Saturday, May 23, 2015

Beauty Nurtured on a Farm

There's something to say about growing up on a farm. It offers one the opportunity to understand and value the meaning of hard work. My grandparents never stopped from sunup to sundown-using their hands not computers-to do all that had to be done inside and outside their farmhouse-inside and outside the barn and granary-and spreading out to fields just over the plank bridge. I've seen photos of my grandfather coming through the back door into the kitchen looking exhausted yet he was back at it a few hours later. He had to be. There was no slacking. Their livelihood depended on it. Of course he was blessed with a great partner who worked just as hard and just as long.

With all the conveniences we have come to depend on-I don't know how my grandmother accomplished so much and got up and did it all over again. But dressed in a house dress, she did it all-even baked and cooked amazing homemade meals every day. During the haying season, she cooked full-fledged dinners that included pies of all sorts, serving them at noon for those working the fields in the blazing sun. I vaguely remember those times-those noontime feasts served in the kitchen. For some reason what stands out to me the most remains a small pitcher of vinegar, sitting on a table covered in fine linen, for anyone who wanted to add it to their salad. I think that remains so vivid because I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to add something that smelled so potent to anything.

With all they had to do-there were six daughters to be cared for and tended to. Looking at the photo, I think my grandparents did an amazing job. True Beauty can't be found in tubes or compacts. True beauty doesn't mean erasing the lines that come with age or going through procedures to nip and tuck. True beauty comes from within and is noticed by all. There will never be a more beautiful woman to me than my grandmother. Her hands were worn from hard work yet her touch was as gentle as a feather and warm as a summer breeze. There's something to say about the beauty nurtured from growing up on a farm. That beauty truly is eternal.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Making School Fun with the old Barnes's National Reader

Playing school was a favorite thing to do in our chicken coop clubhouse. But then, we were lucky. Our parents and grandparents filled that old place with desks, books, and chalkboards from an abandoned one-room schoolhouse. Our schoolhouse wasn't made by Fisher-Price. It stemmed from our imagination. There were no summers or week-ends off. Our school was open all year long despite the fact some of the windows were without glass allowing snow to pile up inside during the winter. But we didn't mind. School was in session. And if we didn't have little brothers and sisters and cousins to teach, we used that imagination to fill the two rows of desks-the same type of desks you'd see in 'Little House on the Prairie' episodes.

I still have one of my favorite books I used when 'teaching.' It didn't come from that one-room schoolhouse. It belonged to my grandmother. She had a few editions of the "Barnes's New National Readers." The one I have sitting on a bookshelf in my living room was their "New National Third Reader" published by the American Book Company in 1884. I love the book. It presents a story or a poem for the teacher to read and then offers lesson plans to follow. Some plans include what to maximize for memorizing-a list of new words being introduced followed by a language lesson which could be fill in the blanks-word pronunciation-explanation of word types like connecting words-writing sentences using the words. There's a Definition of "some of the difficult words in the reader" in the back of the book. Included with each story or poem is a simple black and white illustration.

The Preface is interesting, stating teachers and school officers are requested to examine features in the book including its conversational character-the beautiful script-the new type. The publisher explains Language Lessons serve-among other things-"to develop the perceptive faculties of pupils by stimulating investigation-the prelude to all accurate knowledge." I think we understood that in our chicken coop clubhouse. Our students were quite attentive-quite curious. At the end of our school year, they all passed. They all went home with their report cards stating they'd made it to the next grade which was actually the same grade as before with maybe a few tweaks here and there. It didn't matter. We made it interesting. We made it fun-and isn't that what school should be anyway? Because if it is fun, kids will dig in-kids will participate and kids will learn in the process.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Place of Gathering

Call it what you want-a porch or a veranda. The term doesn't matter as much as the value it holds in the early morning or at the end of a day. It doesn't matter if it's one person sitting there enjoying that first cup of coffee or several sitting around after a long day discussing whatever they choose to discuss. It doesn't matter if it's used for a celebration of a special moment or for the rocking of a little one to sleep as a gentle breeze passes by. Whatever the reason-there is no place like that place called whatever we chose to call it. What does matter are the values of friendship-of family-of conversation and companionship such a place nurtures and develops from one moment to the next. In this era of electronic devices taking over real human interaction where that conversation is turned from people to people face-to-face to cold, hard devices with fingers moving at lightning speed and heads down and where words spoken are nil-that place called whatever you chose to call it is invaluable.

The photo included in this post shows my parents in their early years as a married couple standing in front of my grandparents' farmhouse. I love the photo for many reasons-one being, it shows the screened-in veranda where I played with my cousins. One summer we had some sort of a club. All I remember is clipping things out of magazines and taping them all over one end of that veranda. I recall a stormy summer evening when we were huddled around our grandmother sitting in her rocking chair as lightning struck a poplar tree close by. We all screamed and jumped-a few of us hid in a closet under the front stairs.

Sadly that veranda is gone-ripped away by a new owner who took those peony bushes away as well. But the memories of moments shared at the place of gathering can never be ripped away-for when you gather at such a place-what you experience is priceless.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

On A Magic Carpet Ride


To this day, there’s absolutely no explanation for my infatuation with classic Ford Mustangs. I know nothing about cars. I never did. But I can tell you when I first took notice of the Mustang, I fell head-over-heels in love-for a car. My parents were always trading cars. Because of their friendship with an Oldsmobile dealer, brands like Cutlass, Toronado, and the Ninety-Eight took turns sitting in our driveway. My father also had a thing for Lincoln Continentals. He was a funeral director so those cars were always black-always spotless and always off limits to those of us just itching to drive something-anything. Once in awhile during the summer he’d come home for lunch in a funeral van sort-of-thing. It too was black. He’d let us take it out beyond the hayfield while he ate. My cousins and I had lots of fun going over the wooden planks that spanned the creek. Then stepping on the pedal, we’d fly up the gravel road and across the open space to the woods. We never told my father how fast we had the old thing going. Looking back, I’m sure he knew.
A yellow GTO was my older brother’s choice. It went great with his red hair and crew cut. At least the girls thought so. At one point, he owned a little TR3 which he let me take for a test drive into town. With this my first experience maneuvering a stick shift, I ended up in someone’s front yard. I didn’t say anything but I’m certain my brother knew something had happened by the look on my face when I came screeching into the driveway jerking all the way.
While this was the era of muscle cars-everything from the Camaro to the Thunderbird to the Barracuda and Todd and Buzz  zooming along Route 66 in their Corvette convertible, not one of those hot cars made me feel the same way as when my eyes came upon the 1964 Mustang with bucket seats and a stick shift in between. I became obsessed with this car. The Mustang had it all or what I should say, what that vehicle had hit a chord somewhere. The way those seats sat-the shape-oh I loved the shape-the sleek front and how the back end was short, leading to those tucked-in rear lights-the way it’d move along the highway following a beat of its own and making a statement of freedom, coolness, and watch out world, here I come sort of thing all contributed to this overwhelming awestruck feeling. My father’s cars were ok but nothing too exciting. My brother’s cars-well they were his. But the Mustang was unique-from its galloping horse logo to its distinct design and I claimed it as mine.
I was hired right out of college. Once I got my feet on the ground, I asked my father to go with me to a Ford dealership. What might have been one of the easiest car sales ever occurred minutes upon opening their door. I didn’t need the pitch. I didn’t have to hear the spin. Once everything was in order, I was heading down my version of Route 66 in an all new, cherry red 1968 Mustang with black bucket seats and a stick shift in between. If ever there was a love story written between a car and its owner it was written that day. If ever freedom was experienced and exhilaration on high it happened that day as a cherry red Mustang took me along the asphalt-around curves and up hills on a magic carpet ride with my hair flying and tunes playing. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Palace with a Chimney Stack

Most of us will live in more than one house as we grow up and move along through our lives. Each will hold its own memories. To me, of all the places I've called home, the house on the lane holds the most endearing memories. It was just a regular neighborhood home-with an upstairs, a closed-in porch where I'd play cards with my imaginary friends and win every time, a flagstone walkway my father and grandfather cemented in place, a cellar where you'd have to enter from the outside, a huge yard with lilac bushes and a rock garden, a kitchen with a counter where my goldfish sat, a front stairway that seemed so steep, a double living room, registers in the floor, and that chimney stack in the parlor that I thought was the most amazing contraption ever. Of course I was little. And when you're little everything seems amazing. The summer before I entered the fourth grade we moved to the country. Still to this day, a part of me remains in that house on the lane.

Maybe that's because that house was where on a Christmas morning I found what is still my most favorite Christmas present ever waiting for me when I came down those steep stairs-a pine desk my grandfather made complete with a stool and a single drawer with a pad of paper and a #2 yellow pencil inside. Or maybe that's because my bedroom was possibly the best bedroom in the world-at least to me it seemed as if that was the case. After all, it had a slanted ceiling and you'd have to walk down two steps to get inside. The room was huge-taking up the whole back of the house. It even had a stairway down to the kitchen. It was like my own apartment and I didn't even realize it. But then when you're little you don't realize how things change-and maybe that's a good thing!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

White Shoe Polish in a Bottle



My mother was a Registered Nurse. Eventually she became the Charge Nurse in the ER on the Night shift. That shift worked well for my parents. My father would be home with my brother and me while my mother worked. Back then nurses wore immaculate, white uniforms-white nylons with a seam up the back and immaculate, white duty shoes. Their caps were white-starched white. My mother's cap had a black ribbon-like material across the front signifying she was a registered nurse. Even though I was very young, I sensed the pride she took in her uniform. I remember her nylons hanging on a hanger over the tub after soaking in the sink and her cap just starched spread out flat across the counter. Most of all I remember her polishing her duty shoes with a white liquid shoe polish in a bottle. She'd sit at the kitchen table in her slip with her hair up in bobby pins-shake the stuff-and then proceed to polish the shoes with a foam brush attached to the inside of the cap. She was very careful with the polish. Each application was meticulously applied.
But the duty shoes weren't the only shoes polished with the white liquid. Back then babies-like the one in the picture who happens to be me being held by my mother-wore white shoes that tied up the front. It was a big deal when a baby was old enough for his/her first pair of white shoes. That meant a trip to a real shoe store where a real person would try to measure the child's foot if he could uncurl the little toes curled up in a ball. Once the child outgrew the first pair of shoes, often the shoes were bronzed on a plague for all to see. When I was a little older I'd take a bottle of white stuff and polish my dolls' shoes. One time I not only polished doll shoes but went on to highlight some dolls' hair until being stopped by a nurse needing to polish her duty shoes. That was the one and only time my dolls went to my beauty parlor. I had to close it down.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Favorite Movie is Like An Old Friend

A favorite movie is like an old friend. You are always happy to see it again.
We all have favorite movies we could watch over and over to the point we are able to say the lines as the actors say them. Great acting is the ability to take a character and turn that character into a real person contributing to a story that flows seamlessly in the eyes of those watching. To the viewer, the actor is not acting. The actor becomes the character. And when that happens, the movie-going experience stays with you for days-for years-after seeing the film. You find yourself wondering about that character. You find yourself replaying parts of the movie in your head as you go about your day. When a movie stays with you long after the experience of watching it, then that to me is a sign of not only great acting but great writing as well.

I loved going to see 'Gone With The Wind' with my uncle. I loved the final scene in 'Baby Boom' when the mother returns home and finds her little girl playing in the front room-picks her up and sits with her in a rocking chair. But there is one movie that has stayed in my heart for years and that is where it will remain. I can still repeat the lines. I can still feel my heart skip a beat-maybe many beats-as Robert Redford meets Barbra Streisand in "The Way We Were" and their story unfolds. I still for the life of me can't imagine how 'Katie' felt when seeing 'Hubbell' sitting on that bar stool half asleep or how her heart must have flipped when he interrupted her dancing with someone to be able to dance with her. The goose bumps still come. I still cry when thinking about the last scene as they embrace and Hubbell turns away and leaves Katie on the street corner. I questioned-'what if'-for years.

I haven't been to see a movie in a theatre in years. My hometown is lacking one and I don't feel like travelling to see a movie. I don't use Netflix or devices for viewing movies. Except for the evening news, I don't watch TV so I don't sit down to watch movies there either. I can't comment on movies I haven't seen. Many I would like to see-but haven't. What spare time I do have goes to writing. I guess that's like going to the movies in my head-seeing the scenes and then putting them to words. I've rewritten the ending to "The Way We Were" several times in my head-turning it into a fairytale ending. To be truthful, I like the movie version better. It's real-gut-wrenching, tear jerking real-and that is life as most of us know it to be. Everyone has 'what-if' moments. It's how we deal with them that matters.