Saturday, September 25, 2004

Down-Home Folks




My grandparents were my favorite down-home folks.

Down-home folks are amazing.

They don't spend hours complaining about the government or high prices. Oh, they may get a little feisty sometimes, but never bitter. Mostly they are content and talk about the good things in life.

They are thankful for the few possessions they do have and barely notice that others have much more. If you give them a small gift, they go on and on about how marvelous both you and the gift are.

Down-home folks prefer going to cozy family-owned diners, ones with bottomless cups of coffee. Given a choice between an expensive, fancy-named restaurant and a picnic, they'd choose the picnic.

For entertainment, they like to gather in homes or backyards and sings songs like You Are My Sunshine until the moon stands overhead.

Down-home folks use appliances and linens until they are worn-out. They would consider it a great waste to dispose of something which could be repaired, instead.

They usually have a dog or two. Ones they feed scraps to beneath the kitchen table. They usually plant a garden and grow a few flowers in coffee cans.

Down-home folks go to country auctions mostly to visit with old friends. While waiting in long lines at old-fashioned fairs and amusement parks, they never complain. Instead, they turn around and talk with strangers who walk away as new friends. And down-home folks go to church nearly every Sunday.

They have screen doors that creeeeeak and a TV with an old rabbit-ear antenna.

I like to imagine rows and rows of front porches in Heaven filled with rocking chairs and happy down-home folks continuing the great times they had here in this world.

I love down-home folks. To me, they are the salt of the Earth.

I wish I knew more of them.



Quote of the Day
'I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.' - Bill Cosby




Family Photos From the Trash


Few things are more pathetic than having generations of your family photos end up in the trash.

Around eight years ago, Tom brought home a couple boxes from the curb. In one, there was an old flour sifter decorated with painted strawberries. There was also a rolling pin and a few other kitchen things.

In the other box were photo albums and loose photos dating from the 1800's~~a whole family history which had been destined for the trash for reasons I can't fathom. The pictures centered around the three sisters, Ella, Esther and Eunice in the above photo. From what I could piece together, Esther outlived her sisters and these photos last belonged to her.

There is a picture of the girls' mother's family~~a sepia-toned affair of many daughters gathered around their parents in 1800's studio style, complete with a little dog and belongings scattered around the thick carpet. Then there are later pictures of the girls' parents and baby pictures of the three daughters. Eunice was the oldest, born in 1892.

Eunice created two photo albums for Esther filled with black and white travel photos pasted upon black pages. It appears that Eunice and her husband took a trip across the United States before relocating in CA in a new home, a cute bungalow. Eunice sent many photos of her life to Esther back here in NY.

The box contained pictures of Esther's husband, son and daughter, too. But mostly, Esther's photos aren't labeled. In fact, most of the pictures outside of Eunice's albums are without penciled-in labels. I nearly drove myself mad for two evenings trying to piece together who-was-who and what-was-what. Yet it was a fun kind of madness to play detective and try to reconstruct a one-hundred-and-thirty-year-long family history.

(Note to myself and anyone else:label all your photos!)

Of course, the real insanity comes while wondering things like, "Did these three girls have happy lives? Did Eunice and Ella also live into their 90's like we're guessing Esther did according to when Tom found the photos? Whatever happened to Esther's son and daughter? Why didn't they rescue the family photos? Did Esther perhaps outlive both her children? Her nieces and nephews,also? Did an uncaring executor of the estate just dump the photos on the curb?"

It's odd, but eight years later, I'm still asking these same questions. And every once in awhile I drag out the box of photos on snowy, winter nights, only to ask myself these same questions again and again.

Well, whatever the reason, I'm glad Tom rescued these pictorial memories. In a way, it has kept the memory of Eunice, Ella and Esther alive a few years longer. And now even more people, like you, will remember them, too.

But my most comforting thought has been that God knows exactly who these people were, just like He knows exactly who I am~~and who you are. He remembers our history. His eyes are always upon us, come what may, and He will never forget us. Yes, that's a comforting thought, indeed.

Oh and by the way... I still use Esther's strawberry-painted flour sifter. It hangs on my kitchen wall to remind me of her.



Saturday, September 18, 2004

First, The Good News

Well, the good news is that the contractor and his buddy got the roof put onto our new carport yesterday. These guys are amazing and have un-soured us toward the building profession in general (I'll spare you the gory details of past building project horrors).

The other good news is that months ago I painted my kitchen yellow.

Now for the bad news....

Because of the new carport, my kitchen is now a perpetually dark, shadowy, yellow Victorian-like box. My two big windows now bring in only a secondhand essence of sunlight and I must leave on the little counter lamp constantly. The old-fashioned pull-chain light over the sink has been "mysteriously" broken for weeks. I say mysteriously, because nobody is confessing to pulling out the tiny chain which I found forlornly under a plate in the sink. We bought a little kit to insert a new chain, but well, these-things-take-time and all that good stuff. There's a light over the stove, but I dislike that one because it shows all the grease.

So I've been playing Pollyanna's Glad Game (being an expert at it) and here is what I can be glad about concerning my so-far-from-sunny-it's-not-even-funny kitchen:

I'm glad I even have a kitchen. And a house, period.

I'm glad that no longer will the sun shine off of our neighbors' fluorescent blue house and cast a ghastly Smurf-colored haze in the afternoons.

I'm glad our house tends to look cozier and all-around better at night in shadowy lights anyway.

I'm glad I didn't paint our kitchen brown.

I'm glad, very glad that the carport will keep the snow off of our car this winter and I won't have as much snow to shovel in the driveway.

I'm glad God provided us with marvelous builders and the money to pay for this.

I'm glad the carport is beautiful (as far as carports go) and that it will increase the value of our house when we go to sell.

I'll play the Glad Game awhile longer and let you know what else I come up with.


Quote of the Day: Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies.
Charles E. Jefferson (1860 - 1937)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Of Clotheslines and Country Life

Most days I love my home and my tiny Secret Garden yard. But when I read about clotheslines as I did this week on the Gladys Taber listserv, tricklings of discontent drip-drip-drip on my brain.

I love clotheslines. They are old-fashioned and they represent what is right with this world, at least to me. There's just something joyful about a bright white sheet floating on a breeze, something reminiscent of a lake full of sailboats. And pillowcases on a line bring visions of women in aproned-skirts standing alongside with clothespins in their mouths. Throw into this dreamy sight a few honking geese overhead and some swaying Shasta Daisies and I've had a peek into Heaven.

Yes, I'm serious.

Anyway, there is no room in my yard for a clothesline of any kind. Trust me, I've spent 11 years thinking about this and trying to find a way. My neighbor used to encourage me to hang our clothes on her line, which I gladly did for 8 years. But one day her adult son removed the clothesline and never put it back up. I could always tell it got in his way. Sigh.

Sometimes I take a wooden clothes dryer rack out into our sunny driveway and hang wet laundry on that and pretend it's the same. But it isn't the same, especially when the wind flings the clothes away, or worse, knocks the whole contraption over in a heap.

It's at those times when I long for the country. I start dreaming again of a rambling old farmhouse in the middle of a green patch of land surrounded by huge, pioneer-planted trees. I even sit at my diningroom table at such times and pretend those are the lovely things I see outside the big windows, instead of the brick wall of our neighbors' house.

The latest issue of Mary Jane's Farm has a wonderful saying: "Farmgirl is a condition of the heart." And that is what I'm choosing to believe. Besides, it's kind-of wonderful living a life where I must often flick the "on" switch of my imagination. Sometimes how we view a thing is more important than seeing it for what it really is. The eyes of imagination lend enchantment, even to a city house and a tiny yard with no room for a clothesline.


Quote of the Day: I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.
Martha Washington (1732 - 1802)

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Love Behind Housework

We forget something quite often: If the world collectively says one thing, then probably the opposite is true.

Case in point: Housework has openly been declared unimportant, a waste of time and meaningless. It's been written that cleaning one's house can be done by the brainless, so it need not be done by the wise, the educated or the 'important people.'

Phooey.

Keeping a clean, comfortable home matters. It always will. What am I saying to Tom and Naomi (and even our cats) if I let my housework go? If we are living in a dusty, dirty, cluttered rat trap, I am in essence saying I don't care about my family's health and sense of peaceful well-being. Cleanliness is not only next to godliness, it's next to healthiness, also. And most everyone knows that health matters. A lot.

It matters to me that Tom and I don't spend hours each week looking for lost keys or bills or bags or phones or remotes. It's important that we not waste time and be unnecessarily frustrated or set on-edge. And ok, sometimes we do misplace things. But I try to do my part in having a place for everything and....well, you know the rest.

Yes, we could hire people to clean for us and I might do that if I had an outside job. But I will never consider cleaning my home to be 'beneath me.' Instead, I'll always view washing dishes as a means to serve those I love. Dusting, vacuuming and doing laundry illustrate ways of caring that my family lives in a pleasant, safe environment.

There is an important, carryover discipline about housecleaning, a daily lesson in doing a thing over and over simply because it needs to be done~~and not complaining about it. Can we just go from task to task feeling grateful that we even have these things which need to be cleaned? Can we feel thankful that we live in a house with a family to care for? (Some people would love to have our family, our home and our things.)

I'm not speaking about an out-of-balance, obsessive-compulsive, walk-all-over-me kind of slavery. No, I'm just saying that housework is such a daily, Monday-through-Sunday, 365 days-a-year sort of thing. Why not approach housecleaning as a privilege rather than an annoying burden? How much better to come to the end of my life having enjoyed every day, every hour, every task that was mine to do....and to have done my best in caring for the family God gave me.

Quote of the Day: Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.
William James (1842 - 1910)



Friday, September 10, 2004

Estate Sales for Non-Vultures



Estate sales here back East should be advertised as Time Tunnel Trips. I tell Tom that I go to estate sales with him to tour the old houses, not really to buy anything. He sort-of understands that.

I shouldn't even go at all. I come away from these much-loved, non-altered, early 1900's houses and then it takes hours to shake the lust from my heart. When I walk up the stairs of these old farmhouses or Victorians, I'm catapulted into dreams normally reserved for nighttime. You know, the kind where you walk around in a large, strange house just opening doors and stepping into rooms you've never seen before.

Well, it's like that.

Usually I don't even see the knick-knacks displayed with price tags upon tables. And I pay little attention to the estate sale 'vultures' as I not-so-fondly call them, the harried people out to find a re-sell-able bargain. No, I wander zombie-like from floor to floor soaking up the pleasant vibes reverberating from the walls. The leftover aura from days-gone-by when housekeeping was a respected art and a happy family was all that mattered.

Through dazed eyes I see yellow kitchens with their original glass-fronted cabinet doors. (If there's an ironing board cupboard or a breakfast nook, it takes me days to recover.) There's often green and red wooden-handled utensils beside the knock-off Fiestaware and rolling pins. And I think about the hands, now stilled, which used those things. Then through pocket doors I wander through the three-windowed dining room and barely scan the dishes and embroidered linens on the covered table. No, I choose to peek into the cute little closet with the file cabinet beneath the stairs.

Sometimes there's a music room/ sewing room with a piano and a closeted sewing machine desk. I look at the old sheet music and the walls almost echo with a family singing. The sconces over the fireplace, the overstuffed chairs from the 1950's, the books in the built-in cases where they've been sitting for eons~~my eyes miss none of it.

By now I'm lost in nostalgia and feeling transported, alone, though the vultures are rushing fast-motion up the stairs past me. But I creep up slowly, touching the rail which the woman of the house must have touched twelve-thousand times. At the top,there are green and yellow formals hanging over the bedroom doors with hat boxes just below. And the rooms are painted pink, robin's egg blue or are wall-papered in stripes and have fuzzy worn carpet. The largest bedroom has a little bay-window-room where there are two chintz-covered chairs beside a table spread with vintage magazines and black-and-white photos in cheap gold metal frames. And books stuffed into closet shelves. And a chenille bedspread. Usually by now I am wondering if people will walk through my home like this when I am gone.

There are 1940's toys in the attic and piles and piles of books, games and dress-up clothes. And a baby walker, the old kind with red, blue and green far-from-hygienic wooden beads. It's in the attic where I usually wonder if anyone helping with this estate sale once played with these toys as a child or if they were the ones who used flour-and-water paste in the scrapbooks in the corner.

I usually save the basement for last, because they push me over the edge. Basements, that is. Not the vultures (though they have been known to get rough). Often the basement is tiled 1950's style and there's an old kitchenette complete with enameled stove,refrigerator and a wringer washer. And a couch from the 1960's, oil paintings and paneled walls. I imagine teen parties in the days of Buddy Holley~~it's impossible not to see all that in my mind.

If I buy anything before my return to this decade, it's usually just a trinket, maybe a small black ceramic elephant. I purchase it to remind me of a walk through a house and all the lovely visions I had there. Just a little something to help me recall a family, especially a woman, who I'll never know. A woman with an unknown story, who lived out her married-life in one house, with one man. And who I am almost sure, did so happily.


Quote of the Day: So you see, imagination needs moodling - long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.
Brenda Ueland

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Back to School ~~ Not!

Warning~~This entry may make some intellectual-types scream.

Today the kids in our town went back to school.

It's funny... Even after being out of school for 26 years, I still celebrate this day. I hug to myself the fact that I don't have to return to school.

Oh, the bliss, the freedom, the joy! Balloons and confetti and cake--oh my!

Now, many adults kick up their heels and go back to college, and well, more power to them. But I will let them have their late-night study sessions and early-morning exploding-out-the-door, their brain-squeezing exams, their I-wouldn't-want-my-daughter-to-read-these English Lit. books, their lectures from liberal-minded professors, their vulgar language in the hallways, their added stress, microwave meals, lack of sleep and no time for friendship.......

Call me backward, ignorant or lazy, but I'll gladly pass on all of the above. Give me, instead, wide open calendar spaces, time to think, and learning on my own in peace and quiet. Here is one college drop-out who married after her freshman year and never looked back. My Prince Charming came along on the proverbial white horse, scooped me up, and rescued me from my college misery. He then took me to the Land of Happily Ever After (you know, the place feminists say doesn't exist) and here we are today, older and wiser and happier.

All of this is why I celebrate the first day of school. And again, I am grateful...


Quote of the Day: An optimist is the human personification of spring.
Susan J. Bissonette

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Cats in Our House



A group of cat friends live in our house, adding a whole other world inside our walls. Lennon is the biggest of these pals--we tease that he's the size of a white-and-taffy-colored pony. He can even do dog tricks which amaze our friends. But sadly, he's also an honest-to-goodness fraidy cat. It's an embarrassing sight to see this huge cat fearfully running down the hall from the much-smaller, Oreo, the relative newcomer.

Oreo is a maniac. He wants to play 18 hours a day and each time I release him from our daughter's room upstairs, he first takes his fishing pole toy into his mouth (the feathery end) and head held high, drags the toy tarump-tarump-tarump down the stairs. Always he reminds me of a toddler who must take his stuffed animal with him by land or sea or air. Just mention the word 'toy' to Oreo and he meows and meows in hope that we will swing his fishing pole around for him to chase. We must encourage him to rest from playing-- he lacks the common sense to do so himself.

At 14, Skittles is our oldest cat. She's part Siamese and still has a kittenish sort of face, and she's a bonafide example of a lap cat. She naps at the end of my bed while I watch tv and you'd think her back was made of velcro. She must always be touching me, at least a little. Literally hundreds of hours she's sat on Tom's lap in the recliner all down the years. I will always see her there in my mind, even after she is gone.

McCartney, sad to say, is rather average. Not the fraidy cat her brother, Lennon, is, but close. Big and fluffy, black and white, her green eyes are huge. She's always the first at the bowl of food and the last to leave. She waddles after our little red laser light with reckless abandon and finally, at age 7, she learned to sit up for her treats. Brother Lennon got the brains, Cartney got the fluff.

Two other cats have we, or rather, these two along with the aforementioned Oreo, belong to our daughter who lives upstairs. Ginger and Farrah are grey sisters who are as different as the proverbial night and day. When Farrah looks at anyone, she stands on her toes and squints her eyes-- you would swear she was smiling. She's known as The Princess. But Ginger...huh! Ginger is psychotic. I would never dare try to hold her and if she lets me pat her head, I must always be ready to draw my hand away lest she bite it on a whim. But her redeeming feature is that she watches for Naomi to come home from work each day and runs to the kitchen to greet her. But then, if Naomi picks her up, she yowls menacingly. There is no figuring-out Ginger.

Our three downstairs cats end each day in their own room. Years ago, their nighttime play got too intense and a Victorian bowl and pitcher were smashed, so they've spent their nights since in this bedroom. I call them in a falsetto voice, "Time for bed!" and they come walking in a row into this room where they will spend the night. But on sweltering nights I leave them to roam the house and they look up at me as if to say, "Aren't you going to put us to bed?". Then next morning, they walk with heads held high. "Aren't we hot stuff to have stayed out all night!", they say.

Funny how so much can go on beneath one roof. Funny-sad how much we miss when we choose to worry about the strife in the world outside and let it blacken our homelife. I don't want to overlook a single blessing. When I stand before God someday, I want to be able to say I saw, really saw, each blessing He sent my way. Already I'm getting a head start on thanking Him.


Quote of the Day: For myself I am an optimist - it does not seem to be much use being anything else.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965),