Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Paper Dolls Kept in a Shoebox

I loved paper dolls. I had a shoebox full of them. I kept the shoebox in the bottom drawer of an old dresser in my bedroom. Sometimes I'd sit on the floor and play out scenarios with them. I named each one of them.They were like little friends to me. None were licensed characters. None came with sparkly outfits. They were just paper dolls. And that was all I needed. Most of my paper dolls came from Newberry's or Woolworths. It was always fun when shopping for paper dolls. Of course, Santa Claus made sure to bring me even more.

It was exciting when deciding which outfit each of my paper dolls would be wearing. Sometimes they'd have to change more than once during a scenario depending on what they were doing. They always had lots of fun whether going to the beach or school, on a picnic or visiting friends or taking care of their puppies or kittens. Whatever they were doing, they were fashionably dressed for the occasion.

One evening, like many other evenings, I had my paper dolls in bed with me. We were having a great time until I fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, I was horrified to find scraps of paper everywhere. Many of the paper doll outfits with their paper tabs used to fold around the paper doll were destroyed. Some of the tabs had ripped right off.  Some of the paper dolls were bent or missing limbs. I taped some of the missing parts and ripped outfits. I was able to salvage some but not all. I didn't throw any of them away. I couldn't. I didn't care if they were injured. They were still my friends.

I did get more paper dolls. I kept them in a different shoebox on top of my dresser. That other shoebox with the injured paper dolls and ripped outfits remained in the bottom drawer from then on. I didn't play scenarios with them. But I did take them out and check on them once in awhile.

I don't know whatever happened to those two treasured shoeboxes. We moved to the country and I never saw them again. But I never forgot them. You don't forget little things that bring you joy-simple, quiet joy when sitting on a bedroom floor pretending with your beloved paper dolls.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Quit Your Lollygagging

That's me with my hands on my cheeks sitting next to my cousin in a pretty dress. I don't know what we are doing, sitting there in the grass in the side yard off my grandparents' farmhouse. Right behind us would have been the door opening into the kitchen. To the left of us would have been the pump house.

If I had to guess we might have been taking a break from playing although I don't look very happy. I was probably bored just sitting there. Maybe I wanted to get back to playing in our clubhouse. Looking at the picture I can imagine my mother saying one of her most often used phrases, "quit your lollygagging!" She'd say that all the time when, in her eyes, someone was going too slow or wasting time or spinning their wheels in indecision.It took me a few years to figure out what she meant. When I understood, her words made sense.

The earliest recollection I have of her speaking those words to me was when we lived in the house by the lane. That was the first place I called home. I was sitting on the sunporch playing Old Maid with my two best friends, Chunnie and Winnie. They were my imaginary friends. That's the reason why I won every single card game. But this particular day my mother suggested maybe I lose a game; telling me no one ever wins every game of whatever they are playing. I took her advice. But as I dealt the cards out I felt a nervousness in the pit of my stomach. As the game progressed, that nervousness continued. The closer it got to the end, the longer I took in ending it. I couldn't decide which friend would be the winner. I guess I took too long. My mother came walking onto the sunporch and told me in a stern voice to "quit your lollygagging" and claim the old maid in my hand of cards. Well I soon ended the game. But I turned out to be the winner. I wasn't ready to relinquish my title. I didn't want to hurt one of my imaginary friend's feelings. A few more card games the next day claimed Chunnie to be the winner. I was a gracious loser. A few more card games after that and Winnie was the winner. Losing my title turned out to be okay. There was always another card game to conquer.

Thinking back, my mother used that phrase of hers just when I needed it. In the mornings, more often than not, "quit your lollygagging" was the last thing she'd say to me when I was late getting outside to meet the school bus. I was never that much into school. I would have preferred staying home but with that stern voice of hers, she'd bring me back to the reality that the bus was waiting for me with the swinging door wide open. When I was a senior and undecisive of my next move, my mother again told me to "quit your lollygagging."

My mother's three words hurried my decision. Her three words always did.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Guardians of the Farms

Towering over fields bare in winter and lush with produce in the summer, silos stand tall as children go by in yellow buses. They stand tall as farmers do their chores and families grow and babies become adults and the cycle of life and silos begins all over again.
They stand tall as lovers whisper when passing by and funerals slowly make their way down a winding country road to the church or cemetery. They stand tall as loads of hay fill the haymows and cows graze in pastures and another sunrise leads to another sunset and seasons come and go and the wind howls and neighbors move.
Some stand tall over abandoned farms. Some stand tall filled with grain. Some slowly crumble to the ground. Whatever the fate of those silent sentinels, those watchers, those guardians of the farms and the fields, they will forever be a part of the rural landscape if only in our memories.
When I was growing up my grandfather no longer worked his farm. There were no longer any cows grazing or chickens in roosts. His grain shed was quiet although the tools were still in place ready to be picked up if needed. The haylofts were mostly empty as was the towering silo. My cousin and I would look inside the massive structure. We'd play around it outside the barn. 
Today the silo is all that remains of my grandfather's barn. Gone too is his grain shed but I can still smell the grease on his tools and the grain in the bins. It was a treasured place to play and pretend.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


I'm drawn to remnants of places sitting in silence along country roads. As I drive by the haunting structures, I wonder who'd lived there. I wonder why they left. I wonder how they walked away.
Each one of the abandoned places has a story. Just like we do. When you think about it, most of us have been abandoned in one way or another at some point in our lives by someone we loved, by a boss, a friend or a community.
My first realization of abandonment came when my aunt cared for a foster child. A little baby. I might have been twelve at the time. I never knew babies were ever abandoned. I thought they were loved to the moon and back by parents who tended to their every need. I thought they were rocked to sleep in their mother's arms smelling of talcum powder, covered in a soft, precious blanket. It was a rude awakening, followed by another. My sister found a puppy all alone, cold and shaking and hungry in one of the bins in my grandfather's grain shed. I never knew someone could do such a thing to a puppy with floppy ears and wavy hair hanging around its beautiful brown eyes.

Since becoming the mother of a mentally ill son, I've learned even more about the harsh reality of abandonment. Those who suffer with a brain disease face unwarranted stigma every single day.

When you think about it, all it would take to salvage many of those empty structures is some tender loving care. That rings true for people as well. If we were to reach out to each other in understanding, the world would be a better place.

No paint needed. No windows or roofs. Just kindness and acceptance towards one another. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Making Plain Brown Donuts and Donut Holes

My grandmother would often make jam tarts out of leftover pie dough. I loved her tarts just as much as her pies. They were usually strawberry jam tarts. When she took them out of the oven, the tarts were a golden brown and some of the sizzling jam would be oozing out of the folded dough. The aroma of those piping hot jam tarts drifting through her farmhouse added to the anticipation when biting into one-or two of the tarts. That aroma remains with me today as does the aroma of plain brown donuts and donut holes made and enjoyed when my children were quite young.

Using my grandmother's recipe for the plain donuts, I'd have the dough ready to go. The number of kids making donuts varied. Sometimes it was just my children. Other times it seemed like the entire neighborhood. Either way it was pretty well-organized. Each child had a job to do. There were those who rolled out the dough. There were those who cut out the donuts with the one and only donut-maker-cutter. It usually turned out that all of the kids cut out some donuts if they wanted to. It became quite busy-rolling out the dough, then cutting the donuts out and gathering up the middle of each cut-out donut to roll into a ball for a donut hole; then gathering up any leftover dough and starting the process all over again.

Once most of the dough had been used, the focus turned to the Fry Daddy sitting back on the counter, full of hot grease ready to turn the spongy dough into donuts and donut holes. It was a very safe and carefully executed process. I was always right there as the older children slowly lowered the dough into the grease using a large cooking spoon with openings for the grease to escape as the donuts were lifted up and placed on layers of paper towels. When they cooled down a bit, some of the donuts and donut holes were put into a brown bag full of confectioners sugar. Then whoever was the brown-bag-full-of-confectioners-sugar-shaker would go to work, shaking that bag, resulting in whatever was in that bag came out covered with the sugar. Not all the donuts and donut holes went in the bag. Many were spared the process. They were kept to be enjoyed as plain brown donuts and donut holes. And enjoyed they were.

Each child received a small bag of donuts and donut holes to take home with them. I dare say when they did get home, their bags were empty. Just the smell of those delicious donuts was enough to devour each and every one of them-just like the aroma of my grandmother's jam tarts piping hot from her oven with sizzling jam oozing out of the folded dough.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sweater Dress Disaster

Years ago I loved wearing sweater dresses. My favorite sweater dress 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 chocolate brown boots that my older brother gave me one year for Christmas.

I can remember the first time I wore my 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
so it didn't take me long to get ready once the day arrived. I couldn't wait to wear the dress. With my long 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 Chevy Impala which turned out to be brand new-quite appropriate for my new sweater dress.

It was good seeing him. He surprised me by taking me to a carnival. I'd been so intent on wearing that dress that I never bothered to check the weather. I found myself at a carnival in 90 degree weather in a heavy knit sweater dress with those long sleeves and my hair sporting a fake braid 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. 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 most favorite dress ever 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 an oatmeal shade heavy 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 sweater dress with long sleeves that looked like a winter coat while he was casually dressed in madras shorts appropriate in the humid weather. Whatever it was, that was the first and last ride I ever took in his new and blue shiny Chevy Impala. I hope I didn't leave behind any streaks of my eye make-up.

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, July 25, 2019

Mary Ann's Raspberries

I was out back watering the garden the other day when the click clopping of hoofs on pavement caught my attention to a horse and buggy going by. I didn't think much about it since I still had a lot of watering to do. A few minutes later a familiar voice made me turn around.
I was happy to find the young Amish girl standing by the carrot patch. Over the past few years she'd stop by selling whatever fresh produce she had from her family garden. That day she was selling raspberries. I was always an easy sell. Not because of the produce but rather because of her. I enjoyed her visits. Our conversations were lively. She was curious. She was smart. She was funny. Her eyes always had a spark. For a small frame girl, her voice was powerful. One time when she stopped my granddaughter was at my home for an overnight. She was mesmerized by the young Amish girl.
But that day the young Amish girl was quiet. She did ask if my daughter was home. When I told her no she asked if my granddaughter was staying all night. I told her she'd be staying over the weekend with her brother. Usually she would have asked me more questions but she didn't. She showed me the raspberries and told me how much they were. I ran inside and got some money. When returning, I tried getting a conversation going
"It's so nice to see you, Mary Ann. How's your summer going?"
We went back and forth a little bit until she told me she had to get going. Her sister was waiting for her in the buggy.
"Well don't forget me when you are back out selling again."
A few minutes later we said goodbye. I watched her walking away. When she got to the corner of the house, she turned around and looked at me. Then she came running back to the garden and opened her heart.
"I won't be bringing you vegetables or strawberries or raspberries anymore. I won't be seeing you again."
"Why Mary Ann?" I thought maybe a sister or a brother would be taking over the deliveries.
"Because-because we are moving."
"Where are you going?"
"Near Buffalo."
"Why so far?"
"Because my father died and some of my siblings are living with relatives not far from there."
I could see tears in her eyes. I could feel tears in mine. I felt so sad for my little friend that I hugged her and told her how much I would miss her and our little conversations. I'm not sure if my reaction was suitable but I couldn't help it. It was spontaneous just like her smile and her laugh-except for that particular day.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Swimming Down at the Boys Camp

When growing up in the country, my cousins, siblings and I had no place to go swimming. While there was the creek that flowed behind our houses, that creek was full of blood suckers. We played around that creek all the time. But we never swam in it.

So on real hot days, we'd wait for one particular aunt to get home from work. And when she did, we'd be there, hoping she'd take us swimming. She didn't have to load us all into a car with our bathing suits on and holding on to our towels. All she had to do was go inside the house. Put on her bathing suit under some casual clothes. Grab some graham crackers. Walk us across the road and down a path through a field to what was known as the Boys Camp.

The property was owned by our grandparents. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they'd open it up in the summertime to the boys at an orphanage a few miles away. The orphanage was run by nuns. They would stay with the boys at the Boys Camp. There was a small building where the nuns would sleep. The boys slept in tents. There was a bigger building where they were fed. That building was also where Mass was said on Sundays and activities took place.

So on those really hot days, if we were lucky, that aunt of ours would hurry in the house, get changed, grab some graham crackers and walk us across the road and down through the field to the Boys Camp. From there, we kept on walking. We'd go through the Boys Camp-keep going until we had to go around a fence and down another path which led us to a river. By that time we were sweltering. But it never mattered. The walk down to that river was fun. We'd be carrying our towels, laughing and talking all the way.

Our aunt was a beautiful swimmer. After we all had our time splashing and holding on to rocks kicking and trying to swim and pretending to swim, our aunt would put her white swimming cap on. It was a slow process because she had long hair and she had to tuck it all up and into the rubber swimming cap. Once it was secure, she'd get into the water and slowly-very slowly-get her arms and legs wet. Then she'd stand on a very big rock. Make the sign of the cross and dive in as graceful as a swan. We'd watch as she did the overhand. She'd go out pretty far. When she came back in, we knew it was time to go back home. And that was okay. We ate graham crackers all the way home.

(Picture shows one of our swimming excursions. I am standing in the water with my head turned around to my cousin swimming. The aunt who always took us is sitting down on the rock watching us).

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!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Everyone Has A Story

Years back if you'd opened that door in the photo and walked inside, you would have discovered a talented and hard-working woman who spent her life in the world of dance; teaching dance to anyone willing to learn. Of course, willing to learn, in her book, meant possessing the ability to listen, to pay attention, to be able to take criticism and then accepting the criticism which she herself described as "essential." It didn't matter if you were a young child-a moody teenager or nervous adult. If you were in her School of Dance, this instructor let it be known that she was there to teach. Lack of attention or fooling around would not be tolerated.

The instructor's name was Ruth Dumas, who at the age of sixteen, moved to New York City to study dance.To pay for her lessons and expenses, she'd assist with instruction. After opening her school of dance when returning to her hometown in 1935, Ruth kept studying dance during the summers in New York City with Dance Educators of America. Mrs. Dumas taught dancing for over fifty years.

When I was in junior high school, my older brother and I took dance lessons with an aunt and uncle at Ruth Dumas' School of Dance. I considered my aunt and uncle to already be pretty good dancers, especially when doing the jitterbug. Lessons were Tuesday evenings. I can't remember how many weeks we enrolled but I do remember how much fun we had. My brother was my partner. He stepped on my feet when learning the jitterbug, the cha-cha, the stroll and ballroom dancing. Despite that, we did learn to dance and Mrs. Dumas gets all the credit. Our learning how to dance those different dances was because she'd take us aside, slow us down, get and keep our attention and go through every step one at a time. She'd continue doing the steps until we mastered them.

Years later I was back at Ruth Dumas' School of Dance with my younger daughter. I enjoyed sitting on a bench and watching her under the instruction of a master in her craft. I can't remember how it happened, but often when a lesson was over, my daughter and I would give Mrs. Dumas a ride home. When I think back to those short rides in the car with Mrs. Dumas, I find myself wishing I'd bothered to get to know her; wish I'd asked her questions about her experiences. It was only after she passed away that I learned what an amazing life she'd led. I never knew all that she'd accomplished in her lifetime. I'd never taken the time to ask.

Everyone has a story. Because my father was a funeral director I've always found obituaries interesting, and some, fascinating reads. They are mini biographies. Each is a glance into a life. We assume we know someone but discover that not to be true. We form opinions about someone and learn our assumptions are baseless. I often think so many senior citizens are untapped history books full of untold stories. The longer you live the more you've experienced; the more people you've met; the more places you've been and the more history you've lived through. It's our loss when someone passes away and their stories, big and small, pass away with them.

I will forever treasure the times I sat around my grandmother's kitchen table with cousins and siblings and listened to family stories told by my grandmother and aunts. When one story was finished, we asked for another and then another. Coffee made in a simple little pot never tasted so good. It probably had a lot to do with the conversation going on.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Making Hats in a Little Fabric Shop

For a time, my mother had a fabric shop out in the country. It was an addition added on to our home. The best thing about that little fabric shop was that it provided me hours of creating when I shut the door in the evening. I'd tell my mother I was going to do some homework. I did do homework for a while. But when it came time to do my math, I'd turn my attention to the bolts of fabric and the pattern books, and especially the antique hutch full of items used to make hats. That antique hutch was so much more than a hutch. It was magical. Full of colors and possibilities.

Before I began my creating, I'd take loose leaf paper and scribble some designs. To get the juices going, I'd open the pattern books and look at the sketched models for different ideas and ways to wear the hats. Most of the models on the pages wore hats, especially in Vogue. I guess I thought I was a hat designer. Anyway, hat frames came in different shapes. Once I decided on the frame, the fun began.

In the antique hutch were all sorts of feathers in all kinds of sizes and colors. There were jewels and stones of all shapes and sizes and colors. There were single pearls and pearls on what looked like bobby pins and pearls on picks. There were diamond-like sequins of all colors. Even small buttons made just for hat designing. It was all so much fun. I'd lose track of time, traveling from Paris to London; New York to Los Angeles and back. While I didn't actually glue any of the feathers or jewels or stones onto any hat frames, realizing my mother would have a fit, I pretended I did. Walking around the fabric shop, I pretended I was walking down Fifth Avenue or walking down a runway or into a gala event at the opera or anywhere my feathered creation would fit in to the occasion.

I loved those evenings traveling around the world in my fancy hats. It sure was more fun than doing my math. But sometimes it all caught up to me when report cards came out. For awhile I wasn't allowed to do my homework in the fabric shop. But that was okay. I didn't need to be in the fabric shop to be creative. I realized creating can happen anywhere if you try. And it did as I sat at my desk in my bedroom designing more hats and outfits as my math book sat right there next to me.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Women Wore Pearls and Cardigan Sweaters

I've posted this photo before showing me with my cousin standing on a sidewalk in what used to be the downtown of our hometown. It was taken after a parade in the summertime. We'd been part of a float celebrating the 19th Amendment. This is the only personal photo I have of that downtown. I can't run out and take a new photo because the downtown is no longer there. All that remains are a few buildings that escaped the wrecking ball. The rest of that downtown is tucked away in my heart.

There are so many memories:enjoying milkshakes at soda fountains; stopping at at my uncle's shoe store where a merry-go-round for kids was quite popular; spending time in a small bookstore with my mother and feeling my imagination stirred by the smell of all those printed words in one space; going with my mother to a fancy dress shop and being told to sit in a chair and not to budge an inch; going with my mother to a men's shop that I seem to remember had two doors, and of all the merchandise stuffed on the many shelves, it was a display of belts that I remember the most-especially the beaded belts that looked like the old Wild West; shopping for ties for my father in another men's shop that was a little fancier than the one with the beaded belts; spending what seemed hours in a little store that was always busy with people bringing film in to be developed and young teens going through rows of 45 rpms and vinyl records; trying fancy hats on in a millinery shop with my cousin and laughing at ourselves in the mirror; finding treasures in the two five and dime stores sitting side by side; going to lunch with an aunt, siblings and cousins to a popular downtown restaurant while out for the day Christmas shopping.

There were so many more wonderful stores and places of business in that downtown full of memories. As I was thinking about them I realized that most of the women who either owned or worked in the stores were always dressed up. Their hair was always in place. Their make-up was flawless as were their smiles and genuine desire to assist you. A few of those stores were very small in size yet they offered a wide assortment of high quality merchandise. I'd always be with my mother who'd carry on lovely conversations with any of the women assisting her in those stores. Once she selected the items she wanted to purchase, the shop owner would take out white boxes and carefully put sheets of white tissue paper inside. Then she'd take the merchandise one item at a time, fold the item, and gently place it in the box. When  the box was full, she'd carefully cover the merchandise with more white tissue paper, patting it down in place before putting the top on.

While that process was going on, I'd be looking at the woman's hands with polished nails. The way she held the tissue paper was a thing of beauty. It was like watching a maestro absorbed in the music. Most all the women wore sparkling rings. Most all the women wore pearls and many wore cardigan sweaters with their dresses or skirts. Most all wore heels or a good flat shoe probably from my uncle's shoe store.

Shopping in that downtown felt like Mayberry. Andy Griffith was surely around the corner.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Gingerbread Boys Surrounded By Hearts

Back on December 19th I wrote a post about a Christmas tradition I started when my children were little. That simple tradition was making lopsided Gingerbread Boys following the recipe on page 94 of Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cook Book. I can't tell you when the cook book was published because some of the pages are missing and pages, like page 94, are worn down and have blotches of  stains from required ingredients. But I can still read it. I pull it out every year and make my gingerbread boys. And this year was no different except in one way.

My tradition of baking my lopsided gingerbread boys and leaving them without faces; without any decorating of any kind and when cooled, placing them in old tin cans and setting them around the house and once January had come and gone, sending them off to gingerbread boy heaven followed along without a hitch this year. That is, until January was coming to a close. That's when I realized I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to my faceless little friends. I know this sounds strange. After all, they are only gingerbread boys. There is no value to them. People associate gingerbread boys with Christmas and Christmas had come and gone. But still, something was gnawing at me. A few times I carried the tins to the kitchen with plans to empty the contents into the trash but each time I couldn't do it. I'd put the tins back and tell myself "maybe tomorrow."

Well, tomorrow for my lopsided gingerbread boys' demise still hasn't come and I think I've figured out why. In all of their simplicity, they give me comfort. They always have. I guess the gingerbread boys are like that feeling you get when you crawl out of bed and turn the coffee pot on. The thought of a cup of coffee is comforting as a new day begins. If you don't drink coffee, maybe the comfort those gingerbread boys bring to me is like that feeling you get when curling up in a favorite blanket or getting into a good book or listening to a train off in the distance.

Whatever it is, this year I am rewarding the little fellows. I am keeping them in their old tin cans through February surrounded by Valentine hearts. They certainly have earned each one of those shiny, beautiful dollar store hearts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

My Grandfather's Other Side

My grandfather was a hard-working farmer. He and my grandmother provided a good life for their six daughters. They did it all. Each had their list of duties from ice harvesting on the St. Lawrence in the depth of winter to haying in the hot sticky days of June; along with planting gardens which led to weeding, picking, slicing, cooking, canning produce and filling the root cellar. Then there was the sewing, knitting, cleaning, tending to children, tending to barn animals and machinery and the list goes on. Point is, my grandparents worked hard every day with no days off.

Memories of my grandfather are precious. I can see him splitting wood in the woodshed just outside a door of the kitchen in the farmhouse. I can hear the ax hit the wood; remember the splinters of the wood go flying through the air.

I can see him coming in from the backfield with a load of hay driving his small red Ford tractor over the plank bridge spanning Sucker Creek, then over flat rock and on to the barn.

I can recall Saturday nights when my brother and I were lucky enough to go to the local Strand Theater with our grandparents. They’d both be dressed up. I loved seeing them in their good clothes. They were a handsome couple. When the movies were over, they’d take us next door to Phillip’s Diner for a hamburger and a coke in one of those real coke glasses filled with ice chips.

I remember moments playing around him with my cousins as he sat in a room in the farmhouse where the sun would come through a window in late afternoon. Depending on the time of year, my grandmother would keep her geraniums in that window. They’d bloom all winter long. On one wall there was a bookcase. It took up the entire wall. I didn’t realize it then but the shelves might have been filled with some of my grandfather’s favorite books.

You see, my grandfather had another side to him once he came in from the barn. He loved reading; loved his books. I’m sure when we were playing around him he never noticed us. That’s what happens when you’re engrossed in a book. You disappear. His favorite author was Zane Grey. But he also had a favorite magazine-The Saturday Evening Post. He read each one cover to cover. He saved every edition. There were always stacks of the magazine in that room with the geraniums

Over the years I’d hear my grandfather coughing. Sometimes his asthma kept him in bed. I remember seeing his Beech Nut Chewing Tobacco in his back pocket; remember seeing him pull the pouch out of the pocket, dig in with his fingers and put some of the stuff in his mouth and start chewing. My grandfather passed away in 1957.

The attached photo of my grandfather sitting and reading his magazine in that room in the farmhouse is one of my favorites. I zoomed in to get a closer look of the cover of the magazine he appears to be engrossed in, even with his barn boots still on. Then I researched the magazine’s archives to find out the date of when the magazine was published.

It turned out it was published in March, 1952. The artist was Amos Sewell; a banker during the day who took art classes at night for fun and ending up being remembered as one of Saturday Evening Post’s best artist/illustrator. The name of the cover art is “School Orchestra.”

I find that trivia interesting; a part of my grandfather’s other side.