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Mam-Maw’s House

If you are a frequent follower, you know I love to write about the nostalgic moments in my life. I have posted a photo of my grandmother’s house several times. It is the house I associate with the best years of my childhood.

My father was an only child. When we moved to Ohio, my grandfather had already passed away. My grandmother was later diagnosed with lung cancer. There is a long convoluted story related to how my father lost his birthright to his uncle – my grandmother’s brother. It is a sad story which I will not get into here, but I know it to be true. I found all the associated legal documents in my genealogy search. It was the heartbreak my father never recovered from. But enough about that.

This house was magical to me. It is where my father was born and raised. It is where he swore he saw little green martians one night. It is where his mother disciplined him with a garden hose. I know the scar in the wood of the stairwell came from a misfired gun. I know behind the walls upstairs, there are fireplaces once used to heat the house.

It was on the hearth where my grandfather roasted chestnuts at Christmas. I learned about the magic of graphite watching my grandfather repair the push button locks in the front door. I imagined how the house would have looked when the French doors leading to the dining room would actually open and close.

The closet under the stairwell is where I discovered boxes and boxes of crepe paper, leftover from a time when my grandmother made paper flowers. I could imagine her as a young woman knowing what she enjoyed doing. In her bedroom was the cedar chest that held her dresses and the drawer that kept her jewelry and silver dollars hidden from sight. In the room next to her bedroom was where she kept all the momentos her grandchildren made for her. It was where her glass hypodermic needles were stored along with a handful of thermometers. All leftover from her work as a nurse.

In the bedroom upstairs is where we crawled into my grandfather’s room while he napped trying not to wake him. We tried to get a taste of the sugar and cinnamon mixture he kept by his bed in case he had a nighttime cough.

In the bookshelves in the hallway is where my grandmother kept a newspaper article showing a photo of a cloud formation that looked like Jesus. She had it in between the pages of a book for safe keeping. It is also where she kept the book of poetry that now sits on my bookshelf.

In the adjacent bedroom is where my father stored his t-squares that my brother and I used for guitars. It is also where my parents worked on the jigsaw puzzle of a young girl praying with a golden halo around her head.

In the third bedroom is where I accidentally broke the 78 rpm record of “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”. I was devastated to see how it made my grandmother cry. It is also where I took apart my grandfather’s old pocket watch to see how it worked. In the closet is where a stray Easter egg was lost and not found until the smell revealed its location months later.

A house is a structure that holds memories. When the house changes hands, the memories only remain for those blessed to have experienced them.

Can you mentally walk through a childhood house and recall the memories?

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Five Retro Things I Am Pondering

The mind is a strange thing. I had an almost sleepless night as a lingering cough objected loudly any time I tried to lie down. I sat up in my bed for hours and so many thoughts crossed my mind. After a few hours of sleep, these are the thoughts that still linger.

  1. We had a Western Auto store in the small town 7 miles from the Valley. I don’t think they exist anymore, but this is where my parents bought our first (and only) bicycles. A red boy’s bike for my brother and a blue girl’s bike for me and my sisters to share. I thought Western Auto was a hardware store, but I think now they were an auto parts store.
  2. We had wire pant stretchers used to help stretch and put creases in pants after they were washed. I have not seen them in ages, but they are still available for purchase. Laundry was always hung on a clothesline to dry, so anything to help keep the shape intact was helpful I suppose.
  3. Speaking of laundry, after clothes came in off the line, they needed to be ironed as almost everything was cotton in those days. My grandmother put clothes that needed to be pressed into an ironing basket. She had a green 7-Up bottle with a laundry sprinkler top designed to allow small droplets of water to moisten the clothes before ironing. You can still buy those, too.
  4. We had a five and dime store in the same town as the Western Auto. Our five and dime was part of a local chain started by entrepreneur Pete Ramsey. His stores eventually spread from the original location in Tennessee to include stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida. My favorite part of the store was the candy counter where I bought coconut bonbons and the toy section where I bought a TomThumb toy cash register and an amber colored glass piggy bank.
  5. I was trying to remember the first movie I ever saw in an indoor movie theatre. I think it was Swiss Family Robinson released in 1960. Our movie theater may not have received new releases right away so I cannot tell you what year I may have actually seen it. I don’t think there was a snack bar in the theater. We might have stopped at the local drug store next door to enjoy a vanilla or cherry coke before seeing the movie.

Did we share any experiences? What was the first movie you ever saw at an indoor theater? Do you remember?

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When Forgotten Memories Pop Up

I am rather lackadaisical with my sleepwear. You might find it hanging on a hook in the bathroom, or draped across the back of a chair until it is time for it to be laundered as I do wear it more than one night.

Yesterday, after making my bed, I picked up my pajamas and began to fold them. I was suddenly struck by a memory that had not crossed my mind in 40 years!

When we were children, we folded our pajamas and they were placed under our pillow. Then the bed was made and we went about our day. When bedtime rolled around again, we pulled back the covers and dressed for bed.

What makes a memory – dormant for years – rise to the surface? I think it was triggered by the simple act of folding my worn pajamas which I normally would never do.

It makes me wonder how many memories I do not recall, but are still catalogued and present in my mind. I have done a lot of writing prompts designed to increase recollection. They do not produce profound results for me.

When my aunt passed away, I was given a stack of letters I had written to her. She had bundled them together and saved them all. As I read through them, I could scarcely remember the events detailed in the letters. I suppose people who journal and keep diaries have a better remembrance of their lives. I have burned or destroyed more journals than I ever kept.

The book of my life is kept behind some mental lock and key, perhaps never to be read by another. I suppose it will disappear when I do.

For now, though, I fondly remember the act of folding my pajamas and slipping them under my pillow.

Have you ever experienced something similar? A minor memory triggered by perhaps by a simple every day task? Did you ever keep your sleepwear tucked under your pillow?

The human mind never ceases to amaze me.

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Mam-Maw’s Treasures and Fascinations

My paternal grandmother was always known to us as ‘Mam-Maw’ a fairly common southern term for grandmother. She was a prim and proper lady who always shouldered great burdens throughout her life. Her mother died when she was 16, and she married my grandfather (who was 17 years her senior) only 5 months later. She and my grandfather cared for her younger siblings until they married and moved out on their own. She gave birth to a stillborn child before my father was born and as a result, he was raised as an only child.

My grandmother as a young woman

I have always considered her home as the place where my foundation was established – much of that due to her influence. She was a wonderful cook and worked hard to keep a tidy house. She cared deeply for her belongings and took great care of them, considering everything as precious.

I was the youngest of four children and until I was old enough to venture out with my siblings, I spent a lot of time underfoot. I think she was a sentimentalist, always keeping letters and photos from friends and loved ones neatly tidied away in organized boxes. I loved looking though her things asking her questions. I remember the day I stumbled upon a photo of her as a young woman posed with cigarette in hand. When I asked her if she smoked she was mortified. She sat me down for a long chat explaining she and her friends were pretending to smoke while posing for the photo and how she was ashamed of it. I probably would not remember it at all except for her reaction.

Mam-Maw’s jewelry box was an old cardboard Whitman’s chocolate box. Inside the box were two black cardboard box dividers that fit so snugly against one another they did not appear removable. One day I did discover they lifted out of the box. Underneath was a black hand-sewn pouch containing 5 or 6 silver dollars. That same pouch and those same silver dollars sit in my safe deposit box today.

My grandmother did not have anything besides costume jewelry. Pins decorated with ornate flowers and strands of pale pink or ivory colored ‘pop beads’.  What a delight for a child to pop and un-pop those beads! I was often allowed to wear pop beads to church as long as I did not ‘pop’ them during the sermon.

In her wardrobe were boxes of nylons. When purchased from the store, the nylons were beautiful and in the perfect shape of a woman’s leg and foot. Hers often had seams down the back and when she wore them, they were rolled up just at the base of her knee.

Inside a cardboard shoe box was an old stereograph with two bunches of stereo cards. These double image cards produced a 3-D effect when viewed through the viewer. I would sit for hours amazed at the well dressed Victorian ladies bathing their cherub babies in porcelain wash tubs. There were images of highly decorative hotel lobbies in faraway cities and fields of tobacco in Panama. All images to inspire a child’s imagination. I still have this stereoscope and it still lives in the same shoebox that one day probably protected a new pair of my grandmother’s shoes.

In the room adjoining her bedroom was a box that contained all sorts of thermometers and glass hypodermic needles from her time as a home care nurse. I have two glass thermometers, but I am sure they are not the same ones. I would have loved to have one of the old glass hypodermic needles but somewhere through the years they disappeared.

My grandmother could be strict, although she had a soft spot for her grandchildren. She exercised a great deal pf patience with four small children underfoot day and night. But you would never know it.

My grandmother years later

When I think of her, three images of her come to mind. One of her sweeping away the snow under the forsythia bush to feed the birds, one of her singing hymns while she canned food in the kitchen, and third, sitting in my grandfather’s red recliner peeling apples into a metal pie tin – the peel in one long unbroken strip.

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What Material Belongings Do You Cherish?

This morning a comment came across my phone that spoke of things you may have lost during your life that you wish you still had. It got me thinking not only about keepsakes that were lost through the years, but also about the things I have that I cherish.

When my mother-in-law’s home was ravaged by flood waters, her loss was palpable. Everything was such a mess. It was so hard to watch her struggle and try to account in dollars what she had lost for the insurance. How does one even remember all you have collected and held onto for a lifetime. I do recall she was most worried about a small child’s tea set that had belonged to her mother. Thankfully it survived, but so little did. She felt as if her life had been washed away.

When I think back on my own life, there are some big things I could grieve over. Like my grandmother’s house. But more than that, it is the odd little things that were somehow lost or destroyed over the years that I wish I still had. Like the rolling pin my grandfather made me.

My sister was relocated by the Air Force several times during her career. When the military moves you, it is a well oiled machine that moves quickly!  When her furniture arrived at the new location, the lamb cake mold that belonged to our grandmother was gone. It was the cake pan that produced the cakes we all had for birthdays, a lamb covered in coconut with raisins for eyes. She was devastated.

Years ago, my sister bought our mother a Cameo ring. When mom passed away, the ring was given back to her. It was one of her prized possessions. When my sister passed away, the ring was never found. I have often wondered if she made a decision to give it to someone while she was alive to witness it.

Hubby and I have a few family heirlooms, but most things have no intrinsic value. They are all simple and unremarkable items, but all wrapped in memories. Those are the things we cherish.

I once asked my daughter what things she might want once we pass away. I laughed at her response. She wants the pan we always cooked our potatoes in when we got together for the holidays.

I think for me and my brood, it’s the memories that bring the value.