Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Archie, Veronica, Betty & Jughead

With all the wonderful books to read way back when, including the Nancy Drew Mysteries, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott books as well as the Bobbsey Twins, a favorite source of reading was not a book. It was the monthly comic book titled Archie. 

I have no clue where my cousin and I bought our copies. Maybe we had a subscription. Maybe they were for sale in Woolworths or Newberry's located in the downtown where we lived. Quite possibly we bought them at what was called The Busy Corner in that downtown-a combination smoke shop, ice cream parlor complete with ceiling fans and small round tables with wrought iron chairs and a checkered linoleum floor. Besides tobacco products, the smoke shop carried numerous newspapers and magazines. I'm sure they must have carried comic books.

The backdrop to the Archie comic book series was a high school like most high schools of that era with students like most students of that era. Red-haired Archie was the main character. Jughead was his best friend. He always wore a funny-looking hat and always seemed to me to be lazy. Betty, the pretty blonde was like the girl next door. Very sweet with her eye on Archie. But the problem was Veronica who was Betty's best friend as well as rival for Archie's attention. Veronica was  attractive with her long, black hair. I remember there was a boy named Reggie but that's about all I remember about him. He wasn't a main character.

I can't remember any of the storylines. More often than not, it had to do with Betty and Veronica vying for Archie's affections. But none of that stuff caught my interest. I didn't care who ended up with Archie. I guess I realized that could change in the next issue. Rather, I was more interested in what Betty and Veronica were wearing and how their hair was styled. Their outfits reminded me of outfits a few of my pretty aunts would wear to work. Betty and Veronica didn't look like high school girls. At least not the girls where I went to school. They were quite curvy if you know what I mean and the outfits were beyond stylish. And the best part of that was the fact that, besides the comic books, we could buy paper dolls of all the Archie characters and along with those dolls came all of those wonderful outfits including bathing suits, skirts, pedal pushers, blouses, dresses, coats, pjs, and accessories. It was fun putting Veronica's outfits on Betty or vice versa and they never fought over who was wearing what. Not once. Maybe they were too busy fighting over Archie!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Frankly My Dear

When I learned of the death of actress Olivia de Havilland, my thoughts went back to a summer of long ago. My cousin and I were still hanging out in our chicken coop clubhouse, surrounded by the books, chalkboards and desks from an abandoned one-room schoolhouse up the road. Besides 'teaching' our younger siblings, we taught pretend students as well. And if we weren't teaching, we were putting on art shows, circuses, carnivals-whatever we thought the adults would 'love' to attend. After all, our shows were Free, and Tremendous.

Sometimes we'd bring books to read if we had the chance. Our grandmother had given us the Laura Ingalls Wilder books one Christmas. We read them all. Other favorites were the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew Mysteries. But during that particular summer, I went to my mother's bookcase and pulled out a paperback she'd raved about titled, "Gone With The Wind."

My mother was an avid reader. She worked evenings at the local hospital as Charge Nurse in the ER. She'd always put a book in her bag of stuff before going to work. Some nights she'd find time to read. Most nights I'm sure there was no time. Her favorite books were of the South in the era of plantations and beautiful women in big, beautiful, puffy gowns with matching hats and jewelry. The shelves of her bookcase were lined with those types of books. I'd neve heard her talking about any of them like she did "Gone With The Wind" so I pulled that book off the shelf and took it with me to our chicken coop clubhouse. The minute I started to read it, I fell in love with the story, especially Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara. It took me all summer to read the book. I was quite proud of myself for reading a book that was over 1,000 pages long. My mother was surprised. I wasn't. I was hooked from the beginning. "Frankly my dear" was a perfect closer.

When my mother passed away I was given most of her books. They now sit on shelves in my living room. Sometimes I'll pull a few of those books out just to look at the covers and once in a while when I do that, I remember my mother sitting in a chair by a window in the dining room with her hair done up in bobby pins, reading before getting ready for work. Now that I think about that she was probably gearing up for the transition from mother to nurse.

For some reason, "Gone With The Wind" was not included in the books I was given. I have no clue where it went. But that's okay. I will never forget that story just like I will never forget my mother sitting in that chair by a window in the dining room with her hair up in bobby pins, reading before getting ready for work.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Magic of Fields

There’s something magical about fields. It doesn’t matter the time of year. Fields amaze me whatever the season. This fascination began at an early age. I remember playing with my cousins as we watched for our grandfather to return from haying in the backfield. Once he drove his little red Ford tractor back over the plank bridge spanning the creek on his way to the barn, we’d run and jump on board the wagon full of hay. Fields surrounded us on both sides of the road.
When I was 8 or 9, we moved to the country, next door to my grandparents’ farm. Despite the farm not being a working farm anymore, the fields provided hours of play for me, my siblings and my cousins. They were great places to play hide ‘n seek. Fun places to pick wildflowers and clovers that were sweet tasting. Fun places to play ‘pretend’, making pretend houses by stepping down on the tall grass. Fun places to escape the adults. Fun places to walk through in the snow, stopping to make snow angels and snowmen and snowballs for throwing.
I remember sitting at my desk in my bedroom, looking out the window at the fields stretching to the back woods. When the sun would set through the trees, the fields would often be streaked with color. When it snowed, the fields glistened. After a rain shower, the fields with their weeds and wildflowers and brush and hay grew all the more. After a storm, the fields became disheveled. Even some trees might have fallen. But Mother Nature stepped in. Mother Nature was its caretaker.
When autumn came back around, Mother Nature meticulously painted the weeds and wildflowers and brush and leaves in splendid shades of orange and red and yellow. The fields took my breath away.
Fields still take my breath away. I’m still surrounded by fields. Although they are different fields, they too have their weeds and wildflowers and brush and trees. Mother Nature is their caretaker and I am a grateful onlooker —no matter the season.

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.