Sunday, June 14, 2020

For The Love of Paint-By-Number Kits

I always felt like a famous artist when working on a Paint-By-Number Painting. I loved them. They came in a kit inside a decorated cardboard box. The kit contained everything one would need to complete the painting. Some kits included one large paint-by-number painting. Others included three paint-by-number paintings, smaller in size than the kit with the single painting. I can still remember my most favorite of all the ones I painted. It was a horse standing in front of a barn-a rather big horse. I spent hours on that painting, sitting at my desk in a bedroom I shared with my younger sister with a huge assortment of brushes, a glass of water and lots of tissues sitting next to me. I always made a mess when creating. That's just what artists do.

Going shopping for new paint-by-number kits was great fun. Woolworths and Newberry's always had great selections. Sometimes my cousin and I would go downtown shopping and sometimes I'd come back home with gift ideas to tell my mother if my birthday was coming or Christmas was near. Those gift ideas always included some paint-by-number kits. When the Sears Wish Book arrived in the mail, paint-by-number kits were sought after items.

But of all those kits I received, the one I remember the most came from my father. I don't remember the actual painting itself but I do remember the anticipation it created. It was a Christmas Eve. My father was a funeral director and that meant he even had to work on Christmas Eve if there'd been a death. This particular Christmas Eve he had to work. On top of that it was raining. Relatives had come for dinner and were gone when he came walking inside the house soaking wet. My older brother and I were dressed for bed. Milk and cookies were all set up. We waited for our father to get his coat off before we hugged him and said goodnight. When he took his coat off I noticed him grabbing hold of something hidden by his coat and putting it on a chair in the dining room. It was a package! It was Christmas Eve! I just knew it was for me.

While I thought I'd never get to sleep it was soon morning and I was rushing down the front stairs and into the living room with my brother. The stockings were bulging. But it was a package wrapped in white tissue paper kept together by Christmas stickers that caught my eye. It was sitting under the tree on top of some bigger presents. It was tradition for us to open one gift after our stocking gifts. Then we'd have breakfast and open the rest. I knew which gift I was going to open. I knew the present wrapped in white tissue paper was for me. I felt it. When it was time, I took hold of that gift with my name written in cursive on a tag. It was beautiful penmanship. I loved how the letters swirled as if caught in a breeze. I looked at my father. He was smiling. It was his penmanship.

Seconds later the tissue paper was off and I was holding on to a box I'd held in a small corner store just up the street. A few days earlier, my mother and I had stopped there for a few things and while she paid for them, I found what I was now holding. I'd told my mother how much I hoped Santa would bring me the paint-by-number kit with primary colored felt tip markers included. Sitting there in my nightgown I looked back at my father. He was still smiling. Then he pointed to the window. It was snowing.

The paint-by-number kit with primary colored  felt-tip markers ended up my favorite Christmas gift that year. I don't know how my father ever knew I wanted it as much as I did. I convinced myself he was Santa Claus.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Lilacs In The Blue Vase

The lilacs are blooming, their sweet scent drifting about the back yard, over the fields, even coming inside through the screens on the back porch. It amazes me that such a sweet scent can come from such little flowers. But then, there are so many little flowers in a cluster. I couldn't resist cutting a few and bringing them inside, arranging them in the blue vase.
It was my father's vase, handed down to him from his mother. I don't remember how I ended up with it but I am thankful I did. It makes me feel like I have something tangible from a grandmother I hardly knew. She passed away when I was quite young. I only have one vivid memory of her and in that memory, I can see the blue vase sitting on her dining room table.
My older brother and I had gone with our father to visit his parents. I'm certain it was a Sunday morning. I remember wearing a pale yellow sundress with bunnies embroidered around the neckline. It must have been in the summertime because a window was wide open and the curtains were moving a bit. I could smell flowers as we walked up the front steps and through the front door. My father and brother were ahead of me.
When I was walking through the dining room, I was swallowed up in a warm embrace. It was my grandmother, smelling like a grandmother, all warm and safe and loving with fresh baked cookies on the kitchen counter. She was wearing black shoes. They tied up the front. An apron that went over her head and tied in the back covered up what I think was a dress.
I remember hair combs and wrinkled hands and little pearl earrings and thinking I'd like a cup of tea from the beautiful teapot sitting on the dining room table covered by a beautiful lace tablecloth with that blue vase full of flowers sitting in the middle.
Sadly, I can't remember her face. I can't remember if I ever did have a cup of tea from that teapot which now sits in my home along with the blue vase.
I wish I'd gotten to know my Grandmother Louise. I bet we would have had tea parties while sitting at that dining room table covered by that beautiful lace tablecloth with that blue vase full of fresh, blooming flowers sitting in the middle and a breeze coming through the windows.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Small Talk While Wearing Face Masks



It was another beautiful morning. I was up early-at the post office getting my mail out of my postal box when I noticed an older gentleman walking into the building. He had a cane and was wearing a face mask. As soon as he was inside, another older gentleman wearing a face mask and making copies at the copier, turned to see who was opening the door.

By the boisterous hellos, it was obvious they knew each other.
“Well look who’s here! How you been old guy?”
“Oh you know. Tryin’ to stay home but I gotta pay my bills.”
“Know just what you mean. I make copies of mine.”
“I was thinkin’ earlier. This would be a great time to rob a bank! With everyone wearin’ a face mask, you’d never get caught!”

They both started laughing in the old post office that had stood witness to so many catastrophic events in this country’s history.

Then the older gentleman who’d walked through the door continued as he adjusted his face mask. “I’m tempted sometimes to take this thing off. Makes it hard to breathe.”
“No! You can’t do that. We’re only in the third inning. Keep your face mask on. You don’t know who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy, if you know what I mean.”
Their small talk and laughter continued as I walked out the door.

My next stop was the grocery store. Standing in front of the meat case, with signs posted concerning limited quantities on some items due to Cova19, I thought about news reports concerning slaughter houses around the country where so many of their employees had been stricken with Cova19. As I continued to stand there, another older gentleman happened by. He was wearing a face mask. The fabric was all kittens. He didn’t hesitate to pick up a few packages of hamburger. Then we started talking. Turns out he’d been a farmer all his life. I told him my hesitation in buying meat.
“Check the expiration date,” he told me. “If ok, buy what you want and cook the heck out of it. That’ll kill anything, even that virus!”
“Thanks,” I told him. “I like your face mask.”
“My granddaughter made it. She knows I love kittens. Her mother told me she made quite a few for those who needed them. Well, it’s been nice talking with you. Stay safe.”
I picked up some packages of meat. When I got home, I cooked the heck out of it.”

I’ve been thinking about those three older gentlemen. They reminded me of my grandfather, especially the farmer. I remember hearing stories of how my grandparents and family would gather around the radio in the evening to listen to news after the Pearl Harbor attack and during WW11. I remember hearing stories of very tough times on their farm and in the country. I've been wondering what my grandfather would be doing during this Corona Virus pandemic. I suspect he'd be doing what he had to do just like the three older gentlemen I met the other morning, even if that meant wearing a face mask made from fabric with a kitten design.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Having Fun With Stilts


I don’t remember who made the pair of stilts my cousins and siblings and I played with when growing up out in the country. I do remember how much fun we had with them. The stilts were kept in my grandmother’s garage which was always open so we were able to get them whenever we wanted to.

The wooden stilts were painted gray. There was nothing fancy or mechanical about them. They were just gray with chunks of wood added for foot rests. Funny how such a simple thing could bring so much fun. But they did. Even my older brother would walk around on the stilts and he hardly ever joined us when we were outside playing which was most of the time. That just reinforces how much fun we had, taking turns walking around on those gray wooden stilts.

My grandmother’s driveway was crushed stone so if whoever was using the stilts wasn’t careful, a stilt could land on some stones the wrong way and throw the rhythm of walking on the stilts off. And down they’d go. Landing on crushed stone was very painful.
Sometimes we’d have races. Since there was only one pair of stilts, we had to count how long each of us took to determine a winner. Sometimes we’d try doing tricks like holding on tight to the stilts and attempting to jump one or two or maybe even three times with them. Another trick was to walk backwards. Another one was to look as if you were dancing. Of course, getting on and off the stilts was always a trick.

In the spring, we’d march through puddles. In the summer, we’d host circuses outside our chicken coop clubhouse. I’m sure all the adults loved attending our show which included some amazing stilt walking and stilt tricks and stilt marching under the big top which was actually just being outside in the sunshine.

I don’t know whatever happened to those simple, gray stilts. I do know they were lots of laughs despite all the bruised knees and elbows.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Oh Those Little Knick Knacks

I never knew a lot of the little things my grandmother had on display in her home could have been collectively referred to as knick knacks. In fact, growing up, I never heard that term used for anything. All those things sitting here and there, on tables and book shelves and shelves inside cabinets with glass doors and on window sills and in plants and on the mantel above the fireplace in the living room and sitting on antiques and on top of starched doilies and on little wooden steps of a wooden crescent moon serving as a display as it hung on a wall weren't just things. They were my grandmother's things and each one of them was considered to be a treasure by those of us who loved her. Each one had a story all its own.

When walking through her front door, those knick knacks were there to welcome you back. They never called in sick due to the weather. You knew where each one sat day after day. They added  to the scenery; to the warmth of that home. They were a part of that home just as much as the furniture and books and paintings on the wall and dishes in the kitchen cupboards and canned goods in the pantry. They were part of the family.

Most of those little things had been gifts to my grandmother-birthdays, Mother's days, Christmas. Some were home-made. Some were ceramic like little bunnies and kittens. Some were Santas and snowmen. Some were little vases holding pencils or rubber bands or paper clips. Of all those things called knick knacks, one was probably everyone's favorite. It was a candy dish in the shape of a chicken. It sat on an antique table behind the sofa. All you had to do was take hold of the chicken's head, lift it up and your reward was candy. I can't imagine how many little hands lifted that chicken's head in search of a treat.

Later in life my grandmother would tell us, when her birthday came around or Mother's Day was near or Christmas was coming, not to buy her a thing. "Come spend some time with me," she'd say.
Sitting around her kitchen table enjoying a cup of freshly perked coffee and listening to her stories and those of my Aunt Claire who lived with her was certainly better than buying a knick knack or receiving a knick knack. And, of course when visiting, lifting up that chicken's head for some candy was the icing on the cake.

I don't think knick knacks play such a prominent roll in homes today like they once did many years ago. Everyone is busy. Some consider such things as dust collectors. Homes are more efficient and void of clutter. I get that. But back then, knick knacks were more than just useless things sitting here and there. They were story tellers of the family in that home. They were little things always there to greet you when coming through the door. They were traditions.

I am blessed to have one of my grandmother's little knick knacks in my home. Every time I look at it, I remember it sitting on one of those wooden steps of the crescent moon that hung in the dining room of her farmhouse. It is so much more than a knick knack made in China.

To me, it is love wrapped up in memories.








Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Ten-Day Beauty Plan

Way back in the day when I was in my early teens plagued by acne, I would have done anything to get rid of those pimples. In fact, I did but still pimples blossomed all over my face. After reading a magazine ad stating if you used their product faithfully for ten days straight, your skin would be rid of acne. In fact, it claimed, "You will be beautiful!" That's all I needed! I bought a jar, convinced there'd be no more reason to hide my face with my hands or turn away when seeing popular upperclassmen.

For ten long days, I'd grab the magic jar and cover my face with the magic, silky lotion. Then I'd wait for however long I was supposed to before taking a clean washcloth put under warm water and then cold before wiping the magic, silky lotion off my face. I did that twice a day for nine days. At the end of the tenth day, I went into the bathroom and shut the door. Then I picked up the jar of magic, silky lotion and covered my face extra carefully. I left it on a little longer. I could feel myself getting excited. The long wait was over. No more pimples! No more being embarrassed or hiding my face with my hands. No more spending time on products that did nothing as promised in their ads. I was certain the magic, silky lotion I'd used as directed twice a day for ten days straight had rid my skin of acne.

With a clean washcloth put under warm water and then cold, I slowly began to clean the magic, silky lotion off my face. I took my time. Beauty, I decided, is to be savored. The only problem was when I looked in the mirror, I had even more pimples than I'd ever had. Throwing the not-so-magic lotion in the waste basket, I ran to my room; threw myself on my bed and buried myself in blankets. I stayed there until morning.

One good thing when I woke up, it was a Saturday. I didn't have to see anyone with my face smothered in pimples. I didn't feel like doing anything but decided to go next door to my grandmother's house. She was always up to something. I hoped her something on that Saturday would help me take my mind off my face.When I walked through the front door, I could hear her sewing machine humming. I knew where she was. Walking through the kitchen, I slowly approached her sewing room. Hesitating for a second, I took a deep breath and walked into the room. It made me feel better just to see her. I felt like crying but her words stopped me cold.

Looking up from her little black, Singer sewing machine with a tape measure around her neck, she smiled at me and said, "Well, don't you look beautiful today!"

"Really?"
"Yes. Really!"

I spent most of the day at my grandmother's. I decided, with brown spots on her hands and long gray hair twirled up in a bun and lines on her face that told her life's story, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I was in good company.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Playing Marbles


Right about this time of the year when growing up out in the country, I’d be looking for my bag of marbles. It wasn’t a fancy bag. It was a paper bag and there weren’t that many marbles in it. My older brother was the one with the marbles. He kept them in a plush-like bag with ties you’d pull shut so the marbles wouldn’t fall out. Sometimes when he wasn’t home I’d sneak into his room, pull open a certain dresser drawer and grab hold of that plush-like bag. Then I’d sit on his bed. Open the bag and spread the marbles out in front of me.
One time a marble rolled off his bed and disappeared just as I heard him come through the front door. I panicked. I scooped up the marbles and dumped them in the fancy bag. Then I got down on my knees and searched for the one that got away. I couldn’t find it! I was running out of time so I put the plush-like bag back in the drawer and hurried to my room and shut the door. I waited for him to start yelling at me. I was convinced he’d find it. But that never happened. He never went in his room. A few minutes later I heard him go back out the front door. Watching him walk up the road, I hurried into his room and eventually found that marble and put it back where it belonged.

I think most of my marbles came from Woolworths or Newberry’s. I didn’t have any fancy ones like steelies, but my brother did. And like his marbles, he had steelies in all sizes. My marbles were just your regular sort of marbles. Some, like the solid white ones and solid yellow ones, looked like gumballs. I had a few favorites chosen because of their swirling colors.
My cousins and I would get our marbles outside as soon as the snow started melting. We’d play with them in what grass there was despite it being frozen. Our marbles would roll in the snow; in mud puddles; down the cinder driveway; into the little stream beside our grandparents’ farmhouse waking up and getting a little bit bigger most every day. Our hands would be freezing.  Our feet would be soaking wet but we didn’t care. We were finally outside playing with our marbles after waiting all winter long.

I don’t know what ever happened to that paper bag holding those glorious little balls of fun. I guess you could say ‘I lost my marbles!’