Tuesday, April 26, 2011

May's Approaching-Isn't it?

It doesn't feel like May yet. Where I live we're still getting sprinkles of snow now and then but the anticipation for wildflowers smiling about the fields and a warm breeze and garden planting is the same as when May was approaching out in the country when I was a kid. May's like a gift; a reward for getting through the winter-a pleasant sort of a month before the humid side of June swallows the landscape up in a smothering blanket especially when working in the hayloft during haying season. When that happened, I'd always wish it was winter again. Guess we're never happy with the weather-sort of like our hair. Sometimes all the weather is good for is conversation.

When you're young rooms seem bigger; backyards seem to go forever-the wait for Christmas never-ending. That's how I felt when May was just about here; when one day would be freezing and the next day in the 50s. When would it happen? There never was a magic wand to wave and then-here you go-it's May! It sort of happened while we played. We were so busy playing we didn't notice the fields not so soggy or the stream running alongside the farmhouse slowing down or the need for an extra sweater not there anymore. One day-it was May. We knew the winter boots and heavy coats and mittens would be packed away but not too far away. You just never know about the weather!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter Treasure Hunts Out in the Country

We were lucky. We had that uncle who was more child than adult and never was this more apparent than on Easter.

As I've explained before, there were 4 houses full of relatives all sitting in a row on a winding country road. Besides yards, there were back fields and a creek and an old barn and granary and pump house and wood shed and a chicken-coop-turned-clubhouse and on and on and on. There were just so many nooks and crannies tucked here and there and our uncle took advantage of most all of them because back then, every Easter, he plotted and ployed as off on a mission he'd go around the fields and creek and old barn and granary and pump house and wood shed and a chicken-coop-turned clubhouse hiding numbered, folded pieces of paper on which he'd written a clue. Putting all those clues together, this uncle was actually the Mastermind behind Treasure Hunts that could have been possibly the most amazing adventures any child anywhere could ever had wished to be a part of on Easter.

Rain or snow we'd be out there-searching, running, peering, wondering, figuring-scratching our heads; one minute in deep despair unable to find the next clue while maybe seconds later jumping for sheer joy with that clue in hand, ready to figure out where the next clue might be.

You must understand these clues were not hidden haphazardly or obviously. From the first to the last, each clue was cleverly disguised by clever wording and the entire hunt was thought out, mapped out and staked out with every little detail considered. We were taken all over the place-from the hayloft to backseats of parked cars to cracks in siding to cinderblocks and tree twigs. Nothing was off limits.

All in all there were probably about 20 clues. The older kids would haul along the younger ones who'd get tired or crabby but the thought of a brown grocery bag with their name on it full of candy out there somewhere kept them in the race. For the older kids it really wasn't the candy. It was that Mastermind watching from his glassed-in side porch getting as much enjoymnet watching as he had creating the maze. A few times one of us might have run and asked him for a clue about a clue we just couldn't figure out but he never obliged-and looking back I'm glad he didn't. Not once was the treasure not found and we did it all on our own.

When it was over, we all ended up with our brown bags, although a few Hunts were harder than others-like the time the final clue most certainly referred to the creek grass but there was just so much of it. We scoured the bank of the creek-over and over, again and again we'd stomp our feet, move aside the course grass. Eventually we found it but it was almost time for dinner-and now thinking about it, maybe that was part of the ingenious ploy behind those amazing Treasure Hunts. We were out from under foot. The older kids were babysitting and never realized it as the adults gathered peacefully inside.

Very clever! That uncle was more of a Mastermind than I ever realized back then-out in the country, searching for brown grocery bags full of candy hidden by a man with the heart of a child!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Easter Parade at the Clubhouse

Excitement was building. What was quite possibly our biggest event ever scheduled to take place at our Chicken Coop Clubhouse was fast approaching. My cousin and I had spent every spare minute we had getting ready;scrubbing and picking up the Club; practicing and then practicing some more; getting all the little ones prepared to perform the way we expected or at least march in a straight line for a few minutes. This would be our first of what we

hoped would be many more Easter Parades-a new event added to our list which included carnivals, circuses, art exhibits, plays, and Halloween spook houses-and others without official titles. How lucky were all the adults to have so many wonderful happenings to attend! We took pride in being such an active Club.

Hours were spent making decorations from construction paper. Perfect Easter eggs were easy when you folded the paper in half and finished the job with crayons. Decorated strips of paper glued together made simple Easter baskets. Our bulletin board was especially attractive with oodles of paper eggs and paper bunnies and chicks. We'd been to the store. We bought lots of Easter candy. No Easter parade was complete without candy. The front yard-eventually hay that in a few months we'd stomp down with our feet-would be where the audience would sit on whatever we could find in the barn. Sometimes that meant a cinder block at either end of a board.

The last rehersal had been a success. Our parade was to be Saturday. Easter was always busy enough out in the country with four houses full of relatives. We'd start marching up the path that was between the Clubhouse and farmhouse. I wouldn't join them. I was in charge of the window. This was where all the action would be; announcing the goings on; selling the candy. Once we removed the chicken wire and put out our cardboard sign which we'd spent what seemed hours designing, the First Annual Chicken Coop Clubhouse Easter Parade would be underway. All our work was just about to pay off.

Well it never happened. We awoke to an all-day spring downpour. I met my cousin at the clubhouse only to find melted marshmallow chicks distorted so badly that they were just sticky blobs. Jelly beans were inseparable. Chocolate eggs were chocolate soup. Since most of the windows were without glass, paper decorations were destroyed as was that window sign we'd labored over.

We were certain all the adults were as disappointed as we were. We told them not to worry. We'd get to work on a new event just as soon as we could pick up the sticky chicks and lopsided bunnies.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Art of Sewing

Both my grandmother and mother were fine seamstresses. Perfectionists when creating with fabric, every seam had to be straight; every dart even with another. Sitting at her small, black Singer sewing machine with the pedal on the floor and her tape measure around her neck and straight pins pinned to her sleeves or house dress, Giddy as we affectionately called our grandmother would mend, nip, tuck, take in, let out, patch whatever demanded her attention. Most times she never used a pattern when it came to a new project. She'd take the measurements and go from there. When she did use a pattern she'd sometimes combine two into one; taking something from each to obtain her end result. She worked quickly. But then, with six daughters and a farm, there was no time to waste.

The last thing she ever sewed for me she never had time to finish. She'd started basting pieces of fabric together that she'd cut into squares with the plan of making the child I was expecting a quilt. Instead of putting those pieces away in a drawer, I've framed them and keep them out as a reminder of this woman who created right up to her very last breath.

My mother was really the true perfectionist. She not only sewed the basics. She mastered tailored coats and jackets; suits and fine dresses. After a blood clot in her leg forced her to retire from nursing, an addition was built on to our home in the country; giving her the opportunity to open a fabric store. But it was much more than fabric. This was back when women and men wore hats. Not baseball caps but stylish hats; some with jewels and sequins; some with feathers. My mother carried a full line of hat accessories, plus jewelry, Vogue and Butterick patterns, and bolts upon bolts of cottons, wools, corduroy, linen, silk organza, felt, rayon-and if she didn't have something in stock that a customer requested she'd get it.

A couple times of year she went on buying trips to New York and a few times I was lucky enough to go along with my parents into the garment district where we'd hurry from one fabric warehouse to another. It was exhilarating; the crowded streets with racks of clothing zooming by and people shouting and flatbeds of fabric being forklifted off trucks. I think that's when I fell in love with New York City.

I'd also fallen in love with my mother's shop. On Saturdays my grandmother taught sewing. That's when I learned about inseams and back seams and darts and buttons with button holes and zippers. I learned about working with certain types of fabric; how to measure and how to do the basics. While I mastered the basics, I've never risen to the level of perfectionist.

Sometimes I'd take my homework and do it on the large,oblong table which served as the measuring and cutting table in the shop. Being surrounded by fabric and feathers and colors and designs with the smell that only those bolts of material can project made it hard to concentrate on algebra and biology. There was never anything creative to me about those subjects. They were too exact. When I did do what I had to do, the books were closed. Then I'd pull bolts of fabric out and mix and match them to my own patterns I'd create on paper by using Vogue or Butterick as my guide. I was a great designer in that fabric shop in the evenings until it was time to go to bed and back to boring algebra.

I often think about those two women and their sewing abilities. My mother ended up with a computerized sewing machine with all the bells and whistles-but she never used all the fancy options. She might have selected a different type stitch now and then but anything else could have been accomplished on that Singer model of my grandmother's. Sometimes we are given too many options. I am gratful that I was given the option of leaning how to sew or not for sewing is yet another creative outlet for those with fingers and hearts aching to create.

Whether it's a blank canvas or blank sheet of paper; a bolt of fabric or a slap of clay, it takes an artisan with his/her heart soaring to turn those raw materials into illustrations, books, paintings, designer suits and cups and bowls and vases. Sure beats numbers and formulas and strange signs that equal equasions-or something like that!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Aprons and Doilies

I wish I wore aprons but I don't. Actually I don't spend that much time cooking except for the holidays or Sundays. I could use that for an excuse but truthfully, I don't own any aprons. Not a one. Martha Stewart wears aprons but I'm sure they're designer brands.

My grandmother's aprons were basic all-cotton. They went over the head and tied in the back. Some had a pocket-type thing in the front that served like a catch-all as she worked about her farmhouse kitchen while being interrupted by other chores or distracted by children or totally caught off guard by things that needed fixing right then. Those aprons resembled the things carpenters tie around their waistline holding different sized nails. Hers held everything from buttons to pencils and whatever else came her way. Doctors have their white coats. My grand mother had her aprons which were hung on a hook behind a door leading from the kitchen to the dining room. A few were kept for good; a few saved for the holdiays.

I don't have any doilies either. I wonder if anyone these days do. I don't remember them that much in the farmhouse. It was my mother who starched and pressed the knitted table coverings. It was a painstaking, time consuming process just to end up with very stiff coverings that sat on end tables underneath plants or lamps or whatever she chose. I don't know where she found the time to starch her doilies. Looking back I'm glad she did. I always thought they looked nice as did my grandmother in her cotton aprons.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

TV Westerns

When I was growing up there were plenty of Westerns on TV. Guess they could be compared to today's glut of reality shows or CSI series or those singing/dancing talent competitions except the Westerns were in black and white and the actors weren't actors-they were our best friends; part of our family.
I think I was infatuated with every cowboy. When they rode off into the sunset I was right there with them. From Adam Cartright on "Bonanza" to "The Rifleman"-men were men; clearing and defending their land and tipping their hats to the women when in town. When they wore their leather chaps I melted. When they tied their 6-gun on and went after the bad guys I cheered.
As I've mentioned before Saturday night gave us Gunsmoke followed by Paladin. From Matt and Miss Kitty to that "Knight without armor in a savage land" Saturday night was a smorgasbord of boots with spurs and long dresses I wished I could wear.

When we played "Western" in our Chicken Coop Clubhouse I did wear those dresses; I did ride off into the sunset with those cowboys-after my work in our schoolhouse-turned-restaurant was done although some days I just had too much to do. It was really busy when a stagecoach stopped. The horses had to be watered. The people had to be fed and all rather quickly as the driver was in a hurry; had to make it to Dodge by sunset. That meant the stone eggs we scrambled and the twig strips of bacon we grilled and slices of leaf toast we toasted and the mud coffee brewing all had to be prepared and served-before the next stagecoach pulled up or the next Marshall stopped for a cup of mud coffee or the next cowboy in transit asked for the special-cardboard pancakes with homemade mud-maple syrup.

Thanks to those TV Westerns, we spent hours in our clubhouse enacting our own Western sagas. Difference was our scripts weren't written down. There were no lights, camera, action. Our scripts came soaring from imaginations intent on the moment flipping bark french toast or waving good-bye to patrons with full stomachs-on their way to Dodge before sunset.