Blog

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?

Blog

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.

Blog, Family, grandmother

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.

Blog

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.

Blog

My Response to a Writing Prompt

Think of your childhood home. If you had several, pick one. Write a detailed description of walking into that house. Which rooms were where? What stories are sparked by writing that description? (Courtesy of Patti Digh)


As I stand looking at my grandmother’s house, it seems smaller than it did as a child. The single step up to the sidewalk remains the same although a few cracks give away its age. The hedges around the porch are gone, but the memories of that porch still live. As I look up I see the ceiling of the porch is still painted a pale green and the ovoid shaped, textured light fixture still hangs there by the same three rusty screws. There is no longer a glider, but I can still sense it there and can almost hear the sound it made as it moved back and forth.

I place my hand on the doorknob and a memory shoots through me of all the people whose hands turned that knob through its life. I feel the familiar texture of as it slips into my palm. As I turn it I remember watching my grandfather lubricating the lock with a puff of graphite from a squeeze bottle. Before I can even step into the house, I hear the pendulum clock ticking on the mantlepiece. I see my grandfather, his hair stark white, slowly winding it with the key kept in the tiny door at the base of the clock.

Immediately to my right are the stairs leading to the bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs. I remember pretending to be mountain climbers with my brother, scaling the stairs turned mountain peaks. At the base of the stairs is a bullet hole in the wood, put there when my father was a young boy. I see the banister and remember this was our makeshift pulpit when we played ‘church’.

The walls have been painted but they still have the spongy texture of some material I fear might have contained asbestos. The brick around the fireplace has been painted in a contemporary style, but it does not keep me from seeing the red brick hearth and the chestnuts nestled into the coals to roast. My grandfather’s red recliner sits near the fireplace, occupied by my grandmother after my grandfather passed away. I see her stockings rolled up at the base of her knees and she is playing the ukulele singing the song “Little Mohee”.

Under the stairs is the same little door and the same latch that led to the storage area where my grandmother stored her paper supplies she used to make paper flowers. I suddenly remember pulling one of the boxes and finding silverfish scurrying through the paper. Under the stairs the wall phone, the first one we ever had, no longer hangs on the wall, but I can still see the long tangled cord stretched by too many adolescent phone conversations.

To my right is my grandmother’s bedroom. I still see her dresser, covered with a silk dresser scarf, a neatly lined row of delicate bottles, and a round container of powder with its huge fluffy powder puff. I can still see her in front of the mirror getting ready for church. She wore pillbox hats with netting, dotted with miniature pearls, secured to her hair with long hat pins.

From the same spot, I look into the dining room with french doors that always stood open, flanking the double door entry. I always dreamed of closing those doors, but was told the floor would need to be sanded down before that could happen. To the left was the brown Siegler stove that heated the house. The long dining table was tucked into an alcove with a wall of glass divided into small windows by white molding. Beyond the window was the view of the back yard, with the large forsythia bush where my grandmother swept away the snow under its branches so she could feed the birds.

Beyond the dining room to the left was the kitchen. There was a small free standing refrigerator with a small radio on top. There were small corner knick knack shelves where my grandmother displayed her collection of ceramic birds. Inside the far cabinet was where my grandfather kept his medicinal liniment from which he swallowed a tablespoon every morning. Tucked away in a corner cabinet, was where my grandmother squirreled away her little glass jar of Tang she drank for the vitamin C.

Outside the kitchen was the closed-in back porch with a freezer and a small table. In the freezer was always an old Maxwell House coffee can filled with cookies easily defrosted for an unplanned treat. The windows were covered with rolled bamboo shades that could be lowered to block the summer sun. The door led outside into the side yard.


I could have written so much more. So many memories I revealed that could easily have taken me down multiple rabbit holes. I did not even go through the upstairs in the house.  This reminded me of things I had not thought of for years. Such a good exercise for opening the doors to memories lying dormant for so long. I recommend it if you are so inclined.