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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Today Mother was taking her to get a new pair of shoes. She was a petite, fine boned girl who looked younger than her seven years. Mother kept her hair in a short bob with deep bangs framing her ocean blue eyes that today were sparkling with excitement.   A new pair of shoes was a very important event. Her feet were very narrow so that her shoes had to be specially ordered, making them expensive, and her family didn’t have much money.   Her father had a job, but was often sick so there were many payless weeks. Today Mother and Lois would take the trolley to 69th Street to get her shoes, then the subway and el to visit with Aunt Louise so she was wearing her good navy blue dress and a fluffy sweater MomKate had knit.   She slipped on the coat her mother had made and put the muff string under her collar. She liked her muff on these very cold days. It looked like a drum made of bunny fur, open on both ends so that when she put her hands in the muff, the cuffs of her coat sealed the ends from all the cold. She twirled around to show how pretty she looked. Well, except for the very worn shoes, but she would have her new ones soon.

They walked a block down to the Pike then several blocks to the trolley station. She kept dancing around on the platform, which annoyed Mother who thought she should stand still, but the cold was coming up through the cement and into her shoes. Her feet were too cold to stand still. When the trolley arrived Mother gave her little help up to the first step. They moved to the middle of the car. Most of the seats were still empty because this was only the second stop. They chose a bench and sat facing the direction they were going. Mother didn’t like to ride backwards. She got to sit next to the window where she could brace her feet on a small ledge while watching the houses go by. The closer they got to 69th Street the fuller the car became until there was only one seat left. Mother made Lois take her hand when they got to the Station because there were so many people, some going to other trains or trolleys or out to the shops like they were. They crossed the street and walked half way up the hill to Mother’s favorite store, Lit Brothers, where they had ordered her shoes. As soon as they got inside, Mother almost dragged Lois through the first floor to the shoe department. Mother was in a hurry so that they could catch the next subway train and have as much time as possible with Aunt Louise. The clerk brought out the box and carefully unwrapped the shoes. Nestled inside the tissue paper was a dark brown pair of maryjanes. Lois hopped up on the chair and the clerk sat on the special stool in front of her. After removing her worn, right shoe he gently slid the new shoe onto her foot and asked how it felt. It was so pretty with a bit of room for her toes to grow, but the side of the shoe hugged her foot around the arch and heel. He repeated with the left shoe and helped her off the chair to walk a short way to confirm the shoes fit well. Both Mother and the clerk pushed down on the tip of the toe to be sure that there was some grow room. Lois was all smiles as she looked at her feet in the mirror to see how pretty the new shoes were. Mother pronounced herself satisfied, paid the clerk, and they left. Lois carefully watched where she put her feet. There would be no scuffmarks on these shoes or dark spots from stepping into something on the sidewalk.

They just made it to the subway and seated themselves when it began to move. They were looking forward to seeing Aunt Louise, who wasn’t really her aunt, but her godmother. Her mother and Aunt Louise had lived on 2 Street and gone to school together. They and their husbands had dated as a foursome before both men had gone to the Great War. When the men came home Aunt Louise had married Uncle Ed, moved northward in the city. Mother, Katherine, had married Ted, and they found a house in a southwestern suburb. The foursome still enjoyed each others company and got together whenever they could, which was less often than Mother and Aunt Louise would have liked. Lois always liked to be with Aunt Louise with her constant smile and jolly laugh. Everything at Aunt Louise’s house seem to be fun while her own home was more serious, especially when her father was sick, which he was more and more often. The only problem at Aunt Louise’s house was Jimmy, her son. He was three months older than she and believed that meant he could decide what they would do when they played together. He was always teasing her about something, often until she wanted to cry. But she would never give him that satisfaction.

The warmth of Aunt Louise’s kitchen was welcoming after the walk from the bus stop in the cold wind. The aroma of the hot lunch Aunt Louise had made drew them in as well. First thing Lois did was to pirouette before Aunt Louise to show off her new shoes. Aunt Louise liked them a lot, which pleased Lois. As soon as the tea was ready they all sat at the kitchen table. Aunt Louise always made her fell so grown up. Today she had made a cup of half hot tea and half warm milk and sugar. Lois sat up straight and tall the way Mother liked and tried not to make any crumbs. Jimmy seemed to be eating as fast as he could and urged her to hurry. He had made plans to go ice-skating and didn’t want to make his friends wait.   Aunt Louise said how Jimmy should take Lois with him, to which he made a face.   Lois tried to beg off. After all, she hadn’t brought skates nor was she dressed for skating. Actually, she had didn’t own any skates and she was dressed for visiting not playing.   Aunt Louise would have none of it. She insisted that Jimmy take her with him and even had a spare pair of clamp on ice skates Lois could use. It would also give the two mothers a chance to visit without the noise of the children. Aunt Louise found an old pair of Jimmy’s trousers for Lois to slip on under dress. The mothers made sure that the children were all bundled up and shooed them out the door.

Jimmy took off at a run to get to the corner where he told the other kids he would meet them. Lois had to run to keep up. It was an up hill walk to the pond. They all put their skates on and Jimmy took the time to be sure that Lois had hers on properly. The others had skated before and raced all around the edge. Lois gingerly skated in little circles as she learned to balance and turn, speed up and slow down to a stop. Soon she began to feel comfortable and began skating in larger and larger circles. By then the others were just about back to where they had started and began yelling at her. She couldn’t make out what they were saying, but she knew she was getting better and skating more surely. Then she felt as much as heard a cracking sound and there was nothing under her feet. Everything was dark and murky. Next thing she could see was a hand, then an arm, and Jimmy’s face. He was urging her to grab his hand. The other kids had his feet. All the clothes had trapped enough air that she had a little buoyancy. That would soon disappear as her clothes absorbed the cold water. She stretched as hard as she could and managed to reach Jimmy’s hand.

Soon she was free of the water and on the ground next to the pond. Two sets of hands were removing the ice skates. Then they were pushing her up and telling her to run. She didn’t want to run. All she wanted was to get rid of the wet clothes and get warm. They were all shouting at her so she began to edge away. Jimmy began pushing her. Turning she tried to get away from all the shouting and pushing. She couldn’t run fast enough to escape. Jimmy kept pushing. She tripped and fell, so he began to roll her down the hill. The snow stuck to her wet clothes till she began to look like a snowman. When they needed to cross the street several sets of hands pulled her up and shoved her across. Then they began to chase and shove her again. Jimmy was shouting for Aunt Louise before he even opened the back gate. As they reached the porch Aunt Louise and Mother had appeared at the kitchen door.

They grabbed her. Mother began pulling off her wet clothes while Aunt Louise ran for towels. As the big warm fluffy towels were wrapped around her she saw her pretty new shoes were now all wet, stained, and wrinkled. All she could do was cry because she knew they would never be pretty again. Jimmy kept telling her to stop bawling while he stuffed her shoes with newspaper. She seemed to be the only one upset about the once pretty pair of maryjanes. Both mothers were busy praising Jimmy for getting her back so quickly and it was all his fault. He was the reason they had been ice-skating, that she fallen through to the cold water that soaked her beautiful new shoes. He was the one who had pushed, shoved, and rolled her all the way back to Aunt Louise’s house. And here she was crying in front of Jimmy. What had begun as a joyfully entertaining day was now in ruins as were her lovely new shoes.

The last word:

Moma-1929Dad-S-1930This story is part of Suzy’s family lore. The girl Lois is Suzy’s mother, and Lois and Jim married in 1942, literally the night before he left to fly off US Navy aircraft carriers in the Pacific Theater.  These pictures are from approximately the time of the story.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Slowly she became aware that the sun was brightly gleaming through the window, but the house was still quiet. Surely, it was late enough that she should be able to hear someone in the kitchen making breakfast. Looking at the window she could see thick ice on the glass. Grandmom said that the glazing was from Jack Frost’s breath when he peeked in the window during the night. Carefully she stuck her foot outside the covers. Brr, the air was cold. Grandmom usually came in and put her clothes on the radiator to warm, but the radiator was empty. Nothing to be done about it. Throwing back the covers she slid her feet over the edge and reached for the floor slipping down the last couple of inches. The carpet felt cold to her toes. She tugged at the top dresser drawer. It was a wide drawer and she had trouble making it pull out evenly and it jammed before it was open wide enough for her to slip her hand in and reach her under clothes. With the heel of her left hand she banged on the drawer, freeing it and she tried again to open it. She had to do it twice more before she could reach in and get her panties, undershirt, slip and socks. After neatly draping them on top of the radiator she walked over to the armoire and opened the door on the right where the longer things were hung. Not remembering any plans to go out today she tugged at an everyday dress until it came off the hanger and added it to the other things on the radiator. The radiator was putting out lots of heat, which was in contrast to the cold she could feel seeping in through the window. She reached her hand to the glass and tried to warm a spot on the window large enough to look out onto the street. Yesterday they had had a big snow. No cars seemed to be moving and so it was very quiet out there, too. It was the morning after a big storm and the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun so bright on the snow that it was hard to keep her eyes open and she had to look away. The adults must be very busy because no one seemed to have heard her walking around and come to check on her. She reached for her underclothes and quickly dropped them. They were too hot. She could see funny wiggly marks on her panties. She wondered if they were beginning to melt and grabbed for all the clothes she had put there. It felt so very good to put on the warm clothes. She hadn’t realized how chilly she had gotten. She put on her shoes and carefully went through the steps to tie the laces into bows. She was in the middle bedroom, so when she opened the door she looked back and forth down the hall, but still could not see nor hear anyone stirring. Well, that would mean the bathroom would be empty so she went in, moved the stool to the basin, climbed up and washed her face in the cold water. That was a real waker-upper.

The stairs in Grandmom’s house were steep so she always held onto the banister, except for the third step. It creaked, so she would step to the wall side. It was a game she played with herself, to go all the way down without the steps making a sound. Reaching the bottom step she looked over to the sunroom. Grandmom usually sat in the corner seat to watch the big kids walk to school, but Grandmom wasn’t there. It felt late, so maybe the kids had already passed, or maybe this wasn’t a school day. It really didn’t matter. Cheerfully she turned to look for Butchie, the black cocker spaniel that lived in this house. He always greeted her in the morning. He was so funny. As he came into the living room he was wagging his tail so hard that the entire back half of his body went from side to side with abandon. Then he tried to get so close that he knocked her over and she bumped into the coffee table and they landed in a heap together on the floor.   She scratched behind his ears the way he liked, then they both got up and started for the kitchen. She caught a glimpse of herself in the dinning room mirror. Grandmom would tell her she looked like a ragamuffin. She hadn’t run a comb through her hair and it was sticking out randomly. Hair could be done later. Now, it was time for breakfast.

Still no Mom or Grandmom, but that was okay because she knew how to make a scrambled egg. She had watched Mom and Grandmom lots of times. She took an egg from the dish in the icebox. That’s what Grandmom called it, even though it had a motor on top. The only ice was the cubes in the tray in the open freezing shelf.   Not wanting to break the egg too soon she carefully carried it to the counter and set it on the dishrag so it wouldn’t roll. Then she got the little cup Grandmom used to scramble eggs and the cooking fork. Grandmom had a cute little frying pan just big enough for one egg, which she took from the cabinet and put on the stove. Kneeling on a chair, she thumped the egg against the edge of the cup, but it didn’t crack. She tried again. Why had she been so careful carrying it when it wouldn’t break anyway? She hit it more sharply and half the egg and shell went into the cup and the other half fell onto the drain board. She lowered the cup into the sink and pushed the spilled half into the cup then fished out the two shell halves. It was half scrambled already. Mom always put a slosh of milk into the egg with salt and pepper before scrambling, so she climbed down and went back to the icebox. Grandmom’s milk came in glass, quart bottles with long necks. That made them easier to carry. She needed to shake the bottle because the cream had separated. The little paper lids didn’t stay on well once the bottle had been opened so she put her palm across the top of the bottle. She knew she had to pour slowly and carefully because it would be easy to get too much milk with the egg. She was so careful that it seemed to take forever for the milk to come out and then it splashed. Oh well, everyone said that it was good to drink lots of milk.   She shook some pepper onto the egg milk mix and watched it float. Then she shook a little salt. Then a bit more. It seemed to gather in the center of the pepper island. Maybe a bit more. Then the salt began to sink and take the pepper with it. She guessed that was enough so she picked up the cooking fork and stirred it around quickly to beat up the egg. A bit splashed onto her hand and the drain, but not much. She still had to turn the fire on under the pan. She remembered to push the knob in and listen for the clicks before turning it clockwise. The flame whooshed up and then settled down as she kept turning the knob. After taking the flipper from the drawer next to the stove she moved her chair over in front of the burner and poured the egg into the pan and began moving the mixture with the fork before she remembered that she had to wait for it to lighten a little and begin to stick together. It didn’t take long to cook, which was a shame because it was fun to move the liquid egg in the pan and watch it firm up. Time to put it on a plate. Oh yes, a plate. After turning off the flame she climbed down and walked over to the cabinet with the dishes and took out a plate. Having moved the egg to the plate she moved the chair back then took the plate in both hands and carried her breakfast to the table.   Where was everyone? This was no fun, sitting by herself to eat. Grandmom always trimmed half an orange so it would be easy to eat. Where was everyone?

She needed to find them. Where could they be? Doing the wash? She slid off the chair, put what was left of the egg down for Butchie to eat. She could get the dish later.   Opening the door to the cellar she listened for the washing machine. She couldn’t hear it nor could she hear any voices, but she started down the steps to be sure. One, two, three, four, oops… In slow motion she began to tumble and bounce down the steps. They went on and on and she was still tumbling. It should hurt, but it didn’t. She just kept falling and falling.

“Come on, Sleepy Head, time to wake up.”

That was Grandmom.

“Let me slip your clothes under the covers. It’s chilly out here so put them on before you get out from under.”

It was just now time to get up.

“The storm is over. There’s lot of snow and sunshine outside. After a nice, warm breakfast we’ll get the sled out. Your Mom and Granddad can go down the hill with you.”

Everyone was home.

The last word:

Suzy always likes the first day after a snowstorm. The sun shining on fresh white show after a period of gray skies over a gray landscape cheers her up.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Somewhat sullenly the little girl walked down the street, hugging her sweater tight around her. It wasn’t that she was cold, but the calendar read “December” so she needed a sweater. At least, that’s what Moma said. Her knobby knees stuck out below the hem of her full-skirted cotton dress as she shuffled along looking for leaves to kick. There weren’t very many as here most of the plants kept their leaves all year long. If only she walked slowly enough her girl friend might catch up with her before she arrived at the schoolyard. Victoria always had answers to questions that she didn’t even know enough to ask about.   That morning had been the usual rush to get out on time with Moma standing at the door holding her sweater and brown-bag lunch trying to make her hurry so that she wouldn’t be late. She’d run across the lawn to the house next door to collect her friend, but had been curtly informed that Victoria wasn’t ready as her hair had yet to be combed so there was no point in waiting.   Here was the final block before the schoolyard and Victoria was nowhere to be seen. She’d have to wait to ask until the walk home.

This school was pretty easy. Her father expected that she be one of the top five scorers in her class. She could do that just by listening, and they didn’t give real homework here. That bothered her parents, but not her. The last assignment had to been to bring in twigs to make a holiday scene to take home as a Christmas decoration. They had each been given a stiff piece of cardboard and a small mirror. She had glued hers to the near right corner of her cardboard.   Then Mrs. Wickford poured a white, slurry into a bowl between each pair of pupils at the shared desks. Each had a small wooden ice cream cup spoon to spread the white glop onto the cardboard and over the edges of the mirror. Then they were to quickly stick their twigs into the glop to create a winter scene with bare trees. Carefully she stuck her twigs toward the top of her project with a scattering closer to the mirror. The boy next to her placed his twigs evenly around his centered mirror. Mrs. Wickford told them to slide, not lift, their project to the upper center of their tables so the white stuff could set while everyone went to lunch. As soon as they had cleaned up they were dismissed. She grabbed her lunch bag and left her sweater. The morning haze was gone and the sun was warm. She and her friends sat at their usual picnic table far from the cafeteria door. The smells from the lunches they served in there were always yucky. She was supposed to buy a container of milk, but that would take time she didn’t want to waste. Getting to the playground was more important. She opened her bag to see what Moma had packed for her today: a wax paper wrapped sandwich, another packet with cookies, and a foil wrapped orange that was pressing on the sandwich. She took a couple of big bites of the dry and orange dented bologna sandwich then she squished the rest back into the waxed paper and moved on to the cookies. Moma never put much mustard on the bread so as to keep it from getting soggy. Moma never used mayonnaise, which could spoil, so the sandwich was dry and difficult to swallow. The cookies were good, but the others were almost done and she hadn’t begun her orange, so she swallowed one almost whole and threw the others back into the bag. There were no pockets in her dress so she couldn’t keep the cookies until the walk home from school. She ate a quarter of the orange, slurped the juice from the next quarter and threw the rest in the bag with the other food that was now trash. They each threw their bags into the trashcan and ran for the bars. You had to eat quickly to get out there and grab a space on the bar. As soon as a line formed it was time to go to the blacktop where foursquare courts were painted. Today she worked herself up to the server’s square and held it for a couple of turns. As always, the bell rang too soon and it was time to return to the classroom.

The girls behind her in line were talking about what they were going to get for Christmas. One said her mother had taken her to a store and they had picked out a couple of dresses, and she had asked for one of the new dolls that looked like grown up ladies. The other girl said she had gotten one of those dolls for her birthday and wanted clothes for it. Neither had visited with Santa.

After school she had walked up the hill with Jean. That was slow going because Jean had had polio and walked with a big limp. Her left leg was a lot shorter than her right. Jean had spent her summer vacation in the hospital where she had had surgery on her short leg. Jean never played foursquare or kick-ball or on the bars. Once in a while the little girl would sit with Jean at the edge of the playground and they would play jacks. She felt sorry that most of the other kids ignored Jean. She knew how it felt to watch the others and not be welcome to join them. By the time she got to the top of the hill most of the other kids had already disappeared. She looked at her watch. Time to run so Moma wouldn’t be upset that she had taken too long to come home from school.

After diner Daddy told Moma that he and the little girl were going out to take care of some business. An errand with Daddy? On a school night? And Moma didn’t protest, just nodded and scooped her little brother up to get him ready for bed. Daddy wouldn’t tell her anything, just kept shushing her and telling her to wait until they were in the car. He even let her ride in the front seat. Everything looked a little different from here so she was quiet for a bit. They drove past the street she walked down to go to school and started down the front of the mesa to the shopping center. As they parked and began walking to the stores, Daddy asked what she thought Moma would want for Christmas. Hadn’t Moma written her own letter to Santa? Daddy explained that they were to be Santa’s helpers and get something Moma would like. By then they were walking into a ladies store. The first thing she noticed was that the store smelled so good. Then there were two mannequins dressed in the New Look.   One of the shop ladies had come up and asked Daddy what she could help him with. He told her that he and his daughter were being Santa for his wife and that they wanted one of the skirts like the one on the mannequin. The lady asked if they knew what size they wanted and Daddy simply put his hands out and drew Moma in the air. The skirt the lady brought was the same style in a beautiful, shimmery emerald green. She put out a cream colored boat necked top with three-quarter length sleeves to go with the skirt. Daddy, looking down to the little girl, asked her if she thought Moma would like them. She gently reached her hand out to touch the cool silky quilted skirt. Oh, yes, it was perfect. The lady carefully wrapped each piece and put them in a box.

Christmas vacation began that Friday after school. She walked home carefully with her snow scene project. Moma put it on the top shelf of a bookcase explaining that her brother wouldn’t be able to reach it there.   Moma washed the dishes and she dried as they cleaned up after dinner. She worried about how to ask Moma her question. Victoria had laughed and told her that she was such a baby to still believe in Santa Claus. She really wanted Santa Claus to be real. Moma had taken her to see him at the store. She had noticed that his beard was tied on. When she asked Moma about it, Moma had explained that Santa was very busy at this time of year and that that person was an elf sent to take messages to Santa. But what about Victoria laughing at her? What about shopping with Daddy? Moma found a couple more things to wash up and the girl finally just blurted out her question: was Santa Claus real? Then she kept babbling about all the hints she had heard that year that led her to think he was just a made up story. Moma stopped, took the towel from her. While drying her hands, Moma gave her one of those slow, quizzical stares. Finally, she put the towel down, sat on a kitchen chair, and put her daughter on her lap. Very softly she said that Santa Claus was a spirit. The spirit of Christmas. Everyone could carry that spirit in their hearts. At this time of year, Santa Claus was a fun way of sharing and giving gifts. As we grew up we each were able to play Santa for those we loved and especially for little ones. Now, the girl could be part of the spirit of Santa Claus and help make things joyful for others and it was her turn to keep the secret.

Christmas Eve, after decorating the tree she and her brother were given their stockings to hang. She showed her little brother how to do it by hanging hers, then helping him to hang his own. She winked and smiled at Moma. The next morning she watched her brother tear into his gifts, and made sure Moma knew who had given her what gifts as she opened her own. Later Moma would supervise as she wrote thank-you notes to each person who had given a gift. Then she watched as Moma opened the gift she and Daddy had gotten. Moma’s eyes widened, and twinkled as she caressed the fabric. Then Moma ran to their bedroom and put on the new outfit.   She looked as beautiful as the ladies in the magazines as she twirled to show how the skirt moved. For the first time the little girl with braids and knobby knees knew what fun it was to embody the spirit of playing Santa Claus.

The last word:

We both wish you a Merry Christmas and the best for the New Year.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

He was just of average height and had ropey muscles indicating a vigorous, young man’s strength from years of working on the family farm. His family had come to this valley in western Pennsylvania with some of the first settlers, and different branches of the family had owned land all over the valley. The early morning July sun promised a hot day. Pushing a shock of dirty blond hair off his already damp forehead, his light blue eyes looked out over the field of winter wheat. It’s golden hue and fat heads told him it was ready for harvest. The air was still, and there was a bit of sparkle from the remaining dew. Within the hour the grass and fields would be dry and they could start harvesting.

He and his brother, Will, had just finished the alfalfa last week.. His father was pleased that they had finished before the Independence Day celebration. Mother had spent the week working to prepare the food for the family picnic. The holiday fell on Friday so that those who came from a bit farther stayed over to attend Sabbath Meeting before returning to their homes after dinner Sunday afternoon. Just now the family was mostly women and children and old men. The preacher had spoken about the war and all of the men who were away fighting. Brother Jack is on some island in South Carolina fighting this war. He’s been gone most of a year now. The Sharp cousins had gone earlier. Shortly after Jack left, their father had taken ill. It had seemed to take a long time for him to get his strength back. Jamie and Will were still doing most of the heavy work and everything took longer with fewer hands. Jack kept writing that their father shouldn’t fret about him, but both parent watched for the mail carrier each day hoping for some proof that Jack was still among the living.

Jack had helped put in the winter wheat last August, then joined up with Daniel Leasure and the100th Infantry, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Lawrence County had provided the men for F Company under James Cline. The Round Heads had pledged three years, but nobody thought it would take that long. In his early letters, Jack had written that they expected the war to be over by spring and he would be home by planting. They had gone to Camp Kalorama Heights, near Washington, D.C. for training. Then in the fall, his regiment had gone in a convoy of seven ships to North Carolina where they spent the winter on James Island. Now the fighting wasn’t going as well and Jack saw no end to it.

Jamie stepped off the porch and with an easy stride headed to the barn to get his hook.   He knew Will would be along soon. Will was still reading all the details about the war that were in the newspaper Mother had brought home from town. Jamie was looking forward to the rhythm of cutting the wheat, which would leave a lot of time to think, and he had a lot to think about just now. They had gotten a letter from his brother-in-law, A.J., just last week.   A.J. said he hoped the drill Jamie had done would be sufficient satisfaction of Military Duty to keep his war fever down. A.J. had come to the conclusion the he would much rather serve this great nation at home by cultivating the soil. He encouraged Jamie to value the production of food to feed the soldiers and those at home. He wrote that he requested Jamie not to go to War, but let somebody else fight to free the Negroes. Jamie didn’t know much about the Negroes, except that many were slaves, mostly in the south. He’d never even seen one. In these parts they rarely even saw an Indian. He had read Governor Curtin’s call for volunteers. Governor Curtin said that Washington was in imminent danger of being over run by the rebels. The regiments he had sent before had been sent to many places and now President Lincoln needed more men to protect Washington. Jamie did want to keep our great Union together.   His brother was marching and being fired upon. Word had come back that several of the young men he knew and had grown up with were dead. Every generation of his family before him had fought for this country except his father who had had the disadvantage of being born in 1812, and thus unable to defend his country in the war of that year. When Jamie was eleven there had been the War with Mexico. President Polk had not asked for volunteers to fight there and Jamie didn’t know anyone who had gone. Now, at twenty-seven Jamie was looking forward to buying his own farm, getting married and starting a family. After Sabbath meeting he had been visiting with Sarah. She seemed willing to marry and begin building their life together. If he signed up, would she wait for him to come home to her? Belle, who had been seeing Jack, had already begun visiting with one of the other fellows who had a farm up the road a bit. Would Jack even come home? Would he be maimed or killed in some battlefield whose name none here had ever heard before getting word of a battle? If Jamie went, would he come home? There was always that chance, too. Then, if he didn’t go would Sarah think of him as less of a man? Would he be able to live with himself?

Jamie cut the wheat and Will bundled it into shocks to dry. The weather held and by the end of the week it was time to separate the wheat heads from the straw. Then they baled the hay and stored it in the barn. On Saturday, the 19th, Jamie and Will walked into Harlansburg. Jamie had decided and Will wouldn’t be left behind. If they signed with this new group, the 134th, it would be for only nine months. He would be home by next spring. He would trust in the Great Giver of all good things that he would only miss one fall planting.   He signed.

Jamie had a little over two weeks to settle his affairs and to help his father prepare things around the farm so that the old man could handle it until spring.

On Friday, 8 August, Jamie and Will kissed their Mother and shook hands with their father and set off up the road for Harlansburg where they were taken by wagon to New Castle. At 4 P.M. they boarded a boat and started down river for Pittsburgh. They took heart from Jack’s letters about Army life. Now they were on their way to places they had never seen and their lives would be very different. Yet, Jamie was at peace. His decision had been made. He would fight in this war. He would be part of the Grand Army of the Republic and hold this great Union together.

The last word:

This is another story about my Great Grandfather based on his diaries and letters.

Letters_diary

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

As I looked out onto the sea of faces, I felt a hand on my right shoulder push me forward.

“Class, today we have a new girl.  She came from California, a state in the west.”

Did these kids really not know where California was?  April of my fifth grade and this was my seventh school.  I knew it would take a few days for the faces to take on features.  I would talk to most of them this first week as they tried to figure out who I was, then hardly any of them for a while as they settled back to their daily routines.  That would give me time to catch up on whatever subject they had gotten further in than I had.  It wouldn’t be geography with this group.

I was given a desk, books, and cool calculating glances.  Typical.

We were staying with my grandparents while waiting for housing to become available at the next duty station.  It meant that this was just a stop over and I didn’t know why I had to go to school until the move was complete.  We were to go to Cuba where there was a limited amount of on base housing.  We needed to stay with our grandparents until our name came to the top of the waiting list.  As it turned out, this move would take more than a year and we would never get to the next duty station because of an auto accident my father would suffer after he had gone ahead.  Today, we still had a week before he would leave so he had taken me to enroll in the same school he had attended for grade school.   He had walked me in the front door, which was apparently only for use when you were with a parent.  As we had walked down the hall he read all the plaques and studied all the photos, then he chuckled and we walked into the office.  We walked up to a tall, dark wooden counter where Daddy announced the reason for our being there.  The woman who was to register me was very stern looking with a small narrow face, dark hair sprinkled with a little white, and glasses.  When Daddy handed her my papers and report card from the school in San Diego she just frowned.  As she opened my report card, she flatly stated, “It is our policy to put children coming from a California school one year below their grade of record.  Our curriculum progresses much more rapidly than theirs and we don’t want to set a child up for failure.”  Suddenly Daddy was wearing the white line that showed over his upper lip when he was angry.  Speaking very softly and slowly, another bad sign, he asked, “When you opened her report card, did you read it?  Did you see the part at the beginning explaining what the grades mean?  She has straight ‘E’s which stands for ‘excellent’ not ‘conditional failure’.” They glared at each other.  Then Daddy asked, in a conversational tone, which was the fifth grade teacher, assuming I would be registered in the grade where he knew I should be.  After some mumbling about my placement being conditional upon my performance the paperwork was completed and I said goodbye to Daddy. The stern, unhappy looking lady walked me to the fifth grade room and introduced me to the woman who would be my teacher.  The teacher walked me to her desk, did her paperwork and then stood to introduce me to the class.  As with all first days there would be a lot of fumbling as I learned a new routine.

At recess, we went to a “Cloak Room” to get our jackets.  In this old East Coast city building, it was a hallway on the side of the room with coat hooks on facing walls where kids could poke and snipe at each other.  The first question I got was “Hey, Schlechter, where do you keep your six-shooter?”  This was 1958, not 1858.  San Diego was a major city.  How crude to call me by my last name.  Were these kids really that stupid and rude or was this one an exception?

We were lined up, boys in a line across the front of the room, girls along the windowless side.  We were then marched down three flights of stairs and allowed onto the playground.  First day, walk around and look to see what these kids do for fun.  I was pretty good at foursquare, but no one was playing that.  No team ball either.  A group of smaller kids over there were playing a game of tag, some hopscotch, and double-dutch jump rope.  Moma had explained jumping double-dutch, but we had only used a single rope in my last school.  Mostly, kids, especially the girls, were just walking in pairs or small groups around the playground.  When the bell rang they all just froze, several in really strange poses.  What sort of game was this that took in all the kids in the yard?  Then another bell and the kids began walking slowly to the area by the back door we had come out of.  It was there I noticed dark yellow lines with numbers at the door end readable from the back of the playground.  That’s where we were to line up, boys on one side of our room number’s line, girls on the other. The teacher came and stood at the front of the lines, and after the lower numbered rooms had gone in, she led us up the three flights of stairs.  Everyone had to be silent the entire way and file quietly into our seats.  Now the hard part of a first day — where was I supposed to be sitting.  I usually left a pencil or piece of paper on top of the desk so I could remember, but we had had to put everything inside our desks before we had been allowed out.  These were old-fashioned desks with a hinged top that lifted to stow books, papers and stuff.  The seat was a fold down bench attached to the desk behind.  These were so old that they still had holes for the inkbottles and lots of initials scratched all over them.  It also meant that you couldn’t get any space between you and the kid in front or behind you.

Lunch dismissal followed the same procedure for exiting as we had done at recess.  Here almost everyone went home for lunch.  As I passed the small room that served as the cafeteria for those who had to stay I was very glad to be going.  There was an odd smell that didn’t seem at all appealing.  It was good to be in the fresh air at the end of the hall.  Grandmom had told me I should run home from school because there wouldn’t be much time to eat and walk both ways as her house was at the edge of this school building’s draw area.  Seemed to me that the kids in the house across the street had less distance to walk to their school, but what did I know.

Everything about this place felt just a bit off.   Then, this was only another first day.

The last word:

She had a lot of first days, once three in one school year.  I’m not sure she ever enjoyed it, but she certainly got proficient at it.  It taught her to blend in, and makes her a very good traveler when we go to new countries and cultures.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

//

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

It was a cold morning and she just couldn’t make herself throw back the covers and get up. She’d heard her grandfather come into the house through the basement door and then shovel the coal to throw into the furnace, but the house hadn’t warmed up much yet even though the radiators were starting to make their reassuring little noises.  Her mother was stirring in the kitchen but hadn’t started upstairs as yet so Lois buried herself further under the lovely, warm covers just a while longer.  Oh, there was her grandmother coughing again.  She was always bringing some sickness home from school and MomKate would get it.  This one had been especially bad.  The doctor had quarantined the house for two weeks, so no one but family could come in and they hadn’t seen anyone.  Pop had gone to the bakery to work, but it was harder for Mother as she couldn’t have ladies in for fittings.  She had now finished all of the dresses she had been working on before the doctor visited and slapped the quarantine sign in the window.  Mother’s ladies were beginning to ask how much longer they would need to wait to get their clothes.  Mother was making the best excuses she could, but as long as MomKate and Lois were sick and Pop was at the bakery she wouldn’t leave the house.  They all relied on the income from her sewing so she had to be able to keep the ladies coming back with more alterations and dresses to make.  Her Mother came up the stairs with her quick purposeful steps.  Almost before the board in the landing at the top of the stairs gave its warning creak to announce her arrival, the bedroom door opened.

“Good morning, Sleepy Head.  Just stay where you are for a minute or two more.  The house isn’t very warm yet.”  As usual, Mother was dressed and had done her hair already.  It was important to her to keep up appearances.  Today she had on a big house sweater over her housedress and pocketed apron to ward off the chill.  As she spoke she was opening dresser drawers and getting out clothes for the day.  The under clothes she laid very carefully over the radiator, the dress she draped over the back of the chair next to the radiator where her doll was sitting.  Lois peered over the covers and out the window beyond the radiator where icicles were hanging from the roofs of all of the houses across the street.  They sparkled in the sun, but she knew that it must be really cold out there for them to be that big.

“I’m going across the hall to see how your grandmother is feeling.  I’ll be back in a minute.  Just stay in bed till I get back.”  Katherine left the room as quickly and with as much purpose as she had entered.  It wasn’t easy for her to stay cheerful.  Her husband was in the hospital again.  It was a long ride to get there and she didn’t always have the carfare, so she could only go a few times a month.  When he first came back from the war he seemed to be OK, except that he got sick a lot.  Especially in the winter.  Now, a dozen years later, his trips to the hospital were more frequent and each one seemed longer.  The doctors told her that Ted was suffering the effects of the mustard gas the enemy had used during the battle of the Argonne in the Great War.  She didn’t want to say Germans had done it because many of her aunts, uncles, and cousins still lived over there.  Softly she asked her mother how she was doing this morning.  Scarlet fever this time.  MomKate had insisted on nursing little Lois so that Katherine could continue with her sewing.  The result was that MomKate was now sicker than Lois had been and was having a more difficult time.  She was still fighting the fever and seemed more tired than she ever had.  After assuring her mother that though she was missed she should stay in bed, Katherine quietly closed that bedroom door so her mother could rest.  She would take a tray up later.  It was time for Lois to get up and begin her day.  Katherine walked to the radiator and began picking up under clothes and slipping them under the covers to the lump curled in the middle.  “Put them on while they are still warm.  Then wash your face and comb your hair before coming down to the kitchen for breakfast.  We have a lot to do today.”

One of the best parts about cold mornings was having clothes warmed and then wiggling into them getting out from under the covers.  The warm clothes were like armor against the cold air.  It was one of the few luxuries that Katherine could give her daughter.  Lois slipped on her dress and shoes and rushed to the bathroom, always a cold room, to finish getting ready.  Before going downstairs she quietly opened the door to MomKate’s room.  Her grandmother had gone back to sleep so she closed the door even more quietly and slipped down the stairs.

“Good morning, Leibchen.  Come here and give your Pop a hug.”  With that Pop scooped her into his arms tickled her with the whiskers of his mustache.  The strong scent of his cherry pipe tobacco clung to his whiskers.  It was a pervasive and reassuring scent just like being enveloped in his strong arms.  Even in his early sixties he had more vitality than many younger men.  After a bout of typhoid when he was a young man have had lost all of his sandy brown hair. When his hair grew back it was black and had stayed that way.

Pop and MomKate had come to live with them a year ago last summer when frequent hospital stays had caused Lois’ father, Ted, to stop working.  No employer wanted someone who had to be absent as much as Ted did.  Even when he was well enough to be home, he had less and less energy.  One house was less expensive to run than two, and this one was less than two miles from the bakery.  Pop could bring home the day old-goods from the bakery, where what hadn’t sold was thrown away.  At least they had bread and rolls.  Katherine had become very clever at stretching the food they had, but sometimes there just hadn’t been enough.  Toward the end of the month they would have rice for most of the meals during the week.  She had boiled it, fried it and baked it.  She had gotten to know the butcher at the farmers market very well.  He would save the bones for her.  The marrow had helped make rich soup with barley and carrots that felt warm and filling going down.  When she could afford a chicken it would feed them for three days.  She would roast it, making most of her portion of the crispy skin.  Lois needed the meat to grow strong.  The giblets and wing tips went for stock.  Second night she would chop it into a casserole.  Third night was soup.  She had learned many of her mother’s recipes.  One that helped expand the food budget was spätzle.  If they had any leftover meat she would put a pinch in each noodle, otherwise, boiling it in the stock from the bones and a quick fry when it was time to eat would do.  Just now she was packing down the rolls that Pop had brought home with him.

“Lois, I need you to do the downstairs dusting when you finish your breakfast.  Then I you to take some dresses around for me.”  Dusting was not one of her favorite ways to spend Saturday, but taking dress to different houses was fun.  As soon as she finished eating, she got her dust rag and began in the dining room.  First she took everything off of the sideboard and server.  Then she dusted all of the surfaces being careful to get the dust from the grooves in the feet, because she knew her mother would look there.  Then she carefully picked up each piece and gently dusted it before returning it to its place.  Before moving to the living room she crawled under the dining table and wiped the legs and feet there as well.  There were many knick-knacks in the living room.  Every one had something that teased a warm memory of some event.  There were demitasse spoons with markings from all over, a multi-shelf showcase for the little folk statues from Germany called Hümmel, and vases, and ashtrays.  So much to move and dust.  Little pieces of lint or threads that fell to the carpet needed to be picked up.  By the time she was done, Katherine had wrapped three bundles in brown paper for her to carry to neighbors.

“This package is to be taken to Mrs. Johannsen.  Take it there before lunch.  Remember to ask if she has anything else she wants me to do now.  Don’t forget to wait for the money.  Let me look at you.”  As she brushed a speck of dust from Lois dress, Katherine took a comb from her apron pocket to neaten the little girl’s hair.  Then as Lois buttoned her coat, Katherine tied a scarf around head and neck.

Mrs. Johannsen’s house was next to the railroad tracks.  Lois counted the cars of a freight train that was passing as she walked up the street.  The row houses here had been built just before the depression started and were still all neatly kept.  Most of the families on this side of the street still had fathers who went to work each day.  On their own side of the street three families had no one working and Mr. Hill worked some weeks but not others.  Reaching Mrs. Johannsen’s front door, Lois rang the doorbell and then stood tall as her mother and grandmother had taught her.

“Good morning, Mrs. Johannsen.  How are you today?  Mother sent me with your dress.  Is there anything else you would like her to do for you just now?”

“Oh, Lois.  Come in this instant.  You can’t stand out there in this cold after having been ill.  How is your grandmother?”

As she was talking, Mrs. Johannsen reached for an envelope on the table next to the door.  Before handing over the payment, she reached for the candy dish filled with peppermint pinwheels, which was sitting next to it.  “Have a candy to suck on as you walk home.  I have nothing to give you today.  Tell your mother that I am going into town to get fabric for a new dress for church next week.  If your grandmother is well enough. I’ll come by after that to see what is to be done.  Watch your step now.”  And with that Lois was ushered out the door.

After lunch she was sent to the house furthest away.  She walked down the hill and across the bridge.  The houses on this side of the river were single-family homes.  She walked up to a large brick house with dark shutters at the windows.  Either side of the walkway was guarded by a large tree that at this time of year had no leaves.  Mrs. Coggins asked her in and opened the package while she waited.  Mrs. Coggins shook the dress out and checked the seams and hem.  “Your mother’s work is so fine.  I have this package for you to take back with you.”  She then detailed what she wanted done.  For one dress, a blue faille, she gave no instructions.   “I can’t seem to wear out this fabric, but I won’t wear the dress even one more time.  I’m just sick of it.  Take it.  Maybe your mother can do something with it.”  Katherine often undid the seams and re-cut fabric from dresses like this. Then she would turn them into new clothes for Lois and herself.  They took the brown paper from the dress she had brought and wrapped up the three she was to take back.  Lois buttoned up her coat and started for the door with the larger package.  “Oh, and here is a little something for walking all this way.”  With that, Mrs. Coggins put two nickels in her hand and Lois began her cold walk home.

Down the pretty street to the main road and back toward the bridge she went.  At least the air was still with no wind to blow her body heat away.  On the way she peeped into the windows of the stores that were between the bridge and the hill.  In front of the dime store stood a Salvation Army lady next to her kettle, ringing her bell.  Just seeing her made Lois feel good.  Three years ago at Christmas time, her Dad in the hospital, they had no tree and no presents for anyone.  On Christmas Eve a man and lady from the Salvation Army had rung their doorbell and brought her a gift.  It was a doll.  The most beautiful doll she had ever seen with a sweet face and eyes that closed when you lay the doll down.  The only other gift they got that year was her father coming home from the hospital in time for New Year’s Day.  Since then she had learned to sew by making clothes for the doll from the scraps her mother had.  It was the doll she carefully sat on the chair next to the radiator each time after she played with her.  She played with the doll less and less now, but still liked to see her near.  Lois carefully felt the two nickels she had slipped inside her mittens.  This year her father was due to come home today, they had Pop and MomKate living with them.  There was even a small tree in the sun porch.  She rubbed the nickels together one more time and carefully slipped them from her mittens.  As she dropped them in the kettle and the lady thanked her, she thought that some other little girl must need a gift this Christmas.  For the rest of her life Lois would put change in the Red Kettles at Christmas.

The last word:

The Lois in the story is Suzy’s Mother, who continued to drop coins in the Salvation Army kettles every year.  Now Suzy does it.

May your 2014 be happy and prosperous.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

//

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

The darkness of the arena was broken when the spotlight shot up to the high parapet above the center ring.  The tightrope walker stood there in his skintight jumpsuit and soft soled shoes, staring a the cable stretching out before him.  Just another night, another performance.  He’d been walking cables for as long as he could remember back into his childhood.  He’d begun with his parents standing at either end of a heavy rope that was just barely off the ground, in the same way most parents sit opposite each other when their children first begin to walk.  Now it wasn’t the balancing on the wire that bothered him, but the balancing of the other facets of his life — a wife, kids, home.    He’d enjoyed his family life as a kid in the show world as they constantly moved from city to city. His family and friends moved with him and there was stability even as the scenery changed.  Now he’d met a girl who lived on the outside and didn’t understand his world.  Her home had to be a solid structure.  It was a place to raise kids who went to the same schools and had the same friends throughout their childhood.  When they talked about it he felt a need to explain that he’d had a good education.  His parents and the other adults on the circuit were teaching the kids in the show all the time.  There was more classical education and a deeper understanding of mechanical sciences in the show-biz crowd than in most public school products he’d met.  No, his folks didn’t take him to his grandparent’s house to share a roast dinner every Sunday.  Hell, they didn’t go to church either, but they read the Bible and had more faith than most people.

Why did he want this one girl so much?

They’d met when the show arrived at this convention center.  They played here every year, but this was the first time he had seen her.  His dad, a shortish man who was still as slender as a young man and well muscled, had been discussing a small change in the order of their performance with him when she walked up to them with the paperwork telling them their backstage room assignments.  Her black leggings showed off a pair of beautifully turned legs — the first place he always looked.  She moved with grace and balance even though he doubted that she’d never tried a wire and probably never would.  As they were settling into the rooms they had been assigned, he kept finding excuses to check in with her.  She didn’t seem to mind.  In fact, she had run a few errands of her own in his direction.  Her eyes twinkled inviting him to spend more time with her if he dared.  His life was all about daring so he’d asked her to dinner after the show.  She’d turned him down.  Not just a “No, thank you.” turn down, but letting him know he wasn’t good enough for her.  He was nothing more than a gypsy and she only dated stable, settled men.

What was stable?  At eighteen, he had a good job, a decent bank account, and a bright future.  He understood how the business ran and planned to take it over when his folks retired.  He wasn’t just some flake who played his days away.  His just wasn’t a conventional career path.  Couldn’t she see him as more than just a passing entertainment in her life.

His walk was over.  He’d crossed the wire and stood on the other parapet accepting the applause from below. Then he saw her by the exit.  She was standing with a townie, a local guy, obviously well off.  Just behind her was Janelle, the tall red-headed daughter from the family that rode the trick show horses.  Come to think of it, she had really well turned legs .  . .

The last word:

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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