Friday, January 31, 2014

Veronica and Betty-Comic Book Idols

Although they were just Archie comic book characters, Veronica and Betty were so much more to me-especially when playing with my cousins in an old chicken coop converted into a clubhouse. I don't remember how often we'd get a new comic book or where we even bought them-but when they did show up-we devoured every page featuring those two high school girls who were best friends yet rivals for the affection of Archie.
I'd find myself going back and forth as to which one was my favorite. Both were 'beautiful.' Veronica had the darker hair. She was spoiled. Her family was rich. Betty was a bubbly blonde-a sweet, lovable sort of girl. Of course I never took into consideration that by the magic of someone's illustrating abilities, they were quite developed for young teens. Actually they were too developed. They were more like Barbie dolls. Their hair was always the latest style and their makeup flawless. I'd imagine myself in some of their outfits. They were fashion icons wherever the storyline took them-in a classroom, on a beach-it never mattered. They were perfect-looking.
I could never figure out what they saw in Archie or why Veronica would get so jealous of Betty. She did whatever she could to ruin whatever seemed important to Betty-especially if Betty was the object of Archie's attention. She'd even go out with Archie's best friend Reggie. In the end it didn't matter. I preferred looking at what they were wearing. I noticed each and every accessory.
I guess you could say they were like teen idols. You have to remember we weren't connected to instant communication twenty-four hours a day. Comic books were entertaining-like Entertainment Tonight-or something!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dr. Zhivago and the Barn in Winter

In the movie, Dr. Zhivago-set during the turbulence of the Russian Revolution-one particular scene reminds me of my grandfather's barn in Winter. I didn't pick up on that when I read the book. It hit me after seeing the movie for the 2nd time. That specific scene shows the doctor and his lover, Lara, entering an abandoned home complete with chandeliers. It took my breath away. Not because it was obvious how elaborate that place must have been but rather-it was because the rooms were full of snow and shimmering, sparkling ice crystals and frost resembling lace-just like my grandfather's barn in winter-itself abandoned-not by a revolution of any sort but instead by a farmer and his wife aging-then moving.

While we played around that farm and its fields and pastures every season-to me, Winter was the most breathtaking. Void of any animals, the barn stood silent-except for the wind etching its way through cracks and holes in the slabs of weathered wood with some of those slabs loose and hitting the side of the barn. Along with the wind, snow found its way inside; creating little drifts here and there. Old milk cans-empty stanchions-empty chicken roosts-pitchforks-everything was shining with an icy frost. Haylofts would glisten when streaks of daylight enhanced the leftover bales and the wooden bridge that connected one side to the other. The way the roof came together it felt like a cathedral in winter's stillness. There were no pigeons hooting or barn swallows swooping. It was too cold. There was but a stillness until we invaded in search of adventure.

Granted there are endless differences between Dr. Zhivago and that barn. There was never a handsome doctor with a beautiful woman dressed in fur arriving in a horse-drawn cutter outside the barn door. There were just little kids running and jumping in the snowdrifts. Little kids playing and pretending-turning that majestic barn into whatever they wished it to be-so I guess a handsome doctor with a beautiful woman dressed in fur arriving in a horse-drawn cutter outside the barn door very well could have happened! After all-the possibilities were endless.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Granary Behind the Barn

The granary set behind my grandparent's barn was as intriguing as both the barn itself and the chicken coop that had been turned into a clubhouse for all of us little ones. By the time we came around the granary wasn't used too often as the farm no longer was a working farm. There were no cows or horses or pigs or chickens to feed-except for the Black Angus my brother had for awhile. Because it was hardly ever used the granary became yet another place for us to explore and pretend. It never took much to stir our imaginations when playing around that farm. We didn't need fancy toys. We had all we needed right there on that rambling country road.

Once we walked inside that rickety old structure the fun began. The first room was more like a workshop. There were old cans full of nuts and bolts and nails and screws. There were hammers and files-the kind used to smooth wood or metal, wrenches, screwdrivers. There was a vise-which became so much more than just a vise when we were on an adventure-and a cabinet with little drawers full of all kinds of little odds 'n ends. There were two or three storage bins. When there was some grain in a bin it was fun to climb over the side and walk around in the stuff. Our feet would sink down into it and disappear. Here and there were burlap sacks and empty milk cans-some hoes and shovels. On occasion we were surprised to find little kittens or puppies in one of the bins. Of course mice were always around.

It's funny how such a little space full of bits 'n pieces of stuff tells a story of a man and his wife, working a farm and raising a family. All those bit 'n pieces speak of their time on that farm-of seasons coming and going and children growing and that farmer and his wife aging-and eventually selling their farm.

When you're a kid you don't realize what an impression places like that granary make on you. I never did until I wrote 'The Reindeer Keeper' and a granary worked its way into the storyline and the granary I described was the rickety old structure embedded in my heart.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Flowers in the Window in Winter

(I'm still unable to post a picture/photo on my Blog so I will continue to post the particular picture/photo that would have gone with a particular post on my Facebook page).

There was one particular room in my grandparents' farmhouse that blossomed in the winter-warming the season's shadows with color and a sense of season's to come. The room was one of the two front parlors with a window facing the sun-the window where geraniums blossomed one right after another-spreading shades of red against the white on the other side of the cold and frozen panes streaked in frost. There was something magical when looking out the window where the flowers spread their leaves of green. Next to the window was a bookcase full of books. It was the same room where my grandfather would sit in his chair and read Saturday Evening Posts and Zane Gray westerns.

I too have such a window in the winter where geraniums blossom all winter long-as the sun spreads those shades of red against the white on the other side of the frozen panes streaked in frost. I've added sun catchers to the window. I've sat other plants including a cactus near the geraniums; decorated the table where they all sit with little vases and other pretty things-looking extra pretty in the winter window.

Funny how something as simple as geraniums left an impression on me. But then so did my grandmother's peony bushes and poplar trees. I wonder what's impressing my little granddaughter as she plays about the geraniums sitting on the table near the bookcases full of books.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Packages in a Mailbox

For some reason I can't attach the picture I wanted to with this Post so please use your imagination! (I'll post it to my Facebook page-Barbara Briggs Ward).

This all started stirring in my head on Christmas Eve as I watched my 3-year old granddaughter open some gifts. Of course she was excited-ripping paper off one and then another; spending seconds looking at each and then moving on to the next. When she got to the 'big' one-so big that I hadn't been able to wrap it, she hesitated. It was obvious she was trying to figure out how to get at what was hidden inside the two very large, oversized gift bags. With her Daddy's help she removed the bags-and discovered a-to-die-for, brightly-colored easel. One side was a chalkboard with a tray for chalk; the other was the easel with cup holders for paints and things. She would soon unwrap another easel gift-one with the chalk and paints and brushes and paper. I say it was a to-die-for easel because I put myself in her shoes at that moment and thought back to when I was little and if I'd found that waiting for me under the tree I would have jumped up and down and done somersaults-simply because I love all of that stuff. Still do. The smell of pencils and crayons stir my imagination. Writing on chalkboards reminds me of my growing up in the country and playing in the old chicken coop which was full of the remains of an abandoned one-room schoolhouse. And that included the chalkboards.

That moment also reminded me of a Christmas gift one of my aunt's gave me when I was a little kid. It ranks right up there as a favorite gift-just like the desk my grandfather made me and the pack of gum my brother wrapped in tissue paper and handed to me on Christmas morning with a big smile on his face. I think my aunt bought her gift through a mail-order catalog. We lived next door and I remember watching her walk to the mailbox as Christmas approached. A few times she'd walk back down the cinder driveway with packages. I concluded one was for me. Wherever she bought it I fell in love with it the minute I opened it. To most it would have been just a pencil holder with a matching letter holder. To me-it was pure magic since I had this urge to write and create without understanding why I did that stuff whenever I could.

I still have the letter holder. It holds markers and pencils-and the memory of watching my aunt walk back down the cinder driveway carrying packages as Christmas grew near.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hot Cocoa on a Winter's Day

Winter brought hours of fun playing outside when growing up in the country. It never mattered how cold it got. It never mattered how high the snow banks grew or how wild the wind howled. We'd be out there dressed in snowsuits and scarves, wool hats and mittens and boots made more for the season than for fashion. Some days we'd go sliding or tobogganing. Other times we'd just roll down the hills or piles of snow. We'd often make tunnels and snow forts. The forts were supplied with lots of snowballs in case it needed defending.

Skating down at the creek-day or night-was always fun. Sometimes we'd wear our skates. Other times we'd put them on once we got there. I don't remember spending much time shoveling it off. I think the wind was a big help or maybe skating through some snow here and there didn't bother us. Either did having to jump over creek grass sticking out from the ice because if you didn't jump over it, you'd most likely get your skates caught in it causing you to fall. Some days we'd go on an adventure skating as far as we could go up the creek. There were places where we'd have to trudge through snow banks to get to the next span of ice but it never stopped us. On we'd go-all winter long.

And some days-after spending hours outside-we'd go to our grandmother's house for real, homemade hot chocolate. Of course packets of a prepared mix with tiny, little marshmallows weren't available back then. And even if they had been, she never would have bought them. Rather, she slowly boiled milk on the stove while adding unsweetened cocoa, sugar, and a bit of vanilla. How we'd linger at her kitchen table-drinking our hot cocoa and laughing and talking about our adventures outside on a winter's day in the country.