Category Archives: Friends & family

Gallery

Fifty Shades of Gray and Blue.

This gallery contains 38 photos.

And the battle rages on; the battle of Gettysburg, that is, now in the guise of a reenactment. This year is the 150th anniversary of that crucial Civil War slug fest, and since people are inclined to commemorate dates in … Continue reading

Gallery

Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

This gallery contains 10 photos.

This weekend we made and saw history at the Gettysburg 150th Anniversary Battle Re-enactment, accompanied by friends from Texas with whom we have our own history. The event was more than shooting, as these few photos can attest.

Weekly photo challenge: UP

My family visited over a recent Easter. We gathered a balloon bouquet, added our greetings, and sent them off the top of a mountain to our dear, though no longer near, loved ones.

The button box.

I’m reluctant to really clean out my sewing machine cabinet. It’s full of remnants (no pun intended) of another life — zippers salvaged from discarded garments, thread in 64-Crayola colors, a miniature pizza cutter tracing wheel, and silver-toned needle threaders that my older eyes require. The real treasure of this now neglected realm, though, is my mother’s button box: buttons in pairs and more, orphans, shanked and not, most of unknown or long forgotten origin. To remove the box’s lid is to release a confetti-toss of personal memories of my mother, my best friend.

My mother preceded me on the storied sewing path, from necessity. She began by making diapers for my oldest brother. The scratchy feeling of the mint green dotted Swiss dress she made for me, a smaller replica of hers, remains in my mind, 50 years later.

On snowy days when I was young, I would empty her button box on the floor and sort them by color. In my eyes they were jewels, currency for my imagination, tiny rainbows, complete stories in themselves. Like a waterfall, I would pour them over and over back into their box, watching them slide through my fingers.

The button box took on new importance when my mother passed the sewing baton to me, or rather, when I commandeered her sewing machine after she showed me the basics. In my early teens, I began sewing constantly, using cheap fabric to maximum effect through striking and unusual color combinations and styles. Every new clothing fad churned from the sewing machine and I could go thirty days at my part-time job without wearing the same thing twice. Where once my mother had sewn for me, I now sewed for her.  Nearly everything needed a button and my inherited stash rarely failed me.

I sewed, buttoned and zipped my way gaily through school, into the working world, and right into a horrendous marriage. I quickly became a blurry outline of my original free-spirited self:  downtrodden, frightened, exhausted, trying to keep peace and quiet in the house. Eventually sewing became my only permissible means of self-expression, and Mom’s button box supported me. A slight addiction ensued — I could stand at a button bin for an hour, digging around the 5 for $1.00 cards, matching, discarding, feverishly digging again, triumphant with new additions to the button box. My ever-patient mother would find a seat somewhere and wait out the episode.

The button box, and very little else, followed me out of those terrifying years. When I finally gathered the strength to save my life, I ran, leaving everything behind except my sewing supplies. Across country and back I traveled, stumbling and struggling to begin a new life.  My mother was there to support me, without judging me for some of my more questionable actions as I thrashed about trying to find my way. She sacrificed much of herself trying to help me become whole again.

Gradually my world reformed around me. At last there was time for other pursuits — reading, theater, travel. The sewing corner was quieter now, the buttons more for mending or updating rather than new creations. Clothing and sewing became much less important as I caught up on many years of missed opportunities.

The button box reappeared for the sunny day of my mother’s funeral. Caught unprepared by her sudden death, the clothes I was compelled to buy for the service came with the usual unsuitable buttons. Off they came, on went a selection from the box. Mom went to earth, I went to pieces. Wine bottles kept me company for long shaky months.

However, the buttons did not completely disappear. The world blithely kept turning and I plodded my grieving way through its days. By chance, my interest in the Civil War rekindled and once again the button box found its niche. Wide hoop skirts and little girls’ dream ball gowns, with contortionist button-up back openings, rustled off the sewing table. All manner of hooks & eyes, fasteners, and buttons enveloped me as I Virginia-reeled into the next stage of my life.

The dress I wore when I remarried was sewn with the skill and knowledge my mother had taught me nearly 30 years earlier.

The sewing corner is again quiet. But I still have that box of buttons and always will. I handle it very gently, fully aware of its fragility. It contains the story of a significant part of my life, and entwined with that story, a glimpse at my incomparable mother’s brief life.

My mother died May 12, 1998, two days after Mother’s Day. She was 68 years old.

Comfort. Food.

This past President’s Day weekend found us in Savannah, Georgia, that storied Garden of Good & Evil.

Drink shown not actual size.

How can you not like a town where you can get a Bourbon Pecan Pie martini to go (a “traveler”), or, for that matter, any drink that way? Just pour those last few ounces into a paper cup and walk (no driving) away. So civilized. Savannah is lovely in other ways as well. The city is well endowed with shaded green parks accessorized with monuments, benches, walking tours, and blooming niceties, and most parks are looked upon by noble and sentimental antebellum homes. It is a place with one foot in the past and the other carrying forward the edgy generation attending the Savannah College of Art & Design. The three-day weekend refreshed my style sense (boots with everything, happily casual scarves, abundant shiny bling) and administered a rainbow shot in my visual arm as my color-starved eyes gobbled houses clad in teal and pink, a bicycling woman of a certain age all a-purple, and the art gallery in the City Market bulging with primary, secondary and every other color in between.

We bypassed the restaurant of the (in)famous diabetic cook, Paula Deen. My knowledge of celebrity cooks could be transcribed onto a 1″ x 1″ Post-it note, and we are as goats when it comes to eating. We did, however, partake of a local and tourist experience by eating at Mrs. Wilkes’ Boarding House. Meals here are served family style, which means you are seated at table with an assortment of strangers, passing bowls and platters to each other, everyone eating what’s placed in front of them. For this privilege, I waited in line 3 hours with Karen from Minnesota, Paula from Kentucky, and 100 or so other folks. I’ve never waited that long to partake of any restaurant, and I probably won’t do it again. But I learned something while standing in line with and eating elbow to elbow with strangers.

I’ve been wondering about our national obsession with eating, and how in this era labeled “depression” or “recession,” restaurants are still going strong. The answer is not solely the food, though despite being a grateful omnivore I do understand that if the food is terrible the restaurant will likely fail. But how much better than the last great meal eaten can the next great meal be? Perhaps the answer to why we continue to eat at restaurants, why we stand in line 3 hours for a seat in one we’ve heard mentioned in passing, is the possibility of a special experience, and the chance to share that experience with someone. Dining out can provide so much more than a medium grilled pork chop served by polite waitstaff on a gleaming white plate flanked by a linen napkin. After 3 hours in line with Paula Kentucky and Karen Minnesota, I knew Paula was kind to her administrative assistant, mindful of her special-needs daughter at home, still called her own father “daddy” in Southern fashion, and wouldn’t get that autographed Paula Deen cookbook because she was hesitant about walking to the book-signing alone, and that Karen was close to her military brother, fascinated by seeing hair colors other than blonde, would be traveling soon to Germany instead of Ecuador, and would be single for some time to come because the force of her personality would allow no compromise and her tongue no mercy. After two hours, our camaraderie was well enough established that we warbled together the happy birthday song for Marla who was behind us in line (and we were not the least disturbed on learning her name was actually Darlene; we simply regaled her again.)

This was the experience of a fried chicken platter, bowls of rice, cabbage, mashed potatoes, gravy, rutabagas and a jumble of other traditional Southern foods handed swiftly among not-quite strangers , an iPad appearing briefly for a photo, the drift of conversation from the next table in a snug, slightly overheated dining room. This was the experience of seeing the disbelief on the server’s face at the fact that someone (I plead guilty, being held hostage by the cabbage) could have passed up banana pudding dessert. And this was the experience of the same server demanding the attention of all in the dining room to instruct us to carry our plates, boarding house style, to the kitchen when we were finished. This was the experience of being expected to interact like a family at a dinner table, right down to taking responsibility for helping clean up afterward. This is why, when people are scattered and running and rushed, we make time to eat together at a restaurant, that substitute for the family table in today’s world. I’ve had better food, but not more memorable food. I may not see or sing with Karen or Paula again, but for a few hours they were my family, and they will always be part of my memory family. This was indeed the experience of comfort food.

Guess what, Martha Stewart?

I’ve long had it in my head to decorate and furnish a house like those magazine pictures — everything perfectly in place, matching colors, rich fabrics. I married into Mike’s 100 year old Houston house, which was the sum of more than one remodel, including ours. Mike had an art room where he literally tried paint colors right on the wall, the wallpaper in the dining room was upside down, and the porch was purple with blue rocking chairs, a white railing, a red bench, and a cream-colored front door. That house was my first attempt to decorate, and the results were mixed (to put it kindly). The upside down wall paper was replaced with wall paper of a concrete block pattern, the lines of which angled downward till we realized what was happening, then they meandered up. My multi-purpose room was yellow with a purple accent wall and sheer green print curtains over the windows (rather Mardi Gras, looking back on it). Art work was literally everywhere. The ceiling access to our air conditioner was concealed behind a Van Gogh print. Only a repair tech of slim build could get through the painting to service the unit.

The Goal

When we moved to this much newer ranch style house at the other side of the country, I once again had some decorating ideas. Nice arrangements of artwork, tasteful rugs, coordinating colors, simple but elegant decorating. No more of that “stuff everywhere and on everything” look. I wanted a space that would make a favorable impression on those visitors I anticipated hosting.

What was I thinking? Whose life was I trying to live — Martha Stewart? She can’t even get a haircut that doesn’t look like everybody else’s. Arrangements of artwork? We have so much art that the walls are nearly filled and there’s a goat cart in the living room filled with the surplus. Why paint the walls? I’m just covering them with pictures, tiles, greeting cards and plates. Who needs curtain rods — I’ve got a wooden toy rifle I’m going to use as a hanger. My decorating style could be called Scratch & Dent, with a subheading of Impermanence.

The pinata hangs out with Mom.

And those people have visited, both family and friends. They’ve slept in the spare bedroom packed with Civil War art and a half-moon pinata that held my engagement ring. I had to beat the pinata with a stick to extract the ring and hope it didn’t fly into the nearby cow pasture to be swallowed by Elsie. Thev’e slept on the leather couch in the living room, across from the wall where a Montana trip souvenir switchplate moose is stalking Marilyn Monroe. We’ve had coffee under the gold-framed chicken prints, the first artwork Mike and I bought together after we decided to get married. Napoleon with a Heavy Seas Beer dinner pirate eye patch watches everyone troop down the hall from bedroom to bathroom to dining room.

Stalker moose

I’ve learned a few things over the past year in this house. First, that’s all it is, a house. Walls holding up a roof. It’s the storage unit where I keep what’s important to me — my father’s pheasant statues with the glued-on tails, my old dog’s collar and leash near the door even though he died in Houston,  our Texas flag that everyone, friends and friends of friends, signed before we left. These are what matter, these memory keepers, not the color of these walls or the type of flooring.

Second, I’ve learned that family and friends are everything, and that they are the same thing. Both have lighted here over the past year and we’re all better for having been together. Who knew Alice wore socks with trains on them? I knew Beverley had a Derby party but not that she was horse crazy. Bryan has cool friends. My brother-in-law John can make even me understand politics. My mind’s eye sees each of them here, surrounded by all these things that make up my memories, and the way I think of all those things is widened to include my friends and family as a part of them. That picture in my mind keeps everyone nearby, even if they can’t be.

And I’ve learned that people don’t visit to see the house, the new couch, or the local artist’s painting. They’re here to see us, Mike & I. They come to laugh with us, drink with us, play games with us, and comfort us.  They come because we’re family, and we’re friends. They visit to add to our memories, and to their own. That fact, the most important one, isn’t in any of the decorating magazines.

Somebody tell Martha Stewart.

Aargh, Martha Stewart! What do you know! Nothing, I tell you!

With a little help from my friends

I decided to write a collaborative story on Facebook with anyone who wanted to participate. No rules, just write. I provided the opening paragraph:

“The car hurtled through the dry desert air, like a Patriot missile with wheels. It spun slowly, elegantly, end to end, dipped headlights to sand and ended in shivasana on its roof. Silence, then a desert breeze, followed by a chicken’s cluck. From one shattered window, an appendage — leathery, purple, and snake-long — tapped out like a daddy-long-leg.”

Here’s what followed (verbatim):

The creature slithered the rest of its body out of the damaged window. The leathery skin not even getting a scratch as it passes over the broken glass.  Then..once again the chicken’s cluck..but this time it was only a whisper…as the “thing” looked around with eyes that shined like diamonds…the creature stopped in its tracks. . Then, out of nowhere, Elvis appeared and sang “Jailhouse Rock.” But only the chicken seemed to acknowledge his presence, or so it seemed. The creature’s purple skin bubbled, swelled and split. Dark hands stripped back the torn sheath, and a liquid figure clothed in a 3-pc. suit of ice cream cones stepped onto the sand. “Greetings, loved ones,” said Snoop Dogg. “Let’s take a journey. And you will determine the destination of this journey, and the manner in which it will be accomplished. It must meet all of my criteria or you will be banished to a further hell than any you have experienced thus far”. As the most feared of the Alien Alliance leaders, Snoop Dogg, instructed his companions that clues have been left along the journey that would indicate the secret destination. Out of nowhere there appeared in one hand a magic napkin dispenser which would show pictures of the clue sites along the way. Snoop Dogg, carrying his umbrella and spare poncho, was all too prepared fo’ tha drizzle that could get all up in his nizzle. With magical chicken, magical napkin dispenser, poncho, and umbrella in his very full hands, Snoop started his trek across the desert with elvis to find the clues that would lead them to their destination- The Circle K. They couldn’t wait to get to the Circle K for the much loved princess of ALL the Circles reigned here. She was very beautiful and wise and would be able to create music with Elvis (Costello) and Snoop Dogg along with Freddie Mercury. Music so fantastic that the world would all stop and say ………..Who is that masked Dogg? Is the Evil Cousin of Snoop Dogg…known to his enemies as Hoop Dogg…Yes it was Him…he was here at Circle K to kidnap the most lovely Princess and take her far…far away from the ones who worshiped her charming ways…BUT…the princess was no pushover. She seized the magic chicken & crammed it in Hoop Dogg’s throat. Hoop Dogg staggered. Snoop Dogg donned his poncho & impaled Hoop Dogg with his umbrella. Elvis mopped his brow with a magic napkin, wiping away his features to reveal Donny Osmond. “Get me a fountain drink, Donny,” the princess ordered. As the door to the Circle K opened, the sound of “We Are the Champions” filled the air. THE END

I did threaten mid way to bring Donny Osmond into it if necessary, and I am a woman of my word. But I want to thank all the contributors: Kristie (thanks for naming the blog, too), Andy, Debbie, Nancy, Eric and Lucia.

Washington should have turned over the debt ceiling issue to us. We could have handled it more efficiently.

Let’s try poetry next.