chairs sitting outside the farmhouse. My grandmother would sit in one as she shucked peas or cut up green beans or did mending or brushed hair. I always liked the enamel chairs. They were fun to sit in when just a kid. You could rock back and forth and try to catch yourself before falling over.

My old enamel chairs are out of the barn. They have been cleaned off. They are sitting under the maple tree waiting to be enjoyed as spring moves towards summer. While I don't rock back and forth in them anymore, my granddaughter does. We laugh as she tries catching herself before falling over. Old enamel chairs don't need gadgets. They're fun all by themselves!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Easter Bunny in the Rock Wall

For a few years now my granddaughter and I have been tracking a bunny we've seen out back-by the barn, hiding in the garden and disappearing in the rock wall. My granddaughter has always felt the bunny is no ordinary bunny. She's convinced it is the Easter Bunny.

We didn't see the bunny all last summer or fall. But a few weeks ago when her little brother was here for an overnight, we both saw the bunny by the rock wall. We were so excited. I'd thought the worst had happened but the bunny proved me wrong. Adding to the excitement of seeing bunny, I'm certain I saw a few little ones skampering along beside her.

Last evening, the night before Easter, with the geese flying and the sun setting over the fields, I went out back for a walk. I didn't get very far. As I came up the incline near the rock wall, I was astonished to find colorful Easter eggs lying in the grass. They were beautiful-sparkling-magical under the glow of the sun disappearing. Something told me these were not your ordinary Easter eggs. Slowly I bent down and touched one. It was a little wet. At that moment, I heard a scurrying by the rock wall. I turned and out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a white, puffy tail. I knew it was our bunny.

That's when I realized my granddaughter was right. Our bunny really is the Easter Bunny and our bunny was getting ready to go hippity hop-hopping down the Bunny trail. She'd painted the eggs and put them in the grass to dry. I'm sure she has more eggs and tons and tons of candy packed and ready to go.

You see, when you believe like a child believes, even a little bunny living out back in the rock wall really, really can be the Easter Bunny.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Clicking Easter Shoes on Sidewalks

When I was growing up it seemed as if it was always warm outside when Easter came around. I'm certain I remember green grass, flowers blooming and the sidewalks bare. Having sidewalks bare was about as important as a basket full of candy. That's because Easter was the ultimate day for dressing up. Everything was brand new-the fancy dress, the fancy hat and white gloves, and shoes that would make a clicking sound when being pranced about the sidewalk.

Lucky for us we were blessed with a downtown full of stores. One in particular was a shoe store owned by my uncle. He carried all the latest styles for Easter. Everything from patent leather to saddle shoes. And if the shoes chosen needed polishing at some point, my mother made sure she had white liquid shoe polish in the cupboard. We never ran out of the polish since my mother was a nurse and needed to keep her duty shoes white.

So the shoe store was the first stop. It was usually busy with everyone out shopping. After the shoes were bought, wrapped, and ready to go, we went further down the street to a sprawling department store offering frilly dresses, some with layers of crinoline, shiny buttons, or matching jackets. If the weather was cool, a coat might have been added to the mix. Even more fun than picking out the dress was trying on all the hats. There were hats with pretty fabric flowers. Hats with long tassels. Hats with netting. Small hats. Hats that looked like a square box and hats that looked like a summertime sun hat. Once the hat was chosen, gloves, a purse and fancy socks were selected.

When we made it back home, everything was put carefully away until Easter. And when that day came, on went my dress with layers of crinoline. Then the fancy socks and sparkling white shoes and fancy hat usually kept in place by bobby pins. Topping everything off were my pretty gloves. Then I'd open the door and the Easter parade began. My fancy shoes would click and click on the sidewalk as up and down I went. I loved my clicky shoes. Only problem was they never stayed white for very long.