Thursday, December 6, 2018

Christmas Ornaments from Long Ago

I remember the evening my parents walked into our house situated on a lane with their arms full of bags and boxes; some wrapped and decorated with curly ribbon. They’d been downtown Christmas shopping. They’d been gone a long time. While our father took the babysitter home, our mother told my brother and me to go upstairs and get our pajamas on; then come back down and stay in the living room while she put things away. I watched her put one box on the dining room table as I hurried up the front stairs. When our father returned, we were told to sit by the tree in the living room. I could hear them whispering in the dining room. Then in they walked with my mother carrying that box she’d placed on the dining room table.

Sitting in a chair by the tree my mother handed the box to my father. I can see him standing there still wearing a tie. He was always wearing a tie. Sometimes he’d be wearing a tie as he strung the tree with strands of blue lights. My father loved those blue lights. But he wasn’t stringing lights that night. Opening the box he was holding, my father slowly took out one precious ornament after another. They weren’t like any other ornament already in place on the tree. Each looked hand-painted. Each presented a unique design. They all shimmered under the blue lights. As my father hung the ornaments high up on the tree, my mother explained the box my father was holding was the last box of those beautiful ornaments for sale in the store. I remember feeling so happy that my parents bought that box. It felt as if they’d brought home a hidden treasure. In a way, they did.

Once all those ornaments were in place, we took a moment to enjoy the tree; to take it all in as those sparkling, shimmering ornaments glistened under the blue lights; adding to the splendor of the tinsel my mother had methodically put in place and the other ornaments already on the branches. It was a glorious moment, even for little kids awaiting Santa Claus.

Now years later I am blessed as keeper of those precious ornaments. I think my parents would be happy to know I don’t hang them on the tree. Instead I put them out for all to see. I can look at them as I go about my day. I can tell their story to those who might not notice them on the tree with all the other ornaments. And when Christmas is over for another year, I will take them down and pack them up in that box my father held as he placed those ornaments on the tree. The box and those ornaments came from Woolworths located in a downtown of long ago.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Downtown Barber Shop

When I was a little girl my mother would take me to a barber shop to get my hair cut. It was situated in the heart of the downtown in my hometown. It was a perfect location; right where the two main streets crossed and in wait of Christmas, a plastic Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer were strung over top those streets. It was a huge draw to the downtown. When the wind blew I was convinced those reindeer were flying.

To me that barber shop was as good or better than any beauty parlor around. But then, I'd never been in any of those fancier places where women and girls went for styles and perms with lots of hair spray and hair curlers and hair teasing and big awkward hair dryers; maybe even some Dippity Do. It wasn't time for me to move on to a beauty parlor.

I loved going to the barber shop. Following my mother up what might have been winding cement steps, we'd go through the door leading to a very large area. That was the barber shop. I think there were four barbers. Each was dressed in a clean, white, crisp buttoned-up the front professional barber shirt. Whoever ironed those shirts was a master. Each shirt had a pocket on the upper left side. Those pockets held black combs. The barbers were rather dapper looking; as if cast in a gangster movie out of the '30s & 40s. All four were friendly. All remembered my name and my brother's name and where my father and mother worked and where we lived. That familiarity is what you get when rooted in a small town.

It never mattered to me which barber cut my hair. I wore a Buster Brown hairstyle for years back then and each one of them was capable of cutting my hair in that popular style. It was fun sitting in a barber's chair with its leather seat. The barber would push down on a foot peddle that brought that seat higher which meant I was closer to him so he'd be able to reach me.

The barbers stood in a row behind their chairs. In front of them was a wall of mirrors and a countertop holding containers of more combs with scissors sitting in place and powders in a row along with a phone and drawers below holding towels and coverings for customers. On the side of their chairs hung a leather strap used for sharpening their razors before shaving a customer with what looked like whip cream. They put that stuff on using brushes. I liked watching them. I don't think I realized how sharp those razors were or how skilled a barber had to be in using one. The way they moved those razors was as if they were conducting an orchestra. It was magic.

I can't remember when I stopped going to that barber shop. Probably when I realized no other girls my age went to a barber for what was considered a real hairstyle. But whenever it was that I moved on to a beauty parlor-not a one that I've frequented could ever measure up to that barber shop in a downtown of long ago. It had character with characters. The smell of lather along with newsprint from newspapers set out for customers to read along with powders and hints of cigars from a nearby cigar store all mingled together and remain forever in my heart. There were no fancy services offered. No fancy d├ęcor except for the red and white barber pole outside and the smiles of welcome on the faces of four happy and talented barbers.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Tree and Its Leaves

There’s a particular tree out behind the barn whose leaves are the first to turn when summer fades to fall. I took a few pictures as that process began again and as I did I found myself looking at that magnificent tree with even greater wonder. I’m not sure why. It could have been the softness of the sun or the quiet of the small meadow where the tree stands tall reaching to the heavens with late season wildflowers spreading about in the tall grass.

As September rolled on, the tree kept pulling me back to take more pictures as its leaves became drenched in vibrant colors and the scents of pumpkins and apples told the story of a most magical season evolving into the next.

When I went out back one day this past week I found the tree about barren. It looked tired in October’s shadows. I couldn’t figure out how that had happened. It seemed like only yesterday that its branches were dressed in leaves of oranges and reds. Its spirit seemed strong no matter how hard the wind blew or the rain fell.

The evolution of the leaves is similar to our looking back at the stages of our own lives and wondering where the time went. But don’t dwell too long. Life is full of surprises. Like this morning when waking up to an early season snowfall  covering the ground along with the leaves and turning one tired looking tree out back behind the barn into a sparkling and vibrant tree reaching to the heavens.  

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Monster in the Smoke Stack

My mother was a RN. When I was very young she worked nights at our local hospital, eventually becoming Charge Nurse in the ER. She worked nights so my father could be home with me and my older brother.

On the nights she had to work my mother would feed us early. Then she’d give us our baths; put us in our pajamas and with what time was left, she’d get herself ready. I loved watching my mother as she transformed from mother to a professional; dressed in a flawless white, crisp uniform with white nylons and white polished duty shoes. Her hair was out of the pin curls she’d had in place most of the day. Once she styled her hair, my mother would take bobby pins and secure her starched white cap with a black ribbon around the bottom in place while not messing up her hairdo. On cold nights she’d wear her nurse’s cape. It was navy blue with the initials of the hospital on the turned-up collar. As soon as my father arrived I was carried to the car and put in the back seat with my brother. While we made the short trip to the hospital, my father’s dinner was warming in the oven. I am sure he enjoyed his meal once we were in bed sleeping.

That short trip was always fun. That is until the hospital came into view. That’s when my brother and I became very quiet as the very tall and very frightening smoke stack adjacent to the hospital was looming above us once again. On some evenings, especially in October when shadows seemed longer and spookier and purple clouds rolled behind tall dark trees void of leaves; their branches looking like witch’s scratchy fingernails, we were certain a monster came flowing out of the top of that smokestack. Sometimes, especially when the wind was blowing, that monster came right over the top of our car. That’s when we’d duck down in our seats. After we waited a few minutes, we both looked out the back window and watched the monster drift away. We never knew where he went. But we knew we’d be seeing him again when the wind was blowing and there was a nip in the air.

That smoke stack is still in place adjacent to the hospital. I’ve yet to see the monster. But it is October. You never know.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Outdoors Gym Class

I don't remember people going to gyms when I was growing up. Oh we had gym class in school when I hit the 7th grade. I've included a photo of what our gym suits resembled although we weren't quite as sophisticated looking in them as the mannequin with her red lipstick! I never liked gym class; especially going into the locker room and changing into my gym suit. It was embarrassing at that age to change clothes in front of your peers when you hardly knew most of them.

As far as gyms go I really don't recall any gyms where you'd join to go work out. But you never miss what you never had. Growing up in the country was like owning our own private gym open twenty four hours a day seven days a week free of charge; free of dealing with strangers in your space. There was no waiting; that is if parents allowed us being outside day and night. They most always did.

When I think about it me and my cousins and siblings  were working out all the time just by running, jumping, skating, sliding. We swing bats; climbed ladders; crawled along an old wooden bridge connecting the haymows in our grandfather's barn; held on to a rope tied to a massive tree and ran to the edge of the creek from high atop a drop-off and took a leap of faith hurling ourselves over the creek and hopefully back around to the other side of that massive tree and hopefully landing on a massive rock. We pulled wagons loaded with littler ones; climbed trees; dangled from tree limbs and finally falling to the ground. There was a pipe that transferred water from a pumphouse to the barn. We'd try to hold on tight to that pipe which was tricky to do in the summertime because the pipe sweat in the sun making it hard to hold on to but we tried with all of our might to hold on tight and shimmy along the pipe as far as we could-dropping to the ground when our arms were aching so much we had to let go. And then there were the walks we'd go on down to a river or a pine groove.

There was always something going on that required moving-running-skipping-jumping. Our gym did not require fancy machines or name brand outfits. Our gym was run by Mother Nature and our imaginations-Free of Charge!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sweater Dress Disaster

I had my favorite sweater dresses. The one that comes to mind had long sleeves. It was a heavier knit with a simple neckline and three brown buttons on the left shoulder. The dress was an oatmeal color. It came above the knee; perfect for my over-the-knee boots my older brother gave me for  Christmas. one year

I can remember the first time I wore the oatmeal sweater dress. It was late August. I’d gone back to college a little early to see a guy I hadn’t seen all summer. He had a blue Chevy Impala that he was anxious for me to see. I was anxious for him to see my oatmeal sweater dress. It didn’t take me long to get ready once the day arrived. I couldn’t wait to wear the dress. With my hair up in a ponytail and a fake braid wrapped around it and my over-the-knee boots on, I was ready to go. He was early. I guess he was anxious to show off his car which turned out to be brand new; quite appropriate for my dress.

It was good seeing my friend. But he surprised me by taking me to a carnival. If that wasn’t bad enough, I’d been so wrapped up in wearing that dress that I never bothered to check the weather. I ended up at a carnival in 90 degree weather in a heavy knit sweater dress with long sleeves; my hair sporting a fake ponytail and those over-the-knee boots. I was so hot (not the kind of hot I’d hoped for) that I went on rides just to cool down. But the more rides I went on the more my fake braid slid out of place. Of course the faster the ride, the more the braid slipped until I was on one ride and I had to grab it before it flew away. My favorite sweater dress ended up feeling like a thermal blanket and electric blanket combined. My heavy Cher-like eye make-up was melting down my cheeks. I looked like a raccoon dressed in a winter coat.

I could tell my friend was glad to get me back to the dorm. Saying good night was quick. I think I scared him away. Maybe it was the fake braid I was carrying or my face covered in black eye make-up or my dress with long sleeves that looked like a winter coat while he was dressed in madras shorts in the 90 degree weather. Whatever it was, that was the last ride I ever took in his new and blue Chevy Impala. But I did get to wear my favorite sweater dress again and again when snow was falling and all the carnivals had packed up and moved on.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The 4-Year Old Store Lady

"If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like Sunbeams & you will always look lovely"
(Roald Dahl's, "The Truth".)

My now 8-year old granddaughter recently accompanied me on a book signing held in a children's school library. While waiting between groups coming in and out, we went on an adventure-pulling some books off shelves and checking them out. Being an avid reader, my granddaughter took time to read a few. Problem was there were so many books and so little time as well as shelves full of plush animal puppets. She loves plush animals. Especially puppies. And of course, there was a plush puppy puppet-a rather large one. So soft. So huggable.

Later that night, and I don't know why-maybe because I'd watched her earlier when surrounded by books; her imagination on overload, that I found myself thinking about the above quote that I've always loved written by British novelist Roald Dahl. And as I thought about the quote a photo of her came to mind which I've included in this post.

She was four years old. The photo was taken on a Saturday night sleepover. She was pretending to be, "Melanie Store Lady", and I was her customer. The only problem with that was every time I went to buy something in "Melanie's Store", the item was not for sale. Each time the store lady told me, with her hands on her hips:
"Actually Gra-Gra. That isn't for sale." (Gra-Gra is what she calls me).
Then she'd show me something that really was for sale and most always it was the same item I'd bought before. And when I went to pay the Store Lady in her store window with her Dora cash register in action and the item I was buying wrapped in either a dish towel or small blanket, the charge for any item I was buying was "Forty." Each time she told me the price was "Forty" in her Store Lady voice I had to turn away for fear of laughing or crying or picking up that Store Lady and hugging her and you just don't do that to determined four- year-old Store Ladies.

That "Store Lady" hasn't been to visit in quite awhile. Oh Melanie has but not "Melanie Store Lady." She is growing up and her interests are changing. But that imagination of hers is still on overload just like it should be.

And to this day, every time I hear or see the word "Forty" the memory of that Store Lady warms my heart.