Thursday, July 31, 2014


My sister and I as children were indefatigable snoops. I've written before about breaking into our brother 's sacred closet office. We also seemed to be curious about our parents' lives before we were born. They were still young, in their thirties, when we were wondering what they'd been like when they weren't so old.
We looked into the large trunk and found things like my mother ,s wedding dress, or at least pieces of it. She had cut it down to make a regular dress for herself, so the trunk contained what was left of it- large sections of midnight blue silk velvet. We loved the feel of it and what the dress must have looked like. Both she and my father had photo albums, filled with small black and white pictures of them as young adults, but they looked pretty much the way they still looked, which was, to us, old. Their wedding picture showed them in front of a church in Holyoke,, Massachusetts, way up north. Daddy was wearing a suit, much like the suits he wore to work. Mother was wearing her velvet gown, with long, open sleeves, tied with ribbon at the wrists, and a wide brimmed hat.
We used to go through those little albums. Most of the photos in my father's were taken during his days at Auburn and was full of high jinks and silly poses. Mother's were from her late teens and early twenties, equally full of stringing poses, in middy blouse and bloomers, with her and her friends, hiking, swimming, and pretending to  smoke with rolled up paper "cigarettes',  dancing like Isadora Duncan in a meadow.
Our absolute favorite resource was their yearbooks. We practically memorized the names of some of their classmates. We loved the little paragraphs about each of the students. My father's claims "and his soul is full of automatic fire extinguishers." The yearbook also included each young man's nickname, which my father claimed were made up by the yearbook staff. His was "I . W . Harper," which we didn't get until we were much older. His best friend was " Swede" "Nelson, who became Uncle Nelson to us. Also pictured, as a sponsor of a ROTC unit, is Miss Zelda Sayre, of Montgomery. She would come up for the dances. My father knew her from home and was one of her partners on the dance floor. She later married a Yankee from Minnesota by the name of Scott and became a notorious representative of the Jazz Age.
Mother's high school annual was smaller, but we did the same thing, reading about all the old looking boys and girls of the class of 1917. When she went to her 25th reunion, we asked her especially find out about one Ambrose Shea, whose glossy black pompadour fascinated us. I think we knew these students better than she did. The little  squib accompanying her photo mentioned her "three cornered smile," which she couldn't explain.
I still have one of the photo albums and both yearbooks. All are falling apart from our incessant paging through them all the years of our childhood. The young people in all of them still look old to me. My own children, so far as I know, have not found my own yearbooks interesting at all. They have probably done their share of snooping, and that's all right. Parents are mysterious creatures.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The War to End All Wars

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I- which we have to enumerate because it was not the war to end all wars. (Makes your head spin to think of all the wars that have followed and which continue to rage around the world.) When  I was growing up, that 1914 - 1918 conflict was just" the war." By my teen years, we had to add the "I" Both my and my mother's high school years coincided with war years, even though in her case, the United States was not actively involved until 1918. Both wars had to do with Germany, too. She remembered calling sauerkraut "Liberty cabbage," a ridiculous euphemism of the type that resurfaced not long ago in calling one of America's favorite bad- for- you foods "freedom fries."
Apparently, the popularity of Downton Abbey's WWI episodes  and ""War Horse" have sparked an interest in what is also called "The Great War" to go along with this sad anniversary. The Kent State Fashion Museum is featuring an exhibit  of women's fashions from that era. Their advertising touts the Downton Abby connection, hoping to attract fans of Lady Mary's and Lady Edith's costumes to pour into the display.  They will be disappointed, I fear. It's a fine exhibit, but the emphasis on the clothing of women who served during the war-nurses, canteen servers, auxiliary aides and the like. There are some absolutely stunning posters by artists of the period, some great gaitered, high-buttoned, pointy toed shoes, a few big hats I would love to own and about a dozen dresses, none of which are anywhere near as spectacular as the ones we saw on TV. So it's  an interesting exhibit but DA does not loom large.
Since it was the era of my parents' youth, I dug up some artifacts of that long past time to ponder.
The picture above is one my mother did in her high school art class. The assignment was to design what I think was called a walking outfit, although those shoes don't look that comfortable, though tres chic.

That's my father perched jauntily like a hood ornament. He is wearing his ROTC garb. He was a college student during the war, commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduation, by which time the war was over. What he is wearing is pretty much what the WWI doughboys were wearing in the trenches. He has on what look like gaiters instead of those wrapped puttees.
My Uncle Ed, my mother's older brother, was in the army and was sent to France. He was traumatized by fear of poison gas, and couldn't wait to get out of there. The picture below is on of the souvenirs he brought back from France to my mother.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Luncheon Guest

Alert: Some may find this post disturbing/ Don't say I didn't warn you.
For the past several years I have joined a group of convivial, bright, interesting and accomplished women for lunch on Fridays. Several of them are in my water aerobics class, and others I have known slightly from other activities in town or from the university. Our ages range from late 50s to 91, and in the summer the delightful and intelligent 12 year old daughter of out youngest member of the group. Conversation ranges from fluff to serious issues.
Sadly, one of the most interesting and brilliant women is in hospice, and not expected to be in the world much longer. She does not want company, other than family and a very few close friends. Before her rapid decline early this summer, she talked about her frustration with
 the world situation. She is one of those people who believe that if everyone would  just think rationally, we could deal with complex problems and improve the lot of the world's citizens. She's a writer of rational polemics, a musician and a scholar. It's not enough that she has personally spear- headed some incredible improvements in the quality of life in this community, but feels that she has not made a dent in the world at large. It's made her what my friend Nancy calls a COW:Cranky Old Woman.
The conversation began with a report from one of those close friends on Caroline's current condition. This sparked a discussion of what's now called "end of life" issues, and how one handles them, spanning "drug  the hell out of me" to "just bring me a gun." Right now Caroline is heavily medicated, receiving palliative care, but is able to talk, but not about her impending death. Among this group of women, there is no talk of "heaven" or any kind of afterlife. The majority of them are Unitarians, and the Episcopalian   joined that church just to sing in the choir. (Caroline is a Unitarian, and the first time that minister came to visit her, Caroline threw her out. Last week, she let her stay.)
Another woman  who overheard our discussion- she was at the next table and someone we all know- and knows Caroline, joined us and talked about the death of her partner of 42 years who died this past June.
At this point, I remembered an incident in another restaurant some 20 or so years ago. I was visiting my sister in Corning. Our mother  had died a few months earlier. My brother- in- law and she took me to dinner in a very nice, rather small restaurant. It was mostly empty with only one couple at a table way across the room. We were talking about our mother's death (she was almost 91 and had been in failing health for over a year, since our father's death and was in a nursing home.) Our oldest brother, a doctor, had come to Ohio from Montana to visit her, and she died just after  his visit. We began to talk about the possibility that perhaps he had helped her in some way. We were not speaking loudly, but the couple across the room had apparently overheard us. At any rate, the man suddenly appeared at our table and requested that we stop talking about this subject, as his wife had recently lost a favorite aunt, and found our conversation upsetting. My sister apologized and I stifled my impulse to ask why they were eavesdropping and why weren't they  talking to each other about something pleasant? Or at least eat something crunchy so they couldn't hear us.
I guess restaurants should have a "No Talking About Death" section.
Today's lunch talk didn't seem to bother anyone. We are all concerned about our friend and only want peace for her, and soon. We have missed her already.
But we had Death at lunch today in her honor.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Expanding Mystery Lily

A few years ago, a strange stalk appeared in my small side  garden. This garden has some beautiful, short lived, purple swamp iris, and some overgrown Stella d' Oro day lilies, which I should really thinned out. Over the years there have been zinnias, black- eyed Susan's and forget-me-nots.

This new intruder grew taller and taller and finally produced one orange-peach star shaped lily. It was beautiful, but was chomped up by a deer after a few dazzling days. The next year, there were three stalks and the original stalk produced a cluster if lily blooms, as did the new stalk.
Every year another stalk emerges and now for a few weeks I have these lovely blooms to brighten this little garden, while the poor Stella d'Oro blossoms in spite of being packed together.
I finally figured out how this mystery plant appeared. Since it's a bulb, it couldn't have sprung from bird droppings, at least not without  a lot of squawking  from the dropee bird. Now I think a deer dropped it while fertilizing my garden. Since that one bloom was chomped, none other has been eaten . I think the original gifter came back that first year to feast on its gift, just to let me know where it came from. Could be. Why not?
Thank you, Bambi.
the picture at the top was taken 2 weeks ago,, and turned into what's in the bottom picture a week later.