Saturday, April 30, 2011
This picture of Mom and Les was taken in 1954 about the time Betty and I were becoming more useful when it came to doing chores. (Aged 8 and 10. Mom was 35 1/2 in this pic.)
The one chore we got more than our share of was doing the dishes! At first we took turns washing and drying. But we both preferred drying. Eventually it evolved into me almost always doing the washing and Betty the drying.
One rule was that if the plate/glass/utensil had the tiniest bit of anything left on it, we could put it back in the dishpan to be re-washed. That led to some fights once in awhile - "That was clean!" "No it wasn't!" - etc.
I remember Mom telling me years later that whenever Dad would have an upset stomach he would say "The girls haven't been washing the dishes well enough!" Like he had what? Salmonella?
By this time, I was very proud of the fact that I could cut up a chicken by myself. The knives we used were similar in size to the one on the left, though they had black handles. Mom always kept them sharp. By the time she died, the blade of the one she always used was worn down.
Peeling potatoes and carrots was an early chore she gave us. We always used a vegetable peeler much like the one second from the right. This is known as a swivel peeler. It is still my 'go to' choice even though the black handled one is supposed to be more comfortable to hold and use. Its blade is fixed. I know we were taught to peel away from the body which I still do for carrots, but when peeling potatoes, I pull the peeler toward me.
I remember the time our teacher took us home with her because we were catching the train to Chicago later in the evening. She told us we could help by peeling the potatoes for supper. We were given paring knives like the one here in the middle. I embarrassingly asked, "Don't you have a potato peeler? I can't peel potatoes with a knife."
The one task we almost fought to do was frosting a cake. That's Mom's well-worn spatula on the right. I wonder how many cakes were frosted with it over the years.
Our earliest outdoor chores centered around the chickens. In the foreground is our chicken house. It was divided into two sections. If you went in the left door, you were in the 'nest' section. It was a much smaller area. There was one long row of wooden nests along the west wall and a double section of metal nests opposite. I hated gathering eggs because there was always at least one old biddy setting on the nest. And she always pecked me when I tried reaching for the eggs under her. I don't know how Mom knew if I skipped that nest. She always sent me back to get those eggs. I didn't appreciate the lesson she was teaching me at the time.
The right hand door of the chicken house led to the larger roosting and feeding side. There was also an interior slat-like door between the two sections.
Way in the background on the left side of the picture is the brooder house where the baby chicks lived from spring until fall. If we were careful not to step on them, we were allowed to help fill the feeders using a small scoop. As we grew older (and more careful?) feeding and watering the chicks became one of our every day chores.
We were way too little to carry much when we were first introduced to the chicken chores. Mom gave us our own 'buckets' - empty one gallon paint cans. At first we were able to carry only one at a time. It was a big deal to be able to carry one in each hand! The corn crib wasn't far from the chicken house. Inside on the left were three bins for small grains. Two were for oats, one for shelled corn. (The other side of the crib held ear corn. Depending upon our size and carrying abilities, Mom put oats in our little buckets while she carried five-gallon buckets to fill the chicken feeders. Different buckets were used to carry the water pumped from the well at the house. We also had separate buckets with some straw in the bottom for gathering eggs. Imagine how proud a two-year-old child was to have one or two eggs in the bottom of their very own bucket!
Learning to do chores while little was an accomplishment. It was fun. It gave us a feeling of importance and self-worth. Having to do chores when we were older was just that - a chore (not fun).
I'm sure there were times it would have been much easier for Mom to just do it herself rather than yell, nag, cajole, entreat or threaten us to get our chores done (especially when I had "my nose in a book"), but she knew teaching us to do chores was part of her job as a parent.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Ruth Rendell used the phrase for the title of a book. A Sight For Sore Eyes tells the story of three divergent characters and what happens when their lives converge. Francine has been scolded and sent to her room. When she peeks downstairs she glimpses a visitor as he brutally murders her mother.
Teddy was born to barely socialized parents. He was never played with, cuddled or even talked to. He becomes a very handsome man who never questions that killing is an easy way to get what he wants.
Harriet is an aging, fading beauty bored with her marriage to an older, wealthy man. She scans the local classified ads for handymen to perform odd jobs and alleviate her boredom.
There are several murders, but the only real mystery is who killed Francine's mother. Rendell's characterizations and descriptions are once again, masterful. Her books are thrillers not of the horror genre, but of the psychological. They make me grateful I live in a 'normal' world.
I've been reading my way through Anne Perry's series featuring William Monk and Hester Latterly. With the reading of Slaves of Obsession I only have six more to read which is why I started reading her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series with the first book The Cater Street Hangman. (There are twenty-six books in this series.) I think I will enjoy the Pitt books as much as I have the Monk ones. Perry's Victorian era details captivate me. They are intelligently written and historically fascinating.
Anne McCaffrey is an author I have been acquainted with for many years. She is most likely best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series. It was either some of those books or some from her Crystal Singers series that I remember reading probably in the 1970's. She also has a handful of romances written in the '70's and '80's which I've enjoyed. (The Lady was probably my favourite.) I hadn't read Stitch In Snow (1985) before. It is a story about two travelers who share a magical snow-bound weekend in Denver. Dana is an American writer, living in Ireland who comes to the USA on a book tour. (As McCaffrey is an American writer living in Ireland, I wondered if this story had some reality in it - even if it was only being stuck in the Denver Airport during a blizzard.) Dan is in Denver on business - but what business? When his ex-wife is found murdered, he is the prime suspect. Dana can save him by testifying he was with her at the time of the murder, but she has already moved on with her book tour. Can she be located in time? Will the authorities believe her? Will the feelings she has for Dan amount to anything?
This quick-read little romance was a light escape after the psychological thriller. It was a reminder of what times were like thirty years ago.
Friday, April 22, 2011
One of the things my kids will find among my keepsakes when I'm gone will be this thimble. I have it because it belonged to one of my grandmothers - though now I'm not sure which one.
It is a Simons Brothers Company (marked inside: "USA - SBC" with their keystone emblem) size 9 silver industrial thimble. It is a silver nickle mix made between 1919 and 1952. I don't know the name of the pattern around the bottom.
It fits the middle finger of my right hand, which, because I am right-handed, is where it should be worn. Both my grandmothers used thimbles when they did hand sewing. Both insisted I should, too. But I could never get used to wearing one. One of the grandmas wore hers on her ring finger. I tried that finger, too. It just seemed like the thimble was in the way.
Thimbles have been used since the first century AD - a Roman one, made of bronze, was found at Pompeii. Other materials used are silver, gold, leather, pewter, glass, china and even ivory. The first thimble made in England in 1695 by a Dutch metal worker named Lofting was called a "thumb bell" because it was worn on the thumb and resembled a bell. The term eventually became "thimble". The dictionary suggests 'thimble' is from the Old English 'thymel' - a covering for the thumb.
Sometimes I wish I had inherited my grandmothers' love for needlework. There was a time when I enjoyed embroidering. Grandma Lynam was the one who encouraged me learning the different stitches (and tried to get me to use a thimble). I would start a project and then quickly tire of it. I think the only things I ever finished were a pot holder and a baby bib. Perhaps if I had been born a century earlier when young ladies had to complete a sampler to demonstrate their skill with needlework, I might have learned to enjoy it more. As it is, I'm happy to have keepsakes of my grandmothers' and mother's handwork.
*A digitabulist is a collector of thimbles. That is what I think I could really enjoy. There are so many thousands of collecting possibilities. I would most likely limit my collecting to thimbles made of silver since it is my favourite metal, then limit it to ones I could afford and those which "spoke" to me. My collection might look something like this picture of thimbles once offered for sale at 'Antique Helper'. The next time I am in an antique store.............
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain..."* (Dewey Bunnell) America
A couple weeks ago when I was between library runs, I pulled Desert Wife off my own bookshelf. When or where I got the book is forgotten - but the images evoked by Hilda Faunce's narrative will stay with me for awhile.
The copy I have was printed in 1981 by the University of Nebraska Press. The book was first published in 1934. It was based on the letters the author wrote to her cousin, recounting her journey to and life on the Navajo Reservation before World War I.
As any good wife did in that time, she followed her husband from the fogs and rains of the Oregon coast back to his old desert stamping ground. (We always said stomping grounds.) He buys an abandoned trading post, "Covered Water", twenty miles from the nearest post at Chinle, AZ and one hundred twenty miles from the nearest town of Gallup, NM.
I found the book a fascinating recounting of what it was like to travel across the west by horse and wagon at a time when roads were mere suggestions and towns were few and far between. Bed was a blanket beneath the stars, or beneath the wagon.
Recounts of their journey would have been enough, but the stories about the Navajos and their ways once the trading post was up and running were even more interesting. I have visited some of the historical trading posts in the Four Corners region. And while they are nothing like what they once were, it doesn't take much for me to imagine that era. If you like history, you will like this book.
The song which came to mind as I read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen was Magic by John Farrar and Jeff Lynne: "You have to believe we are magic, nothin' can stand in our way..."
Garden Spells was Ms. Allen's first novel and it is magic - all of her books are. Claire Waverley comes from a line of women endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown. Claire embraces her oddity by becoming a successful caterer. She uses the herbs and flowers from the mystical plants which grow in the walled garden behind the house she inherited from her grandmother to make recipes which can affect the eater's mood. ("Salads made with chicory and mint had you believing that something good was about to happen...")
Cousin Evanelle distributes unexpected presents whose uses eventually become clear even though she does not understand why she is compelled to give them at the time.
Clair's sister, Sydney, tried running away from her family legacy, but after ten years, she returns with her six year old daughter, Bay, seeking a refuge for them from Bay's abusive father.
Perhaps it is because some of the first books I learned to read were fairy tales, but I adore Allen's writing. She infuses magic I can't resist. (This is the book I waited for ages to get from the library. It was always OUT. Finally I asked how long the wait list was and the librarian explained that the book had disappeared from their shelves right after they got it. I was lucky to find it at the Half Price Book Store on a recent visit. Now I'm trying to decide if I want to donate this copy of mine to the library.)
Two other recent reads were another Kate Morton book, The Distant Hours, about a letter posted in 1941 which did not reach its destination until 1992, and Wild Rose, a biography about Civil War Spy, Rose O'Neale Greenhow, by Ann Blackman. This book has me wondering why I don't read more biographies - I learn so much from them. And I've read the only two Kate Morton books our library has, but I would certainly read more by her.
(* It does feel good to be out of the cold rain today.....excellent reading and hot tea drinking weather.)
Monday, April 11, 2011
Coaster brake on his blue bike wheel,
Dust rose, dirt road, skid to a stop.
The sunlight's dew gleaming at his heel,
The prize, the green glass, empty bottle of pop.
No money in pocket, no copper, nor tin.
A journey for bottles to earn a nickel or a dime.
Worn shirt, too large jeans, held fast with a pin,
A playing card on his spokes, keeping the time.
One then, two, three more by the tracks,
Two more at the pool, down in the park.
Looking in trash cans, Stuffing bottles in his pack,
Sunshine, a breeze, a chasing dog's bark.
To the store with his load, down the road it's not far.
He grins at the grocer, stacks them up for his pay.
Heads home to his mom, puts his money in the family jar.
Poor again, but happy, for tomorrows another day.
I have to admit that when I read his poem, I teared up. I may not have excelled at teaching my kids about money, but I must have done something right.