Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pretty Little Handkerchiefs

My mother worked the midnight shift as a Charge Nurse in the ER. Working that shift meant my parents didn't have to pay a babysitter for me and my older brother. By the time she had to leave to get to the hospital, she'd fed and bathed us. Then we'd ride in the backseat of the car as my father drove her to work. After she got out of the car, waved to us and disappeared inside, my father wouldn't drive away. The three of us would stay in that car, looking up towards a window overlooking the circular drive. The window was in the office of the Nun in charge. Our mother would get to that window and wave goodbye again. On the way back home it was as if she was still in the car. I could smell her Avon deodorant and whatever she'd used to keep both her hair and starched white cap in place. Besides those familiar scents, I also remember a leather-type bag she always brought back and forth with her. It held books she might be reading. It also held whatever project she was working on; projects that kept her fingers busy and her mind released of some of the stress she was under. Of course I wasn't aware of that stress back then. I just liked riding in the car in my pajamas.

Of all the projects she worked on, her hand-embroidered handkerchiefs amazed me the most. The designs were so dainty. They were mostly little flowers with little leaves. The colors were happy. Beautiful. She kept that bag near a chair by a window in the den. Sometimes I'd sit in that chair. I'd reach in and take out whatever she was working on. If I pulled out knitting needles or embroidery needles I'd spend a few minute pretending I knew how to use them.  I was especially happy when I pulled out those pretty little handkerchiefs. I'd take my finger and follow the stitches. I'd check the other side of the handkerchief which was as neat as the front.

When I was a teenager, we moved to the country. In the afternoons in the summertime I'd do the family ironing. Back then everything was ironed. Even towels and sheets were ironed. Once in awhile my mother would open a top drawer of her dresser. It held all of those pretty little handkerchiefs. She'd gather them and hand-wash each one using Woolite in the kitchen sink. Then she'd lay them on the table. When they were dry, she'd let me iron them after adjusting the temperature. I took my time. I'd take that iron carefully around each cluster of leaves and flowers embroidered in a corner of each handkerchief. I knew how precious they were. I knew the nurse found such pleasure in her work-both as a Charge Nurse in the ER and as a designer of precious little handkerchiefs.

I don't remember her ever actually using one. I think that's because she considered each a piece of art. And I would have to agree.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Magic of a Cookie Jar

When I was growing up we had a Santa Claus ceramic cookie jar that sat on one of the shelves of a free standing service cart-like-thing. It had wheels so you could roll it around from one wall to another or one room to another. My mother always kept it in the kitchen by the back door. Along with that cookie jar she kept the toaster sitting on that stand as well. Both the toaster and the cookie jar always stayed in the same place. Other stuff wasn't permanent. It changed when she needed to get something out of the way.
It never mattered to any of us that it was a 'Santa Claus' cookie jar. What mattered was that it contained cookies all year long.

My grandmother kept her cookies inside a small, free-standing cupboard. It was painted white and it had a counter top. Half of the space in the front of that cupboard was where she kept boxes of cereal. All you had to do was open a small door and make your choice. The other half was comprised of three pull-out drawers. The middle drawer had a tin-like top with holes for ventilation. That's where she kept the cookies. All you had to do was slide that top back to find the cookies. If the cookies weren't homemade, they were either Fig Newtons or Lorna Doones. When my children were growing up, cookies were kept in a drawer in a cupboard. And when my two grandchildren happened along, cookies were kept in a cupboard-until the oldest one fell in love with foxes.

Her infatuation with foxes started awhile back. She is now 7 years old. A few weeks ago I'd been told by her mother that a certain store was carrying Fox ceramic cookie jars. Bingo! A light bulb went off in my head. My thoughts went back to my mother's Santa Claus ceramic cookie jar always sitting in the same place and always full of cookies. I hadn't thought about that cookie jar in years but at that moment, I realized how much I missed it. I realized how much it remains a part of my childhood. It was always there. Whatever else might have been going on; whatever else might have changed, that ceramic cookie jar probably 'Made in China' was sitting there waiting for a little hand to stop, pick up the top half, take a cookie or two, put the top back down and enjoy what that jar had to offer. But it wasn't always a little hand dipping into that jar. You see, my father loved cookies and my father did the grocery shopping so add those two together and you get a full cookie jar at all times full of his favorite cookies.

A few days after leaning about those Fox ceramic cookie jars on sale at a local store, I went shopping. When I came home, I not only had a Fox ceramic cookie jar 'Made in China' but a Fox ceramic cereal bowl and a Fox ceramic plate.  I couldn't help it. They belong together, now sitting on a shelf in an old cupboard in the kitchen, full of homemade Squash cookies waiting for that little fox to make another visit.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hair Nets

No matter where my mother went she was wearing a hair net or had one with her in her purse even when going to the grocery store. Her wearing a hair net always amazed me because her hair was either set in place with lots of hair spray or done up tightly in pin curls held in place by bobby pins. But that didn't matter. Hair nets were a must accessory back then. They came in handy if the wind kicked up or it started to rain or she was in a boat going for a ride or she'd just had her hair done and she wanted to be sure to keep it in place.

Hair nets came in colors. Her hair nets were always black or if she was wearing a bouffant type, they were always pink. I was used to seeing her in a hair net. They were as common as earrings are today. She even had a dresser drawer dedicated to hair nets.

My mother eventually grew away from wearing hair nets when styles became more casual although she kept some near just in case. I never knew her to grow her hair. It was always short and tight to her head while her mother's was always long and twisted into a bun and held in place by hair combs. Hair can define us. Hair can make a generation stand apart from another. While hairdos change so do the accessories and ways we treat and cut our hair. Lots of women pay big bucks on their hair.

Maybe my mother had it right. Wear a hair net to keep those hairs in place. It makes for less time spent on your hairdo and keeps you from going back to salons for their assistance. And always, always keep a hair net close by. You never know when you might need one.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Really was like Christmas in July

I knew this photo existed. I just couldn't put my hands on it until one day last week-one day during the month of July. Finding the photo in a pile of old photos in a trunk kept in the garage has led me to believe there really can be Christmas in July! Before I thought it was just hype. A great phrase to use as a marketing tool when sales slack off in the heat of summer. But now I feel differently. Finding the photo of me in my nightgown opening a gift on a Christmas morning and my mother sitting on the couch nearby with her hair done up in bobby pins was like opening a gift on Christmas morning with the snow coming down and Bing Crosby and Dean Martin and Andy Williams taking turns with the entertainment.

While today-at this very moment as I write this post-there is no snow outside or pile of unopened presents in the living room stacked beneath a tinsel-laden Christmas tree decorated with ornaments bought at Newberry's and Woolworths and while there is no Santa on a mantel, and despite the fact that particular house was sold and my mother has passed away and I have two grandchildren, really-nothing has changed. The spirit and anticipation felt that Christmas morning of long ago still exists even in the month of July for it exists in my heart. It has never gone away.

Since finding the photo I've looked at it several times and each time I'm brought back to that morning. I can smell the coffee perking in the kitchen and my grandmother's Christmas bread sliced and sitting on the table covered in a red, hand-embroidered by my mother tablecloth. I can see my father sitting in his chair already dressed for the day and most likely that included sporting a tie. I can hear my younger sister and brother tearing through their stockings and then going for their presents while my older brother sits like me quietly opening gifts. After all, we were older. We couldn't rip off the paper. We were too cool. I dare say while on the outside he remained cool and calm; inside his stomach was doing flips and somersaults. I know that's how I remember feeling as I sat near my mother quietly opening presents on a Christmas morning of long ago.



Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hairy Extremes

At first I thought I'd be getting pretty brave when posting my graduation picture along with my Cher era photo. Now that I'm doing it, I realize it doesn't matter. It's worth a laugh or two. Hair is just that-hair.We all have photos of our hairstyles and cringe at how we wore our hair at certain times. But each particular time tells about a chapter in our life. It might be a good or bad or sad chapter but all those chapters add to what is our own, one-of-a-kind story and our hair is a part of that story.

When I was born my parents told me I had so much hair that the nurses kept it gathered on top of my head in a 'whisp.' In fact the nurses called me Whisteria. As I grew into a little girl, my mother often French braided my hair. When I was a pre-teen she took me to a barber shop and had my hair chopped off into a sort of Buster Brown hairstyle. That's the way it stayed until I became a teen. That's when I took over. Most every night in my freshman year I'd go into the kitchen-take out an egg-crack it, strain out the yolk, and then mix the white of the egg with some water. Then I'd go into my bedroom, shut the door and do my hair up on big rollers. I'd comb the egg white mixture into every strand before wrapping that strand around a roller and pinning that roller to my head with hard, plastic picks. Then I'd wrap a net around the rollers and sleep on them all the while telling my mother that Yes-I was doing my homework. In the morning, I'd carefully take each roller out. I really didn't have to be careful since the hair was like cement. It wasn't going anywhere which is what I wanted. I'd tease it all into a beehive as tall as I could get it-then spray that hive and off I'd go to school thinking I was just about the coolest chic ever. I wore that style for the longest time. It changed when Sonny and Cher made their debut. No more egg white for me. I wanted my hair as long and straight and free as it could be. That stage lasted for a quite awhile. A part of that stage included the discovery of long, pretend braids. A friend of mine and I would pull our hair high up to the top of our heads into one long ponytail. Then we'd wrap the fake braid around it-tuck the ends of real hair underneath it, secure it with bobby pins and think we were pretty cool in our hot, fake braids. Once I married and had children, hair time was about no time. When they were young I cut my hair all off and permed it into tight curls. That way it was no bother. They couldn't pull on it. If I didn't get to wash it, the curls looked just fine or so I thought they did. I didn't have much spare time to check..

Funny how hair tells a story. If my hair was writing a book it would include the times my sister-in-law and I used a boxed treatment for streaking our hair. We're lucky our hair didn't fall out since keeping track of the time was something we were not too good at. There'd also be chapters on long hair and short hair; streaked hair and curly hair and probably more than one chapter on the use of egg whites for gluing one's hair into place.

I still have this little inkling gnawing at me to go red. Not a bright red. Just a nice auburn kind of  red. I know when the mood hits-that will happen! And then that will be another chapter.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Picnic by the Tulip Patch

Did you ever look at an old photo and wish you could remember being in that moment; wish you could recall the conversation and remember who was around and figure out how that moment came about? When I look at the attached photo, I wonder. And I wish I could remember that day, sitting outside of my grandparents' farmhouse in the summertime behind my grandmother's tulip patch.

I'm seated to the left in the wicker chair. My older brother is seated across from me and our cousin who is four months older than me is sitting between us. We appear to be having a snack or lunch. I appear to have my snack in my lap. That was probably a good idea because whatever I was eating most likely would have fallen to the ground and most likely a dog named Pepper who was most likely nearby would have enjoyed whatever I was supposed to be eating. We are probably drinking milk. As I grew older I remember enjoying the homemade lemonade my grandmother would make, using her lemon squeezer and filling a pitcher with that lemon juice, along with well water and lots of sugar and lemon slices.

My brother had red hair and freckles when he was a little boy. He was the first grandchild and would often go with our grandfather in his old Ford truck. When we were old enough we'd get to ride behind our grandfather's little red tractor, sitting on the hay wagon, feeling every bump and taking in the smell of the hayfields and buzzing of the flies and bees and feeling the warmth of the sun with a gentle breeze making the clover dance and wildflowers twirl as we'd go over the plank bridge, taking us to the backfields. That farm was a paradise for adventures when growing up.

On the day this photo was taken clothes on the clothesline were swaying in the breeze. Those tall posts held the waterline going out to the barn. In the very top left you can see an inkling of what was the pump house. We loved playing in that pump house. We'd pump the cold water into our hands and keep repeating the process. That water was so cold and so tasty. On real hot days we'd pump the water onto the cement floor and then splash in it with our bare feet. We also had the option of going down to the flat rocks pictured to the right of the laundry flapping in the breeze where there was a natural bubble that would spring out from the rocks. Clearing away any moss, we'd spread out on our bellies and enjoy sipping that water, trying to avoid the water from going up our noses.

Amazing how one photo makes you wonder as it takes you back to a moment when sitting in an old wicker chair in the summertime.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Berry Picker in Jeans

This is the one and only time I remember my grandmother ever wearing jeans and sneakers. She was going berry-picking while visiting one of her six daughters and family. I can only imagine the laughs they had as that particular daughter was lots of fun just like her mother. I wasn't there but something tells me they filled that bucket she is holding more than once. And I'm sure when my grandmother was back home, she baked some strawberry-rhubarb pies.

As far back as I can remember, my grandmother always wore a house dress with black shoes that tied up the front so seeing her dressed in jeans was like seeing a whole other side of her. She had an assortment of house dresses. They all had pockets. Most were a muted plaid material. Probably a cotton. On special occasions she'd wear one of her good dresses and if she was cooking, she'd wear an apron. While I don't remember ever picking berries with my grandmother, I do remember enjoying the pies she'd bake by combining a pinch of this and a dash of that. Of course her crusts were homemade. Crisco played a role in that.

Her list of homemade pies was extensive including favorites such as apple and pumpkin; mincemeat and custard. I loved her raisin pie and all the berry pies made when the berries were in season. My all-time, most favorite pie was her lemon meringue. I've tried my best to create a lemon meringue pie just like my grandmother's, even using her recipe, but I fall short every time. I think the problem is my thoughts wander back to those times of eating her lemon meringue pie and having her there and sitting in her kitchen and enjoying the pie on a certain plate surrounded by other family members doing the same while talking and enjoying the moment. Funny how food sparks our memories. Funny how food takes us back. The texture of her pies-the aromas from her kitchen-her rolling pin-her worn yet strong hands-her hair pulled up in a bun-flour everywhere-her braided rugs-her African Violets sitting on a drop leaf table in the other room-the bookcase full of books and photographs.

Funny how a pie, a simple pie made with love and served with a smile while wearing a house dress with pockets and black shoes that tied up the front can bring it all right back as if it was yesterday. There's magic in those recipes. Of course the magician herself had lots to do with it.