Sunday, November 24, 2019

Inside An Old Cardboard Box

While doing some cleaning-out-of-stuff in the garage recently I came across an old cardboard box marked fragile. Pulling the box closer to me, I sat down and removed the yellowed, crinkled tape holding it together; then slowly opened it. As I began lifting away layers of crumpled newspapers, I noticed something towards the bottom, half exposed and sparkling. Taking a closer look, I knew what I’d found.  Every once in a while, I’d wonder where it’d gone. After removing the rest of the newspapers, I stood with that box in hand and went inside the house. Putting it down on the kitchen counter, I began pulling out small crystal cups and eventually, a crystal punch bowl and crystal ladle. All of the pieces had belonged to my mother. 

Taking a wet cloth, I wiped away leftover bits of newspapers and grit and remnants of leaves that had found their way inside the box. The longer I stood there, the more memories of that crystal punch bowl came back to me. My father was a member of the local Lions Club. In the summertime my parents would host a social event in our back yard before that Club’s annual event held at a local restaurant. In preparation of the event, my mother would get out the crystal punch bowl and fill it with a concoction of liquids, adding a few slices of oranges and limes and topping it off with cherries.

While the punch chilled, my mother would get dressed. That was my favorite part of the event. One in particular stands out. With her good slip on, she opened her closet door and pulled out one of her fancy dresses and spread it out on her bed. Most likely, she’d made the dress. She was an exquisite seamstress. Going into the bathroom, she took out bobby pins securing tight curls in her hair; then stood in front of the bathroom mirror and brushed the curls out—using a bit of hair gel to cement the style in place. Back in the bedroom, my mother unzipped her dress. Then standing in front of a mirror, she put it on. Adjusting her slip, she checked all angles of the dress, making sure the darts and the seams were in place. Then she opened her blue velvet jewelry box. I loved all the pieces kept in that magic box of shiny things. The cameo necklace with matching earrings and the necklace with small emeralds set in yellow gold were stunning. But my favorite was the pearl necklace. I remember my mother telling me my father had given it to her. The pearl necklace is what she chose to wear that particular evening. After dabbing some Toujours Moi behind her ears and on her wrists, my mother was ready for the ball. While the social event was going on, I peeked outside to see how things were going. I thought my parents were the most beautiful couple in the crowd. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever use the crystal punch bowl but that doesn’t matter. It’s about the memories of watching my mother transform into Cinderella with her hair rid of bobby pins and her red lipstick on along with her fancy dress and pearl necklace and her long white gloves and black dress purse with its sparkling clasp ready to go. It’s about my father who always wore a tie, even to the post office and picnics in the summertime. But there was something about the tie he wore to that particular gathering in the backyard that made him even more handsome. That’s probably because he was escorting Cinderella to the ball.  

That crystal punch bowl was part of that era and while my parents have since passed away, I can still see my mother in the kitchen with bobby pins in her hair filling that bowl; then slicing the fruit and going to get dressed.

Memories come in all shapes and sizes—even in a crystal punch bowl with matching crystal cups.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Growing up with Favorite Books

When I was growing up I was lucky to have a mother and a grandmother who bought me books that I fell in love with and remain favorites to this day. Of course there was no internet to go to when buying the books. Instead there was a little bookstore in our downtown. Sometimes I'd get to go there with my mother. I'd be excited when walking through the door and seeing all the books on display. The smell of the books, of the type on the pages, was magical.

My grandmother bought me books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I not only read those books. I devoured them. From the little house in the woods where Laura lived with her family to the house 
on the prairie to the house on the banks of Plum Creek, I was with Laura and her family wherever they went. I shivered in fear when wolves would howl or grasshoppers brought about a plague or fierce blizzards buried them in snow. I imagined playing with dolls made of cornstalks in the attic with Laura and Mary. I loved summer planting and the smells of fall harvest. I loved playing outside. I loved the trundle bed where Mary and Laura slept covered in quilts as the wind and the wolves howled. I loved the Christmases as described. I loved the idea of that family working together through hardships and gathering around the table for home-cooked meals and conversation.

While the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were my very favorites, I also loved my books written by Louisa May Alcott-especially Little Women and Little Men given to me by my mother who was herself, an avid reader. I always felt as if I was the character, Jo, who aspired to be a writer and growing up, was quite a tomboy. Jo was outspoken when she needed to be and feisty when she felt like it. I'd find myself rooting for Jo. She never disappointed me.

Other beloved book series of mine included the Nancy Drew mysteries and the Bobbsey Twins. All were good stories. All were hard to put down especially when reading them in an old chicken coop cleaned out and filled with the remains of an abandoned one-room schoolhouse including chalkboards, books and desks and turned into a clubhouse for me and my cousins. I've written about that clubhouse before. It was the perfect place to be reading as it was a place of play and imagination and what better way to stir one's imagination than by reading-especially reading books by favorite authors, most bought at a small, downtown bookstore where all those books on shelves smelled just heavenly when walking through the door.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

It Could Have Been a TV Drama Series

This old photo shows me standing between my parents. My mother is holding my little sister. We are packing up the first place I ever called home and moving to the country. I remember feeling sad. I didn't want to move anywhere. I loved that clapboard house sitting on a lane just minutes from where I went to school. I loved my bedroom with back stairs leading down to the kitchen. I loved having my desk in my bedroom sitting beside a window where I could look out as I "wrote my stories." (Check the notebook in my hands). I loved the sun porch and the high counter in the kitchen where my tadpole swam in a bowl of water. I loved the big yard and my best friend who lived but a minute away. I loved the double living room. I loved coming down the front stairs on Christmas morning.

The photo was taken in the second living room. The doorway behind my mother led to the kitchen and then the sunporch. To her left was the dining room where on Christmas Eve she'd set the table using her finest linen and her finest china with candles in crystal candle holders and silverware kept in a mahogany box lined in velvet brought out only for Christmas Eve.

The more I look at the photo the more I imagine it as a set from an old TV drama series filmed in California's wine country. With that infamous hat at his fingertips, my father could have been the actor, Art Carney. With her short, dark hair, my mother could have been the actress, Jane Wyman. Art Carney's character could have started out as a grape picker at a celebrated winery and worked his way up to vineyard manager while Jane Wyman's character cared for their daughters and was a housekeeper for the winery's family matriarch-a rich and powerful woman and owner of a sprawling mansion and that winery in her possession for decades. Art and Jane's characters live in a little home. They are hard workers and good parents. None of that goes unnoticed by the family matriarch. When she passes away, the matriarch leaves everything to Art and Jane's characters. In her air tight will, sealed and notarized, the woman tells her children, who are now adults, they don't deserve to inherit something they've taken for granted; something they've never bothered with or worked for while waiting for her to pass. Instead of caring and tending to the grapes, they've consumed the wine as if it was water streaming out of a faucet.

In the last episode of this popular TV drama-so popular that viewers rooted for this little family week after week as they survived one crisis after another while those rich brats rode around in their fancy cars wearing their fancy diamonds and designer clothing and drinking their wine in long stemmed crystal glasses, the family is packing up their little home. They are sad to leave it. That's where they've lived since arriving at the winery. They've welcomed their children in that home. They've made friends who would come for supper on Sunday evenings. That's where they've celebrated holidays and birthdays. They've enjoyed the sun porch and the big back yard. Their oldest daughter is very sad. She's going to miss her bedroom with back stairs leading down to the kitchen and the high counter where her tadpole swims in a bowl of water.

The last scene shows them walking out the back door of their little house for the last time with that young girl carrying her tadpole in its bowl of water-just like I did when we left that clapboard house sitting on the lane and moved to the country. Once that family settles in the mansion, they're very happy. That mansion feels like home. Once my family and I were settled in our new home out in the country, we were very happy. While it didn't have a sunporch, it did have fields to play in and a creek to skate on. While my bedroom lacked backstairs going down to the kitchen, it had a window looking out towards the back fields. That's where my desk sat. That yellow house out in the country felt like home because it became our home.

It wasn't a mansion. It wasn't a clapboard house sitting on a lane. It was home and home is in one's heart.