Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Magic of a Desk

It was the Christmas when I was seven that I found a desk under the tree with my name on it. I’d smelled the shellac when hurrying down the front stairs. I didn’t know what it was until I was told my grandfather used something called shellac when making the desk out of pine. It had two shelves on the right side and a single drawer in the front. When I opened the drawer I found a pad of lined paper with a No. 2 sharpened, yellow pencil. From that moment on I considered desks to be magical.

My best friend back then was an only child. I loved running through our side yard to go play with her. Once inside the pale yellow house with a back stairway that took us up to her bedroom, we spent time not only in her room but spare rooms full of stuff as well. Going from one room to another we’d have to walk by a desk sitting in a nook all by itself. It was my friend’s desk. It was a roll top desk and whenever I could, I’d sit in the chair and pull the top back and be taken away by the magic of what was in front of me. It had all sorts of cubbyholes and drawers jam packed with things. There were coloring books and small diaries to dot to dots and mazes. There were crayons to colored pencils to pencils kept in a pencil holder that I would have died to have sitting on my pine desk. There were little treasures that held a special meaning to my friend kept out of sight in cubbyholes. The scent of the wood mixing with the crayons and pencils added to the magic. I remember thinking if it was my roll top desk I’d keep it beside my pine desk in my bedroom. While I loved my pine desk there was something intriguing about a roll top desk; being able to pull that top back and be taken away to a place of imagination and creativity. Those cubbyholes and drawers offered possibility; a free ticket to the land of make believe.

Desks continued to cross my path as I grew older. I’ve written many times about the old chicken coop void of chickens at my grandparents’ farm and how my aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents bought the remains of a one-room schoolhouse that had been closed for years and put it all inside the old chicken coop. That included chalkboards; books and desks-so many desks and they all had an ink well on top along with an indentation to hold pencils in place. My cousins and siblings and I played in that chicken coop turned clubhouse-turned pretend school-turned pretend everything-all year long; even when the snow came through the cracks in the walls and around the edges of windows that didn’t quite fit. Those windows were good enough to keep the chickens inside when chickens called that place home but the snow and rain flew right in.

Later on in life my father had a desk; an antique desk that I fell in love with as it was so full of cubbyholes and shelves and drawers. You could pull down a leaf in the center of the desk; grab hold of a chair and sit and write. That’s just what I did. I now have the small desk from the chicken coop clubhouse and my father’s desk in my home. Inside one of the cubbyholes of my father’s desk are some of my father’s blue Christmas bulbs still in the package. They are the old kind; the bigger ones. They were my father’s favorites.

I am blessed with two grandchildren. The oldest now eight has been intrigued by both the little desk from the chicken coop clubhouse and my father’s antique desk. She’s sat at both desks; playing, coloring and pretending. She is quite artistic; loves to draw; loves to read. A year ago Christmas when she was seven I decided I would give her a roll top desk with cubbyholes and drawers. The only problem with that was it never arrived until January. I was going to give it to her for her birthday in June but decided the desk was meant to be discovered under a Christmas tree. And so this past Christmas that roll top desk hidden inside a massive Christmas decorated bag was waiting for her by the tree when she came for Christmas Eve dinner with her little brother and mommy and daddy and her other grandparents who’d travelled here to spend Christmas with them. Once dinner was over, the magic began. While her little brother-a most dedicated fisherman-was busy unwrapping his own surprises, that eight-year old unveiled a roll top desk-her very own roll top desk with all the cubbyholes and drawers full of stuff. Her reaction was priceless. It was love at first sight.

That roll top desk now sits in a nook inside her bedroom. Let that free ticket to the land of make believe and imagination and creativity that only a desk can offer take her away over and over again.

(Pictures attached show my granddaughter when she was younger coloring at the desk that was in the old chicken coop clubhouse. Also included is a picture of me sitting at my pine desk on a Christmas morning long ago and my granddaughter sitting at her roll top desk this past Christmas Eve).

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Lopsided Gingerbread Boys in Old Tin Cans

I don’t remember when I started the Christmas tradition of making gingerbread boys to fill a few of my old tin cans but that doesn’t matter because today the tradition continued.

I’m sure the gingerbread boys don’t look like much of a tradition sitting in those old tin cans; faceless and awkward, without icing hair or icing eyes or icing mouths or icing buttons down their fronts. Some are plump. Some have hands or feet that don’t match. One gingerbread boy left one of his arms in the cookie cutter and I had to perform emergency surgery. But to me they don’t need to be perfect. Nothing’s perfect. To me it’s the feeling I get when seeing them sitting in those old tin cans in celebration of Christmas; sitting there faceless yet oh so full of the spirit of the season without frills or fancy ribbons or designer names attached. They’re never eaten or dunked in coffee. They just sit there in their old tin cans as the snow falls and the north wind blows and Christmas comes and goes. They stay put through January. Then off they go to wherever faceless little gingerbread boys go once removed from their old tin cans.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Christmas Ornaments from Long Ago

I remember the evening my parents walked into our house situated on a lane with their arms full of bags and boxes; some wrapped and decorated with curly ribbon. They’d been downtown Christmas shopping. They’d been gone a long time. While our father took the babysitter home, our mother told my brother and me to go upstairs and get our pajamas on; then come back down and stay in the living room while she put things away. I watched her put one box on the dining room table as I hurried up the front stairs. When our father returned, we were told to sit by the tree in the living room. I could hear them whispering in the dining room. Then in they walked with my mother carrying that box she’d placed on the dining room table.

Sitting in a chair by the tree my mother handed the box to my father. I can see him standing there still wearing a tie. He was always wearing a tie. Sometimes he’d be wearing a tie as he strung the tree with strands of blue lights. My father loved those blue lights. But he wasn’t stringing lights that night. Opening the box he was holding, my father slowly took out one precious ornament after another. They weren’t like any other ornament already in place on the tree. Each looked hand-painted. Each presented a unique design. They all shimmered under the blue lights. As my father hung the ornaments high up on the tree, my mother explained the box my father was holding was the last box of those beautiful ornaments for sale in the store. I remember feeling so happy that my parents bought that box. It felt as if they’d brought home a hidden treasure. In a way, they did.

Once all those ornaments were in place, we took a moment to enjoy the tree; to take it all in as those sparkling, shimmering ornaments glistened under the blue lights; adding to the splendor of the tinsel my mother had methodically put in place and the other ornaments already on the branches. It was a glorious moment, even for little kids awaiting Santa Claus.

Now years later I am blessed as keeper of those precious ornaments. I think my parents would be happy to know I don’t hang them on the tree. Instead I put them out for all to see. I can look at them as I go about my day. I can tell their story to those who might not notice them on the tree with all the other ornaments. And when Christmas is over for another year, I will take them down and pack them up in that box my father held as he placed those ornaments on the tree. The box and those ornaments came from Woolworths located in a downtown of long ago.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Downtown Barber Shop

When I was a little girl my mother would take me to a barber shop to get my hair cut. It was situated in the heart of the downtown in my hometown. It was a perfect location; right where the two main streets crossed and in wait of Christmas, a plastic Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer were strung over top those streets. It was a huge draw to the downtown. When the wind blew I was convinced those reindeer were flying.

To me that barber shop was as good or better than any beauty parlor around. But then, I'd never been in any of those fancier places where women and girls went for styles and perms with lots of hair spray and hair curlers and hair teasing and big awkward hair dryers; maybe even some Dippity Do. It wasn't time for me to move on to a beauty parlor.

I loved going to the barber shop. Following my mother up what might have been winding cement steps, we'd go through the door leading to a very large area. That was the barber shop. I think there were four barbers. Each was dressed in a clean, white, crisp buttoned-up the front professional barber shirt. Whoever ironed those shirts was a master. Each shirt had a pocket on the upper left side. Those pockets held black combs. The barbers were rather dapper looking; as if cast in a gangster movie out of the '30s & 40s. All four were friendly. All remembered my name and my brother's name and where my father and mother worked and where we lived. That familiarity is what you get when rooted in a small town.

It never mattered to me which barber cut my hair. I wore a Buster Brown hairstyle for years back then and each one of them was capable of cutting my hair in that popular style. It was fun sitting in a barber's chair with its leather seat. The barber would push down on a foot peddle that brought that seat higher which meant I was closer to him so he'd be able to reach me.

The barbers stood in a row behind their chairs. In front of them was a wall of mirrors and a countertop holding containers of more combs with scissors sitting in place and powders in a row along with a phone and drawers below holding towels and coverings for customers. On the side of their chairs hung a leather strap used for sharpening their razors before shaving a customer with what looked like whip cream. They put that stuff on using brushes. I liked watching them. I don't think I realized how sharp those razors were or how skilled a barber had to be in using one. The way they moved those razors was as if they were conducting an orchestra. It was magic.

I can't remember when I stopped going to that barber shop. Probably when I realized no other girls my age went to a barber for what was considered a real hairstyle. But whenever it was that I moved on to a beauty parlor-not a one that I've frequented could ever measure up to that barber shop in a downtown of long ago. It had character with characters. The smell of lather along with newsprint from newspapers set out for customers to read along with powders and hints of cigars from a nearby cigar store all mingled together and remain forever in my heart. There were no fancy services offered. No fancy décor except for the red and white barber pole outside and the smiles of welcome on the faces of four happy and talented barbers.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Tree and Its Leaves

There’s a particular tree out behind the barn whose leaves are the first to turn when summer fades to fall. I took a few pictures as that process began again and as I did I found myself looking at that magnificent tree with even greater wonder. I’m not sure why. It could have been the softness of the sun or the quiet of the small meadow where the tree stands tall reaching to the heavens with late season wildflowers spreading about in the tall grass.

As September rolled on, the tree kept pulling me back to take more pictures as its leaves became drenched in vibrant colors and the scents of pumpkins and apples told the story of a most magical season evolving into the next.

When I went out back one day this past week I found the tree about barren. It looked tired in October’s shadows. I couldn’t figure out how that had happened. It seemed like only yesterday that its branches were dressed in leaves of oranges and reds. Its spirit seemed strong no matter how hard the wind blew or the rain fell.

The evolution of the leaves is similar to our looking back at the stages of our own lives and wondering where the time went. But don’t dwell too long. Life is full of surprises. Like this morning when waking up to an early season snowfall  covering the ground along with the leaves and turning one tired looking tree out back behind the barn into a sparkling and vibrant tree reaching to the heavens.  

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Monster in the Smoke Stack

My mother was a RN. When I was very young she worked nights at our local hospital, eventually becoming Charge Nurse in the ER. She worked nights so my father could be home with me and my older brother.

On the nights she had to work my mother would feed us early. Then she’d give us our baths; put us in our pajamas and with what time was left, she’d get herself ready. I loved watching my mother as she transformed from mother to a professional; dressed in a flawless white, crisp uniform with white nylons and white polished duty shoes. Her hair was out of the pin curls she’d had in place most of the day. Once she styled her hair, my mother would take bobby pins and secure her starched white cap with a black ribbon around the bottom in place while not messing up her hairdo. On cold nights she’d wear her nurse’s cape. It was navy blue with the initials of the hospital on the turned-up collar. As soon as my father arrived I was carried to the car and put in the back seat with my brother. While we made the short trip to the hospital, my father’s dinner was warming in the oven. I am sure he enjoyed his meal once we were in bed sleeping.

That short trip was always fun. That is until the hospital came into view. That’s when my brother and I became very quiet as the very tall and very frightening smoke stack adjacent to the hospital was looming above us once again. On some evenings, especially in October when shadows seemed longer and spookier and purple clouds rolled behind tall dark trees void of leaves; their branches looking like witch’s scratchy fingernails, we were certain a monster came flowing out of the top of that smokestack. Sometimes, especially when the wind was blowing, that monster came right over the top of our car. That’s when we’d duck down in our seats. After we waited a few minutes, we both looked out the back window and watched the monster drift away. We never knew where he went. But we knew we’d be seeing him again when the wind was blowing and there was a nip in the air.

That smoke stack is still in place adjacent to the hospital. I’ve yet to see the monster. But it is October. You never know.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Outdoors Gym Class

I don't remember people going to gyms when I was growing up. Oh we had gym class in school when I hit the 7th grade. I've included a photo of what our gym suits resembled although we weren't quite as sophisticated looking in them as the mannequin with her red lipstick! I never liked gym class; especially going into the locker room and changing into my gym suit. It was embarrassing at that age to change clothes in front of your peers when you hardly knew most of them.

As far as gyms go I really don't recall any gyms where you'd join to go work out. But you never miss what you never had. Growing up in the country was like owning our own private gym open twenty four hours a day seven days a week free of charge; free of dealing with strangers in your space. There was no waiting; that is if parents allowed us being outside day and night. They most always did.

When I think about it me and my cousins and siblings  were working out all the time just by running, jumping, skating, sliding. We swing bats; climbed ladders; crawled along an old wooden bridge connecting the haymows in our grandfather's barn; held on to a rope tied to a massive tree and ran to the edge of the creek from high atop a drop-off and took a leap of faith hurling ourselves over the creek and hopefully back around to the other side of that massive tree and hopefully landing on a massive rock. We pulled wagons loaded with littler ones; climbed trees; dangled from tree limbs and finally falling to the ground. There was a pipe that transferred water from a pumphouse to the barn. We'd try to hold on tight to that pipe which was tricky to do in the summertime because the pipe sweat in the sun making it hard to hold on to but we tried with all of our might to hold on tight and shimmy along the pipe as far as we could-dropping to the ground when our arms were aching so much we had to let go. And then there were the walks we'd go on down to a river or a pine groove.

There was always something going on that required moving-running-skipping-jumping. Our gym did not require fancy machines or name brand outfits. Our gym was run by Mother Nature and our imaginations-Free of Charge!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The 4-Year Old Store Lady

"If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like Sunbeams & you will always look lovely"
(Roald Dahl's, "The Truth".)

My now 8-year old granddaughter recently accompanied me on a book signing held in a children's school library. While waiting between groups coming in and out, we went on an adventure-pulling some books off shelves and checking them out. Being an avid reader, my granddaughter took time to read a few. Problem was there were so many books and so little time as well as shelves full of plush animal puppets. She loves plush animals. Especially puppies. And of course, there was a plush puppy puppet-a rather large one. So soft. So huggable.

Later that night, and I don't know why-maybe because I'd watched her earlier when surrounded by books; her imagination on overload, that I found myself thinking about the above quote that I've always loved written by British novelist Roald Dahl. And as I thought about the quote a photo of her came to mind which I've included in this post.

She was four years old. The photo was taken on a Saturday night sleepover. She was pretending to be, "Melanie Store Lady", and I was her customer. The only problem with that was every time I went to buy something in "Melanie's Store", the item was not for sale. Each time the store lady told me, with her hands on her hips:
"Actually Gra-Gra. That isn't for sale." (Gra-Gra is what she calls me).
Then she'd show me something that really was for sale and most always it was the same item I'd bought before. And when I went to pay the Store Lady in her store window with her Dora cash register in action and the item I was buying wrapped in either a dish towel or small blanket, the charge for any item I was buying was "Forty." Each time she told me the price was "Forty" in her Store Lady voice I had to turn away for fear of laughing or crying or picking up that Store Lady and hugging her and you just don't do that to determined four- year-old Store Ladies.

That "Store Lady" hasn't been to visit in quite awhile. Oh Melanie has but not "Melanie Store Lady." She is growing up and her interests are changing. But that imagination of hers is still on overload just like it should be.

And to this day, every time I hear or see the word "Forty" the memory of that Store Lady warms my heart.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

When a Baby Blanket becomes a Best Friend

Linus didn't invent being attached to a blanket. A little one becoming attached to a favorite baby blanket is nothing new. Whatever the reason why one particular blanket over another is the chosen blanket is anyone's guess. It could be the smell or feel of the blanket. It could be the color or a graphic sewn into the blanket. Whatever it is, the bond that forms between a child and his or her blanket is real. The bond is a close one. When everything else fails that blanket when given to a tired child will soothe that child more than a toy or a cookie or even a mother. That blanket is magic when magic is needed. And it can become a bargaining tool when the child is a little older and misbehaving.

Favorite blankets come in all sorts of colors. Some are finished in satin trim. Some have teddy bears or rainbows or puppy dogs and kitten graphics. Some are handsewn. My grandmother was in the process of making my youngest a baby blanket but she passed away before finishing it. I have it framed and on the wall. Something tells me it would have been a favorite blanket.

Most always when it comes to a favorite blanket, the favorite blanket is given a name by the child who loves that blanket beyond the moon and back. After all it is the blanket that comforts and soothes and lets the child know all will be okay; that lets the child know it is time to go to sleep. My oldest daughter had a favorite blanket when she was little. She called it Duckies because there were three yellow ducks sewn in the center of the soft, white blanket with satin trim. But Duckies wasn't the only favorite baby blanket in the family. Others have taken their place in our family story. Corny, DiDi, and Monkey Cookie will forever remain known as favorite baby blankets; coming to the rescue to soothe and most importantly to give and receive unconditional love. 

Any wonder the temporary loss of a favorite blanket sends a family in panic mode in search of that favorite blanket proving its worth in the family tree.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Oh Those Heavenly Lemon Meringue Pies

I've written before about my grandmother's skills when baking pies. Her recipes featured measurements such as a pinch-a dash-and a sprinkle. This time of year she'd be on overload making her pies. Many would be berry pies because of the abundance of wild berries in the fields surrounding the farm. From raspberries to blackberries and strawberries, berry pies were created and enjoyed one right after another. But one pie didn't contain any berries; no apples or pumpkins. The main ingredient in that pie was lemons. And on the days when she made her mouthwatering lemon meringue pies, my grandmother's  kitchen was bustling.

The process began with her creating the most flaky pie crust I've ever tasted. Her pie crusts were perfect every time she made them. Every pie crust offered the same consistency, the same flavor, look and smell as previous pie crusts. She'd measure the flour, salt, water and lard together. Then divide the dough into two balls if it was a two-crust pie and start rolling out the crust. Of course her lemon meringue pie was a one-crust pie. That sweet meringue was the topping.

My grandmother used lemon juice when making her lemon meringue pies. She'd gather the sugar, salt, flour and cornstarch in a saucepan .Adding water a little at a time, she'd cook the mixture in a double boiler, stirring until it thickened. Then egg yolks were stirred. Butter and lemon juice were added and then poured into a baked pie crust and cooled completely. While that was cooling, my grandmother would create her delectable meringue; beating the egg whites until they held a soft shape; then adding the sugar until the meringue was stiff enough to stand in peaks. Spreading the meringue on top of the cooled pie, it was placed in the hot oven until the meringue was lightly browned.

To taste my grandmother's lemon meringue pie was like tasting a little bit of heaven. The combination of the lemon and the fluffy, sweet meringue was proof that opposites attract. Those lemon meringue pies made with love in my grandmother's farmhouse kitchen never lasted very long. That's because those pies were favorites; enjoyed by young and old alike.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Long Way Home

When my grandparents lived in their farmhouse, many times during the winter my grandfather worked on projects in the kitchen. In the evening he’d shut the door leading to the dining room and get busy. He’d do it all in that kitchen-from sawing to nailing to finishing. The end results became keepsakes to those lucky enough to be given one.

I’ve written before about the pine desk my grandfather made me. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it on Christmas morning when I was 8 years old. Smelling of shellac, it came with a stool and a single drawer. Inside that drawer was a pad of paper with a sharpened #2 pencil.

My mother was another recipient of one of my grandfather’s wooden heirlooms. Hers was a bookcase made of pine with three shelves. The bookcase was the perfect gift for my mother as she was an avid reader. Her favorite books were mostly novels set in the South during the Civil War; the era of Rhett and Scarlett and big hoop dresses and sprawling plantations. I remember the times she would take me with her to a small bookstore located inside a department store in our downtown. I loved going with her. Even though I couldn’t read I pretended I was reading. There was something intriguing about all those books on display in that space. It might have been the smell of all those pages with all that ink printed on paper. It might have been the window displays or watching my mother making her selections with such care. Because my mother was an RN, eventually working the night shift as Charge Nurse in the ER, she always took a book with her to the hospital. If she had time she’d spend that time reading. Thinking about it now, reading was probably a way for her to relax if given the chance while on duty.

When my mother passed away I was lucky enough to have been given most of her books. Some of those books have her signature inside. But the bookcase eventually went away on a long journey until a few weeks ago. That’s when that bookcase with three shelves came back home to me via one big truck where it looked funny all packaged up and sitting by itself. That bookcase is now in my living room where it will be holding some of those Rhett and Scarlett type novels. It looks the same as it did when it was in our home out in the country; sitting in the living room with the only phone in the house sitting on the top shelf. Those were the days of telephone operators. Our number was 2094. It’s funny how you remember such a thing.

My mother kept the phone sitting on a pillow so in case it rang during the night it wouldn’t wake her up. I never could figure that out because back then my father would often receive calls during the night. Those were the days of no rescue squads. Funeral Directors did that job so my father, being a funeral director, would get some of those calls. He always heard the phone. He never missed a call. I equate that to being a mother. You sleep with one ear on alert.

Now looking at the bookcase I can still outlines of books that sat on those shelves so many years ago as well as burn marks on the top of it. In a hurry while smoking a Camel cigarette, my mother would sometimes put her cigarette down on the top edge of the bookcase while she did a chore or changed her 33LP record in the stereo console. Oh she did have ashtrays but they were in the kitchen and if she was in a rush and smoking a cigarette, down it would go on that bookcase while she tended to whatever it was needing her attention and that included her children. I know it probably sounds horrifying to some to think my mother would be going around the house smoking her cigarettes but that was a different era; an era of the Marlboro man and a ‘Winston tasting good like a cigarette should’ and operators saying “number please” with one phone per home.

Funny how a simple pine bookcase could go on a journey and end up back where it began years later in one piece with no nicks except for those burn marks made by its original owner. The bookcase with its pine boards still smelling of shellac is a reminder of that farmer working into the night in his farmhouse kitchen creating heirlooms; each telling a story for anyone who’d listen from one generation to the next .
**!st Photo: I am 9 years old on a Christmas morning when we lived in a house on a lane before moving to the country. My grandmother is watching me and the bookcase is behind me.
**2nd Photo: So many years later the bookcase arrives back home to me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Sticky Hug on a Rainy Christmas Day in May

On my way back home late this morning from participating in a Grandparents Day breakfast with a 4-year old little fisherman who left us both sticky from maple syrup as we laughed and talked about perch and walleye and his upcoming Fishing Birthday Party and he showed me the right way to drink chocolate milk from a small container using a straw, I thought about his saying goodbye after giving me a sticky kiss and sticky hug..
“Love you too GraGra,” he waved as he disappeared around a corner on his way back to his classroom. He’d been chosen to be the caboose-the child at the end of the line-so he was able to wave goodbye to me all the way down the hall.
When he disappeared around that corner I felt my heart sink.
A few hours later I was back at that school-back in that cafeteria enjoying a Grandparents Day lunch with a 7-year old granddaughter. To see her smile when she saw me made it feel like Christmas. I was certain the rain falling was really snow and the gentleman with the beard waiting by the door was really Santa Claus.
As we sat and ate our lunch and talked I wondered when in the world did a sweet little baby girl blossom into such a beautiful young girl. When she asked about the locket I was wearing I told her Uncle Brian gave it to me. Getting a closer look, she opened the locket.
“Why don’t you have a picture in your locket”?
“I’ve been going to,” I answered.
“I think you should put a picture of Uncle Brian in the locket. He would like that GraGra.”
“I think he would too.”
When it was time to leave, I watched her go down the stairs and join her friends, skipping along until she stopped and turned.
“Love you GraGra.”
My heart sunk a little bit more.
As I passed by farmland that had been plowed and Amish going along in their buggies or working out in their fields, I thought how lucky I was-blessed with a sticky kiss and a sticky hug and a smile that turned a rainy day in May into Christmas. Priceless.
(Please Note: GraGra is what my grandchildren call me)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Flying Out a Kitchen Window

On my way back home one day last week passing by farms and fields a story my grandmother would tell came to mind. Whenever my grandmother told the story she’d laugh right out loud. So did anyone who was listening to her talk about the time when she was a little girl sitting at the kitchen table playing and acting silly with her siblings. Eventually her mother told her to stop but she kept on playing. In fact my grandmother played so hard that she ended up running around and around that table so fast that she went flying out the kitchen window. Whenever she’d get to this point in the story my grandmother’s eyes would widen with a twinkle and the laughter would get uncontrollable. She’d always end her tale by saying it was a hot summer day and the window was wide open. While she didn’t get hurt she did ‘catch heck’ as she’d describe the aftermath from flying straight out that window after being told to stop.

Once in a while I’d take my grandmother for rides out in the country and as we’d go along I’d hear stories about way back when working farms were scattered about the countryside like rugs throughout a home; where families with familiar last names were raising children and tending gardens and plowing fields and milking cows and filling haylofts with picky bales of hay through the month of June. One time while riding along she told me that story again about falling out a kitchen window as we approached a certain farmhouse.

“Slow down,” she told me. “That’s the place where I flew out the kitchen window.”

Problem was that particular window was no longer there. Someone had added on an enclosed front porch and replaced trees with shrubs and a cinder driveway with a paved, circular drive. I asked her if she wanted to stop. She told me no.

“I’d rather remember that place as it used to be.”

So much has changed since my grandmother went flying out of that kitchen window. Most of those farms she recalled are now vacated, torn down or have new owners with unfamiliar names. Yet despite so much changing, so much has stayed the same, like the smells of the earth awakening to spring undeterred by winter trying to hold on as streams begin to trickle alongside roads and wander about the fields while the crows and geese keep flying by and little kids keep playing after being told to stop and then ‘catch heck’ in the aftermath.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Favorite Old Record Album

As the snow keeps falling in this month of March I am reminded of my mother and a 33rpm vinyl record album she played over and over again on a record player which was part of a fancy console complete with a radio featuring both AM & FM channels as well as a space to store albums.

She bought the massive console as a gift for the family or so she said when it was delivered days before Christmas one year when I was in Junior High School. Thinking back, I believe the main purpose of that console was for my mother to play a particular song from one of her favorite Dean Martin Christmas albums. The song was titled-“A Marshmallow World.” She played that song not only in December but all through the winter months. Each of us in that household knew every word, every pause in that song. We’d automatically sing along without even realizing it. My mother was a fanatic Saturday morning clean-the-house-thoroughly kind of person which meant I had to pitch in. Dean Martin made that torture go so much faster.

When I went outside today and took a walk in the snow, those words of that particular song came back to me-every single one of them including the pauses. It certainly was a Marshmallow World out there. My mother would have loved it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Quilts Hanging on a Front Porch

When I drove by the Amish home with quilts flying in the breeze as winter was thinking about turning to spring I couldn't help but stop. With the colors and detailed craftsmanship of those beautiful quilts hanging by clothespins against the simplicity of the home and the barn set off to the side and fields still holding on to patches of snow, the scene was breathtaking; looking more like an oil painting created by a master himself. Of course if it had been created by a master, that master would have had to contend with puddles of yuck and smells of the barn animals and the earth waking up.

On my way home I thought about my mother. She would have loved seeing those quilts flapping about. I know she would have worried they might let loose and end up in the mud. That's because she was a skilled seamstress. Her tailored suits and coats were sewn to perfection. Every dart and every seam; every button and button hole; every zipper and strip of bias tape-all were flawlessly sewn or created. She preferred Vogue patterns. Her material was the finest. And then-there were her quilts.

When my mother was in the process of making a quilt I was amazed at the exactness of every piece she'd cut out. Each had been measured. So many little pieces and she knew where every little piece would go. Her color schemes were breathtaking. It took her several visits to the fabric store to decide which bolts to finally choose. Putting those bolts of fabric together was so time consuming. Colors and designs had to compliment each other. There had to be contrasts but they had to be subtle so as not to stand out. They had to blend. They had to be present without screaming for attention. The end result always took my breath away; just like the two quilts did-hanging from clothespins on an Amish front porch as winter was turning to spring.

Monday, February 12, 2018

My Favorite Month for Art Class

Growing up I always thought my cousin Joe was so lucky having his birthday fall on February 12th. To be born on the same date as Abraham Lincoln was certainly something to celebrate. But that wasn't the end of it. The celebrating continued on February 22nd, the birth date of our 1st President. That was the icing on the cake-the birthday cake that is. And nudged between these two historic dates was Valentine's Day which meant there was a Valentine Day's party in every classroom. Instead of cake, cookies and/or cupcakes were served. February was an overload for celebrating. Whether it was Abe's tall hat or George's ax or bright red hearts, February was made for creating and that's why it was my most favorite month when in elementary school with Art Class being my most favorite class of all.

I had no use for arithmetic. It was too exact. I did like reading but Art Class-that was the class where my imagination was allowed to soar. Using big, fat crayons we'd draw big top hats on large pieces of white drawing paper. Then we'd color them black, cut them out and give them to our teacher. A few days later we'd discover top hats hanging in classrooms, up the stairs and in the hallways. After the birthdays had been celebrated, we'd be able to take out top hats home to hang on our refrigerators.

Nothing had to be exact in Art Class, not even hearts since the hearts could be any size and any shade of pink or red. They could even be white. Some could have paper lace glued on them. Others could be cut just so to make a chain of hearts. Some could be used as decorations on handmade Valentine cards. Some could have faces on them. Some could be stapled or glued to the front of a large piece of folded paper with the sides stapled or glued which turned that paper into a folder to hold Valentine's.

Whatever one could imagine, that's what a heart became in February in elementary school. Ironically Music class took on a special meaning as well that month due to the fact our music instructor's name was Miss Heart. It really was! And all through that month we sang songs-from the heart with Miss Heart!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Tin Dollhouse Full of Dreams

I hadn't thought about my tin dollhouse (similar to the one shown) in years which is sort of ironic since I spent so much time sitting in front of it playing and pretending. This past Christmas as I was deciding what furniture to buy my granddaughter for her dollhouse, the memories of my old tin dollhouse came to mind. That made my purchasing of that dollhouse furniture all the more important.

I remembered what it felt like to be sitting there as a owner of a house-my very own house even though it was a dollhouse-a tin dollhouse with sharp corners that would catch hold of me and hurt or catch hold of what I was wearing and stop me cold None of that mattered. It was my house and I could arrange the furniture any old way I wanted to. I could decorate my way. The pink toilet could have been found in the living room by the painted fireplace on the tin wall. The pink bathtub could have been in my tin bedroom. Or the baby playpen with baby inside could have been relocated to the tin bathroom when baby was crying too hard. The rooms didn't have doors you could shut so baby would still have been heard throughout that tin house. Any doors or windows were painted on the tin just like the fireplace as well as any room décor such as painted walls and pictures in frames. That meant when Christmas came around I had to do some freelancing. I took construction paper and crayons and went to work. I designed a wreath for the door and a Christmas tree for the living room and put construction paper stockings hanging from the fireplace painted on the tin wall. My home looked lovely. Santa always came!

Another perk of being a homeowner was the ability to invite any friends over that I wanted to even  friends who were so big they couldn't fit inside my home. That didn't matter. My teddy bear and dolls gathered outside and joined in. Whatever was going in in my house, they were included in the fun with the pretend plastic family living inside those tin walls.

A dollhouse is so much more than walls and rooms. A dollhouse can be wood or tin or plastic. It can be ranch style, castle style, treehouse style, town house style, beach style or chateau. Style does not matter. It is the imagination of the homeowner that matters. Their home becomes their field of dreams. What better gift could they receive. than a dollhouse.