Friday, November 29, 2013

Decider of the Christmas Tree

Every family has their particular style when it comes to choosing and decorating the Christmas tree. Growing up we always went to the same place to pick it out. The man knew my mother would be looking for the biggest and the fullest tree so he always had some available from which she could make her choice. She was the 'Decider of the Christmas Tree.' We were like Santa helpers. We went along to tell her the tree she picked out was 'perfect' and most always it was. But a few times after the tree was up in the living room it wasn't quite as full as my mother had imagined. So my father would go buy another one; bring it home and put it up next to the original tree. And then-like magic-we'd have the 'perfect Christmas tree.' (One year my father cut too much off the top. But because the tree really was perfect-he taped the top back on with electrical tape and hid the tape with tinsel and decorations.)

Getting the tree, putting it up, and securing it was just the beginning. Decorating it was like watching a Broadway show unfold. Out came the ladder. This led to my father stringing the lights. He was very good at this. He took his time-a lot of time hiding the wires way back in the branches. The strands of lights were always blue lights-his favorite. Then the boxes of ornaments packed neatly away the year before were brought out. Because the boxes holding the ornaments were the original boxes bought from Woolworths, Newberry's or Grants, they were handled carefully as out came glass ornaments and fancy-blown ones appearing as if they'd been hand-painted. The smaller ones hung at the top. After the ornaments came little plastic-type icicles.

And then came the final act-strands and strands of heavy lead-looking tinsel. It was so heavy that it would have taken a hurricane to make it move-and that's what made it as perfect as the perfect tree from which it was hanging. After my father-standing on his ladder-strung the tinsel up high-my mother hung each strand below. She was so meticulous-holding the strands in a certain way in one hand so she'd be able to hang the strands-one at a time-with her other. And she was just as meticulous when taking each strand off-one by one-and carefully placing the strands back in their boxes until the curtain rose again on this Broadway Show in a living room out in the country at Christmas time.

Monday, November 25, 2013

When Lash LaRue Came To Town

There were two movie theaters in my hometown when I was growing up. I remember going to both of them. There'd be two feature films with an intermission in-between. That's when the newsreel was shown followed by trailers for upcoming movies. It was also the time to go to the concession stand for popcorn and a coke and a box of milk duds.

Void of any special effects, movies back then were more about the story and most of those stories were westerns-so many westerns and so many famous cowboys like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne. But a cowboy who wasn't quite as famous was my favorite. I don't know why I liked Lash LaRue so much. Maybe it was because he dressed all in black-or had a horse with fancy accessories and a saddle which I loved. I wanted my parents to buy me one just like it. I didn't have a horse but it didn't matter. I wanted one just like his. He could ride his horse with ease while getting the bad guys. And he got those guys more often than not with his whip-a bullwhip that he could snap or swirl and save the day-or the damsel in distress.

He could do other things with his whip. I know because I saw him do those things in person. Lash LaRue came to my hometown. He really did. I went with my older brother to one of those theaters to watch him perform stunts with his bullwhip. Despite the size of the audience my brother and I somehow ended up on stage with Lash LaRue. I don't remember how that happened but there we were-me in my pigtails and my older brother in his very own Lash LaRue attire. My brother didn't have a whip but it didn't matter because Lash LaRue let him hold his-and then he let me hold it too! We stood there while Lash LaRue did stunts with his whip just like he did in his movies. No stunt men needed for this genuine cowboy!

From that day on I pleaded even harder for that saddle. I never did get one. I did, however, get some Lash LaRue comic books now and then-and that was fine with me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Magazine Perfecting the Ideal Christmas

I can't remember one particular issue of the Christmas Ideals Magazine over another. I do, however, recall how anticipation built waiting for it to arrive. It came through the mail so every time the mailman pulled up to the mailbox sitting by the side of the road, possibility loomed. And when it was finally there, Christmas had arrived out in the country to those four houses in a row-at least according to reaction by my mother and aunts.

The Christmas edition of that magazine was an art form. From amazing photography to creative decorating suggestions-beautiful illustrations-seasonal music-poetry-and short stories, that magazine offered something for everyone all wrapped up in a big red bow or better yet-a poinsettia as poinsettias were always featured throughout the pages. When I could pull it away from others, I'd slowly make my way from the front glossy cover to the back. I'd read everything even though I was young. That didn't matter. It was the Christmas Ideals issue!

After studying the magazine my mother and aunts would get busy creating. They'd go to a local florist and buy Styrofoam squares-a few different sizes. They'd buy all kinds of decorative accents like shiny balls-some big and some small-in seasonal colors attached to tiny wooden stick-like things with one end pointed so they'd would go into the Styrofoam. Ribbons and bows were also purchased unless it was my grandmother who saved such things year after year. Branches sawed off of Christmas trees being readied to come inside were the last items needed for creating centerpieces that would sit on tables and hutches and mantles-just as centerpieces had year after year.

For awhile my mother, aunts, and grandmother met one evening a week. They called it their Busy Fingers Club. They'd do all sorts of creative projects. One of my aunts was very good at making candles by using milk cartons and little bits of used crayons. Her most beautiful candles were white-covered in glitter and wrapped in tissue paper. She somehow whipped the paraffin to get a certain effect. I don't know how. I just remember loving them. Maybe they were in one of those Christmas Ideals magazines-maybe not. It really didn't matter because when I think about it-my mother, aunts, and grandmother always put their own twist to whatever they created. I bet that magazine just got them in the mood-and they took it from there!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Addressing her Grandma Moses Christmas Cards

My mother worked nights as a nurse in the ER and from about a week before Thanksgiving up to the 2nd week in December boxes of  Christmas cards went with her to the hospital. Some nights she never had time for them. That's when she would come home when her shift was over and address a few. It was her way of unwinding.

My mother was very organized. She had a special box where she kept the list of names she intended to send cards to, sheets of postal stamps-each with the same Christmas image, a telephone book, and decorated Christmas seals she would lick and adhere to the fronts of the envelopes-the last step before having my father take the cards to the post office to be mailed. Organizing the list took her a long time. She'd have to make calls to relatives for updates to some. I loved looking at the list. It would be all scribbles; some names crossed out and some new ones added. She had the neatest penmanship-very small letters but very legible.

The Christmas cards my mother sent year after year most always featured Grandma Moses artwork. My mother loved the artwork. There was a little store downtown that was part bookstore and part gift shop. It was a ritual for her to go there to pick out her Christmas cards and then go next door to Woolworths or Newberry's for the Christmas seals. Sometimes I went with her.

 Besides sending cards, my mother enjoyed receiving them. She'd open each one as if it was a present. She'd read the inscription-and sometimes make a remark or two. She always made sure my father knew who sent them cards. That way he could say thanks if he ran into them. Later she displayed some of the cards; kept others in a basket. I can't imagine how many hours my mother put into her Christmas cards-from selecting them to organizing the list-to addressing them and licking the stamps and seals. She never complained. Christmas cards were important back then-as much a part of the Season as was getting the tree-another tradition planned and executed to perfection as only my mother could.

Number Please

Growing up we had one phone in the house. It was a rotary phone similar to the one pictured above but it was a different color. It was centrally located in the living room-sitting on the edge of a bookcase my grandfather made for my mother. It sat on top of a pillow on top of that bookcase because the thing rang so loud that it sounded like an alarm despite being turned down to the lowest level. With my father being a funeral director he was called when there were accidents. There were no rescue squads back then so many times the phone rang in the middle of the night. I'd usually hear the phone-then hear him mutter some words. A few minutes later the front door would open and off he would go on what we called an 'ambulance call.'

Because of the phone's location there was no such thing as a private conversation. When friends called-words were chosen carefully. And when a boy called those words were scrutinized even more-especially with an older brother around who also used the phone-more often than not right when I wanted to or at the exact time I'd told someone I would call. Once I did get to use the phone I'd lose track of time. I'd sit on the floor in front of the bookcase in everyone's way until my mother gave me the evil eye which meant I'd been on the phone too long.

I still remember phone numbers from back then-2075 and 2049J are engrained in my head. That was the era of telephone operators so if you couldn't remember a number they would assist you. My aunt was a phone operator so it was fun when she was the one saying, "Number Please." There were phone books too-really thick ones with lots of ads and so many numbers. Sometimes my cousin and I would open the phone book up and randomly point to a number-and call it-then hang up. Or pull the standard joke-if they had Prince Albert cigars in a case-they should let him out! Click! We 'd laugh and laugh and do it again! Or even better we'd call a boy-then hang up before anyone answered. Try doing that today!

It's hard to believe how phones are now part of our wardrobe-stuck to us like glue. We are so connected that we are actually more disconnected-so dependent on that tool that we lose sight of what is around us sometimes. Instead of talking with each other we send electronic messages or check apps or play games or whatever else those things do. It all makes me miss that rotary phone sitting on a pillow. It never told me what the weather was in Hong Kong or anywhere else around the world. It never offered directions or answered any question I might have. It simply connected me for  conversation and when that conversation was over-that phone stayed on the pillow as I went on to other things. It had its place. And that is where it stayed. And I never did know what the weather was in Hong Kong!

Friday, November 15, 2013

In Envy of a Pony Tail

There was a girl in my high school homeroom who had a pony tail to die for. She really did! While she wasn't as perky as Olivia Newton-John-she was a cheerleader. Combine that with a pony tail and you're talking one popular girl. Sometimes instead of doing my algebra homework-which was the most dreaded of all homework-I'd watch how her pony tail would swing when she turned her head. It was astonishing to me how it flowed in symphony with her movement. I figured she must have practiced in front of a mirror to have it groove like that. You see, my hairstyle at that time was the beehive-teased and sprayed so heavily that a Grade-5 Hurricane couldn't have disturbed it. Adding to my fixation of her hair was how that pony tail seemed to curl down from her head like a perfect ringlet. I was convinced she must have used Spoolies.

As if that pony tail hairdo wasn't enough sometimes she'd wear her hair down. That amazed me all the more because that hair of hers curled up at the ends like a tunnel all the way around. It was quite the sight! She looked like some of the girls on Bandstand-the ones everyone knew by their first names-the ones who'd dance with the cutest boys and wear the coolest outfits and sit next to Dick Clark when the camera was on.

Pony tails are timeless. From My Favorite Genie to Lady GaGa-pony tails continue to show up on the big screen-TV screens and now on little screens we can hold in our hands. I'm sure cheerleaders still wear them-but they probably don't use Spoolies.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thanks Betty Crocker for Pg. 94

On pg. 94 of my copy of this Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cook Book there's a recipe for "Gingerbread Boys." It's rather worn-with traces of flour and stains from butter used when greasing the baking sheet so many times now that I really don't have to dig the recipe book out of hiding when deciding to bake another batch. I know the recipe. I know what to heat the oven to and how long to chill the dough and how long to bake the little guys because I make them every year. I have been for a very long time. It's one of those little traditions I do and when I do it I feel connected to what this season quickly approaching is all about. It's nice to think about that before the hustle and bustle runs rampant. That's why I like to get this cook book out early-sift through and remember.

I actually think the cook book belongs to my sister-or my mother might have given it to all of us. It doesn't matter. What matters are the memories when looking at the fun and simple recipes. They're like old friends-everything from pinwheel sandwiches to peanut butter and jelly cookies; funny bunny biscuits, bunny salad, animal pancakes, silhouette sandwiches and so much more. Imaginative cakes include a Christmas tree cake, a circus parade cake, a Jack-o-Lantern cake. My mother used to make each of us a Christmas tree cake from scratch for our birthday despite the month our birthday fell.

When turning the pages I remember playing restaurant with my cousin; making milkshakes using ginger ale and ice cream with my siblings. My father liked those too. The colored pages inside the cook book displaying banana splits and root beer floats; banana-orange frosted and strawberry cooler-to name a few-were breath-taking and this was long before the photo shop/digital era. This cook book had it all! It didn't need enhancing. And I don't need a new page 94. I like it just the way it is-worn and full of memories.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When the Wish Book Arrived

When growing up out in the country, Christmas came in the mail and I don't mean email. It was wrapped inside a protective cover but we knew it was the much anticipated Sears Wish Book. The pages upon pages full of toys were looked at and marked up and dreamt about. By the time Christmas finally arrived the catalog would be without a cover; pages would be worn-some ripped apart. That magic catalog was like having Santa's Workshop right in our home.

I was intrigued by all the cowboys and their horses and the stagecoaches. I'm sure that was due to some famous cowboys at the time-Lash LaRue, Hopalong Cassidy, and Roy Rogers to name a few. One year Santa brought my brother a Hopalong Cassidy radio. I was just as excited as he was.
5 p.m. every night we'd listen to it while sprawled out on the living room floor.

One toy my brother always circled was a toy cork gun. And for a few years, it would be under the tree Christmas morning. There were crows included that he'd sit up on a steel rod thing. Then he'd stand back-and see how many he could shoot off the rod. Sometimes he'd let me try. It was always fun until I shot more than he did-then the game was over.

I loved all the dolls-especially Bonnie Braids. I loved the doll beds and bunk beds-the cradles and doll clothes and all the accessories. I always wanted a tin-like typewriter and a pony that you could sit on-put your feet in the stirrups-then bounce up and down and it would move. At least they said it would move! And most every year I thought I'd like a bright red gas pump. It said it had a bell that would ring while you pumped your gas but I never knew if it did or didn't because Santa never brought me one. He never brought me that pony that bounced or that tin-like typewriter. But I never really missed those toys. He always surprised me with what he thought I might like even more-and he was always right! Santa Claus was a pretty smart guy-still is!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Loving Madras

I searched for a better picture to point out how much I loved my madras shirt but this is all I could find-geeky me with my hair in pin curls and barefoot. (While the pin curls are no longer, barefoot is still a preferred way to be). It was taken on a summer evening at suppertime when we all lived in a row of four houses out on that rambling country road. We'd pool whatever anyone had prepared for supper-gathering under an aunt's pine trees. And more often than not-I'd show up wearing my madras shirt. My mother (sitting beside me sipping a cup of coffee) would have to pry the thing off me to wash it. I loved that shirt!

Actually I loved anything madras. Problem was I didn't have much of anything made from it hanging in my closet. Aside from that shirt and a madras pair of shorts my choices were limited. There was a store in our downtown that carried some madras clothing but they always sold out. And needless to say-there was no internet to turn to. So I turned to the sewing machine. I made a simple dress-a bag-and another pair of shorts. Before wearing the dress and shorts I washed them. The material was a bleeding madras-meaning the dyes were not colorfast so the colors would fade the more they were washed. And that faded madras look was the look to have.

The popular kids had lots of madras and they strutted around in their madras like peacocks. Judging someone by what they wear or do not wear hasn't gone away. While styles and fabrics change-the strutting continues. The only difference now is I'm not impressed. I don't care-although my heart does skip a beat when I see something madras-anything madras.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

So where did the veranda and peony bushes go?

Nothing stays the same.Take for instance, my grandparents' farmhouse. If you rode by that place today-still sitting along a certain country road-you wouldn't recognize what was once the family homestead. It looks nothing like the photo above. But it doesn't matter. When I ride by-always slowing down a bit-I see it as it used to be.

The screened-in veranda with its white screen door is gone as is the red-shingle siding all around the exterior. I still see it covered in red shingles. My grandmother's peony bushes are no longer there. Except for one, the poplar trees lining the cinder driveway are gone too. When I think of that driveway I remember crashing my bike on it as I rounded the curve behind the house. I still have cinders in one of my knees as a result of going too fast probably when I was told not to. I can envision mounds of snow that would bury the driveway and hear leaves scurrying across it in the wind. I remember being so afraid one hot summer night during a thunderstorm. We were sitting on that veranda-gathered around our grandmother-watching the storm-hiding our eyes and covering our ears until lightning hit so close by that my cousin and I jumped up screaming. We ran inside and hid in a closet.

When we 'grow up' things that once seemed larger and wider and taller appear not so huge or wide or tall. That's how it is when I look at that front yard. That was our Disney World-our field of dreams-the place where imagination took us on endless adventures-playing baseball and croquet-trying to catch each other in Red Light, Green Light-playing tag-making bows 'n arrows out of some kind of green rubber-type branch that bent like a stick of gum-climbing trees.

So despite disappearing shingles-a veranda taken off and peony bushes dug up-and so much more- nothing can take away the memories. We all have a place like that-tucked away in our heart-just where those memories belong.