Friday, December 31, 2010

December Reads II

Of the four books I managed to read the last half of December, I believe Julia Glass's The Widower's Tale was the one I enjoyed the most.
I had read Three Junes for which Glass won the National Book Award in 2002 and liked her writing style. She writes about everyday objects, places and gestures in a way which hints at the larger dramas in the lives of her characters.

Percy Darling is a recently retired seventy year old librarian living in a small town in Massachusetts - a 'fashionably rural suburb of Boston'.
He and his wife, Poppy, purchased the 250 year old house and barn forty years ago. He raises his two daughters there as a single parent after the drowning death of his wife when the girls were small.
His quiet retirement changes drastically when he agrees to allow his barn to be turned into an expensive, progressive preschool. No longer will he be able to take his daily nude swims in the pond.
One of Percy's best friends is his grandson, Robert, a Harvard premed student aiming to follow in his mother's chosen profession. Percy's relationship with his daughter, Trudy, is less friendly and more complicated. The same is true with his other daughter, Clover. She has recently left her husband and two children in Brooklyn and come home for a sabbatical from her husband and motherhood.
Glass artfully weaves several social issues, including health-care coverage, eco-terrorism, illegal immigration, divorce and gay marriage into the everyday lives of her characters. When Robert's friendship with his roommate leads to one act which will alter his life forever, it is his grandfather who helps him put his life back together as well as his own.

Cain His Brother is Anne Perry's sixth William Monk novel. I continue enjoying these Victorian London psychological mysteries. I was quite please with myself for "solving" a significant part of the plot early on - something I did not know for sure until the very end of the book.
There are at least nine more William Monk books for me to look forward to, then I think I will sample Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries.

The Spider's Web by Margaret Coel is the first book I have read of her Wind River Mysteries set in the modern day Wyoming Wind River Reservation. This is the fifteenth book in the series. I doubt I will go back to try and read them all. The book is well written and the area is one I have long been interested in. It is probably just that I have been a Tony Hillerman fan too long and am not ready to replace him.

And, finally, we have Michael D'Antonio's A Full Cup - the story of 'Sir Thomas Lipton's Extraordinary Life and His Quest for the America's Cup'. I have to confess I bought this as a Christmas gift for a certain sailor in my life, but decided I had to read it first. I hope he enjoys it as much as I did.

Other that enjoying Lipton tea lo' these many decades, I knew nothing about the man behind the label. This is a fascinating read about a self made man and the global empire he constructed. In addition to learning new facts about Lipton, I also learned more about the people he was friends with - the Astor's, Vanderbilt's, Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt and Prince Edward.

I love history and D'Antonio makes it very enjoyable reading. Our library has his book, Hershey, about the famous chocolatiers. I plan to read it soon.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When Your Youngest Grandchild Becomes A Teenager

We celebrated Christmas with the family on Saturday, December 27, in 1997. Preston & Shalea and their four little ones were there even though their fifth child was due shortly after the New Year.
Neither Mom nor I were surprised when we got a call the next day telling us that we had a new grandson/great-grandson. We were happy the baby was a boy after three girls.
It was a few days before we made it to Des Moines to meet Devin Michael. He was still in the NICU at Mercy Hospital - luckily not as premature as his big brother had been. I didn't have to wait three weeks to hold him.
Devin was the youngest of five children born in a little over six years. That means as of today, my youngest son and his wife are the parents of five teenagers! Somehow they have managed to make it this far. No doubt they will continue to do fine. I'm just waiting for when their grandchildren begin arriving. Instead of downsizing when the kids move out, they may have to get a bigger house!

Devin had just turned one when we celebrated his Great-Grandma Ruth's 80th birthday. We held our family Christmas dinner first that day before sharing Mom's birthday at an open house at the Community Center in Corning.
Devin was so cute as he pushed the cart down the hallway. His blond hair and curls were very much like his Dad's had been at that age.

Before his second birthday, he'd had a hair cut. It made him look so much older.
I was able to get this picture before he got into the cake and frosting.

Even though I didn't get to spend quite as much time with Devin and Dominique when they were little as I did with the older three, there were still lots of memories made at the farm when we moved back to SW Iowa.
Here Devin is with some pieces of wood left over from one of our building projects. I told the boys they could make anything they wanted to.
There were also annual Easter egg hunts and spring yard rakings. Devin was always a willing helper.

It wasn't always all work. We had play times, too. One of them was a weekend in Council Bluffs. We took the boys to the (Offutt) Strategic Air and Space Museum where they got to sit in the cockpit of one of the planes on display. It's a much different museum than the one I took their Dad to at Offutt Air Base in Bellevue when he was their age.
I think this was the same weekend when a little girl was smiling at Devin at the hotel where we stayed. We started kidding him about being a "chick magnet" which he didn't like at the time.
Now that he is a teenager, he'll probably like the fact that the girls find him attractive.
Devin's career path might mimic his great-uncle, Dick's. He seems most interested in mathematics and sciences. It will be fun to see where his passions take him.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"The Breakfast Club"

Forty-two years ago, December 27, 1968, "The Breakfast Club" signed off ABC Radio for the last time after airing for more than thirty-five years.
Don McNeill hosted the program, which originated from Chicago, the entire thirty five and half years. The show began at 8:00 a.m. It consisted of music, talk, jokes, "a get-together time for all of us who smile before breakfast and then can't break the habit all day long -- a place to come to when a feller needs a friend" and audience participation.

Regular guests were Fran Allison, as Aunt Fanny, pictured here with Don McNeill, Jim and Marion Jordan before they became famous as Fibber McGee and Molly and Johnny

Mom was a loyal KMA morning listener, but we listened to "The Breakfast Club" often enough for me to remember it. And what I mostly remember is the sponsor, Cream of Wheat and the "Call to Breakfast" every quarter hour. That was when we were supposed to "March Around the Breakfast Table".

I think the reason I remember marching around the breakfast table has to do with getting my little brother to do it with us. He was so darn cute. The Cream of Wheat commercials always made me think I wanted Cream of Wheat for breakfast, but I actually preferred the taste of Malt-O-Meal or even regular oatmeal. Cream of Wheat was rather bland.

For one year, February, 1954 to February 1955, The Breakfast Club was simulcast on ABC Radio and Television. During the last few months it was on in 1968, it was known as "The Don McNeill Show".

Iowa born Fran Allison had her own television show, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, which I also remember watching with my little brother.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"I Hear The Train A Comin'....."

December 24, 1960, Christmas Eve - "We won the electric train at McClelland's! Leslie is so happy."

If I hadn't recorded that in my diary fifty years ago, I would have said Santa Claus brought Leslie's train, pictured above. I had forgotten we won it.

Some of the businesses in Corning had special drawings at different times of the year. In addition to McClelland Drugs, I remember registering at Dunham's Drug Store for prizes - the top being a girl's and a boy's bicycle. (Oh, how I wanted to win a bike!)

Perhaps it was because of winning the train that we all opened our Christmas presents Christmas Eve that year. It was unusual for us to do so - we had always opened gifts on Christmas morning before.

I believe my little brother still has this train. He probably even remembers winning it fifty years ago. Perhaps someday he will pass it on to a grandchild, telling him/her of that exciting Christmas Eve when he was six years old.

This photo is from Leslie's first Christmas in 1954. You can see in the bottom left corner where I cut myself out of this picture with Betty and Ron and Les. I don't remember why - whether it was to put into a locket? or just because I didn't like how I looked?
Our Christmas trees were always ones we cut along the road or out in the pasture. They were never 'green' even when we kept them watered and once tried putting green food coloring in the water. They were scratchy and stuck you when tried reaching behind to get gifts out.

Merry Christmas everyone. I wish for you the same joy my little brother experienced on Christmas Eve fifty years ago today.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lost and Found - Relatives

Mom had a cousin, Gladys Gray Stearns, with whom she exchanged Christmas cards and letters every year. I last heard from Gladys seven years ago when she wrote me after I had sent her a copy of Mom's obituary and funeral program.

Each year since I have thought, "I should write to Gladys and see how she is doing." I also wanted to ask her about her grandmother, Josie Mauderly Gray - how did she end up in Plainville, IL? So a couple days ago I googled 'Gladys Stearns, Dayton, OH' to see if her address was still the same. And what I found was her obituary. Gladys died August 16.

But with the names and city of her children and the aide of the world wide web, I am in touch with her daughter, Debbie. She said she has nine boxes of her Mom's things to go through and that somewhere in there she is sure there is some Gray family history. So maybe I will learn more about Aunt Josie after all.

Pictured here are Eva and Joe Mauderly, Rufus and Kate (Mauderly) Ridnour and Josie (Mauderly) Gray. Great Aunt Josie was back from Illinois visiting her Iowa kin. The photo was taken at Great Grandpa and Grandma Ridnour's home NE of Nodaway.
Josie's son, Roy Gray, and my grandpa, Joe Ridnour were first cousins. One of my earliest memories is of a trip to Plainville to visit the Grays when I was four years old. We also spent time with Roy's sister, Nellie Anderson, and family in Quincy, IL.

One of the places we went during our time in Illinois was out to the Gray family farm. If my memory is correct, that is where this picture was taken "at the spring east of Plainville, Ill." Ron and I are in back with Dad who had just filled our water jug with cold, clear, spring water. Betty and Mom are in the foreground.

So many times I have wondered if this spring is still there and how to get there from Plainville. I don't think we ever went back after the Gray's sold their farm even though we went to Illinois to visit several more times over the years - including once when my children were little.

As I blogged in my September 18, 2009 "Illinois Connection", I still wonder how that branch of the family ended up back in Illinois. What I didn't ask Gladys about in time, I may still be able to learn from her daughter. And Gladys's obituary poses another question: "Why was she born in Yellowstone Park?"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Full Cold Moon* and Missed Phenomena

Celebra-ting the Winter Solstice is something I always look forward to - it means the longest night is over and each succeeding day will gain more light.

This year I was also looking forward to a phenomenon that hasn't occurred since 1638 - a total eclipse of the full moon on the winter solstice. It was to be visible throughout North America - if it wasn't cloudy. When I went to bed last night, the sky was overcast. I didn't even try to get up in the middle of the night to see if it had cleared.

Upon arising this morning, I was greeted with a clear sky and the 'Full Cold Moon' pictured here.

And while I was looking forward to observing the full moon-winter solstice-total eclipse with my own eyes, I still have a huge advantage over my ancestors of 372 years ago - I can view the pictures on the Internet and TV.

*Other names for the December full moon are: Full Long Nights Moon, Oak Moon, Bitter Moon, Snow Moon and, fittingly, Christmas Moon.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas at Grandma's - December 18, 1960

Fifty years ago today was our first Christmas dinner at Grandma Ridnour's without Grandpa.
Their little house sat on the north side of the Adams-Taylor county line, slightly uphill from the roadway. At one time the front porch was open, but they enclosed it to add more kitchen/dining space. The front door was hardly ever used - only once in awhile during the warm weather months.

We always used the back door on the northeast corner. There was a small entryway porch where everyone took off their boots before journeying inside directly to the spare (north) bedroom to add our coats to the pile already there.
In this picture, Grandma's beloved Penny is shivering beneath the gateway that in a few months would be covered with heavenly blue morning glories.
This particular Sunday, Mom, Betty and Leslie had gone ahead so Mom could help prepare the huge meal. I waited at home for Kenny to come pick me up. It was his first Christmas with my extended family. We were both a little nervous - knowing the questioning and teasing that would be in store.
Kenny had just returned from his six month National Guard training two days before. I knew he was due back around the 18th. Instead of calling me, he drove in at 10 p.m. and surprised me. I was writing in my diary when he got there. Finished it later to record his visit and write, "I was just a nervous wreck and so happy!"

December had already been a rough month for me. I was involved in the senior class play, working on getting an issue of the school paper out, getting ready for Christmas, etc., etc., when I got a bad cold. I was too busy to take time to stay home and try to get better. On December 3 my temperature was 104. The next day, Sunday, Mom & Dad took me out to the hospital to see Dr. Croxdale while he was there making rounds. Verdict: pneumonia. He ordered me to bed - in the hospital! "Isn't that the dumbest thing you ever heard?", I wrote in my diary.

I was in there a full week. Looking back in my diary, I'm amazed at all the visitors I had while there. I had forgotten all except Bill Arbuckle - that is because he brought his chess set and we played chess. My biggest concern was the school paper. I didn't see how they could possibly get an issue out without me!
These two pictures are from our senior year book. Pictures of the journalism class were pasted onto the background of the Smoke Signal. I'm bottom left in the top picture. Kari & Preston's dad, Denny, is second from left in back.
In the bottom picture, he and I are standing next to each other in back.

After I got out of the hospital, I had to stay home another three days. When I went back to school, I had so much make-up work but they gave me a month to do it all. It took awhile for me to get my strength back. The doctor warned me about not taking care of myself and said I would have to be careful because once you had pneumonia, it was easy to get it again. That scared me; especially after losing my Grandpa to pneumonia the previous February.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Making It To The Majors

One of Iowa's best known baseball players died Wednesday. Bob Feller was 92. He was an Iowa farm boy who made it to the major leagues without ever playing in the minors. His entire career was with the Cleveland Indians.
Feller was a pitcher with several nicknames: "The Heater from Van Meter", "Rapid Robert", and "Bullet Bob" were three. He was the winningest pitcher in Cleveland Indians history. Bob retired in 1956 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.
The day after Pearl Harbor, he was the first major league player to enlist. He served four years in the US Navy aboard the USS Alabama. After he returned to major league action in 1946, he recorded ten shutout games.

In 1995 the Bob Feller Museum opened in Van Meter, Iowa. It was designed by his son, Stephen.

It has been all the media coverage about Bob Feller that reminded me that we almost had a major league baseball player in our family. At least that is what Mom once told me.
Her cousin, Delmar Haley, tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals. According to family lore, the only reason he wasn't signed wasn't because he wasn't a talented ball player, it was because he had a boil on his neck. They sent him home to Iowa.

I don't know if that is true. I do know that Delmar and his brothers Jim and Calvin, along with their brother-in-law, Cliff Palmer, were all very good ball players. They played for the Nodaway Town Team. We were quite often spectators at their many wins.
This picture of Delmar and his family was taken at the Ridnour Cousins Reunion at our farm in 1957. In back are Delmar, his sons, Don and Dave. Wife Jean is in front with son, Tom. Dave is the last living family member.
Delmar was also an amateur boxer. All three of his sons were active in sports. The one activity I remember Delmar best for wasn't sports; it was dancing. He and Jean were the smoothest dance couple I ever saw. Whether it was a waltz, polka, schottische, fox trot or a square dance - they could out dance everyone.
Cousin Delmar was one year younger that Bob Feller.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Boston Tea Party - December 16, 1773

In her Tea With Friends blog this morning, Angela McRae remembered the 237th anniversary (*) of The Boston Tea Party with pictures of her floaty pen commemorating the event. Her pen shows crates of tea which 'float' back behind a sailing ship.
This reminded me of a Christmas in the early '50's at Grandpa and Grandma Ridnour's. With thirteen grandchildren (at that time) to buy presents for, the gifts were never very extravagant. This particular year we received floaty pens. (Also known as 'floaties' or 'tilt' pens.) I think ours were either Roy Rogers or Gene Autry. It was quite a novelty to watch Roy and Trigger move across the scene or Gene play his guitar.

What was more fun was watching our fathers open their gifts of floaty pens. The three sons-in-law had all received "girlie" pens. There was a lot of laughter and red faces. And for some reason, they wouldn't let the younger kids look at the grown-ups pens. Later I would sneak a peek at Dad's 'stripper' pen of a model in a bathing suit which floated away to reveal her nude.

As Grandma Delphia was always very vocal against anything immoral, it makes me wonder who ordered those pens. But since I'm pretty sure she was the one who ordered the ones for the kids, it makes me think she also ordered the 'stripper' ones. Maybe Grandma had a twisted sense of humour?

Floaties became popular after 1946 when Peder Eskesen, a Danish baker, was successful in sealing the mineral oil inside the pen barrel. Eskesen of Denmark is still in the floating action pen business. You can even design your own floaty. Or, if you are looking for vintage ones, there are many on e-bay, including at least one Boston Tea Party pen.

(* Also the 199th anniversary of the first of a series of earthquakes along the New Madrid Fault; the 38th of the death of my niece, Jennifer Lynam and the 7th of my mother, Ruth Lynam.) Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December Reads I

I was almost finished reading The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood when I commented to Bud about how good the book was and that I thought it would make a good movie.
He said, "What was the name of it?" And when I told him, he replied, "I think it has been made into a movie." Upon checking the TV movie guide we found that the movie was on pay per view that very day!
It seemed like an omen to me. So we decided to watch it. You know that old saying about a movie never being as good as the book? True. True. True. It might be okay to watch a movie based upon a book, just don't do it the same day you finish reading the book. It ruins both.
The book tells the story of two brothers. Both are killed in a car wreck, but the eldest, Charlie, is shocked back to life by one of the paramedics. At Sam's (younger brother) funeral, Charlie realizes he can see Sam. When he follows him into the nearby woods, he discovers he can also talk to Sam.
Rather than go to college as planned, Charlie takes the job as cemetery caretaker. He has promised to meet Sam each night at sundown to play catch with him. As long as he doesn't miss a night, Sam will stay visible.
Meeting Tess Carroll, a woman training for a solo sailing trip around the world, changes Charlie's life. She is the only other person ever able to see and hear Sam. When her ship is lost in a treacherous storm, Charlie has to choose between death and life, between the past and the future, between letting go and holding on.
Forget the movie (Charlie St. Cloud). Read the book.

Alexander McCall Smith's seventh Isabel Dalhousie novel, The Charming Quirks of Others, is, well, charming. Smith has to be one of the most intelligent authors around. He poses, rather Isabel poses, so many interesting philosophical questions. Smith takes us on all the twists and turns of Isabel's mind as she ponders the correct response or action to every situation.
So many people love Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Series which I really don't care for. But I do love Isabel Dalhousie.

I skipped over a whole bunch of Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford books to read a newer one in the series. (She's been writing them since the '70s.) The Babes in the Wood was published in 2003. I know there was a lot of character development in those interim books, but it did not seem to affect my enjoyment of this mystery.
Chief Inspector Wexford is more worried about the widespread flooding in the Sussex area than he is about the report of a missing babysitter and her two teenage charges. The baby sitter's car is also gone and at first it is assumed they were swept away in the flooding Kingsbrook River. At last the rains quit falling and the river recedes. No car, nor bodies, are found. Delving into the backgrounds of the missing and their families leads to more questions than answers.
Eventually the car, with one body inside, is located in a quarry on private land. The corpse is that of the babysitter. Where are the missing brother and sister? Who killed the babysitter? Rendell points us in the direction of the teenage boy. With this author, you don't want to believe you know the guilty until the final page. And even then, you wonder......

Susan Gregg Gilmore is another new author (along with Sherwood) for me. The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove is set in the turbulent 1960's in Nashville. Relationships are complicated where society remains neatly ordered by class, status and skin color. Bezellia Grove has a lot to live up to. As a Grove, she belongs to one of the city's most prominent families. As the first daughter, she is burdened with carrying on a name which has been passed down for generations - Bezellia.
She may have been born into a life of privilege, but growing up is anything but easy. For as long as she can remember, she and her sister have been mostly raised by their nanny, Maizelle, and Nathaniel, the handyman/chauffeur.
Bezellia falls in love with Nathaniel's son, Samuel, the first time she meets him. In a time and place where rebelling against the rules carries a steep price, Bezellia Grove must decide which of her names will define her.
This book reminded me of what it was like in our country fifty years ago when a black man was not even supposed to talk to a white woman. I felt the author did a wonderful job of portraying a family in turmoil and a culture in the midst of upheaval. The way she ended her novel surprised me, but I liked it. Food for thought.

Dorthea Benton Frank's Lowcountry stories are entertaining - perhaps a bit too pat - but enjoyable nevertheless. Reading her first novel, Sullivan's Island, made me want to visit the real Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. Reading Plantation, a Lowcountry Tale, made me even more interested in seeing the ACE Basin for myself. I seem to be reading a lot of books set in that area. There must be a reason.....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Brief History of the Safety Pin

This pretty little gold safety pin was holding the price tag onto something I had bought for a xmas present. As I took it off, I began remembering when a lowly little safety pin could stand between me and being made fun of. Before having your bra straps showing became a fashion statement, it was considered an embarrassment. (i.e. when I was in high school)
There never seemed to be an abundance of safety pins in our home. Therefore you kept track of them. I learned to keep one in my purse or pencil case at school. You never knew when a bra strap might break or a button would pop off.
Every once in awhile someone else needed a safety pin and would ask if I had one and "Could I borrow it?" I would loan it with the stipulation the borrower had to bring it back to me the next day. If she didn't, I would ask her for it. If I never got it back, it was the last time I would loan anything to that person.
Pretty harsh rules over something so inconsequential, huh? Thank my Mom and my teacher, Mrs. Kimball for that. I was raised that if you borrowed something, you returned it - no matter how small.

Safety pins came in all sizes. For us to have a new card of pins was a big deal. Even straight pins were not plentiful. I remember Mom laying table knives on patterns to hold them down on the material when she didn't have enough pins to pin the pattern down.
If Dad got a new shirt, it was carefully unpinned and the shiny new straight pins went into the tomato shaped pin cushion.

Walter Hunt (1796-1859) is credited with inventing the modern safety pin as well as a whole lot of other things including a sewing machine.
On April 10, 1849, Hunt received US patent #6281 for his safety pin pictured here. His was the first to be coiled into a spring at one end with a separate clasp and point at the other end. He sold his patent for $400.

When I was ten years old and my baby brother came along, I got a lot of experience with safety pins. It took the largest ones we had to go through the thick layers of cloth diapers. I learned to keep my fingers between the cloth and the baby so if anything got stuck it was my fingers and not the baby's tender skin.
Mom watched carefully until she was certain I knew the correct way to pin the diaper - all the time telling me about some relation whose baby kept crying and crying until they realized the diaper pin had gone through his skin. That wasn't going to happen to our baby!
Nine years later, I had my own baby to diaper. I thought these diaper pins with the plastic heads were a great improvement over the plain ones we had for my little brother.

Now safety pins are so cheap and plentiful they are even used to craft jewelry and decorate clothing. I've even seen a safety pin AS jewelry in the pierced ears of young people.
I wonder sometimes if there will ever again be a time when something as little as a safety pin will be prized. Will children be taught the importance of returning a borrowed item? Will it matter?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"It's Better To Be Safe Than Sorry"*

Whether you call them adages, idioms, proverbs or wise folk sayings, I grew up hearing them. Both of my Grandmas and Mom seemed to have a saying for everything. Those sayings were repeated every time they were applicable.
I knew "It's better safe than sorry" meant I should take extra precaution before doing something - especially if it involved something dangerous - like driving.
A week ago last evening there was a terrible car crash south of Red Oak. An 18-year-old girl passed two other cars on a hill in a no passing zone. At the top of the hill she hit another car head-on. In that car was a young mother and her four and five year old sons. Both boys were killed; three weeks before Christmas Eve.
Both drivers were seriously injured. The mother was unable to attend her sons' funeral. I don't know how badly injured the girl who caused the crash was - but I do know that even if she recovers fully, she has fundamentally ruined her life. She will have to live forever with her lack of judgment. I find myself asking: "What could possibly have been so urgent that she had to pass on a hill?" Was she late for work? Hadn't she heard, "Better late than never?"
My children and grandchildren didn't grow up with all the old sayings I did. But I hope they grew up with some common sense imparted by parents, teachers and their own inner voices.
Aeschylus (525 BC - 456 BC) said, "In the lack of judgment, great harm arises." Can good judgment be taught? I think, to an extent, it can. At least it can be emphasized over and over to young people until they get the idea.
Three of my grand kids have had what could have been very serious automobile accidents in recent months. Luckily they, nor anyone else, was hurt. Was there a lack of judgment on their part? I don't know. I hope they, "Learned a lesson" from their "Experience is the best teacher" moments.
I do not know any of the people involved in the Red Oak accident. (Think of the horror the people in those two passed cars must have felt.) Nor is the picture one of that accident. (I imported it from Flickr; a scene from a Missouri car crash.) This is just Grandma's way of saying, "It's better to be safe than sorry!"

*Attributed to Samuel Lover, Irish painter, author and songwriter (1797-1868).

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Why Haven't You Been Blogging, Grandma?"

One of my sweet grand-daughters called me a few nights ago to ask that question and "Are you doing OK?" Not only does she know me well, she is also very caring.
I'm actually doing better this year. -- So far. I've made it through the xmas shopping - only the odious wrapping left to do. Then I can begin enjoying the best part of the holidays - being with family.
This photo is the last one taken of my Mom. It was at the Good Samaritan Christmas party December 7, 2003. Instead of treasuring it, I have disliked it - for one reason. The blouse Mom had on was not hers. It belonged to the other Ruth at the Care Center and got mixed up with Mom's clothes. Of course the person helping Mom get ready for the party could not have known that. (Nor did Mom.)
I have decided to quit hating this photo and begin instead to be grateful I have it of her. (Perhaps being grateful for the years I had with Mom will also help me be less depressed this time of year.)

I found this photo a while ago. Mom loved it and so do I. It was taken at Aunt Lois and Uncle Alvin's 60th Anniver-sary open house (February, 2000). I don't remember the circumstances, but for some reason Mom was sitting on Paul's lap when the picture was taken. Obviously, they were both having fun.
Paul Mitchell was Uncle Alvin's brother. They grew up just down the road from Mom and Aunt Lois - lifelong friends.
I like to think they were remembering something from their youth - laughing about it and feeling like kids again.

Mom's evident happiness is the way I like to remember her.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November Reads II - Part Two

Jacqueline Winspear is an author I've come to admire by reading her Maisie Dobbs books - only two of which (or three* depending upon how you count), our library has. Winspear's seventh Maisie Dobbs novel, The Mapping of Love and Death, was the one I had previously read.
This month I read the other book the library has of hers which is really her first two novels* combined in one volume. The first, Maisie Dobbs, introduces us to this psychologist and investigator as she hangs out her shingle on her own for the first time. The year is 1929. Her first job of inquiry is a seemingly tedious one of suspected infidelity.
When the assignment turns into one involving murder, Maisie is forced to remember her own time during WWI and confront the horrors she has tried so hard to forget.
Interwoven throughout the book is Maisie's early years growing up without a mother; with a father doing what he considers his best for her by getting her a job in service as a maid for a wealthy family when she is only thirteen, and how she becomes the protege of Dr. Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a renowned Scotland Yard consultant with whom Maisie has apprenticed until his retirement.

The second part of the book - Winspear's second novel - is Birds of a Feather. An eventful year has passed since Maisie started her own one-woman private investigation agency. Her successes have allowed her to move into more comfortable and professional offices in Fitzroy Square. She has also acquired an assistant - the cheerful Billy Beale.
The year is 1930. Maisie has been summoned by a wealthy, autocratic businessman to find his runaway daughter. As Ms. Dobbs delves into the background of the missing woman, she finds a connection between her and three other young women who have been murdered. The chilling link also involves the terrible legacy of The Great War.
Winspear's Maisie Dobbs novels are well-researched and give insights into the despair that lingered during the "lost generation" era. She informs us of Maisie's own struggle to deal with a love lost in a battlefront surgical tent. Birds of a Feather ends with Maisie deciding between two possible suitors. I'm going to be searching the used book store for books three, four, five and six in this series as well as looking forward to any that come after the already read book seven.

Kent Haruf is another favourite author. The Tie That Binds was his first published work. I have previously read Plainsong and Eventide and watched the Hallmark Movie version of Plainsong. (A younger America Ferrara [later to be Ugly Betty] had the roll of Victoria Roubidoux, the pregnant 17-year old Native American girl.)

The Tie That Binds is set in the dry American High Plains of Holt County, Colorado. It begins with eighty-year-old Edith Goodnough lying in a hospital bed, IV line taped to the back of her hand, police officer outside her door. She has been charged with murder. The tragedies of Edith's life are narrated by her neighbor. It is a tale of a childhood of pre-dawn chores, the early death of the mother and a violent accident that leaves the enraged father dependent upon his children.
It is the story of a woman who sacrifices her life and happiness for the sake of the family and then in one act, reclaims her freedom.
I read this book with empathy - somewhat familiar with the arduous demands of farm life during the thirties and forties. As the Edith of this book was trapped in the care taking of first her father and then her brother, I could not help but think about the real life Edith from the neighborhood in which I grew up.
I do not remember that Edith. I only remember my Mom telling me about her and how she hanged herself in the basement of the farm home she shared with two of her bachelor brothers. No one seemed to know the reason for her suicide. One theory was that she was in love with someone but could not marry because her father's will forbade any of the children to marry - had she married, she would lose her inheritance.
After reading this book and thinking about it, that theory doesn't hold up - she lost any inheritance by taking her life. I find it much more likely that the ending of her own life was more like the book Edith's act - one of despair over a lifetime of care taking. A life no longer bearable.

Haruf has at least one more book I haven't read. I'll be on the look out for it, too.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Reads II - Part One

While trying to find a copy of Mary Sharratt's Summit Avenue at the Half-Price Bookstore last month, I found and bought The Vanishing Point. I'll keep looking for Summit Avenue as well as her The Real Minerva. Sharratt is an author I discovered after checking her Daughters of The Witching Hill out of the local library earlier this year.
The Vanishing Point is the story of two sisters in England in the late 15th Century. The elder, May, is a wanton creature who cannot stay true to any of the young men who catch her eye. Plain young Hannah is their physician father's helpmate - learning all he knows, even assisting him in operations. She could be a doctor herself except for one thing - she is a female.
When a distant cousin in America offers his son as a husband for May - a way out for all of them since her reputation will also hurt Hannah's chances - May journeys to the new colonies with Hannah's promise to join her after their father dies.
When Hannah does make it to America instead of the "Plantation" she expects, she finds only a half-wild brother-in-law living in the woods - and three graves - one of them her sister's, a second, May's week old daughter.
The brother-in-law, Gabriel's, story of how they died keeps changing. Then a neighbor tells Hannah the rumor that Gabriel killed May because she was unfaithful, is going around. By then Hannah is in love with Gabriel and expecting his child. She chooses to believe Gabriel's version of May's death until she finds a decomposing body half buried in the woods. The woman's remains are dressed in the wedding gown Hannah helped May stitch.
It is when Hannah goes to the marked grave of May and digs up the coffin to find it empty that she knows she must take her young son and start a new life.
I really enjoy well-written historical fiction. Sharratt's novels have a mysticism about them that make them extra fascinating to me. Reading about a time when our country was first being settled is also very interesting.

Rita Mae Brown has a new series set in Nevada - complete with a new cast of characters both human and animal. Brown's writing is light and entertaining - her mysteries ones that I even can sometimes solve. A Nose For Justice is the first Mags and Pete book in this series. They are helped by the canines Baxter and King.
This first mystery has to do with water rights in a very dry region. One of the things I like most about reading is learning something I would not otherwise have thought about. The laws governing water rights are not the same in every state. Water, or lack of, is not an issue for us here in the Midwest - yet. I wonder what our laws are??

I read Ruth Rendell's newest book: Portobello. She has been writing for forty years now and I've been reading some of her earliest works. This novel is not quite the psychological thriller as some I've read, though it is interesting how she can weave together a story beginning with the finding of an envelope of money and all the characters involved in getting the money back to the rightful owner.
The first page was probably the most interesting to me: "It is called the Portobello Road because a long time ago a sea captain called Robert Jenkins stood in front of a committee of the House of Commons and held up his amputated ear. Spanish coast guards, he said, had boarded his ship in the Caribbean, cut off his ear, pillaged the vessel, then set it adrift. Public opinion had already been aroused by other Spanish outrages, and the Jenkins episode was the last straw to those elements in Parliament which opposed Walpole's government. They demanded British vengeance and so began the War of Jenkins's Ear.
In the following year, 1739, Admiral Vernon captured the city of Puerto Bello in the Caribbean. It was one of those successes that are popular with patriotic Englishmen, though many hardly knew what the point of it was. Vernon's triumph put Puerto Bello on the map and gave rise to a number of commemorative names. Notting Hill and Kensal were open country then where sheep and cattle grazed, and one landowner called his fields Portobello Farm. In time the lane that led to it became the Portobello Road. But for Jenkin's ear it would have been called something else."

[November Reads II - to be continued....]

Monday, November 29, 2010

Georgie Porgie

The Barney Lynam family circa 1900. Back left to right: My grandfather, George Albert Lynam, born this day, 1891; Agnes Lulu Lynam Thomas, April 15, 1888; William James Lynam, April 15, 1889. Middle: My great grandparents: Bernard Thomas Lynam, December 16, 1863 and Nancy Emma Gravett Lynam, July 14, 1870. In front, Ralph Vincent Lynam, November 7, 1895.

"Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie; Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away." I wonder how often my grandpa heard that old English nursery rhyme when he was growing up? I always assumed the rhyme was about one of the Kings George. Instead it is about George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628). I've also assumed George and Albert were popular names because of the English Royalty, but I don't know if that is why my grandfather was so named.

On November 15, 1914, two weeks before his 23rd birthday, George Albert Lynam and 23 year-old Bessie Lucille Duncan were married. They met while both working as hired help on the same farm. How long did they know one another before marrying? Twenty-three seems 'old' to be getting married for the first time in those days. Had either had serious romances before?
In this wedding photo, Grandma is holding a bouquet of Lily of the Valley, which doesn't bloom in November. Did they wait until spring for a wedding photo? Were the flowers fake? Did Grandma stitch her own beautiful dress? If I had asked her these questions when I could have, would I have received answers? I doubt it. Grandma was always pretty reticent to talk about the past.

This looks more like a November wedding - the photo I couldn't find for my November 19 blog about getting married in a blizzard - seventy-one years after my grandparents' November vows.

Ronald was six months old in this October, 1940 picture. He was the first of seven grandchildren for George and Bessie. Their son, Louis, had two boys and two girls; daughter, Leona, two boys and one girl. (Their other daughter, Evelyn, born between Louis and Leona, only lived four days.)

I don't have many memories of my Grandpa Lynam. I was only four when he died in 1947 - two years after this picture was taken of us at their acreage on the west edge of Corning. I don't know what I was trying to do to my baby sister, Betty. Maybe straightening her bonnet for the picture? (More likely trying to get her off Grandma's lap so I could sit there!) It had every one's attention except my brother, Ron's. He was happily sitting next to his Grandpa and smiling for the camera.
I do remember stopping to see him at work at the old Farmers Co-op gas station. And I remember hearing that he ate corn flakes for breakfast because that was the only cereal that didn't taste too bad without sugar. Grandpa was diabetic. I grew up being warned not to eat too many sweets or I would get diabetes, "like Grandpa".
What if my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents and so on had kept journals in the same way I am doing by blogging? How much I would love knowing more about them! I hope I'm giving my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren a gift by telling them what I can of their ancestors.
"To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root." (Chinese Proverb)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Surprise in Remembering Aunt Evelyn

My Mom's older sister, Evelyn Grace, was born this date in 1916 - five days after Thanksgiving that year, though there were years her birthday and Thanksgiving coincided. And as we usually all gathered at Grandpa and Grandma Ridnour's for turkey day, we also celebrated their firstborn's birthday at the same time.
While looking for pictures of Aunt Evelyn for this blog, I found this one still in the plastic frame from the years ago we had some family photos copied from Grandma's originals. The surprise came when I really looked at the people in the picture and realized it wasn't Grandpa Joe and baby Evelyn with great grandpa and grandma Ridnour as I'd always thought -- it is a four generation picture! My grandpa Joe is standing in back. His father, my great-grandfather, Rufus Ridnour is holding Aunt Evelyn. The woman on the left is my great-great grandmother, Susana Whipkey Ridnour - Rufe's mother. At the time we had the picture copied, I may have known this and forgot or Mom may have said it was her "Grandma and Grandpa Ridnour" without adding the great on grandma and I never questioned it.
Susana was 80 years old in this picture. She lived to be almost 94, dying two days before her birthday in 1931.

As the eldest of three girls, Evelyn probably did her share of taking care of the younger ones. There was a little over two years between Evelyn and Ruth and a year and half between Ruth and Lois. In temperament, Mom was the typical middle child - always the mediator. Aunt Lois was the fun loving baby, which left Evelyn being the responsible leader. To me, Aunt Evelyn always seemed more strict, rigid, no-nonsense. She wasn't my favourite Aunt. Though in this picture she looks very happy. Mom looks amiable, while Aunt Lois just looks baffled.

By the time this picture was taken, Aunt Evelyn was already on her way to becoming an accomplished seamstress. (No date on photo; I would guess their ages at Ruth on the left, 9; Evelyn on the right, 11; Lois, in front, 7-1/2.)
When I worked at the Adams County Free Press in '95-'96, I wrote a feature article about my Aunt Evelyn Roberts and her many quilts. I titled the piece "How To Make An Adams County Quilt" - a take on the book (1992) and the movie (1995) "How To Make An American Quilt" which were popular then.
While interviewing her for the article, I not only learned of the more than ninety quilts she had made, I learned that she had begged her Grandmother Matilda Means to teach her to sew when Evelyn was only seven. Her grandmother told her she would, but only after they had gone to town and bought her a thimble. She would not let her sew without one.
The first prom dress I wore was one made by my Aunt. It was worn first by her daughter, Glenna, but they let me borrow it for my junior prom. It was a light green, strapless confection of lace and net. I felt like a princess. Aunt Evelyn also made some of her daughters and grand-daughters wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses as well as all those everyday clothes for four daughters and two sons when they were growing up.
Once the kids were grown and gone, her sewing passion turned to quilting. She always had a quilt in the quilting frame made by her Dad. It wasn't until after I interviewed her and wrote my article that I truly began to appreciate this aunt of mine - the life she lived, the sacrifices she made, the faith she abided by and the pleasures she found in the simplicity of needle and thread.

"Our lives are like quilts - bits and pieces, joy and sorrow, stitched with love."

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Tennessee Flat-Top Box"

I often wake up in the mornings with a song firmly planted in my mind. The song is already playing as I come to consciousness. No matter the tune, I wonder why I'm thinking of that particular song and try to relate it to something going on in my life.

This morning the song was Johnny Cash's Tennessee Flat-Top Box. (Picture is of a Gibson Tennessee Flat-Top Guitar.) The song tells the story of a boy and his guitar playing in a cabaret in a South Texas Border town. All the girls from there to Austin were slipping away to hear the little dark-haired boy who played the Tennessee flat top box.

At Thanksgiving dinner yesterday we were talking about what the kids wanted for Xmas. Deise mentioned she wanted a guitar; either a Gibson or Fender. I didn't ask whether she was talking acoustic or electric like this Fender pictured. Because either way, I knew it wasn't something this grandma would be giving her. The conversation swirled away before I got to ask why she wanted a guitar. But that could be the reason for my dream song.

The song goes on to tell how the boy couldn't ride or wrangle and never cared to make a dime. But given his guitar, he was happy all the time. Then one day he was gone. No one ever saw him around. He'd vanished like the breeze, they forgot him in that little town. And then one day on the Hit Parade, was a little dark-haired boy who played the Tennessee flat-top box.

So the song is also about achieving dreams and goals - which was another topic yesterday as some of the grand kids shared what they want to be/do in their futures. Perhaps that is the reason for my dream song of the morning?

There have been some guitars in our family. Mom had one that I vaguely remember from my childhood - though I don't remember her ever playing it.
My younger brother had a guitar while in high school. He and some of his friends even formed a group - "The Synthetic Majority". I don't know if he still plays, but Les played at a friend's wedding and also at church.
Bud has Lottie's "Gene Autry" guitar in the closet, waiting to be given to Mark someday per Mark's grandmother's wishes.

I never learned to play, but I had dreams of doing so after I bought this guitar for $15.00 at an antique/used store in Bedford. (Photo is from 1980.) I think I took two or three lessons before the instructor moved from Corning. I didn't try to find a new teacher; I could already tell that I would probably never learn how to play regardless of the number of lessons.

I did give this guitar to Deise. I also bought a guitar for Doug to give to Brock from both of us for xmas one year when we hadn't seen him for a long time and Brock was allowed to be part of our family again.

Regardless of the reason I awakened with this song in my head today, remembering it and writing about it has helped chase away an annoying xmas song heard in one of the stores an hour ago.

"And all the girls from nine to ninety were snapping fingers and tapping toes; begging him 'Don't stop.' The little dark-haired boy who played the Tennessee flat-top box."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Ramona's Famous Pea Salad"

We are going to my youngest son's for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. When invited, I asked what I could bring. The answer was quick: "Bring your pea salad, please." So I am taking that and a lemon-lime jello salad. I will almost always take some kind of salad to a pot luck rather than a desert because salads of any kind are my favourite foods.
There are all kinds of pea salad recipes. The pea salad I remember from youth consisted of canned peas, boiled eggs, mayonnaise, pickles and celery. It was o.k., but not really yummy.
When I worked in downtown Des Moines in the early '70's, I often bought a sandwich for lunch at the Younkers Deli. They had all kinds of deli meats and salads. One day I tried a small cup of their pea salad. It was so good; different from any pea salad I'd ever had before. I asked if they would give me the recipe. "Sorry, no." I figured my only option was to buy it there occasionally and enjoy it.
Then one day it occurred to me that I could figure out what was in it and try making it myself. It was cauliflower, fresh peas, onion and cheese in a mayonnaise dressing. Simple, right? Wrong. It took many tries before I made a passable resemblance to the Younkers' Pea Salad.
I began taking my pea salad to family dinners. My sister-in-law, Ruthie, loved it. She started requesting it for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter get-togethers. One day she asked me to write down the recipe for her. I decided if I was going to take time to figure out the measurements for everything I put in it, I was going to give it a name. That is how "Ramona's Famous Pea Salad" came to be. I guess I could have labeled it "Your Sister-in-Law's Pea Salad" or some such - but once in a while I like to grand stand.
I wrote the recipe down for her, but I still don't have a copy that I follow when my kids ask me to bring my pea salad. But if you want to try making it, it goes something like this:
One head of cauliflower separated into florets. One large bag of frozen peas dumped into a colander and run under hot water a minute or two. (Do not cook.) Small red onion chopped. Eight ounces of colby-jack cheese cubed.
If I'm not making this for a large gathering, I only use part of a head of cauliflower, a 16 oz. bag of peas, a quarter cup of chopped onion and half or 3/4's the block of cheese. Today for the picture, I just sprinkled on some shredded cheddar cheese - a cup or two of which could be used in place of the cubed colby-jack.
I finally learned that the secret was in the dressing. I use about a cup of Hellman's real mayo, a half cup of milk, and 1/4 cup sugar, salt and fresh ground or restaurant ground pepper to taste. I mix everything except the cubed cheese the day before if possible so the flavors mix well. Before taking to the pot luck, I add the cheese and check the dressing for consistency and taste. If the dressing is too sticky, I just add a little more milk as well as more sugar, salt, or pepper if needed.
One Christmas after reading some other pea salad recipes, I added some pickled herring to mine. I was asked (told) never to do that again - at least not if taking it to my younger son's home.
So, my salads are made, ready for tomorrow's feast. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"You'll Always Remember Where You Were"

November is such a full month of birthdays in our families. It is a bit of a whirlwind of celebrating and remembering to send cards. So this morning when I woke up, it was with a big sigh - all the birthdays were over. Now just Thanksgiving and then I can start thinking about Christmas.
Yet there was a niggling - November 22 - I was forgetting something. Oh! November 22, 1963. Forty-seven years ago. Then the memories return - where I was; what I was doing.
I was driving my 1957 Plymouth Belvedere two-door hardtop. I had just gone around the curve past the Omar Bakery southeast of Corning on old Hwy 34. I was driving to Creston. The radio was on. The program was interrupted with a news bulletin - President Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
Like so many young people, I was a huge fan of our youthful president. It was such a difference to have a family with little children in the White House. I could identify with them. My little boy was less than two years younger than John-John. For the first time, I was really interested in politics.
There was so much confusion about what was going on in Dallas. The news was that our president was in surgery. There was still no word about how serious his injuries were. I was on my way to Creston to put on a Tupperware Party. I had become a Tupperware dealer that year as a means of earning some money while still being a stay-at-home Mom.
When I got to the home where the party was to be, the hostess and a couple of early arrivals were in front of the t.v. I was at a loss for how to proceed. Should I go ahead and set up my display? Should we cancel and reschedule?
As it turned out, I didn't do much demonstrating of the Tupperware 'burp' that afternoon. We all remained glued to the t.v. even after Walter Cronkite announced the death of our President. We watched Jackie Kennedy in her blood-spattered clothes observe Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as the new President. I packed up my display Tupperware and headed home. I had just turned twenty years old four days before. I felt as though the world I knew had come to an end. JFK was the same age as my Dad.

Ten and a half years later, May, 1974, a strange and unforgettable occurrence happened in my life. I was in Washington, D.C. for the first time. Visiting Arlington National Cemetery and JFK and RFK's grave sites was very important to me.
A friend and I had been there a short time when some black limousines pulled up. Men got out of the first car and told us to move away, which we did. We were some distance away before the back door of the second limousine was opened but still close enough to tell that the woman getting out and approaching the grave site was Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.
Jackie had not visited the grave very often after her marriage to Onassis in 1968. What were the odds that I would be there on my first visit to Arlington the same afternoon as one of her rare visits?
"Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal." JFK