Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rooms with names

The two-story South Dakota farmhouse was large to accommodate my Dad's family of nine. 

Two bedrooms downstairs, along with the living room, dining room and kitchen.  Five rooms upstairs. Beautiful hardwood floors. And one teensy-weensy bathroom.

But what was unique about the farmhouse was that most all of the rooms had names.

Well, the kitchen was just "the kitchen." A large cast iron stove took corn cobs for heating, kept in a basket alongside the stove. The window above the sink not only let the sunlight in, but provided a view of the yard and barns. Chickens scurried about, while the dog, (first Pudgy, then Butchy), slept peacefully in the shade. 

The dining room contained a large table covered with oilcloth. This middle room, between the kitchen and living room, doubled as an office-of-sorts, with a desk piled with mail and newspapers, and a record player for 45 rpm singles. From the dining room, one could usually hear Ferlin Husky singing Cattle Call, or crooning, Ah'd walk fer miles, harsh miles, fer my momma and daddy...".

Grandpa and Grandma outside
the back door by the pump
used for drinking water.
The three dining room
windows can be seen.
The coolest thing about this room was the built-in buffet.  It separated the dining room from the kitchen, and the doors and drawers could be opened from either direction. Silverware needed in the kitchen? Silverware needed in the dining room?  Either way, there it was.

The living room had a deep ruby red frieze couch and matching chair, with doilies made by Grandma to cover the arms and backs. A crocheted cup and saucer that Grandma starched with a sugar mixture adorned the glass-topped coffee table. A door leading to a large front porch was in the living room, but, sadly, the front porch, called the "East Porch," was seldom, if ever, used.

The “East Room” was one of the main floor bedrooms, where Mom and Dad always slept when we visited there.  The other bedroom was Grandma and Grandpa's room. All the bedrooms had iron beds and wooden dressers.

The “Toy Room” (our favorite) was the first room you came to upstairs. It was filled with charming toys once belonging to my aunts and uncles, played with as they were growing up. Paper dolls with plastic stands, an old-fashioned green wooden toy telephone, dolls with plaster (mostly cracked) heads, that we lovingly placed in handmade cradles, my aunt Lois Ruth’s candy bar wrapper collection, and many other assorted and sundry old treasures.

At the far end of the upstairs was the “Book Room” that housed Uncle Erwin’s collection of  academic and philosophic books on shelves and in big foreboding trunks. He also had a fascinating collection of matchbook covers. All the matches were torn out and he kept only the covers. They, and the books, are still there in that same room.

In the middle of the "Toy Room" and the "Book Room" was the "Boys’ Room.”  This was where Uncle Erwin, Dad, Uncle Herb and Uncle Marvin slept. Bereft of any decorating whatsoever, it was obvious the boys slept there. Iron beds, one wooden chair, a calendar on the wall.

The "Girls' Room" belonged to Aunt Norma and Aunt Lois Ruth. As we grew older, this became our favorite room. The closet was full of old Prom dresses,  pressed corsages, summer sandals and high heels which we clomped around in.

A deep blue bottle of Evening in Paris and tins of talcum powder sat alongside jars of Ponds cold cream and a brush and mirror set on the dresser. Ah, we were princesses in this room.

If Lois Ruth happened to be home, we’d “powder" her back. My sister, Christine, and I would first sprinkle eau de cologne on her back, then dump talcum or dusting powder on it. This would make a wonderful paste and we’d rub it all in. Although the bedroom reeked of perfume and powder, we thought it was great fun, while Aunt Lois thought it was pure bliss.

The last room actually had no name, but it belonged to Aunt Loretta. Again, an iron bed and a curved, skirted make-up table, painted blue and white, with a hair brush and mirror set. It was our least favorite room because it had a stuffed owl in the closet. Intriguing, but it gave us the willies.

We considered all of the rooms in the farmhouse special. They all contained abounding love, energy, and warm memories for my Dad's family, and then for us.

Each of us felt as special to my grandparents as the rooms with their own names.

And the legacy of love, energy and warmth were passed on.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Going to the farm

My grandparents had a wonderful old farm in the small town of White Lake, South Dakota.

And this is where our family of eight spent all of our summer vacations.

The annual trips to the farm were all the vacation my parents could afford. But I wouldn’t have known, or appreciated, anything about that. Or even cared. 

The anticipation of a trip to the farm to see Grandma and Grandpa trumped a Grand Canyon, Black Hills, or even a Disneyland tour, as some of our friends were doing over their summer vacation.

All of us crammed into whatever vehicle Dad drove that year, squished together in the back seat. One of the younger kids would even ride in the window area above the back seat. No seat belts to hinder our climbing around each other and changing places.

Then my Dad started buying Rambler station wagons, and we enjoyed the luxurious space. To pass the time, we would sing songs along the way and stop for picnic lunches in a local park.

Before Interstate 90 was built, our route took us through many small Minnesota towns, like Pipestone, Marshall and Worthington. It was an eight-to-ten hour drive then, depending more on our level of cooperation than the speed of the car.

In our very early years, a pink plastic potty was used for our nature calls, Dad simply stopping the car along the road. Later, because we were older or there were more of us, we stopped at gas stations or, if we were lucky, restaurants.

The Red Rooster CafĂ© was the only place I remember stopping to eat where we had to pay. It had a sign on the wall that intrigued us through the years: 

Seville, der dago,
Tousan buses inaro.
Nojo, demis trux,
Summit cowsin, summit dux.
As we grew older yet, I taught my younger siblings how to sing in rounds. We sang Himmel und Erde, in German. And a Jewish round. And rounds I learned at Camp Fire Girls' camp.  I'm sure it drove our parents crazy, but at least when we were singing, we weren’t arguing and bickering.

We'd pass the Welcome to South Dakota sign; then the sign for White Lake; and finally, the quiet gravel road leading to the farm.

Past the mailbox, up the long driveway, we'd see the farm with its pump for fresh water, a blue speckled tin can hanging on a hook at its side, outside the back kitchen door.

No matter the time of day or night that we arrived, Grandpa and Grandma always met us at the back door and were excited to see us. Six children certainly brought chaos to their otherwise quiet and orderly home. But if they minded the disruption, we never knew it.

The farmhouse always smelled the same: a mixture of yeast from Grandma's baking, fried chicken, Old Spice aftershave, and, if the screen door was open, a hint of manure.

The unique smell of South Dakota air, the expanse of sky with bright stars not seen in the city, the chirping of crickets breaking the silence of night, and the wide open fields, were really wonders that were new, then again familiar, with each visit.

We wouldn't have wanted our summer vacation to be anywhere else.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Feeling at home

Awhile back (June 2010), I wrote about joining a new church, chosen for its warm and welcoming nature and friendly people.

This past Sunday, my son, Steven, daughter-in-law, Julie, and 4-year-old granddaughter, Ava, joined the same church. They, too, felt welcomed and were eager to be part of a church family. It was a special day for me, sitting proudly beside them.

Church was a big part of my childhood, and our family of eight rarely missed a Sunday.

It must have required quite an orchestration on my mother’s part to get us all dressed up and ready to go. There were dresses, petticoats, and shiny black patent shoes that were reserved for Sundays.

There were five heads of girls’ hair to curl and comb. And on Easter Sunday, we had special Sunday coats and always an Easter bonnet and white gloves. Maybe even a new white straw purse.

We had a drawer in the dining room buffet called the “Sunday School drawer.” All six of our weekly offering envelope boxes were lined up in this drawer.
The same drawer doubled as the “hair drawer” as barrettes and pony tail binders, clips, combs and curlers were kept there as well.

But before the church service began, we attended Sunday School.

Miss Selle taught the second grade class and was my very favorite teacher. Always happy to see our little faces, she made each child feel special. No child was ever shamed in her class for not knowing their memory work, or for being a little too active. She just laughed along with us and enjoyed us, as though we were her own little treasures.

If we actually managed to learn something, or successfully pulled off our Christmas pageant...well, to her, I think that was just a bonus. In her eyes, we were there to be cherished. Sunday schools should be full of teachers like her.

Our church was an old brick structure with exquisite stained glass windows and royal red carpeting. A dark wood altar and pews provided a beautiful and majestic contrast.

The old church basement held many Lutheran pot-lucks with tater-tot hot dishes, brown-n-serve rolls, and jello with marshmallows.
Confirmation Day
May 17, 1959

As church membership expanded, additional space was needed.

So a building next door to the church was purchased to accommodate such activities as Sunday School and confirmation classes. It was known simply as the annex. I attended classes in the annex and was confirmed in the original church.

But eventually, in the 1960s, both the church and the annex were demolished, and a new contemporary structure with concrete slabs was built. But the new edifice looked, to me, more like a modern insurance company building than a church. Thankfully, brick was used on the inside walls and aqua carpeting helped to give it a warm feeling.

No matter the outside appearance of a church. It is the feel of a church that is important, and the missions it undertakes. A warm and welcoming church draws you to it, and you're glad to be there.

When you find such a place, it is a wonderful thing.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Almost stars

When I was about 11 or so, my childhood best friend, Kathy Jones, and I decided we had such beautiful singing voices, we would become “professional” singers.

And to launch our careers, we’d go on the "Pinky Lee" show.

Pinky Lee sponsored a weekly Saturday morning children’s amateur talent show on television.  It was a "live" broadcast (as most were, in those days) with many very lively children in the audience.

We chose "Paper of Pins" for our singing debut.  The song calls for a boy to sing the first verse, and the girl to answer.

Kathy took the part of the boy, and I was the girl: 
I'll give to you a paper of pins, For that's the way true love begins,
If you will marry me, miss, If you will marry me.

I won't accept your paper of pins, If that's the way true love begins,
And I'll not marry you, sir, And I'll not marry you.

The song goes on with the boy offering his sweetheart many more treasures, none of which impress her, and she continues to deny him.

Until, finally:  

I'll give to you the key to my heart, That we may love and never part,
If you will marry me, miss, If you will marry me.

Yes, I'll accept the key to your heart, That we may love and never part,
And I will marry you, sir, And I will marry you.

After many hours of practicing by ourselves, we thought it might be beneficial to rehearse in front of other people.  So Mr. Jones sat the entire family in chairs around the living room, and Kathy and I proceeded with our duet.

Her younger brothers and sister, less than enthusiastic, squirmed a bit, but it was Kathy's dad, standing in the back of the living room, heckling and making faces, that halted our singing.

“No, no, you mustn’t stop!" said Mr. Jones, emphatically. "There may be children in the audience who heckle or boo, and you must learn to ignore them and carry on.”

And so we started over again with Mr. Jones intermittently heckling as we proudly made our way through the song without giggling or becoming the least bit discouraged.

We never did follow through to perform on the "Pinky Lee" show. But it always impressed me that Kathy’s father would encourage us and take us seriously.

And who knows? We may have actually become stars.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I have no idea what it really means, but my mother always used to say, especially in the springtime, "I cleaned the house to a fare-thee-well."

Actually, I got the message.  She cleaned the house thoroughly. Spring cleaning, I understand. I'm a proponent of it. Windows open, spring breezes wafting through, winter dust and dirt out, windows you can see through again.  It's like cleansing the soul.

But I don't know how the fare-thee-well came in. I concluded it was an old saying from a previous generation and never asked further.

Spit-shine is another old saying. I can't imagine spitting on anything to shine it, but I guess this means it's clean.

Well, anyway, it's what I've been up to, since undertaking the streamline-and simplify-my-life, decluttering project. I feel a bit like Carol Burnett, with her mop and bucket.

As with anything, the whole endeavor's more major than I thought it would be as I forgot about all the trips to the: a) dumpster; b) Goodwill; c) Half-Price Books; d) kids, who, like it or not, are inheriting stuff I classify as too good for Goodwill; and e) the recycling center (an old freezer).

It's also a bit painful. I hadn't really counted on that. I've had to take a tough stand on not re-stuffing my closets with the same old junk stuff, reluctant to part with some things. Kinda like letting go of a part of you, if you know what I mean.

Would you believe I even sent my old high school sweetheart some photos I had of him? We're talking some fifty-years back. My history.

But when his mother, who I stayed with for awhile when he was stationed in Germany in the Army, died recently, I learned she hadn't saved any photos of him. Not even his Army photo. They're in their rightful place now. I feel good about that.

Then there's the list of follow-up projects yet to be tackled: organizing photos, going through recipe boxes, shredding old checks and documents, and archiving computer photos to compact disks.

There must be a name for this disease. Or perhaps a support group?

Spit-shining-my-house-to-a-fare-thee-well Anonymous.
Will someone please stop me with an intervention? An invitation to coffee or lunch would do it, at this point.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Replacing ignore

Sometimes it pays to ignore things.

My computer has been working like a charm since I decided to "ignore" the virus warning that supposedly is, in itself, a virus.  While I do not recommend this course of action, it has worked for me.  Well, at least for the time being.

However, ignoring the piles of stuff in my house, year after year, has not been the best idea.

These are photos and memorabilia I have collected...and collected...and collected.

I always planned to sort them all in chronological order, mount them in photo books, and then label everything. I read somewhere once that it's one of the nicest things you can do for your kids.

Well, here they are.

My closets and drawers are filled to overflowing with more stuff.  I won't be snapping any more photos of them, for fear you will call The Hoarders and I'll see myself on a TV episode.  You'll be going tsk, tsk, and my children will be saying, "How did we let this happen?"

Since returning from Arizona, I've been determined to streamline and simplify my life, another phrase borrowed from something I read somewhere, and a fancy way of saying I don't know where to put anything anymore.

And if we can do without it all for six months of the year, living in a mobile home in Arizona, why do we need it all here?

I did go through all my books already this week, filling a shopping bag for Half-Price books. I might get a buck-two-eighty (ala Garrison Keillor) for all of them. But it was very hard to part with them.  I had planned to re-read them someday (yeah, right).

My clothes closet was crammed with blazers and suit jackets, none of which I wear in my new retirement life. They're no longer even in style.  Oh, and did I mention several of them don't fit anymore? 

And since I can't possibly live long enough to complete all the stitching projects I have fabric for, or the skeins of yarn that I thought looked good at one time, they're getting thinned out as well.

Another thing I read once from some organize-your-life expert was that rather than thinking of getting rid of things, substitute the word recycle. It works for me. I'm into recycling. Perhaps someone else somewhere might appreciate my junk stuff.

Isn't springtime just the best time to undertake such a mission? Spring fills me with new energy, after a long winter of dormancy.

These days, ignore is gone from my vocabulary. Nike's slogan, Just do it, has taken its place.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Not again!

My computer seems to have been infected again.  Poor thing needs to go back to the Geek Squad for another debugging.

Where do these viruses come from? Are there really people with nothing productive to do, so they need to invent ways to cause chaos (and money) for us poor souls? 

If it indeed takes any intelligence, could they perhaps instead work on solving the economic crisis, or global warming, or a viable alternative to nuclear power?

Have mercy!

And what in the world is a trojan? And a malvirus?  Any moment now, I expect to hear a loud poof, and perhaps steam, or smoke, or something will start escaping from behind the computer screen. Or maybe my keyboard.

I'm told the virus warning I'm getting repeatedly from "Windows" stating my computer is in grave danger and to "click here" to install the necessary device to clear the viruses IS the virus itself.

If you get this virus warning message, do not click on anything - don't click yes, don't click no, don't "x" out to get rid of the warning message. Shut down immediately by pressing on the power button until it turns off, or use Alt-Ctrl-Del to end all programs and shut down. Once you click on anything within this false warning, you have activated the virus.

The end goal of this nastiness is to get you to panic, accept their offer to scan your computer, click yes to get the "necessary" (so they say) anti-virus protection, and enter your credit card number to pay for it. The warnings look like they very legitimately come from Windows. And once you enter your credit card number, you've entered the dark world of identity theft.  You don't want to go there.

In any event, my poor little laptop is living on borrowed time right if you don't hear from me for a week or so, that's why.

But, please, stay tuned....I'll be back!