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(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.)

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.)

Where did you set the boundaries of your child’s unsupervised play? Recently I’ve read a number of articles in magazines and newspapers purporting to guide parents of school age children about the type of limits they should establish over their children’s autonomous roaming. Many were spurred by the story of a single parent who had instructed her child to play in a nearby city park while she was at work. Childcare was too expensive, leaving her with a poignant dilemma. The reactions of the others triggered a few thoughts. They, the unnamed, invisible arbiters of social mores, castigated her for choosing to work rather and allowing the child to play in the park rather than making sure the child had someone with him constantly.

How parents arrange childcare evolves over time and geography. I remember reading a book in the early 80s: And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. It was a long book chronicling the lives of a couple of ladies living in Ohio from shortly after the Civil War to the years of the Great Depression. The concept that impressed me most from the book was how, with each subsequent decade, the children’s area of freedom to play, and play under their own recognizance, became more and more circumscribed. My own children were in elementary school at the time and I was constantly reassessing how much autonomy we should grant them. Like many parents, I thought back to what limits had been set for me and compared them to what had been set for Walt, factored in contemporary conditions, and hoped we made good decisions.

My limits to roam and what I was permitted to do changed with age and where we were living at the time. The more rural the living area, the greater the geography I was allowed. One of my favorite, and least restrictive, areas was living on Clairemont Mesa in San Diego in the mid 50s. Our neighborhood was still relatively remote from the city proper. We could drive down Clairemont Mesa Blvd. to our west and then down to the city or we could head eastward, over dirt roads between a couple of cattle ranches to Linda Vista. This was in a building boom era where ranch style houses were popping up faster than weeds could grow on freshly broken ground. For most of our time in that house one block of homes stood between us and miles of canyon to the north, and to the northeast was Miramar NAS.   Age wise, I’m on the leading edge of the baby-boomer generation so every house was guaranteed to have children who were potential playmates. During summer months and vacations from school, our mothers, for the most part, fed us breakfast, and told us to be home for lunch. After lunch we were told what time dinner would be and that we should be present. The latter was more than a suggestion and from the time I was eight I had a wrist watch to help me monitor my comings and goings. So off we went. My limit was to stay on the north side of Clairemont Mesa Blvd. We pedaled our bikes on every bit of paved road and into the areas that where new homes were being built. When just pedaling was too tame we rode handless. There were few cars to dodge as all our fathers were at work, and since most families still had only one car, our mothers were at home with housework or younger children or both. So how far we swerved across the street as we worked on our balance didn’t matter. If the construction men weren’t on the job, we would clamber over the work site to see how houses were developing. Sometimes we girls would play house in the framework of what would eventually be someone’s real home. We scrambled up and down the canyon walls. We caught horny toad lizards and snakes. We knew which were poisonous and which we could grab.   Parent rules stated that all critters had to be released at sunset. One of our favorite past times was to find a pasteboard box, large enough to sit it, take it to the edge of the canyon wall, and slide down. Was it safe? Probably not. Was it fun? You betcha! It was fast and relatively smooth until you bumped over a rock or couldn’t swerve around thick, dry shrub. Did we come out unscathed? Rarely. In the summer we all sported scabs from some minor injury. I also broke a couple of wristwatches a summer, which upset my parents more than the skinned knees. Skinned knees would heal, but watches cost money. We discovered that if we went just a little further we came to a valley that had trees and was green, and sometimes it had a tiny creek. We floated papers or leaves or seedpods. We kicked off our flip-flops, which we called go-aheads, and waded in the water as far as we could go. Our barrier was a chain link fence with a metal sign indicating that the federal government owned all the land on the other side of the fence. This was the far side of the Miramar Naval Air Base. One afternoon three of us stood there and stared at the fence. It really looked interesting on the other side. We didn’t see any people. We’d never seen any people there. The little creek was still trickling further into the valley on the other side of the fence, which did not protrude into the creek. For relatively small kids, it looked as if we could skinny underneath and continue our exploration. Dare we? The other two had civilian parents and felt it was no different than hopping a neighbor’s fence and going across a backyard. With a father in the service, I was familiar with going through guarded gates that required ID. I consulted my watch and decreed that there was not enough time to go any further than we could see beyond the fence and still get home by my time limit.   After some discussion we decided to wander back the way we had come. Even with the freedom granted by our parents, or maybe because of it, we generally made good decisions. At least ones that didn’t present too much danger.

I think that’s the key thing to keep in mind. We need to guide our children, not stifle them. Without practice none of us learns to make responsible decisions. Don’t you prefer to work for the boss who trusts you to do your job well? Without that sense of choice and discovery we tend to become indolent and resentful.

The last word:

I suspect there are bad side effects to reducing the time children have to play, imagine and explore at least apparently unsupervised. When we are overly protective or overly controlling we can negatively impact their futures in unexpected ways, including interpersonal relationships, love of learning, creativity, and even their health.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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

Locavores pride themselves on eating locally grown and prepared foods. Some of them are just food snobs trying to make the rest of us feel like food slobs. Most really enjoy and are proud of the foods their locality produces. Philly cheesesteaks, North Carolina pulled pork, Texas Chili, Neapolitan pizza, beers from various localities, or a spicy barbeque all make us salivate. Each reminds us of a region, or a special meal, or at the very least a clear and distinct flavor. There is a difference to be enjoyed between New York and Philly cheesecakes. New York cheesecake is a bit creamier and tangier. I prefer one for dessert and the other as a breakfast treat.

Each time I moved I would develop a taste for a regional specialty that would be the source of cravings when we moved to the next place. Living in Southern California I missed mid-Atlantic favorites. Now, back in the Philadelphia area, I am constantly craving foods with a Mexican flair. Several weeks ago we had a family movie night. That is to say we were showing home movies of the growing up years of my siblings and myself to which we subjected our mates. And here I commend them for being good sports about the entire evening. Seeing where we lived in Naples made me hungry for the pizza we would buy from a small shop at the foot of the hill on which we lived. Nothing else will sate this craving, so Walt and I are now thinking about a trip. There was also this one particular wine I remember, so it isn’t just about the pizza.

When I lived in Naples the world was a slightly slower place. When we moved there we traveled, not by plane, but by an ocean liner. All the American goods that we got at the Base Exchange were brought in by cargo ship. Due to temperature changes in the hulls of the cargo ships that could affect the look or efficacy of some products, Hershey’s Chocolate bars often had a white powdery coating. Our mail was flown over from the States. Much of our shopping for American style products was done through mail order catalogs. That meant flipping through the pages of a catalog, filling out an order form, mailing it to the company back in the States, having the company fill the order, and then ship, yes literally send it on a ship, back to us. It took time. Sometimes we didn’t remember quite what we had ordered, so opening the package was a bit exciting. Gifts to or from family and friends were also shipped. My Grandmother decided she would not send us the annual supply of Christmas cookies. She was afraid that the shipping would cause then to be stale or nothing but crumbs. She sent Moma copies of my Great-grandfather’s treasured holiday cookie recipies instead and wished Moma luck in finding the ingredients and making them. At that point I had learned a bit more Italian than Moma, so armed with my trusty bi-lingual dictionary we went together to the local shops to find some of the candied fruit bits and spices. It was a family project to make the cookies and Daddy documented it with his trusty 8mm movie camera with its 4 floodlight light bar. My Grandmother’s education wasn’t the best, and in her copying of the recipes she left out some key instructions and an ingredient or two, thus making the project more of a challenge. As Moma had often helped with the baking when she lived at home, or we lived near Grandmom, she was able to see some of the discrepancies or she just got a bit creative. During the course of the project we all talked about how various flavors and aromas reminded us of different places and times.

My fertile little mind took off on tangents. I began to think of all the places we had been and the various things we had enjoyed wherever we were. One of the fun things was walking with my Grandmother to the local farmers’ market at least once during each of our visits with her. As that’s where she did most of her food shopping, she knew all the farmers and their families in each of the stalls, and they knew her. She would tell the butcher she wanted to make ox-tail soup, and he would have a tail for her on her next visit. Though Daddy often teased her that it was just from some cow he had just butchered she insisted that it was from an ox. She would ask each seller she visited about children who weren’t there that day. Then she would push my brother and me forward to be seen and praised. It had its rewards, as we would often be given tastes. As we were then living in Naples, Italy I decided I really would enjoy a sandwich with Lebanon bologna. The local shops had prosciutto, Parma ham, mortadella, capicola, but no Lebanon bologna.

Having been rewarded by the Italian consulate in New York with all sorts of wonderful information about Italy when I had written to them about our up-coming move, I responded as rapidly as Pavlov’s dog. I wasn’t fussy about a brand name since I had never noticed any on the bologna Grandmom had brought home from the farmers’ market, so I didn’t have an address nor even a company name. I had no idea where to send a letter. Remember, this was before the Internet, so I couldn’t just Google it. I decided to write to the Chamber of Commerce in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. After all, shouldn’t Lebanon bologna come from Lebanon, Pennsylvania?   In my letter, I explained how far away we were, how the Italians didn’t understand lunchmeat, and, most grievously, how the Commissary didn’t carry Lebanon bologna. I wanted to know how I could buy some and have it sent to us. Having signed, sealed and stamped it I placed my letter in the pile of out-going mail and pretty much forgot about it. I’m not sure how the Chamber of Commerce reacted upon receipt of the letter. Hopefully they had a pretty good laugh.

Quite a while later, getting on into spring, Daddy arrived from work with a box that was about three foot long, and maybe nine inches on a side. Accusingly he looked to Moma and me and asked what we had ordered this time. Moma was puzzled. By then, I had forgotten about my letter. We all stood around the kitchen table as Daddy carefully opened the box and slid out an entire roll of Weaver’s Lebanon bologna and a very nice letter. The Chamber of Commerce had forwarded my letter to the Weaver family, who gifted us with an entire bologna. Moma had a hand-cranked meat-slicing machine, which she immediately set up on the table and proceeded to cut off several slices. It was the best I had ever had or have had since.

Times have changed. We expect immediate gratification. We now buy foods from all over just about anywhere any time of year, though travel time and distance mean that especially fresh foods aren’t always at their peak. People don’t write letters anymore, either, contenting themselves with ephemeral e-mail, texts or twitter. But that’s for another rant.

The last word:Jim1099s

This is the view from their apartment in Naples, Italy. Many years later, this story helps explain why Suzy really likes to cook, is pretty good at it, creates many of her dishes from scratch, and makes me create an herb garden everyplace we have lived.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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. . . do as the Romans do.

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

When I was teaching middle school I would tell the students that good manners were the lubricant that kept society civil.  Basically, the title of this musing means the same:  wherever you find yourself, good manners help you.

Throughout my formative years my parents used this adage, with many others, to teach without giving long sermons.   As I wander through my life they all come back to help explain what I see happening around me.

When I was almost thirteen, we moved to Italy where my brother and I were frequently admonished that “When in Rome. . .”  to keep us from embarrassing ourselves, or our folks, with some outlandish behavior.  They cautioned us to hold back and observe carefully so as to learn the preferred way of doing anything so as not to inadvertently offend our hosts.  Good manners and not making a scene were some of their prime directives.  This old saw said that succinctly.

Walt and I were recently on a delightful overseas vacation, which brought the title to mind several times.  Driving on the left side of the road is the custom where we were visiting.  Many of the people on our trip would refer to this as driving on the “wrong side,” and then emit a guilty little chuckle.  Our guides tried to keep from wincing at this tired joke.  It was the correct side for them.  Each excursion would find someone commenting on how they “just adored” the accent of one of our hosts, or found it strange, funny, odd or difficult to understand, never thinking it was they who had the accent, not our host.  At best this shows an insular or provincial attitude, at worst it is absolutely offensive.  One guide attempted to avert these types of comments by saying, “This is my country.  You have the accents, not me.  We drive on the correct side of the road.”  This was done with humor, but it is sad he felt the need to state it.

Familiarity is often comforting, but not necessarily the only correct way of handling things.  This has nothing to do with giving up that which is morally right. Which side of the road you drive on is not an ethical dilemma but a pragmatic one.  How one wields a knife and fork is just custom.  One’s accent is just usage.  Fit in and don’t make a scene.  Or consider staying home.

When we take small children to our parents’ houses we tell them that while there they must do things the way grandparents want them done.  That may mean not to touch the knick-knacks or how long they are expected to sit at the dinner table.  Perhaps it defines how and where they may play in the back yard.  None of these things affect their health or well-being, and so should be respected.

Likewise, when we send children to school, we expect them to comply with the rules, as long as those rules do not endanger them.  We also have the privilege of expecting our house rules to govern the behavior of guests to our home.  If yours is a home with no smoking, guests should refrain from smoking no matter how strong their addiction.  If you expect voices to be modulated in your home, even young children should be taught to respect that and speak softly.

All of that should seem fairly obvious.

Ours is a transient society.  Our founding fathers established a representative republic with the states having a degree of sovereignty in which to make the laws that would permit us to have a diversity of customs while having the power of a larger entity, the federal government, to protect us from international predators.  That statement presumes a number of givens, which are being lost as earlier political discourse yields to current cultural waves.  Some of this is due to the current popular sense of correctness and some to the dilution of historic concepts of who we are and from where we came that has been happening since the advent of the boomer generation.  We so outnumbered the adults of our growing years that our childish hedonism changed the vector of society.  One of the results is that in striving for personal gratification many never feel the urging of “When in Rome…”  We see people who become disgruntled with where they are living for any of a number of reasons:  Their health is affected by pollens in the air and they are advised to find a different climate.  An industry moves and they are jobless.  The current political classes raise taxes beyond what the individual is willing or able to pay.  The people in these scenarios look around and find that if they move to a different state the problem will be solved.  After all, that state has drier, pollen free air.  The other state has lower unemployment rates.  The next state has a lower tax rate.  So they move.

They find the new state is different than home.  Without thinking about why they had left or what had caused the conditions with which they had been dissatisfied, they begin changing things to more closely remember the old home.

Perhaps they move to a desert where they buy a home and then plant grass and flowers that produce the same pollen they are attempting to escape.  They follow the company, which then finds the new political environment requires they recreate the business and the transient employee is left outside again. They vote for politicians with an insouciant and somewhat familiar patter who then pass the same types of laws that raise the cost of living to a level similar to what they had in the place they left.  Some new comers are foreign nationals who want even greater changes to their new home than those who have come from a different state that is still internal to our country.  Their craving for familiar surroundings, or politics, or language causes them to try to recreate the environment they fled.

This isn’t a plea to dismiss change.  Some things need changing.  Some things need preserving.  Both require thought.  We perceive a problem, then conceive a solution. The key here is to think about what our solution will spawn.  The results that occur don’t effect just the transients, but all of the folks who had been contentedly making their lives in the “new” state.  The “new” state is now no longer “Rome.”   The established residents don’t understand what has happened to their home, and the new resident can’t understand where the charm that had enticed them to move there has gone.  In reality, each of these types of changes takes more than one person.  Sometimes the balance is changed by word of mouth drawing many independent people to the “new” state.  Sometimes, more nefariously, the balance is tipped when a group with the sole intent of changing “Rome” away from what the base population had wanted finances the shift in the population.  Regardless of the reason, the Visigoths have arrived.  Rome will survive, but not as Roma.

The last word:

Why is the saying about Rome and not some other place?  Because of a letter from St. Augustine to Januarius around 390AD:

Cum Romanum venio, ieiuno Sabbato; cum hic sum, non ieiuno: sic etiam tu, ad quam forte ecclesiam veneris, eius morem serva, si cuiquam non vis esse scandalum nec quemquam tibi.

Sister W. Parsons translated this in 1951 in St. Augustine: Letters Volume 1 as:

When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but here [Milan] I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend, if you do not want to give or receive scandal.

Januarius was Bishop of Naples at the time, and later canonized as a martyred saint.

On July 10, 1948, the average humidity in Phoenix Arizona was 19%.  On July 10, 2013, the average humidity in Phoenix was 38%.  Over the same time frame, the population increased from a little over 100,000 to about 1.5 million.  Many of those people moved from the northeast to find a dry climate and escape pollen.  Then they planted lawns and shrubs and watered them a lot.

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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