Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Stitches and French Knots

The more I looked at this photo of an Amish farmhouse and barns and outhouses and gardens that I'd taken on a back country road, the more it resembled a beautiful work of embroidery, what with its textures and colors and lines and thicknesses here and there.  
 I thought of my grandmother, sitting in her rocking chair, using her hands to create beautiful works of embroidery with a needle and thread.
My grandmother taught me a few stitches. When I looked at the photo I thought some of the plants in the garden resembled the blanket stitch or the herringbone stitch and the thickness of the green grass resembled a padded stitch. Little buds on plants made me think of her French knots. But I never embroidered a thing. I learned a few stitches and that was it. Not that I didn't want to learn more but I was in to sewing at the time.
Now I wish I'd sat with her longer to learn more stitches and techniques. Any time with my grandmother was priceless-even when picking my fingers with a needle trying to learn embroidery stitches.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

My Father in Suspenders in the Farmhouse Kitchen

Did you ever look at an old photo and wish you could remember the moment? That's how I felt when looking at this photo of  me holding my baby sister. Behind us is our father. We are in the kitchen of our grandparents' farmhouse. To my left, with only a corner showing, is the kitchen table.
My grandmother's woodstove was beyond the kitchen table. A built-in cupboard stood in the corner.  The door in the photo led outside to a small, cement stoop and beyond to the root cellar, pump house, barn, grain shed, chicken coop, fields and the creek.

I'm guessing we were gathered for a family event. I'm guessing it might have been an Easter Sunday since my sister was born in January. But I'm only guessing. It looks as if there's still snow on the ground. That doesn't matter. It still could have been Easter. Seeing my father wearing a tie isn't surprising to me. He most always wore a tie, even when he went to the post office or grocery store.  My father most always wearing a tie might have been a generational thing. Or his wearing a tie might have been because of his profession. My father was a funeral director. He treated those who came to him in times of sorrow with the upmost respect, including the manner in which he presented himself. He was dedicated to those families. To this day, I am told stories of my father's kindness.

I love the look of my father dressed in the suspenders. So handsome he was in that crisp, white shirt. Seeing him standing tall with his wire-rimmed glasses and that crisp, white shirt and the tie and those suspenders makes me think of  "The Godfather." I can imagine a 1941 Packard or a Lincoln Continental of the same year wheeling down my grandparents' cinder driveway lined with poplar trees, taking the curve and slamming on brakes with cinders flying just outside that door and a few seconds later, some Michael Corleone type guys rushing inside the kitchen. Of course those gangsters might have had to park their gangster vehicles near my grandfather's old Ford tractor.

Old photos are stories of a time and a place and a moment. Once the moment is captured, it will live on forever, along with the legend of Michael Corleone and my grandmother's kitchen table now sitting in my home, still gathering stories with photos being taken-not by a Kodak Brownie camera-but by cell phones; making the photos available instantly at one's finger tips.

I still prefer a box of old glossy photos with dates scribbled on the back and sometimes names written in cursive. When you open the box, it feels like Christmas. And maybe in that box of photos you'll discover a photo you'll treasure as much as I do the photo of my father in suspenders in the Farmhouse Kitchen.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Journey of a Favorite Little Picture Book

For my youngest son’s first Easter, I put some books in his Easter basket. One was titled, 'Henry’s Awful Mistake', written and illustrated by Robert Quackenbush. The book turned out to be a favorite. I’d read it to him night after night. He knew every word and if I skipped one, he’d let me know. The book eventually became worn and frazzled around the edges. Some of the pages were ripped. Some had scribblings on them.
Years later, as I was planning to go to New York City, I read an article about the 25th anniversary edition of that book. It went on about the author/illustrator and his studio in Manhattan where he not only does his illustrating but also teaches art to children and adults. A thought went through my head. Minutes later I was calling Robert Quackenbush’s studio and to my surprise, he answered. We had a lovely conversation which led to plans for me to stop by his studio. I couldn’t wait. I made sure to pack the worn copy of 'Henry’s Awful Mistake' still sitting in a bookcase in the living room.
Our visit turned out to be more than I could ever have imagined. After a tour of his charming studio, we sat and talked for a few hours. I eventually presented that worn copy to him. I’d told him about it over the phone and had asked if he’d sign it. Mr. Quackenbush took his time; looking through the pages; the worn pages-some with scribbles; some ripped. After Mr. Quackenbush signed it with a personal note to my now adult son, he stood and went over to a shelf. He came back with a copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of 'Henry’s Awful Mistake' published the year before. He said the book was a gift from him to me. Sitting down, he signed the book while telling me how the original story came to be and how pleased he was that it became a favorite book of so many children including my son.
Little did I know that eventually I’d be blessed with a grandson named Henry! Just before his first birthday I called Mr. Quackenbush and told him I had a Henry! He was delighted! I asked if I sent him a birthday card for Henry, would he sign it and mail it back to me. That card was in my mailbox a few weeks later with a lovely message-“Wishing you a Happy 1st Birthday and a childhood blessed with wonderful books!” It was signed-“Henry the Duck and Henry the Duck’s author and illustrator, Robert Quackenbush.”
Isn’t it funny how a picture book sitting in an Easter basket created a story all its own?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

My Mother the RN

Seeing my mother with her hair up in bobby pins was an everyday sight when growing up. She’d keep the bobby pins in until it was time to get ready for work. In her career as a RN, my mother eventually became Charge Nurse of the night shift in the ER. As a kid I never realized what any of that meant. I just remember being put in the back seat of the car next to my older brother when it was time to go with our father to take our mother to work. By that time— she’d fed us, given us baths, put our pajamas on and then— took the bobby pins out of her hair, put on her white nylons with a seam up the back, put on her perfectly ironed, white uniform along with her polished white duty shoes and her starched white cap with a black strip around it that she’d bobby pin to her hair.

Once we were in the car with the engine on and my father at the wheel, my mother would walk out of the house wearing her nurse’s cape with the initials ABHH stitched into the stand-up collar. Not a hair was out of place. The uniform and duty shoes and cap were white as snow. She most always carried a cloth bag with her. With a touch of lipstick and the aroma of her Avon deodorant, she was were ready to go and so were we.

The drive didn’t take very long but I loved every minute of it. My parents conversed in small talk as we rode down familiar streets. Once we went over a bridge spanning a river that connected to another river, my father would take a right at the light and minutes later we’d be entering a circular drive in front of the hospital. He’d stop the car and we each took turns saying goodbye. Most often we were told to be good. We’d watch our mother go into the hospital. Then we’d wait for her to appear in a window a few floors up from the main floor. There she’d wave goodbye to us as our father took us home to bed. More often than not, I’d go back home with red lipstick on my cheek.

I never thought about what it was my mother did while I was sleeping. When I came downstairs in the morning I’d sometimes find that cloth bag she carried to work by a window in the dining room. She’d sit there when first getting back from work. That’s where she’d put the bobby pins back in her hair. Then she’d read more of a book she kept with her in that bag. Reading helped her wind down. Eventually she’d go upstairs to bed for a little while.

As I grew older, my mother would encourage me to be a nurse. But that calling wasn’t in me. On the other hand, it was in my mother.  Through her example, I learned the meaning of dedication.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Bunny in the Rock Wall

For a few years, my now eight-year old granddaughter and I kept track of a bunny we'd see out back by the barn, hiding in the garden or hopping around and then disappearing in the rock wall. My granddaughter always felt the bunny was no ordinary bunny. She was convinced it was the Easter Bunny.

When she was five we never saw the bunny during the summer, fall or winter. But the following spring 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 scampering along beside her.

Just before Easter that year, on a beautiful spring evening with 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, decorated Easter eggs lying in the grass. They were beautiful-sparkling-magical under the glow of the sun disappearing. Something told me those eggs 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 hoppity down the Bunny trail. Bunny had painted and decorated the eggs and put them in the grass to dry. I was certain she had more eggs and tons and tons of candy packed and ready to go.

**Moral of this Easter Tale: 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. Happy Easter!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Playing with Books

Books on shelves were always present when I was growing up. My mother's father built her a pine bookcase. It sat in our living room full of my mother's favorite reads. Most of them were novels set in the South when women wore those long, flowing Scarlett O'Hara type dresses and they lived on sprawling plantations and spent much of their time fanning themselves. My grandmother's living room also had a bookcase full of books. Those books offered more of a variety. But variety wasn't important to me or my cousin. The books themselves were the attraction. They were the reason we loved to play library and bookstore. Sometimes I'd play library or bookstore all by myself when I was home. It didn't matter that I was alone because playing with the books was so much fun and I had many imaginary friends and customers playing right along with me.

When playing library, books were put out on display. Whether playing with my cousin or by myself, there were pretend library cards and a pretend stamper and slips in the back of the books to mark the books. Advice was free. Recommending certain books to check out was taken seriously. There were no computers in our libraries so we had to do all the referrals and answering of questions. After all, being a librarian came with great responsibility. But then, so did being the owner of a bookstore.

Any bookstore I imagined when playing was modeled after a real little bookstore inside a department store in our downtown. Even though that bookstore was small, it was jam packed with books. Bestsellers were displayed on a table in the middle of the store. I'd go to that bookstore with my mother. She'd take her time at that table. I loved watching her among all those new, untouched books. She never walked out of that store without a bag of finely printed, brand new books with beautifully illustrated covers of those times of Scarlett and Rhett. I can remember being fascinated by the window displays and a ceiling fan in that bookstore as well as the wonderful smell of so many books gathered together in one place. So because of that bookstore, any bookstore I imagined myself owning where I'd build displays and cash out my happy customers and discuss the new titles sitting on a table in the middle of my store was actually that real little bookstore.

When I think back to those pretend bookstores and pretend libraries, I'm in good company because in my home on bookshelves are most of my mother's Scarlett and Rhett books bought from that real little bookstore. Besides those treasured books, I am blessed to have the simple pine bookcase my grandfather made in my home as well. The only difference now is that it's my grandchildren playing with the books. And that is the way it's supposed to be-from one generation to the next.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Playing Down at the Creek

I recently took the attached photo showing geese coming back to a creek where I played when growing up in the country alongside cousins and siblings. We were always outside playing and going on adventures and that rambling creek was most always included no matter the season and no matter the weather.

This time of the year, as shown in the photo, the creek would overflow its banks in a spring thaw and we'd be right there; standing as close as possible to the edge of the creek trying not to get soaked. But most times we'd get drenched as we'd take turns throwing chunks of ice or, if the conditions were right, throwing snowballs along with the chunks of ice at larger chunks of ice moving along the open water. Sometimes when eating supper we'd watch muskrats sitting on those big chunks, hitching a ride down the creek to wherever the big chunks took them.

Summer found us making forts along the creek bed using fallen limbs and branches to hide us from the enemy. Inside our fortresses we'd keep a supply of weapons in case we needed them. Weapons included stones and rocks; sticks and smaller limbs. We had spaces in our hideouts to "cook" and "sleep." If we weren't out exploring, we'd be at our swing which was a very long rope made of a heavy twine. It was tied way up on a thick and sturdy branch. At the end was a huge knot. We took turns running to catch hold of the rope. As soon as we lifted off, we'd get our feet on top of the knot as we soared out over the creek and around to the other side of the tree in an attempt to land on a giant rock. Sometimes we nailed the landing. Other times we went into the creek or backside into the tree. However we landed, the flying part was lots of fun. I felt like a bird minus the wings.
Besides the rope and the fortresses, we were lucky to have had an uncle who made us rafts out of telephone poles. There were two rafts. One for the boys and one for the girls. We'd use long, heavy pipes to maneuver ourselves from one shore to the other. Those pipes came in handy to rid the rafts of blood suckers. After all, it wasn't called Sucker creek for nothing!

Fall found us right back at the creek. If it was a weekday, we'd run off the school bus, into the house to change, grab an apple and run down to the creek and play until suppertime. It was a beautiful time down there what with the colors and crispness and country smells in the air.

Winter was magic on the creek. When the water froze we'd go skating day and night. I don't remember ever getting cold; even when lying on the ice and talking with my cousin under the stars. With everything glistening it felt like a winter wonderland. But then, it was!