Thursday, March 19, 2015

Palace with a Chimney Stack

Most of us will live in more than one house as we grow up and move along through our lives. Each will hold its own memories. To me, of all the places I've called home, the house on the lane holds the most endearing memories. It was just a regular neighborhood home-with an upstairs, a closed-in porch where I'd play cards with my imaginary friends and win every time, a flagstone walkway my father and grandfather cemented in place, a cellar where you'd have to enter from the outside, a huge yard with lilac bushes and a rock garden, a kitchen with a counter where my goldfish sat, a front stairway that seemed so steep, a double living room, registers in the floor, and that chimney stack in the parlor that I thought was the most amazing contraption ever. Of course I was little. And when you're little everything seems amazing. The summer before I entered the fourth grade we moved to the country. Still to this day, a part of me remains in that house on the lane.

Maybe that's because that house was where on a Christmas morning I found what is still my most favorite Christmas present ever waiting for me when I came down those steep stairs-a pine desk my grandfather made complete with a stool and a single drawer with a pad of paper and a #2 yellow pencil inside. Or maybe that's because my bedroom was possibly the best bedroom in the world-at least to me it seemed as if that was the case. After all, it had a slanted ceiling and you'd have to walk down two steps to get inside. The room was huge-taking up the whole back of the house. It even had a stairway down to the kitchen. It was like my own apartment and I didn't even realize it. But then when you're little you don't realize how things change-and maybe that's a good thing!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

White Shoe Polish in a Bottle

My mother was a Registered Nurse. Eventually she became the Charge Nurse in the ER on the Night shift. That shift worked well for my parents. My father would be home with my brother and me while my mother worked. Back then nurses wore immaculate, white uniforms-white nylons with a seam up the back and immaculate, white duty shoes. Their caps were white-starched white. My mother's cap had a black ribbon-like material across the front signifying she was a registered nurse. Even though I was very young, I sensed the pride she took in her uniform. I remember her nylons hanging on a hanger over the tub after soaking in the sink and her cap just starched spread out flat across the counter. Most of all I remember her polishing her duty shoes with a white liquid shoe polish in a bottle. She'd sit at the kitchen table in her slip with her hair up in bobby pins-shake the stuff-and then proceed to polish the shoes with a foam brush attached to the inside of the cap. She was very careful with the polish. Each application was meticulously applied.
But the duty shoes weren't the only shoes polished with the white liquid. Back then babies-like the one in the picture who happens to be me being held by my mother-wore white shoes that tied up the front. It was a big deal when a baby was old enough for his/her first pair of white shoes. That meant a trip to a real shoe store where a real person would try to measure the child's foot if he could uncurl the little toes curled up in a ball. Once the child outgrew the first pair of shoes, often the shoes were bronzed on a plague for all to see. When I was a little older I'd take a bottle of white stuff and polish my dolls' shoes. One time I not only polished doll shoes but went on to highlight some dolls' hair until being stopped by a nurse needing to polish her duty shoes. That was the one and only time my dolls went to my beauty parlor. I had to close it down.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Favorite Movie is Like An Old Friend

A favorite movie is like an old friend. You are always happy to see it again.
We all have favorite movies we could watch over and over to the point we are able to say the lines as the actors say them. Great acting is the ability to take a character and turn that character into a real person contributing to a story that flows seamlessly in the eyes of those watching. To the viewer, the actor is not acting. The actor becomes the character. And when that happens, the movie-going experience stays with you for days-for years-after seeing the film. You find yourself wondering about that character. You find yourself replaying parts of the movie in your head as you go about your day. When a movie stays with you long after the experience of watching it, then that to me is a sign of not only great acting but great writing as well.

I loved going to see 'Gone With The Wind' with my uncle. I loved the final scene in 'Baby Boom' when the mother returns home and finds her little girl playing in the front room-picks her up and sits with her in a rocking chair. But there is one movie that has stayed in my heart for years and that is where it will remain. I can still repeat the lines. I can still feel my heart skip a beat-maybe many beats-as Robert Redford meets Barbra Streisand in "The Way We Were" and their story unfolds. I still for the life of me can't imagine how 'Katie' felt when seeing 'Hubbell' sitting on that bar stool half asleep or how her heart must have flipped when he interrupted her dancing with someone to be able to dance with her. The goose bumps still come. I still cry when thinking about the last scene as they embrace and Hubbell turns away and leaves Katie on the street corner. I questioned-'what if'-for years.

I haven't been to see a movie in a theatre in years. My hometown is lacking one and I don't feel like travelling to see a movie. I don't use Netflix or devices for viewing movies. Except for the evening news, I don't watch TV so I don't sit down to watch movies there either. I can't comment on movies I haven't seen. Many I would like to see-but haven't. What spare time I do have goes to writing. I guess that's like going to the movies in my head-seeing the scenes and then putting them to words. I've rewritten the ending to "The Way We Were" several times in my head-turning it into a fairytale ending. To be truthful, I like the movie version better. It's real-gut-wrenching, tear jerking real-and that is life as most of us know it to be. Everyone has 'what-if' moments. It's how we deal with them that matters.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February Nuptials at the Farmhouse

My parents were married in early February of 1942. They celebrated their marriage at a small reception in the dining room of my grandparents' farmhouse surrounded by immediate family. My mother's five sisters all look so beautiful. Right beside my mother is her father-a hardworking man who worked from sunup to sundown 7days a week. My mother was named after him. She'd work out in the barn right alongside him after school and on the weekends. My grandmother is standing beside my father. She too was a hard worker. If ever she had a spare moment she'd be using her hands to create-sew, crochet, mend, braid rugs, cook, garden and so on.
 I can't tell if my father is singing as he cuts the 3-tier wedding cake with my mother. Something tells me he could have been as he was known around the town as a crooner-a singing waiter before becoming a licensed funeral director. I remember my mother telling me they were married on a Tuesday. I never knew the reason why. Maybe it had something to do with my grandparents running the farm. I really never thought anything of it. I do know they honeymooned in New York City. They had a suite in The New Yorker. I still have one of the souvenirs they brought back home-an ashtray from their hotel. My mother loved the City. She told me they went to some shows while they were there. And then there were all those stores.

I've often thought my mother would have loved living there if her path had taken a different direction. She had a creative flair about her that surfaced now and then. One such time was when she opened her fabric shop which, in turn, led to her going to New York to buy fabric in the Garment District. I was lucky enough to have gone with her a few times. It was quite exciting! So busy-so many rolls of fabrics and interesting characters. My mother had a flair for fashion. Some would say she had expensive tastes. When I was little I loved going through her blue, velvet jewelry box. I felt like a princess trying on all the glittering bobbles.

I guess we all can say that about our lives-what we would have done if our live had taken a different direction. Truth was my parents fell in love. They worked hard. They bought a house on a lane and started a family. My mother worked nights as a registered nurse so my father would be home with my brother and I. Eventually she worked her way up to Head of the ER. As the family expanded we moved out to the country-right next door to the farmhouse where they cut that cake and celebrated with family and friends. Life really does go in circles.

Monday, February 9, 2015

You Pave Paradise-La La La!

My mother was an avid reader. I've written before about going with her when I was a little girl to a small bookstore located inside a fancy department store of our hometown. I was writing from memory since I'd never seen a photo of that location because our downtown was leveled in the '70's when urban renewal was the thing to do as shopping centers were springing up all over-changing the way people shopped. A few weeks ago I finally saw a picture of where that amazing little bookstore sat on what used to be our main street full of hustle and bustle with people engaging in conversations and people taking a break for a soda at the soda fountain or lunch where locals gathered. Looking at that worn photo I was saddened to learn I pass by that location quite often and never realized that's where that little bookstore was located. Since finding that out, I've driven by there several times-slowly down to imagine that magnificent department story that no longer exists. There's no evidence it ever existed. There's nothing there at all except empty bottles and candy wrappers and old papers and other bits of trash discarded without thought. It saddens me to think the younger generation will never know what was there. But when you think about it, so many, including the younger generation, now go to the internet for books-or to all sorts of devices void of a front door leading to a little bookstore with a front window full of little window panes where books were displayed in such a way you couldn't wait to get inside and become immersed with books that you could hold and feel and get lost in-then take them home and after reading them, you put them on a bookshelf with your signature inside-claiming it for all time. That's what my mother did with any book she bought from wherever she found it. And I am the lucky one to have many of those books now sitting in my bookcase in the front room-all with her signature.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Harvesting Ice in the Wintertime

Harvesting Ice in the Wintertime:
Years back one of my aunts-the oldest of six sisters-blessed all of us with a hand-written recipe book featuring my grandmother's recipes-many enjoyed for generations. But that recipe book titled, "Mom's Farm Kitchen", is so much more as my talented aunt divided the book into the four seasons. At the beginning of each section she wrote her memories of growing up on the farm in relationship to that particular season. It's a true treasure-telling not only family stories but of life in general-a documentary of a simpler time.
Today I found myself thinking of one particular Winter entry my aunt wrote as I happened upon Amish harvesting ice not far from where I live. After taking a picture of them hard at work in sub-zero weather, I came home-pulled out the cookbook and read what she'd written about the times my grandfather "hired out with his team of horses and a flat-bedded sleigh to draw ice from the St. Lawrence to fill ice warehouses in town." My aunt wrote about his day that started before dawn. "We were awakened by delicious aromas from the kitchen below. Mom was cooking Dad's breakfast and fixing a lunch for him to take to the river." When she described how he had to bundle up I could imagine him getting ready in the farmhouse kitchen. "I can still see the huge fur coat and cap he wore," she wrote.
Looking out at the Amish hauling the huge chunks of ice I thought about my grandfather. Thanks to my aunt I read about him too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Letters in the Mail

When I came across an 8-page letter written by my mother about her Nursing School's graduating class I realized how much I missed receiving letters in the mail. It used to be so exciting-walking to the mailbox-opening it-and finding a letter with my name on it. I'd skip all the way back down the driveway-waiting to open it once I was back in the house and in my room. Receiving a letter was a personal event. It was like fireworks on the 4th of July. Someone had bothered to sit down and spend time writing to me. Then the envelope had to be addressed-postage had to be placed in that upper right-hand corner-then either dropped in a mailbox or taken to a post office. It was an effort to write a letter-and when I'd receive a letter that effort was appreciated.
I remember having a special box sitting on top of my desk in my bedroom. That's where I kept all my cards and letters. Sometimes I'd go through all of them-taking each one out and rereading them. I loved looking at the various examples of penmanship-all so different. When I look at my mother's I can see her sitting at the table with her hair up in pin curls and bearing down hard on the paper with her pen. When my older brother was in Vietnam I'd receive an occasional letter. His penmanship was very neat. My father-in-law's was a work of art. He considered penmanship quite important-telling a lot about a person. One aunt who lived in Chicago had penmanship similar to my mother's. That's when the postmark came in handy. Receiving a letter all the way from Chicago was most exciting. Receiving any letter was exciting.
Sad to think writing letters is a lost art-a lost event for the upcoming generations. That's why I send my granddaughter little things in the mail. I want her to feel that special excitement email will never offer-an envelope with stickers all over it and her name right smack dab in the middle-sealed-and meant only for her. Preserving little joys in life for the upcoming generations is important. Writing a letter is an expression of caring. Sure beats hitting send on a computer.